Sharing entirely because it’s not another GoPro edit…competition is good in all things.
Ordered new music for the new year from @heyrosetta and as soon as that drops, syncing it to my iPod for some long rides.
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.
The issue isn’t finding rims that will work in a tubeless setup anymore. A few years ago CX tubeless-ready tyres were built for the rims/wheels engineered to match with road tubeless systems, similar to mtb’s UST standard. This largely limited you to wheel-systems like Shimano. Or you could use Stan’s NoTubes conversion kits on a regular rim, but often that meant a lot of effort and uncertainty to get just the right setup for the rim/tyre combination and avoid burping the tyre at low pressure. Now however there are numerous 700C rims being manufactured for either CX or 29er that mimic the easy-mounting NoTubes rim shape. These rims are often wider than typical “road tubeless” rims, giving a better shape and more support to a CX tyre’s larger casing volume . And thankfully for cantilever holdouts like myself, rims like the Hed Belgium Plus and Velocity A23 allow one to introduce tubeless technology into our race gear without requiring disc brakes and a new frameset and components to match. But all these developments have been slow to become broadly established in the market. The selection of tubeless-ready tyres has yet to catch up, and perhaps the resourcefulness of cyclocross racers and mechanics is actually hurting the cause.
Unlike road tubeless systems, which require much more precision in design and manufacturing due to the far greater air pressure used, CX tubeless use has largely evolved out of individuals experimenting with their own equipment. Like MTB, cyclocrossers were converting existing equipment to tubeless by any means necessary in the beginning.
Step 1: buy a NoTubes kit with tape.
Step 2: mount some clincher tyre with sealant and see if holds air.
Step 3: unmount and add more tape, repeat Step 2.
Step 4: go out and ride. If tyre burps, walk home and repeat Step 2
Step 5: replace tyre with a different model, repeat Step 4
Step 6: burp tyre in a race; receive condescending look from guys running tubulars, repeat step 4
Why would tyre companies use their resources to develop competent tubeless CX when the racers seem willing to tolerate all manner of kludges? The big brands continue to sell their standard clincher tyres; if you want to run them tubeless, that’s not their problem. The packaging clearly states that using sealant voids the tyre’s warrantee.
To be fair, I don’t really think that the industry is nefariously holding back properly engineered product, but they certainly go where the money is. A number of companies have finally started offering tubeless-ready cyclocross tyres, but only in a decidedly medium conditions variety, and by “medium conditions” I mean “for frequent use on pavement or gravel”. The whole gravel grinder trend blew up just this past season, yet several tyre manufacturers are diving into 40mm plus tubeless ready gravel tyres. Where are the dedicated mud tyres? Maybe you don’t need them for racing in California, but mud is the default for CX racing in New England and the PacNW. The big companies bank on OEM sales and hot new trends like the gravel grinder category when they develop clincher tyres.
Besides, everyone knows that the real racers inevitably choose tubulars when they get serious, right? The smaller companies, like Challenge and Dugast, that specialize in tubular cyclocross tyres make an effort to offer treads optimized for specific conditions, even different types of mud. With the cost of quality race wheels and tubulars multiplied by the number of potential race conditions, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that trying to always have the right setup for the races quickly spirals into a money-sucking vortex.
What racers need are tubeless-ready tyres that don’t burp even at pressures below 25PSI, that mount easily without relying on luck and a heroic air-compressor, and come in a variety of tread types for actual cyclocross racing. It almost happened this year. Maxxis introduced their Mud Wrestler in 60tpi and 120tpi tubeless-ready versions, but not that many distributors were actually carrying them before the end of the season. Kenda, who make a very nice dry conditions/gravel tyre in the Happy Medium, showed a more mud-oriented version of their Kommando, called the Kommando X Pro, at Interbike 2013, but none of the distributors even have a sku# for them yet. However Hutchinson, an early proponent of tubeless CX, are on their third generation of tyres, and their Toro CX has been available for a season or so.
On the other hand, Michelin was a partner in developing the UST tubeless standard for mountain bikes, but they have made no effort in recent years to develop their cyclocross lineup in anyway, let alone introduce tubeless-ready versions. Specialty tyre maker Clement has expressed a desire to offer tubeless CX ever since the brand re-entered the market a few years ago, but that has yet to lead to anything. I know people who would kill to have their PDX tread in a fully tubeless-ready casing.
Next year I think that tubeless CX options will finally catch up, and in the very least I have found a tubeless setup that meets my requirements. More next time.
Patented rod-and-clamp design makes the bag-closure device very versatile
Ok, so it’s not really a bike thing per se, but check this out: With 6 days left to order in time for Christmas with Prime, Amazon published their annual Stocking Stuffers with a Story feature and it includes an origin story about a household product my company makes, Clip-n-Seal.
We originally designed this to keep coffee and chips fresh at home, but people have found all kinds of other uses for them, including disposal of chemical waste in manufacturing processes, and even to seal testing apparatus in the space program.
Used in making fast, race wheel that I reviewed in our mag.
The application of Clip-n-Seal that most interests me, as a cyclist, is their use in wheel building. During PressCamp earlier this year, I met with Enve Composites and we discussed their latest wheels, and how they use Clip-n-Seal at the factory. I can’t share the specifics, as it’s propriety process, but Clip-n-Seals keep their resins and carbon fibers fresh.
Originally designed to keep chips fresh
As Amazon shared on their site today, Clip-n-Seals are a stocking stuffer with a story that has many more chapters to write, fresh beans to grind, and wheels to make.
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!
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.
One thing I learned is that I don’t like being at the back end of my fields. I’ve had good CX seasons in the past when I was consistently in with the top quarter of the finishers, but this fall I’ve been tail-end Tommy most of the time. The biggest difference is my lack of fitness. I have been lax in my training, spending too much time fixing other people’s bikes and making poor use of my time. And I’m not getting any younger; from now on fitness won’t be a happy accident. I’m kinda glad that CX season is over, because now I can concentrate on developing and implementing a training plan.
It wasn’t pure humiliation though. I still have a decent finishing sprint in Cat4, and I am capable of racing twice in the same day. I expected to get trounced in the singlespeed races, especially in the races without separate “A” and “B” division. Lumping the fast racers and the race fodder into the same wave means that the field strings out right from the start, and the slower riders can at best hope to not get lapped by Craig Etheridge as he slays the singlespeed field yet again. Craig’s stranglehold on the competition would be a lot more irritating if he wasn’t the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet at a starting line or in the parking lot. No shit, the guy is so nice it’s inhuman. Craig aside, a drubbing in the singlespeed division doesn’t get me down, especially this season since I’m still getting a feel for gear selection. After 3 or 4 seasons, I am familiar with most of the courses, but I’ve never had to think about how I would set up the bike if I couldn’t shift during the race.
The day before Woodland Park CX, I put a 36x17 on the bike, partially because that’s what I could scrape together from my stash. With the bike shop closed, the pool of parts from which I could draw supplies had disappeared, but I found that ratio to work reasonably well for me at Woodland Park. At about 58 gear-inches, it’s not a very tall gear, but I have always been a spinner on the road. And on the Redline’s 1x10 setup, I use a 38T ring and spend most of the time in the lower gears. But even with that low gear I start to suffer on the longer climbs by the end of the race (another motivation for training). Still, even if I return to a competitive level of fitness, there is a practical limit of how much I can spin a low gear when the terrain is rutted and bumpy because you can’t keep a smooth cadence while bouncing all over the place. In retrospect I wish I had tried out the BodyFloat suspension seatpost in a couple of the races. I had success using that post in gravel grinders last summer, but I have been hesitant to use it in a CX race since I don’t feel confident about trying to remount the suspended saddle. For one thing, the saddle would be higher than normal without my weight on it, so I would need to leap a little higher as I remount, and then I’m worried that I might not stick the landing as the post sags under my downward inertia. By next fall I would like to have the fitness to move up to a 38x17 (~61 gear-inches), but later this month I plan to experiment with the BodyFloat at Marymoore, since that is one of the really bumpy courses that is readily accessible.
I learned to look at the bottom of my shoes. It’s probably a good idea to start the CX season with fresh cleats for your shoes. I didn’t check the condition of my cleats before Silverlake. I had problems staying clipped in, I flubbed the sprint when I inadvertently unclipped, and in the end gave away a placing that I had worked hard to gain.
Another learning adventure has been tubeless cyclocross tyres. My goal has been to find a trouble-free CX tyre that would perform well in stereotypical NW courses: muddy grass corners, deep mud, and loam. Last summer I discovered some great gravel tyres in the Kenda Happy Medium. A tubeless-ready version is available in 32mm and even the regular 35mm version works well in a tubeless conversion. Having the wider option in a dry conditions/gravel tyre is great on rutted descents from mountain passes, but the tubeless-ready tyres are frequently only available in the 33mm size to meet UCI regulations. Worse, manufacturers want to make sure that their tyres will not exceed 33mm width even on today’s trendy wide rims. That means that the tyres actually measure significantly less than 33mm unless they are mounted on those wide rims. When it comes to cyclocross racing, pretty much the only time narrower tyres offer any benefit is if you want that skinny to give more space for mud to fall through on a frame with tight clearances. Since I’m racing in Cat4 or singlespeed, no one cares if my tyres are wider than regulation, but it’s not so easy to take advantage of that without wider mud tyre options. I’ll talk about my tubeless tyre revelation on another day, but in the end I did find a good tubeless CX tyre for Washington state.
For my Redline, I am using the Tufo Flexus Cubus 34 tubulars that I have had for the past few seasons. Tufo tyres may not be the lightest or most supple CX rubber around, but they are tough and long lasting. You do want to spend the money on the “Flexus” version of Tufo tyres, as the base version is like a garden hose. Tufo has recently updated the tread designs of both the mud-loving Cubus and the medium condition Primus. I suspect that the Primus had more room for improvement since it really suffered badly in wet conditions, whereas the Cubus’ only real weakness might be a little excessive rolling resistance on hardpack or pavement. Regardless, I’m going to keep the older Tufos since they pre-date the UCI 33mm rule. Maybe they stretched a little over time, but those brick red lovelies measure 35mm as they are now. Monster truck grip, Cadallac ride. If the Cubus didn’t shed mud so well, their bulk would be a problem on the Redline, which is not overly generous on clearance. I do have one Flexus Primus mounted on my backup rear wheel; the only time I used it was actually for the singlespeed at the chilly Gig Harbor race. I was actually surprised how competent it felt on frozen grass. The experience rekindled my appreciation for the original Primus, though I still feel that it is not as versatile as some other options out there.
Since I cannot get the Flexus Cubus in 34mm anymore, I have reason to maintain those tyres for future seasons. Somehow I had slit the tread on the rear, maybe at Silverlake. The slice was just short of going into the casing, and I figured out that I could repair the wound in the rubber with a little bit of Aquaseal, which I have been using to seal the sidewall on CX tyres with cotton-poly casings like Challenge and FMB (Tufo’s vulcanized construction eliminates the need to seal the sidewall). The fix worked perfectly.
One key lesson that I learned was this: don’t take whiskey hand-ups during a race. I don’t know why I did it at Marymount; maybe the self-awareness that I was nowhere near the front of the singlespeed field. And I often have more than a shot of brandy or applejack immediately after the race, so what could it hurt to have a snort of the hard stuff in the final lap? All seemed well as I finished, but then I was overwhelmed with nausea. I was by the team tents when I started wretching, then soon I stumbled over to the treeline out of courtesy. Nothing was actually coming out of my mouth, but I wasn’t fit for moving for a good quarter hour.