Entries by Mark V

Waiting for Tubeless Cyclocross Options

After closing out my cyclocross season at Waves For Water’s UCI event in Tacoma, I’ve had a chance to evaluate my equipment choices from this season. This time around I brought in a second bike, a Davidson D-Plus, that I fitted as a singlespeed (you can read about the design in Issue 19 of our downloadable magazine). All the little details on the bike were spot-on, allowing the components to function at their best, though there were only two significant deviations from my usual parts selection: brakes and tyres. For the moment I still remain faithful to cantilever brakes, but rather than Avid Shorty Ultimates I chose TRP’s RevoX Carbon (to be reviewed in a separate post). The other change from my usual CX equipment was tubeless tyres. With an embarrassingly large personal stable of bikes and kit, I was eager to avoid cluttering my life and draining my finances with yet another single purpose tubular wheelset.

Like a tubular, a tubeless clincher tyre promised to allow low pressure in the CX races without pinch-flatting, yet without the laborious gluing ritual I could change out the treads each week if I so desired. And at the end of the season, the tubeless wheels could be reshod with commuter or gravel tyres, or maybe I leave the tubeless CX tyres on the wheels so I can go play around in the muddy woods this winter, free from the fear of damaging expensive tubular tyres on a casual outing. In contrast, my tubular CX hoops get cleaned and stored in wheelbags where they do nothing but take up space in my closet until next September. But promises are one thing, reality another.

Somehow at the last minute, the Pacific Northwest got their UCI-sanctioned cyclocross race. When the Deschutes Brewery Cup in Bend OR was cancelled mid-season, it looked like there wouldn’t be a UCI race anywhere north of California all year. Luckily the guys who run Seattle-based MFG Cyclocross secured a sponsor in the form of Waves For Water, a nonprofit organization that works to provide clean water to communities in need worldwide. With a little help from the guys at Cross Revolution, a rival CX race organizer, MFG managed to deliver 2 days of racing this past weekend that attracted racers from all over the NW as well as places like Colorado. Hats off to all involved!

Mark Vs Davidson D-Plus in singlespeed mode

For me, that will be my last weekend of cyclocross racing, though I mostly missed out on the first half of the season. Instead of getting ready for racing at the end of the summer, I was breaking down a 31 year old bike shop. Long, relentless hours of packing and moving made riding my bike, let alone going to the races, into a whimsical daydream. My long-awaited Davidson D-Plus cyclocross bike was the last bike to be painted at that location, but I was too busy to build it up until after we completed move-out on Halloween. I assembled the frame with a 2x10 drivetrain for photos and then immediately rebuilt it as a no-compromise singlespeed race bike, thereby fulfilling the D-Plus design concept (you can read more about the design and fabrication in Issue 19 of our downloadable magazine).

Before the season began I had ambitions to double up on race days, entering both Cat4 and singlespeed events. The plan was to use my still-awesome Redline Conquest Carbon as my geared bike and the D-Plus for singlespeed. As it actually played out, I raced Cat4 at Silverlake and Magnuson Park; SSCX at Woodland Park, Frontier Park, Gig Harbor, and the first day of Waves-For-Water at Marymount Park, Tacoma. At Steilacoom on the second day of the UCI weekend, I finally managed to do the double, so now it’s time to clean all the mud off my race wheels, return the D-Plus to a fully-geared mode, and reflect on what I have learned this season.

Fizik Volta R1 Saddle Reviewed

Fizik Volta R1 Saddle

The Volta saddle is perhaps the most striking saddle in Fizik’s lineup, at once familiar and stunningly different. It’s deep flanks harken back to the days of the Selle San Marco Supercorsa or Selle Italia Turbo, yet the Volta’s visual lines are brutishly simple and sharp, as if Fizik had extracted and purified the essence of cycling in the 1980s.

Fizik is a brand that appeared less than two decades ago under parent company Relle Royal; the new flagship brand fuzed the latest technology and materials with innovative style, and promptly joined companies like Selle Italia and Selle San Marco as a marquee name in the high-end of the market. Fizik models such as the Alliante became trendsetters, while the Arione is destined to be a Fizik signature for decades to come. Fizik rode to success with modern designs that all fully embraced the aesthetic of lightweight and low-profile shell as displayed by the Selle Italia’s slightly earlier saddle Flite, a smash success in its own right. But not every rider has found a happy perch atop these low profile, ultra-modern seats like a Doritos chip dusted with foam padding. Is there something about the ergonomics of those older designs? Or have the 1980s finally become a stylistic touchstone for cycling, a Golden Age of Cycling for the millennials? Yet while Selle San Marco and Selle Italia are restarting production on the revered favourites from the past, newcomer Fizik had to invent their own retro “classic”. And thus became the Volta.

Fizik Volta R1 Saddle

DIY Ventilated Insoles

In the minds of many cyclists, Sidi shoes are the gold standard by which all others are measured. Yet in stark contrast to the quality of the rest of the shoe, Sidi’s insoles are frankly subpar even when compared to shoes that cost half as much. Sidi has made some strides lately to bring the insoles to a level more befitting of such a premium shoe, but even in their flagship road shoe Wire, the effort is hardly remarkable. One of the better insole/footbed systems available is the Giro SuperNatural ($49.95), which has three sets of modular arch support that allows the rider to select the amount that serves the interface between foot and shoe. One problem in fitting an aftermarket insole into a Sidi Wire is that the sole of the shoe has holes in it feeding air through channeled vents. The stock insole has holes aligned with those in the shoe’s sole; Giro’s aftermarket insole does not. But I shall have my cake and eat it too.

To put vent holes into the Giro insole, I first laid the stock insole over the Giro model, then marked the location of the holes into the new insole with a pen poked through the stock insole. Then I opened up a hole at each mark using a 1/8” drill bit on a small drill to bore through the Giro insole. The SuperNatural insole is primarily a firm, flexible foam pad that stretches around the bit rather than cutting into a smooth 1/8” hole. The X-Static fiber on the top surface of the insole also also ends of fraying a bit. So the next step is to make the hole bigger and seal the frays in the X-Static. The best way to seal frays in synthetic fibers is usually to singe them quickly. Heat can also be used to widen the holes in the foam without actually removing material from the insole; high heat just melts the foam a bit, which collapses away and leaves the hole bigger. I suppose a small tip soldering iron would have been a great idea, but I don’t own one. The tediously slow, primitive, yet effect way is to use some roundish steel pokey thing and heat with a candle. I used a Torx wrench that was surplus in my tool box. It’s so slow because I had to reheat the tip of the wrench in between each application to an individual hole, but it worked like a charm! Be aware that you’ll have to pause occasionally and let the whole wrench cool, because the portion of the wrench you’re grabbing eventually gets too hot to hold.

The tactic I used was to concentrate heating about 1cm from the tip of the wrench so that the hottest part didn’t touch the insole first. Then I pushed it into the pre-drilled holes from the top of the insole, so that the X-Static melted frays of X-Static get pushed into the hole, not up at the foot. Then I hold the tool in there for about 5-10sec, letting the heat be absorbed by the foam. Then I pull the wrench out, giving a twisting motion. You may have to adjust technique and the amount of heat for a given insole’s construction.

Heat boring holes into a foam insole

X01 10sp downhill derailleur for cyclocross

Cyclocross drivetrains with single chainrings (either 1x10 or 1x11) are certainly trending, and earlier this year SRAM delivered their CX-1 line as a single ring gruppo-in-box. The crucial elements of the CX-1 group are the narrow-wide chainring tooth design (which a multitude of boutique brands have copied in the last 9 months) and the non-slanting parallelogram rear derailleur, which optimizes shifting performance and manages chain tension. That CX-1 derailleur is heavily influenced by SRAM’s mtb designs. Or to be more accurate, the CX-1 derailleur is exactly identical to the 10sp version of the X01 DH (downhill) derailleur except for the cable routing. The CX-1 derailleur has a bolt-on interface for a barrel adjuster like other traditional road derailleurs, while the X01 DH/10sp has front entry for the cable and a bolted-on pulley assembly. I use the X01 DH derailleur because the more direct cable run leaves a less housing to catch mud, grass, or some else’s QR skewer. To tune the shiftering in the absence of a derailleur-mounted barrel adjuster, I’ve installed a Jagwire inline barrel adjuster on the housing between the handlebar and frame. Many frame designs have some sort of barrel adjuster where the housing joins near the head tube anyways. Normally SRAM road derailleurs work best with a fairly generous loop of housing, so using the X01 DH unit really cleans up that area on my Redline Conquest carbon. If you’re piecing together a cyclocross bike with a SRAM 1x drivetrain, this might be a good idea.

Before you drop the money on an X01 DH derailleur, there are a few things you should know first. Obviously, you can only use SRAM DoubleTap shifters (technically you could use the SRAM bar end shifters too, Mr Retro). It does not matter if you’re using 10 or 11sp DoubleTap levers, but you must choose the 10sp DH version of the X01 derailleur, not the 7sp DH version nor the 11sp standard version. This is because SRAM’s mtb drivetrains use different cable-pull ratios for 10 and 11sp, while SRAM’s road rear derailleurs, both 10 and 11sp, use the same ratio as the mtb 10sp. The 7sp DH derailleur is merely a short cage version of the 11sp standard X01 meant to work on a reduced range cassette with the same cog-to-cog spacing as the enormous 10-42tooth 11sp mtn cassette. The final issue is that not all cyclocross frames have a cable path for the rear derailleur that can line-up with mtb-style derailleurs. On my Redline, the path is almost perfect coming sideways out of the chainstay, but on Byron’s Specialized Crux the housing exits from behind the dropout, as is common for many bikes that are Di2 compatible.

SRAM X01 DH/10sp derailleur on Redline Conquest CX

Mark V Holiday Gift Suggestions

Bike Hugger HydroFlo water bottle by Purist ($15)

A cyclist can probably never have too many water bottles, but that doesn’t mean one can’t tell a good bottle from a bad bottle. A bad bottle ends up in the back of the cupboard, repurposed as a pen cup, or left at a race venue and only remembered a week later. A good water bottle is the one reflexively reached for. When you reach for the Bike Hugger Hydroflo water bottle by Purist, you grab onto a pliant case with a subtle, three-side cross section that fits the hand well and is easy to squeeze. The valve provides a high flow rate yet virtually eliminates inadvertent dribble. Oh, and it has that classy Bike Hugger logo, too.

Giro Supernatural Footbed Kit ($49.95)

One of the best features of Giro shoes is that they come with the company’s SuperNatural Footbed Kit (insole) that allows a rider to adjust the amount of arch support with 3 pairs of modular arch wedges. You can even tweak the fore-aft position of the arch support to a small degree. But even if someone has a different brand of shoe, the footbed kit is available separately so you can fine tune the fit of your own shoe. It’s a really nice idea as a gift because neither you nor the person receiving the gift needs to know exactly how much support is needed beforehand. The Giro SuperNatural kit is a cycling specific insole, unlike many others marketed to a wide variety of activities such as running and hiking; thus it takes up minimal volume in the shoe compared to most insoles. The top layer uses an X-Static anti-microbial treatment.

Personally, I find that these insoles work nicely in Sidi shoes, which despite being the gold standard for cycling footwear, invariably come stock with crap insoles. Giro SuperNatural Footbed Kit

Light & Urban 800 Fast Charge ($180)

The Urban series of commuter headlights from Light & are my personal favourites, and the sweet little Urban 800 Fast Charge is just a bit sweeter still. Throughout the 2014-2015 line, all the Urban headlights have a new charge port access that seals better against water ingress. This is nice if you like to hang the light upside-down on the handlebar leaving the bar tops less cluttered but giving water invasion a helping hand due to gravity. The new seal makes the current Urban lights waterproof at 1M for 30min.

Next, the latest LED tech and firmware allow L&M to squeeze even more output and burn times from these dainty lights. The Urban 800 is actually kicking out 800 lumens on high for 1.5hrs, 400 lumens for 3hrs, and a very practical 200 lumens for 6hrs.

Finally, the Fast Charge version of the Urban 800 only takes 2.5hrs to charge, as opposed to 6hrs for the standard Urban 800. Some riders would suggest that modern bikes are an exercise in planned obsolescence, that the bicycle was basically perfected by the 1970s, but today’s headlights beat the pants off of lights even ten years ago in EVERY parameter.

Light & Motion Urban 800 Fast Charge

Rene Herse: The Bikes The Builder The Riders by Jan Heine ($86)

When I was eight years old, I liked Garfield cartoons. I had a grandmother who ever after gifted me a Garfield book ever year at Christmas, straight on till my college years. Don’t be like Gran; if you’re gonna give a book, give them something wonderous and timeless. I suggest the Rene Herse book from Bicycle Quarterly Press.

The Frenchman Rene Herse became one of the most revered names in cycling, and this book is a story about the man, the bikes he built, and the people who rode them. More than that, it is a journey to a Europe of a bygone era, from the interwar years through the decades immediately following WWII, into what most would call the Golden Age of Cycling. It is a book so lavishly illustrated with photographs and anecdotes that you can almost feel the breeze and the sun on your face and smell the French countryside as you spin the pedals alongside those riders. If you put this book on a coffee table, I suggest it be laid out alongside a baguette with jambon de pays and gruyere.

Fizik Performance Classic bar tape ($24-28)

Fizik Performance Classic Tape (Orange Microtex)

My favourite bar tape is the Fizik Perfomance Classic. It has the Fizik’s durable Microtex (microfibre) backed by a layer of dense foam padding. It is embossed and stitched asymmetrically, so depending on how you wrap your bars you can have more or less texture. It’ll survive many scrapes and it washes up well too. The tape comes in seven colours, but I recommend you do NOT get the “Soft Touch” white. Sure it feels like suede, but it gets dirty like suede too; plus it doesn’t hold up like the white Microtex version of Performance tape. Fizik Performance Classic enhances anyone’s road bike.

Sugoi Zap Helmet Cover ($28-30)

This is kinda a no-brainer, especially if your cyclist lives in one of the cold, wet parts of the world, and especially if he or she has a really nice helmet. Today’s premium helmets are festooned with holes for ventilation, which isn’t actually desirable in a cold, wind-driven rain. Sugoi’s Zap helmet cover stretches over most helmets (sans visor) to give wind and water protection; you can easily stow it in a pocket or commute bag when not needed. It comes in two colours, black and hi-vis yellow. Both have reflective accents.

Abus Lock-Chain 585/75 ($40)

The 575/85 Lock-Chain from German company Abus is lightweight and a handy size. The fabric covered chain and elastomer encased lock head protect the bike’s finish, while the 5mm square-section punches above its weight against cutting devices. While the 575/85 is not the ultimate in bicycle security, it is exceedingly convenient to carry and use, while thoroughly outperforming the majority of cable locks. Available in a variety of colours. For heavier duty, see the Abus Lock-Chain 880 “Steel-O-Chain” or burly 1060/85.

Icebreaker Blast Vest ($260)

Icebreaker Blast Vest

Merino wool is awesome because of its ability to provide warmth without excess bulk in a wide temperature range, but synthetic technical fabrics usually win when it comes to wind resistance. Icebreaker’s Blast Vest puts a lightweight 150 merino layer against the body and then adds a polyurethane middle layer for wind resistance and a outer polyester layer to ward off rain. If you’re looking for a more casual piece that works well as a mid-layer, I’d recommend the Sierra Vest ($140) made with 200 merino without the layers. A soft, cozy vest with hand pocket, the Sierra Vest is great for hiking, hanging out, or working on bikes.

Hugga Tool Roll ($40)

My phone, my keys, and my Hugga Tool Roll…things I don’t leave home without. The waxed canvas is water resistant and durable without bulk, and the integrated strap allows you cinch the roll down so it’ll slide into a jersey pocket easily. Drop it into you backpack or pannier when you commute. Snug all you little bike-fix-it trinkets and a tube together and then unroll it before you when you need to work on your bike. I actually wrap the roll around a mini-pump for road rides, or I tuck a CO2-inflator in for mtb rides.

SRAM debuts an 11-36T range cassette in the 11sp series PG-1170. Marketed as a compliment to the CX-1 single chainring cyclocross drivetrain, the new 11-36T cassette gives a 13% lower gear than the earlier 11-32T 11sp cassette. In common with other 11sp road cassettes from SRAM (as well as Shimano), the cassette requires a hub with an 11sp cassette body, which is wider than what fits 8,9,10sp cassettes and had been an industry standard for more than two decades. However, it does not require the proprietary XD-driver like SRAM’s 10-42T 11sp mountain cassettes. Ostensibly, the 11-36T PG-1170 is only compatible with the CX-1 rear derailleur with the “X-Horizon” non-slanted parallelogram design. The design of the CX-1 rear derailleur excludes the use of multiple chainrings. However, I know that SRAM’s long cage “WiFli” road derailleurs can usually handle a 36T cog (depending on the dropout geometry of the bike frame), so I’m sure that you could incorporate the 11-36T item into a 2x11 drivetrain.

And that’s the thing about this cassette: 11-36T is kinda odd for cyclocross. On the vast majority of cyclocross courses, save perhaps for some local novelty events, there’s no need of a gear that low even if you only have a single chainring. Most people I know are running 38 to 42 tooth rings in 1x10 or 1x11 setups with either 11-28 or 11-32 cassettes. If the ground is either so soft or so steep as to require a lower gear, you’d almost certainly be better off running because your max width 33mm tyres wouldn’t be able to float or grip. I see this new cassette as being better within 1X drivetrains for those adventure rides or gravel grinders that see some intense climbing like Vicious Cycle’s Gran Fondo series in Central Washington. It could also make an awesome 1x11 setup for riding steep city streets like in Seattle or San Francisco. Or you could use the 11-36 with a compact double crankset to make a touring bike with a practical gearing. Touring bikes need that low end gearing which has in the past been achieved with the granny ring of a triple crank, but even Shimano seems to be phasing out triples in their road line-up. SRAM 11sp 11-36T cassette seems like less of a hotshot racer’s weapon and more of a tool for the everyday rider.

UPDATE:

Some people might be wondering why SRAM introduced an 11-36T cassette for a CX-1 derailleur that seemingly does not have the capacity to handle a 36tooth cog. I can confirm that the CX-1 derailleur can handle 12-36 and 11-36 cassettes from some drivetrain experiments this past summer.

Steve Hed at Interbike

Here at Bike Hugger, we are saddened by the news that Steve Hed has died at age 59. Founder of Hed Cycling, Hed’s personal history has been deeply entwined with high performance cycling, particularly in triathlon and time trialing. Since the mid-1980s, Hed had represented the personification of the American innovator: creative, maybe a little kooky but willing to follow his ideas with equal measures of diligence and honesty. With many hours in the wind tunnel long before it was cool, he helped bring deep profile rims and disc wheels to cycling world, but when his own design for a composite spoked wheel did not produce good results in aero tests, he scrapped the idea (unlike several other manufacturers). Years later he would purchase the rights and equipment to manufacture what is now generally known as the Hed3 wheel. Then in the 21st century he was the leading proponent for the current philosophy of wide aero rims that acknowledge real world riding conditions. Additionally, he led the move towards wider clincher rims and wider tyres in performance road riding, as exemplified by the C2 Belgium rim and the even wider Belgium Plus recently. Something I personally respect is how clean Hed designs are, without all the trademarked and patented gimmicks that companies in Hed’s wake have added to distinguish their products in the consumer consciousness. Arguably, in an industry that is awash in hype, Hed represented a purity of design and purpose.

For such a small company, Hed Cycling has always had surprising connections to the biggest names in cycle sport. When I visited the Hed Cycling’s headquarters in MN a few years ago, the guys were glued to their monitors as they watched Levi Leipheimer power through his ToC time trial, knowingly commenting on how Levi had been consulting on wheels and positioning earlier that year. I walked through Hed’s shipping department to see a box of wheels to be shipped to some customer named “Contador” in Spain.

I couldn’t say that I knew Steve well. With longish, almost white hair, I could picture him blending in at a local coffee shop or farmers market. But he had certain sense of humour. One year he brought a downhill MTB wheel with a deep section rim profile to Interbike. He had this twinkle in his eye as he explained the design. Whenever I think about that occasion, I imagine that Steve built that prototype to answer a half-baked question or a bar bet, and then with the actual data hidden in his hand, he wanted to see how many people would hype it up.

I had met Steve several times at Interbikes over the years, but one of my favourite anecdotes I’m sure he never realized. I worked at a bike shop that was renowned for the retro tastes of one of the owners. That owner bought some vintage parts from a seller on Classic Rendezvous, and when they arrived at the shop I recognized the Minnesota address. In fact, Steve was the seller, and included some Hed Cycling paraphernalia as a bonus. Oddly, those items……erm…..disappeared from the box. So today I’m going to wear that Hed Cycling beanie as I ride one of many bikes fitted with Hed rims. Good bye, Steve.

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.






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