What did you forget Today?

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by Byron on May 19, 2008 at 1:59 PM

Seems there isn’t a race or ride I do where I don’t forget something. Like discovering the tube that’s in the saddle bag is the old flat tube or that I don’t even have the saddle bag. No helmet, front wheel, or damn it my Polar!

Forgotten items I’ve heard of include

  • A bike – arrived at the race, no bike on car. FAIL
  • Shoes – I think we’ve all forgot our shoes. FAIL.
  • Helmet – you can usually find a helmet at a race or tour.
  • Gloves – yep, you can ride without them.

For her commute, Pam has forgot

  • socks
  • bra
  • underwear
  • makeup

and today a shirt. So she just wore her liner at the desk. No one probably noticed.

What have you forgot during your commute or on the big race day? (Pam and I wear the same kits, different size and a few times I’ve raced in a really tight jersey that was hers.)

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The Rise of the Compact Crank (aka “The Death of the Triple”)

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by Mark V on May 19, 2008 at 12:00 PM

01.jpg In the road bike market, you may have noticed that nearly every manufacturer is offering bikes with compact double crankset, ie road cranks with a 110mm chainring bolt-circle typically mounting a 50 and 34 tooth chainring combination. Bike companies have toted the compact double as the ideal way to gain most of the benefits of a triple crank (namely better low range gearing) while having a better chainline and lower weight. This is mainly true, but before you decide that the compact double crank is right for you, you should understand its real advantages for you as a user as well as the motivations bike companies have for selling it to you.

02.jpgUltegra SL standard double (top) and compact double cranksets. Notice the size difference between the compact double’s rings.

First, let’s back up a few decades to the days when Campagnolo Nuovo Record was the king of component groups. Back then crankset dimensions generally were 144mm bcd (bolt-circle diameter), and typical chainrings were a 52/42 tooth combo. On the other hand, freewheels of that era were usually 6-speed units. A tight ratio for flatland racing and criteriums might be a 13-19 straight block, meaning single tooth jumps between gears, while a touring cluster might be 14-28. Racers would always prefer freewheels that offered the smallest jumps between gears while still offering the lowest gear necessary for a given race course. The small jumps allow racers to stay at their most efficient pedal cadence as much as possible. Non-competition riders would generally prefer wider range clusters, since they wouldn’t have the luxury of a team mechanic setting up their bike specifically each day. Having a broader gear range gives those riders more flexibility for widely varying terrain.

You”ll notice that with a 6-speed freewheel, to have close jumps between the gears (“close ratio”) you must accept a narrow overall range. That’s why the 52/42 chain combination made sense: the ten-tooth jump between the rings creates a useable overlap between the gearing combinations. This would change over time, and when 7-speed became firmly established, most manufacturers moved to a crank with a 130mm bcd (or 135mm for Campagnolo) that allowed a 39 tooth inner chainring (though racers stil preferred a 42 tooth ring). Combined with a 53 outer ring, every rider could take better advantage of the extra cog in the cluster.

cluster%2001.jpgSeen above: Regina America six-speed freewheel 13-19 and a Shimano Dura Ace 11-23 ten-speed cassette.

Later still the industry moved to 8, 9, and today’s 10-speed cassette style cog clusters. A cassette construction, wherein the cog clusters slide onto a ratcheting body integral to the rear hub, also allows an 11-tooth cog, which was not an option with freewheels. Now a racer’s cassette choice might be an 11-23 or 12-25, and a touring rider can have a 12-27 or 13-29 while still having plenty of single-tooth jumps within that range. Thus, even today’s narrowest overall range ten-speed cassette is still significantly broader than a six-speed straight block of 13-19 while still maintaining mainly single-tooth jumps.

Right about the time that nine-speed drivetrains were becoming the standard for road bikes, road bikes enjoyed renewed sales presence, particularly at the high-end. Call it the Lance Effect or whatever, people were willing to shell out cash for high-quality stuff. And it wasn’t just young racers who wanted the good stuff. Shimano and Campagnolo began offering triple cranksets in their top-of-the-line groups to tap into the disposable incomes of touring riders and older riders either new or returning to the sport.

Triple road cranksets were/are structurally akin to the existing double cranks. Usually the third chainring is a 74mm bcd mounting inboard of the other two chainrings. The right triple crankarm is often minimally different than a double with the left being identical; the width of the bottom bracket spindle is greater so that the 74mm innermost ring is far enough away from the from the seat tube to sit properly in the front derailleur’s arc. Triple cranks require special derailleurs and often front shifters. A matching rear derailleur with longer pulley wheel cage accommodates the increased chain slack caused by the wide range between the chainrings. The front derailleur of course needs to deal with the increased swing across three chainrings as well as the innermost ring’s tiny diameter. Depending on the design, component manufacturers might choose to create a modified front integrated shift/brake unit specifically for triple (ex. Shimano Dura Ace). Initially the triple cranks had 52/42/32 chainring set that had almost become a standard combination choice, but eventually a 53/39/30 set became the preference. This combo is exactly a racing double’s 53/39 with an extra chainring (wags will call it a “granny gear”) thrown in.

So, the market had finally reached nirvana: he-man racers got doubles, and a triple crank solved every other problem. Simple, yes? But then on the heels of the new 10-speed drivetrains came the compact double crank featuring 50/34 tooth rings.

Though double cranks with 110mm bcd had existed in the past, they were never really common for road bikes nor did they have the 16-tooth jump between the rings typical of today. An important hurdle to overcome was chainring design that would allow smooth shifting with the chainring size difference, which is greater in the modern compact double than ever before. Sophisticated ramps and pick-up pins (and sometimes compact specific front derailleurs) were necessary to help lift and guide the chain during front upshifts. Shimano had been an industry leader in this technology going back a decade or more, but another company beat them to the punch in marketing similar techniques in a compact double.

Starting about 2002 or so, FSA made huge gains in the OEM market as well as the consumer aftermarket because of their innovative carbon cranksets, attractive pricing, and range of product. At the time of their compact double crank introduction, their modular chainring spider allowed them to easily adapt from existing standard double and triple production.

cluster%2002.jpg Seen here clockwise from top: Dura Ace 12-27 ten-speed, DA 11-23 ten-speed, and Regina America 13-19 six-speed.

Initially the compact double was considered a special application item, a tool for a hillclimb. This concept was cemented by Tyler Hamilton’s success with an early FSA compact crank during the 2003 Tour de France. A compact double had the chainline and narrower pedal stance of a standard double but almost the same low gearing of a triple crank because the compact’s 34 tooth inner ring split the difference between the two smaller rings of a triple. And a compact double could be lighter than either of the other two options. For racers, the compact double crank made great sense if the race was primarily uphill, but the uphill time trialist segment of the market is very narrow indeed, not enough to seize the OEM market. As much as anything else, the ease of marketing and producing complete bikes with compact doubles would be the reason these cranks are everywhere today.

It’s a two-fold reason. Component manufacturers would rather offer compact double cranksets instead of triples. Even if they could produce a triple version of a standard double with minimal changes to tooling (ex: Shimano Dura Ace 7700/7703 nine-speed and 7800/7803 ten-speed double/triple cranksets), the complexity of producing triple shifters and derailleurs to match far outweigh the cost developing the molds or dies for the compact crank. And for companies offering complete bikes, they know that they can often get away with offering road bikes only with compact cranks, particularly in the entry- to mid-level segments. Reduced variation means easier stocking, which leads to better profitability.

Three years ago, this was more disagreeable to me. At the time, cassette ranges for road bikes did not allow the compact double to properly shine. A compact double needs an 11 tooth start cog for most riders in not-so hilly areas, but in the past most cassettes with an 11 were narrow range with a 21 or 23 tooth bottom end. That didn’t really give much more low end than a 12-27 with a standard double. Now that 11-25 or 11-26 are more common, compact doubles are approaching the overall range of triple cranks. And in 2009, Shimano is introducing an 11-28 cassette in its Dura Ace line, bringing the gap down even more.

However, the downside is that the triple crank is being demoted from top of the line offerings. Shimano’s top-of-the-line Dura Ace 7900 next year gains a “DA” branded compact crank but drops the triple offering. Campagnolo has eliminated triple derailleurs branded to match their upper-end component groups. Even more telling, Campagnolo has yet to indicate that they will develop a triple version of their Ultra Torque style cranksets. And though only in the road market for two or three years, SRAM doesn’t even make a triple crankset at any price point.

Who suffers from this? With the newly expanded cassette ranges, compact cranks are more capable than ever, but I happen to wrench in a shop in a hilly area that caters to special niches in the high-end. Sometimes a 34 tooth inner ring just doesn’t offer a low enough gear even with a 28 tooth cog, particularly for touring riders. Not only are my customers looking for triple road cranks, they would like even more range on the cassettes. We’re putting mountainbike derailleurs on road triples for touring riders. I would like to offer both high-quality road triples and ten-speed cassettes with a 34 tooth bottom-end.

When I toured in Japan, my bike had a road triple with 28-tooth chainring and 27-tooth bottom cog. If a ten-speed 11-34 cassette had been available, it would have given me a comparable gearing range on a compact double, but the actual 12-27 cassette on a triple gave me closer ratios. I don’t think that bigger jumps between gears would have been favourable, but the closer pedal stance might have been kinder to my knees on the ride through Honshu, Japan. The hypothetical reduction in weight is meaningless on a touring bike that weighs 65 pounds loaded.

03.jpg Seen here clockwise from top: Ultegra SL compact double crank, Ultegra SL standard double, and Ultegra triple.

Finally, the question: will the compact double completely replace the standard double as well? Not very likely. Racers in most cases will need standard doubles because they’ll need that 53-tooth ring to get a big enough gear. ProTour riders use a 53x11 top gear on flat stages and sometimes 55x11 or bigger for time trials. Cassette hubs can’t fit a cog with less than 11 teeth because of the size of the bearings and axle supporting the cassette body, so there is no way to approximate that kind of gearing with a 50-tooth big ring on a compact. Yes, you could just make a 53+tooth ring with a 110mm bcd to fit the compact crank, but such a ring would likely deflect more under power than would be acceptable without the larger 130mm bcd spider to support it. What about normal amateur racers who don’t need an 11-tooth cog with a 53 ring? A compact double’s 50x11 is very close to a 53x12, even a bit bigger. Arguably though, the standard double is better since the 53 tooth ring yields tighter ratios. For instance, upshifting from the 13-tooth cog into the 12 on a 53 ring is a smaller jump than a 12 to 11 shift on a 50 ring. And the racer’s desire for closer ratios was the reason for developing drivetrains with increasing numbers of cogs on the cluster.

So Campagnolo Record and Shimano Dura Ace will no longer be available in triple. On one hand, the traditionalist in me hates progress. On the other hand, before the turn of the century (as in the 21st) neither of those groups was traditionally available with triples.

So…yeah…um…compact doubles are good? Triples were mechanical abominations for weaklings who didn’t deserve top of the line racing components anyways, right?….

Well, those answers aren’t going to please everyone. But I suppose that as long as someone like Shimano at least offers triple cranks and shifting systems at the Ultegra level, the world will be okay.

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Yuba Bikes in the US

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by Byron on May 19, 2008 at 6:11 AM

Yubas are now distributed in the U.S by Rock the Bike. Check with your local bike shop to see if they can get it. Rock the Bike is importing two models: Mundo singlespeed or 6-speed. We’ve got the Yuba 6 on test and a report is coming soon.

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Riding a Lapierre around the Lake

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by Byron on May 18, 2008 at 8:57 AM

It’s not very often that I’ve got a bike to test, just adjust the saddle/stem, ride it for 4 hours and and totally enjoy a comfortable ride. That says a lot about the Lapierre S-Lite 500 I rode around the South end of the Lake yesterday. The more I rode the bike, the more I liked it. For the S-Lite series, Lapierre has “tube forms that offer more comfort, with 25% more vertical flexibility in the rear triangle for better absorbtion of vibrations.” That means it’s a vertically compliant frame that flexes enough to smooth out the ride. As I wrote in my initial review of the bike, it’s for a century like Seattle to Portland. That flex also transmits road vibration so it doesn’t feel dull and carves very well. Consquently, without all the stiffness, it’s not the fastest climbing or sprinting bike. You’ll need to wind it up towards the finish line and use that triple to get over the big climbs.

slite-500_alki.jpg

Notes

  • At the 3K point, the parts are mix-matched with Ultegra and 105 – that all worked well, but a comparison shopper is going to look at other bikes that are spec’d with full Ultegra or SRAM Force.
  • A rider will want to upgrade the low-end Mavic wheels for race or tour day.
  • I wouldn’t spec or want a triple. Yes it works, but I find it cumbersome and would either just run a bigger cassette or a compact.
  • A super light fork introduces horizontal flex. To test this, grab your handlebar and shake it side to side. Does the whole frame move or does the front end wiggle like a worm on a hook? Strong hits did make the front end of the Lapierre move; that’s not good or bad, just an observation from me that I think the next refinement in carbon is the headtube. They’ve got bottom brackets down, even tuning them to specific ride characterizes. Next up is massive head tubes.
  • The bike’s aesthetic is also refined. It’s not NASCAR logo’d like the Tarmacs or in-your-face painted like the Treks. It’s understated French with the various trademarks. Lappiere doesn’t use lugs so the bike looks like a monocoque frame. It’s stylish and looks fast.

Having ridden carbon frames since there were carbon frames, it is remarkable to see this much refinement. Now on the market are specifically tuned bikes like the Lapierre S-Lite series, very stiff bikes from Specialized and Trek, or even the Davidson Hotspur that mixes Ti and Carbon. Builders continue to improve what they do with carbon.

Lapierre’s are available at select Independent Bike Dealers. More coverage.

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Forkless: All white chopper sculpture

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by Dave R. on May 17, 2008 at 6:08 PM

forkless.jpg

Man, I don’t follow the custom/chopper bike scene very much so I may be out of touch, but this thing is scuplture! Amazingly, you can even ride it (here’s proof). More photos and construction details here. You gotta take a look, the design process and details are great to see. For example: it’s a single, drive side chain/seat stay.

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A Lexus Love Tap

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by Byron on May 17, 2008 at 8:45 AM

Having been arrested and prosecuted for a car/bike road rage incident, I try my best to just ride away from a-hole drivers, but yesterday when a motorist drove his car onto the bike path in front of me, I decided that was “over the f’ing top” and gave his Lexus a Love Tap. A Love Tap is a gentle reminder to a car that you’re nearby, that they’re in your lane, or have rolled past a stoplight into your path. Dude wigged out when he heard the tap on his trunk and I was all, “seriously dude you’re on the bike path with your car.” I rode away and he parked his car. Never saw him again.

It’d been a while since an altercation and the last incident was in Maui where ironically a hippie-driven, bio-diesel, end-the-Iraq-war-stickered Mercedes tried to run me off the road. I’d never yelled at a hippie before, but this went down harsh and could’ve ended badly, if I’d not backed off, and that was a straight-up defensive-protective measure. I later concluded it was karma for me flipping off this Mercedes the year before.

Tip: a good Love Tap technique is to pop a breakaway mirror. That’ll get their attention and not do any damage.

What’s your Love Tap story or worst incident with a car?

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True Confessions: I rode a triple!

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by Byron on May 17, 2008 at 7:52 AM

It was tough for me even to mount a bike with a triple drivetrain, but we’ve got a Lapierre S-Lite 500 and that’s what it ships with. I figured, I’ve been running a 25 cassette for a while and finally put a 26 on my bike with SRAM, I’ll try it. That doesn’t mean I’m like those dudes palling around on bikes in the Flomax commercials, even though I’m a Masters Racer that’s closer to middle age than I’d like to think about.

slite500.jpg

So, of course, I spent the first 30 minutes of the ride messing with the triple: slamming it around, trying to drop the chain; small ring, middle ring, big ring. Conclusion: Fine, ok, it works and well. But it does seems overly complicated and just out of place on a road bike; especially, with the gear-ratio choices from SRAM. You could either run a bigger cassette or even compact. Be aware though, if you’re an old-school roadie, you’ll keep looking for a comfortable gear ratio that doesn’t exist. When I rode a compact, that drove me nuts. I was always looking for a gear that I’d ridden for years and it wasn’t there. Upshift, downshift, damn it!

I’ll post more on the Lapierre after some long miles. Quick review:

Performance Comfort Carbon. A responsive, carbon bike that soaks up the bumps and is comfortable, but not soft. Perfect for a tourist that wants a fast bike that won’t beat them up. It’s designed for the Grand Fondos in Europe and perfect for a century in the US.

Lapierre’s are available at select Independent Bike Dealers. More coverage.

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Doggie Pedal Parade

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by Byron on May 17, 2008 at 7:43 AM

Today in NYC is a Doggie Pedal Parade for all those cyclists transporting their dogs in baskets, trailers, and cargo bikes.

WHAT: Time’s Up! Doggie Pedal Parade
WHEN: Saturday, May 17, 2008 at 2 PM
WHERE: Traffic island on south end of Union Square East between Broadway & 4th Ave

It’s obligatory, I think, that the pets are in costumes.

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Wayfinding Seattle

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by Byron on May 17, 2008 at 6:02 AM

wayfinding_seattle.jpg Nice new signs spotted all over downtown Seattle.

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Bike to Work 08: Just riding in a skort

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by Byron on May 16, 2008 at 1:14 PM

Met this commuter en route back to West Seattle. I showed her the way to her meeting on California. Alaskan Way was a gauntlet with cruise boats and a cargo ship arriving at the same time.

Uploaded by Hugger Industries | more from the Bike Hugger Photostream.

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