Old Tech
Friday March 26th 2010, 10:44 pm
Filed under: Advice & Tips,Observational Review

Throughout my time in the industry there’s been a few absolutes I’ve picked up from customers. You know things like, snapped chainrings occurring while “they’re just riding along.” Or “…but I just changed my chain last year!” The one I’m interested right now is the statement that they don’t use but three or four of their gears on their cassettes. This declaration is reinforced by the fact that their cassettes wear out quickly in only a few gears; usually those smallest few. I’m the same way when I ride. Only lately have I been making a conscious effort to use more of my cassette; and I’m not really sure why I am—I guess just to see what it’s like. Sometimes it just seems like an eternity dropping from 25 to 11, and that takes so little effort—forget about going the other way!

In all seriousness though, we’re up to eleven cogs on the rear wheel now, there’s electric shifting, and featherweight bikes. Seriously what’s next? (Hubless wheels? I hope not I’m still mad about loose ball bearing wheels going out of style). I don’t know what is next, but what I think would be cool to see are modern, lightweight 5, 6, or 7 speed drivetrains. Whoa, right? Let’s take it back for the enthusiast who doesn’t want all that futuristic complexity. It could be the hip thing to ride, not as simple as the fixie, but close enough. What if we returned to the days when there were only five or six cogs back there? Would we get a simpler system? Those dudes twenty, thirty years ago operated fine with that few gear choices, ever hear of a guy named Bernard Hinault? I wonder if a nice six speed cassette would still cost three hundred dollars? If it lasted as long as some of those old freewheels, I just might pay it. They could be built to last. Chains could be thicker again, and would therefore last longer too. There might not be as much waste and unnecessary “recycling” of materials.

Considering the rampant proliferation of new parts and components coming to market everyday, it likely wouldn’t be that difficult to fit this design into the current standards. (This, I’m stating, after giving the subject an entire thirty minutes of reflection). But really, what are the hurdles? The freehub body could be modified, i.e. shortened. New hubs would get widened to fit into the 130mm rear frame spacing. Bingo, a more simple, and likely stable rear wheel. I do sometimes miss using downtube shifters, but the integrated levers still amaze me at times. Not that we’d have to revert that far, someone could pretty easily produce some integrated lever with six clicks in it I’d think. Bigger ≠ better. More gears might not always be the answer.

This whole subject comes inspired—sort of—by my learning of SRAM’s new X7 2×10 mountain groupset coming out soon. Why is it called X7, I don’t know, but from what I’ve read it seems it’s a more economic version of their supremely well-designed XX groupset. XX is also pretty high-dollar gear. X7 is slated to be affordable. This concept I like. Essentially making a premium technology accessible to more people. They’re doing this with their road line-up too, they’re soon introducing their Apex road groupset. An economic offering of their premier groups of Red and Force. They might not be interested in appealing to a more economically conservative crowd, but Shimano may want to consider producing a reduced version of their new pie-in-the-sky Di2 electronic group if they want more people riding their gear. Elitism is that way by definition.



Taped Up
Monday January 18th 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Observational Review

Why do they do this? I like wrapping bars, like cleaning derailleur pulleys or building wheels, it’s one of my favorite things to work on a bike. But when bars are designed like this, it makes me wonder how far up these bars should be taped, does 3T want their logo and model name obscured? Am I missing something? I decided to tape just up to the 3T logo on the left side there, but the model name had to be left half showing on the right. Nice and clean.

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How far up to wrap?

They’re not the only ones that do this either, but they come to mind most readily. For instance, these Ergonova Team bars also by 3T have this sharp-looking racing stripe going down the front face of the drops that is just going to get covered by tape. Why bother? Are there any pros out there riding non-taped bars? Is a bareback trend developing that I’m not aware of? Is this why clear, gummy handlebar tape has come around?

Another example of mildly odd bar design are these by FSA, the K-Force handlebar. The oversize bulge steps down abruptly, which is fine, but what’s odd in terms of wrapping, is the angle they chose the step down. It doesn’t meet the angle of the tape equally; it’s just weird. (These bars have cool racing stripes up the drops that also get covered by tape). Sometimes an aesthetic becomes invisible, sometimes it obstructs, either way I scratch my head wondering why.

However, it’s not a big deal really, just a minor curiosity for me. To be sure, the combination of bar and stem on this Cannondale, to me, are especially well-designed. The 3T cutout in the stem being highlighted by the white color band of the bars is particularly hot.

Nice reveal



900
Thursday January 14th 2010, 8:39 pm
Filed under: Observational Review

I like new parts on my bike. I like bike components in general. I get excited about them, I enjoy analyzing and figuring out how the manufacturer did things, why they did things, and if I agree either way. I do this, and feel this way, about even some of the smallest, insignificant, and non-tech heavy, inexpensive components. I’m no snob, I’m just a mechanic.

I’ve got a new lever on my ‘cross bike. It now matches (ergonomically) the right-side shift/brake lever. I’m stoked on it, I’m stoked on this mid-level bike. I think it should be deemed higher than mid-level, it probably is. There; I said it; therefore, it is. Why should I be stoked out on a new lever on my bike? Well, because it feels better, it feels right, and just looks right as well. The new bars are rad shit too! FSA Omegas. Shallow drop, because I don’t need to be all deep, nor do I need “ergo bars”. Their bends are garish, and honestly, they feel like they put my hands even further from the levers while in the drops. Shallow feels like my hands are right where they need to be in an aero position. Second choice is the classic curve bar, just like my Cinellis. The Ritchey WCS Classic is right up there too for modern bars. Good stuff.

Back to those levers. Now my ‘cross bike has ergonomically matching levers. I’ll admit, I thought I was all unique by putting a black Tektro left brake lever on my ‘cross bike to run it as a single ring set up. Found out soon enough I wasn’t the only one doing such a crazy stunt. I really just wanted to set the bike up with SRAM Force because a.) the shifter was an ’09 model, b.) due to a. the shifter was inexpensive, and because of—the most important to me—c.) I wanted to experience and experiment with some different road components. Besides, what mechanic rides a stock bike, right? I already know what 105 rides like. But c.) is what I do, but not like how a lot of other folks do it. I wanted to learn more about what riding SRAM is like, what working with SRAM is like, and what durability, reliability, and sexiness with SRAM is like, but once I see all that, I don’t just toss it aside like a half eaten cookie. I learn the most about a product by developing a long-term relationship with it. I’m going to find out how that ’09 shifter works a year or more from now instead of the cursory roll in the hay, the quick in-and-out, that some other mechanics may perform. Which wrench knows more in the end? I’m sure it’s debatable, everything is.

Learn I did, and like I did too. Actually, still learning and liking to this day. SRAM road is cool stuff. I’m pretty sold on it, but this isn’t a review on SRAM shifting, but rather a review on SRAM braking—sort of. Tektro lever out, SRAM 900 single speed brake lever in. The color match isn’t perfect, but the feel is, and honestly that’s infinitely more important. Were I so inclined, I evidently can install front shifting guts inside this brake lever and be able to shift a front derailleur. Were I so inclined—if I had a operable front derailleur. In fact, these single speed brake levers might even be a way to inexpensively replace a SRAM shifter that was crash damaged, i.e. not covered under warranty, i.e. wink wink. You should look into it.

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Offering an ergonomically similar brake lever should be something Shimano might want to consider. Does the new Campy have shiftless brake levers available? I know they used to.

Now while I admitted earlier here about not liking ergo bend handlebars, this isn’t to say I think ergonomics are a bad, or unnecessary, thing. Au contraire! I think the big brands are finally figuring out the issues with ergonomics, sticking to the focus we’re discussing here: hands. Shimano and Campagnolo have both released fantastic new grips on their road levers this year past; SRAM, being fairly new, by default did so too. As far as I know, SRAM’s have a couple things the other big two don’t and that’s adjustability, with both the brake lever reach and the shifter lever reach—independent of each other. Thoughtfully executed, and exactly the kind of manufacturing and design feature I totally lose my rocks on.

As far as the actual braking action goes. Snap snap, just like a ‘cross bike should. Were they actually cabled to brakes that stopped on a dime, I wouldn’t doubt for an instant the levers would perform perfectly.

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This has been my daily rider for quite a while now, hence the plethora of pictures of it on flickr.



It’s Eccentric
Monday December 21st 2009, 11:16 am
Filed under: Observational Review

The other day we got a Niner in the shop for a customer. We were all stoked on it, appreciating it’s quality 853 steel construction, nice flake in the paint, and the curve of it’s stays. I had the benefit of assembling it for the customer who had ordered this S.I.R. 9. The website shows a lot of the bike’s attributes, which you can see yourself. I particularly liked some of the company’s “attitude” on the frame, especially the top tube decal: “Pedal Damn It”. The option of running this model as either single- or multi-speeds, with the inclusion of two swappable drop-outs—one with a derailleur hanger—is a nice touch. Part of this frameset included Niner’s own eccentric bottom bracket, dubbed the Bio-Centric.

They seem confident in this Bio-Centric eccentric bottom bracket, but they may have been the only ones the day that bike was put together. Initially and instinctively, I greased the aluminum bottom bracket assembly before installing it in the frame. Greasing the system was immediately deemed incorrect, as there was no way the eccentric would remain in a locked position. Like all good mechanics (wink, wink), I searched for the instructions after assembling the component (found here—PDF link). None were included unfortunately with the frame, I needed to download them from their website. (You’d think if this design was so revolutionary, new, and it’s installation so critical, specific directions would be included with the component). Reading the instructions I learned that the assembly needed to be completely degreased and roughed up with sand-paper, (after roughing it up, I gave it a good cussing out too). The directions then stressed the importance of proper installation with—and here was the shocker to me—teflon tape.

Hey, they have colors too! Image courtesy of WiseRacer Sports.

There is this write-up (actually it’s the same as Niner’s site) that describes how the Bio-Centric is supposed to prevent rounding out the bottom bracket shell. While it does tout the Bio-Centric’s benefits in a pretty convincing light, curious however is the complete lack of mentioning the teflon tape. (Same omission on the videos on Niner’s site). Relying on two layers of teflon tape to keep pedaling and vibratory forces from loosening that smooth aluminum surface around a smooth steel surface just doesn’t seem like enough. The Niner website speaks to their “revolutionary” system as eliminating oval-ized BB-shells and stripped parts and creaking, but isn’t teflon tape attacking those problems in a somewhat flimsy manner? I suspect the bean-counters got in on this component’s design, and sometimes, their advice just doesn’t work out as well as it sounds.

Eccentric Bottom Brackets, hmmm, agreeably a great problem-solving component. These seem reputable enough: Bushnell (which Salsa uses),  Carver (also expansion), and others (er… wow); the so-called “problems” plaguing these designs seems to be a matter of operator error. Niner’s description to me sounds like their biggest focus was on eliminating the creak, a general problem I often find is solved by proper installation and lubrication. Like I said, it’s just a matter of confidence, and teflon tape doesn’t inspire much in my mind unfortunately. Have I ridden it extensively? No. Has it slipped on the bike’s new owner? Not sure. Do I think it will? Again, not sure either way. We’ll have to believe that Niner’s testing proved sound—I look forward to my apprehensions proved wrong. I’m not here selling Niner EBB’s or any other type for that matter, I’m really just curious about the subject is all, and writing this up hopefully brings light to a system that initially seems dubious. Hopefully we’ll have a satisfied customer for a long time on their Niner.

Boogie-woogie.



Resurrected
Wednesday December 16th 2009, 8:40 am
Filed under: Observational Review

So, these were the hot brakes to had to have on your ‘cross bike this year. I’ve posted before of the lightness of this line of brakes. As far as mechanics go, they’re just about the same. The same in the fact that they’re both an interesting resurrection of a brake technology that, in many people’s opinion, should have remained “obsolete”.

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TRP and any others that have “developed” new brake calipers that utilize the posted-cantilever brake shoe have basically brought back the scourge of mountain bike history. (Over-dramatization intended). Surely, for anyone that has worked in a bike shop has been glad, that the infinitely adjustable cantilever brake has been replaced by more easily adjustable systems for a while. Only to be found on cheap mountain bikes, the kinds of BSO’s that have “Cantilever Brake Technology” written on the chainstays, or, more preferably on nostalgic touring bikes where some Dia-compes or Suntours are being used. Even on the nice ones, a frustrating half hour could be spent adjusting a customer’s bike.

I can’t see how this resurrection can be deemed an advantage in a race (unless it’s just a matter of mere lightness). Perhaps, on the course, where a race likely only lasts an hour, it isn’t a problem; but setting them up sure could be easier. This is a component that requires eight tools to install and set up (not something I’d like to have to tackle in the pits). Interestingly enough, the design foregoes one adjustment in particular, the vertical alignment to the rim’s braking surface. Therefore, if the frame’s canti posts aren’t dead on, you’re going to have your pads hitting the rim at an angle. So why’d we return to this design? Is the shape of the arms merely a factor for lightness, and the posted shoes were the only way to execute it that way? Mechanics want to know!

But how well do they work? I’ve only ridden them on a test ride, and they brake like a cantilever brake does. Lever and cable action feels great, but we’re really just scrubbing speed here, not necessarily stopping on a dime—maybe a half-dollar. They feel a whole lot like my Tektro CR720′s. Yeah, yeah, who needs superior braking power in a race anyway. It only slows you down, and we all know that’s no way to win a race.