Entries by Mark V

Taiwan’s Microshift

Microshift homepage

Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo, and…..Microshift? Will there be day when you can’t say the first three names without including the fourth?

Microshift is a Taiwanese-based component manufacturer that has been around only since 1999, with production in both Taiwan and mainland China. In Taiwan, Microshift derailleurs and shifters are stocked in local bike shops as commonly as Shimano, but abroad they are mainly known as OEM spec on less expensive bicycles. Nonetheless, Microshift has developed a comprehensive line of products including Shimano-compatible 10sp integrated shifters and derailleurs and a host of mtb and city bike shifters. They are also hard at work bringing their own 11sp road levers to market for 2015 (no confirmation as to Shimano-compatibility) as well as an electronic drivetrain. Microshift components are also being produced for brands such as Gevenalle (nee Retroshift).

To become a real player in the bicycle drivetrain market, access to cheap manufacturing alone cannot guarantee success. A company must innovate, not just to attract consumers, but to also break free of the shackles created by existing product patents. It is no mean feat to design an integrated brake/shift lever for drop handlebars that doesn’t fall foul of patents owned by Shimano, SRAM, or Campagnolo, though perhaps a dawning era of electronic shifting may bring greater design freedom.

In my brief experiences riding Microshift products, I would never mistake their finish or function for higher tier product from like Shimano Ultegra, but they did seem like solid competition against Shimano Sora. Microshift will be seen on some entry-level 2015 road bikes from Specialized, but as Microshift grabs more share of OEM, might they one day take a bite of the high-end of the market? Over the next five years, it will be interesting how far Microshift will go.

Pinhead Locking Skewers

Pinhead locking skewers & accessories

Pinhead provides locks for headset caps, seatpost clamps, and wheels (both QR and solid axles). They can be purchased as a complete package for all items or you can have add-on pieces keyed to match existing Pinhead locks. These anti-theft device take the place of regular skewers/bolts to prevent opportunistic thieves from swiping you components.

I’ve installed these items on customers’ bikes. They do the job, but for the utmost security make sure you use their newer “POG” washers to foil especially well-prepared criminals. I also recommend that you leave the skewers long rather than cutting them to minimum necessary, because a bit of skewer sticking past the lock face will allow key/wrench to stay in place a little better. Without that, it’s really difficult to crank on the skewer to get it tight enough to hold like a regular QR; the key wants to slip off the lock face. Annoying…very. Pinhead wheel skewers wouldn’t be my choice for a bike with horizontal dropout, though the solid axle lock might hold fine in such a frame.

Pinhead locking skewers & accessories

Pinhead locking skewers & accessories

Ortileb Seatpost Bag

Arkel TailRider Trunk Bag on Arkel Seatpost Rack

It’s summer, and oh boy are you ready to do a few mini-epic rides. Maybe you wanna do the “long loop” or make that route down the coast and back in one day. But you can’t fit all the energy bars, mobile phones, cameras, multi-tools, tubes, CO2, etc in your back jersey pockets. Or maybe it’s not epic-ness you’re looking for, maybe you just wanna ride your bike to the next town over, walk about town and eat at that one restaurant, and then ride back. But you really wish you could bring some cargo shorts, regular shoes, and maybe a T-shirt so you can amble about in comfort and avoid being “that lycra douche” at the cafe. Even if your bike cannot mount racks and panneirs, there are a few ways to carry more stuff with you on a ride. You could go with a randonneur-style handlebar bag for the front of your bike, but it’s not so easy to mount the necessary rack onto most bike and not everyone likes how a bike handles with that much weight in front of the steering axis. You could get a backpack, especially the ones from Osprey or Camelback that have lots of pockets/compartments for storage. While that is simple solution that actually works great for rough, technical riding like on mountainbikes, sometimes you just don’t want that weight and bulk on your back when you’re riding in the summer heat. In that case, how about a big saddle/seatpost bag? The classicists among us will choose Carradice, but there are some very clever bags available that would compliment even the most modern bikes out there.

Ortlieb’s Seatpost Bag quickly attaches to your seatpost using a notched plastic belt and levered buckle, similar to a clip-on fender but considerably more secure. With 4-ltr of internal volume, the Seatpost Bag is made of lightweight, waterproof fabric with internal plastic stiffeners, so the bag is not prone to swaying about despite how far over the rear wheel it cantilevers. The bag seals to the elements using Ortlieb’s classic roll-up closure. There is a bungee laced into the top of the bag, which is useful for lashing items like a windbreaker or a pair of sandals. At just 443gr for the Medium size (there is also a Small size), the Ortlieb Seatpost Bag has a good ratio of weight to payload. Ortlieb says the bag will fit 25.4-34.9mm (but no carbon seatposts); however I feel it fits 27.2-31.6mm best. The angle of the clamp isn’t adjustable, so if your bike has a freaky seatpost angle (like some full-suspension mtb) then this may not work out for you. Retail $100.

Arkel’s Randonneur Seat Post Rack and TailRider Bag combination goes a little beyond Ortlieb for versatility and load capacity. The rack ($100) attaches at two points: it clamps to the saddle rails behind the seatpost cradle and then fastens to the post. By taking its stability from the saddle rails, the rack does not harshly clamp onto the seatpost. As such, Arkel’s rack works well with carbon seatposts and even works reasonably well with some non-round seatposts and ISPs. The visual bulk of the Randonneur Rack belies its lightweight construction, weighs only 568gr, and is adjustable for a range of seatpost angles. The saddle rail clamp has two positions to allow the rack to be fitted lower relative to the saddle on larger bikes that have a lot of space between the saddle and rear wheel, to keep the mass of the rack and its contents lower to the ground. On smaller bikes, the rack can be fitted close to the saddle so that it can clear the rear wheel.

Arkel’s TailRider Bag (11-ltr capacity, 540gr weight, $105 retail) is essentially a trunk bag that can fit on a variety of rear racks, but it does superbly compliment their Seat Post Rack. It fits to the deck of any rack via hook&loop straps. The TailRider has an assortment of external pockets and an internal divider. Zippered pleats allow the bag to expand slightly for more internal volume. The TailRider is resistant to water to a certain extent, but in the event of a steady or intense rain, one would use the yellow rain cover, which fits in a convenient yet hidden pocket at the front of the bag.
Ortlieb Seatpost Bag on Bianchi

more photos after the jump

This is a tale of plastic:

I have a sordid little secret. I’m not really techie when it comes to electronics. I don’t have a Garmin or other form of GPS, and I’ve never remotely been interested in Strava. I just want the basics: speed, distance, time, and I don’t want to bolt on a flatscreen telly to the stem to get those. A simple, cheap Cateye is all that’s necessary, but how to mount it in an elegantly clean manner? Enter the Barfly handlebar mount for Cateye cyclo-computers. Nice and discreet piece of plastic cleverness.

Then came a crash. Pop goes the plastic. And there exits the Barfly handlebar mount for Cateye. It was nice while it lasted.

Now the computer is mounted to the stem.


After introducing their Forefront helmet to the dirt scene last year, Smith Optics dives into the road helmet market with the Overtake. Smith takes the wildly innovative construction/material techniques used in the Forefront to the windtunnel and comes out with what Smith claims to be the best all-around helmet for safety, aerodynamics, ventilation.

The most striking feature of the Overtake’s “Aerocore” structure is the use of Koroyd for the bulk of the helmets protection. Koroyd is a material made from uniform, polymer tubes thermal welded into a lightweight, structural honeycomb. In the event of a crash, the Koroyd is very effective at absorbing kinetic energy as it crushes, reducing the trauma experienced by the rider’s brain. But unlike the foams upon which other helmets entirely rely, the open honeycomb structure of Koroyd allows air to freely pass, so the Overtake keeps a rider’s head cool without the bulk of elaborate internal airflow channels. Six panels of Koroyd are bonded to an EPS foam liner that provides the helmet’s shape, with a thermoformed skeleton and PVC outer shell. The Overtake has 21 external vents.

To be competitive in today’s market, Smith had to make sure that the Overtake could slip through the wind with the best of them. By testing against other category leading designs at a variety of wind angles, Smith was able to create a light, well-vented helmet that performs better than most competitors and just a tick behind the Specialized Evade. But then Smith looked to improve the overall ergonomics of the helmet, the contours of the helmet have been refined to avoid fit interference while wearing sunglasses, and thoughtful “eyewear docks” have been integrated into front and back of the helmet to securely hold the sunglasses when not being worn.

Byron will be testing the Overtake in the near future, while I am currently trying out the Forefront. Check back for updates.

UNEEK sandal by KEEN

UNEEK sandals by KEEN

KEEN went back to what made them famous, the sport sandal, and reinvented it with a couple of cords. What they came up with was UNEEK.

Using innovative two cord construction, KEEN UNEEK molds to your feet for the perfect fit. The two cords and a simple, free-moving cord junction design allow the upper to move and adapt to the shape of foot. This construction provides freedom of movement while providing security and structure. The lightweight PU midsole delivers durability and comfort while the high traction rubber outsole with razor siping ensures secure footing.

UNEEK, Ortlieb, and a Bianchi

If you’re out biking on a tour or just exploring neighborhoods beyond the one next to your own, it’s nice to slip on something other than cycling shoes and walk about.

I find that the UNEEK sandals have a lighter, thinner sole that perhaps has a bit less arch support than other KEEN sandals. Not my choice for running, but they work well playing around in the city or on the rocks and in the water of the shore. They kinda remind me of woven moccasins. I would say they run about 1/2 size small. $100 retail.

Nikwax TX.Direct

As late spring in Seattle warms into a glowing summer, the specter of the rainy season still haunts me…not the least because I haven’t stored all my rain gear yet. Setting aside the superstition that putting away my GoreTex and fenders would somehow beckon rainfall from a clear sky, the technical fabrics used in the waterproof/resistant garments require specific care in order to maintain their properties. Nikwax manufactures a number of products to maintain/restore the performance of technical fabrics. Nikwax TX.Direct

I have a pair of Vittoria Arctica MTB winter cycling shoes. Right around November I start wearing them for commuting because I hate dealing with booties. Sure, for training rides in the rain/cold I’ll pull on the booties along with all the other jackets, base-layers, etc, but I don’t want dressing myself to be a huge ordeal just to get to the store or work. After three long winters of daily use, the Arctica shoes lost a bit of their water-repellency, so I got some Nikwax stuff to right that.

Breathable tech fabrics with water-repellent properties should be cleaned with methods/products free of bleach, surfactants, fabric softeners, and perfumes, which often contain oils or waxes that encourage water to wet the fabric rather than bead off. Nikwax Tech Wash is a good product for washing your technical garments. Nikwax also makes a gel specifically for cleaning shoes, but I didn’t actually think that far ahead. If after cleaning the fabric still wets out, Nikwax’s TX.Direct can be used to restore water repellency. TX.Direct is available in a wash-in bottle or a trigger-pump spray bottle.

In the video below, I left the first shoe untreated. As I pour water on the tongue of the shoe, the water beads off just for an instant before it starts soaking into the fabric. In contrast, the treated fabric of the other shoe beads water and even supports a small pool of water without wetting.

Good rain gear for riding is expensive, so it really makes sense to take good care of it. After cleaning and treating my rain gear, I can put it in the back of the closet where I hope to not think about it until very late in the fall. And when I bitterly acknowledge that the rainy season has closed out the sunshine, at least I know that my clothing will be in tip-top shape for the long, watery siege.

Redline Conquest for Gravel Grinder

Redline Conquest Team

Redline Conquest Team. The 2015 models are all disc-brake, so my cantilever brake version is almost a throw-back. Personally, I’m not convinced that disc brakes are all that necessary, but that is definitely the direction that the market has gone. At the Gran Fondo Leavenworth, almost all of the newer cyclocross bikes and gravel-grinder bikes were disc brake, but it’s hard to say how many were recently purchased with disc brake as a motivating factor versus how many bikes had disc brakes simply because that’s what’s readily available on current complete bikes.

After 3 seasons of cyclocross on this frameset, I’ll vouch for the geometry and handling. Redline’s Tim Rutledge really nailed the recipe for cyclocross, but the bike handles gravel grinders well too. If I had to complain, I wish that the bike had a little more tyre clearance, especially at the rear. A 35mm width is pretty much the practical limit on the back; 38-40mm for the fork. However, with the UCI limiting CX tyres to a measured maximum width of 33mm, it’s not terribly surprising that there isn’t more space. This isn’t a big deal for me, but big dudes might want more grab for traction on loose climbs and cush for technical descents.

Happy Medium at Gran Fondo Leavenworth

Redline Conquest Pro at Gran Fondo Leavenworth

This past weekend yours truly blindly leapt at the opportunity to participate in the Gran Fondo Leavenworth, an 87mile loop in Chelan County, in central Washington state put on by Vicious Cycle Event Promotions. Now when I hear the term “gran fondo”, I think of mobile fashion parade of lycra-clad fanboys vying to be on the next cover of Bicycling Magazine (tm) with a newly purchased Pinarello Dogma. But with 45 miles of primitive, unpaved roads and 9400ft of climbing, the Gran Fondo Leavenworth is actually a very challenging “gravel grinder”….a detail that hadn’t really been evaluated before I hitched a ride to Leavenworth on Saturday afternoon. With virtually no long-distance mileage and no advance notice to select any special equipment, I only had time to wash and lube my Redline Conquest before I met up with my ride. Luckily I did have what turned out to be nearly ideal wheels/tyres for the event, Hed Belgian Plus rims laced with Sapim CX-Ray spokes to White Industries hubs and shod with Kenda Happy Medium tyres.

Normally when I roll out my cyclocross bike for a big day, it’s atop a set of tubular wheels. My fall season CX wheel selection consists of a mud tread front, a medium conditions rear, and a mud tread rear, which gives me decent options for most of the CX races in this area. But I had been thinking about doing “gravel grinder” events, and destroying my expensive tubulars on sharp rocks in the middle of nowhere was unacceptable. What did seem appealing was tubeless clinchers for such events, even though I’ve committed to tubulars for CX racing. I feel that CX tubulars still beat out tubeless clinchers when run at the really low air pressures (22-28psi) I use for CX racing when traction and tyre suspension are most important, but that advantage is largely eliminated when you run 40psi or more for reduced rolling resistance in the longer distance events. I already run sealant in my tubulars, but if the hole is too big for sealant to clot, a tubeless clincher could be inflated with a regular tube installed. Whereas, a tubular with the same damage would leave one with two choices: ride it flat and totally destroy the tyre and maybe the rim, or walk it to the nearest sag station (typically no wheel pits at these rural road rides).

Kenda Happy Medium tyres

Shimano officially announces M9050, an electronic shift system for their flagship offroad component group, XTR M9000. In many ways, this is one of the least surprising announcements since SRAM went to 11-speed for the new Red group a couple years ago. Shimano’s Di2 concept has been highly successful in the company’s road offerings, so of course they’d like to bring that to the dirty demographic. One tip-off I noticed was when I downloaded the PC program for the Di2 diagnostic tool for customizing Di2 road systems, and the menu options included road bike, city bike (for the Di2 Alfine internally geared hub system), and mountainbike….hmmmmmmm. But even if we knew it was coming, XTR Di2 could have even greater potential than electronic shifting on the road. Let’s cut to the chase: what’s most impressive about M9050 is the option of using just one shifter to handle 2x11 or 3x11 drivetrains. You shift up or down on the buttons, and the SYNCHRO SHIFT system automatically shifts a sequential pattern.

When using a single shifter in either a 2x11 or 3x11 drivetrain, Synchro Shift will shift front and back derailleurs in order to give you a sequential progression of gearing. You don’t have to think about it, it just does it for you. This could only work because Shimano’s electronic front derailleur and chainring designs are indisputably the best, such that front shifts occur with practically the same speed and conviction as the rear. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a situation on a trail when an unexpected front shift might upset your groove. Synchro Shift incorporates an audible signal that indicates that a front shift is imminent, but it also offers on-the-fly choice of two presets for the sequence of chainring/cog combinations (what Shimano refers to as a shifting “map”) to suit your riding style or the immediate terrain. The presets are can be reprogrammed with Shimano’s Di2 diagnostic tool. You can even program the drivetrain to skip specific combinations, such as a big ring/big cog combo, which would be a good if, for example, your long travel rear threatens to exceed the capacity of your derailleur.

The idea of sequential shifting has been around for a while, and in fact some people have already hacked road Di2 systems to the same effect. However, I can’t see road racers en masse leaping on that idea in the near future. That’s because despite all the carbon frames, additional cogs, and threat of disc brakes, for road bikes wheel size, frame geometry, and the roads themselves haven’t changed much in 50 to 60 years of road racing. When old school racers talk about attacking in a 53 x 12, the younger generations understand. Meanwhile for mountainbikes the past 15 years have been a maelstrom of crank and wheel size developments; plus different genres of offroad riding keep cropping up (eg, enduro). So for road racers, ring/cog combinations are automatically referenced through the conventions of road bike tech and long hours in the saddle, whereas mtn bikers have no traditions for equipment configuration and their riding styles are characteristically dynamic. Why not just ride and let the microprocessors do the thinking for you? Shimano’s design focus is on the rider’s “flow”, via components that allow the rider to ride the trail instead of riding a bike on a trail. Of course, if turning over the destiny of your gear selections to an electronic intelligence fills you with apprehension, you can breathe easy knowing that you can switch to full manual shifting if you have installed two shifters (or just the one if you are running 1x11).

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