Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Mt. Hamilton Road 2013 Calendar

November 10, 2012

Mt. Hamilton Road 2013 calendar is available now on Magcloud.

One of my favorite spring rides is Mt. Hamilton Road, where you can enjoy great views of Santa Clara Valley and wildflowers. A 2013 calendar shows the flowers and some scenic rides.

Over my 32 years riding here I’ve seen great years for flowers and mediocre years. It’s generally better when there’s a lot of rain, but not always.

San Antonio Valley offers the best viewing on the east side of the mountain. It’s one of the more remote areas in the area, even though it’s a bike ride away. Enjoy.

2013 Alpine Road Calendar Available Now

November 7, 2012

Available on Magcloud, a 2013 calendar featuring Alpine Road from the 1980s.

Back in the 1980s Alpine Road started its slow decline into oblivion as San Mateo County abandoned the road. The last maintenance occurred in December 1989 when it was graded. However, the county never cleared culverts, so around 1994 a culvert plugged and a massive slide took out the road. That’s why there’s a steep, gnarly trail that has to be negotiated.

The 2013 calendar captures what it was like in its heyday. The calendar marks major U.S. holidays and area road races, although some dates are tentative. Enjoy.

Tired Out

September 6, 2012

Now that’s a slice. Early Avocet tires had a reputation for slicing.


You may wonder how my 26-year-old Avocet tire held up. It lasted eight weeks, about 850 miles. I could have gotten another 200 miles on it, but I had to change tires for a trip. That’s nothing to write home about. I’m told most fancy narrow lightweight tires last about 1,000 miles.

When I told friends I was riding the tire, they acted like I was taking my life into my hands. Well, I suppose the implied warranty would have expired about 25 years ago.

The tire held up well, but the rubber sliced badly. Avocet’s early tires were known for slicing, which was addressed in later versions. Traction was great, but tire life suffered.

Avocet tires had superior casings. Even though the tire shredded, the casing never had issues.

So far the best tire has been the Continental Grand Prix 4-Season. Talk about tough. It’s expensive for a reason.

Sony RX100 Lives Up to the Hype

September 3, 2012

Sony’s RX100 pocket camera takes great pics with plenty of megapixels.

In the age of digital everything, progress doesn’t stand still and that applies to pocket cameras. Five years ago I bought the Canon PowerShot SD850, which at the time offered everything I could ask for. At 8 megapixels it could take photos large enough for my needs. However, it suffered in low light.

I was about to buy the Canon S100 when I came across the newly released Sony RX100. Camera pundits believe that Sony targeted the Canon S100 as its main competition. Both cameras are about equal, especially in low-light due to their “fast” lenses (f1.8 for Sony, f2.0 for Canon), although I give the edge to Sony for its larger sensor and megapixel count. You will pay about a $250 premium for the advantage.

While pixel count isn’t necessarily the most important measure of a camera, it helps when it comes time to crop. You’ll have more detail to work with. Larger prints are possible, although files are larger. The RX100, like the Canon S100, shoots in RAW. Talk about large files! I don’t see much reason to shoot in RAW except when you know your photos will appear in National Geographic.

I used it in a low-light situation (see photo – unedited) and was amazed at the quality. This photo taken with the SD850 would have been full of noise (grainy). Even my DSLR Pentax Kx camera’s image seemed lacking in comparison. Sony tends to saturate colors, so that accounts for some of the difference.

Another nice feature of the RX100 is the panorama mode. All you do is shoot and pan the camera as it fires off shot after shot. Stitching is done automatically in-camera.

The aluminum-body RX100 is larger than the Canon S100, but only slightly. For cycling it’s about as large as I want to go, and fits neatly inside most jersey pockets.

No camera is perfect. The RX100 lacks a viewfinder. Although back screens are much brighter today, there are still occasions when sunlight makes viewing difficult and a viewfinder would come in handy.

Is it the best pocket camera ever made, as claimed by a New York Times writer and DPReview? Perhaps. I haven’t found anything better.

Lick Observatory 36-inch refractor on Mt. Hamilton. Click on image for full size.

Tsk, Tsk, Tsk Shimano

August 14, 2012

I haven’t had a lot of luck with Shimano pedals. This one started ticking after only a few months.


If I hear that “tick, tick, tick” sound again, I think I’m going to give up cycling. For months I’ve struggled with the annoying tick. Turns out it’s not all my doing. First it was the loose quick-release. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but the carbon-fiber fork’s a different beast from steel. I also thought I had a bad pedal months ago, but discounted it when I found the quick-release issue.

Still, I had a minor tick that grew worse over time. It ticked only when seated, not while riding out of the saddle. Finally, I decided to take off the Shimano PD M-540 pedal and try another. Sure enough, it was the pedal causing the tick, the same one I thought to be defective months ago. It was only months old, so it’s certainly a defect. Shimano’s warranty is a generous two years on parts.

I can’t recall my Campagnolo Super Record pedals ever having problems. I maintained them annually. They were crude by today’s standards but they had larger ball bearings than my Shimano pedals and that could be one reason why I’ve had two bad Shimano pedals. I may have just been unlucky, but I don’t think so.

Avocet: more than just a shorebird

July 4, 2012

A new Avocet Road 30 tire. Outstanding ride in the mid 1980s, and it still matches the best tires made today.


To celebrate the 4th of July I mounted my one and only Avocet FasGrip 30 Kevlar-bead tire. And as fate would have it, I stumbled across a new Avocet racing II saddle at the Bicycle Outfitter, the place to go if you’re looking for Avocet products of yore. I rode Avocet Road 20 tires for years, but I never tried the Road 30.

I aged this tire like a fine wine, buying it in 1986 and carrying it as a spare on my ride through the Alps. I never mounted the tire and it just sat there in my travel bag for the past 26 years. While aging rubber is not a good thing, as it is for wine, the tire looks as good as new. An interesting discovery: the 700×28 tire is only 24 mm wide, one of the most egregious width discrepancies I’ve ever seen in a tire, or it’s a mislabeled 700×25.

Avocet made its reputation in saddles, and deservedly so. This one was manufactured by Selle Italia, but Avocet made saddles in the U.S. for a time, including the comfortable Gelflex.

I checked eBay and you can buy a pair of new wire-bead Avocet tires for $92. Road 20s sold for $12.98 each in 1987. My Road 30 tire went for $18.98.

After a trip on the Racing II I can tell you it’s a comfortable ride, but if you have prostate issues, use the newer saddles shaped to relieve pressure in that area.

Michelin Man: You’re off the hook

June 25, 2012

Torn tires can leave you with the deflated feeling. Be sure to boot these tears or risk a blowout.


After thinking over what happened to my tire, I’ve concluded it was my fault! There’s no way a rock could cause these slashes and I haven’t had any sticks caught in my tire. I do recall though opening a door at work and the door bottom with its sharp edge rubbing the tire, maybe on two occasions.

Slice. Tire cords can withstand enormous pressure, but they’re delicate strands when it comes to sharp edges. That’s not to say a rock can’t break cords, or a stick.

A few weeks ago, riding on Highland Way–not the smoothest road in the Santa Cruz Mountains–Charlie Kempner hit a rock (I heard it “ping!”) and it not only cut the cords on his fancy new 23mm tire, it gouged the rim! The best minds in cycling have debated what causes these cuts on Rec.bike, including Sheldon Brown and Jobst Brandt.

While I may be at fault, I think the Michelin sidewalls are less durable than others, but some say that supple style gives a better ride. The Continentals seem to have the best sidewalls.

All That Glitters is Not Gold

April 1, 2012

Gold end caps add the ultimate finishing touch to a show bike.

By now you know I didn’t win the Mega Millions lottery, but I have invested in something just as lucrative – 24K gold end caps.

Shimano’s cheesy aluminum end caps don’t cut it. I wanted something with a little more class, something that would stand out in a crowd of fancy carbon-fiber wunder bikes.

So I went to a nearby jeweler and ordered a custom-built 24K gold end cap. Cost: $700.

There’s more than vanity going on here. I ride in remote areas and there’s no telling what sort of bind I might find myself in. A little piece of gold could go a long way to helping me out of a jam.

What’s nice about the lowly end cap is that it’s not a likely candidate for theft. Who would ever guess it’s gold? If you’re interested in owning a gold end cap, let me know and I’ll give you the jeweler’s information.

Ritchey Break-Away Design a Study in Elegant Simplicity

December 10, 2011

An additional 5 mm seat bolt and a simple downtube clamp is all it takes to make a Break-Away. It comes with a 4 mm torque key.


What I like about the Ritchey Break-Away and the reason I chose it as my main bike is its simple elegance. It harkens to a phrase adopted by Apple’s Steve Jobs as his product mantra: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

The Break-Away looks like any bike. You would never know it can be separated with two allen keys (4, 5 mm).

I may never travel with it but, if I do, it comes with a nice luggage bag that’s not noticeably larger than standard luggage. Disassembly is straightforward.

I asked Tom Ritchey how he came to build the Break-Away. By the way, the design was patented in 2002.

“About 10 years ago I wanted to ride my bike more and use it everywhere I traveled. I looked at other designs and they all added weight and interrupted the design of the bike so that it ended up being a disadvantage.

“It struck me that it could be done simply and straightforward. I tested the idea without investing a lot of money and tooling. I built a bike, took it on a trip and kept riding it for more than a year. I realized there was little disadvantage compared to a regular bike in performance, weight or stiffness. Now it’s all I ride.”

Tom also built a Break-Away tandem, and has a cross-bike as part of the Break-Away line.

I’ve ridden the Break-Away for about 400 miles, twice in the Santa Cruz Mountains on dirt and rough pavement. It equals and in some areas exceeds expectations compared to my custom steel bike of 24 years.

I’m not going to extol the bike “ride” virtues as you might read in a bike magazine. It handles well, especially on descents. The carbon-fiber fork absorbs shock and contributes to the feeling of control while descending. The rest of the bike is steel.

There is no “toe clip” overlap (a term from the days of toe clips describing the front wheel hitting the shoe tip when the front wheel is turned at slow speed).

I can’t comment on climbing, as though the kind of bike makes a big difference here. I’m a slug now. There is no frame flex. The Break-Away would make a great racing bike.

One item of note to a narrow audience: If you ride 28 mm tires, there isn’t much clearance. I use 28 mm on the rear and 25 mm on the front. (Update: I’m using 700 x 28 on the front with no clearance problem.) Also, my Silca pump that fit the down tube on the old bike now fits under the top tube. The Break-Away has a sloping top tube. Velcro or some other material is needed to prevent pump rattle.

On smooth dirt roads, like Los Gatos Creek Trail, the narrow clearance is a non-issue. It would only come into play on muddy roads. Shimano’s Ultegra brakes are also unfriendly to 28 mm tires. It’s a clearance issue when removing the wheel.

I look forward to many more rides on the Break-Away in the years ahead.

Ritchey Break-Away Making Inroads

December 4, 2011

Dave Prion explains how tight to crank the two seat post bolts on the Ritchey Break-Away.


At first glance the Ritchey Break-Away® Pro looks like any road bike, but on closer examination there’s good reason for calling it a “Break-Away.”

The frame comes apart at the seat tube for easy breakdown and transport in a soft travel bag, which comes with the bike, as does the Ritchey headset.

I heard about the bike several years ago and remember watching the video on assembly and disassembly. It seemed interesting at the time, but I wasn’t in the market for a new bike. It turns out Dave Prion, manager at Bicycle Outfitter, and cycling commentator Bruce Hildenbrand also ride Break-Aways. I decided to take the plunge.

My past 24 years was spent riding the same road bike, built by Dale Saso, and using ancient Campagnolo parts. I was ready to join the 21st century. I could have had a bike custom-built, but the Break-Away intrigued me, not only for the transportability, but also because I wanted to try a carbon-fiber fork.

The original Break-Away came with a steel fork, but now uses a carbon-fiber fork and steer column. The rest of the bike is steel with fillet-brazed joints. I debated using a steel fork, but decided to see if carbon-fiber would hold up and if the ride was noticeably different.

After buying the bike at Bicycle Outfitter I settled on Shimano Ultegra components and Shimano Ultegra hubs with Mavic Open Pro 36-hole rims. I chose a 50-34 chainwheel and 11-25 freewheel, which gave me a wider range of gears than I had on the old bike (52-42 and 14-24).

Once I had all the parts and bike, Bicycle Outfitter kindly let me assemble it in their shop, although Dave and shop mechanic Kenny Ellis did almost everything. I could assemble and disassemble my old bike, but this was all new technology and I had no clue.

I would not recommend doing assembly yourself, especially when it comes to the headset and steer column sizing.

I had to be fit for the bike and after 20 years living with the same setup I was due for a major change. I needed a much shorter, higher stem. This change is mostly due to old age.

The carbon fiber fork needs to be cut and while it’s easy to cut with a hacksaw, you need to know exactly what length the fork column needs to be, which depends on the type of headset and how high you want your stem. The worst thing that could happen is to cut the column too short.

Carbon-fiber forks use a unique clamp in place of the star nut found on threadless headsets with steel fork columns. Understanding how this works is important to maintain the carbon-fiber fork’s integrity.

Assembly took about four hours with me getting in the way. I also needed to learn about the ins and outs of assembly and disassembly of the frame for transport. More on that later…


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