What a weekend! Seattle got hail and snowfall in the city, and Hugger-in-Chief Byron got down to Cali for the SRAM’s “22” launch. What’s “22”? That would be the number of speeds the new SRAM Red and Force groupsets offer. In the equivalent of tying a coconut to a pair of swallows, SRAM offers a drivetrain that allows the rider to utilize all 22 possible gear combinations, all without rub or the need to trim the front derailleur. SRAM wants you to know that they are bringing a true twenty-two speed drivetrain to the rider, but that’s not why you’re going to read this post. You’re gonna read this post because of the hydraulic brakes.
I really don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now that I won’t have the opportunity to use a really condescending voice when I explain to novice bike shoppers that the correct nomenclature for a road bike is expressed as a “ten speed triple” or an “eleven speed double” because the extreme crossover combinations are not usable. Already on most SRAM equipped bikes with the recent YAW-type front derailleur of the 2012 Red group, you can hit all the cogs cleanly from the big ring, and all the cogs save the first position cog since the chain hits the big ring on its way from the inner ring. An educated guess is that SRAM engineers increased the spacing between the rings to get the inner ring out of the shadow of the big, and then further tweaked the YAW derailleur, which uniquely translates slightly on a vertical axis as it moves laterally outward. Like 10sp Red, the new Red22 and Force 22 do away with front derailleur trim positions; you slam it up or slam it down and the system does the job with no further ado.
It’s two and half weeks until the Sea Otter Classic, which has become something of a pre-season trade show for the cycling industry. But apparently even that is not soon enough. There have been sneak previews as early as December and January for companies like TRP. And just today, this little tidbit hit the interwebs:
In case you don’t watch the clip for fear of sparking an epileptic seizure due to editing pace that makes any Jerry Bruckheimer seem as staid as a Jane Austen film, then let me just save you the eye strain: SRAM will imminently introduce 11-speed to their road groups. Um….(ehem)……uh, hurray? I’d like to chalk it up to April Fool’s, but I’d already heard about it through other bike company insiders.
I’m sorry, but I just don’t see another cog being that important. But what could SRAM do? What with Campagnolo and Shimano already with 11sp, it must suck to be that last kid on the block to have what no one really needed. I was far more keen on SRAM announcing something of that would be a little more cyclocross oriented, something which everyone is talking about anyways and also would without a doubt have a vastly larger effect on the road bikes should it prove to be a successful development. I just hope that SRAM hasn’t been delaying that introduction just to synch it up with their 11sp introduction.
Now I recognize that by expressing disdain for an additional cog in the cluster, I am repeating a pattern that has been well established by legions of mechanics that have come before me. So I will not be so presumptuous to think that my voice will matter to the industry. But there is such as thing as the concept of diminishing returns. Six cogs is undoubtably better than five, and I firmly believe nine is better than eight. I feel pretty good about saying that some riders will appreciate ten cogs versus nine in certain conditions with certain range cassettes. I can see SRAM’s XX1’s use of 11sp as having an advantage because it makes a single chainring a viable idea in a wider variety of riding conditions. But for road conditions, I just don’t care much….ok, if you push me then I think it marginally improves the use of 11-32 wide range cassettes for road use. That would be an performance advantage primarily to non-racers, but a liability for service life due to the thinner cogs and/or chain. And those drivetrain components are certain to be more expensive.
So for you nerds out there who think that having an 18T cog in your 11-28 cassette will enable you to set a new Strava record, rejoice!
Here’s a titanium Eddy Merckx (built by Litespeed) converted to 650B tires and mounting up a Rock Shox Paris-Roubaix fork. Owning such a Rock Shox fork myself, I strongly suspect that the 650Bx38mm tyres would be more of a benefit than 25mm of suspension if taking over the whole P-R route, but over the worst of the pave the tyres and fork together would probably both be welcome. This is bike was assembled as a homage of the suspension road bikes used by professional teams at Paris-Roubaix. In fact, the race was won by a Merckx frame with a Rock Shox fork in 1994, but the frame was steel and none of the bikes in the modern era have used 650B tyres.
Suspension forks, seatposts, and even full-suspension road frames were a flash in the pan at Paris-Roubaix during the early 1990s. Heavily influenced by the nascent mountain bike industry, road suspension had three straight victories in the spring classic but also several spectacular failures. Later on a Belgian team, whose frame supplier forbid suspension, had the race in a stranglehold for years. Other than an elastomer bumper/pivotless suspension seatstay (not to be confused with elastomeric vibration dampers such as Specialized’s “Zerts”) a few years ago, suspension designs utterly disappeared from Paris-Roubaix in the early 00s.
For a history of suspension bikes at Paris-Roubaix and the professional riders using them, check out this post from last year.
Now that Seattle Bike Expo is over, I can get back to being the audio dictator at the shop. Everyday I bring in my battered 2nd-gen iPod and set it on a greasy iPod dock. In this building that was a livery stable a hundred years ago, the tuner/amplifier drives the two speaker towers I’ve hoisted into the rafters, and a powered subwoofer sits directly atop the restroom hutch. A snippet of electrical tape next to the volume knob serves two purposes: it eliminates the possibility of blowing out another speaker tower from a burst of static at plug in and defines the business hours volume limit. Louder than that, the music interferes with phone conversations on the far side of the building, and the subwoofer shakes the restroom like Boeing 707 flying low over a tin-roof shack.
Not exactly trending like “fatbikes”, touring bikes with tyre clearance in the 2”-2.4” range have been popping up recently. Some are designed mainly as on-road touring bikes, such as the Surly Long Haul Trucker, of which the smaller sizes can accommodate 26x2.1” tyres. I recently saw that Co-Motion is making a 26”-wheeled touring bike equipped with disc brakes. For heavy duty or expedition-style touring, 26” wheels make a lot of sense. In case of breakages, 26” tubes/tyres/rims are more accessible than 700C in most areas, and a smaller diameter rim is always stronger for a given rim extrusion (ie, cross section).
With the wide variety of 29er tyres now available, there are a number of big-wheeled bikes hitting the market such as the Salsa Fargo or Co-Motion’s Divide. The bigger tyre diameter rolls easier compared to 26” as the riding surface grows rougher, but the huge wheels and frames built for them can be cumbersome for smaller riders. Even for taller riders, it’s hard to extract agility from a tall bike with massive wheels and a 110cm wheelbase.
An actual trend coming out of the midwest is the grassroots races and rides known as “gravel grinders”. Also occasionally called “adventure rides”, these are endurance rides that take place on long stretches of rural roads, which are often rutted pavement or packed gravel, perhaps poorly maintained. In spirit, gravel grinders harken back to an earlier era of cycling decades before Eisenhower and interstate highways. Equipment wise, bikes being marketed for this use vary from dropbar 29ers to cyclocross bikes, and disc brakes are a very popular option. To me, the bikes marketed for gravel grinders look like cyclocross bikes with eyelets, tall head tubes, and cable routing unsuitable for carrying on your shoulder. Clement, today a re-boot of the venerable tyre brand, offers a couple of treads 700C (35 & 40mm) targeting face-paced dirt road riding.
A few weeks from now I expect that TRP will officially debut their Spyre dual-piston mechanical disc brake for road bikes at either the Taipei Bike Show or Sea Otter in California. The Spyre seemingly has the potential of stealing the road disc championship from the venerable BB7 from Avid (SRAM). The TRP product differs from almost every other cable-actuated disc because both pads move rather than having one pad push the rotor into the opposing (static) pad. This is significant because it increases rotor clearance, so that effects of rotor warp and pad wear are minimized. It doesn’t hurt that early pre-production samples are lighter than the BB7 as well.
Personally, I’m a little keener on the other road offering from TRP, what is being called “HY/RD”. It is a hybrid cable-hydraulic caliper with dual pistons. A standard brake cable enters the caliper and pulls a small lever arm that actuates the master cylinder. Contrast this to TRP’s current hybrid design, the Parabox, which puts the masters cylinders for both front and rear caliper in a box that attaches to the steerer tube, sitting below the stem. The HY/RD’s advantages over the Parabox include easier installation (presumably no bleeding is necessary and there is no hydraulic hose to speak of) and no issues with stack height interfering with handlebar height. On the other hand, the HY/RD is a rather bulky caliper, and I am somewhat cautious of how well it can deal with heat build up.
The main reason I’m interested in the HY/RD is that I can use my current levers. Without a doubt, full hydraulic brakes with integrated shift levers are on the way from SRAM and Shimano, but they’re bound to be a heavy investment for most consumers. And why should I have to pay for what might very well end up being a beta-test of product that has yet to fully mature? Full systems integration is certainly a double-edged sword if any aspect is problematic. And since cyclocross use is my primary interest and breaking levers during racing is a talent I’ve already demonstrated, I’m not too keen to put such cutting edge technology on the front of my bike just to meet blunt force trauma. If I go with the HY/RD, maybe I’ll get all the power and the self-adjusting pad feature of hydraulics with the penalty of a little cable drag. And that can be minimized with high-quality, sealed brake cable/housing kit.
Still, I’ll hold off recommending the HY/RD system for road riders, particularly touring cyclists, until I can get my hands on a set. Heat management is going to be the biggest design issue for hydraulic road discs, and the heavier loads imposed by touring bikes puts them more at risk. I get the feeling that many riders are going to be installing hydraulic road discs and using them without proper respect for their design parameters and operational limits. Cyclocross is actually more forgiving in the sense that the speeds are lower and there are no long descents.
The idea of combining cable-actuation and a hydraulic master cylinder into a cable is not new. AMP Research (and I think maybe Hayes too?) marketed one in the early 1990s that was a decent performer. Of course, perhaps twenty years from now the HY/RD will another piece of forgotten trivia, a stopgap technology quickly discarded once full hydraulic system came of age.
Italian music superstar Jovanotti played a set at Mellow Johnny’s bicycle shop in Austin during SXSW. Seattle’s world famous independent radio station KEXP hosted a live broadcast from the middle of the showroom floor. During a musical career spanning 25 years, he has blended influences from hip-hop, funk, and world music, but perhaps one of his greatest talents is his charisma as an entertainer. Performing songs in both Italian and English, Jovanotti effortlessly won over the crowd. In between songs, he revealed his great love for cycling, which apparently is no bullshit. Actually, his personal list of cycling accomplishments is real and rather enviable. He described cycling as his third greatest love…..after women and music.
At the Seattle Bike Expo this past weekend, there is a classic bicycle show in which the local vintage bicycle collectors bring out some choice items from their personal collections. To be perfectly honest, I’m much more of a modern technology fan. However, I am fascinated by inter-war track bikes, especially machines associated with six-day racing and stayer racing.
What is stayer racing? It is motor-paced racing on a velodrome. Before automobiles and motorcycles, bicycles were about as fast as any vehicle. In the later 1800s, there were paced races on the velodrome, but the pacers were multi-rider tandems providing drafting for single rider bikes. Sometimes the tandems had as many as six riders. But just like the industrial revolution, machines proved more cost effective than human labour…and faster. By the turn of the century, velodromes long evolved from glorified horsetracks to indoor arenas, and the velodromes banking had become steep to match the tighter radius of the turns. This made stayer racing among the most exciting and dangerous of all sports.
(image from letterlust’s flickr)
By the 1900s, bicycles for stayer racing had been refined to meet the unique requirements of the discipline. First and foremost is a small (typically 24”) front wheel and a reverse rake fork. This is for aerodynamics, but not in the way that time trial and pursuit bikes in the 1980s-1990s used small front wheels and cowhorn bars to lower the height of the bike. Rather, the stayer’s short front-center and small wheel allowed the rider to draft a little closer to the moto, but the handlebar sat high to facilitate maximal breathing and leverage. Saddles might overlap the bottom bracket so that the rider’s body leaned a little further forward, and the handlebars were positioned far forward as well. To eliminate flex and above all else possibility of failure, both the saddle and stem required support struts.
The motos used for stayer racing were specialized as well. These were not bicycles with a tiny engine mounted (what is called “derny”), but rather real motorcycles (750cc to 2500cc engine displacement) built to allow the motorcyclist to create a draft for the bike rider behind him. Moto drivers, or pacers, sit bolt upright or even stand during the race, with long, swept handlebars to make it possible to sit all the way back on the moto. This allowed the pacer to create a pocket of draft as big and as close to the rider as possible. Off the back of the moto, a small roller bar is positioned a regulation distance; as a safety feature the roller spins freely should the drafting rider bump into it. The races are typically middle to long distance (compared to other track events). The pacer more or less determines the race, with the rider trying with all his might to stick tight in the draft. A rider who loses the shelter behind his pacer will be swallowed by wind resistance and quickly fall of the pace. The pacer will need to slow way down for his rider to catch back on and then slowly accelerate without losing his rider again. Race speeds frequently average 60-70 kph for 100km, with bursts of over 100 kph (60mph) possible. One can easily imagine how dangerous this can become on small track with multiple teams of riders and pacers, and true to expectations there have been numerous deaths of both riders and pacers as well as 9 spectators in Germany 1909, when a moto careened off track into the bleachers.
What about stayer racing today? Paced events more typically use dernies today and outside of Europe, and the last UCI-sanctioned world championship for stayer racing was almost 20 years ago. But high-level stayer racing still occurs in Europe, much like six-day racing. In fact, stayer racing is frequently held as an event within the schedule of the modern six-day. The bikes still look much like the 1930s Belgian-made Boogmans stayer that I saw this weekend, but that chromed frame and wood rims are really sexy.
Below is a video from a Steherrennen during the Berlin 6-Day last year. Watch for the rider to lose the draft at 2:15. He’s shouting and gesticulating to get his pacer to slow down, but they’ve already lost several places.