First Impressions: New Albion Cycles Privateer Frame

New Albion Cycles is a new brand of frames and complete bicycles distributed by San Francisco-based wholesale distributor Merry Sales Company. While this new marque may not be a household word just yet, the company’s other brands–SOMA and Pake–have built loyal followings. New Albion Cycles looks to continue that success by offering affordable, classically-style frames and bicycles.

Sold as a frame only, the Privateer ($279.99 MSRP) can be built up as a medium-duty tourer, commuter, or all-roads explorer. The TIG-welded frame is constructed from Tange Infinity double-butted chrome-moly steel main tubes and tapered seat/chainstays. Our 54cm demo bike came assembled with a chrome-plated SOMA cross/trekking fork, and was rounded out with a mix of components from SOMA, Sugino, SunXCD, and Tektro.

The Privateer is offered in 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60cm sizes. The frames feature horizontal dropouts, extended head tubes, cantilever brake bosses, and fittings for racks and fenders. To make assembly easier, the Privateer is requires a 68mm bottom bracket, 27.2mm seatpost, 28.6mm front derailleur, 1-1/8″ threadless headset, and is compatible with 130mm or 135mm rear hubs. Geometry for the 54cm model that we tested was as follows:

Seat Tube Length (center-to-top) 540mm
Top Tube Length (effective) 560mm
Heat Tube Angle 72°
Seat Tube Angle 73°
Head Tube Length 155mm
Bottom Bracket Drop 72mm
Chainstay Length 435mm
Wheelbase 1022mm

That geometry, combined with the relatively upright handlebar position (tops level with the 73cm saddle height), translated to a comfortable, relaxed fit. Handling could best be described as neutral. Whether descending at 30-plus mph, or climbing in the granny gear, little attention was required to keep the Privateer headed in its intended direction. While we didn’t test the Privateer with a rack or panniers, we found that the bike’s handling didn’t suffer with the added weight of a Carradice Nelson saddlebag and Bagman support. Despite the New Albion’s relatively low price, the frame’s ride was reminiscent of SOMA’s higher-priced Saga frameset.

When pavement turned to dirt or gravel, the Privateer proved to be a refreshingly capable backroad explorer. The bike tracked predictably, and the Tange-bladed steel fork did an excellent job of soaking up bumps and trail chatter. Our test-bike’s 700×38 SOMA C-Line tires may not have the aggressive tread found on dedicated gravel or ‘cross tires, but the C-Line tires transitioned easily between paved and unpaved surfaces.

As mentioned previously, our Privateer came equipped with a mix of components supplied by the folks at Merry Sales. We did, however, swap out the saddle and pedals for our personal components. The Privateer’s mix of retro-inspired parts complemented the frame’s simple graphics and paint scheme. Our own bikes all feature indexed shifting, but we grew to appreciate the simplicity of the New Albion’s 3×9, friction drivetrain. If given the choice, though, we would have preferred mini-v brakes over the Privateer’s wide-profile cantilevers.

New Albion Cycles has successfully delivered an affordable, versatile frame with their Privateer model. With features found on frames costing much more, it’s an outstanding bargain that should deliver many years of service to recreational and utility riders alike.

Disclosure: Merry Sales Company provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: Dumonde Tech Freehub Lubes

Freehubs are one of those components that many riders ignore when it comes to maintenance. Much of that hands-off approach stems from the time when Shimano freehubs were the only game in town, and servicing them required disassembling the hub and dealing with loose ball bearings and temperamental shields. But now that many freehubs can be removed sans tools (or with a couple of allen wrenches), there’s no excuse to ignore your bike’s freehub.

Choosing the correct lube for your particular freehub is essential for optimal performance. Using a lube that’s too thick or heavy can prevent the pawls from engaging properly, and lightweight lubes can be easily displaced (or migrate into the hub’s bearings). Whether your freehub requires grease, or an oil-type lube, Dumonde Tech has you covered with their line of freehub lubes.

Dumonde’s Freehub Oil is designed for hubs that use individual pawls such as those found on the BikeHubStore freehub pictured below. Unlike thicker lubes or greases, the low-friction oil is light enough that it won’t gum up the pawls or springs, yet still offers protection against wear and friction. We tested the Dumonde Tech Freehub Oil on hubs from BikeHubStore, HED, Mavic, Rolf Prima, and White Industries. In each case, the Dumonde-treated pawls ratcheted freely (even in sub-freezing temperatures). Inspecting the hubs after 200-300 miles of use revealed no degradation or swelling of the hubs’ seals.

For freehubs that require grease, Dumonde Tech offers their aptly-named Freehub Grease. While thicker than the company’s Freehub Oil, the lightweight grease has a flow point of -30 degrees, making it suitable for a wide range of operating temperatures. We found that Dumonde’s Freehub grease did an excellent job adhering to the star ratchets used by DT Swiss, but unlike more viscous greases, didn’t become thicker or stickier with use. It’s always best to follow hub manufacturers’ recommendations on grease volume, but we found that a little Dumonde Tech grease went a very long way.

Do these specialty lubes work better than conventional oils or greases? After months of testing, we’d have to say that they do. The Dumonde-treated freehubs ran smoother, quieter, and were consistently more reliable. But don’t just take our word for it, Dumonde Tech’s freehub lubes are used and endorsed by companies such as Crank Brothers, DT Swiss, Industry 9, Profile Racing, Ritchey Design, and Stans’s NoTubes.

Disclosure: Dumonde Tech provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: Full Speed Ahead Afterburner Disc Brakes

Full Speed Ahead (FSA) might not be the first name that pops into your head when you think of hydraulic brakes, but the Washington-based company aims to change that with the introduction of their new Afterburner and K-Force disc brakesets. Knowing how stiff the competition is in the brake market, FSA didn’t just slap their name on an existing brake plucked from a catalog. Both models feature one-piece forged calipers, tool-free reach and pad-contact adjusters, front- and rear-specific hoses, and utilize mineral oil instead of DOT brake fluid.

The Afterburner and K-Force share the same internals, but differ in materials used for the caliper, lever, and hardware.To keep the price down, the $289 MSRP Afterburner is spec’d with forged alloy levers and aluminum calipers (the $369 K-Force gets carbon levers, magnesium calipers, and stainless steel mounting hardware). We tested prototype and production versions of the Afterburner brakeset with FSA’s optional lightweight (160mm) rotors. Weight for one lever, hose, caliper, and rotor was 340g.

Installation of the Afterburner brakes was simple and straightforward. FSA supplied the brakes with hoses pre-trimmed to our specs, so bleeding wasn’t necessary (we’ll save that for a future update). The slender levers paired nicely with microSHIFT and SRAM trigger shifters. Adjusting the angle of the brake hoses via the banjo fittings required only an 8mm socket, and didn’t result in the loss of any brake fluid. Centering the calipers took only minimal effort, and neither rotor required truing. Note that rotors and adapters are not included with Full Speed Ahead’s disc brakes. By offering those items à la carte, riders can select the exact bits-and-pieces needed for their setups.

When you grab the Afterburner levers for the first time, you immediately notice how quickly the brakes react. There is no perceivable lag between pulling the lever and when the pistons begin to move. Thanks to the front- and rear-specific brake lines, both levers feel evenly matched when it comes to stiffness (the longer rear-hose is optimized to help reduce expansion). The levers’ tool-free reach adjusters offer an impressive range of adjustment that should suit riders of all sizes. And once you’ve dialed-in the levers’ reach, you can easily fine-tune the pad contact/engagement via the indexed adjuster (located on the perch, near the main pivot).

On the trail, the Afterburners have a very linear feel. Braking power is good, and it’s easy to modulate the brakes. Unlike some brakes that have a noticeable spike in power–which often translates to an on/off feel–the Afterburners offer superior control and predictability. We found that unwanted wheel lock-ups were all but eliminated, especially in tight, technical terrain. While we haven’t yet tested the brakes on extremely long descents, we can report that there have not been any issues with overheating or pad glazing. As an aside, the stock semi-metallic pads have been blissfully quiet during our review period.

Can the company known for its cockpit components and cranksets compete in the MTB brake market? We’d have to say yes. FSA has succeeded in bringing to market a brake that delivers features and functionality that are easily on a par with the more-established brands’ offerings.

Disclosure: Full Speed Ahead provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.