The computer the caused all the problems.

Technology can be a Burden

This winter I started a commuter bike project. I wanted to be able to ride to the gym, work out, ride to work, take a shower, work all day and ride home, all without having to carry a backpack.

The backpack part might seem dumb, but I radiate a lot of heat in the summer and run a little cooler without a thing on my back.

The project started out GREAT. Got a cool bike. Decked it out with cool stuff. Had some fun. Then realized that my computer — an integral part of my professional existence — didn’t fit.

To recap the bike setup at this point: dynamo lighting system. Pizza rack. Pizza rack bag.

Step One: purchase a bungee gizmo and attach my backpack to the pizza rack on the front of the bike. This worked pretty well, but had two drawbacks. Drawback one was that I had to carry my (unpleasant) post-workout gym clothes home in my backpack, and that was just a bit much. Drawback two is that my backpack isn’t really waterproof, and I wanted to feel safe in a downpour. There is a certain amount of stubbornness around the shop with regard to riding home if you arrived at work by bike.

Step Two: purchase a pannier and hang it from the pizza rack. Turns out that very few panniers are big enough to hold a 15” MacBook Pro. I purchased a super nifty Thule item, and discovered that it didn’t fit on the pizza rack. Sigh.

Sometime in there we had a good rain, and I ordered some super-sweet fenders for the bike. Installing the olde worlde drill-your-own-holes-and-hope-for-the-best thingies made me really appreciate modern fenders. And Two Hearted.

Bike with fenders, but before rear rack.

Step Three: purchase a rear rack to hold the pannier. By this time we’re starting to experience significant bike/parts/accessories shortages due to the pandemic. I’m not going to say that I settled for this rack, but there weren’t many cool racks from which to choose. Once I got it on the bike I realized that it, too, is not compatible with the Thule pannier. Clarification: the pannier works, but it doesn’t work optimally; it’s too tall (or the rack is too short, vertically) for the pannier to fit snugly. I should have thought about this a little more thoroughly before picking the rack I did.

PDW Everyday Rack.

True fact: with front and rear racks and a set of full-coverage fenders, it takes a few rides to get everything tight and not rattling. My bike sounded like it was falling apart for a couple of rides. Because it was.

Know who commutes a lot? Europeans, specifically Germans. Surely there’s some darn German product that’ll fix my problems.

Step Four: try a different pannier. Ortlieb makes a commuting bag that looked perfect. And, I have to admit, it works pretty darn well. Still doesn’t quite fit the pizza rack, but it does work on the rear rack. I haven’t been able to make it my all-the-time-wether-I’m-commuting-or-not bag, but it might have potential. It holds a good amount of stuff and my computer feels vey secure in there.

Step Five: try a different rack. I bought a Pelago commuter rack in an effort to get these panniers to fit better. And it worked! Both the Thule and Ortlieb bags fit great. True, the new rack is perhaps not as adorable as the PDW, but this whole project is mostly about function. Good news: one of my coworkers with far fewer embedded requirements installed the PDW rack and is very happy. The punch line is that she’s using my old bungee net to secure her backpack to the rack.

Bike with Pelago rack and Ortlieb bag. Works great.
Bike with Pelago Rack and Thule bag, just to rub it in.

This current setup is very functional, but is it optimum? I think not. Somewhere in my head is the desire to have a bike that’ll do what I want with one rack, and I’d like it to be a front rack. Does it bother me enough to keep throwing $100 bills at it? That’s a pretty good question. We’ll see. The functionality of the new rear rack dulled my edginess a lot.

Lucky Cat is my copilot.
Painting on plywood

Sorry

Last week I jumped on my commuter bike and headed to the Downtown shop at about 7:30 am. It was a beautiful morning, and I found myself bombing down Oakland hill with a green light at the Lovell intersection at the base of the hill. I had a pretty good head of steam.

Without stopping at the light, a car entered the intersection from Lovell at about the same time I did. I remember yelling and dodging, then cruising up to the red light at South Street to talk to the motorist. I was aware of the adrenaline that had just been dumped into my system.

“I didn’t see you!” yelled the lady in the car, not yelling in anger, but so I could hear her. She didn’t pull too close.

“You didn’t stop!” I yelled back.

“I’m late for work and in a hurry…”

“Boy,” thought I, “this conversation is not going anywhere productive.” 

And then the lady yelled, “I’m sorry!”

Everything changed.

“It’s OK.” I said, completely defused. “No one got hurt. Thanks for apologizing.”

Then we yelled pleasantries back and forth until the light changed and we both went on our way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that lady. There she was, safe inside her car. Outside the car there’s an old guy on a bike jumped-up on adrenaline; he’s feeling wronged and no doubt does not look like a fun conversation partner. And instead of putting up her defenses, she dropped them and apologized. I’ve thought about the many times in my life when I should have apologized to someone but didn’t because of pride or shame or stubbornness or just not caring enough.

True: I hope she gets up a little earlier or does whatever needs to be done to make it to work on time. I hope she comes to a full stop before turning right. I’m glad that I didn’t get hurt. I’m also happy to have witnessed someone display a bit of grace in a tense situation. It obviously made an impression.

Moots in repose

Stolen Ride

For unclear reasons, I’d been thinking about a single-speed cross/gravel bike. I regret having sold my last one, and didn’t want to spend a pile of money on another. I spent a fair amount of time looking for a new frame, but single-speeding appears to have fallen out of fashion. I found very little to propel the project forward.

One day I realized that my geared cross bike has a PF30 bottom bracket and decided to convert it to single speed. Wheels Manufacturing makes a simple but effective eccentric bottom bracket, which I purchased. I also bought a 40-tooth single-speed chainring, a nine speed chain and really cool bar tape.

This is Silca bar tape that we’ve just stared carrying. It’s a pain to install, but feels great.

I had a bunch of rear cogs and single speed spacer kits from bygone project, and I installed a selection of this stuff to some wheels Kalyn assembled for me. These wheels have super-interesting Onyx hubs; I’ve been looking for an application for them for quite a while, throughout which I ruminated on my former boss who (at least) once purchased a very expensive suit to go with some shoes she couldn’t resist. So it is with me and bicycle wheels.

Onyx rear hub. Silent. Instant engagement. Not very light.

This project had been banging around in my garage for a few months. What can I say? Busy times. Today I put the finishing touches on this thing, right as the rain quit. I checked my phone, saw that it wasn’t supposed to rain for a few hours and started dressing to ride.

A series of funny things happened in quick succession. When I hit the incline in my driveway, I tried to shift. When I got about a quarter mile from home, I realized that I was wearing regular bibs instead of knickers. I usually cover my knees when the temperature is under sixty. About a mile from the house I realized that I forgot water bottles. I shrugged and kept going.

What a fun time! The bike was fun, but sneaking in a ride between rain showers on an early spring day was the best part. This post was actually inspired by the ride, not the bike, but one isn’t actually possible without the other.

Here it is! All done! Very great!
The Wheels Mfg. Eccentric. Simple but effective.
These shifters don’t work, but the brakes work just fine, thanks.

A New Direction, Part 1

A while back, I made a list of all of my adult bikes. As I review that list, it’s pretty easy to spot a trend — speed. Yes, there are specifications — frame material, wheel size, gearing, geometry, etc. — that vary from bike to bike, but an overarching theme is going (relatively) fast on two wheels. I am currently, if rarely, very satisfied with the bikes in my garage.

But I’ve been reading. Things like this and this. At the shop we’ve been talking about a shop bike packing trip this summer. I’ve been thinking about ways to make it easy to commute by bike. My commute is never long, but the hassle (and attendant sweaty back) of a backpack and special shoes add a bit of friction to the process.

I’ve been thinking about something more utilitarian, but still fun. Something I could rig up as a commuter. Maybe something that would work for the bike packing trip. Definitely something that would allow me to try some new products related to commuting.

Oddly, I decided to start with a few accessories and pick out the bike a bit later. I knew that I wanted a bike that would be compatible with the Specialized Pizza Rack on the front. It looks pretty cool, holds 33 lbs. and supports low-rider panniers. So I bought one, the first item purchased for the project.

A good dynamo system would be part of this bike. Such systems appear to start with a SON hub. Every bike in consideration for this project had 12mm thru axles front and rear, so I bought an appropriate SON 28 hub. I didn’t really want this project to culminate in a zillion-dollar bike, so I looked around for a decent, not-too-expensive rear hub. I’d had a SRAM 900 a few years ago, liked it and purchased another.

Ugh. Lights. I can pick out rechargeable LED lights all day long, but the variety of dynamo lights initially overwhelmed me. In the end I picked up a B&M (Bosch+Muller) IQ-X headlight. I like the high power. I intend to mount it on the front of the Pizza Rack, but I wasn’t sure if I’d want it mounted “regular” or “upside down.” This light easily allows for both configurations without voiding any warranties. Seems like a winner. Might as well go all the way, so I got a very little light described by a character I’m not yet smart enough to type. It is indeed very small, so small that I’m a bit concerned. We’ll see.

And those were the first things I sourced for the project. In Part 2 of this mess, I’ll talk about bike selection, the rest of the wheel parts and putting it all together.

Potential

We spend a not-insignificant amount of time thinking about what we’re doing, how we do it, why we do it and who we serve — the kind of thinking that could induce an existential crisis in those lacking a strong constitution.

We know.

We know you could purchase your bike stuff from the shop down the way. We know you could purchase your bike stuff from Jeff Bezos (or similar). We know you have a LOT of choice. And we think about why you might choose us.

See the photograph related to this post? That’s our jam. Pictured are around half of the folks who attended our Turkey Burner ride on Black Friday. That’s a bunch of folks going out for a ride on a 37F degree day. In NO WAY am I suggesting that you have to ride 34 miles on a pretty chilly day to be part of what we’re doing. What I am suggesting (and what Pedal is all about) is that we’re about more than slinging bikes and bike-related products out the door. We’re about helping you use those machines and goods and whatever in the pursuit of a better you. A more healthy you. A more fit you. A you that receives the benefits of meditative time on a bike.

We can’t promise happiness. We can’t sell you a better life. Pedal sells things that offer the potential for a better life. Pedal also offers — often free of charge — opportunity to use that thing we sold you in pursuit of that happier you. Come ride with us.

Let’s Talk About Tubeless

To tubeless or not to tubeless? The pro-tubeless party suggests that you think of these features:

  • Most small punctures seal themselves.
  • You no longer worry about pinch flats and can run lower pressure for greater comfort.
  • The potential for weight loss, particularly with wider tires, is significant.
  • Modern tubeless works really well in all popular cycling disciplines — road, gravel, cross, city, mountain.
  • Tubeless is now ubiquitous enough that most shops can help you if you get in a bind.

Anti-tubeless people would remind you that:

  • Setup is not as easy as inflating a tube.
  • You really want the two main components — your rim and your tire — to be tubeless. Yes! It’s possible to get non-tubeless stuff to work, but it’s just too risky for us. We’ll only work on systems in which all components are designed to be tubeless.
  • It’s not a forever thing. Tubeless needs attention even if you don’t get a flat. Tubes only need attention when you get a flat.
  • A big rip or tear in your tire will still ruin your ride.

All are true!

Should *you* consider tubeless? If you hate messing with your equipment or taking your bike to a shop, you should pass. Setup can be a drag and you really should add new sealant every 3-4 months. Likewise, if you only ride your bike occasionally, the effort of keeping your sealing fresh might not make sense. If you like working on your bike or enjoy having the latest technology, tubeless is definitely worth considering.

Today I had to put new tires on some rims and thought I’d document the process for posterity.

Things you need: tubeless rim, tubeless tires, rim tape, valves, sealant and a way to move a good amount of air.

Valves come in a variety of lengths. Make sure you get the right length. I realized that these were too short once I’d opened ’em. Drat. Some systems can be pretty fussy about valves. Stan’s valves work great in most situations, but there are those in which something more proprietary is required. Not sure what you need? We’re happy to help.

You want the right width tape. The tape should stretch from bead to bead on the rim. Installing tubeless tape takes a certain knack. It’s not hard, but it’s much easier after you’ve done it once or twice. Remember the goal: making the rim airtight. We’ve had good luck with several brands of tape.

Here’s a picture of a well-taped rim. The tape runs from bead to bead with no unsightly wrinkles.

Some folks get pretty wound up about the brand of sealant that they use. Stan’s keeps improving, largely pushed along by the good folks at Orange Seal. I’ve had great luck with sealant from those guys as well as the stuff from Bontrager (now blue!) and Specialized.

There are little touches and techniques that happen once everything is ready to be put together. Ryan and Matt at the Downtown shop like to put a tubeless patch between the valve and the rim tape to create a better seal. I do the same when I remember.

Most folks have the good sense to get the tire up on the bead without sealant, just to make sure it’ll work. These folks will then inject the sealant through the valve to keep the tire on the bead, just in case that first try was a lucky fluke. I tend to slop some sealant in the tire before I install it completely on the rim, having faith that I can get the tire on the bead without blowing sealant everywhere. I have coworkers who equate this technique with voodoo.

Popping a tubeless tire up on the bead requires a big volume of air. Not so much pressure, but volume. You will almost always be best served by removing the core from the valve, as it can really obstruct air flow. Air compressors and presta adapters work great, but I’ve also had really good luck with pumps designed for this purpose, specifically the Bontrager Flash Charger. It’s not cheap, but it’s way cheaper than a big air compressor.

If you just cannot get the tire to jump up on the bead, you might consider adding another layer of tape. This doesn’t always work, but it works pretty regularly.

If the tire is mostly on the bead but won’t quite get all the way up, well, I’m sorry. That can be a rough situation. Soapy water all over everything can help. More pressure can help, but be careful! Some fancy carbon rims will break if you go too high. (I was once told by a manufacturer, “You can take it up to 35. At 36 it’ll come apart.” Tension was very high.) It is really terrible and can hurt a lot if a tire under high pressure comes off the bead.

And then it all comes together and you have something nifty like this:

Just add a bike and ride.

What’s Going On?

It feels like the second or third day of summer, and I thought I’d answer the question that no one’s asking, “What are you messing around with?”

I’ve been playing around with three bikes, maybe four.

Kona Libre

I tend to ride this bike more than mess around with it. It still consists of: Libre DL frame, Stans Valor Wheels. SRAM Force 1 hydraulic drivetrain, Thomson seat post and stem, Bontrager carbon handlebar. 18.5 lbs. I’m happy with the weight and very pleased with its performance. Color me a fan of this 650b gravel “thing.”

Oh: I’m halfway through an experiment with this bike. MUCH conversation has occurred regarding 650b vs. 700 wheel/tire combinations for gravel. In a half-assed effort to compare the two, I bought a bunch of wheel parts — Velocity Aileron rims, fancy-pants Sapim spokes and nipples and super-neato Onyx hubs —  and asked Kalyn to take the parts and turn them into wheels. Things were looking good until we swiped the tires off these things for a customer’s bike. Now they hang in the shop. Perhaps this experiment will be picked up sometime this summer.

Allez Sprint Disk

This is a frameset built up with a box of parts that included a hydraulic Ultegra Di2 drivetrain, carbon wheels, carbon bar and whatever else. I purposely picked the Specialized Phenom saddle due to the good experience I’ve had with the stock item on the Epic. The box of parts was originally slated for a Roubaix and contained a compact crank and a very wide-range cassette. I swapped those out for a standard crank and an 11-25 cassette.

I installed tubeless 28mm Turbo tires a few weeks ago. Took ’em a while to really set up, but they feel great. Tubeless is a good deal for our debris-strewn roads.

The stock headset on this bike was a bit of a bummer. It creaked like crazy and loosened up on a regular basis. I knocked it out, breaking one of the bearings in the process, to find out that it’s… a non-standard headset. Bummer. I ordered another that retains the same cheesy plastic top cap and spacers, but it doesn’t creak. That’s nice.

I like this bike more than I expected. The ride is really not bad at all. The handling is quick, but not too quick. Fun city.

Epic

The big change to the Epic is carbon wheels, a pair of Santa Cruz Reserve 25 with DT 350 hubs. There are a LOT of really great carbon wheels out there, but I picked these, and I like them.

The Epic is a 2019 Comp Carbon with a Charger 2 damper upgrade in the fork and an Eagle X01 drivetrain I had laying around for various other projects. With the addition of the carbon wheels, the bike now weighs (just) under 24 lbs. J’Son approves.

My fork developed the not-unheard-of problem of a leaky air spring. I fixed that, but was unsure that I got the settings back where they belonged (because I never write that stuff down. Which is dumb.) This morning I went down to the shop early, grabbed a ShockWiz, installed it and got ready to go. It never occurred to me that the little light was flashing red instead of green. Sure enough, ShockWiz was dead when I got to the trail. Argh. I ended up brutalizing my air gauge to harvest its battery and got some pretty decent data.

Wandering Eye

I have a 120mm Fox 34 left over from another project. I’ve thought about putting it on the Epic, but the offset is all wrong (valid question: would I notice?). As fate would have it, this fork would (and does) fit just fine on a demo Blur. As did some Boyd aluminum wheels and a slightly nicer drivetrain. These things cannot be helped.

I rode this over-forked bike for a few miles and *really* enjoyed it. I look forward to more testing shortly.

5010 at Andrews

Several years ago I had the chance to ride a Santa Cruz 5010 on trails outside of Calgary, AB. When we decided to carry Santa Cruz at Pedal, I thought the 5010 might be a super bike for, among other things, the Maple Hill Trail, so we brought in a couple for demos.

Last weekend a couple of guys (or maybe The couple of guys) who do a lot of work on the Trails at Andrews were in the shop, kicking tires and talking about the trails. If you haven’t ridden the Trails at Andrews you should.

And that’s the lead-in to my decision to build the medium 5010 last night and ride it at Andrews today.

First: all of the internal cabling on an aluminum 5010 is not for the faint of heart.

One (hydraulic) brake line, one shift cable and one (hydraulic) dropper post. Whew!

Once at Andrews, things looked like Spring

That’s actual green stuff on an actual plant. It’s great.

I brought my normal bike so I could do a little bit of comparison. I am quite smitten with this  Epic. It has 100mm of travel at each end, no dropper and weighs 24 lbs, 8 oz.

I rode the Epic for a few miles to find my legs and to assess the conditions, which were fantastic. Very little mud, zero sand, tons of grip. Plenty of elevation change, too. Once I felt pretty good, I switched bikes. The 5010 is aluminum, has a dropper and weighs 32 lbs. 7 oz., nearly six pounds heavier than the Epic. Putting the bikes on the roof, the 5010 felt heavier. It also felt a little heavier riding, but certainly not six pounds heavier. I didn’t weigh ’em until I got home.

This lovely color is called Eggplant.

Pretty quiet at the trail today, so I could park the bike in the middle of the trail and take a picture.

Nice picture among the Dr. Seuss plants that always make me think of Spring. Perhaps because they show up in the spring.

I wanted to ride ’em both just to get a little bit of contrast. Yeah, the Epic is #RaceBike, but it’s also just a really great bike. The handling agrees with me. I run the suspension pretty plush and like it. Heck, I even like the tires. It’s a great bike.

The 5010 is a bit of a different beast. Heavier? Yes. Sluggish? Absolutely not. It was a lot of fun. I suspected that I might hit the pedals on a regular basis but such was not the case. I could feel tons of unexploited potential in this bike. It wanted to jump. It wanted to party until dawn, but I’m a go-to-bed-early guy.

I’d like to spent more time on Eggplant. I’m also itching to try out the Blur.

Desert Vacation

A few pictures and comments from an all-too-brief vacation in Tucson.

I rented this lovely Trek Fuel EX 8 from a cool shop in town. They set up the suspension for me, topped off the sealant in the tubeless tires and gave me a seat pack with a spare tube and a couple of CO2 cartridges. Having owned an EX a couple of years ago, I can attest that it’s a really nice bike with 130 mm of travel front and rear and unflappable handling.

I was able to ride three days with an old college buddy of mine who moved to Tucson many years ago. The first day we rode the Sweetwater trail system. Great fun, and a good way to get acclimated to the area, and by “the area,” I mean the rocks. Rocks, rocks, rocks. It was fine, but it took a bit of mental adjustment to believe the tires would stick and the bike would turn.

The second day I hit Sweetwater again, then met my buddy for a trip to the Golder Ranch Trial System. This included a bit of sand, some huge boulders, a bit of hike-a-bike, screaming descents down The Chutes and lots of rocks, including one that I fell from.

Just a flesh wound. I’d tried to climb up the face of a rock, but didn’t have enough steam to get over the top. Boom. It looks worse than it is. However, this picture features the shoes that I wore, a very new pair of Bontrager Cambions. Two things stood about about these shoes. One, they are very comfortable. Two, the soft rubber on the lugs was just grippy enough to get me up a few hike-a-bike sections up rock faces. Perhaps flat pedals would have been a really good option, but I brought clipless stuff, so clipless I used.

We were going through some pretty rough business when I heard my buddy holler, “I could use a bike mechanic.” He’d crashed on the drive side and smashed the derailleur pretty hard right on the pivot (see the pic). I guess I’ve been living right, as I was able to grab the darn thing, bend it back and make it shift pretty darn well. I prefer to have some fancy tools, but luck will do just fine in a pinch.

The third day brought us to the Tucson Mountain Park. Wow. This was enormous fun, very rocky with a few tough climbs, but mostly just fine and incredibly lovely. This was the best weather day of the trip with temperatures over 50F and clear blue skies. It was during a descent that I decided to create a photo collection of Things In Tucson That Don’t Like You.

 

 

 

That last one in particular is quite nasty. The needles have tiny barbs on the end, and are both terribly painful and difficult to remove. Though the plants are hostile, the mountain biking was great. And the views. My word. Look at this:

Ansel Adams I am not. When I took this picture I felt as though I were in the most remote place in the world. And then we biked up a ridge to find a neighborhood on the other side. Incredible.

Thumbs up to mountain biking in Tucson. I rented a really great bike for about $80/day. I drove about 20-30 minutes to the various trails in town and just had a tremendous time. Recommended.

More About Range and Ratios

On a ride very recently I started yapping about the new gravel bike I built. My conversation partner asked a few questions about the frame and the drivetrain. He then said, “I’m still curious about the pros and cons of 1x and 2x drivetrains. I think you should write a full-nerd blog post on this.”

Obviously, this is not my fault.

I think we should start with the salient points of this post, which are:

  1. Modern 1x drivetrains give you a LOT of range, more than older triple-chainring setups
  2. These 1x drivetrains with all the range DO have bigger steps between the gears

The difference between this post and that one is that this one is going to compare a modern 11-speed road double drivetrain to a modern 11-speed 1x drivetrain, whereas the other was a bit more geared (ha!) toward someone with an old(er) drivetrain considering a 1x upgrade.

Range

It’s probably impossible to work through this stuff without applying a little bit of high-school learnin’, so let’s dive a bit deeper. The range of a cassette is [(teeth on big cog) / (teeth on small cog)]. The range of an 11-32 cassette (and this can be a 9, 10 or 11-speed cassette; the number of gears doesn’t matter in terms of overall range) is 291%.

Cassette Range
Cassette Range
11/28 255%
11/32 291%
11/36 327%
10/42 420%

Likewise, the range of the crank is the number of teeth on the big ring divided by the number of teeth on the small ring. The range of a compact cranks (50/34) is 147%. The range of a single-ring crank is 100%; the big ring and the small ring are the same, so the ratio is one.

Crank Range
Chainrings Range
Standard (53/39) 136%
Compact (50/34) 147%
Cyclocross (46/36) 128%

This, friend, is where the rubber hits the road with respect to drivetrain range. Your drivetrain range is the product of your cassette’s range and your crank’s range. I have an 11-32 cassette with a range of 291%. If I put that cassette on my single-ring cross bike, the range of the entire drivetrain is 291% (2.91 for the cassette multiplied by 1.0 for the crank). If I put that cassette on my road bike with a standard (53/39) crank, the range of the entire drivetrain is 2.91 * 1.36 = 3.95 or 395%. Said another way, the addition of a standard crank gives me 36% more range. If I had a compact crank, the addition would yield 47% more range.

Road Double
Chainrings Cassette Range
53/39 11/32 395%
46/36 11/32 372%
50/34 11/32 428%

To recap: on a single-ring setup, the drivetrain range is the cassette range. On a multi-ring setup, the drivetrain range is the range of the cassette multiplied by the range of the crank. If you look through the above tables, you’ll see that you can get a 10-42 single-ring cassette with 420% range, nearly the same as a compact crank with an 11/32 cassette. Whichever way you elect to get here, 420% range is a lot.

Ratios

I’m giving serious consideration to renaming this section “Steps,” because what I’m really trying to describe here is how much you “feel” the gear change. Does that change feel about right, or does it feel maybe a little too big? I got the “Steps” name from this article which is quite a bit more exhaustive than mine. One thing to keep in mind: while the number of cogs on a cassette doesn’t matter with respect to range, the number does matter with ratios. More gears means smaller steps across the range.

Here’s a bit of data that gets right to the root of this “Step” idea. For a long time, 11-25 was the cassette on darn near every new bike. We’re seeing a lot of 11-32 on bikes these days. 10-42 is the big-range 11-speed cassette that we see this on many single-ring new bikes.

Cassette Ratios and Steps
11-25 11-32 10-42
Cog Step Cog Step Cog Step
11 11 10
12 9% 12 9% 12 20%
13 8% 13 8% 14 17%
14 8% 14 8% 16 14%
15 7% 16 14% 18 13%
16 7% 18 13% 21 17%
17 6% 20 11% 24 14%
19 12% 22 10% 28 17%
21 11% 25 14% 32 14%
23 10% 28 12% 36 13%
25 9% 32 14% 42 17%
Avg. 9% 11% 15%

I think this sort of bears out what many of us have felt in our legs: wider range cassettes definitely have bigger steps between gears. The average step between gears on a 10-42 cassette is 50% bigger than those on a 11-25. Fifty percent is a big number. Too big? Hmmmm.

Big Finish

Let’s go back to the guy I was riding with the other day. I know what he’s doing. He’s trying to figure out how he wants to equip a bike he’s building in the back of his head. And I want to give him good advice for several reasons. I like the guy, and I thus want him to be happy. I also don’t want to get a reputation as the guy who gives people bad bike advice. Regardless, here’s a quick pro/con list on single-ring setups.

Pros:

  • Lighter weight (no front derailleur, no front shifting junk)
  • Simpler
  • No dropped chains or crappy front shifts (= greater confidence)
  • Wide range is still possible

Cons:

  • Might need to swap front rings to optimize the gear range
  • Bigger steps between gears are required to get the same range as a double
  • Switching cost could be high (shifters, derailleurs, etc.). Is this really a con? Maybe it’s just a fact.

Speaking personally, the simplicity of a single-ring setup is great. Perhaps I’m the only person who has thoughts such as, “I need one easier gear right now, but maybe I’ll ultimately need three easier gears, so should I mess around with the front derailleur or just knock out one shift in the back?” See!? Cycling is relaxing!

Also, personally, it seems to me that tight ratios (smaller steps) matter most when you’re riding with a fast group and are not in total control of the pace. In those situations it can indeed be a bummer to find yourself alternating between spinning too fast or pushing too hard at a low cadence.

Perhaps this is a localized conundrum. I happened to speak with a guy from SRAM at Interbike last fall. I asked if maybe a clutch derailleur was coming to eTap so that it could better support a single-ring setup. I mean, why not? SRAM totally popularized 1x. His response, “Oh you Michigan guys and your single-ring setups.” So though SRAM might be fired up about 1x, maybe the thought is that every product doesn’t need to support it. For comparison, it took until about right now for Shimano to come out with a clutch road derailleur.

Lastly, I think everyone needs to put it in context of what you have and what you’re willing to endure. If a single ring just seems too strange, don’t do it. If you’ve got an open mind, give it a whirl. If your life revolves around Shimano drivetrains, you might not enjoy the pleasures of a shift on an agricultural-feeling SRAM drivetrain. Said differently, 1x vs. 2x is one of many considerations in a new bike’s drivetrain.

Was this remotely helpful, John?

Technological Confluence

So what’s this thing all about?

I’ve been thinking about a new road bike for several months. I *loved* my Tarmac, but there are lots of things going on in the road bike space, and I’d like to have more first-hand experience with some of them. What things?

Di2 has been around nearly a decade, but I’ve never had a Di2 bike. I’ve thought about it, but it just never quite launched. Customers who have Di2 cannot rave enough, and I’ve wondered if I was missing out.

Road disc is happening for good reason. It’s super consistent in all weather. The modulation is superb. The amount of hand strength required is very low. Generally speaking, disc bikes allow for greater tire clearance, and bigger tires are another trend.

Lastly, aluminum road has been making a comeback. A decade ago, it was not at all unheard of to purchase a bike with an aluminum frame, a carbon fork and an Ultegra drivetrain. Then one day — poof! — that bike was largely unavailable. You had to get a carbon (or somewhat boutique) frame to get Ultegra-ish (Ultegra, Rival, Force, etc.) components.

I built this bike from a frame and a bunch of parts, many new, some old. It had been my intention to purchase an off the rack bike, but I stumbled upon a hydraulic Di2 kit and couldn’t say no. Such is the way bike budgets are shattered.

This is a Specialized Allez Sprint Disc frame. Why? Why not. It matched up really closely to my Tarmac when I looked at the geometry charts. The Allez Sprint does not have a reputation for being noodly and over-compliant, but I rarely ride my road bike more than 40 miles. I went into this expecting a pretty stiff bike. More on that soon. Also: the Allez Sprint is not the only aluminum road frame on the market. It’t just the one I picked.

I’m gonna flip into old man mode here for just a minute and wonder why anyone thinks we should run hydraulic hoses inside the frame. And fork. Talk about a lot of work for limited gain. And Di2 is not appreciably, if at all, easier to run through a frame than cables. Suffice it to say that the build was more time-consuming than I expected. In the end, despite my whining, I confess that it does have a sleek look now that it’s all together. Thus is this circular discussion complete.

Here we have a hydraulic brake line run through a fork leg (for no good reason! (smiley face)) to a flat mount brake caliper. I’ve been whining and moaning about this flat mount stuff since it appeared on the market, and my experience trying to get this stuff not to rub did nothing to improve my feelings.

I’m gonna veer off on a heckuva tangent here. This bike has a Shimano hydraulic brake system. Look at that thing: fins on the pads and some kinda crazy rotor that looks like part of a fancy turbine. All of this technology exists to keep the rotor cool. Shimano has three types of rotors. One is pain stainless, and it works great. The second type of rotor employs ICE technology, which means that it has an aluminum heat sink sandwiched between two pieces of stainless. This type of rotor runs quite a bit cooler than plain stainless. The third type of rotor is Freeza, which has ICE technology plus more aluminum hanging in the wind and runs cooler still. This is the type of rotor pictured above.

So what’s the deal with all of this? Why is cooling such a big deal, and why don’t other brands have all of these interesting technological options? Well, we start with the fact that Shimano hydraulic systems use mineral oil as the hydraulic fluid. Mineral oil is lighter than water, so if water gets in the system (think Pacific Northwest), it’ll pool at the lowest point in the system, which is probably the caliper. If the caliper is full of (or has a high content of) water, it’ll boil at a relatively low temperature and cause a loss of braking. Keep the rotor/pads/caliper cool, and it won’t boil. Shimano is a proud and technologically advanced company, so they sweat this stuff.

I’m totally not advocating for DOT fluid over mineral oil, or vice versa. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. It’s just that this bike has Shimano brakes, and I thought I’d ramble about ’em for a bit.

Tangent over.

The wheels are Roval CL38, and they’re pretty darn nifty. They’re Roval-branded DT350 hubs (excellent value!) laced to nice 32mm deep, tubeless-ready carbon rims. FTW! At the time of this writing I have 28mm tubed (!!) tires on the bike. Maybe that’ll change. That’ll probably change. But that’s life right now.

Other stuff on this bike includes the Red/Quarq crank from my Tarmac, a Bontrager carbon handlebar, a Specialized Phenom saddle with carbon rails (woah!), Time pedals and a Garmin 520 with a stock mount. Here we are. Finally. What’s this rig weigh? 19lbs, 1 oz. That’s with the bottle cage, the Garmin, pedals and the strap for a Flare R taillight. 19 lbs, 1 oz? Jeepers! Where is all that weight? Trust me, I’ve been looking for it.

Despite the way this post is going, I’m not a weight weenie. I can’t remember what my Tarmac weighed, but I think it was somewhere in the 16 lb range. Why is this bike 3 lbs. heavier? I attribute it to three things, each of which might take an equal share. One is the frame. Our suppliers, smartly IMO, have gotten away from quoting bike weights. But most of them will say, “We’d estimate that a carbon frame is about a pound less than its aluminum counterpart.” So there’s a pound. But wait! We’re also talking a rim brake carbon frame to a disc brake aluminum frame. It’s probably more than a pound. Especially since my Tarmac was one of those fancy S-Works things.

Di2 is only a bit heavier than a mechanical system, something like three ounces. Hydraulic disc is rumored to be about a pound heavier than an equivalent rim brake system. It might be worth noting that we’re comparing Ultegra hydraulic disc to SRAM Red rim brake. It’s probably more than a pound.

Empirical data (the scale in my garage) shows that the CL38 wheels/tires/tubes/rotors/cassette is exactly 14 oz. heavier than the 303s similarly decked out. With that, I think we’ve found the three pounds.

Are we digging in enough?

Interesting enough, most of this excess weight looks like good weight. What? Yeah. Good weight. Weight that doesn’t rotate. And if that weight does rotate, it’s close to the axis of rotation and thus has a small angular momentum. This is the sort of nerdulation (my word) that’s occupied a lot of mindshare in the shops as we discuss gravel bikes, particularly gravel plus (650b with wide tires) vs. a more traditional setup (typically 700c with <40mm tires). Stay tuned on excess weight.

Can we talk about riding the darn thing? We can.

The Allez Sprint was initially marketed as a crit bike — stiff as hell, faster than greased lightning and aluminum so you can crash all day without demolishing your bank account. Guess how much this appealed to yrs trly. Not at all. And yet, some number of years later… here we are.

My first and most worrisome thought was that the handling would be so quick that I’d put myself on the ground before I got out of the driveway. Such is not the case. The handling is indeed quick, but it’s not spooky. FYI: I am a long, long way from the world’s best bike handler.

Stiffness? Yes. Punishment? No. We do live in Michigan and ride on Michigan roads. I found the ride completely acceptable. Like a magic carpet? Probably not, but just fine. Connected. Quick. A bit rough when the road was rough, but such was my expectation. I probably had a bit too much pressure in the tires, but it still wasn’t bad. It’s fun and peppy and I like it. It doesn’t hurt that it looks like Specialized picked the paint colors for Pedal.

The big question is: what do you want? If you’d like to save a few bucks, the new aluminum bikes (this Allez and the various Trek ALRs) with nice drivetrains look super good. If you want to ride more than me, maybe a more distance-oriented geometry would be good. If light weight is important, maybe carbon is good. Maybe rim brakes are a consideration.

I will say this: as you ride stiffer frames, tire quality becomes ever more important. This bike has pretty good tires. I have great confidence that really good tires, especially really good tubeless tires, will provide a significant improvement. Please stay tuned.

Please make mine low friction. Thank you.

Trends We’ve Noticed

Yesterday, a colder, rainy October day, we had a brief window of time (several hours) in the shop in which no customers materialized. As will happen in such circumstances, several of us started talking about bikes and products and whatnot, and ultimately starting naming the trends that we see — not just what’s hot right now, but what appears to have momentum in our bicycling world. These are the things we’ve noticed at Pedal.

  1. E-bikes. No doubt about it, these things are coming on, and there are good reasons for it. The technology has definitely centralized around mid-drive systems. Our suppliers have better figured out what e-bike customers actually want. We are more confident about e-bikes and do a better job of stocking them. The prices came down a bit (but this tariff thing has the cycling world in a bit of a tizzy as I write this).
  2. Gravel. As we go down the list of trends, many of them coalesce at “gravel.” We can get into long conversations about what constitutes a gravel bike, but I think the number one descriptor is a bike on which you don’t have to turn around. Dirt road? No problem. Kal-Haven? No problem. Lap around Custer? Can be done. Aluminum. Steel. Carbon. Ti. All materials are available for these exceedingly versatile and fun bikes.
  3. Fatter tires/lower pressure. This is a huge trend across all cycling disciplines — road, mountain, even triathlon. A few years ago we started having many conversations about the advantages of bigger tires: lower pressure, more traction, more confidence, easier on your body, less rolling resistance (really). Lately the tables have turned and our discussion is often with a customer who wants to know how big a tire can be squeezed in their frame.
  4. Disc road is a more nascent trend, but I think it is the way forward. Why disc? More power, less effort, more tire clearance. I’ve had a hydraulic disc brake gravel bike for a little over a year and just built a hydraulic disc road bike. It’s good stuff. There are downsides. Disc brakes components are heavier than their rim brake counterparts. Hydraulic brakes inject a new system into the mix and do require regular maintenance. Disc can be more expensive, particularly hydraulic disc. Still, it’s great, and it’s available on lots of bikes at many price points.
  5. More travel on mountain bikes. Cross country bikes have up to 120mm forks. Trail bikes start at 130mm these days and go up to 150mm.  Many factors contribute to this trend: lighter frames, lighter wheels, better suspension, better bicycle geometry, a (good, in my opinion) focus on fun instead of outright speed.

A quick word about the image associated with this post. Three of the trends we notice are wrapped up in that Open Upper. It’s a gravel bike with fat tires and hydraulic disc brakes. Folks come into the shop and say, “What the heck is that?” I kinda think that’s the future, or at least one version of the future.

How’s Your Sealant?

A couple of weeks ago I thought, “Hmmm. I haven’t put new sealant in my tires since I purchased this bike, almost one year ago.” Sure enough, the interior of each tire was dry as a bone. I found a bottle a sealant and my Flash Charger and made everything awesome in about ten minutes. Confidence restored!

About two miles into my ride this morning I started hearing a rhythmic thump-thump-thump. I thought about it for a few seconds and determined that it was in time with the wheels. After a bit more mental denial, I pulled over and found this.

Bummer!

I picked up the bike and tilted it so that sealant covered the both entry in the tread of the tire and the sidewall exit. Then I crossed my fingers and headed home. I made it with a few PSI to spare.

The moral of this story is that I would have been walking home if I hadn’t slopped more sealant in the tire recently. These days, on the down side of a hot summer, I figure there are LOTS of dry tires around these parts. Everything’s great… until it isn’t.

ShockWiz

No aspect of a modern mountain bike induces confusion and head-scratching like a fork, particularly an air fork, with its bewildering array of valves and knobs. Most people, and I totally get this, want to *ride* their mountain bike. They didn’t buy it so they’d have something to demystify and tune.

About this time last year that Quarq introduced the ShockWiz, a small device that attaches to air-sprung suspension units and provides suspension-tuning suggestions. I immediately ordered one for each shop, and *boy* was I bummed out when I discovered that it was incompatible with the Manitou Magnum on my bike at the time.

2018 brings a new mountain bike, a new front suspension unit and another shot at the ShockWiz. The bike is a Kona Honzo CR Trail DL and the fork is a RockShox Pike. Yesterday looked like a good day for a trip up to Yankee, so I popped into the downtown shop and installed ShockWiz.

Installation consists of three parts: installing the physical ShockWiz to your suspension device (front or rear) in a way that doesn’t induce contact with the frame, installing the ShockWiz app on the Bluetooth LTE device of your choosing and running through a quick setup procedure, guided by the app.

In this case I attached the device to the crown of the fork with zip ties and made double-darn sure that I could spin the fork without the knocking ShockWiz against the frame. Broken ShockWiz and/or broken frame make for a bad day.

Once I pair ShockWis to my phone, the ShockWiz app gave me a lot of direction. I emptied the fork’s air chamber and cycled the fork several times. I then filled it up with air and cycled it again. After this, ShockWiz encouraged me to go for a ride.

ShockWiz gathers quit a bit of data as you ride, and after a time it tells you what you need to do so that it can complete its array of measurements. In my case, I was instructed to hit some jumps and drops, so I might have aimed for more roots and rocks than usual. At the end of 13 miles of Yankee, ShockWiz said that it felt pretty good about its analysis.

And it offered these suggestions:

Which boil down to adding a volume spacer, decreasing my compression damping and adding a couple of clicks of rebound.

True confession at this point. Ken and Matt, our service department managers at the South and Downtown stores, respectively, went to a suspension-tuning class this Winter and brought back a lot of knowledge, knowledge which I lapped up and applied to my bikes. I’d ridden the Honzo once or twice prior to the ShockWiz experiment, and felt like the suspension was pretty darn good.

How do I feel about ShockWiz’s suggestions? Intrigued. I have not messed around with volume spacers on my own bikes, so that presents an opportunity. Rebound damping is possibly the most confusing of all suspension adjustments, so I’m not shocked (pun intended) that a change is suggested. I am super pleased that the recommended change is small, giving me confidence in the setup I’d already done. The suggested change to compression damping is the most interesting, as I rode with bike with the minimum amount of compression available. Is this a byproduct of riding a trail fork in an XC environment? Would a fancier damper in the fork help?

Stay tuned (oh, the puns are flying today!) for more about this. I have another bike in the garage with a Fox 34 and plan to see what ShockWiz has to say about that piece of hardware in a  couple of days.

What does all this have to do with you? We rent ShockWiz. $50 gets you installation, setup and a weekend of suspension analysis. Yep. We have one at each location.

Last thing: I love nerd stuff like this, but nothing beats mountain biking on a lovely Spring day.

A few days later…

I put ShockWiz on the Fox 34 yesterday and rode Andrews. What fun! Here’s the feedback I received.

What’s it mean? It looks like I had this one tuned a little better right out of the gate, but only by a little. High speed compression damping remains a subject in which I have great curiosity. More info as it becomes available.

Your Transmission: Range and Ratios

In something of a time warp, I found myself in my basement on a bike on a trainer with Coach Troy Jacobson yelling gear ratios at me via a Spinnervals workout that I’ve had for years. I felt like I was 40 again. Sort of. Regardless, this workout predates the widespread use of power meters, so Coach Troy works with gear ratios, heart rate and cadence. The gear ratios are based on a full-size road double (53/39) and a 12-25 cassette. I was riding a bike with a single chainring and 11 gears in the back. I found myself doing lots of (admittedly, pretty straightforward) math in my head, and so it was that I began thinking seriously about range on a modern single-ring setup.

Pease note: as with most things related to this blog-o-rama, this is not an exhaustive treatise. Sure, it may be exhausting to read, but I don’t pretend to cover everything, only the stuff that interests me. In this case, we’re talking about the gear ratios found on a road bike from the era of Spinnervals 2.0 compared to a modern 1x drivetrain with a wide-range cassette.

As we watched mountain biking go from three rings, to two rings, to one ring, the word we heard over and over was “range.” “How much range do I lose when I have fewer front chainrings?” And I’m gonna be honest, our usual answer was “Not much,” but maybe we don’t always do a terrific job of quantifying that answer.

Gear ratio is the number of times the rear wheel turns in one revolution of the crank. So if you’re in the big ring (53) in the front and are about half-way up the cassette (say, 16), you’re looking at a 3.31 ratio. The rear wheel turns 3.31 times per revolution of the crank. Depending on the diameter of the rear wheel and attached tire, one can then figure out how far forward the bike moves with a single rotation of the crank, but that’s a bit divergent from the main thrust of this bunch of words.

A standard road double has rings of 53 teeth on the big ring and 39 teeth on the smaller. In shorthand, this is referred to as 53/39. A triple is 52/39/30. Ten years ago, the cassette paired with these cranks would have been 12-25. Approximately a decade ago, compact cranks entered the scene with 50/34 gearing and, cleverly, an 11-25 cassette.

Data time!

What information is Mr. Data Table divulging? I see three things:

  • A 1x road setup with a 10-42 cassette has TONS of range compared to a standard setup.
  • A 1x road setup with a 10-42 cassette has more range than that of a classic triple.
  • Modern compact setups with big cassettes have range superior to that of a classic triple.

Wow.

This looks OK if you click it.

So. Looks like range is pretty well covered. It is at this point that your good friend with many miles under her belt will declare: gear spacing! Behold:As is very evident, your good friend is correct. (As is also evident, I’m pretty terrible at formatting this spreadsheet junk.) The steps between gears *are* bigger on the wide-range cassette than an old-timey 9-speed 12-25. The big question here is: is this a big deal to you? Speaking oh so personally, it can be a pretty big deal if you find yourself primarily in the smallest cogs of your wide-range cassette. That 20% difference between the 12- and 10-tooth cog is, ummmm, a lot, a big jump. My bike started with a 40-tooth front ring combined with the 10-42 cassette in the back, and I found myself in the 10-tooth cog more than I liked. I replaced the 40 with a 44 and am much happier. A nearly interesting fact is that I’ve run a 40-tooth ring with a closer-ratio (11-28) cassette several times in the past and never minded the fact that I was regularly jumping between the 11- and 12-tooth cog regularly. It goes without saying (but here it is!) that I gave up a TON of range with that 11-28 cassette compared with 10-42.

Shall we wind this up? Let’s try.

Modern thought is that you’re better off with greater range in your cassette and fewer chainrings up front. Sure! It’s lighter and there’s less, “I’m shifting the front. I sure hope this works.” But the gaps between gears are larger. On mountain bike, where chain tension is generally high, I think it’s perfect. On my best day I’m an OK mountain biker, and I’ve never felt like gear ratios were keeping me from more speed/enjoyment/podiums/fame/fortune.

What about road? Personally, I think the 1x movement works on the road, too. If you’re that person with a 12-23 cassette and a 53/39 crank, you might be disappointed by the spacing between gears. I might suggest, after a beer or two, that you’re probably strong enough to deal with it.

Semi-amusing anecdote: two or three years ago I rode a Specialized Diverge on a moderately cryptic route around Specialized HQ. I found myself in a neighborhood on a bike with a 1×11 drivetrain on a road that appeared to be going straight up. It was really hard work. Really. Hard. Work. At the time I blamed the difficulty on the 1x drivetrain. In retrospect, range was not the problem. I was the problem.

Today I own six bikes. One of those bikes has a front derailleur. I can see a day in which there are no front derailleurs in my garage, and that day may well occur in 2018.

Longer-Term Fork Review

Editor's note: Our Man Alex put a Manitou Mattoc on his bike last summer. He loved it then, but has since put some miles on it. Here are his notes.

In the Mattoc fork, Manitou is competing in the high-end trail bike fork market and compete with the likes of the Rockshox Pike and the Fox 34. In this long-term review, I will build on my cursory initial review of the fork from last September and attempt to answer the question of whether this fork is competitive in that context. I will also discuss its applicability for riding here in Southwest Michigan.

I have been riding the Manitou Mattoc fork for approximately nine months now and have had the opportunity to ride it more and in rougher terrain, and I have taken it apart to perform a lowers service. This is an update to address longer term durability and a more in-depth look at the riding characteristics of the fork.

Long-Term Durability

I am pleased to have very little to report as far as issues with durability on this fork, it has worked flawlessly for the duration of my ownership of it, and if anything, the action of the fork has become smoother over continued use. The only issues that I have had is a slightly creaky fork crown which makes a high-pitched ticking noise every once in a while, under hard braking, and the fact that the paint chips fairly easily but neither of these effect on-trail performance.

Spring Performance

The fork which I have was provided with the aftermarket Infinite Rate Tune (IRT) air spring, and not the stock Incremental Volume Adjust (IVA) air spring, so I cannot comment on the performance of the IVA spring. The IRT spring is an air spring with three air chambers, one “negative” chamber which attempts to pull the fork back into it’s travel and exists to oppose the main “positive” spring which holds most of the rider’s weight up. Then there is the third air chamber which acts as a second positive chamber and mainly affects the performance of the fork as it gets about 60% through its stroke. With that out of the way, I can say that I found the IRT spring to perform phenomenally. Through a significant amount of experimenting and some chicken-scratch note taking, I have found that it can be tuned to have a very responsive initial feel, and at the same time resist bottoming out very effectively. It can also be tuned to have a stiffer initial feel and push through its travel more on large hits and pretty much any permutation of those extremes. I found that for my riding, getting two far from a 1:2 ratio of air pressures in the main and IRT chambers felt less ideal, and that window for my 175 lb riding weight ended up being between 60-70 psi in the main chamber and 120-140 psi in the IRT chamber. A riding characteristic that I particularly like about the performance of the IRT spring is that the fork stays high in its travel very well, not using too much travel on smaller bumps, saving it for large hits, this is in contrast to many other forks which tend to dive through their travel too easily for my preference.

 

Damping Performance

I have found the MC2 damper which comes on the Mattoc to be easily tunable and able to provide many different ride qualities. On this damper are four adjustments: a rebound knob in blue at the bottom of the fork leg, A low-speed compression lever in red at the top of the fork leg, a high-speed compression knob atop that, and finally a hydraulic bottom out adjuster in silver inset into the high-speed adjuster. This presents a lot of tuning options for the user, and thankfully Manitou provides a setup guide with the fork with good presets for different riding conditions. For my use, I have tried many different combinations of damper adjustments including all of the presets and found that I could dial the fork performance in for what trail I was riding. In December, I took a trip to North Carolina to ride in the Pisgah National forest. If you are not aware, Pisgah has a well-deserved reputation for very rough, steep, gnarly trails, and this was an excellent test for the performance of this fork. I found pretty quickly that the settings that I used for Michigan trails were not ideal for the trails out there, and with a couple twists of the knobs dialed in less low-speed compression, more high-speed, and more bottom out resistance which corrected the issue I was having. The tune I was using for Michigan was fairly close to the preset which Manitou suggests for “Flow”, and in changing it in that way I was closer to the preset which they suggest for “Enduro” which makes sense when comparing the trails which I was riding. Even within the kalamazoo area, I find myself adjusting my damper settings slightly depending on whether I’m riding the smooth and jumpy Maple Hill trail, or more natural and rougher trails like Yankee Springs and Fort Custer, but for most people that is probably a bit excessive.

Chassis Stiffness

In my initial review, I compared the stiffness of the chassis to several different forks and made judgements based on that. I find now that I need to revise some of those judgements, namely regarding the comparison to the Rockshox Pike. In that initial review I said that the Mattoc was slightly less stiff than the pike, and now with further testing I have to disagree with that assessment. Having ridden the Mattoc in comparison to the Rockshox Lyrik, the Pike’s bigger, burlier brother; I can say that the stiffness of the Mattoc approaches that of the Lyrik and is at least on par with if not stiffer than the Pike which is pretty impressive given the Mattoc’s 34mm stanchions compared to 35mm on the Lyrik and Pike. I cannot compare it to the Fox 36 as I have never ridden that fork, but the Mattoc is definitely stiffer than the Fox 34.

Serviceability

This winter, I performed a lowers service on my Mattoc, and found it to be a very simple task, given that you have the correct tools. The required tools for a lowers service are: a thin walled 8mm socket (from manitou), a 8mm Allen wrench, a 2mm Allen wrench, and a sturdy tire lever, plus new seals and oil. You can buy the tools from Manitou, or it is possible to upcycle other tools to be suitable. Instructions for servicing your fork are easily available on Manitou’s website, and are very easy to follow. For someone who is not a home mechanic, the fork is also easily serviced in the shop.

Suitability for Southwest Michigan Riding

I’ve been riding this fork set at 150mm of travel on my Kona Process 134, a bike which is decidedly too much bike for much of our riding around here. Does this mean that this fork is too much fork for the Kalamazoo area? No, I don’t think so. The 27.5 variant of this fork can be adjusted down to 140mm of travel; which for most people in this area is still probably too much, but the 29er and 29+ variants of this fork can be had down to 100mm and 80mm of travel respectively which are much more common travel numbers around here. The 29+ and 27+ variants of the fork, under the name of the Manitou Magnum (which is essentially the same fork and has been recently absorbed into the Mattoc line) are ridden quite frequently in the Kalamazoo area in 110mm and 120mm settings respectively on the popular Trek Stache and Specialized Fuze/Ruze. The tendency of the air spring to ride high in its travel while remaining sensitive to small bumps makes it an ideal fork to put on a hardtail, it will preserve the geometry of the bike more than a fork which dives through its travel more.

Conclusions

I have found the Manitou Mattoc to be a top performer on the trail, and an excellent fork for riding here in Southwest Michigan. The fork is sensitive to bumps of all sizes without being overly dive-y and is tunable for many preferences as to how a fork should feel. The Mattoc is a standout for its tendency to ride high in its travel and preserve the geometry of the bike which is a valuable trait. I would recommend the Mattoc to a friend without hesitation, over a wide range of riding styles.

Frostbike: Adventures in America’s Monument to Consumerism

Hello Pedal People.

My name is Audrey. I have worked at the Downtown shop as the Inventory Specialist for the past year and a half or so. Last weekend, Quality Bicycle Products hosted it’s dealer trade show and expo event in Bloomington, Minnesota (the location of the Mall of America, for those versed in abnormally large shopping centers). Frostbike occurs in the icier months of every year and QBP has slowly but surely been adding more and more opportunities for education, networking, and recognition each year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The theme park and aquarium which are fully inside the mall. Yeah.)

This year, there was a huge effort from QBP to center discussion on diversity and inclusion in the cycling industry. Frostbike hosted a more gender-diverse crowd than ever before. There were seminars focused on serving and respecting women and LGBTQ people in the shop. There was a women’s networking (read: venting) event. The keynote speaker was Leah Benson, founder of Gladys Bikes, one of the only shops in the country catering specifically to women, transgender people, and femmes. I met so many amazing women sharing so many innovative ideas to move the cycling industry forward. Good feelings.

 

(Leah Benson summing it up nicely. We can get so obsessed with gear and tech, we forget what cycling is really about: people.)

QBP made sure everyone was welcome and well-fed, and I left each portion of the event with practical knowledge I could bring back to Pedal and Kalamazoo.

For me, the highlight of the educational seminars was Women Unite! a women, trans, and femme networking and capacity building event. We broke out into task groups focusing on various gender issues in the world of cycling. My group had a productive and hopeful discussion on the role of men as allies to the advancement of gender equity (in cycling and in the great wide world). Personally, I feel lucky to work with men who believe in the urgency of this goal, and I feel encouraged when they choose to intervene in less than ideal situations. Many people in my group emphasized how important it is for men to back them up (without white-knighting it). In the cycling industry, men’s voices still carry much louder than others, and men can use that volume to advocate for those others. 

The Women Unite! attendees kept the conversation going at the reception that evening. There, I spoke with a lot of folks about other kinds of diversity. While Frostbike made some strides towards gender diversity, it was still an overwhelmingly white event. Although being a gender minority in any field can be frustrating, it can also be a source of strength. Moving forward, I want to use my understanding of how it feels to be marginalized in the industry to bring people of color, immigrants, and others into the rad world of bikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

QBP has a pretty sweet setup at their Bloomington distribution center. Being located just outside bike friendly Minneapolis probably doesn’t hurt. Saturday’s schedule was full of technical education opportunities. The Frostbike dealer expo hosted big names like Surly, Thule, Sram, and Hammer showcasing their new products and offering tech seminars.

Speaking of bike friendly, did you know Minneapolis has its very own cycling museum? Yes, the museum has no any public hours, and, yes, it is in the basement of a church, but how cool is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll end with this: if you are a member of any privileged group in any field, how can you step-up on behalf of those who may not be represented on your staff, in your meeting, in your break room? I don’t speak up as often as I would like, but I know the hopeful feeling I got from talking with like-minded folks at Frostbike was pointing at something, and that something could be a diverse, healthy cycling industry.

 

Bummer, Dude.

This morning I took my new bike out for its maiden voyage to the Maple Hill Trail. It’s a beautiful clear day. Temperature is just above freezing. I’d heard that the trail is in perfect shape.

And off I went, excited to see what this bike is all about and to rekindle my relationship with the Maple Hill Trail.

Then I picked up a stick about 100 yards from the top. I heard a bad noise, hit the rear brake hard and heard the distressing sound of air escaping the tire. Sure enough, the stick wedged itself in there pretty good and ripped a spoke out by the nipple. Ugh. For the first time in my (meager) mountain biking career, I’d have to walk a bike out of the woods.

I remembered an article that I’d skimmed recently about how to hike a bike, so I tried what I believe the instructions might have been. The front wheel then swung around and the handlebar hit me in the mouth. Funny.

So far the Honzo seems great, but I think more riding is definitely in order.

Friends

I recall reading the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club’s newsletter in November and learning that Pedal had been nominated as a Friend of Bicycling for the year. “Wow,” said the word bubble above my head. “It’s super nice that someone likes us enough to make a nomination.” A few weeks later I was informed that Pedal won the award. I consider this a high honor and have three things to say about it:

First, an unexpected and fun thing about my job is the degree to which Pedal and I have been integrated into the fabric of this community. My vocation is running a bike shop. My avocation is supporting cycling in Kalamazoo County to the extent that I can from the shops.

Secondly, people make Pedal. I am so very happy to employ many smart, friendly, motivated people. The best I can do is chart a course. I depend on my coworkers to make it happen. I see this award as confirmation of their hard work and dedication. The other critical people in what we do are customers, without whom we would not exist.

Thirdly, I believe we’re all together in this world during our lifetimes, and I am very, VERY happy to be sharing my time with the people of Kalamazoo and this cycling community.

Thank you, KBC. This is very wonderful.

Jack of All Trades?

Just a few short years ago we all raced local gravel races on our cyclocross bikes or perhaps our 29ers. As longer races became a thing across our country, we saw three things occur to create the new and exciting (some snark intended) category of Gravel Bike:

  • Bottom brackets dropped, offering greater stability at the expense of a little bit of “punchiness.”
  • Geometry started looking more like an endurance road bike than a cyclocross bike. This equates to longer head tubes and shorter top tubes.
  • Tires got wider, sometimes a LOT wider.

The UCI (bless them) limits the width of cyclocross tires to 33mm, so many cross-specific frames weren’t ready for customers who wanted to stick wide gravel tires on their rims. At Pedal we experienced a few instances in which a person’s desired tire just wouldn’t fit their frame. Bummer. BUT: those customers had bikes that were optimized (one assumes, right?) for a 700×33 tire. Would the performance be as good with a 700×40 on there? How do we measure “as good?”

On these very pages I have argued against the thin-slicing of bikes vis-a-vis gravel vs. cross vs. adventure (to a lesser extent). Let’s say that I argued that you don’t have to slice stuff too fine. And yet: what of specificity? What of a tool designed to do a singular job? What does it look like?

I recently became involved in a protracted discussion debating gravel wheels: 650b vs 700c. During the conversation I wondered aloud which would be lighter, as that would probably be a significant factor in one’s choice. Once I figured out that my discussion partners weren’t going to take the bait and give me empirical data, I waded into spec sheets.

I put Stan’s Valors on my NRB. Those things are stupid light and dropped the weight of my bike by an appreciable amount. What would I use for 700c wheels? Zipp 303s? Stan’s Valors or Avions? Ardennes? So I made myself a little chart:

700 zipp 303 650 zipp 303 Stan’s Avion 700 700 Valor 650b Valor 700 HED Ardennes 650 HED Ardennes
Wheels 1645 1450 1520 1342 1278 1535 1465
Tires 465 515 465 465 515 465 515
2575 2480 2450 2272 2308 2465 2495

What are the tires? I used a WTB Riddler in 700×37 for the 700 rims and a WTB Horizon 650×47 for the smaller wheels. I chose these tires because they’re in my garage and seem like very reasonable options. I didn’t include rotors, valves, cassettes and all that jive, because they’d be common to all of the systems.

The chart shows that, from a weight perspective, there is little to no penalty for the 650 setup, which was maybe not intuitively obvious, with those super-wide tires. That’s nice. Which one rolls better? I don’t know, but I sort of know how you compute such things, and it’s not impossible that it’ll become a winter project.

Which one handles better? I reckon anything can handle just fine if the bike is designed for it, but what I’m trying to explore (theoretically for sure) is this: given a single frame, what works good in that frame? Let’s start with another chart, for which I took the formula used here: an assumption that tires are round, so the diameter of the wheel and tire system = ISO rim diameter (622 for 700c, 584 for 650b) + 2 x tire width. Radius is half diameter. Circumference is pi times diameter = 2*pi*radius.

Tire Size Radius Circumference
700×30 341 2141.48
650X47 339 2128.92
700X33 344 2160.32
700×37 348 2185.44
700X40 351 2204.28
700×47 358 2248.24

One of the things I’ve heard once or twice is that a 650b x 47 setup has about the same circumference as a 700 x 30 setup. The chart above bears this out. And here’s where things get interesting from an optimization standpoint. If a CX frame is optimized around a 700×33 setup, a a 650 x 47 setup will mean that the bike sits 5mm closer to the ground. If that same bike opts for a 700×40 setup, the bike sits 7mm further from the ground. Are these differences (12mm from smallest to largest radius) significant?

What should a bike company do? Should they make a lot of bikes? Should they make one bike that does all of these things pretty well? Is this latter thing even possible?

Let’s assume that frame designers know more than me, which seems fair. I once again hit the world of specifications for bikes that fit this gravel/adventure/etc. category and fit me. Voila!

 

Bike Stack Reach HT ETT SA BB Drop CS What?
52 Rove LTD 570 383 144.5 546 74 72 435 Gravel/Road
52 Crux 554 375 125 536 74 71 425 CX
52 Psychlo X RSL 558 376 120 535 74 63 423 CX
52 Crockett 547 379 123 531 75.5 70 425 CX
52 Jake 560 385 140.8 546 74 70 425 CX
52 Routt 45 582 361 140 525 74.25 71 450 Gravel
52 Rove 570 383 126 546 74 72 435 Gravel/Road
M Open – UP 551 376 130 549 72.5 70 420 Gravel/Road
M 3T Exploro 546 378 125 550 72.5 70 415 Gravel/Road
52 Domane 561 371 145 530 73.7 80 420 Gravel/Road
52 Diverge 567 367 145 532 74 85 419 Gravel/Road

Yes! I did leave out a lot of geometric data. Mostly I was interested in three things: fit (this is mostly stack and reach), bottom bracket drop and chain stay length. That said…

Generally I see a lot of similarity. Bottom bracket drop is very consistent with the Moots CX bike on the high end and the Domane and Diverge on the low side. Everybody else hovers around a very traditional 7 cm of drop. Similarly, chain stay length is pretty darn consistent. The Routt 45 has the longest at 450 mm and the 3T has the shortest at 415 mm.  Speaking of which, the 3T and OPEN bikes were included in this chart because they’ve come up in conversation in recent weeks, and I was curious how they matched up with bikes that we stock.

From a fit perspective, many of the bikes cluster around what I would call traditional cyclocross fit — bars a bit higher than road race fit, but still pretty athletic. The Domane, Diverge and especially Routt 45 are quite short, while the Konas are a little bit longer. I recently ordered a PsychoX RSL instead of a Routt due to the fit numbers. It’ll be here soon, and we’ll see what this high bottom bracket is all about.

For better or worse, this post has mostly been an exploration with you, dear reader, along for the ride. I’m not sure if my hypothesis was “Bikes are more similar than you might think,” or “Bikes aren’t as similar as you might think.” I didn’t really have a strong opinion, but I sure was curious. After collecting this data, I’d say that they’re pretty similar. Based on conversations in the shop and in this hunk of research, manufacturers aren’t publishing a piece of data that consumers really want: tire clearance.

Other than the charts and hard data contained herein, all I have is anecdotal evidence. When skinny tires were cool, I ran 700×23 tires on my cross bike and (gasp) liked it. I ran 700×40 tires on a different cross bike and (!!!) loved it. I love my NRB, and the tires are an enormous amount of the appeal. I guess I remain convinced that a cyclocross bike is a really versatile piece of hardware, especially if can handle a pretty wide tire.

His Agrippa

The other day I overheard a conversation in the back of the shop in which a couple of employees were talking about mountain bike tires. One of the guys (code name: J’Son) said, “It took some getting used to. It rolled really well, but when you leaned over, it was really squirrelly until you leaned it over more, and then it *really* hooked up.”

Speaking personally, my own testing would never have revealed that last part.

 

The Louisville Trip

I love Iceman, but Iceman causes me a lot of stress (which is exactly the same stress it causes everyone else): am I fit enough? Where will I stay? How badly will my friends kick my butt? How will I get to wherever I’m staying after the pros finish?

Last year some friends and I went to Brown County State Park in Indiana and had a wonderful time. This year there  were only two of us, and we both wanted something a bit more different. DFM is hell on wheels in the department of research, so while I picked the weekend, he did everything else. And it worked like this:

We rode for a couple of hours at Brown County on our way to Louisville. Fun? Exceedingly so. Very, very fun.

Thursday night it rained like crazy, ruining any chance of Friday MTB-ing. So we walked all over the wonderful city of Louisville.

One of my favorite things about downtown Louisville is the art on the side of so many buildings.

Cycling is well represented in Louisville.

I can get you a tow. Or is it a toe? Please: don’t look at the goobers in the reflection.

More bikes at UT Electric Bikes.

One of the neatest back bars ever. Good beer, too.

Look! A miniature version of Vlad the Impaler! And excellent meat.

Saturday we rode O’Bannon Woods. Recommended. Exceedingly highly recommended. Rocks. Roots. Significant elevation change. Everything you want. And incredibly beautiful.

Yeah, it was a tad muddy.

What does this mean?

What are the results of this adventure? Brown County and O’Bannon Woods are closer to Kalamazoo than Marquette. DFM rode his XC-ready Hei Hei Race and I rode my Fuse. Both of us were exceedingly happy.

WIDR Week

I love college and community radio. Loved it when I was in college (WRVU). Loved rediscovering it when I lived in Pittsburgh (WPTS). Loved KABF in Little Rock. Love WIDR. Love. It.

My love for WIDR must be complex, because I’m having a difficult time quantifying it for this post. Some of it is nostalgia, remembering when I first heard Julian Hatfield years ago. I think that listening to the young people (mostly) on the station keeps me thinking. Sometimes I hear fantastic music. Sometimes I hear something pretty awful, but it’s often over quickly.

Yesterday I listened to the station on my drive to the Romence shop and learned that this WIDR Week, the time when the station actively solicits money. One of the DJs talked about growing up listening to WIDR with her family and donating during WIDR Week and wearing the t-shirts and all that. She did a great job of painting WIDR as a community asset, which is exactly how I view it. And then she dissed my favorite author, so I called to complain and to give money. It was great.

Maybe WIDR is your thing and maybe it’s not. Maybe you’ve never given it a try, in which case I would suggest that maybe you should: 89.1 on your FM dial, widrfm.org on the internet. If you like it, maybe consider giving them a few bucks. If you don’t like it, maybe try back later. Like Michigan weather, it changes frequently. Also like Michigan weather, it’s (in my opinion) part and parcel of being a Kalamazoo resident.

If This isn’t Nice, What is?

From the man that I often refer to as Uncle Kurt:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

The energy before our impromptu ride to Plainwell a couple of weeks was high, and increased once we reached the brewery. Everyone was laughing and smiling and looking happy. I enjoyed talking to someone I’ve known for years and finding out that he has a masters in English. Who knew?

After the snacking session, we started back. The evening was beautiful. The wind either stopped or was behind us. There were six or seven of us in our little group, and we chugged along down the side of the road. Every now and then, I got excited and started going a little bit too fast. Shortly after that, Lynn would yell, “Carolyn is off,” and we’d back off just a bit. A few seconds later Carolyn would yell, “I’m back!” and off we’d go again. The sun set. It became, if anything, more beautiful, and I thought, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” I have vivid memories of someone cramping, laying down by the side of the road and stretching. People in cars stopped to ask if we were OK. No one actually said, “crazy,” but that might have been the real question. We rode in the pitch black to Parchment, and on into town. The whole evening is surrounded by something of a halo in my memory. What great fun.

I read a poem recently in which the author wrote, “anything can be a  drug if you love it.” I rode my new bike last week. The morning started out pretty chilly, in the mid-40s. Mist clung to the ground in low-lying areas. Out of town I noticed that some corn fields had already been disked. The surrounding air smelled like dirt. The sun came up, and the morning became warmer. I loved it, and thought about the line from the poem.

Last Sunday I raced a bicycle for the first time in maybe ten months. I experienced the usual sensations and emotions in their usual intensity. Afterward I sat in the pavilion with friends new and old, a cold one and a bratwurst. If that wasn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

A very smart man I knew as a much younger me wrote this. Football doesn’t have a whole lot in common with bicycling, but the major themes of his story — Overlay of remembrance, Vividness of immediate experience, Withness of the body — imbue the sport (or pastime or whatever you choose to call it) that I love so much as an adult. Fantastic stuff.

These are some of the things I’ve considered while riding my bike this marvelous summer.

Alex Knows Shocks

We’ve known Alex for a long time, since he was but a kid with big eyes. And we watched as Alex grew older, became a more vigorous mountain biker and, quietly, got pretty good at figuring out how things work and how they feel to the end user.

Alex got a new fork for his Process 134 this summer and agreed to write some words about his experiences. Here they are, completely unedited but for formatting.

First Impressions:

~1 month of use

Compared to: Rockshox Pike RC, Fox 34 Performance GRIP, Rockshox Sektor Silver TK, Manitou Marvel Comp

Stiffness:

Stiff enough. Ever-so-slightly noticeably less stiff than a Pike at same travel, only noticeable under heavy braking and sharp fast berms with excellent traction. similar stiffness to 120mm Fox 34, assume stiffer than 34 at similar travel length. Very noticeably stiffer than 32mm stanchion forks that I’ve ridden.

Air Spring:

Very plush with excellent mid-stroke support and bottom out resistance with current setup. Very adjustable. Plusher than the solo-air spring in the Pike that I demoed (but that may have been the damping). similar in slipperiness to the 34, but much more customizable in feel. Much more responsive off-the-top than my old (2014) Marvel Comp, while also providing more mid-stroke support and less dive under braking.

Damping:

Excellent. Best damping that I have had the pleasure of riding, adjustment range is very usable, each click makes a subtle but noticeable difference in how the fork feels, especially the IPA. I think that there could be perhaps more range to the damping, providing more support towards a stiffer lockout, but that being said I wouldn’t use a lockout, it’s just I’m used to forks having. HBO adjustment is very effective, have had one or two bottom outs according to O-Ring, noticed zero while riding. Compared to Pike RC, much plusher damping, less spikiness on sudden hard hits, and MUCH more adjustment. Similar feel to the 34 Performance GRIP damper, but again, much more adjustable. Much more support than the ABS+ damper tune that I had in my old Marvel Comp while also reacting to harsh bumps faster and absorbing them better. Miles and miles ahead of the Sektor Silver TK that came stock on my Process 134. (As a note, the Marvel Comp also performed miles and miles ahead of the Sektor)

 

Axle:

Hexlock SL axle is effective and not terribly difficult to use, but not as easy as a QR axle. MUCH more durable than SRAM maxle. I don’t have a bike rack on my car, so I take the wheel of frequently to fit it in my car, would probably find use for the quicker removal of the hexlock QR15 axle, but Hexlock SL works excellently.

Durability:

Performance has only gotten better since install as fork has broken in. Paint chips and scratches easily, and decals are not durable in the slightest, less durable than on RS Sektor I’ve had in the past, similar decal and finish durability to Marvel Comp. I’ve noticed a clicking coming from the front of my bike under heavy braking, could be the CSU of the fork or the centerlock rotor, pretty sure it’s the rotor. (I’ve ruled out the headset by replacing it with a new one)

 

Comments:

Absolutely eats up repeated square-edged hits while riding high in travel elsewhere, such as climbing and on smooth sections of trail. Excellent support in berms and preloading lips of jumps, while still retaining a plush feel. Have yet to open up the fork to change semi-bath oil. I need to either buy the mattoc service kit or source a thin walled 8mm socket.

Dreamy Days

This morning I had opportunity to take a ride before work. Having nothing structured on the agenda, I grabbed my fat bike and decided to ride around town.

Immediately outside the garage door I thought, “This is what we dream about during the winter.” It was seventy degrees, pretty humid and overcast. There was no chill in the air.

I rode through Western’s campus, up to and across West Main. I found myself in front of Hillside Middle School and thought, “I’m on a fat bike. Why not tour the grounds?” And I did and BOY is that a nice hunk of yard. Visions of cyclocross racing danced through my head. My little trip ultimately dumped me onto North Street, which I took across downtown to the KRVT.

Riding south there are all kinds of sights. A couple making out overlooking the river. A shopping cart full of treasures, covered with a blanket against the elements. Too much trash strewn all over the place. It’s both beautiful and gross.

Under the East Michigan bridge are lots of sleepers. I try to keep from coasting and bothering them with my loud free hub. Onward through Mayor’s Riverfront Park toward Comstock. I’ve driven to Fort Custer on King Highway about a bazillion times, but I think this morning is the first time I’ve traveled past Angels and not noticed at least one car in the parking lot. What does it mean?

Things are happening at the filling station at the corner of King Highway and River, where I exit the trail and start heading home. It’s a terrific ride. So many times I think — incorrect, I know — that I don’t see the forest for the trees. I look down and see drops of sweat on the top tube.

I look forward to remembering this ride in January.

KB + TMHT = Love

The Maple Hill Trail is something a bit different for the Kalamazoo area. Custer is fun and twisty. Yankee is tough and wild. TMHT (you heard it here first) is jumpy, bermed, machine-built and an unbelievable combination of accessible and challenging.

Kona is a brand we identify with strongly. Their stuff is really good, and sometimes really different. Look at the Unit, the Jakes, the Sutra. Then look at the Processes, the Honzos, the Jakes (again) and the Hei Hei lineup. It’s a compelling combination of quirky, wonderful, special bikes.

Not all of Kona’s bikes work super great in the middle of the country. Kona’s bikes don’t traditionally win the weight wars; they’re heavier, burlier… just *more* than we need around these parts. As such we carry a pretty small sub-set of their entire collection, but the bikes we carry are just killer.

It made a bit of sense that we’d host a demo for a quirky brand at a brand new trail that’s different from what we’re used to. And it was great! Kona brought great bikes: Hei Heis, carbon Honzos, Process 111s and 134s and Hei Hei Trails. TMHT brought jumps, exhilarating descents, table tops and a ton of fun.

We had a lot of fun. Rode some cool bikes. Shot the shit. Lived large.

Good day.

Thanks to Maple Hill Auto Group, Kalamazoo County Parks, SWMMBA and everybody who’s donated time, money and energy to the trail. I know it’s taken longer than expected, and several hurdles had to be cleared, but oh my goodness! This thing is a ripper and a real asset to the community. Thank you again.

Miles from Kona worked tirelessly and with good humor the entire day.

In the PNW (Pacific North West), they like to hang the bikes by the fork. Because that’s how they do it there.

Who doesn’t love a picture of laughing guy with coffee?

Looking for the next chance to send it

 

Family Time

Last summer I was trying to put bikes into context for modern families, and I thought, “Hey. Bikes are a terrific alternative to all these dang screens that attract our time and attention.” I talked to the folks who turn many of my strange ideas into something tangible, and they asked for someone to film. Immediately I thought of my friend Megan.

Megan is incredible, and I hope she won’t kill me for gushing about her a bit. She swam for a Division I school in college. She’s very smart and is an engineer for Stryker. She remains a ferocious athlete — and she does this alongside being mom to a couple of cool kids and wife to neat dude.

This is the “commercial” we made, and I smile every time I watch it.

Auburn, Day 2

Today started earlier (didn’t have to pick up the bike; merely had to wheel it out of the hotel room) and went longer. I started with something new, and was about two miles down the road when I realized I forgot my trail map. Engaging a total guy cliche, I did not turn around.  Luckily they had this great map at the trailhead, and I just took a picture of the area I needed to navigate. Go technology!

 

This particular trail was different from yesterday — more meadows and woods, less scrub and creosote.

 

Still plenty of elevation change.

 

That red clay leaves a nice coating.

 

Feeling oddly good, I decided to re-ride yesterday’s trail. It was as I remembered, but I looked at the map less. Because I didn’t have it. At the very zenith of all the climbing, I met a couple of nice older ladies, out for a stroll. We bid each other good day, and one of the ladies said, “What a nice day. The flowers are beautiful.” And they were. Sometimes we can’t see the flowers for the trail.

 

After artistically capturing the beautiful flowers, I put my phone in my pocket and rode downhill for three miles. It was an exhilarating end to a couple of marvelous days in Auburn.

Many thanks to the nice folks at Victory Velo for renting me a great bike and for being, you know, groovy.

Auburn California

I attend meetings twice a year for a performance group of which I am (perhaps obviously) a part. Though I start going crazy when I’m away from the shop, it’s fantastic to hear what other shops across the country are doing and the things they’re trying to be successful.

This time around I’m in California, near Sacramento. It takes a whole day to get here and another to get home, so I decided to take a couple of extra days and ride bikes. I poked around on the internet and starting thinking that the area east of Sacramento looked pretty good, I even did some hiking the day after and take the best spotting scope with me so I could observe the view and appreciate the nature even more. I began fixating on Auburn. I flew in last night, asked for a car big enough to haul a bike and tried to get some sleep.

 

My hotel has several TV channels. 

 

Saw this in the coffee shop this morning. Looks like I’m a day late.

 

Since there are no good breakfast places in town, I ate here. It was great. And, truthfully, there might be a million good breakfast places, but the name drew me in.

 

Boom! There it is, the trusty steed. This is a Specialized Stumpjumper 29 with a Pike on the front a fancy Fox on the rear and a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain. Fun bike.

 

A nice guy took my picture.

 

I got the guy’s grandson to get in a picture, too. Super nice people.

 

The roar of all this water striking the rocks at the bottom was incredible. Zillions of gallons of water. Turns out that I read the map wrong (again) and went to the dam, which was a dead end. But the sound was great.

 

Several minutes and a bazillion feet of climbing later, the reservoir looked like this. My breathing was almost as loud as the spillage had been earlier.

 

It’s called Culvert Trail for a reason. You ride through this. Traveling through the inside was, as my dad used to say, as dark as the inside of a cow.

 

It was no less philosopher/poet than Cosmo Kramer who suggested that good manners are the glue of society.

 

 

This scene of a stump with a shrine to the tree it once was reminded me instantly of The Lorax.

More Involved than Initially Projected

I’m working on a super top secret project, part of which entails converting a set of hubs from quick release to 12mm thru axle. The hubs in question are Chris King R45 disks which I purchased a couple of years ago for the Wonder Jake.

Let’s talk about Chris King hubs. They’re very expensive. They’re very light. They’re built to tight tolerances. I’m trying to equate them to something, and I think that something is a Porsche. My experience with those cars that they’re very excellent, but a tad strange, navigating a fine line between exhilarating and arduous. Such is the case with King hubs. They’re great, but they’re fussy.

My project is a great case in point. For many (many!) hubs in the word, a conversion between QR and thru axle would cost me about fifteen bucks and fifteen minutes of time. Not this. Both hubs had to be rebuilt with new axles at no small cost. OK. Fine. Order it up. (It’s only fair to note that I’m reworking these wheels because my other (older) favorite wheels just will not convert to 12mm thru axle. So while I might be complaining about it, at least it’s possible.) The parts arrived, and I went to my garage for a quick swap. But it wasn’t. For the front wheel, my old preload adjuster wouldn’t fit the new axle. For the rear: ugh.

I’m working with a series one R45 disk hub, which is something of a PITA to take apart. However, I prevailed and it all came apart as it should, but for a bearing stuck to the QR axle. No problem, except the bearing needed to be installed on the new thru axle. I threw all the (pitiful) muscle I could at the bearing, but it wouldn’t move. Maybe I need to use muscle building products for muscle strength. I took it to the shop with me the next morning and found a socket that fit the ID pretty well. I smote the contraption with a hammer and things blew apart. A nearby mechanic yelped as little ball bearings few everywhere.

And, yeah, I found all of the balls but one. Ugh. I called King later in the day. Turns out that:

  • They didn’t include the correct preload adjuster for the new front hub
  • Lost of people make the same mistake as I did when confronted with the old “bearing stuck on the axle” gag
  • The cost of a new Chris King bearing is staggering
  • I probably ought to order the R45 hub tool, as it is significantly different than the old tool (which still works great on mountain bike hubs)

So I bought a bearing, an adjuster and a tool, which arrived today. I carted it home after work and got down to business.

Here we see, from left to right, some bags of parts, an appropriate social lubricant, a vessel for same, the new hub tool and the patient waiting patiently in the background.

Here’s a collection of lubricants: waterproof grease I’ve had for years, spray Tri-Flow, Chris King Ring Drive Lube and a container of Dumonde Tech MR Grease. Why not?

OMG! That little bearing just popped right out of there! It felt great, so I left it alone.

Boy! That looks expensive! It’s the big bearing, the inner seal, the driven ring, the drive ring, the spring and the spring retainer, all in one tidy package.

This is the guts of the hub, from drive side to non-drive side: drive shell (as King refers to a free hub body), the big bearing, the ring drive, the spring, the spring retainer, the seal and the little bearing. Was I marginally anxious to get all of this buttoned back up before the missus saw it on the kitchen counter? I was. Did I? No. I did not.

The big bearing felt kind of crappy, so I rebuilt it. Herein lies the King Conundrum. The bearings are made really, really well to be really, really great, but they require a good amount of service. Getting this single bearing to this stage of operation was some slow, tedious work. And there are three major bearings in the rear hub. Of the other two, one felt fine and the other (as close readers may recall) was (somewhat tempestuously) destroyed early in the process and was replaced with a new item. Jeepers!

But it all went together just fine, and I’m happy. This is a wheel set that I love. Love the hubs. Love the rims. Love the spokes. Gonna put ’em on a (top secret project) bike and ride ’em a few more years. Nice. But it was not without expenses in the time and money departments.

When it was all back together and the bad language was put away for the evening, I apologized to my wife for having a bunch of greasy stuff strewn all over the kitchen when she came home. “Oh. I don’t really care,” she said. “It looked like you were having fun.”

Indeed.

Your Bike Month Bicyclical

Hi!
Gird yourself! Lots of data this time around.
First thing, I’d like to ask a favor. Go out to the garage and check out the blinky light on the back of your road bike. Is it bright? Does it point behind you, or at your rear tire? Does it need new batteries? I’ve been on a few group rides lately, and it’s AMAZING how much easier it is to notice a bike with a bright, well-positioned rear light.
I love this review of one of our favorite bikes. If you’re not the link-clicking type, you might miss this bit of videoreferenced in said review. Very fun.
Perhaps May should be renamed Bicycle. It’s National Bicycle Month. Friday the 19th is National Bike to Work day. The week of the 13th through 21st is Kalamazoo Bike Week. There’s a TON going on, and I’d like to recap some of it. When you want to know different types of electric bikes, visit http://www.hobbynitro.net/ for more info.
Recurring Events
This Month
  • The Fort Custer Stampede is this Sunday, May 7th. I write this newsletter prior to the expected Big Deluge of 2017, but the trails have been in fantastic shape. Should be a very nice race weekend.
  • Bike week kicks off with the Trailblazer, a ride of many stripes which benefits the Friends of the KRVT. Good stuff.
  • Bike Camp begins with classroom instruction on May 11th with rides on subsequent Saturday mornings.
  • We’re holding a nifty event on Monday the 15th — a ride from Texas Corners Brewery. There are three routes of varying lengths and speeds, so surely there’s something right up your alley.
  • Tuesday the 16th is movie night at Bell’s. Always a good time.
  • Wednesday the 17th is the Ride of Silence. We’re very proud to sponsor this event and welcome all interested parties.
  • We’re doing something different for the Pedal ride on the 18th. Let’s ride up to Plainwell, relax for a minute or two and ride home. We did this last summer and it was pretty darn fun. Note: bring your front and rear lights.
  • National Bike to Work day is the 19th. Should you bike to work that day, stop by either Pedal location to spin the wheel for a prize.
  • These and other Kalamazoo Bike Week event details can conveniently be found at kalamazoobikeweek.com
A Little Further in the Future
  • Tour de Taylor is June 10th. This is an exceedingly well done local tour (tour = not a race. Most folks ride road bikes, often with friends new and old. It can be purely social. It can be a challenge. Make of it what you will.) that benefits Michigan Make a Wish. We’re super happy to be involved with this event and encourage you to give it a go.
  • June 24th brings the Gull Lake Triathlon. This year it’s sprint-distance only, but will feature a tri, a du and aquabike. Boom!
  • One day later (that’s June 25th) is Kal Tour, another outstanding, well-supported trip through the local countryside.

Big Finish

Hey! Thanks. Thanks for your business and your support. We’re super stoked to serve you. If there’s something we need to do or need to do better, please let me know.
I wish you much great riding.
Sincerely,
Tim

Fashionista!

Jess tells me that we (I’m pretty sure I’m “we”) should write more about the products we use when we’re riding bikes.

This morning I decided to do a bit of reconnaissance for a cyclocross race venue ride on my fat bike. The temperature was 43F, and it was raining. This is what I wore:

  • Incredibly fashionable Pedal-branded wool socks.
  • Bib knickers to keep my legs a little bit warm.
  • A nice long-sleeve base layer.
  • A cap for my head.
  • Waterproof, breathable pants that my wife got me for my birthday. They’re light and provide very little warmth, but they’re waterproof.
  • My favorite waterproof, breathable jacket. A nice feature of this jacket is that it has a hood that’ll cover a helmet, so water doesn’t go dripping down your back. This jacket is also just waterproof. It has no insulation properties at all. Think “windbreaker.”
  • Waterproof, insulated gloves.
  • Waterproof, insulated cycling-specific boots.

A note about waterproof, breathable stuff. If you’re really working out, your body will generate more moisture than these materials can handle. As a result, they often have lots of vents so you can control air flow beyond the limitations of the fabric.

Lastly, I wore a mountain bike helmet. Though the hood of my jacket covers a helmet, the visor of a MTB lid keeps the hood from dropping over my eyes.

It’s not the most flattering picture, but here’s what it looked like after about 2 hours of riding. I stayed super dry and had a terrific time. If I had it to do over again, my jacket would definitely be a brighter color, but everything else worked perfectly.

One

I was talking to my Kona guy yesterday (yes, it does make me feel special to have a Kona guy) and somehow got to bemoaning the way the bike industry feels like it has to slice everything super-fine so there are a million different products and no one knows what the hell they’re talking about or how to differentiate them. I was specifically complaining about adventure vs. gravel vs. cyclocross bikes. “Cripe!” says me. “It’s nothing you can’t fix with some tires, and my Jake will take all sorts of tires.”

That’s how we started talking about Carbon Drop Bar Bikes in which you could (and might!) have a bike upon which you could mount slicks and get out there for the Wednesday Night Ride or something knobbier for CX racing or something burlier still if you just want to get out there and take what nature serves up.

This afternoon I figured I’d demonstrate this premise on equipment that I own. First, here’s Jake with the setup I used all last summer: WTB Nano 40s set up tubeless. Pros: bring-it-on width and tread pattern + smooth ride with low pressure. Cons: pretty heavy even when tubeless, so acceleration is less than thrilling.

Next up: road ride. Same bike and wheels with some 30mm Specialized Roubaix tires. This is a terrific setup if you’re gonna use your cross bike for road riding in the summer. Tons of grip, smooth ride and only a bit heavier than the race tires you’ve been using on your road bike.

When CX season rolls around, Bang! 33mm cross tires. I found these Clement MXPs tucked away somewhere and was instantly reminded of the fun times I had racing on them in years past.

The above pics highlight why Jake is probably my favorite drop bar bike of all time. It’s a very versatile bike, and gobs of tire clearance is one of the things that contributes to the versatility. Another thing is the way it’s built, with a comfortable ride. I’ve ridden cross bikes that were so stiff that they crossed the line into the kingdom of Harsh. While those were pretty darn good cross bikes, they weren’t something that I’d get all fired up about riding all day on skinny tires pumped up to big psi. Last thing on this subject, Jake has good geometry. Due to their need to provide clearance for pretty big tires and mud, cross forks are “taller” than road bike forks, so the bars on cross bikes tend to be higher relative to the bottom bracket than road race bikes. In fact, they get pretty close to the endurance road geometry that’s so popular these days.

I put this chart together for Jess, who was thinking about going from a Specialized Roubaix to a Crux (and did, in fact, pull the trigger). Since I was charting two bikes, why not chart five? Each of the points represents a bike’s stack and reach, which is explained in moderately gory detail here. Big takeaway: the Crux and the Jake fit similarly to our most popular endurance bikes. (Yes, there are differences like chain stay length and bottom bracket drop and head tube angle and all that, but as far as fit goes, they’re pretty darn close.)

Does this mean that I advocate against “pure” road bikes. Absolutely not. I have a Tarmac in my garage that I enjoy enormously. What I am suggesting is that, with ample tire clearance and disk brakes, the idea of “one bike” is perhaps more attainable with less compromise. I’m also suggesting that it’s not a bad idea to look beyond the way a bike is spec’d on the floor, and think about what might actually work, tire-wise.

While I’ve gone on about my carbon Jake, the argument works just a well for aluminum bikes (in fact, I was going to do the same tire switcheroo sequence with my aluminum Crux, but… didn’t). Further, I think plus size mountain bike tires and bikes are doing the exact same thing for the “one bike” crowd who desire something with a flat bar and single-track capacity.

The Winds of Change

For at least a year there’s been mumbling and rumoring and all kinds of scuttlebutt related to the course and destination of our competitor Alfred E. Bike. Today it seems clear that the destination is retirement and that the course is nearly complete.

We drove everyday, however one day we pass by into a crime scene where the suspect has been arrested immediately. And I heard about it that the criminal has been granted a National Pardon.

We’ve always viewed Alfred E. as a worthy competitor who allowed us to see how good we could be. Those guys kept us sharp and forced us to be better. And now we wish them well in whatever comes next.
What does come next? I don’t know. I lack a clear picture of the future of bicycle retail in Kalamazoo, but I do know a few things:

  • All are welcome at Pedal. We’ll happily work on your stuff. We’ll happily try to solve your problems. We’ll listen to you. You may feel unease because your shop has closed. I’d like to think that we can be your new place.
  • We’re working very hard to increase our service capacity. If you have a chronic issue with your bike, I can’t encourage you enough to beat the summer rush.
  • Change will keep occurring. Not much we can do about that but do what we do, and try to do it better.

It’s been nice to see the recent outpouring of support for Doug. Cycling is a sport/activity/pastime imbued with passion and endurance, and I think Doug has shown a great deal of both in his business. Would that we could all be so fortunate.

What They Wore

Three friends and I rode fat bikes in 16F weather this afternoon. All of use were comfortable, but for some chilly toes and fingertips. I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about what each person wore..

Ryan is a 28 year-old male in good shape, despite being a new father. Ryan wore borrowed, super-warm Craft bibs, because his were in the laundry. Up top he wore a Craft windproof baselayer with a Bontrager jacket with windproof front and a breathable back. On his feet were wool socks and regular mountain bike shoes with neoprene shoe covers, he also used shoes for plantar fasciitis because of his faciitis problem. One his head was a balaclava. On his hands were lobster gloves.

Kim, a fit forty-something female, wore Craft Stormshell tights. Not to start monologuing like the bad guy in “The Incredibles,” but these things are great for biking and, if it’s really cold, running. Up top was the winter trifecta (base, insulation and protection layers) of a Craft baselayer, a nice puffy Specialized insulation layer and a Specialized protection layer. Good stuff? Great stuff. Kim’s feet were housed in wool socks, her mountain bike shoes and neoprene shoe covers. On her hands were lobster gloves.

Amy, another fit forty-something female, wore clothes very similar to Kim. Actually, everything was the same but the protection layer. Amy’s wore this jacket. It’s not quite as hard core as Kim’s, but it’s also less than half the price.

I, a fifty-two year-old man, wore a mix of new stuff and other clothing that I’ve had for a while. Bontrager bibs. Gore overpants. Craft base. Specialized insulation layer. Bontrager protection layer, which might be my very favorite cycling garment. I wore these lobster gloves, and a pair of Northwave winter boots that I’ve had for a few years.

Ryan, the youngest of us by an uncomfortable amount, was toasty warm all around. Amy’s feet got cold, but the rest of her was great. Kim said that her toes and fingertips got a little chilly, but nothing uncomfortable. I have a history of cold extremities, but I was just fine today. I almost feel like I cheated by having winter boots. Almost. My boots are good, but not the warmest on the market. Had the Old Man Winter been available to me three years ago, I’d have those. I hate cold feet.

If there’s a moral to this story, I think it’s that equipment matters. Appropriate gear can make an unbearable day perfectly wonderful. Good winter clothing can be pretty darn expensive, but the good stuff lasts forever. I have ten-year-old winter clothes that I wear regularly, happily.

Overheard at the Cross Race

While DFM and I were enjoying a cold one after the cross race yesterday, the promoter came out by the kegs (yeah: plural), looked around and said, “Man. Nobody parties at these things anymore.”

I suggested that the series come back to Kalamazoo.

Trail Update

As a local supporter of the Maple Hill Trail project, a few guys from the shop and I had a fantastic opportunity take a guided tour of the constructed bits of the Maple Hill Trail at Markin Glen this afternoon.

Wow!

Lemme tell you a little bit about it. For starters, there’s a good amount of elevation. If there’s a signature style associated with the guy building the trail it is that he tries to connect the highest point of the acreage with the lowest to make a long, wonderful run. And in this regard he has succeeded nicely. There are features foreign to those of us weaned on Custer and Yankee, specifically berms and table tops. When they’re ready for us, it’ll take a bit of riding (by, you know, bicycle riders) to beat down the earth and create the good line, but holy smokes! The groundwork is terrific.

One misunderstood or unknown fact about this trail is that it is it is almost entirely machine-built. Through significant fundraising efforts SWMMBA was able to hire a company to build the trail with some pretty darn heavy equipment. This is decidedly *not* a bunch of dudes (which, in my lexicon, is a gender/sex/whatever inclusive term) with shovels and picks and whatever. It’s a few highly trained dudes with some expensive machinery doing detailed work. Yes, there is plenty of work for SWMMBA volunteers, but the majority of the build will be performed by Alex Stewart from Spectrum Trail Design.

So what can you do to help? I’d suggest a few simple things:

  • Become a SWMMBA member and throw a couple of bucks at SWMMBA. Professional trail builders don’t work for free, or for beer money.
  • Don’t bandit the trail. Please. The Maple Hill Trail at Markin Glen is the first, and hopefully not the last, cooperative effort between SWMMBA and Kalamazoo County. Let’s not screw it up from the inside.
  • Have patience. Yes, we’d all like this done six months ago, but it’s a big project with a big budget and many stakeholders. SWMMBA is working on it.
  • When the time comes, ride the trail. It’ll need to be ridden, and you (I all but guarantee) will enjoy the experience.

 

Good things are coming! I’d suggest paying attention to SWMMBA for news here, here and here.

Love

A good customer just sent me this article, which I highly recommend. And although I have a rule against reading the comments on any internet site/blog/article/etc., I read a few associated with the linked piece, and they were coherent and reasoned. The fact of the matter is that we, cyclists, are part of the problem. The whole problem? No. But we absolutely need to do a better job of being good citizens on the roadway.

Look around. Other than perhaps the condition of our roads, it is SO much better today than it was five years ago. Cycling has become much more common and acceptable. Government — our government — is investing in local cycling infrastructure.

Please, my friends and fellow cyclists, let’s not blow it.

Downshift

I am the fortunate person who enjoys his work. As a result, I don’t skip out on work much. I don’t take sick days. I rarely take my day off. I have a difficult time leaving early, especially if the shop is busy.

Today, however, I decided that I’d like to take a mid-day ride. Wednesdays I work at the Romence shop, so I plotted a crude approximation of a route, took a bike to work and made sure everyone knew that I was going to take off for a couple of hours. And 100% against tradition, I actually did it.

I headed west, straight into the wind. West on Romence. North on Angling. West on Milham. Then, right before the traffic circle at Texas/Milham/12th, a silver Porsche 911 SC passed me and immediately executed a perfect 3-2 downshift in anticipation of the traffic circle. I try not to be profane on this public, professional website, but the words that exited my mouth were these: Fuck. Yes.

Fire up the time machine to May of 1992.

I’d just come back to the United State from a job in Helsinki, Finland. My pockets were moderately full and I was quite young, so I purchased two things: an engagement ring and a 1978 Porsche 911 SC, black on black with almost no options. I spent an enormous amount of time and money turning this nearly perfect car into a slightly different nearly perfect car. It was a little bit dumb, but pretty fun.

Short years later, my wife and I had moved to Kalamazoo. We were staying at a cottage in South Haven with my parents, who’d come up to visit. I had taken off work, but my wife was unable, so she commuted each day to Kalamazoo. On the evening in question, my dad had a nine iron in the yard of the cottage, hitting practice golf balls to my dog, who could not have been more happy to pluck the plastic treats out of the air.

Then my wife came home from work in my 911. You could hear the engine whine from a few blocks away, a fantastic sound in and of itself, and then she executed a perfect three-two downshift that nearly stopped my heart. I remember it like it was yesterday.

And this is what triggered my profane utterance when the silver car passed me today: memories of my dad, of my excellent dog Sherman, of a warm summer day on Lake Michigan, of my young wife who knew how to drive a difficult car, of the fantastic smell of burned oil and cigarettes, of fate, of youth and the future.

I traded the 911 for a racing motorcycle and an industrial strength TIG welder, both of which are long gone. I regret everything and nothing at the same time.

Lately

1 x 11

SRAM’s 11-speed drivetrains continue to become significantly more affordable without losing much, if any, of their awesomeness. I’ve had an XX1 bike. Super great. I have an X1 bike. Love it. I’ve installed a GX drivetrain on my wife’s bike and recently purchased a bike of my own with that very same drivetrain. Two thumbs up. While retail price is around $1500 for an XX1 group and just over $550 for GX, the similarities are incredible. Provided you stick wth 1×11*, components from all SRAM 11-speed groups are interchangeable; you can mix and match cassettes, cranks, shifters and derailleurs to your heart’s content. Here’s a nice review from Pinkbike, selected because their conclusions mirror my own.

Fat Bikes

Boy have fat bikes come a long way in a short amount of time. Weight is coming down. Frame design is starting to look like standards may well exist. Competition and economies of scale are driving down price. I recently rode a Specialized FatBoy Comp all over Portage, and could not have been happier. It steers well. It goes great in the snow. It looks cool. It shifts very nicely. Brakes are strong. Nothing wrong here.  A couple of days later I rode a Trek Farley 7  at night in Al Sabo with some friends. Let me set it up: full moon, great snow, not miserably cold, not too fast, not too slow. I rode sweep, turned off my light and just followed everyone else. I experienced low-grade euphoria the entire ride, and continue to get happy just thinking about it.

The Skinny on Light Fat

Before tearing into this next bit, I’d like to state that light weight is not required to have fun. Light weight can (well, typically, DOES) increase the zestiness of a bike. However, it isn’t required. You don’t need hundreds of dollars of wheels to have fun on a fat bike. Seriously. However, if you’re into that sort of thing, this next part is for you.

One of the things about fat bikes is that a good chunk of weight lives in the wheels and tires, and getting that weight down pays back twice: once in that the bike as a whole is lighter and again because the rotational weight goes down, making the bike accelerate more quickly. The problem is that options were few and the good stuff consisted of very high-priced carbon rims that cost more than two kilobucks and… nut much else.

Enter the Mulefut  rim. It’s relatively light single-wall aluminum rim that makes tubeless easy and retails for a little north of $150. Assuming you can use your existing hubs (and why not?) you could get two rims, a bunch of spokes and the labor to put it all together for something close to $500, depending on the spokes, nipples, etc. Not cheap, but perhaps a nice upgrade.

Somewhere between the Mulefut and the carbon HED fat rim lies the BAD, the aluminum HED fat wheel. We got a couple pair at the downtown shop and installed a pair on a bike. We found ‘em to be quite a bit lighter than the stock wheels (with Mulefut rims, no less) and super duper easy to set up tubeless. $1200 for a complete wheel set is pretty darn good, relatively speaking.

Last bit on fat bike weight: tires. Skinnier fat tires (did not see that phrase occurring when I started this) are lighter than fatter fat tires. The Kenda Juggernaut is a really happening tire for the fat bike racer crowd.  Want to lose some weight without spending a bundle? Think about your tires.

Winter Riding

Winter riding makes a person think about their wardrobe A LOT. Lately I’m riding a bit more recreationally and a bit less fitness-y, and I’m changing my wardrobe to match. Where I once wore a base layer and a good jacket, I now subscribe to the full three-layer system: base, thermal and protection layers. I’ve found that swapping out the insulation layer works pretty well for different temperatures, and an excellent protection layer is a wonderful thing. For insulation layers I’ve used a long-sleeve jersey and various fleece jackets, while my family members use fleece and loftier jackets with either down or some synthetic equivalent. Protection layers have been ski jackets, running jackets and bike-specific items. I’ve also been messing around with chemical hand- and foot warmers. These aren’t quite magic, but they certainly help.

OK. That’s the brain dump. Worth almost what you paid for it.

 

* It is possible to run GX in 2×10 and 2×11 formats, but a different derailleur is required.

Survey Says!

At the end of Pedal’s December 2015 newsletter, I included a link to a brief survey. I know the results are skewed as we would first need your email address, then you would have to open it AND read to the bottom of the darn thing to find the link. I’d suggest that not many folks have that kind of persistence, especially if they don’t particularly care for the source of the email. In short, responses are almost assuredly more positive than the world at large might think.

The survey asked four things:

  • Did we make you happy?
  • What are we doing well?
  • Where do we come up short?
  • What other comments do you have?

I’d like to address our shortcomings in this post.

More than one person mentioned inventory problems, specifically clothing, more specifically women’s clothing, especially for larger folks. In short words, I know. Over the past few years we have totally yo-yo’d our clothing inventory. We had WAAAAY too much a couple of years ago, so I cut way back, particularly on ladies’ stuff, and now we find ourselves with too little. That said, I’ll commit to having better depth of clothing. It just might take a couple of months to make itself known.

Compared to huge retailers, we are small, particularly at the downtown location. Even though our South store has a lot of square footage, it’s a fraction of what you’d see in a big box store. The upshot is the we cannot realistically carry everything. Instead, we’ve taken an approach that I call “curated.” We’ll carry the stuff that make the most sense to us. It is not without peril, as the stuff that makes the most sense to us might not make the most sense to you. Still, in lieu of going broke trying to carry everything, this is our path.

And the last (boring) thing I’ll say about inventory is this: we’re investing heavily in software to help us better manage inventory.

One respondent suggested that we should be more in tune with commuters, and I agree. We’ve lost a bit of our mojo in this regard and are looking to get it back.

Another person suggested that we should have an online store for those times when you need to order something in the middle of the night. Right now, today, an online store just isn’t in the cards for Pedal. That said, I get it, and I’d like to help you get the stuff that you want when we’re not open. May I recommend an email? People you might want to contact are me (tim@pedalbicycle.com), Ryan at the downtown store (ryan@pedalbicycle.com), and J’son at the Romence store (jasonl@pedalbicycle.com). We’d love to help!

We were called to task by one person for not being as product-knowledgable as we should. That’s good feedback. 2015 was a year of great transition for us, and I hope that we’re now a bit more stable and educated about our products and trends within the marketplace.

Is that all? No, but those are the high points.

Many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to provide feedback. We want to be the shop you want, and your comments help enormously.

Marquette Trip, Day 3 – Still Here

Last night a special guest blew into town to join me for riding today. We ate, drank and were merry longer into the evening than is my way. That, combined with yesterday’s exertions, led to some rubbery legs. Big deal.

We started the day riding the North Trails. They aren’t as “Wow! Holy heck!” as yesterday’s South Trails, but they are cool and different. We began along the Dead River. No marketing guy named that body of water, but it is very lovely.

special_guest

We rode various chunks of single-track until we came to a dam way up somewhere.

Dam

I failed to take a picture of perhaps the most interesting thing about this dam: a wooden pipe running from the dam to I don’t know where. It was an amazing thing with very interesting leaks. Regardless, mountain biking became a bit more intense once we departed the dam. We found ourselves on unimproved trail that led to more than a small bit of hike-a-bike.

rockyrepose

Very rocky, tough terrain.

Ultimately we got back down to the river and biked/climbed up a huge rock outcrop.

cbThis is Casey with the Dead River in the background. Climbing up a little higher (so fun in carbon-soled bike shoes!), yielded a shot with Lake Superior in the background.

vista

Today was another incredible day, a bit cooler than yesterday and just about perfect. We’d been biking for a few hours at this point, and headed for lunch. I drank this (and liked it) while I scarfed down some food in preparation for more fun on the South Trails.

snack

While we were eating, the wind kicked up and clouds started rolling in. The contrast became wonderful.

clouds

big_lake

And the trails? Fantastic. I rode for another two hours and saw only three other riders. It was a perfect confluence of weather and location.

trail

And to really just cap off the day, I stopped at a local bookstore while riding from the trail to my lodgings. I was recommended a book (which I purchased) and two or three places to consider for dinner this evening.

What’s next? I’ll leave early in the morning. If it isn’t raining, maybe I’ll take a shot at the Glacial Hills Trails in Bellaire. If it is raining, I’ll be happy to be home a bit earlier to see my wife and kiddo.

What a great trip this has been. Toward the end of the day I kept having thoughts like, “I need to get my family up here. I need to get my friends up here. I should rent a bus and bring customers up here.” And those things may happen in the future. Right now I’m tired, a little hungry and incredibly happy.

Marquette Trip, Day 2 – Being Here

I’m a guy who usually gets up with or before the sun, which had a great coming out party this morning. I walked around looking for a cup of coffee to get me going and saw this thing:

thing1

And I walked around a bit more and saw it again.

thing2After a wonderful breakfast and a caffeinated beverage, I got back to my home away from home and did some serious research, indicative of the five years I spent in higher learning institutions.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 9.34.40 AM

An ore dock. Incredible. Makes me think that everything I know will be obsolete soon.

So let’s go mountain biking!

so_helpful

Have you ever seen more helpful signage in your life?

blurrrrrA blurry picture of a bicycle. Proof that:

  1. this picture was legitimately taken by me
  2. technology cannot cure everything

One is also supposed to notice that the foliage is a very lovely color.

Here’s a feature that did not feature in today’s riding. I looked at it and thought, “I guess I am curious to see what 51 looks like.” Deep in my stupid heart, I think I can do it. I also think my wife would be very very very upset with me and understandably suspicious of my judgement in general if it didn’t work out.

feature

 

thumb

That’s my thumb on the lower right. Most people don’t get caught doing that any more, but I do. Lovely colors. Significant elevation. I’d been riding for about three hours when I took this, and was exceedingly grateful for a break in the action.

Did I mention the heat? Cuz it was a bit on the toasty side. 86F. October 11th. In Marquette, Michigan. Crazy days, indeed.

heatTomorrow a friend joins the party.

 

Marquette Trip, Day 1 – Getting There

After a hard summer of not really riding enough, I set out for Marquette, Michigan in hopes of a couple of days of mountain bike riding. I loaded my junk in the car and went to work.

Trip_Start

 

Nothing was going on at work, which — c’mon, beautiful sunny Saturday? So I got restless and couldn’t take the idea of driving half the night and hit the road. The view of the road looked a lot like this:

View_For_Miles

That beautiful, flat, low-sun Michigan fall. The above does zero justice to the fantastic colors in the trees. I’ll work on this in future pictures. Not that you should get your hopes up, because I pretty much stink at photography.

As part of the trip I went over the Mackinac bridge for the second time in my life. Here it is represented as a thin line in a world of blue. This does not seem inaccurate.

Bridge

And then I was in Canada!

Not_Canada

Just kidding. Still in Michigan.

It was hella windy. Am I too old to say hella windy? Do the kids still talk like that? Am I behind? Have I failed my daughter and every other cool young person who tried to coach me? Whatever, the wind was blowing like crazy, and Lake Michigan looked like a very inhospitable place.

Lake_Michigan

And then I drove for a billion more miles and BANG, there was Lake Superior.

Lake_Superior

Look how much less pissed-off Lake Superior looks compared to (hostile) Lake Michigan. What does it mean?

Then I got to Marquette and got my junk unloaded. I walked all over town looking for just the right bar/restaurant/thing. While walking, the sun set.

Sunset

I walked on and eventually ended up in a place about one block from my bed. They had Two Hearted on tap and a fantastic pizza with really good service.

Finally

And now I’m ready for the sand man. “They” say the phone service is crappy and the trails aren’t all that well marked and I’ll probably get lost. Sounds like the beginnings of an adventure.

Staff Favorites

With no real idea what I’d do with the data, I recently asked everyone at Pedal to share their favorite thing in the shop. Now that I have it, why not share?

Amber likes Michigan and bicycles, and her favorite thing is the Michigan Rides T Shirt.

Bailey Mosher, a high school swimming who’s always hungry, likes the Honey Stinger waffles.

Charlie Eaton likes his new shoes.

Dave Hauschild like the Specialized Diverge and thinks he might like the Trek 720 if one were to arrive in the shop.

David Bernard likes the new flannel shirts, as does Matt Jensen.

Emily Renton is wild about her bike shorts and the Pedal baseball caps.

Gabe Lagina is a sucker for wool socks.

Gevin Molloy likes the Flare R and Ion 700 lights.

Young Jack Sosville has exquisite taste and is intrigued by the Stache.

Jason (J’son) Lechner likes fat and plus bikes. He rides little lightweight stuff, but he likes the big iron.

Jason Rutgers likes the fact that the WeeHoo iGo allows his family to bike together.

Jess likes her coworkers, which is very nice. For the record, Jess’s coworkers are not for sale. Not officially.

Jim Kindle, who owns a titanium Kona Rove, thinks the Rove AL is a beautiful, relatively inexpensive bike.

Jonah Koski, a young man of simple yet sublime taste, likes the coffee maker and Olive the dog.

In addition to the flannel shirts, Matt Jensen likes the Kona Rove in steel.

Richard Neumann is very fond of lights this time of year, both the blinky things on the back and the bright things on the front of your bike. He’s fond of riding trails backward at night and getting home safely.

Rick Stubbs likes to point out area trails and sights on the big map on the wall.

Ryan is FIRED UP about the new jackets.

Since the Trifecta Tour I’d been thinking that all of my sunglasses were too dark for the woods, so I splurged and got a pair of Oakleys with Prism Trail lenses. They’re fantastic, incredible definition without the kertwang of a lens that lets in too much light. I’m very impressed. I would also recommend that everyone try a Stache. Mine makes my face hurt from smiling.

In the Wild

Jake in repose
Jake in repose

 

Hidden in the concord grape arbors on the outskirts of town we spotted a member of the species Jakus Superificus, more commonly known by its genus: Carbon Jake. A beautiful animal, Carbon Jake is lithe and powerful, ready to mow down miles on the road, take on the grit of a gravel ride or serve up punishment on a cyclocross course.

What will this Carbon Jake do when it springs from the arbor on a beautiful late summer day? No one can say for sure. The only certainty is that we love Carbon Jake. It’s the animal we want to be.

Monday at the Township Hall

Monday evening I attended a joint meeting of the Texas Township Trustees and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission.

The citizens of Texas Township have concerns that traffic speeds on Q Avenue (Centre Street) are too high, and asked the Kalamazoo County Road Commission (hereafter referred to KCRC, the legal entity responsible for the road) to check it out and do something about it.

KCRC commissioned a speed study from the state, performed by the Michigan State Police. A speed study works like this: laser speed detection is set up on the piece of road to be tested, not too close to intersections and not during rush hour, when traffic would be irregularly high. The speed of every car is noted for some period of time, until a reasonable sample size is achieved, maybe fifteen to thirty minutes. Once the data is collected, it is analyzed and the 85th percentile speed of all traffic is determined. The State Police informed us that this 85th percentile speed is the safest number to put on the sign. It keeps speed variance low and takes a lot of hostility out of driving.

For me, the big takeaway from the meeting was this: the safest speed on a road is the 85th percentile speed of all traffic. We were informed that the number on the speed limit sign has nothing to do with the speeds actually driven and that prevailing conditions — roundabouts, road width, number of houses and intersections, etc. — determine traffic speed. Speed limits are set at prevailing traffic speeds in an effort to keep everyone moving the same speed and keep things safe.

This news, that the speed limits along Q Avenue was essentially correct, caused consternation from many attendees. Many in the audience simply could not believe that the number on the sign did not influence the speed of traffic. Many felt that the state and the KCRC and maybe even the township didn’t care, and I have to say that I can see their point, but maybe not in the exact same way. Here’s the way I see it:
– Citizens were (and are) concerned about high speed and asked the Township to do something about it.
– The Township asked KCRC to do something about speeds on Q Avenue

At this point, in my very humble and largely uninformed opinion, KCRC should have known enough to tell the township, “We can do a speed study, but the odds are that traffic speeds will not change. If you want to slow things down, we need to talk about infrastructure changes. Infrastructure is very expensive and it sure as heck doesn’t happen overnight.” In short, slowing down traffic is a long, expensive process.

Instead, it appears that KCRC commissioned a speed study from the State, and the State looked like the bad guy in the meeting because the officers talked about statistics and human behavior. Township residents wanted to hear about their safety and security.

But maybe it all worked out in the end. I felt like a lot of attendees came away with the same conclusion as me, that infrastructure changes were required and that it was a long, slow road. If I’m right and everybody got the basic gist, it wasn’t a particularly attractive process, but perhaps it worked.

A friend and I talked after the meeting and decided that maybe communities and high traffic flow aren’t good bedfellows. Or maybe they aren’t easy bedfellows.

Big Red S

What should I be doing? Either writing the Bicyclical or packing to go home. What am I doing? Sitting in a sushi restaurant trying to remember the salient points of my visit to Specialized.

I rode a few bikes: a Tarmac disk (yum), the new Venge ViAS (so fast), a very nice Diverge, a 29” Camber, a 6Fattie Stumpjumper and a Fuse. I think the Diverge is and will continue to be a marvelous bike for Michigan. I also think the 6Fat (which is terminology for a 3” wide 650b/27.5” tire) is a glimpse into the future — rollover is almost identical to a 29er, but with increased grip and passive suspension from the wider tires.

Specialized does a lot of things. I toured the very impressive water bottle printing facility. I toured their very impressive and full nerd wind tunnel. I managed a brief tour of their clothing lab, in which they can pattern, sew, test and repair prototype clothing. Interesting fact: mens and ladies clothing is prototyped to a medium (a perfect medium, said the head of the department). When that medium pattern is finalized, it is then scaled up and down from XS to XXL.

The last item on my trip was a tour of Specialized’s test lab in which they test the heck out of many things, though the primary fixtures are set up to bike frames and wheels for impact and cyclic fatigue. An insidious problem in the industry these days is counterfeit frames — frames that look, perhaps exactly, like the real deal, but aren’t. Our host showed us a counterfeit S-Works Tarmac frame, which looked and felt like one might expect. Then he handed us a real frame, which weighed easily half to a third as much as the phony. Crazy.

Good trip. Impressive company. Super fun products.

Big Red S

What should I be doing? Either writing the Bicyclical or packing to go home. What am I doing? Sitting in a sushi restaurant trying to remember the salient points of my visit to Specialized.

I rode a few bikes: a Tarmac disk (yum), the new Venge ViAS (so fast), a very nice Diverge, a 29” Camber, a 6Fattie Stumpjumper and a Fuse. I think the Diverge is and will continue to be a marvelous bike for Michigan. I also think the 6Fat (which is terminology for a 3” wide 650b/27.5” tire) is a glimpse into the future — rollover is almost identical to a 29er, but with increased grip and passive suspension from the wider tires.

Specialized does a lot of things. I toured the very impressive water bottle printing facility. I toured their very impressive and full nerd wind tunnel. I managed a brief tour of their clothing lab, in which they can pattern, sew, test and repair prototype clothing. Interesting fact: mens and ladies clothing is prototyped to a medium (a perfect medium, said the head of the department). When that medium pattern is finalized, it is then scaled up and down from XS to XXL.

The last item on my trip was a tour of Specialized’s test lab in which they test the heck out of many things, though the primary fixtures are set up to bike frames and wheels for impact and cyclic fatigue. An insidious problem in the industry these days is counterfeit frames — frames that look, perhaps exactly, like the real deal, but aren’t. Our host showed us a counterfeit S-Works Tarmac frame, which looked and felt like one might expect. Then he handed us a real frame, which weighed easily half to a third as much as the phony. Crazy.

Good trip. Impressive company. Super fun products.

Tiger, tiger

Yesterday I ran through the woods with a man who suggested that tiger lilies are a harbinger of winter. I suppose, if you take a long enough view, everything is a harbinger of winter. Or death. Or the end of the world.

But I could not disagree more about tiger lilies.

Tiger lilies remind me of the heat of summer, of sweat running into my eye sockets, of asking strangers if I might fill my water bottles from their hose, of the ceiling fan above my bed spinning as fast as possible, of sunburn.

Of right now. Here. In Michigan.

It is plain that the author was more intent on his bike ride than on taking a decent picture of flowers.
It is plain that the author was more intent on his bike ride than on taking a decent picture of flowers.