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.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Continue To Operate The Vehicle

I'm sure this is apocryphal (and I'm too lazy to confirm/deny it via the Googles), but I recall a story about an emergency procedures manual for pilots that included the instruction "continue to fly the plane" with every step. The moral was supposed to be, no matter what, keep being pilot. The manual's there to help, but you have to keep flying the plane.

I can't help but think of that story every time I see a car commercial touting some new safety feature designed -- or so it seems -- to remove the driver's responsibility to drive the car. Look away to change the radio station or pick up your kid's toy? Don't worry. Your car has sensors that will detect an obstacle and automatically apply the brakes before you hit it. Backing out of your driveway and don't have a clear line of sight? Those same sensors will stop you before you back into the neighbor's dog. Changing lanes without checking your blind spot? No problem -- the car will see anything back there and gently steer you back to your lane. At every turn, the car manufacturers seem to be removing the burden of paying attention to our surroundings.

As a cyclist, I have mixed feelings about that. In my happy, shiny, perfect world, none of these gee-gaws would be necessary, because every driver would be operating at 100% "your driver's ed instructor is watching" attentiveness at all times. But in the real world, I see drivers doing everything but driving: answering the phone, sending a text (which is against the law in Iowa, by the way), applying makeup, having a snack, reaching into the back seat, you name it. Assuming the new gee-gaws are calibrated to see bicycles, then I'd rather have the car (and its computer brain) watching out for me, because the human brain that's supposed to be paying attention obviously isn't.

Lest we cyclists get all smug about technology removing the need to operate the vehicle, note this key passage from Lennard Zinn's VeloNews review of electronic mountain bike shifting:
"Another cool Di2 feature is that you can use a short cage rear derailleur and never worry about tearing it off in a big-to-big cross gear when shifting with too little blood going to your brain. Instead, you can keep that short derailleur and chain and program the system to never shift to a gear that the chain is not long enough to handle."

In other words, you don't have to know how to shift -- or how to properly size a chain. Just push the button and let the black box figure it out for you. I'd be lying if I said there's not a "gee whiz, that's neat" factor, but as for me, I'll keep my hands on the controls and trust the meat between my ears to land the plane, thanks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Coelecanth 2: Electric Boogaloo

 The coelecanth has mutated!

So I'm sittin' in my garage, staring at my bikes, thinking, "What do I have that's well enough and thus impossible to leave alone?" Obviously, it's those downtube shifters detailed in my last post.

After a few weeks of enjoying the perverse retro-osity of downtube shifting, I had to admit to myself that the "not as convenient" ergonomics I mentioned last time had become an actual pain in the tuchus. Riding a compact double with a big chainring jump is no big deal on a long sustained ride, but can create a lot of weird shift patterns in the stop-and-go of urban commuting. Plus, I found that the little buggers could get slippery during our humid months, especially when I used my questionable superpower of being able to sweat like a man twice my weight. So, I dug through ye olde bins and found some bar-end shifter pods and downtube cable stops, their matching shifters long ago busted, lost, or both. Being Shimano, they took to my Shimano downtube shifters like Lego blocks that just happened to come from different kits.

The resulting bar-end/downtube mashup works just like a standard bar-end shifter, which is to say both hunky and dory. It doesn't have the little ergonomic curve or rubber cover of a "real" bar-end shifter, but that difference is hardly noticeable in practice. Best of all, I now have shifters in the same location and with the same action on both my most-used single bike and the tandem, minimizing the chance that I'll reach for the wrong spot when swapping from bike to bike. This move even saved me yesterday when my bad back decided to act up mid-ride... had my shifters been any lower than the ends of my bars, I wouldn't have been able to reach them, and the subsequent limp home would have been even less enjoyable.

I'd love to say that this idea sprung fully formed from the twisted wrinkles of my brain, but I stood on the shoulders of those curmudgeonly giants at Rivendell Bicycle Works, who sell both bar-end pods separately and their own mashup of bar-end pods with friction downtube shifters. I get no kickback from the Riv folks for any flood of shifter sales that may result from those links, by the way.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cycling Coelecanths: The Downtube Shifter

I have retro/Luddite tendencies. Duh. But when I bought my much-beloved Raleigh Clubman several years ago, I convinced myself that it would be the bike that dragged me into at least the late-20th century if not the 21st. Threadless headset. Inch and an eighth steerer. 9-speed rear wheel. External bottom bracket with a giant hollow spindle. And -- gasp -- STI shifting. Bane of the Luddite. Grant Petersen's Great White Whale.

And for several seasons, all was good. Those newfangled gadgets worked just fine. But this year, the STI started to annoy my perfectionist tendencies. It worked, sure, but it got finicky. I spent a lot of time cleaning and lubing cables, twisting barrel adjusters mid-ride, and holding shift levers for an extra beat, waiting for that perfect engagement. For anyone else, it was tolerable, maybe not even noticeable. But I figured I could do better, because when have I ever left well enough alone?

Trolling the internets led me to a great deal on a set of new-old stock, fairly recent production 8-speed Shimano downtube shifters, shown above. Shimano hubs and derailleurs are fairly agnostic when it comes to 8 versus 9 speeds, so once I procured some 8-speed cassettes from regular reader/commenter Steve of Peoria, all was well.

After a few hunded miles on this perversely old-school/new-school setup, I'm pretty impressed. The ergonomics of reaching down for the lever are not as convenient as an STI or bar-end, but I haven't found it problematic, even while commuting (when a lot of simultaneous shifting/braking happens). The biggest difference, though, is in the shift quality. When you take those big loops of housing out of the equation, the indexing gets astonishingly precise. Plus, the friction front lever is leaps and bounds beyond any front indexing setup I've tried -- infinitely trimmable, and makes clicky front shifting seem like a kludge.

Now, if you're only accustomed to modern indexing, with its cottonball-soft detents, the right shifter will come as something of a shock. It definitely have that throwback feel, to the days when Shimano wanted everyone around you (and a few people in the next county) to know that YOU HAVE A SHIFTER THAT CLICKS! You aren't going to sneak up on anyone. In fact, you're going to startle people with the sound of your shifts. Having come up in the early days of click-shifters, I like the feel, but it could be an acquired taste for others.

I've prattled on enough, so I'll save the review of the associated brake lever swap for another day. Suffice to say, while I fought my Luddite tendencies for a while, they're clearly sneaking back in.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Loss Of An Unknown Legend: Tom Teesdale

I know it's old news by now, but Iowa framebuilder Tom Teesdale passed away this summer at the age of 63, suffering a fatal heart attack while riding the 2014 RAGBRAI.

Let's get this out of the way up front: I'm not going to make this about me. I don't have a Tom Teesdale story. I never met the man, never rode one of his bikes. I lived in Iowa City for six years, rode through his town of West Branch several times a week, and never stopped in. Never even knew he was there. I'm sure his Hot Tubes feature in the long-defunct Bicycle Guide magazine came out during those years, but I must have read right over his location. It's an Iowa cyclist thing, or maybe just an Iowa thing: We don't think that important people come from here, or if they come from here originally, they leave when they get important.

Instead, this is a media critique, specifically of what passes for cycling media in 2014. Try this experiment (I'll even give you the links): Go to the Bicycling magazine website, type "Teesdale" into their search engine, and see what you get. Hit VeloNews and do the same thing. Since he was best known as a mountain bike builder, try Dirt Rag next, a publication dedicated to off-roading. For the sake of science, I even tried Mountain Bike Action, though I won't make you add that embarrassment to your browsing history.

You know what you'll get? Nothing. "Your search returned no results."

This is a guy whose torch touched some of the most iconic frames of early mountain biking. Check his resume if you don't believe me. And yet, the online properties of the two biggest general-interest biking magazines in the U.S. and two magazines devoted to mountain bikes didn't even mention his passing.

Granted, by all reports, Mr. Teesdale was a quiet guy, and much of his work had someone else's name on it. Even yours truly, a mountain-bike obsessed college kid living just up the road from him through most of the 90s didn't know he was there. But here's the thing: I don't get paid to write about bicycles or the people behind them. It's my side gig, done strictly for fun. I don't even pretend to be a journalist. But the folks behind those magazines do pretend to be journalists. They get paid for this stuff. Hell, some of them probably had people covering RAGBRAI. And they missed it.

Shortly after Mr. Teesdale's death, his website ( went down. The error message said it had "exceeded its bandwidth." And I thought, well, at least that's something. Lots of people must have heard the news and visited his site to learn more about him. Thankfully, the site is now back up, so you can see examples of his amazing work and learn about his framebuilding philosophy. It's just a shame that the cycling press doesn't see that work and the loss of the man behind it as worthy of mention.

UPDATE: I checked in on Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (a.k.a. BRAIN, a kind of "Inside Baseball" publication for bike shops and other industry wonks), and they did in fact post a news story on the passing of Tom Teesdale almost immediately after it happened. So, kudos to the folks at BRAIN, and further jeers to the folks at the other brain-less magazines.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What's In The Stand: This Is Highly Irregular, Dave

In a desperate attempt to break this blog out of its current state of inertia (the "body at rest staying at rest" kind, not the "body in motion staying in motion" kind), I'm shamelessly stealing (call it an "homage") from Mike Varley of Black Mountain Cycles and his "What's In The Stand" series. Of course, Mike runs his own bike shop in the midst of a mecca of early mountain biking, so the stuff that hangs from his stand is a bit more interesting than what you'll see from a shade tree mechanic in Iowa. Still, the concept is solid and well worth the homage.

Today's WITS comes courtesy of my pal A-Mac (whose husband MikeMac once contributed a pre-WITS WITS post via his 1x7-converted Trek hybrid) in the form of a vintage Huffy tandem. Sure, it's not the sort of thing I usually feature in these pages, but A-mac takes such good photos (light years beyond the quality normally seen here) that I couldn't help myself.

Comin' atchya:

Head tube detail. A sticker rather than a badge, but still cool. Dig also the chromed fork crown and "bullet" details capping the ends of the twin top tubes:


From the rear. Loving those matching red and white saddles. More chrome in fender form, you ask? Sure. And with a fender reflector to boot:

Rear seat tube detail. Because, stripes! Also, the white nubbin to the left is a rudimentary seatpost quick release -- no cam action, just a nut/bolt with a long lever. Similar contraptions are all over my wife's Raleigh 20.

Lest you think my title was only inspired by the fact that this bad boy is a bicycle built for two, the 2001/HAL homage goes deeper. This may also be the first known instance of a chainguard detail photo with both a Kubrick reference and a BikeSnobNYC-style disembodied foot self-portrait:

And finally, the beast in its entirety. I need to tell A-mac that while the tree-lean is pretty epic, glamour shots should be taken from the drive side:

As for why the bike was in my stand, pretty much all the original rubber on it (except for the grips, which had already been replaced somewhere along the way) was kaput. I put on some fresh rim strips, tubes, and snazzy whitewalls, adjusted all the bearings, replaced the front brake pads and cable, polished from stem to stern, and she was good to go.

This bike is actually for sale. I don't stand to profit from it in any way (I was already paid handsomely in malted beverages for my mechanicking), but if you're interested and close enough to the middle of Iowa to be able to pick it up, let me know and I can connect you with the Mac clan.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Breakthrough In Schraeder Valves? Really?

The Murray I recently tuned up came to me with a flat. Luckily, the owner planned ahead and bought a spare tube ahead of time, as the only Schraeder valves I have in my fleet are in the 20" diameterway. But when I opened the box, I had an "oh crap, she bought the wrong tube" moment. The valve looked like this:

As anyone who's worked in a bike shop will tell you, the quick and easy way to figure out which valve someone needs is to ask if it's metal or rubber. Metal equals Presta, rubber equals Schraeder. So when I saw threaded metal with a valve stem nut (a.k.a. "dork-nut"), I immediately thought I had a Presta valve. Checked the box, it said Schraeder. Checked again, still Schraeder. Had a momentary thought that someone at the factory put the wrong tube in the box. Scratched my cro-magnon-esque brow.

Then I looked again at that valve. Diameter's too big for Presta. And the core is down inside, not exposed. Holy schnikeys, that's a metal Schraeder valve! And now that I know they exist, I kinda want them for my 20" diameterway folding bike, since I run those tires fairly low pressure and often find myself shoving the valves into the rims while trying to get my pump head on them. It would be nice (in a "my life is too easy if these are the things I worry about" way) to be able to thread a dork-nut on there.

(The tube is from the law firm of Specialized, Specialized, and Specialized, by the way -- which makes me think that they've patented the metal Schraeder valve so they can sue the makers of Presta valves.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Just Like Starting Over

I have no excuse for my hiatus. Let's just put it behind us and move on.

What inspired me to un-hiatus is this recent visitor to the workshop:

A department-store MBSO: Mountain Bike-Shaped Object. Thrilling, right?

But not so fast, bike nerds. If you'll recall, this very blog started off with a tune-up of a vintage Sears BSO, so we here at The Cycle have a soft spot for budget bikes -- and this one is no different.

In the day, my snobby mechanic buddies and I would have called this a Murray Bwaa-ha. However, older and wiser me sees a lot to like in this humble Murray. For instance:
  • The drivetrain works. Stamped steel derailleurs, plastic shift levers, and full-length cable housing are usually a recipe for disaster, but with minimal muss and fuss, I was able to make it index reliably across all 18 gears. Oh, and that humble Ashtabula crank/bottom bracket combination? Perfectly smooth, and required zero adjustment.
  • The brakes work too. Again, stamped steel calipers on steel rims should be doom and gloom, but with some fresh pads (the old ones were worn to nubs) and some limited truing (more like bending and squeezing) of the rear rim, I was able to eek out a respectable amount of braking. The hubs were even surprisingly smooth once I backed out the too-tight adjustment on the rear.

And you know what? That's plenty. The thing will go, and the thing will stop. While we (the royal we of bike-geekdom, especially including the royal me) may get bogged down in the minutiae of having a 16-tooth cog filling the otherwise unacceptable gap between 15 and 17 or picking the correct brake pad compound for a 30% chance of rain with 50% relative humidity, the vast majority of the world just wants to feel the wind on their face and be able to stop before running into something. This bike does that.

In fact, I'd propose that more bikes like this would be a good thing. Today's BSO puts too much of its (limited) budget into worthless suspension, cheap knockoffs of fashionable disc brakes, and general gee-gawery. I wonder how much something like that Baja could be sold for today... basic frame/fork with no suspension (aluminum frames are probably cheaper than the Baja's steel now), low-gear-count entry-level Shimano drivetrain, and basic caliper brakes. Put the money you save on gee-gaws toward professional assembly (I probably put more time into one tune-up on this one than most see in their lifetimes) and you'd have something.

Would anyone buy it? I don't know. Marketing isn't my department.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Reader Considers Joining The Raleigh Club(man)

I was pleasantly surprised this week to get the following reader feedback from a nice fella named Tim -- mostly because I'm surprised to learn I have readers. Anyway, Tim (quoted with permission) writes...

"I’ve been ogling a Clubman leftover at a shop near me for probably 2 years. If they still have it (and I think they do) I want to go get it. Do you have any additional comments on the bike now, 2 years later? I do most of my riding via an 18-mile (one way) commute over relatively flat terrain. I do it on either a singlespeed (80s Shogun), fixed gear (80s Lotus), or a Kona Smoke (26” wheels, maybe 10 years old?). The Smoke has 1.75 tires – I’ve ridden that thing all over the universe and love it but really want something that is a little more traditional. I’ve been a forever-fan of steel – lugged or otherwise."

If you aren't an obsessive follower of the blog (and who is?), I should explain that "2 years later" refers to the fact that I haven't really blathered at length about my Clubman since checking in with both a 519-mile review and a 992-mile review in ought-twelve... which means it's probably time for a longer-term check-in. The bike's been through a couple cyclometers since then, so I don't have a mileage tag. Let's just say "lots."

What I told Tim off-blog is that the Clubman is about as close to perfect as I think I'll get for my admittedly quirky tastes without going to a full custom. Stock, it was maybe 85% of the way there, but the bump-up to true 32mm tires (which, admittedly, required some brake and fender changes detailed in the 992-mile review) took it to 95%. The last 5%? Getting rid of the slight toe/fender overlap, and having just a tiny bit more tire clearance for giggles, both of which would require frame modifications that are too much hassle just to satisfy my perfectionism. That's not bad for an off-the-shelf bike.

The most noticeable feature of the Clubman has been the ride. I don't subscribe to the "steel is automatically magical and plush" trap, but this particular steel frame? A winner. I've struggled with how to describe it for the 3+ years I've owned it, and the best I can come up with is that the feel is analog rather than digital. Whereas some bikes (regardless of frame material) have a distinctly on/off, one/zero feel over bumps, the Clubman follows the shape of the road with more nuance. Think of a sine wave versus a sawtooth wave -- curves versus edges. Admittedly, a lot of that comes from the tires (the too-cheap-to-be-so-good Panaracer Paselas), but this characteristic was also there on the undersized Continentals they replaced, and could even be sensed through the noise of the absolutely awful stock Vittorias.

Further proof, however, that I am utterly out of touch with the bike industry today -- the Clubman is notably absent from the 2014 lineup on the Raleigh site. I can't say that I'm too surprised, as it is kind of a weird, quirky bike, even in stock form before my enhanced quirkification. So if Tim (or anyone else) wants a Clubman, the only hope is for one of those dusty dealer closeouts (for extra quirk, you could try to find the 2013 mixte version), or for prying mine from my cold, dead hands.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Self-Indulgent Proud Uncle Moment

During a visit with the nephews over the recent holiday weekend, Uncle Jason got a special request from Elder Nephew Wilson. He wanted the training wheels off his bike. Mom and Dad agreed that he was ready, so I borrowed a BFW (Big, Fantastic Wrench) from my brother-in-law and went to town.

I fully expected that this activity would lead to an afternoon straight out of a tearjerker TV commercial: Uncle Jason running down the street alongside a wobbly nephew until finally letting go and proudly watching him ride off on his own. While preparing for this scene, however, there was a tug at my t-shirt. Younger Nephew JT wanted his training wheels off too. With my backlog of repair tickets piling up, I quickly finished Wilson's bike and set it aside, turning my attention to JT's.

When I finished JT's bike and looked up again, here's what I saw:

Yes, that's Elder Nephew Wilson, tearing off down the street unaided by a proud, tearful uncle. Apparently, he didn't get the script for our TV commercial.

And wouldn't you know it? While I was distracted, this happened:

If you're scoring at home, that's TWO fearless nephews riding without training wheels. No grownups hanging on, no wobbles, not a worry in the world.

By this point, Wilson was circling back and preparing to stop -- and I feared disaster. But he did a cyclocross/Pony Express running dismount like it was nothing. It wasn't until later that I realized where I'd seen that move before; his grandfather dismounted the same way, though that grandfather was gone years before Wilson was even born.

Meanwhile, JT was off riding through ditches and over the biggest rocks he could find. That kid's going to have a lot of good stories and a lot of scars to go with them someday.

So my TV commercial was a flop, but I was a proud uncle just the same.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Irrational Bike Lust Therapy Session, Part 3,251

I made the horrible mistake of test-riding a Felt Burner last night:

Regular readers already know of my cruiser obsession, matched only by my retro-mountain bike obsession. So when you mash two of those things together into one package and add those comically large 700c knobbies (I refuse to say 29er, so there, marketing flacks), I'm doomed.

Of course, I immediately started justifying one. "The kickback hub and coaster brake would make for a low-maintenance commuter! It's much easier to find good studded snow tires in 700c!"

But let's face it: Justification number one (and at the end of the day, the only one that matters) is that it's just freakin' cool.

Our chief graphic designer/spousal reality checker wasn't helping at all. "If you think you can sell one of your other bikes, you should just get it." Heck, she was almost loading it into the car for me!

I didn't pull the trigger, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about what's in the garage I could cut loose, in my ongoing bicycle catch-and-release program.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Widget Review: The N-Gear Jump Stop

This is one of those reviews I've been meaning to write for a while, but the widget in question does such a good job so unobtrusively, I honestly forgot it was there.

At the end of last season, I started having intermittent chain-drop problems on my Clubman with its 50-34 compact crank. 16 teeth is a tough shift, even with all machining, ramping, pinning and shaping that goes into modern chainrings and front derailleur cages. As a result, I'd sometimes find myself shooting for the 34-tooth chainring and ending up on the zero-tooth bottom bracket, even with my Yoda-like mystical powers of front derailleur adjustment.

I don't even remember why I had a Jump Stop in my parts pile -- which probably says something about my parts hoarding problem. But I dug it out, figured maybe it would help, and slapped it on. I didn't even have the instructions to offer guidance on how to position it and was too lazy to consult the Oracle of Internets. I just took a best guess and started riding.

That was literally -- yes, I literally mean literally -- the last time I threw the chain on that bike. I'm so confident that I'm taunting the Chain Drop Deity. The Jump Stop cost twelve whole bucks shipped to my door, added a pittance of grams to my bike, doesn't even show unless you're looking for it, and makes no noise except the occasional "ping" when an awkward shift hits it, which is just the happy sound of a derailment prevented.

Normally, I'd throw an Amazon link in here and maybe get my beak wet a little (a tiny fraction of twelve bucks at a time), but in this case, if you want one, go straight to the source at the N-Gear website, from whence I borrowed this image of the Jump Stop in action on a shiny blue bike:

I love the N-Gear site almost as much as the Jump Stop itself. Remember the Days of Web Past, with tiled background images, unstyled text, just a handful of pages, and straight-up HTML that looks like something I coded? They live on at N-Gear. (Please note: Unlike my usual default sarcasm mode, I am not making fun. I really do like this stuff. In fact, some of the best bike information on the net comes in the form of some pretty old-school coding by the late, great Sheldon Brown.)

The other great reason to go straight to the N-Gear source is the honesty. The author goes into great depth on the different types of chain guides, and while he's obviously fond of his own design, he readily admits that it might not be the best for all applications. I mean, who puts the question "Is the Jump Stop the best chain guide out there?" on their FAQ page and answers it with, "Depends on what you need"? And, in the days of e-commerce run amok, who sends you their product based on an email or phone call and tells you to send a check if you like it or send it back if you don't?

For that refreshing lack of marketing nonsense and for your nifty widget, I hope you live long and prosper, Jump Stop Guy.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Why Electronic Shifting Is Not For Me

Oh boy, Ol' Man Nunemaker has his tinfoil Luddite Beanie on again...

Here's a big ol' quote from Lennard Zinn (an excellent technical writer on things bicycle, in this scribe's rarely-humble opinion) taken from a VeloNews tech piece on adjusting Campy electronic shifting for just the rear derailleur: 

"To adjust an out-of-tune derailleur, simply shift to the big/big gear combination and then hold both mode buttons down for six seconds until the indicator light glows blue on the side of the EPS interface. To adjust the derailleurs once the LED on the EPS interface glows blue, shift to the second-smallest cog and bump the rear shift lever either up or down, depending on which way the jockey wheels need to go to line up under the cog for the chain to run silently. Each bump of the lever in this adjustment mode moves the jockey wheels laterally 0.2mm. Once adjusted correctly, hit the right mode button once to memorize the adjustment. Then shift to the second largest cog (while still on the big chainring). Again, bump the right shifter up or down as needed to center the jockey wheels under the cog and silence the chain. Once adjusted properly, hit the right mode button again. You can fine-tune these adjustments as well, even while riding... hold only the right mode button down for six seconds. The LED on the EPS interface will now glow pink. Bump the right shifter up or down (which moves the rear derailleur in or out 0.2mm with each bump) until the issue is resolved. Then tap the right mode button again to memorize the adjustment."

Got all that? Because you still have a front derailleur to adjust. But if you don't get it right, don't despair -- there's another paragraph devoted to how you can tweak these adjustments out on the road, too!

If you go to the original article linked above (starting at Adjustment), you can see that I've edited out quite a bit just to stay somewhere in the vicinity of fair use (though the hoops I had to jump through just to copy the text made me want to go nuts and quote the whole dang thing -- uncool, VeloNews). And as I said above, Lennard Zinn is really good at his job, a job I would love to have if I thought I were remotely good enough. But when I read about holding buttons and finding Adjustment Mode when certain lights glow and pressing other buttons to make the microprocessor memorize the adjustment when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, my eyes glaze over -- and I'm GOOD at pushing buttons! I push buttons for a (quasi-) living, in addition to carrying around an electronic gidget in my pocket with a lot of glowing lights and buttons just for fun. When I'm riding my bike, though, I want something tactile, something physical, a simple mechanical interface between me and the machine. I don't need an app for that.

Could I describe adjusting a mechanical, indexed rear derailleur in fewer words than Lennard Zinn uses for electronics? Probably not, though I am tempted to try. And when my beloved mechanical indexed derailleurs hit the scene, could some snarky friction-shifting curmudgeon have lobbed the same complaint regarding the incantations and dark magic required to adjust those? Sure. I'm not saying that my arbitrary retro-grouch line in the sand is the retro-grouch line in the sand, or even that it's a defensible one. It's just the one I've drawn for myself.

(I will armchair-psychoanalyze Lennard Zinn for a second, though, in parentheses and a smaller whispery font: Later in the article, he's discussing the fact that Campy puts all the diagnostic/adjustment tools in the on-bike unit rather than relying on separate software, and claims this is in the interest of "simplicity, ease and convenience." When I see those three adjectives piling up on each other like triathletes attempting to ride a paceline, I feel like maybe the author doth protest a bit too much, no?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hoarders: Home Mechanic Edition

Few things in life frustrate me more than a project left unfinished. I lose sleep over a bike left hanging in the stand, half done and unrideable. That's how deep my obsessive-compulsive tendencies go. And while some unfinished projects reach that state for a good reason (a toolboard sadly lacking in a headset cup press, for example), most get stuck on the minutiae, that last 1% between "ready to go" and "albatross".

I suspect this is a common ailment among former shop mechanics. When you have an endless supply of the little things, you don't sweat them at the outset of the project. Never in my shop days did I play the mental chess of, "Ten moves from now, I will need a tandem-length brake cable for a road brake lever." I didn't have to, because I knew several of those cables were in a drawer somewhere. In the hopes of sparing other mechanics the forehead-slapping pain of poor planning (and hopefully reminding myself of some things I lack in the process), here's The Cycle's Home Shop Stockpile Shopping List:

CABLES: Since I already mentioned them, here's an obvious one. In a perfect world, I'd own the big file-box roll of 100, in road brake, mountain brake, and derailleur. A file box of tandem-length cables might be a bit much, so I'd just keep a few of those on hand. Obviously, I'd also want the file-box roll of brake cable housing and another of derailleur cable housing. Nothing makes a recabling job more fun than being able to zip out a length of housing and a fresh, shiny cable when you need it.

FERRULES AND CRIMPS: Having already belabored the point about cable ends, I'll just say get some. And while you're at it, get a bunch of cable housing ferrules. Nothing ruins the joy of that perfect recabling job like reaching the end and being one ferrule short. If you like the little rubber donuts that keep your brake cable from dinging on the top tube, get a bottle of those (I'm meh on them -- some bikes seem to really need them, while others get by just fine with naked cables).

A BIG, HONKIN' PATCH KIT: You were expecting spare tubes, weren't you? Sure, it's good to have those, since a) patching a tube during a ride sucks, and b) some flats just can't be patched. But in the luxury of my own garage, I'll bust out the sandpaper and rubber cement and make some butyl magic. In the shop, we always sold customers a new tube since the labor to patch cost more, which meant a big box of lovely, patchable tubes for the mechanics to take home and patch on their own time. I think I went five years without buying a tube.

CHAINS: If I had a nickel for every time I had to dash to the shop to buy a chain, I'd have enough nickels to nickel-plate a chain. Make sure you have a lot of whatever widget your particular chain uses to affix itself into a loop, whether that's Shimano's annoying little pins or some form of master link. And make sure the width of your widgets matches the width of your chains!

BAR TAPE: If you ride drop bars, sooner or later it will happen. Sure, you think you can unwrap the old tape with enough care to preserve it for a rewrap... and then it tears, and you're riding bare bars until you can get to the shop. In my perfect home shop, I'd have boxes of inexpensive fake cork tape (in black, since it matches everything in the fleet) just waiting on a shelf. If you ride flat bars, just find a bolt-on grip that makes you happy and buy it, cost be damned. It will pay for itself the next time you have to swap a brake lever and wreck your grip trying to get it off.

NUTS AND BOLTS: If you wrench long enough, you'll probably accumulate a decent assortment of fasteners. But without fail, if you need four, you'll have three. Or you'll want two that match for a highly-visible location and you'll have one black and one stainless. Just order a giant assortment of stainless metric hex head bolts from any number of online hardware stores and spare yourself years of hunting around the back of a drawer.

I'm sure there are plenty of other ways that a project can stall, but these are the ones that always bite me in the chamois. And in reviewing my list, I find that the shop here at The Cycle is sadly deficient in most of the items listed... so please take note when you're holiday shopping for your favorite blogger.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Great Moments In Obscure Parts: The Avocet Cross II Tire

Furthering my goal to monetize the crap out of this blog and purchase my own island, here's a review of something you can't buy any more from a company that (as far as I can tell) no longer exists. Savvy marketing plan there, Don Draper.

Long, long ago, there was a component manufacturer named Avocet. They made their name in saddles (among other things) with one of the first modern anatomic (translation: bumpy under your bum) models, the Touring. Avocet also cornered the market on cyclometers for what seemed like an eternity, offering their cute little mile-counters in an astonishing array of 80s colorways (confession: I had one in tennis-ball yellow to match my mountain bike of the same hue).

The Avocet folks really showed their weird genius in tires, though. They made two. When you chose an Avocet tire, the question was "dirt or not?" If the answer was "not", you got the FasGrip: A pure, Telly Savalas-esque slick with nary a hint of tread. If the answer was "dirt", you got the Cross II. (I'm disregarding the Cross, Avocet's first draft, with its chunkier tread and square shoulders, which had a disturbingly binary feel in corners: "I'm not leaning at all... OH SWEET MOTHER OF GAWD, I'M LEANING WAY TOO MUCH!")

Unlike pretty much every other treaded tire that got its grip from protruding features added to the tire, the Cross II got its grip from a zig-zag groove cut into the tire, like it started life as one of those nice, round FasGrips and then got snazzy racing stripes:

The black stuff is (logically enough) black rubber, while the white shows the negative space. When you're on hard asphalt, you're riding on just the center ridge and the shoulders -- pure, smooth, rubber, Telly Savalas-style. Hit the dirt, and all those edges around the grooves come into play, providing bite and traction. Granted, the grooves hummed like mad on pavement (and thus sounded slow), but this was a surprisingly fast tire on the road. The round casing (unlike its Frankenstein-head-shaped Cross ancestor) cornered like Velcro on the street... and in all but the gloppiest mud, those grooves hooked up like something much knobblier without clogging. (Fun fact: Riding a Cross II in fresh snow would shoot powder out the front of your front fender like a tiny snowblower.)

Sadly, the Cross II is no more, long out of production, a tire before its time. If someone found the molds and started popping these out again, I suspect the gravel nerds would be on them like the word "gravel" on dumb bike marketing. However, in one of those strange moments of Internet time-stoppage, the Avocet website (where I found the links and horked the tread image above) still exists, tantalizing me with a glimpse into a time when I had a full head of hair and no aftermarket parts. I think I'll sign up on their Receive Updates page and sit by my dial-up modem, waiting patiently for the AOL voice to say, "You've got mail!"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Meh Is National Bike Month

In case you didn't get the memo, we're currently living in the utopian transportation dream that is National Bike Month. Can't you hear the cacophony of bike bells and "on yer lefts" drowning out that one hapless motorist who must sheepishly abandon his car by the side of the road, unable to move amidst a month-long Critical Mass of human-powered smugness?

Lest my sarcasm-fueled title and introduction prove too subtle, I may be the only cyclist in the world who doesn't soil his chamois over the idea that we're given a whole month all to ourselves, capped off by the smugsplosion that is Bike To Work Week. Here's why: There are groups and causes in this world that deserve -- nay, need -- their own month. Black History Month? Sure. Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Yes. Don't Kick Puppies Month? Not a thing, but if it were, then it would need a month, obviously. But c'mon, folks. We are bicyclists. Our "burden" in life is that we choose to ride small, vulnerable vehicles on roadways inhabited by large, clueless, dangerous ones. Emphasis on choose. African-Americans didn't choose slavery. Breast cancer survivors didn't choose their tumors. Puppies don't choose to be kicked.

Don't get me wrong: Being a cyclist in an American city has its share of inconveniences, annoyances, and hazards. I can't always find a bike rack. People snicker at my funny shorts. And idiots surrounded by one-ton steel Viagra prescription supplements sometimes get hostile with me. Would I love to have those things magically disappear? Sure. But I'd be kidding myself to think that any of them (or all of them taken together, even) rise to the level of "injustice."

Now, the counter to all this curmudgeonism is, "But Jason, it's not about injustice or righting a historical wrong or ending a deadly disease or making sure all puppies go unkicked... it's about celebrating the bicycle!" Okay, fine. But if you really want to celebrate the bicycle, do it in June. Or January. Or on odd-numbered days. Or on days ending in Y. Don't spend a month singing Kum-bike-ya, bike to work for a day, pat yourself on the back, and hang it up until next May. Make it something you do. If enough of us make that choice, then the very idea of a National Bike Month will seem as silly as Breathing Air Month.

That's when I'll celebrate.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The King And I

If you're wondering where I've been hiding out, I spent last week getting all professionally developed in the Twin Cities, locked up in a hotel conference room learning about content strategy, SEO, web analytics... zzzz... huh? What? Where was I? Oh yeah, professional development. You don't think this blogging thing just happens, do you? It takes non-stop continuing education to maintain this level of drivel.

Normal people bring their kids and/or wives presents when they go all Cat's in the Cradle (Harry Chapin? Hello? Anyone? Is this thing on?), but as a) I have no children, b) my wife was with me on the trip, and c) I have never been normal, I bought my bike something pretty instead: 

If you're playing "Where's Waldo?" wondering what's new on the old green steed, it's those shiny stainless steel water bottle cages from King Cage. This falls into the category of "pseudo-placebo-upgrade" as there was absolutely nothing wrong with my existing water bottle cages. Sure, I think it's neat that they're handmade in a garage in Colorado rather than cranked out of a Chinese factory, but on pure function, this was just magpie money, shiny things for the sake of shiny things.

I'm told by those in the know that yes, the King Cage is hella-strong, and it feels light in the hand (though, c'mon, how heavy can a bottle cage be?), and it is admittedly a pretty thing, but -- like so many supposed upgrades we put on our bikes -- I seriously doubt it's going to make one bit of difference in my enjoyment of the ride. If I'm proven wrong, I'll actually review it. Otherwise, I'm standing by my defense of "it's pretty, an actual person made it, and I like it."

One thing that Mike Sinyard (of Specialized, the law firm that imports bikes on the side) could learn from the King Cage, though: Did you know there's also an American bicycle components manufacturer named Chris King? It's true! They started in the 1970s! And then this King Cage thing comes along in the '90s, yet to this day, nobody's been sued over the name! I kid you not! It's like these King guys (Chris or otherwise) have no interest in a lucrative revenue stream just waiting to be tapped!

(Ulterior motive: I'm hoping that relentless mocking of Sinyard and Specialized will get ME threatened with a cease-and-desist, so I can ride the resulting wave of social media goodwill to blogular fame and fortune. That's what a continuing education in content strategy will do for you...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Oughta Be In Pictures

Time to bring a little cheer back to the joint. See, I got a letter from Wilson the Elder Nephew, Finest Elder Nephew in All the Land. On the back of his eloquent epistle, the budding scribe sketched the following:

Just shy of seven years old, and the kid gets me. He really gets me.

As soon as I finish answering the letter, this baby's getting framed.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Gap In The Skyline

I hate to follow (a lame attempt at) humor with a bummer, but sometimes, that's how life works.

What you're seeing is what's left of the Younkers building, a Des Moines fixture since 1899, its upper floors abandoned by a corporate downsizing (despicable euphemism) in 2002, its lower floors left empty in 2005 with the closing of its namesake department store. For years, ideas for bringing the buiding back to life were tossed around, but only recently had a developer stepped up to make an idea stick. Sadly, the building was gutted by fire on Saturday, just as the renovations seemed to be taking shape. No one was hurt, thankfully, including the brave (jeez, talk about an understatement) members of the Des Moines Fire Department who just made it out before the upper floors collapsed.

(As much as I hate to admit it, The Des Moines Register is doing a pretty good job covering this story if you want to learn more. I can't get behind their Gannett parent's crappy "new and improved" website design,though.)

If I sound like I'm taking this maybe a little too personally, I am. See that extra-charred section at the far end? That was my office, circa 2000-2002 (actually, I was in a small cube farm behind those arched windows right below the worst of the damage). It wasn't a great job, but it was my first "grown-up" job (where they actually paid me to be a writer, albeit one who only wrote ads for khakis), and more importantly, it was what brought me and my lovely wife to Des Moines -- a town that I've since adopted as my own. I didn't know it at the time (because you never know these moments as they're happening), but that move and that "meh" job in a cubicle in that old building marked a huge turning point toward who I am today.

Des Moines lost a little bit of its history this week. And I lost a little bit of mine.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Got A Recumbent!

Breaking news here at The Cycle! I have finally succumbed to the peer pressure of two vocal Steves from the comments section and dabbled in recumbency. If you came here for saddle reviews, look elsewhere. However, if you're searching for beard grooming tips, watch for my upcoming "Supine and Hirsute" series where I will test a variety of facial hair configurations for aerodynamic efficiency.

Being a respected professional cycling blogger, I didn't just get my hands on any old recumbent. It turns out that those crafty Swedes at IKEA have been running a top-secret Skünkwerks lab, crafting a line of bikes that are poised to revolutionize cycling as we know it. While they've done a fine job keeping this project away from the prying eyes of those chumps at Bicycling and VeloNews, regular readers of The Cycle know that they couldn't put one over on yours truly. I was on to this project from day one, from my team coverage of their radical Y-frame mountain bike with co-blog-sleuth fivetoedsloth to their carbon fiber track bike for juniors

When it came time to release the IKEA recumbent, they wisely decided to work with The Cycle and allowed us to be the first journalists in the world to put this machine through its paces. At 12:01 a.m. today, a yellow-and-blue armored car appeared at The Cycle World Headquarters, driven by none other than legendary retired Swedish professional cyclist (and unit of measure) Magnus Bäckstedt. He unloaded a large, flat-packed (what else?) cardboard box, and was gone.

As much as I'd like to tell you how the bike rode, the fact that it arrived some-assembly-required has us a bit thwarted. Granted, like the Alex Pong/Cannondale/Magic Motorcycle concept bike before it, the IKEA recumbent can be built with just one hex wrench, thoughtfully provided by IKEA in the box (little-known fact: The failure of the Pong/C'dale/Magic Motorcycle bike was the result of a cost-cutting decision to NOT include the hex wrench). However, like most recumbents, getting the IKEA 'bent into a regular workstand can be a bit of a challenge:

So until they can send me a Snärglöd adaptor, you'll just have to be satisfied with this teaser shot of the seat:

I can already tell that it's going to be laterally stiff and vertically com-plywood.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Breaking Stuff

I was due for a new melon-protector this year (more on that later), so I decided to take the opportunity to do some decidedly non-scientific destructive testing on the old one. I always make sure to badly damage my old helmets before throwing them out (assuming they haven't been badly damaged in a crash) just to discourage someone from digging one out of the trash and using it when it might not be safe. This time around, I figured I'd document the destruction for my own entertainment and (maybe) yours. 

DISCLAIMER: Nothing you are about to see should be taken as a legitimate safety test, an endorsement or anti-endorsement of any particular helmet, or even an endorsement or anti-endorsement of helmets in general. Do not try this at home with a real head. And no, I do not want to argue the pros and cons of helmets with you. 

First, the substitute head -- a cement block of unknown weight. Maybe 10 pounds? A perfect stand-in for yours truly, as I'm something of a blockhead:

The test consisted of placing said block into the aged helmet, holding the helmet/block combo at approximately head height (six feet or so) helmet-side-down, and dropping the whole mess repeatedly onto a concrete floor. Again, no science is implied here, just an immature desire to bust things.

It took about three drops before real damage started to appear in the helmet's guts. Note the major crack in the center of the photo, and another forming up and to the right of that one:

After a couple more drops, a crack formed in the outer shell:

A couple more drops, and things are really starting to look ugly on the inside. The retention loop that goes around the back of the head is detached at this point. This is why I don't use my own head for testing:

Finally, after maybe ten drops total, the back end started to separate from the rest of the helmet, which was its eventual failure mode -- the whole rear/lower section unhinged from the front like a snake swallowing an egg.

 Some observations:
  • The impact (though it made no attempt to simulate anything remotely real) was quite violent and noisy. Sobering stuff.
  • Given the violence of the bang, I was shocked at how "normal" the helmet looked after the first drop. If I didn't know it had been damaged, I never would have noticed anything amiss.
  • Thanks to the first two bullet points, I now understand (viscerally) that the manufacturer's recommendation to replace a helmet after one impact is not just "we want to sell you another helmet" hooey. These things are designed to give their lives for yours.
  • With all that being said, I was impressed at how much integrity the helmet maintained after repeated hits. We're talking a lid that's many years old and pretty crusty, yet it kept its shape through more impacts than I would have expected.
  • I probably would have kept going, but there was a point where the Beavis and Butthead element of it wore off and I started thinking about the times I've actually put helmet to pavement (or tree, or rock) with my head inside. That's when it got creepy and I had to stop.

In fact, I just re-creeped myself out enough that I'm going to repeat my disclaimer: Nothing you just saw should be taken as a legitimate safety test, an endorsement or anti-endorsement of any particular helmet, or even an endorsement or anti-endorsement of helmets in general. Do not try this at home with a real head. And no, I do not want to argue the pros and cons of helmets with you. 

Let's be careful out there.