Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Raleigh, What Are You Up To?

Earlier this summer, I was lamenting the fact that the Raleigh Clubman (a bike I own and tend to gush about like a shill) had dropped out of sight in the 2014 lineup on the Raleigh site. With the whole industry getting its knickers in a twist over Interbike this week, I wondered what 2015 might bring, so I wandered over to the site again.

Much to my dismay, the Clubman is back... with disc brakes:

Wot wot, guv'nor?

Seriously? The disc brake fad is that pervasive? You have to put them on my beloved Clubman? Although I have to admit that the air under the fenders is promising. Perhaps this Clubman keeps the fat tire clearance of its predecessor. Somebody needs to fire the photo stylist (yes, that's a real job... our Graphic Design Genius did it once, briefly) who set up those fenders with such hideous, uneven spacing around the tires, though.

Lest you think all is lost, the lineup of steel (in what the marketing flacks are calling the Urban All-Road category, sheesh) actually got bigger. There's the Grand Sport which looks to be the real heir to the Clubman mantle, with its steel frame, long-reach caliper brakes, and snazzy orange paint job (though somebody forgot to spec fenders):

Orange you glad it doesn't have disc brakes? 

And then, there's another model name from the past, the Grand Prix, although it has some features its predecessor never could have imagined:

A Grand Prix ten-speed. It's like the 1970s never ended.

That's a Campy-equipped steel frame with the same long-reach brakes as the Grand Sport (again, no fenders?), but -- get this -- built with Tom Ritchey's Breakaway travel bike system. So it's pretty much my Clubman, except with some Italian flair and the ability to stuff it in a suitcase to visit Italy. Crazy. (Oddly enough, Ritchey's site has ZILCH in the way of explanation on how the Breakaway system works, but this Adventure Cyclist review does a nice job if you can get past one misuse of "break" vs. "brake". Maybe it was a play on Breakaway. Sure, that's the ticket.)

As you can see in the linked pages from the Raleigh site (from which these images were horked), nothing's posted in the way of geometry or MSRP on any of these yet. My hope is that they chose not to reinvent the wheel and stuck with Clubman geometry across the board... which is pretty much a copy of Rivendell Rambouillet geometry, which is probably a copy of some 1970s Raleigh geometry, so what comes around goes around.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a paid Raleigh shill, just an interested observer who saw these bikes on their site and immediately reached for his drool cup. But if they're looking for someone to test any of them (even -- shudder -- that disc-braked abomination), I certainly wouldn't turn down the opportunity... wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You've Won This Round, Specialized

I hate it when companies that annoy me make products that I like... but every once in a while, someone from my fecal roster puts out something that even I, curmudgeonly grudge-holder extraordinaire, must grudgingly judge acceptable, nay, even (choke) "good."

Case in point: Inexpensive Specialized helmets. I don't know how those lawsuit-happy jerks are doing it, but the lids they're putting out at the lower price points are just killing it. Maybe they've sued everyone else for using the term "bicycle helmet" or something.

I started my season due for a lid (having done some destructive testing on my old one) and decided to stick with Bell or Giro this time around. I went with a Bell Piston, as seen here:

 "Blue Steel"

MSRP about $45, comes with a visor (not shown), shape seemed right for my melon, bonded shell, decently vented, not terribly ugly, done and done, right?

Not so fast, Sputnik-head. See, not long after I bought my Piston, I accepted the fact that I'm a geezer and plunked for the Oakley prescription shades shown above (another company I'm supporting with my dollars even though they're on my fecal roster, but let's not go into that now) -- only to find that the retention doohickey in the back of the helmet didn't play nicely with the combination of my fat head and the temples of my snazzy new glasses. I tolerated this for a few months (since it seemed stupid to replace an almost-new helmet), but my patience wore thin in a hurry.

So, off to the store I went, in search of a new lid. Still stubbornly resisting the Big Red S, I tried on a Giro Revel. Same price point as the Piston... and guess what? Now that Giro and Bell are under the same corporate umbrella, the Revel has the same stupid retention system (just rebranded) that doesn't agree with my glasses. Ugh.

Finally, I broke down and put my melon-head into a Specialized Chamonix (which, like most Specialized product names, is an actual place, one which -- I can only assume -- was chosen so the legal department could sue all makers of chamois cream for near-trademark infringement):

"Le Tigre"

MSRP about $50, visored (shown this time), fit my melon, and didn't squish my shades. But the thing is, for that extra Abe Lincoln, the ol' Chammy crushes its Bell competitor on vents, as shown in the "how see-through is your helmet?" test:

I wanted to hate the non-adjustable under-ear strap junction on the Chamonix too, as that's usually the mark of a really chintzy department store helmet, but somehow, they figured out a way to make it work well -- and eliminated the double strap through the chin buckle that always gets out of whack.

Just to run up the score, Specialized also put a bunch of reflectivity on the Chamonix that the competition lacks, both in sticker form on the helmet itself and sewn into the straps:

The longer shiny stripes are black reflective tape, so they blend into the foam until light hits them. I left out the comparison shot, since it was a just a black helmet on a black background, which is (barely) more boring than the rest of this blog. Really, there's no excuse for that from anyone -- how much does it cost (both in dollars and grams) to add reflective stuff? Is racer chic so pervasive that we can't even have a tiny bit of reflective tape on our already silly-looking styrofoam mushroom heads?

You're thinking, "Big deal. Maybe you're a cheapskate, buying a $45 Bell and expecting it to compete with a $50 Specialized." Well, I also tried on the $40 Specialized Align, and guess what? Other than being a little less vented than its Chamonix sibling (but still more vented than the Piston), it ticked all the other boxes... nice retention system, simple straps, and reflective stuff. I just spent the extra $10 for vents because I have the dubious superpower of being able to sweat like a man twice my size.

Bottom line: If you're shopping for melon protection on a budget, see if a Specialized helmet fits your noggin. I may not be entirely enamored with the company, but I can't deny that they're making a good lid. And, the usual disclaimer: I paid for all this stuff on my own dime, and was not compensated, threatened, cajoled, or canoodled for the opinions expressed within this blather.

(Astute observers may also note that I've changed my tune on sunglasses over/under helmet straps. What can I say? I'm fickle. I can go back and do some Orwellian revisions on that old post if you'd like. "Our sunglasses go over our helmet straps. Our sunglasses have always gone over our helmet straps. Our sunglasses will always go over our helmet straps.")

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Breakthrough In Bicycle Acquisition Mathematics

Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to revolutionize the field of Bicycle Acquisition Mathematics as we know it.

For years, experts in the field held that the ideal number of bicycles owned could be represented by the following formula:

B = n+1

Where B represents the ideal number of bicycles owned, and n equals the number of bicycles currently owned. It is simple. It is elegant. And it has served us well. But it is incorrect.

(pause for incredulous gasps)

I propose the following formula instead:

B = 2 (n+1)

Where (again) B represents the ideal number of bicycles owned, and n equals the number of bicycles currently owned. However, a multiplier has been added, doubling the number of bicycles. I call this the Futz Factor.

Under the revised Nunemaker Acquisition Equation with Futz Factor, the bicycle purchaser buys two of the exact same bicycle each time he or she adds to the collection. This seeming redundancy accounts for both entropy and for the bicycle owner's need to upgrade and/or inability to leave well enough alone.

How does it work? Say you're getting ready to leave for work in the morning. But what's this? Your commute bike has a flat! Entropy at work. Under the old n+1 equation, you're forced to ride a completely different bike. Maybe that bike can't carry your commuting luggage. Maybe its pedals require different shoes. But under the 2 (n+1) equation, a second bike exactly like the one you wanted to ride is hanging there waiting for you.

Or maybe you get the urge to upgrade your bike. Some different tires. A new saddle. Pink handlebar tape. Under the n+1 equation, if you aren't happy with your upgrade, you're either stuck with it, or you have the shame of taking it apart to return it to its original configuration. With 2 (n+1), you have an instant "Undo" button, Control-Z in real life.

So, serial bicycle acquirers, it's time to start building bigger garages. And spouses of serial bicycle acquirers, you have my sympathy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Neighbors Make Carbon Fiber Bikes

This is WAY outside the normal purview of this blog, being full of both carbon fibers and triathlon content, but since I recently lamented my own inability to notice bicycles being made in Iowa, I figure I'd better put my money where my blog is.

Thus, I bring you a local TV news story on Dimond Bicycles, prompted by our recent local triathlon. Why did I sit up and notice this story? Well, for one thing, it was a news story about bicycles and was NOT about RAGBRAI. But more importantly, it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Cycle World Headquarters is situated at the core of the known bicycle universe. See, the owner of Dimond featured in the video (hi, TJ!) used to live right next door to our sprawling blog campus... until he moved and sold the place to his Chief of Engineering, also featured in the video (hi, David!)

Is it a coincidence that not one but TWO guys responsible for cutting-edge carbon fiber triathlon bikes just happened to live right next door to the bicycle brain trust here at The Cycle? Well, sure. But it's still kind of neat. Obviously, these bikes aren't my thing, being a steel-riding Luddite freak, but I still find it cool that they're being designed and manufactured right here in little ol' Des Moines, IA. And I'd be lying if I said that the black-on-black Darth Vader/stealth fighter aesthetic didn't trigger just a tiny bit of bike lust deep within my otherwise old-school heart.

So, if you're the sort who (inexplicably) likes to combine (shudder) swimming and (bleah) running with your cycling, or maybe you just like to draw numbers on your arm in magic marker, click on over to Dimond Bikes and take a look at what my neighbors are brewing (and gluing) up.