Monday, October 9, 2017

Looks Good on Paper: The Public V7

One of the downsides of being an amateur/armchair bike blogger is that nobody's clamoring to send me stuff (especially bikes) to review. After all, what's the benefit to the bike company? They spend money to ship me one of their bikes, and I either like it (which about three readers will see) or I hate it, thus branding it as a dud to every casual Googler from here to eternity.

One of the upsides of being an amateur/armchair bike blogger that nobody's clamoring to send stuff to, however, is that I can wander around the vast internets and choose stuff that looks good to me without all the hard work of actually riding and reviewing said stuff. Sure, it's a clear-cut violation of my own Advertising & Review Policy, but that's why I included the "mutable at my whim" clause. So, consider it muted for this post, as I give you the (never ridden by me) Public V7:

(Image horked from Public's site, where you can learn more about the bike.)

During a recent globe-trotting, the hotel where I lay my head kept a small fleet of remarkably sensible-looking bikes on hand for guests to borrow. I never did, but I was intrigued enough by them to internet-stalk the maker and model, and it turns out it was this here Public V7, wearing the hotel's logo.

To me, this simple steed (and any number of hipster-bait, Americanized-Dutch clones) is all the bike most people need. In fact, if I'm being honest, it's probably all the bike I need. Here's what I like:
  • Chubby tires for comfort.
  • Fenders to keep your butt dry.
  • Upright riding position for (again) comfort.
  • Easily adjusted and maintained dual-pivot brakes.
  • Simple, user-friendly 1x7 drivetrain.
  • A chainguard to keep your pants out of said drivetrain.
  • Stylish/non-garish paint and decals.
  • Brazeons for carrying stuff.
  • Bolt-on hubs to thwart wheel-thieves.

Being a picker of nits, I would tweak a couple things, of course:
  • Threadless steerer, please, even though I know it kills the traditional/retro look. I just like 'em better.
  • White tires? And white Kenda Kwests (Tires of the Zombie Apocalypse) no less? Double pass. They'll look like crap after one ride, and ride like crap forever.
  • I'm meh on the brown saddle and grips, but that's aesthetic, not functional (yet they had me at color-matched rims, which is probably just as silly).
  • $500 MSRP, while perfectly reasonable for the feature set, is still pretty steep for the casual "not bike people" audience this thing is targeting (there's a singlespeed version for $100 less, but then you're trading versatility for simplicity and cost).

Again, I cannot stress enough that I have never ridden a Public V7. For all I know, it could go down the road like a walrus in labor. But it ticks many good, sensible boxes... and if someone from Public (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) happened upon this review and wanted to help me make it more exhaustive, I certainly wouldn't refuse a visit from the Big Brown Truck.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

All Hail the Humble Dork Nut

Technically, it's called a presta valve nut, and if you're unfortunate enough to haunt the online bike forums, you've likely heard its utility/necessity debated ad infinitum and ad nauseum. It's the (usually knurled) metal donut that comes with every presta valve tube, designed to be threaded onto the valve once the tube is installed.

What's it supposed to do? Shoot, I was a mechanic for years, and I've ridden presta valves since the days I was tight-rolling my jeans, but I have no idea. I suppose it keeps you from pushing the valve down into the rim when you put a pump head on it (which, 99 times out of 100, the air pressure already in the tube will do, and in the other one time, your hand can suffice), or maybe it keeps the the valve perpendicular to the rim if your pressure gets low and the tire/tube rotates on the rim (though in that case, the valve is just going to get ripped out of the tube, a slightly more troubling development than a valve at a 70-degree angle).

In my experience, the only thing a dork nut does when installed in its intended location is slowly loosen and rattle. Thus, I don't use them on my wheels as designed... but I save and hoard them like precious currency. Why? Because they make great spacers. To whit:


Installing a bottle cage on your seat tube but the stupid front derailleur clamp is in the way? Dork nuts to the rescue! Note how one dork nut installed between cage and frame on each bottle brazeon creates just enough space to clear the clamp on my trusty Rockhopper. The knurled-ness just adds a bit of custom bling beyond an (equally functional but not as pretty) stack of washers. One is sufficient on the thin steel clamp of the vintage MTB front derailleurs I prefer (like the one shown), but you might need a stack of two per brazeon for the clunky clamps of Shimano's more modern offerings. Just make sure your bolts are long enough to engage the brazeon fully.

Another place where I often use a dork nut (though not on the current fleet, so you'll just have to imagine it without one of my terrible photos) is on the driveside rear rack/fender brazeon. If I install a rack or fender and find that the bolt protrudes beyond the brazeon enough to keep the chain from engaging the small cog, I'm usually way too lazy to find a shorter bolt or cut the one I have. A dork nut under the head of the bolt takes up that extra space with minimal effort, and I'm good to go. You can also hide the nut between the brazeon and whatever you happen to be mounting, but I'd be wary of doing too much of that with something load-bearing like a rack. Will a couple millimeters of extra leverage on that bolt really matter? Probably not, but why chance it?

Minutiae? Sure. But it's a good hack using something you probably already have littering your garage floor, at least if your garage floor is anything like mine.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Klunk!

No, that's not the sound of a post dropping on a blog that's been dormant for... sheesh, 10 months? Let's just pretend that hiatus never happened and move on, shall we?

Instead, that titular onomatopoeia (yeah, somebody got an English degree or two) is an homage to klunkers, the original mountain bikes. If you've hung around here through my many ramblings and random disappearances, you know that I'm nigh on obsessed with early mountain bikes and the vintage cruiser bikes that provided their DNA. A search of this blog for the word Phantoms will show you my futile attempt to render that obsession in a serious, writerly pursuit (an effort one of my grad school cohorts half-jokingly suggested should be titled "Bicycles: A Love Story").

That lengthy airport-circling introduction is just my way of saying I have a new toy, snared from the local  List of Craig for the princely sum of fifty bucks:


(Not my saddle height.)

You can't tell much from a rainy-day garage photo (especially when the photographer sucks), so I'll do my best to provide the thousand words that picture should be worth. What you're looking at is a 1995 Schwinn Suburban, from Schwinn's 100th anniversary year. The Suburbans I remember from my 1970s youth were upright-barred, fender-equipped 10-speeds, probably categorized in marketing-speak as "lightweights" even though they weighed a small ton. My mom had one in copper, which teenage me did my best to wreck with limited success. Schwinn took that lifetime warranty seriously and built 'em to last.

This Suburban, however, is cruiser/klunker/heavyweight all the way, though. It appears to be based on their Heavy Duti (sic) "industrial-grade" cruiser, a massive camelback-framed, double-top-tubed beast of a thing designed to be bashed around factories and warehouses. The more-refined Suburban version takes the Heavy Duti frame and gentrifies it slightly with a three-speed coaster brake rear wheel. It also gets some surprisingly modern frame features, most notably a standard threaded bottom bracket shell rather than the Ashtabula/one-piece style of most cruisers, and even a full host of brazeons for racks, fenders, and two (two!) water bottle cages. Go figure. Oh, and of course it features one of the most iconic headbadges in the business:



I've ridden this around town a bit in its stock configuration, and it's a hoot. Stately, upright, yet ready to bash into things when necessary. As a die-hard derailleur guy, I can't say I'm entirely sold on the 3-speed/coaster brake setup, even though it was fun to relive my wayward childhood and lay down a couple wicked coaster-brake skids. I've since replaced the small couch masquerading as a saddle and chunk of rebar masquerading as a seatpost with slightly lighter, more modern counterparts and dumped the disintegrating foam grips.

It would be fun to go full-klunker on this one:
  • Strip the fenders and chainguard.
  • Replace the 3-speed rear wheel with a freewheel equivalent.
  • Add a thumbshifter, claw-mount rear derailleur, and full cable run zip-tied on.
  • Add a BMX rear brake, big four-finger brake levers, and BMX bars.

Can't really justify the expense for a whim purchase, though, so it will likely stay close to stock and serve as a beater/backup/snow bike for the time being. But man, if Tweed Rides ever introduce a "Repack" category (complete with jeans, flannel shirts, and work boots), I'll be ready.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Return of Schraeder

No, not this guy:



This one:


That's right, I'm getting bold and saying that 2017 will be the Year of the Schraeder Valve.

(Aside: Don't be fooled by the metal valve in the photo. That's not a Presta valve; it's a fancy, newfangled Schraeder valve as blathered about here.)

Okay, so it's not that bold. It's not like the Schraeder valve ever went away. You'll still find them on scads of low- to mid-range bikes, not to mention those four-wheeled, gas-powered horseless carriages that seem to be all the rage. But I'm saying here and now that in 2017, the Schraeder valve will make a comeback on high-end bikes. Here's why:

One, everybody's going wide. Fat bikes with 5" tires. Gravel bikes with 700x45. Heck, even pro racers are riding 700x25 or 700x28 these days. And they've all figured out that wider tires are better supported by wider rims. In days of yore, high-performance, light rims were stupid-skinny, narrow enough that you'd be pushing your luck drilling the larger hole needed to accommodate a Schraeder valve compared to the narrower Presta (which didn't preclude me from doing it a few times, because, well, I was dumb). With a wider rim, why not? Probably shaves a fraction of a gram, too.

Two, with wide comes low. As the tires get wider, the pressure in them gets lower, to the almost comical extreme of fatbike tires at single-digit pressures. The knock against the Schraeder valve was always that it didn't cope well with high pressures. In a skinny tire at 120psi, that little valve flatulence from removing the pump head from a Schraeder valve could cost you 20 psi. In a big honkin' tire at 40-50 psi, you'd never notice.

Three, tubes are passe, don't you know? The big thing now is TUBELESS. You're still running tubes? Well, so am I. But, man, that's so 20th century! And tubelessness brings with it two needs that the Schraeder valve meets far better than Presta. First, setting the beads of the tire takes a lot of air volume in a big hurry, something best delivered by an air compressor -- and most air compressors use Schraeder fittings to work with those horseless carriages. Second, tubeless relies on sealant to fill small holes in the tire, sealant best delivered through a removable-core valve stem. Yes, there are plenty of Presta valves with removable cores, but they're fiddly compared to the good old fashioned Schraeder valve and its ubiquitous valve core tool, likely found in every hardware store and gas station from coast to coast.

I haven't really put my money where my mouth is on this one yet. If you look at the vast test fleet here at The Cycle, you'll find a mish-mosh of valves... some Presta here, some Schraeder there (it helps that my battered old floor pump has been upgraded to a dual-sided head and is thus valve-agnostic). But when I look at that fancy metal Schraeder valve with dork-nut above, I'm sorely tempted to break out the drill and make the whole fleet Schraeder-compliant.