Entries by Mark V

Mark V, Di2, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho

The second edition of Rebecca Rusch’s Private Idaho 100-mile gravel grinder began on a crisp 40 degree morning at the very end of August. Normally I despise the cold, but on this day the slight gnawing from the cold gave me a little confidence…confidence that my electronic shifting system might work when I needed it most. Unfortunately, confidence based on fact and that which is based on superstition can be easily confused.

Though I recently designed a gravel grinder/CX frame that Davidson Bicycles fabricated out of titanium, I chose to take advantage of Specialized’s “‘Test the Best” program to demo one of their premium production bikes. Though I have been assembling custom Davidsons with Di2, I have relatively little riding time on it. This is partially because I usually can only fit the smallest size frames, but Specialized brought two Crux with Di2/hydraulic disc in the 46cm size. How could I resist? ….especially since I could avoid the hassle of airline travel with my (non-S&S) gravel bike.

Unfortunately, my red Crux had some sort of digital gremlin in the left lever. I didn’t notice the problem when I first picked up the bike on Friday because I arrived just at the end of the pick-up session and needed to find my room for the night (which is kinda a funny story on its own). The left shifter had seemingly no effect on the front derailleur. When I went back the next day’s pick up session, Dane the mechanic and I couldn’t find anything definitively wrong with the system, but now the front derailleur seemed to shift if I spastically pushed the buttons again and again. I began to wonder if there was some sort of sequence that I had inadvertently discovered…something like a video game special move involving button combinations and rhythms. Curses! If only had spent more of my youth playing Street Fighter for Nintendo!

With Shimano’s diagnostic tool, all the shifters and derailleurs were showing with no problems, but even after we updated the firmware (which is roughly equivalent to rebooting your PC), there was no change. So I figured I’d chance it, thinking that I’d really only need to shift the front a few times if I was lucky. We had already tried all reasonable fixes; if this were a shop situation, there would be nothing left but sending the derailleur and/or lever back to Shimano, but I wanted to do the grinder on Sunday morning. That night as I rode about town searching for my pre-race Chinese dinner, the front shifter became inexplicably obedient. I could only guess that it was temperature related, as the night in Sun Valley was nippy. Perhaps the Private Idaho grinder would be cold enough that I could have faith in my front derailleur…

In the end, the front derailleur locked out in the big ring, but I had a pedal/cleat failure that had already convinced me to abandon the full 100mile route in favour of the 50mile version.

The Future of Helmets

2015 could be the Year of the Helmet.

In the past two decades since in-mould hardshell construction has become commonplace in helmets like the Giro Hammerhead, the only other design feature to have a comparable influence on helmet construction has been the RocLoc strap, an auxiliary support that snugs under the wearer’s occipital bone. The RocLoc, largely copied by all the major brands, greatly increased the range of head sizes and shapes that could be adequately worn by a single helmet mould. But on a high-end helmet costing more than $200, a fit that is just adequate isn’t enough. It’s not a problem that can be solved by adding more sizes of moulds, because the shape of each mould must be based on an assumption of what a normal head shape is. If you’ve ever tried on a bunch of helmet brands, you’ve doubtlessly noticed that the various brands each have a slightly different idea what the average cranium is shaped like, and obviously not all riders would be represented by a normalized shape.

The solution is to manufacture the helmet precisely for each individual rider. A rider would be precisely fitted for a helmet within seconds with laser precision, and that information stored in a digital format that is later used to accurately modify a foam helmet liner during the manufacturing process to fit a rider’s head (imagine something akin to CNC machining). This would avoid the cost of additional moulds, but since the fitting would be stored as digital information, it could be easily reproduced if a rider should need to replace the helmet in the future. It could even be applied to different types of helmets (think maybe full-face downhill and aero-road helmet).

From a manufacturing and marketing viewpoint, this would have been impossible twenty years ago, but this is already happening now…in motorsports division of Bell helmets. By the end of 2015, Bell and/or its sister company Giro will be offering this for their high-end road helmets.

Osprey Rev1.5 Hydration Pack

Last month I entered the High Cascades 100 mile mountainbike race, in Bend OR. I don’t frequently race more than two hours, and as my participation in the Gran Fondo Leavenworth so thoroughly demonstrated, I am prone to bad cramping in such long, hot competitions. It’s not really the heat so much as I just don’t think about drinking as soon and as often as I should. If I had suffered heinously in the gran fondo, I would be doubly vulnerable in the actual mountainbike race, due to the longer duration, the more intense climbing, the technical nature of singletrack, and the simple fact that my Giant XTC only has one water bottle cage. Even if I chose the high capacity Zefal Magum bottle (1ltr/33oz), that might not be enough to get me to the next aid station. It was clear in my mind that I would need some sort of hydration pack. And there’s the rub: I don’t really like hydration packs.

Sure, you can get a pack that holds several liters of fluids, but who wants to carry all that weight for twelve-plus-hours of hard riding? To make matters worse, most hydration packs for cycling seem to be heavily biased towards some sort of off-road touring or adventure riding; the packs are rather overbuilt with too many pockets and other features. What I would want is a very minimal pack for racing. It wouldn’t need truly enormous water capacity because there would be five or sixth aid stations on the course, but the reservoir should be easy to refill. And it would have to fit on me securely, so as not to hinder my freedom of movement on technical sections. I looked about for the right pack, but it wasn’t until I was surfing the Osprey webpage that I found something that met my requirements for mountainbike racing, even though it’s marketed towards trail runners.

The slim Rev1.5 pack (size S/M) weighs about a pound with the included hydration bladder and holds just 1 liter of water. The shoulder straps have some convenient but small mesh pockets that can fit gel sachets/flasks or energy bars, but the only other storage is a small zippered pocket atop the bladder compartment. Thin straps and elastic, mesh “webbing” hold the pack tight to your body along the sides of your chest, while two elasticized straps stretch across your chest. Once adjusted, the weight of the pack and water sits high, level with your shoulder blades. It moves with your body yet stays in place, and in hot conditions it doesn’t feel like it’s trapping heat and sweat all across your back.

Each year around Interbike season, King Cycle Group has been releasing limited edition versions of their product in anodized colours outside of their current eight (plus silver). Last year it was turquoise, and I think before that it was purple. Now, maybe millennials don’t know this, but purple and turquoise anodized parts were virtually mandatory on mountainbikes twenty years ago. Back then, those colours were two of the regular options at Chris King. When King replaced them with colours like brown, it was like formal recognition that the 1990s were over. Bringing back wild turq and purp was like a Jane’s Addiction reunion tour.

So okay, that was cool. Now what colour could bring on stage this year? Well, I saw this coming last year. The only colour they haven’t already done is Sour Apple. It wasn’t THE most popular choice, but I always liked it. I remember seeing it on bikes in the mid to late ’90s, but I don’t remember when it was phased out. All I know is that I HAVE to have it. I want to combine it with some pink anodized King parts I already have. Pink and Sour Apple…wow, that would be a combo.

Available in a wide array of the most popular Chris King products:

NoThreadSets, InSets, ISOs, R45s, BMX, Wheels, ThreadFits, Press Fits, Coffee Tampers and Accessories

Place orders between September 1st, 2014 and May 1st, 2015. Shipping begins October 1st, 2014.

For complete details call 800-523-6008 or contact your local dealer

ENVE Mountain Fork now shipping

First glimpsed at NAHBS, ENVE’s new Mountain Fork is a rigid, carbon fibre design that shares all the industry leading technology and craftsmanship of the companies road and cyclocross forks with some innovative features thrown in. The tapered steerer (1.5”-1.125”) MTN fork has a carbon fibre mini-fender that has an integrated guide to neatly handle brake hose management without the hassle of internal routing. In wet or muddy conditions, the fender is just big enough to limit the amount that the front tyre casts off into your face. In dry conditions, the fender can be removed and replaced with pieces to fair in the attachment points and hold the hose in place. The other distinct feature is a two-position “chip” axle system. The rounded, rectangular chips fit into an eye at either fork tip. A 15mm thru-axle interface is machined into the chip off-center. With the axle in the rear position, the MTN fork has 44mm of rake (470mm axle to crown); the forward position gives 52mm of rake (472mm a-c). The a-c and variable rake make the MTN adaptable to a wide range of wheel sizes and frame geometries.

Why would you want a $625 rigid fork? Well, there are still riding conditions where a rigid fork will outperform a suspension fork, and even if your fork has a lockout, the MTN fork will steer more precisely while weighing perhaps less than half the weight (711gr with fender).

I kinda wonder if custom builders are going to jump on this item for monster-cross or big-tyre gravel grinders. The fork has 88mm of tyre clearance, much bigger than a typical cyclocross fork. The 470-472mm height is far taller though, so you wouldn’t want to retrofit this fork to a CX frame (395mm a-c seems to be a de facto standard for cyclocross forks). But I could slap this fork on my Giant XTC 27.5 and have an 18-lbs bike with more clearance and rubber than my CX bikes.

Casual cyclists and mtn bikers often rail against the snobbery of uptight roadies…what with their slavish dedication to Euro-cool trends, to say nothing of their condescending enforcement of “group ride rules”. But isn’t that society in general? When many individuals must coexist in limited space, our social etiquette becomes more elaborate, and the magnified consequences of an individual’s undesirable behaviours prompts the group to collectively police itself.

Take aerobars for instance. Sure, Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara are impossibly cool when using them, but think twice about trying to emulate these heroes while on the group ride. FUNNY….er, I mean bad things can happen.

FWIW: anyone wanna have fun guessing where the incident in the video occurred? I have an educated guess based on 5 clues. My guess after the jump

Speedplay Zero Pave Shipping

Speedplay Zero Pave pedal starts shipping, but is the SYZR offroad pedal just a hoax?

Speedplay announces that their Zero Pave pedal has begun shipping. Hooray! For 500 bucks (for ti spindle version) you too can own the road pedal for riding in conditions in which you might have to foot down into mud or dirt, but you don’t plan to walk or run off the bike. After all, with the Pave Zero, you’re still wearing a 3-bolt metal cleat with no traction on shoe with no tread. Simply put, this is a pedal system that makes it easier to get back on the bike and in the pedals, not to be easier to get around off the bike, Because that’s why this pedal exists…because Speedplay-sponsored pro teams demanded a system that debris and dirt couldn’t hinder ingress/egress. The professional riders, loathe to change something as personal as their shoe/pedal system, would clearly balk at using mtb shoes and pedals for just a couple races in the spring, like Paris-Roubaix and Strada Bianca. But for the majority of us non-Pro Tour riders and racers, we’d probably just use a 2-bolt cleat/pedal and a walkable shoe for a gravel grinder.

What I would be sooooooo much happier to see is a mtb pedal that feels and supports like a good road pedal….something like what the Speedplay SYZR promises to do. The problem is that Speedplay has been promising this pedal since at least 2008. At Interbike that year, I snapped this photo of a prototype pedal. I was told that the pedals would ship after the first of the year. Then I was told the same thing the next two Interbikes. Frankly I’ve lost track of how many times those pedals “would be shipping in three months.” Most recently, Speedplay displayed yet another update to the design at this year’s Sea Otter Classic.

Listen, I’m all for thoroughly developing a product before selling it to consumers, but this is just ridiculous. Still, I do hope the SYZR finally makes it to market, because if it performs anywhere close to the hype, it should be awesome.

This year I acquired a new mountainbike, and other than some experiments with a dropbar mtb a few years ago, it’s the first mtb I’ve gotten since the ’90s. Things have changed since then: 29er and now 650B/27.5 wheels, tubeless tyres, carbon fibre EVERYWHERE. But the night before leaving to do my first mtb race in 16 years, the most important change was the evolution of suspension forks. Not because forks are better in some way. No, the crucial difference is that most high-end suspension forks now have some form of thru-axle that wasn’t going to fit the bike rack on my ride’s car. It was 8pm on a Wednesday evening, and we were leaving at 9am in the morning. Not a whole lot of time to find a solution, but luckily REI had one.

The DriveShaft rack adapter from RockyMounts allows your mtb equipped with 20 or 15mm front thru-axle to fit a typical fork-mount rack. It even allows you to lock the bike in place (assuming that the rack itself has a lock too). Hint: the DriveShaft tends to rotate in the fork, so make sure you clamp the adapter into the rack and then the fork on the adapter. All fork-mount racks make me a little worried, but once you clamp the bejeezus out of the rack-to-DriveShaft connection, the DriveShaft’s grasp on the thru-axle seems really secure.

Retails for about $70.

Syntace FlatForce Stem

Syntace FlatForce Stem

A couple of years ago, Germany’s Syntace introduced their FlatForce low-profile stem; I wrote about it then .

Since the mid-1990s, rider preference for handlebar height has been creeping higher, but the larger wheel standards and ever taller suspension forks often exclude the possibility of running a lower handlebar height whatever an individual might choose. This is especially true for shorter XC riders. Even with a steep stem turned upside-down, the generally short length of stems on today’s mountainbike geometry limits how much vertical change can be affected. Syntace’s FlatForce stem lowers the handlebar more than other stems because 1) it has a -17deg angle from the steerer tube 2) the bar clamp is vertically offset so that the bar center sits below the the median of the extension and 3) the steerer clamp is a remarkably short 27mm stack (most stems are at least 40mm stack). All these features are combined in a lightweight, sleek design that would not bring shame to the aesthetics of even the best high end frames.

The FlatForce stem weighs a respectable 138gr (77mm length), while its stout clamps and broad extension make the FlatForce resolutely stiff. Another unusual characteristic, the FlatForce stem uses M6 titanium bolts tightened by a 5mm Allen wrench, when most comparable quality stems have gone to M5 bolts, often with the fashionable Torx-25 heads. I suspect many riders and mechanics will appreciate the conveniently sized bolts on the Syntace. The FlatForce is available for around $110-140 and in lengths 44-111mm.

I installed the FlatForce on my 2014 Giant XTC Advanced 27.5, from Woodinville Bicycle. It has been a long time since I last had a real mtb, but my handlebar height is about the same even though I have gone from 26” to 27.5” (650B) wheels with almost twice the suspension fork travel (63mm to 100mm).

In next month’s volume of our downloadable magazine, you can read about my leaping into 100mile mtb race with a pocketful of pancakes and no training.

Syntace FlatForce Stem

Syntace FlatForce Stem

Syntace FlatForce Stem

Syntace FlatForce Stem

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.






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