Aero Road Bikes and Tail Lights

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by Mark V on Dec 25, 2015 at 10:56 AM

If you’re going to ride an aero road bike, you must resign yourself to certain inconveniences. For one thing, you cannot run your stem angled upwards. If you can’t ride slam-low, you’ve no business throwing a leg over such a bike. That’s like wearing water wings and a Speedo. Another issue is that anything you might want to attach to your bladed seatpost is going to be a hassle. And the only thing you are allowed to put on your seatpost is a tail light. The problem is that the bladed seatposts/seatmasts that many aero road and triathlon bikes sport don’t provide an ideal shape for the common tail light to grab. A second issue is that tail lights ruin the aesthetics….errrr, aerodynamics…of your pricey rolling carbon sculpture. Hold on a moment, and I’ll try to solve these two problems at once.

First up I’ll give this Cygolite Hotrod 50 a chance. The Hotrod definitely scores the full point on form. A slender, clean design, this little bon bon looks like the little black cocktail dress of bike lights. Like all the better lights in recent years, the Hotrod 50 is USB-rechargeable. Now that li-ion integrated batteries have come so far, really powerful yet long-lasting tail lights can be made surprisingly small by eliminating the accessible battery compartments that were necessary for the previous generation of lights. Since waterproofing is a prerequisite for bike lights, it is much easier to seal a mini-USB port too. The Hotrod hides the charge port on the back side of the light, so when you strap the light to a bike appendage the charge port is partially held closed by being squeezed between the light and bike.

The $37 Hotrod 50 weighs 29gr and takes 3hrs to charge. From that little package, you get 3.5hrs at full power flash (50 lumens), 1.5hrs steady, and 30hrs on low flash. It also has a “group steady pulse”, a low intensity setting suitable for use within a group, that lasts up to 100hrs.

However, as a tail light for aero-shaped seatposts, the Cygolite misses the bullseye. The rubber strap is a little too short for some bladed seatposts, and the back side of the casing, while narrow, is still flat with only a hint of concavity. On the sharp trailing edge of a bladed post, the Cygolite looks great for a moment but simply won’t stay in position for long before it pops askew. And when it does, the charge port cover can peel open as the Hotrod slides sideways on the post, looking like Goodwill handbag hanging awkwardly off a super model. On some Kamm-tailed seatposts like on Trek Speed Concept/Madone or Scott Foil bikes, the flattened back edge of those posts present less of a challenge to the Hotrod 50 (assuming that the strap is long enough). But then, who cares?… the market doesn’t lack for tail light products that can do the same thing.

One thing that the Hotrod does do well is fit on really narrow, round cross sections, such as uber skinny seatstays and the tubes of racks. The slim casing and light weight benefit here. But then we wouldn’t be talking about aero road and triathlon bikes, would we?

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention before that you’re not allowed to even think about putting a rear rack on those bikes. There are laws against such attrocities.

Light & Motion uses an alternate method to make their product fit an aero seatpost. Their Vis180 tail light has been out there on the market for several years now. At the time of its introduction, it was a leading edge product among USB-chargeable tail lights, but honestly the design suffers in comparison to newer tail lighs. In fact, compared to L&M’s relentless improvement and aggressive pricing of their Urban-series headlights, their tail light development seems a little stale. At 102gr and $100 retail, the Vis180 (70 lumens) seems bulky and expensive, though that is at least partially related to US manufacturing and the durable, aluminium casing. No surprise then that I have owned the same Vis180 for at least 4 years, and it keeps going like a champion. The Vis180 by itself is even less suited to aero cross sections, but L&M sells a $10 aero seatpost bracket as a add-on solution. The bracket is a simple rubber block with a deep V-shaped groove moulded into one side, and you just stick the bracket between the light and post, resulting in a secure position on your aero seatpost for this decidedly non-aero tail light. A very practical solution that nonetheless offends the eye, but it will have to do.

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Through a Tree Tunnel to the New Year

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by Byron on Dec 24, 2015 at 6:31 PM

tree tunnel

What’s on the other side of this tunnel of trees? Story and photos in the new year. We’re off to enjoy the holiday with family. Hope you are too. Thanks so much for following and subscribing to our blog and magazine.

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Mark V eBay find: Bianchi TSX/UL

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by Mark V on Dec 24, 2015 at 1:32 AM

Once upon a time, I was a completely into the mystique of Italian cycling products. I mean, I chugged the KoolAid and asked for seconds. And really, it was an easy time to fall in love with that old world romance. I scraped together every dollar I could to get a titanium Colnago…which was a piece of crap. I was pretty disillusioned. I felt like I had paid to for premium tickets to the opera and found discovered that behind the high price and self-aggrandizement, the performance was amateurish, or worse, apathetic. I sold the Colnago at a steep loss and counted myself lucky to be rid of it. With the leftover coin, I settled to purchase a lugged steel Bianchi…which was one of the best things I’ve ever bought. The Bianchi name was respectable but not considered exotic; likewise the construction and finish of this particular example would not be setting any new standards. And yet the bike proved to be balanced and dependable, as versatile tool in a hairball crit as during an endless day of training. The Bianchi was a different kind of Italian fascination, less pretentious, a little more real.

My Bianchi is a 1996 EL/OS in traditional celeste paint scheme, made in Milan. If the bike design can be faulted, it’s that the tyre clearance adheres to the fashion of the times. Forget about fitting anything bigger than a 23mm tyre. But I like the bike so much I have thought about buying another if I had the bike room the size of a small aircraft hanger and the money to fill it with nice bikes. My Bianchi currently has modern SRAM components on it; I thought it would be fun to build another one up with all retro components. So occasionally I look for Bianchi framesets from the same era. That’s how I found this 49cm Bianchi TSX/UL. I think that this particular example might be a 1995 model, judging by its paint. That dark, liquid blue was sometimes called 110 Blue, as it was also used on the 110th Anniversary titanium framesets that year. I could be wrong about the year, but the TSX/UL had the same geometry as my bike. The tubing was just a little unusual: oversize downtube that was ovalized at the bottom bracket lug but a standard 1” top tube. I can see some minor differences though, like a different seat lug and the addition of a chainstay bridge from my bike.

I think that this new-old-stock frameset is a great deal at $750. If memory serves, that is the exact retail price from 20years ago. It’s possible that my affinity towards those Bianchi framesets similar to mine biases my opinion on the value of the bike, but I can’t see how that price isn’t reasonable considering that someone else is trying to sell a Bianchi Eros frameset for the same amount. The Eros was a much cheaper bike, maybe $750 complete back then. And despite what the listing says about it being a new, unused item, that frameset looks like it has at least been assembled.

These days my Bianchi EL/OS doesn’t get ridden in the rain much, though it once served as my rain bike when I lived in Florida. Rain bikes in Florida don’t need fenders because the rain comes at you sideways like a fire hose; fenders don’t help against that. A Florida rain bike needs to be sure-footed in a wet crit. Yet in a sense, I do ride the Bianchi on rainy days though, since I have it mounted on a trainer. I do take extra care to wipe off the sweat. I own two lugged steel road bikes these days. The Bianchi that I’ll probably always keep, and a 1983 Sannino. The Sannino was already battered when it came to me, and honestly the paint would have been crap from the beginning. The Sannino has somewhat unusual geometry and vintage components, but I can wedge 700x30mm tyres into the frame and fork. It’s nice to have different tools on hand for whatever the job calls for.

The Sannino is currently serving as a test jig for the Schwalbe S-One tyre, a tubeless clincher made to conquer the spring classics.

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Mark V reviews: Sealskinz Belgian Style Cycling Cap

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by Mark V on Dec 22, 2015 at 9:11 AM

The day before the shortest day of the year, and Seattle’s rain and cold seem to smoother all the warmth those sparse hours of daylight have to offer. But I’ve got places to go…going by bicycle. Time to pull the bill of my cap down and set my teeth as I grind away into the wet wind. I can’t say that I’m enjoying my current schedule, but I hate to think that I’m complaining all the time. But I am. I should be at least thankful for the small comforts, such as this Sealskinz Belgian Style Cycling Cap. Sealskinz is a British company that specializes in hats, socks, and gloves to keep wet weather at bay. Their Belgian cap has a waterproof yet breathable membrane between the acrylic outer and polyester fleece inner layers. A knit rear flap protects the ears and nape of the neck; light reflective stripes are part of the knit pattern. The Sealskinz cap is warm and utterly dry, but perhaps I can’t leave it be without just one complaint. Because of its construction, the cap ends up being a skosh bulky compared to the numerous single layer caps on the market. If you have a helmet that fits your meat globe particularly tight, this cap may be thick enough to prevent you from being able to comfortably fit the helmet over it. I own three different models of helmet, and I can only wear the Sealskinz cap under one of them.

The $45 Belgian Style Cycling Cap is available directly from their website. http://www.sealskinz.com/US/

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On Test Now: Schwalbe S-One and G-One tubeless tyres

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by Mark V on Dec 21, 2015 at 10:39 PM

Schwalbe, the German tyre company, is going all in for tubeless in 2016. New CX, gravel, and a classics-style road tyre will compliment a line flagship line of road race tyres, and all of these models are tubeless-ready, or tubeless easy as Schwalbe calls them. The first of the new tyres that Bike Hugger has acquired are the S-One and G-One. I’ve been hot for these tyres since Interbike.

The S-One is tyre designed to conquer the legendary Paris-Roubaix, the high point of the northern European spring classics. In the modern trend, this tyre carries a lot of volume. Nominally 700x30, the S-One mounted up at 31.4mm on a 21mm internal width rim (25mm external width). At 353gr measured weight, the S-One weighs 24gr less than Schwalbe’s only slightly older “One” tubeless road tyre in 700x25, a fact that underscores how fast and how far Schwalbe has been pushing their tubeless technology. The new Pro One tubeless road tyres will only be a few grams heavier than standard versions of the previous One tyres. While we wait on the 700x25 Pro One tubeless clincher, I’ll be giving these S-One a go, assuming I can find the right bike to fit these. They’re a little too big for my road bikes, but when it comes to my gravel/CX bikes I’m even more keen to try out:

the G-One 700x35 gravel tyre. 428gr on the scale and 36.7mm when mounted on a 21mm internal width rim. I’m really excited about this one. For my bike when fitted with fenders for the wet winter, the 35mm size is perfect, but I might be inclined to try the 700x40 when summer comes around. The tread is a courser dot matrix than the S-One, and the round dot-shaped knobs are siped. The initial ride felt good, even compared to the Compass Barlow Pass tyres, but I’ll need to log a bunch more miles to really get acquainted.

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German Tools

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by Mark V on Dec 21, 2015 at 3:07 AM

When a person earns a living by working with their hands, they gain an intimacy with those tools. In a shop environment, I rarely use multi-tools, instead preferring to use simpler, single purpose versions that are usually larger but more elegant. I keep a set of long L-bend Allen wrenches from Pedro’s handy, but if I can I prefer to use T-handle wrenches. Park Tools and several others sell Allen wrenches that combine the plastic handle of a T-wrench with the basic shape of an L-bend (one tool end poking out sideways from the handle), but that puts the ball-end at the long extension. The problem is that it’s easy to maul the head of a bolt if you tighten hard with the Bondhus. Thus I can’t put real pressure on the long extension of the Park Tool plastic handle L-wrench, yet plastic handle makes those wrenches awkward in many of the situations that you would want to use that Bondhus in the first place. That’s why I came to the solution of keeping both T-handle wrenches and simple L-bend wrenches. And I’m rather particular about my T-handle wrenches; I like a certain balance to them. My favourites are made by Wiha of Germany.

I keep duplicates of a lot of tools at home. In fact, one of my oldest tools is a Wiha 4mm Allen T-handle that actually pre-dates my baptism into cycling. It’s old enough that the handle says “made in W. Germany”; that is, it was made before the Reunification. It came with my Dutch-made inline skate frames. The handle is black plastic and shaped slightly different from the today’s red plastic Wiha wrenches. My newest Wiha is a green T-handle Torx T25, a long-delayed acknowledgement that T25 is here to stay. Now that I have a sturdy tool that is a pleasure to hold in my fingers, I am strangely more at peace with the heretofore despised industrial standard.

One tool that I have at home but not at the shop is a parallel-jaws plier from Knipex. This thing is amazing, like a cheat code to one of the golden rules of bike mechanics: thou shalt not use pliers on nuts and bolt heads. Usually if you use the common plier on fasteners, you end up badly marring the surface and any wrench flats, because the angling jaws rely on their teeth to grip. And then when you bring your bike in for me to service, I mock you as an uncultured savage. But the Knipex plier is different because it keeps its smooth jaws parallel like a proper box wrench. I still wouldn’t use it on a bolt that I needed to really hoss on, but I can confidently use it in most situations. At work, I have a wall of box/open wrenches hanging; at home the Knipex is a handy alternative that takes up much less space. And it’s quicker than hunting for the right size.

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Mark V reviews: Muc-Off Anti-Fog Treatment

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by Mark V on Dec 19, 2015 at 9:41 AM

I’m standing in my kitchen, looking out at the steady rain pelting the streets and listening to the fleeting car tyres as they make a sound like a sheet of paper tearing. But I’m thinking of another rainy morning at a Tacoma race course over a month ago, in the middle of the cyclocross season. Up till that point the races had been pretty dry, but as my group stood in the starting grid the sky cut loose and hosed down everything. The race ended up being a cold, muddy, and slow grind. Halfway through the race, my sports glasses were fogging so bad I couldn’t see through them at all, so I handed them off to a friend on the sideline. I spent the second half of the race collecting grit on my contact lenses. I can vividly remember my eyelids dragging sand across my eyeballs.

It’s December now and cyclocross season is over for me, but I mainly commute by bicycle. Depending on the errand, there are plenty of opportunities for my eyewear to fog up, and most of the time I’m wearing my prescription glasses rather than contacts. That means that when my glasses fog up, I can’t simply take them off or push them down my nose; I’m too nearsighted. This is where I had hopes that Muc-Off’s Premium Anti-Fog Treatmenrt could make a difference.

The Muc-Off product comes in a dainty 35ml spray bottle. The directions specify that you should clean the lens first, spray on, and then wipe with a clean dry tissue. And that’s where I’m going to say DON’T USE JUST ANY TISSUE. The cellulose fibres in common tissue can scratch polycarbonate lenses; use a tissue designed for eyewear. If not that, then use a soft, lint-free cloth. Muc-Off’s directions specifically say not to use microfibre cloth with their product; I’m guessing because the microfibre cloth might wipe off too much of the treatment. But my prescription Oakleys cost way too much to risk damaging with regular tissue.

I clean my glasses and then apply the Muc-Off Anti-Fog to just the left lens. Over the next three days, I ride to work, errands all over town, and a three-hour road ride. I learned two things. First, it actually works, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it eliminates fog on your lenses. More that it retards the formation of fog and somewhat limits its severity. On a race course where there’s a slow section that prevents you from going fast enough for your glasses to vent off moisture, the Muc-Off Anti-Fog may slow the fogging enough for you to complete the section without impairing your vision. But it doesn’t make your glasses entirely fog free. The second thing I learned is that for maximum effect you have to reapply the treatment every ride. I sort of imagined that Muc-Off’s Anti-Fog would be semi-permanent, or at least only needing occasional application. No, for maximum performance you would need to clean your glasses and apply the Anti-Fog right before the event. Which means that in the future I will be performing another layer of ritualized pre-race preparations on autumn Saturday nights, but I have no intention of using this stuff in my day-to-day activities. Life is already too complex for me to worry if I remembered to apply Anti-Fog to my glasses before I left the house.

Muc-Off is a UK brand that is distributed in the US by Hawley. Their Premium Anti-Fog Treament retails for $14.99.

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31 Full Circle

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by Byron on Dec 18, 2015 at 4:05 PM

Issue 31 Cover

Like wheels on a bicycle everything circles back from technology to riding styles, tastes, and fashion. Issue 31 brings us full circle and drops today on iTunes and the Web for $4.00 an issue or $16 per year.

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RX1R II: Landscapes and Street

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by Byron on Dec 17, 2015 at 5:09 PM

Now that the RX1R II has arrived, vacation can’t get started soon enough.

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Mark V reviews: Light and Motion Urban 850 Trail

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by Mark V on Dec 17, 2015 at 11:39 AM

Wherever I hear the word “progress”, whether it be a political speech or a product advertisement, I am always a little suspicious. The idea that we are “moving forward” and getting “better” is deeply seductive, and we as a people would do anything to embrace it, even allowing ourselves to be fooled. Politicians and marketing executives know this well, telling people exactly what they need to hear to believe that they are part of a greater cause. Vote for this politician; he’ll make your country better! Upgrade to 11-speed; you’ll ride faster! Use this deodorant; you won’t stink like cheese! But we all need to recognize what is the actual truth behind the lies….the lies people tell us and the lies we tell ourselves. There is no such thing as “progress”; we are merely traveling in circles. There is no “better”, there is just “different”.

Except for headlights. They DO keep getting better. And that’s what should make you really suspicious.

Look at Light & Motion’s Urban 850 Trail headlight. When the L&M Urban series were introduced, I think the brightest models were like 500 lumens (FWIW, Light & Motion quote actual measured output not theoretical values based off of the subcomponents). Now here’s the Urban 850 Trail that burns almost twice as bright for as long or longer, charges faster, and is the same size/weight as the originals. And it only costs $180, which is about the same retail as the originals were like 5 years ago. So if you account for inflation, the Urban 850 Trail costs less than its predecessors. How is that even possible? First, we have to assume that Light & Motion has stepped into a realm of science that dangerously brushes the boundaries that mortal man was never meant to cross. The only rational explanation for this unassailable progress is that Light & Motion has found some manner of extracting energy from a source hereto untapped. Best guess? I’m thinking something like the souls of orphans, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in the laws of California, where Light & Motion Urban headlights are made.

The point is that the Urban 850 Trail is the best yet from Light & Motion. It’s small so it doesn’t take up much room on your handlebar, and it’s low mass means that its stretchy rubber strap can competently keep the Urban 850 from rotating on the bar as you bounce along on singletrack or rough roads. You can also adapt the Urban 850 to other positions (like your helmet) by replacing the handlebar mount with the included GoPro-style mount, or using the strap mount one of L&M’s existing adapters. One small gripe is that the early mounts that came with the 850 swiveled a little too readily, but L&M has already made a running change to the plastic formula to correct this. A change that L&M made last year to the Urban series is the improved waterproof min-USB charge port. The original Urban headlights had a simple rubber flap/plug, but if you liked to sling the light upside-down on your bar to keep the tops clear (like I do), gravity and exposure might work moisture into the casing. All of the newer Urban headlights have a more robust plastic cap with a rubber o-ring that firmly seals the charge port from the elements.

Like previous high-end models in the Urban line, the 850 Trail is a fast charge, taking just 2.5hrs if plugged into a 2A source (6hrs if you’re using one of those crap .5A wall chargers). Unique to the 850 Trail is a smooth rather than faceted mirror that throws a more concentrated beam further ahead, which is important for seeing trail obstacles on an MTB or fast downhills on a road bike. Also, the trademark amber sidelights of the Urban series are a more muted red on the 850 Trail, which is nice yet subtle beacon for riders following you on the trail that isn’t going to affect their night vision.

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