Entries by Mark V

XTR M9000 Debut, Part 1

Irvine CA: Shimano today introduced new XTR M9000, its most advanced XTR mountain bike components and wheels to date. With this totally new XTR line available in both Race and Trail “Rider Tuned” product families, Shimano leverages its 22 years of engineering leadership producing the industry’s highest performing mountain bike component group. Inspired by the versatility and capability of today’s riders and the terrain they tackle, M9000 offers refined and tested solutions engineered for the way they ride.

M9000 crank

M9000 front deraileur

Amid all the confetti and “moody” (ie poorly lit) product shots, Shimano launches the new XTR M9000 flagship mtb line. How important is this? This collection of components will define Shimano’s direction in offroad components for the new 3-6 years. Such is the nature of product development, some aspects of the new XTR were decided 3 or more years ago, but doubtlessly a portion of it was a reaction to the most recent trends in the industry. Which is to say, SRAM’s innovative 1x11 concept that they crystalized into their own XX1 debut.

Let’s put all the marketing conceptualization and soft focus glamour shots aside, and get down to how all this is going to affect the industry. Most importantly, Shimano retains faith in the front derailleur. That is to say, Shimano is not committing to 1x11, instead they offer 1x,2x, AND 3x 11sp drivetrains. This is not terribly surprising, since Shimano is truly the undisputed master of front shifting in the realms of both road and mtb components. By offering consumers and OEM the choice of top quality chainring configurations, Shimano is making sure that no money is left on the table due to lack of versatility in product options. In fact, by designing their new 11sp mtb cassette to fit all existing 8/9/10sp mtb hubs, M9000 removes the obstacle of replacing wheels for aftermarket consumers who are looking to upgrade their existing bikes, unlike SRAM’s XX1/X01 which require a special cassette body to fit their 10-42T cogset (in fact, it’s interesting to note that the M9000 11-40T cassette will fit existing hubs whereas the 11sp road cassettes require a wider cassette body). Yet while M9000 will undoubtedly be a paragon of engineering and manufacturing excellence, ultimately it will not have the same impact on frame design that XX1 has had. In the 2014 model year, a number of bikes have already appeared that are optimized for 1x11 drivetrains, or perhaps outright incompatible with 2x or 3x cranks.

Still, maybe this won’t matter since Shimano always makes the best front derailleurs. The new FD-M9000 is a “Side-Swing” design, meaning that the derailleur swings out and forward as it moves the chain to the outer rings, with no vertical vector to cage path at all. Apparently, the new FD-M9000 improves front shifting by “100%”….not 98.5% but a totally not arbitrary 100%. Interestingly, the front shifter cable/housing seems to feed in from the front of the derailleur on at least some of the front derailleur configurations, though I am as yet unsure of all the configurations. For those readers who are neither mechanics nor OEM product managers for bike brands, you should know that there is an utterly ridiculous number of SKUs for mtb front derailleurs due to all the chainring configurations and four different mounts. We’re talking dozens. It is quite possible that OEM will gravitate towards 1x11 just because how it simplifies the front derailleur intricacies.

The M9000 crank will come in narrow Q-factor (158mm) race configuration with a bonded, hollow non-drive crankarm as well as a stouter 168mm Q trail version. As the industry master of cold-forged alloy construction, Shimano once again eschews the use of carbon in the crankarms, but the chainrings incorporate aluminium, carbon, and titanium. The crankarms can accept any version of the highly proprietary M9000 chainrings, available in the following combinations: Single (30T, 32T, 34T, 36T), double (34-24T, 36-26T, 38-28T), triple (40-30-22T). You’ll notice that no chainring is bigger than 40T and there is only one triple chainring combination. Considering that the new M9000 cassette has an 11T cog rather than SRAM XX1’s 10T, the maximum drivetrain ratios are much smaller than they were 10 years ago. Reading between the lines, Shimano basically thinks that (for the high-end of the market at least) the future of 26”-wheels is dead for anything but DH and Freeride, that is to say long travel suspension designs that cannot accommodate 27.5/650B or 29er wheel sizes.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the XTR M9000 drivetrain a little more, as well as touch upon the other components.

King ISO XD hub

Chris King has long been the most coveted ‘Merican hub builder, particularly for mountain bikes. Their RingDrive cassette body is fairly unique in design as well as being in no small small measure sonically irritating. Frankly, I hated King hubs on road bikes, where long coasting descents on King hubs are like being serenaded by squalling infant cyborgs genetically crossed with deep sea fishing reels. But on mtb, the RingDrive’s instant hook up is deeply satisfying while offroad riding’s rhythm is too busy to give the hubs a chance to be audibly annoying. Too bad King was slow to get on the band wagon for SRAM’s breakout 1x11 drivetrain. Their innovative 10-42T 11sp cassette requires a special, “XD” cassette body, and the RingDrive design apparently wasn’t easily adapted to XD configuration.

Well, King fixed that. Their popular “ISO” disc hubs will be available with the option of an XD-compatible RingDrive drive shell (ie cassette body). And if you’ve already invested in some premium King hubs, you’ll be extra excited to find out that King will be offering the XD drive shell as an aftermarket kit to retro fit your existing ISO rear hub. The kit includes all the necessary bearings to fit. It’s a little confusing, but make sure you order the full “conversion kit” if you are retrofitting, since apparently there are 2-3 different XD drive shell SKU’s that are available for servicing the hubs. You will need the King RingDrive tool to do the conversion, so probably count on having an experienced LBS do the work unless you already own the rather expensive King tool.

King XD RingDrive kit

If you’re used to the bike industry’s press releases, then you’d probably assume that any product availability date is going to be “soft”, but as the bike shop’s hard goods buyer for over ten years, I have faith in whatever date Chris King gives. So I was quite surprised that King said May 1 for availability. You can pre-order ISO XD hubs or XD RingDrive conversion kits right now through your local bike shop. In fact, I just ordered a conversion kit for my own hub. If you are buying a new hub, the XD-compatible hubs are available in all the ISO’s current axle options: 135-QR, 10x135 thru, 12x135 thru, 12x142 thru, 12x150 thru, 12x157 thru. A complete ISO XD rear hub (12x142 thru-axle) weighs 331gr, and hubs are offered in all nine anodized colours.

King XD RingDrive schematic

April Fool’s Fun from Bike Hugger

In a controversial move, the UCI Technical Committee in Switzerland has proposed to limit tyre widths within UCI-sanctioned mtb races to 3.0” or less. Though this effectively bans “fatbikes” (bikes/frames with tyres in the 3.8-5.0” range) from the premier World Cup mtb series as well as a host of smaller races both in N America and abroad, officials explained that this is a strategic move in a long haul push to bring cycling to the Winter Olympics. Andre Kowalski, vice head of UCI’s technical development, asserted that the surest way to bring cycling to the Winter Olympics was to bring a competition format that was clearly defined as a winter sport. “By defining fatbikes as ‘snow bikes’, the sport gains credibility in the Winter Olympics”. In other words, by banning fatbikes from mtb’s traditionally summer season of racing, fatbikes become a legitimate winter sport.

The sheer number of sporting disciplines incorporated into the current, bloated schedule of the Summer Games precludes the addition of any more cycling events. In fact, track racing events (velodrome) have been reduced several times over the past decade and a half in order to make room for mountainbike racing and then BMX. The IOC has made it clear that the overall number of cycling events in the Summer Games will not be increased in the foreseeable future; hence the UCI move to promoting cycling in the Winter Games. Though cyclocross is a traditionally fall/winter sport with a hundred years of history, it lacks the strong association with snow or ice, which is pretty much the only requirement for sports in the Winter Games. Fatbike racing, in a move that parallels snowboarding’s move from fringe sport to center stage, is poised to leap ahead.

Fatbikes, which have been around in some form or another since the late-1980s, have exploded upon the consumer market recently, with new fatbike-specific products dominating media coverage at all the tradeshows this year. At the Taipei Bike Show, many observers remarked that if it weren’t for products aimed at the emerging “road disc” segment, there would literally be nothing else to talk about besides carbon fibre fatbikes and fatbike products. Doug Lareaux, founder and principle designer with PhatPhiber, was overwhelmed by the attention garnered by carbon fibre fatbike rims. “The three weeks of product development were completely vindicated by the media interest. It’s almost like any rim that was wider than 80mm and vaguely round could sell.”

Not all fatbike proponents welcome the UCI stance, however. Earl Simmons, club president of the Twin Cities Fatties, lamented the focus on competition. Simmons feels that while the attention fatbikes would receive as an Olympic sport would go a long ways to bringing these machines to places previously not known as bicycle-centric cultures, promoting fatbikes through racing will only limit their real appeal. “Racing is all about high performance and competition, two things that have nothing to do with the true spirit of fatbikes.” Having fun while going slow shouldn’t be limited to the time of the year that skinny bikes can’t be ridden.

With the Sochi Olympics having just finished, there is not enough time before the next Winter Olympics in Pyeongchan (South Korea) to complete the approval process, but the 2022 Games are very much on the table. With fatbikes expected to continue exponential growth for the next eight years, the excitement should reach fever pitch right on time for some chilly racing.

Friction Drilling

This is how they make the holes in Mavic Ksyrium SL rims and other similar rims where the nipples thread directly into the rim. It’s called friction drilling. Rather than having a metal bit that bites into the work piece and removes material in its path, friction drilling uses a fast-spinning conical bit that is pressed hard to the piece. The friction heats the material which flows out of the way of the bit. The friction drill bit must be made of a heat resistant material like cemented carbide (I mean, all good drill bits are made of heat resistant material, but this is way beyond cobalt steel). The advantage is that the process creates a hole with material left around the circumference; then that material can be tapped with threads for the spoke nipple.

This weekend is the first really big professional road race on the calendar, Milano-San Remo. Up until now, it’s roughly been the equivalent of spring training, but Milano-San Remo is the first race of the year that really, really counts. It’s got history; it’s a race that the racers’ fathers’ fathers dreamed of winning. It’s got scenery, speeding along the Italian coast in the first rays of spring. It’s long, at almost 300km/185miles. And it’s got speed. The only climbs are relatively shallow and come late in the race, and M-SR would almost be easy if the peloton weren’t just drilling it for more than six and a half hours before they get to the 3km finishing straight in San Remo. The race usually ends in a bunch sprint, but on occasion a wily racer can keep a gap off the last climb, the Poggio, since the descent is sinuous and narrow.

In 1992, the Ariostea team’s leader Moreno Argentin stormed up the Poggio, breaking free of his rivals well before the crest of the climb. The veteran Italian would keep his lead all the way down the descent that emptied into the finishing straight, where he would celebrate his first win at Milano-San Remo.

Or at least he would have if Sean Kelly hadn’t absolutely blistered the Poggio’s descent. We are talking LEGENDARY. It’s not that Argentin wasn’t making a fast descent, though he was being a bit conservative. No, it’s that Kelly was brilliant. He wasn’t even the at the front of the chasers at the crest of hill, but he leaves them all behind like they had opened parachutes. Kelly is on Argentin’s wheel right as they entered the straight, and even at 36yrs of age the former TdF green jersey winner still packed a formidable sprint. It was Kelly’s second M-SR win and the last major win of his illustrious career.

Light & Motion Solite 100

I’ve got this thing going on where Start out the work week sick, stumble through a couple days dead on my feet, become a whirling dervish of productivity for the next two days and then fall sick again for my days off. An old roommate flew in to town to get away from the Deep South for a bit and do some hiking. I had to opt out, but I gave him one of my Light & Motion lights, the Solite 100. It’s a little multi-purpose, USB-rechargeable light that can be hand held, stood on end with an articulating light head, or worn on a strap about a helmet or bare head. You can get a bike-mount for it, but there are other L&M lights that do that better. It’s not super bright compared to my L&M bike lights, but it does provide more than enough light to set up camp on a dark, cold, rainy night out on the Olympic peninsula. And with a 20hr burn time on low, you have enough time to get things done without worrying that it’ll cut out on you. But I still couldn’t be motivated to leave the warmth of my apartment.

I think my friend was just enjoying the novelty of cold rain; he went back to Alabama on a Monday night red eye. Meanwhile, I’ve had all winter to enjoy rubbish wet weather. I’d gladly take some sunshine, and if not that, then at least good health. Literally sick and tired of this.

Light & Motion Solite

PDW 3Wrencho

A month ago I wrote about being selective with your portable tools, and I explicitly recommended the Soma Steel Core tyre lever. Funny enough, seems that some people read the prose I spew on this blog; the guys at Portland Design Works took issue with my choice of tyre levers. So I said I’d take the Pepsi Challenge. A few days later a PDW 3Wrencho arrived in the mail.

A little explanation about the name of the tool. 3Wrencho is a play on San Rensho, which was the brand name of legendary keirin (Japanese professional track racing) framebuilder, Yoshi Konno. The name San Rensho roughly translates into “three victories”, where “san” means “3” in Japanese. By coincidence, San Rensho at one time marketed some keirin-specific tools for adjusting regulation track bikes at the velodrome. Though San Rensho doesn’t exist anymore as a builder, the tool is still available (at least a few years ago), and I have one. However, that tool is too big to use as on-the-road repair kit, and neither does it have a tyre lever. And why would it? Keirin bikes only use tubulars anyways.

Back to the actual 3Wrencho tool: is it the best tyre lever ever? Well, it just might be. It matches my criteria in terms of shape, and it is nylon-coated to protect your rim. But it is definitely beefier than a Soma Steel Core, and I’m not quite sure what it would take to break it. Despite this, the 3Wrencho isn’t so thick that you can’t get it under the bead of tight fitting tyres. The 3Wrencho also incorporates a 15mm box wrench to fit track hub fixing nuts, the tyre lever portion is even angled out so that you can spin the wrench on the nut without catching on the bike’s stays. Compared to Surly’s Jethro Tool, the 3 Wrencho is miles better ergonomically for hossing on track nuts while only marginally longer, while the shape of the 15mm box fits better than the Jethro’s on the fixing nuts of certain internally-geared hubs. And the Jethro doesn’t have a superb tyre lever integrated into the other end like the PDW product. The Jethro just has a bottle-opener….and it’s not like there is any great shortage of bottle opening technologies in the world.

PDW 3Wrencho tool

PDW 3Wrencho has a 15mm box wrench end for the fixing nuts of track hubs and internally geared hubs.

If you’re a consumer, you may not have noticed one of the bigger shakeups in North American component distribution. Mid-last year, Shimano America announced that they would end relations with all but a handful of continental distributors for aftermarket components while “encouraging” retail shops to buy direct (with a B2B system that is loved by exactly no one). Ostensibly this move would help dealers maintain profit margins by eliminating venders from dumping inventory on the market, but many shops are upset about the change since they would prefer to just order parts from their preferred distributor along with their non-Shimano inventory needs. Other shops point out that the online retailers from the UK sell parts to consumers in the US for about the same price that the shops pay wholesale; the distribution change does nothing to solve this. And besides derailleurs and whatnot, Shimano plans to exclusively sell pedals directly to shops. Aside from my own angst, having to deal with Shimano directly, I am curious to see how this pedal plan will play out in the long run.

In my mind, Shimano has been the industry’s 600-lb gorilla since the mid-1980s, wielding huge influence on bike design and distribution. But when Shimano stumbles, other players pounce. I theorize that SRAM’s move into the road market was triggered by a lag in Shimano’s deliveries for road product in the mid-00s. Up till that point, SRAM was strictly an mtb parts maker, but then you started to see SRAM 8 and 9sp cassettes/chains on many entry and mid-level road bikes. They also purchased Truvativ in 2005, given them presence in cranks and chainrings. At the same time, bike manufacturers had some delays delivering bikes because they couldn’t get the Shimano kits. Within a few years, SRAM debuted Force and Rival road gruppos.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of those events have a causal relationship versus merely correlation, but what is certainly true is that North American distributors are stepping up house brand pedal systems to sell to shops who don’t want to kowtow to Shimano’s distribution schemes. Most of these designs, like QBP’s iSSi and MDW lines, seem to be manufactured by ever incorrigible Shimano knock-off, Wellgo. As such, I’m afraid that my gut-instinct is that these initial offerings will be inferior quality, but who knows what the future will hold? Or perhaps another manufacturer will step in with the resources necessary to build and market a pedal system to go toe-to-toe with the venerable SPD. Maybe old school players like Time and LOOK will end up grabbing back market share.

issie

Yes, THAT wide: the FSA SL-K Brakeset

FSA SL-K brakeset 03

Today’s aero wheels offer bolt-on speed with relatively tame handling traits, making them suitable for a wide variety of race conditions. While they’re not cheap, aero wheels are the single best performance upgrade for your bike and are a more cost-effective choice than an “aero road bike” frame. But for many racers, acquiring high-end race wheels will leave precious little equipment budget. So imagine if you dropped big money on the wheels only to find out that your brake calipers don’t open wide enough to fit them. Sure, the latest versions of SRAM Red and Dura Ace will fit thicky aero rims, but your credit card is still smoking form the wheel purchase. Full Speed Ahead has your back with the upgraded SL-K brakeset.

Certainly more beneficial than internally routed shifter cables, lightweight QR skewers, or an 11sp cluster, recent aero wheel designs have carbon rims with a section that is thickest towards the middle of the depth and a smooth transition from the tyre to the rim. Wheel designs pioneered by Hed and Zipp. These rims penetrate the air well straight on, but also perform well when the wind vectors in from some angle off zero degrees ahead. Such wheels are also known for having more docile behaviour in side gusts. These characteristics come from the shape of the rim/tyre having a smooth shape to the leeward surface, so that the air keeps a smooth, laminar flow over most of the surface before it breaks loose in turbulent swirls. Ironically, thick sections were the total opposite of aerodynamically-minded bicycle design from the 1980s to less than ten years ago. Back then, narrow was the goal, and “aero” rims were 19-20mm wide right next to the tyre (ie the brake track) and drew back to sharply tapered trailing edges. Today’s best designs are often close to 28mm wide at their thickest point in the middle of the rim depth; they are often 25mm or more at the brake track. This has created an odd situation for brake manufacturers. From entry-level to high-end, road calipers for the last couple decades were optimized for rims like the Mavic Open Pro (20mm wide). They just can’t open big enough for these new aero wheels. High-end brake designs introduced in the last couple years such as the SRAM Red Aero-Link caliper have been revised, but the ability to open wide hasn’t trickled down to the Force or 105 level yet.

Meanwhile, FSA has aggressively adapted to market needs and eagerly steps up to provide for consumers and OEM. The updated SL-K calipers spread to 33mm with unworn pads, enough to accommodate a 28mm rim. This spread is especially for the rear wheel position, where the narrow spoke bracing and torque from the rider cause the rim to flex side to side. The SL-K calipers weigh a respectable 314gr with mounting hardware (verified). The cable-pull ratio should be compatible with both newer Shimano levers as well as SRAM/Campagnolo, though depending on your preferences the SL-K might feel a little low on leverage with the Shimano. I rode the calipers with SRAM Red levers, and I found the braking performance to be better than 1st-gen Red calipers and close to the new Aero-Link. However, the new Aero-Link calipers are a cam-actuated single-pivot brake as opposed to the SL-K and original Red. This makes the SL-K much easier to center the pads, since you can just pull the caliper with one hand and retighten the fixing nut; whereas the Aero-Link is almost impossible to center without two wrenches. And at less than $200, the SL-K brakeset is much less expensive.

The SL-K’s all black finish should compliment most bikes, it comes stock with SwissStop BXP (all-weather blue compound for alloy rims), and has a ratcheting QR. My only gripe is that the barrel-adjuster feels a little weird and is awkward to spin though it turns smoothly.

One thing to keep in mind when setting up these brakes is whether you’ll be using aero wheels AND conventional alloy rims on the bike; this is an issue with other designs too. I would suggest that you initially set up the calipers with QR full open on the widest rim you plan to use, so that way you can use the throw of the QR to partially adjust for when you slip in the narrower rims. Oh, and don’t forget to run carbon-specific pads for your carbon-aero wheels.

FSA SL-K brakeset 04

Orp: Integrated Cycling Light/Horn

ORP Smart Horn/Light

Dean Kazura stopped by the bike shop to show me new product that he’s representing for this area. Orp is a USB-rechargeable, handlebar-mounted light with an integrated electronic horn. My first assumption was that this was going to be a super-cheesy product, but I was actually really impressed. The light is bright for its size and price point, the silicon band mount seems a lot more substantial, durable, and secure than Knog, and the horn actually does its job. Nice product for the commuter, but I can certainly think of a few times I’ve been out training in the sticks when a horn might be nice to alert drivers who aren’t used to sharing the roads with cyclists.

Unless I’m mistaken, msrp should be $65, which is quite reasonable. Check out the light at orpland.com.

I just wish it did the horn riff from Lowrider






Advertise here

About Bike Hugger