Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Pro" Tip: Tektro RL520 Brake Levers

The "pro" is in quotes because I don't know what kind of professional I purport to be. Professional unpaid writer? Professional home hack mechanic? But if you use Tektro's road brake lever for v-brakes, I'm a proponent of this trick, which I'm giving you pro bono.

For whatever reason, the angle that the cable housing exits these levers is incredibly awkward on pretty much every bar I've ever installed them. Case in point:

See how the cable comes out pretty much perpendicular to the lever body, then has to make a sharp turn upward to follow the curve of the bar? It's subtle, but it's there -- and it's just enough of a kink to make the action of the cable rough. It works, but it just feels cheap and unpleasant.

The fix for this is really simple: Take a file to the lever body and remove a bit of the upper corner where the cable housing exits, allowing the cable to come off the lever at a more natural angle:

That little corner of the lever body serves no structural purpose that I can determine, and knocking it off lets the cable follow the bar in a smoother arc, resulting in a much better lever feel. Here's the modified lever all cabled up:

Very, very subtle to the eye (heck, I'm not even 100% sure I got my before and after pictures in the right spots), but a night-and-day difference in the hand, especially when I'm dealing with the long cable runs and resulting potential for increased friction on our tandem. Not bad for just a few swipes with a file. 

(Disclaimer: I am not a professional engineer, this is not a manufacturer's recommended hack, my suspicion is that any warranties these levers might have is null and void after the application of a file, and you are taking responsibility for any chance -- however remote -- of lever failure that may result from this modification. Not valid in all states, selection varies by store, yadda yadda yadda trailing off into fine print...)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Somebody Went to NAHBS...

... and all I got was this link to an amazing photo album.

Seriously, roving reporter and frequent commenter Steve K. made the road trip to Louisville for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show a few weeks ago and has compiled one of the most encyclopedic (and well-photographed) collections of images I've seen on the inter-tubes. Seriously. The coverage from the "real" bike magazines pales in comparison.

I had the crazy idea that I was going to link to (and comment on) specific photos, but there's just too much goodness going on. Even skimming them gave me a head rush. Seriously. Just go there and let it wash over you. I'll still be here once you recover.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Shady Business

As regular readers know, one of my minor obsessions is bicycle lighting and the many ways (in my curmudgeonly opinion) it could be improved. As a result, I was recently contacted by the inventor of the Sombra, dubbed "the world's first tail light diffuser."

If you're scratching your head over what a "tail light diffuser" might be, think of it as the bike equivalent of turning this:

... into this:

If you're looking at those photos and thinking, "But the first one is so much brighter! It has to be better!", then you haven't been paying attention and need to re-read the chapter on frickin' laser beams. I happen to be a firm believer that making lights brighter and tinier is not the be-all, end-all that the light makers would like you to think. My feeling (backed up by absolutely ZERO research) is that I'd rather have a lot of surface area lit up, and if I have to lose some retina-searing power to get there, I'm OK with that.

The Sombra is just that: More surface area for the light you already have. It's a very simple design, a translucent plastic shade that mounts over your existing taillight to give those around you more to see. I was given a review sample by the kind folk(s) at Sombra (BLOGGER FREE SCHWAG DISCLOSURE!), so I gave it a go on my daily driver.

Here's the titanium test-bed from the side with its normal rear illumination, a Planet Bike SuperFlash:

Same thing, with the Sombra installed:


The Sombra folks intend for it to be mounted on the seatpost binder bolt, wrapping over a seatpost-mounted light. However, since my light rides on the seatstay under my saddlebag, I improvised with my rack mounting points instead. The result's pretty much the same. As you can see, the side view doesn't give up much in the way of light intensity, but there's a lot more illuminated area to be seen. Major, major improvement.

So far, I'm on board. But I wish the Sombra folks had gone all-in and figured out a design that has the same effect on the rear view as well. Here's a look at the back of the bike sans Sombra:

And here it is with the Sombra installed:

Not a lot of difference, right? In fact, you have to look pretty closely to know that it's there.

I rode my normal commute with the Sombra installed for several weeks, but I can't say if drivers noticed me any more or less. Honestly, the drivers around here are (knock wood) pretty polite folks who don't give me a lot of reason to complain, so it wasn't much of a test. I did find it a bit more challenging to turn my light on and off with the Sombra installed while wearing bulky winter gloves, but not annoyingly so. If any of my regular readers have a commute situation where they think a Sombra might make a bigger difference, I'd be glad to send you the prototype to try in your urban jungle if you promise to report back.

If anything, one of the Sombra's biggest strengths is paradoxically one of its biggest weak points. The thing is so simple, if you have the slightest DIY inclination, you're going to look at it and think, "I'll bet I could make that!" As soon as I started pondering ways to possibly reshape it to improve rear visibility, I realized that with a couple bucks' worth of plastic file folder and some scissors, I could probably hack any number of diffusers in whatever shape or size my twisted little mind could devise. Granted, the same response applies here as to the armchair modern art critic who says "my kid could paint that": Yes, but your kid didn't. The Sombra folks came up with this idea, did the hacking, worked the iterations, and deserve kudos for pushing the bike lighting business in the right direction. If they succeed -- or if the idea catches on -- we'll all be a little safer for it.

So, the verdict, in terrible bicycle magazine bullet point style...

  • Definitely improves side visibility.
  • Easy to install.
  • Shouldn't be very expensive (final pricing isn't set yet).   

  • Doesn't improve rear visibility.
  • Can make it harder to turn your light on and off, depending on the light.
  • Almost too simple for its own good.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Iowa Bike Expo: Local Customs

One of the features of this year's Iowa Bike Expo was the Teesdale Handbuilt Bike Awards, named in honor of late Iowa framebuilding legend Tom Teesdale. While I didn't cast a ballot in the People's Choice competition (something about maintaining journalistic integrity or whatnot), I did grab a few photos of custom bikes that caught my eye.

Ames builder Jeffrey Bock brought this jaw-dropper of a touring/randonneur ride. As if the lugs and pinstripes on the frame weren't enough, soak in the matching stripes on the fenders. Classy.


The Bock booth also featured this classic-looking townie with custom racks. Again with the fender stripes!

At the risk of offering too much Bock (and being told to get the Bock outta here), the front view of this obviously well-used and loved Bock machine really appeals to me. Something about the big bag, big tire, and big honkin' headlight has a classic motorcycle aesthetic I dig. Remember when Salsa Cycles was one guy and their "If it ain't moto, it's worthless." slogan hadn't been co-opted yet? That's what this shot is to me: Moto, in the original sense.

I thought about putting this Ventus in my gravel bike post, but it's pretty enough to hang with the custom peloton instead. Lotsa titanium, lotsa shiny silver parts, and box lining? C'mon.

Did I ease you gently enough into fat tires with that Ventus? Then try this Rabid Frameworks on for size. If there's not a little Jeff Jones homage/inspiration/DNA in that truss fork, I'll eat my helmet.

As long as we're going fat, let's go REALLY fat. This Rabid Frameworks chubbie was my "huh?!?" moment of the show. I have no idea why a front brake cable needs/wants to route through an extended lower steerer tube. It creates feelings in me that I myself do not understand. But I like it.

This is just a sampling of the local and semi-local wares on display. Of course, the only online article I can find that looks like it might divulge the winners of the Teesdale prizes is from our terrible local paper The Des Moines Regurtigator, and thus hidden behind 18 levels of firewall protection. So we'll just all have to stay in suspense on that one unless Steve F. actually stayed at the show long enough to find out.

(Aside: Intrepid reporter Steve K. is currently sleeping off the car-lag of his road trip to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, so if the kind of stuff you see here is your jam, stay tuned. Once he's curated his camera full of -- stunning, I'm sure -- photos, I'll post a link.)