Saturday, July 18, 2009

Long-Term Tests: Super Stoppers & Simple Shifting

Apologies for the extended radio silence... we've been hard at work "staging" The Cycle World Headquarters in an attempt to sell the joint and relocate. For those who don't know real estate, "staging" your house makes it look like you have better taste than you actually do, which then allows potential buyers to imagine that they will have better taste than they actually do if they buy it. Here at TCWH, that involved (among other things) time-consuming tasks like repainting the front porch and power-washing the back deck. I tried to convince the neighbor kids that both jobs were really fun, forgetting that the parents of said neighbor kids are all my age -- thus, the kids have been raised on irony and sarcasm, making them completely immune to the old Mark Twain free labor trick.

To celebrate the end of chores, I'm back with two 1,000-mile product reviews. I don't normally keep such compulsive mileage stats on each equipment change, but I just happened to replace a cyclometer battery when I made two major tweaks to the bike, so I know those changes happened about 1k miles ago -- a pretty decent frame of reference, I'd say.

First up, Tektro CR720 wide-profile cantilever brakes. An early iBOB reviewer of these stoppers put it best when he said, "Tektro, like Stacy's mom, has got it going on." The CR720 combines everything great about wide-profile cantis of yore (power, modulation, mud clearance, forgiving setup) with the super-simple pad and spring adjustment of a modern V-brake, plus some nice cartridge pad holders
and a very slick straddle cable yoke reminiscent of the old Avid Tri-Dangle -- all for less than $30 per wheel. Geezer mountain biker check: Raise your hand if you remember when your straddle cable hanger had to be some trick anodized doo-dad like a stop sign or a peace symbol in order to be accepted by the cool kids. (My hand is up, at least as far as my geezer mountain biker shoulder injury, circa 1992, will allow.)

Like most Tektro brakes, the CR720 features stock pads that are -- let's face it -- pretty miserable. Not much bite, plenty of squeal, easy to wear, and they chew rims to ribbons. I could tell when I'd worn off the toe-in whenever I got a terrifying front-end shudder under hard braking. Yet, even with sub-optimal pads, these brakes (when properly toed-in) could drag my heavy bike and heavier butt to a controlled stop with remarkable ease (note that I'm pairing them up with the Tektro R100A brake lever -- another low-budget, high-performance gem that proves the "Tektro = Stacy's mom" hypothesis.)

Things improved dramatically when I pulled the original pads for some Kool Stops that were collecting dust in the stockpile. With dual-compound Mountain pads on the back and salmon Supra 2s on the front (a weird combination, I know, but that's what I had), stopping got even better, the squeal all but disappeared (I can still chirp 'em if I really jam the front in a panic), and my rims thanked me for ending the abuse. Note to Tektro: If you want to destroy all braking competition, create an unholy alliance with Kool Stop. After all, Shimano's stock pads are just as crappy as yours (if not crappier), so you could really hurt the Big S with a decent pad compound. I'll probably get some salmon or dual-compound inserts for the original pad holders just to test what kind of superbrake could be produced by a two-headed Tektro/Kool Stop monster.

The real magic of the CR720 comes from that old wide-profile design, though. Previously, this bike has worn the medium-profile Tektro Oryx and Avid Shorty, as well as the low-profile Shimano Deore LX. All three did the job, but their mechanical advantage required a low straddle for power and a very close pad setup to keep from bottoming out the lever -- which wasn't very forgiving of gunk or rim blips. The wide-profile arms don't particularly care where you put your straddle, and they can run with lots of air under the pads without using up all your lever travel. (As usual, the late Sheldon Brown explains the "why" of this better than I ever could.)

Next up in the 1,000-mile test is my new 1x8 drivetrain. Ever since I started riding fixed, I've been playing the mental game of, "How many gears do I really need on any bike?" After all, if I can do a ride a 42x17 fixie, why do I need 23 more ratios (most of them duplicates) on my geared bike? That line of thought turned my 3x8 into a 2x8 for a few years, and this Spring, I took the plunge to 1x8: a 42-tooth ring driving an 11-28 cassette. Initial tests failed miserably due to the very-worn 42 I chose -- the chain got dropped like a bad habit over the slightest pavement ripple. Swapping that for a new BMX-specific (i.e., not designed to be shifted) ring (formerly known as Rocket Ring, now apparently rebranded Origin8 and available in hideous fixie-culture-pandering colors) and shortening the chain by a couple more links has solved the problem completely.

The gear range is just about right for local terrain and my riding style. Chainline is dead-center between two nice cruising gears (42x16 and 42x18), with decent high and low options on either side. Once I wear out my 11-28, I'll probably go to a SRAM 11-32 for a little more stump-pulling capability, since it's an exact match for the 11-28 until you get to the two biggest cogs (26-32 instead of 24-28).

That, my bike-geek friends, is all the news that's fit to render in electrons here at
The Cycle. But if you know anyone who's looking for a charming 1917 bungalow with a freshly-painted porch, a freshly-washed deck, and tasteful decor, have I got a deal for them...


Steve Fuller said...

J - nice review on the Tektros. Good to know the kool stop pads improve them. I need better pads to haul down the combined weight of both me and the LHT. A little less squeal on the Singlecross would be nice as well.

We need to get together and go for a ride. I'm game for SS, fixed or geared. Gravel or paved.

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Hey, Steve, glad to hear from you -- things are kinda quiet over there at Zen Biking.

I'm still getting some squeal with the Tektro/Kool Stop combo that seems to depend on humidity. I still think putting Kool Stop inserts into the holders that came with the Tektros will be the magic bullet.

I hear you on that ride. The fixed is in pieces (cannibalized again to keep the tourer going) so I'd choose geared... unless you have a parts donor in the garage with a decent crank and drop bar/stem combo... ;-)