Saturday, January 29, 2011

Humble Rims For Your Humble Tires

One of the most-pummeled entries on this site happens to be my review of the gentle, unassuming, ever-humble Michelin Dynamic tire (see, I just made you look at it, thus making it even more pummeled). I'm not entirely sure why, but when it comes to pandering to what my reader(s) want, who am I to argue? Thus, Chapter 2 of the "humble stuff" series brings you the equally-unassuming Sun CR18 rim, dedicated life-partner to my Dynamics:

So what the heck makes the CR18 such a fine bit of extruded aluminum?
  • See those three chambers? Nice design. Sort of a honeycomb between the inner and outer rim walls for strength. Mavic's double-eyeletted rims accomplish the same thing (and are probably lighter) but cost a bunch more.
  • That's supposed to be a single stainless steel eyelet on the inner wall. The online fora can (and will) debate endlessly about the causes of rim cracks, but in my fleet, it's been the no-eyelet rims that have cracked around the spoke holes, not the eyeletted ones. So on my rides, eyelets are good.
  • Building on a budget? CR18 is your friend. The Amazon spam (Spamazon?) price above looks to be about $30, though some careful hunting can find them for as little as $23 a rim. You can barely buy a Mavic sticker for that much.
  • These things are tried and tested. I bought my first set of CR18s in 1994, and I don't think it was a new model in the lineup even then. I suspect that the longevity contributes to the price, since the tooling must have been paid off while I was still a pimply-faced adolescent.
  • The width is right around 23mm, so they can take tires from 28mm up to massive. Narrower than 28mm, you probably want a racier rim, but if you're equipping a real-world bike for surfaces that aren't glass-smooth, you're golden. My old mountain bike (the one that got CR18s back in the 90s) rolled on 26x2.2 (Panaracer Smoke/Dart, baby! old school fatties!) with no ill effects.
  • It doesn't matter what freaky wheel size or hole drilling your bike needs... there's a CR18 for it. From dinky little recumbent wheels up to 27" (a.k.a. 630mm BSD) and just about every stop in between is covered. Need just a few holes? Or maybe a whole lot of holes for a tandem? Got 'em. Even that freaky 650B aberration (a.k.a. 584mm BSD) is in there, though there are rumors that Sun may have missed spec on the large side with those.
  • If you're a magpie, there's a CR18 with a polished finish in addition to matte silver and black. Looks pretty decent on a classic/retro bike once you peel off the (not terribly obtrusive to begin with) stickers.
  • Some models have what the marketing monkeys call ABT: Advanced Brake Track. In human-speak, they just sand off the anodizing that would normally get sanded off by your brake pads, so you get better braking right away instead of after a break-in/brake-in period.

Now lest this sound like a pure Sun love-fest, the CR18 isn't quite the perfect rim. As mentioned above, if you're running skinny tires or building a superlight hill-climb bike, you'll probably want something racier. Better wheelbuilders than yours truly (which would include just about all wheelbuilders) report that some CR18s can be slightly wonky out of the box, making them more challenging to tension and true. Also, I've ridden some with fairly pronounced seams that pulse under braking. But for their price, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better all-purpose rim.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Discs On The Road? Disc-uss

If you're consistently bored enough to have read this blog for a year or more, you know that the deepest, darkest months of winter are when I start casting covetous eyes on other bikes that I have neither the space nor the money to procure. Luckily, the winter of 2010-2011 has been no different.

This year's "Thou Shalt Not Covet" award goes to the Salsa Vaya:

Now, I should disclaim right away that I haven't ridden a Vaya, and the folks at Salsa offered no bribes for a mention of their bike here. It's just an abstract longing of mine... nice, clean-looking road-biased do-everything bike, fat tire clearance, drop bars. Pretty much an off-the-shelf answer to my weird mountain/road mutt-bike cravings.

The discs give me pause, though. This is not the knee-jerk whining of a Luddite (for a change) -- I was still doing shop work when discs really hit the scene, and I got pretty comfortable servicing them. And I know the theoretical pros behind discs:
  • Riding in the grime? Your braking surface stays clean.
  • Wheel gone wonky? Your brakes don't care.
  • Braking surface on your rims? Don't need it. 

The problem on a road bike, though, is that no one's making (yet) an off-the-shelf drop-bar brake lever that can actuate a hydraulic disc. And in my extremely limited experience (just a little more than "squeezing levers on the shop floor"), I've been underwhelmed by cable-actuated road discs. Now maybe they just aren't set up right at the shops I visit (for shame, shops!) or maybe it's the "good squishy" that comes from a really powerful brake (the kind of squish that comes from all that power smashing the flexier parts of the system). Dunno. But I remain unimpressed by the feel and power compared to a good high-profile cantilever or even a basic Shimano V-brake. I'm also not 100% thrilled with the thought of a dished front wheel, but that could just be the paranoid ramblings of a lunatic.

I know I have readers who palp/run/rock discs on drop-bar bikes (lookin' at you, Local Steve) -- so convince me. Are they really all that and/or a bag of chips? Or are we looking at Biopace 2.0 here? And please phrase your answer in the form of a justification for me to get a Vaya if at all possible... because one brown bike in the garage is unusual, but two is a theme (or the smallest UPS fleet in the world).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

You Know You're A Bike Geek When...

... the legs on your kitchen table remind you of fork blades:

Who's with me? Sure, the lug-licking Francophiles will scream, "Not enough rake! Too much trail! Ugly dogleg bend!" But c'mon... those are fork blades, no?

Or maybe winter's getting to me.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bespoke Socks!

I like this photo for two reasons. One, it was taken today, mid-January, the height of my winter fat season, yet it is still almost possible to see my feet while looking down. (Okay, so I sucked it in as much as my hypothetical abdominal muscles would allow.) Two, and more importantly, those are my 100% custom, handmade, lovingly-crafted-by-spouse wool socks way off in the distance, just over Belly Mountain.

Back in the days of my pre-Festivus gift guide series, I confessed (with great shame) that while I was a fan of wool cycling socks, I had yet to avail myself of the knitter who lives under the same roof for a made-to-measure pair. Thankfully, that glitch is now fixed, and I have a pair of custom wool socks made to match the specific contours of my freakish paddle-shaped feet.
Here's a better shot, showing both the heel/cuff detail and a swath of pasty, hairy calf. The yarn is some sort of wool/angora blend (I should have paid more attention, sorry dear) that feels simultaneously thin/breathable yet cozy -- an important detail since, like Steven Wright, I choose my socks by thickness. So far, I have only field-tested the socks for sleeping and semi-conscious lounging, two activities at which they (like their owner) excel. They also do a fine job of teaming up with the polyester carpet to generate a defibrillator's worth of static electricity. 

So, to my wonderful wife, I say thanks, and to those not lucky enough to have partnered up with a talented knitter, I say neener neener neener.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hite-Rite! Outta Sight!

How could I forget that I still have scans sitting around from my critically-unknown Blast From the Past series featuring the 1984 premier issue of Cyclist magazine? Cast your mind back to those halcyon days of Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe and check out this bit of equally primordial mountain bike technology:

As the blurb says, the whole schtick of the Hite-Rite was that it allowed you to set your normal saddle height for flats and uphills, flip open your seatpost quick-release on the fly, let the saddle sink down, close the quick-release, and voila, your saddle stays well away from your delicate naughty bits on the downhill. Hit the bottom of the hill, open the quick-release again, and BOING! Saddle pops right back up to normal height. Hope you got those naughty bits out of the way first, or you just got a rude surprise and ended your career as a tenor.

Apparently, if the magazine clip is to be believed, the ability to adjust saddle height in a hurry was a huge concern for off-road racers back in times of yore. I don't remember too many reports of races lost as riders struggled with their saddles by the side of the trail, but who knows? Maybe Joe Breeze was like the 80s remake of Tullio Campagnolo and his recalcitrant wheel nuts.

It's easy to find this steampunk-looking thing funny in a "people really put that on their bikes?" way, but the basic concept hasn't ridden off into the sunset, even 27 years later. You can buy any number of wacky seatposts today with hydraulics and springs and remote controls and altitude-sensing GPS and iPod docks (okay, I made some of that up) to accomplish the same basic task as the humble Hite-Rite.

So, Hite-Rite, I salute you on behalf of the many delicate dangly bits (and grateful old-school mountain bikers) you helped protect back in the day. The staying power of your concept proves that although you can keep a good idea down, it will eventually spring right back up again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'm Not Worthy! I'm Not Worthy!

I used to think I was a pretty bad-arse bike commuter. Sure, I'm not riding this winter, but I have in the past -- enough that I could actually justify some Mad Max-looking studded snow tires. And did I mention my titanium femur with matching tough-guy scar?

And then I read about this guy. 

(Warning: That link goes to the Des Moines Regurgitator... er, Register site, one of those paper-based news delivery things trying in vain to get hip to the whole Web thing. It's sort of like watching your geriatric uncle try to pick up college girls: Sad, and more than a little creepy.)

Anyway, Mr. Ruggeder-Than-Thou (who even shames me with his massive thicket of facial hair) works not far from The Cycle World Headquarters, so I suspect we'll cross paths sooner or later. And when we do, I will proclaim, "You, my liege, are undoubtedly the Bull Goose Loony of Des Moines bicycle commuters." And I will genuflect before his Mighty Beard, and anointeth his chain with oil.

Then I'll go back inside and bundle up in my fuzzy pink Snuggie with a cup of cocoa like the little girly-man I am.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Less Than The Sum Of Its Parts

Here's one of the weirder things about bike retail.

I just received some new wheels that I'd ordered online. Basic Shimano hubs, Sun CR18 rims, straight-gauge stainless spokes, nothing terribly fancy. I know, I know, machine-built wheels suck. Whatever. They were true to "no worse than the rim seam" tolerances and just a skidge undertensioned... nothing a few minutes with a spoke wrench couldn't cure.

The weird thing is that these wheels cost me $115 plus shipping. Here's what it would have cost to buy the parts in those wheels from the same vendor:

Rear hub: $36
Front hub: $24
Rims: $24 each (x2)
Spokes/nipples: 50 cents each (x64)

That's $140 plus shipping -- $25 more than I paid for the complete wheels, and I would still have to lace the dang things myself! I know there are economies of scale at work, but somebody needs to get that wheelbuilding machine (and the person who feeds it parts) a raise. I wonder if wheelbuilding robots can unionize?

My old wheels are now shod with the studded tires (which is one less excuse to be a winter weenie) until their paper-thin rim sidewalls finally give out. At that point, I promise to buy some spokes and rims, sit down with my old hubs and the works of the late, great Sheldon Brown, and get myself educated on the dark art of wheelbuilding. It's just embarrassing to call myself a mechanic when I can't build a wheel from scratch to save my life.

(Aside: My old wheels were actually handbuilt by Iowa framebuilder Rich Powers, who seems to have no bike-related Web presence. I don't know if he's still building frames these days, though I've seen his handiwork under frequent commenter Steve K. Anyway, they shouldn't have held up as long or as well as they did, which is one good reason to invest the extra bucks in a handbuilt wheel.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sucks To My Ass-Mar!

That's not rude, it's a literary reference. Who says an English degree is worthless? I just used it to get away with saying both "sucks" and "ass."

So I had a dentist appointment yesterday (wow, these blog things really are filled with self-indulgent minutiae, aren't they?) and since my better half needed the car to get to her place of employment, I figured heck, break out the bike. It's only a few miles, right? Pulled the folder off the hooks, pumped some air into the sagging tires, hoisted my sagging spare tire aboard, and off we went. Sunny day, temps in the mid/upper 20s, no wind. About as idyllic as you're going to get in Iowa in January.

A couple miles later, I'm at said dentist's office, leaned over my bike, wheezing and hacking like a two-pack-a-day smoker, just about ready to heave my breakfast. Oh yeah, THAT'S what an asthma attack feels like! Under normal circumstances, my asthma goes pretty much undetected... but give it some cold, dry air (check), a bit of exertion (check check) and a very out-of-shape body (check check check) and kerblammo. By the time my appointment was over, I'd pulled myself together enough to ride home, but I had a nasty rattle in my lungs for the rest of the day.
This off-season stuff is no fun. No fun at all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 New Gear Report (a.k.a. Tried & Liked)

Look at that, I made it all the way to 2011 without reporting on the new equipment I tried and liked in 2010, despite watching two of my co-bloggers give their reports right on schedule. In my defense, when I look back on 2010, I realize that I didn't try too much new stuff... most of my gear is pretty tried, true and tested at this point. I'm well on my way to being the (ahem) "quirky" guy on your group ride with parts from ten different manufacturers and four different decades. He's also the guy with a tinfoil-wrapped helmet to block the transmissions from the Great Carbon Fiber Marketing Cabal: "I'm telling you, man, it CAN'T be laterally stiff and vertically compliant at the same time! It doesn't make sense! Soylent Carbon is PEOPLE!"

Sorry, went off my meds for a sec there. I did try a couple new things this year worthy of note. First up, I added a folding bike to my stable. If you've been following along, you already know that. If not, turn on some cheesy montage music and enjoy this look back. One part of my folder that I will make note of here is the drivetrain -- I have been more than a little impressed by the not-terribly-expensive SRAM 1:1 rear derailleur and GripShift. It's a far cry from the SlipShift of the mid-90s... very crisp (even with a generic non-SRAM cassette), easy to set up, holds adjustment well, all good.

I also put some tuchus-time on a Wilderness Trail Bikes SST saddle this year. I don't even remember where I got the thing... maybe a bike shop takeoff bin? A swap? I have a vague memory that it cost me all of ten bucks (it's the basic steel-railed model), so it wasn't a terribly expensive experiment. 

I admit, I was swayed by one of them online blog fellas, my pal Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson, who's been known to wax poetic about WTB saddles. Kent likes the ones with grooves for his man-parts, and since he rides them on the Great Divide Race, I certainly won't question that preference. The SST, however, predates the era of man-part grooves... it's a pretty old saddle. I have a vague memory of these things existing back in my 90s shop-rat days, though many of those memories are untrustworthy.

The SST was kind of a nuisance to set up initially (it has a pretty swoopy shell, with a flaccid nose that makes eyeballing dead-level a challenge), but once I found the sweet spot, my junk thanked me. Bike shorts, regular shorts, no worries... a perfectly-shaped butt-cradle for my delicate undercarriage. Sure, I didn't put in a lot of miles this year (see my last post for pathetic proof), but I did extend my commute from 2 miles to 20, and I did a couple straight weeks of "commute every day" on the SST in non-bikey shorts with no complaints from my man-parts or arse-parts. Obviously, your parts may vary.

Being Mr. Settled-In-His-Ways, I don't predict too many radical departures in the coming year. I do have a shiny new pair of Schwalbe Kojak tires hanging in the Velo Palace (thank you, bike shop closeout table) that will take over for a well-worn pair of Michelin Dynamics in the Spring, and I'm thinking about putting my commute load on front lowriders instead of my rear rack, but that's it. Stupid complacency, getting in the way of my gear lust!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

End/Beginning Of Year Summary Retrospective Bonanza

2010 is dead. Long live 2011.

On the bike this year? Uh, pathetic, at least by my usual standards. 2,020 miles, my lowest annual total since I started keeping records in 1993. I didn't even top the 2,050 from 2007... which was the year I broke my leg. Sad. 

That brings my recorded total up to 39,553 miles since '93. At one point, my goal was 50,000 miles by the time I turn 40, but I'm going to have to have a pretty amazing 2011-2012 to make that happen. Maybe 50,000 by the time I'm 50? Or maybe I'll start recording in kilometers to make the numbers look bigger.

Blog-wise, though, I couldn't be happier. People actually seem to be reading this drivel, my wonderful spouse has made it look infinitely better than I ever could, and we even got a paid advertisement (thanks again to the good folks at Headwater Cycling for that). To think I've only been at this for three years! Why, at this rate, I'll be able to quit my day job by the time I'm 73!

So, as we stumble forward into what I'm sure will be the future utopia promised by the Jetsons, I'd like to send a huge thanks to the readership (yes, even the ones who came here on accident looking for motorcycles, lunar cycles, the movie Psycho or -- shudder -- the Iowa State Cyclones) and wish the whole lot of you a happy new year. May your rubber side always be down and the wind ever at your back in 2011.