Friday, January 20, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Return of Schraeder

No, not this guy:

This one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rub Some Dirt On It

Poked around my old photos and found yet more evidence of my own folly dating back to those more innocent times in early/mid-2016. Y'see, when I added the Red Sled to my collection, I borrowed the fenders from my Rockhopper for it and (very briefly) considered the Rockhopper a stripped-down "go-fast" (snort, snicker) bike.

Of course, I then decided to commute on the stripped-down "go-fast" (chortle, guffaw) on what promised to be a dry day... which promptly turned into a rainy day the moment I arrived at my office. At least the commute home provided some artsy-fartsy blog fodder photos, to whit:

Mmmm... crusty drivetrain parts. Can't you just hear the sand in the chain, grinding its life away? (To add the tiniest bit of value, notice the presta valve dork nuts under the bottle cage, spacing it out over the front derailleur clamp. Pro tip!)

I am perhaps the worst smug bastard on earth whenever I see a fenderless rider get a skunk-stripe of grunge on his or her back. Here's karma in the form of a serious mud bath all over my Arkel backpack, a fairly new addition to my increasingly large and embarrassing bag collection that I have yet to fully review on these pages. Mini review: The stuff inside stayed bone dry, and the crust wiped right off without a trace.

Jeez, now it's a "how many different brands of (non-matching) bags can he stick in one post?" contest. This is my who-know-how-old Jandd handlebar bag, one of those tubular/barrel-shaped throwbacks that adorned the saddle or bars (or both) of a lot of 1970s ten-speeds. It may look like this bag took the brunt of the front wheel spray, but trust me, there was still plenty left for my face.

The moral of the story: Fenders. Or mudguards, if you're British. After this ride, I abandoned the silliness of a "go-fast" and adorned that sucker with a set of legit full-coverage fenders post haste. The bike still gets filthy because I'm lazy, but at least my teeth don't.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Year the Rim Brake Died

Predicting the future in the bike business is an exercise fraught with peril. Take for example, my pal Bill, a former bike shop owner and my former boss, who saw mountain bikes coming out in the 80s and predicted that they would be the end of his business, since they were "so durable that they would never need repair." (For the record, Bill is now out of the business by choice, not because he was driven out by those indestructable mountain bikes.)

I wasn't in the business when MTBs hit, but if a customized Delorean had pulled up to Bill's shop in 1999 with a message from 2017 that the 26" wheel (a.k.a. 559mm bead-seat-diameter) was all but gone, replaced by some obscure French size we probably didn't have in stock, I would have laughed that fool right out of the parking lot. Yet, here we are in 2017, and see how many 26"-wheeled bikes you can find in the catalogs of any of the big players. They've all been pushed aside for 27.5", a.k.a. 584mm bead-seat-diameter, a.k.a. the obscure French 650B.

Still, with all that evidence of past failures piled up against me, and my own Luddite retrogrouch tendencies crying "say it ain't so!", I'm going to step out onto a dried, cracking limb and say that 2017 will be remembered as the year that the invasive species known as the disc brake finally sucked up all the oxygen, leaving nothing for rim brakes.

Sure, the pro peloton hasn't embraced them (yet). But that (finally) doesn't matter. We're in a marketing moment where new riders just aren't excited about skinny dudes on skinny tires in tight shorts (not that there's anything WRONG with that). For all my grumbling about the hooey around gravel bikes, the industry push these days is away from one-trick race machines towards all-surface, all-purpose bikes (you could say that Rivendell's vindication finally came). For once, a bike can still sell even if it doesn't look like the one some doped-up freak with 2% body fat rode real fast around France for three weeks. And for better or worse, the big players (and fashion police) have decided that those all-surface bikes must be disc-equipped.

Once those high-end/enthusiast dominoes have fallen (and you don't have to spend much time looking around your local bike shop or trail to see that they have), it's just a matter of time before rim brakes go extinct all the way down to the Wal-Mart level. The message that discs are better in wet, mud, and snow is pervasive... even though a huge percentage of riders won't go out in those conditions anyway, and would be just as well served by a good rim brake. The stores are going to love it, because the ability to brake no longer relies on the ability to keep a wheel trued. And the manufacturers are going to love it because they only have to weld on a couple disc tabs per frame rather than four precisely-aligned cantilever posts.

Fear not, those who come here for retro-grouch grumbling. The Cycle World Headquarters remains a disc-free zone, mainly because I'm not the least bit dissatisfied with the cantilevers and V-brakes in my fleet -- they even work on (gasp!) gravel. (It also helps that switching brake paradigms at this point would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor, and I'm a cheap, lazy man.) Still, even though I've held out vain hope that discs would be the Biopace chainrings or chainstay-mounted U-brakes of the 21st century, I think we're stuck with them.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

PSA: Pal Steve Announcement

If you're a Des Moineser (Des Moinesian? Des Moinesiac? You'd think after 17 years, I'd have the answer, but all I know is that it's French for "The Moines") or plan to be in/around Central Iowa on Saturday, January 21, y'all should get down to Hy-Vee Hall for the Iowa Bike Expo.

Sure, some snarky blogger gave last year's expo a meh, but the 2015 expo featured The Cycle's own Local Steve, Steve Fuller, chatting up his plans for the 2015 Tour Divide... and this year, Local Steve is back, talking about his (SPOILER ALERT!) successful completion of said Tour Divide. I have to go since I was there in 2015 and I'm an obsessive completist. You should go because it promises to be entertaining and informative, despite my presence in the room.

So, Saturday, January 21, 2017, 3-5 p.m. Central Standard Time, Hy-Vee Hall room 105, 833 5th Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa. Be there or pedal squares.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Ad-Man Cometh, With a Crapload of Shrimptm

You heard it here first, folks: Red Lobster has trademarked the phrase Big Festival of Shrimp. So if you were planning to have a Big Festival of Shrimptm, you're going to have to come up with another name for it, lest you receive a visit from Red Lobster's legal department.

If you're scratching your head because you came here for the usual bike drivel, hang in there. I'll get to it. The reason I noticed that little "tm" in commercials announcing this (one must assume) large, festive event that involves the consumption of tiny crustaceans is because, for a brief, misguided moment, I was a advertising agency copywriter responsible for coming up with similarly inane trademarks. Here's how the process works: 

The client goes to their agency with some idea, be it a crustacean-fest, or in my case, a redesigned part for a washing machine (for the record, I'm going to be cagey about who my former client was, though after 15 years out of the biz, any non-compete/non-disclosure I had with them is as dead and mouldering as my soul). I might get a little blurb from the engineers about what this new part is supposed to do, then I'm sent back to my desk to come up with a list of catchy names. I brainstorm for what feels like days (but is probably only an hour), make a list, scratch off the obviously stupid ones that may have gotten me to the less-stupid ones, then run the less-stupid ones through an online database of existing trademarks to see if anyone else in an industry vaguely related to my client is already using them. If all goes well, a few of my names will survive the "already trademarked" culling and will go to the client. If they like one, oh happy day, and their legal department does the reams of paperwork to stake a claim on the name. If they like none of them, I start over.

Here's how I imagine it went down for the copywriter at Red Lobster's agency: The client said, "We're going to have a festival. It will be big, and it will involve shrimp." So at the top of the brainstorming page, the copywriter scratched down "Big Festival of Shrimp" just to start the mental gears turning. Unfortunately, the copywriter forgot to remove that phrase from the final list of ideas that went to the client, and the client said, "Big Festival of Shrimp! That's brilliant! Send it to the legal team immediately!" (As anyone who's done client-driven creative work knows, you should NEVER present an idea to the client that  you think is stupid, because -- without fail -- that's the one they'll choose, and then you're stuck with it in your portfolio forever.)

Bike people who've stuck with me through all that Inside Baseball nonsense, the (admittedly small) payoff has arrived. Here are the takeaways you should always keep in mind when consuming bike-related advertising, based on my experience writing ad-drivel in other industries:

One, the person writing the catalog copy probably doesn't know anything about bikes or care. I certainly knew next-to-nothing about washing machines or tractor tires or water filtration systems or cotton towels or anything else I was writing about, and I cared even less. Someone on the client end does (or at least should) know and care, but that information is filtered through any number of intermediaries (creative directors, client services flacks, engineers, lawyers, you name it) before it reaches the writer, and it will see just as many filters (editors, proofreaders, middle-management flacks, lawyers again, and graphic designers cutting out random words to make the copy fit the page) before it shows up in print. Thus, the copywriter can be forgiven if, for example, he or she winds up accidentally touting the benefits of 37-spoke wheels or sealed-bearing head tubes.

Two, the lead times for producing a catalog (even in the Brave New World of the Internets) are long enough that what may have been accurate information at the outset might not match the reality of what shows up on the shop floor. For washing machines, sure, there were some stalwart models that had zero changes from year to year. Bikes? That's a rapid-turnover industry. The model name might stay the same from 2016 to 2017, but maybe Shimano couldn't provide the derailleur that the bike maker planned to spec in the right quantity or at the right price, so a different one gets substituted at the last minute. The bike with the other derailleur has already been to the trade shows and photographed for the catalog, and the spec sheet has already provided grist for the catalog copy -- a catalog that's either at the printer or already in a box at the bike shop. Thus, counting on the catalog as the Holy Text is a fool's errand at best, and busting the chops of your local shop because the catalog says your bike should have a 36-tooth middle chainring when yours came with a 34 is just not cool.

Hopefully, after all this, I've shed some light on how marketing nonsense gets to the consumer, deflated the Don Draper myth a little bit, and made it utterly impossible for me to get another job in advertising. Now, I'm craving some crustaceans...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sir Fix-a-Flat: A Comedy of (Many) Errors

Error #1: As I was leaving my desk, a co-worker noticed my helmet, commented on how crazy I was to ride in the winter (true), and asked if my tires went flat when the weather got this cold. Although my nerd brain was buzzing with, "Holding volume constant, the pressure of a gas does decrease with decreasing temperature, so yes, I suppose technically, my tires do go flat in the cold. But given that the volume of a tire is quite small, the difference in pressure is negligible," I've long ago learned that most people DO NOT CARE about what goes on in my nerd brain. So instead, I gave a devil-may-care laugh and said, "Nope!" (If this tale had a soundtrack, it would be the ominous sound of low strings right now.)

Having tempted the gods, I walked to the bike parking cage and found -- on cue -- a completely flat front tire. (Soundtrack: The "wah-wah" noise my nephew describes as "sad trombone.") And did I mention that it was barely 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the parking garage that houses the bike cage? I removed the offending wheel, collected my kit of minipump, tire lever, and spare tube, and retreated to the (inexplicably but thankfully) heated elevator lobby of the parking garage.

Error #2: Did you notice the mention of tire LEVER, singular? When I'm riding my loose-fitting summer tires, that's more than enough to pop a bead. On the tight-fitting (and cold-stiffened) tank treads I roll in the winter, not a chance. I wrestled for what seemed like hours, popping a section of bead, gently removing the lever, and trying the next section of bead while I watched the first one drop back into place as if taunting me. This is also where Error #3 reared its ugly head: I was wearing thick wool mittens with no liner gloves underneath -- and while the elevator lobby was heated, it was still cold enough that I had the choice of mittens with zero dexterity or bare hands that were rendered equally useless from the cold.

I finally managed to wrestle the tire off and extract the flaccid tube, which led to Error #4: Feeling around the tire for the cause of the flat (a smart move) with bare fingers (a dumb move). I found the wire that was stuck in the casing, but not before it gave me a couple nasty cuts across the pads of two fingertips. Had I been wearing those wool mittens from Error #3, the wire would have just snagged them, no harm done. Luckily, my fingertips were so numb (see Error #3 again) that I didn't feel the wounds until later.

But having extracted the wire, I was free to install a fresh tube and pump up the tire. Error #5: Minipump. Though on the bright side, the hundreds of strokes it took to get a semblance of rideable pressure into the tire did warm me up a bit. (Whose tire volume is so small as to render the difference in pressure negligible NOW, nerd brain?)

With a (mostly) pumped-up tire, it was now time to gird my loins for the frigid outdoors again. I returned to the cage, stuffed my kit and the dead tube back in my seat bag, and tried to reinstall the front wheel. Error #6: Those winter tank treads are just a tiny bit wider than my summer tires, so my brakes don't quite open wide enough to install a wheel with an inflated tire (remember that the tire was completely flat when the wheel came out). So I was left with two choices: One, deflate the tire, which would mean all those hundreds of minipump strokes had been wasted and would have to be repeated. Two, just jam the wheel in there, possibly knocking the brake pads out of alignment, which would at best render the front brake useless and at worst, put a pad into the tire, wrecking the sidewall.

I took my chances on the second brute-force option, since the cold was quickly shutting down all higher brain function. Thankfully, the brake remained functional and I was able to complete the ride home with all digits still attached. I'll be hunting through the parts bins for thinner brake pads, borrowing a real frame pump from another bike, and making smarter layering choices from now on, though.