Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Buying a Bike

October 16, 2011

Easily my favorite bike. How I miss it.


After 24 years riding the same bike, it’s time for a change. I don’t do this lightly. Technology advances passed me by, while I continued riding the well-proven Campagnolo Super Record and Dura-Ace six-speed index-shift derailleur on a steel frame.

As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been anything compelling since the mid-80s. Sure we now have carbon-fiber frames, freehubs, outboard bottom brackets, threadless integrated headsets, shift/brake levers, and pop type stems. Did I forget anything?

My bike works fine and is entirely serviceable. Is it so hard to reach down to shift gears?

The reason for the update is because the availability of components made in the mid-80s is about tapped out. Many cyclists have squirreled away mint-condition Campagnolo parts for show bikes. What a waste.

I’ve settled on a frame (more later), but the component group is still undecided. I’m leaning toward Shimano Ultegra 6700. After looking at Campagnolo, I decided it’s too exotic for my tastes. 10 speeds is more than enough. Do we really need 11?

Good Tire, Bad Tire

September 2, 2011

Bontrager tires mount with ease, while some Nashbar tires can be a hassle to mount by hand.


When it comes to tires, besides quality manufacturing, I look for ease of mounting: that means using hands only.

Yesterday I put two new tires on identical rims and found that one went on easily — Bontrager — and one was a bear to force on by hand — Nashbar. I’m not surprised.

I find myself pinching tubes when I use a tire iron, so I look for tires that go on easily, which they should. Air pressure keeps a tire on the rim, not how tightly it fits.

Now there is a certain skill to making a tire just the right diameter and you can be sure the people who really care about this make sure they get it right. Bontrager gets it.

Everybody screws up, including Continental, an otherwise great tire maker. I’ll never forget a cheap Continental I bought about five years ago, made in Thailand. It was the hardest tire to put on I’ve ever come across. I cursed that tire up and down every time I flatted!

The Nashbar is an economy model. I don’t need something fancy. I just wish tire companies would take the time to test-mount tires before selling them.

Before I get off my saddle sore, there’s one other item about tires that bears inspection. The bike industry would be doing consumers a big favor by making tires at actual widths, not nominal widths. If a tire sidewall says 700 x 28, make sure it has a 28-mm cross-section, not 25 mm.

Follow up: I have been told, and can now confirm through personal experience, that the rim plays a role in tire fit. The Nashbar tire fits easily onto a Mavic Open Pro 700c rim. I suspect this is because the rim is deeper than the Mavic MA2. I still contend that tire/rim combinations should be tested and rated for fit so the consumer can know what fits best. It’s not an impossible task.

World’s Most Comfortable Mountain Bike Saddle?

July 31, 2011

I like this saddle shape for the mountain bike.


After numerous long mountain bike rides I’ve decided there isn’t a saddle that makes riding as comfortable as being on a road bike. They’re different beasts.

That said, I like the Bianchi saddle. After a recent 84-mile ride I wasn’t nearly as sore as I had been on previous rides using traditional saddles. Of course, it’s not the Bianchi brand that matters, but the shape of the saddle. This saddle is more comfortable than the traditional racing saddle minus the groove down the middle.

Mountain bikes, as I’ve mentioned, put you in a different position on the bike compared to the road bike. I’ve found that, even with the bar-end extensions, I don’t have as many places to put my hands, which contributes to finger numbness. I wear gloves and have padded handlebars; the decrease in available hand positions is the problem.

World’s Most Uncomfortable Bike Saddle?

July 17, 2011

This is not a comfortable saddle for long mountain bike rides.

Could this saddle shown here be the world’s most uncomfortable for a mountain bike? It may have been standard issue by Trek in 2000, but I can’t say for sure. It’s not important. What’s important is finding a comfortable saddle for mountain bike riding.

This saddle, as you can see, is narrow and doesn’t have a groove down the middle, which I’m beginning to realize is a sore point with me. The ride position on the mountain bike is different from a racing road bike with drop bars. That’s because you’re more upright on a mountain bike and there’s more pressure on the saddle.

I switched saddles and tried the Avocet Gel, but it wasn’t any better. I have another saddle with an indent down the middle that came with the Bianchi commute bike. I’ll try that. My thought on mountain bike saddles is: wide, well padded, slot or indent down the middle to protect the prostate area.

Of course, young mountain bike racers will stick with the super-lightweight narrow saddles.

My mountain bike rides combine road and dirt and can be as many as 70 miles.

Microshift Gets into Gear

December 28, 2010

Bulky Microshift shifter is a tight fit next to brake lever.


The following information is intended for the three people out there who have worn out Shimano Deore shifters and want to replace them with something affordable.

MicroShift is a Taiwan company that makes basic, Shimano-compatible shifters, in business since 1999.

I recently replaced my Deore mountain bike shifters with MicroShift 9-speed shifters and I was pleasantly surprised by how well they work. At $29 they’re a great value.

Why the Deore shifters wore out is a mystery. I bought the bike used. It was about five years old (2000 model) and looked to be lightly ridden. I tried everything to get them to work, but they just wouldn’t shift reliably. When I moved the shift lever the gears would not engage. This shifter has no replacement parts. An oil “bath” did not fix the problem. Usually Shimano components are extremely reliable.

Installing the levers requires removing the bar grips and brake levers. Bar grips can be difficult to get off if they’re dry and sticking. Try peeling back the grip and adding a dab of liquid soap. The brake levers come off using a 5 mm allen key.

The old shifters also use a 5 mm allen key. Slip them off the bar and disengage the cable ends, another 5 mm allen key operation. Pull out the cable from the housing, remembering the sequence.
Slip on the rear shifter. The MicroShift shifter comes with a cable already installed.

Rethread the cable into the housing. I like to add a little oil. Pull the cable tight and secure the clamp with your 5 mm allen key. When reapplying the bar grips you may need to add a drop of liquid soap. On the other hand, if they’re loose try hairspray on the bar. I found that they’ll dry out and tighten up in a couple of days.

Assuming the shifter shifts well enough, I like to fine-tune the shifter using the cable adjustment nob where the cable comes out of the shifter. To learn more about adjusting the shifter, check out this video on Bicycle Tutor.

The front shifter is a bit more difficult to adjust. The cable has to be tight when tightening the cable clamp with the allen key. Fine-tune the shifter using the cable adjustment nob.

I’m not saying this shifter is something the pros use. It’s basic stuff and a bit bulky. It was a tight fit to get everything onto the bars. All in all, I give it 9 out of 10 stars for value, with one ding for being bulky.

Get a Charge Out of Riding an E-bike

November 16, 2010

Ultra Motor is based in San Francisco. They had three versatile models.


At Interbike, the largest U.S. bike show, electric bicycles have been around for a while, even though some bike purists snub their noses and think they don’t belong. Electric bikes belong and I hope they sell well.

Any two-wheeler that pulls someone out of a car gets my vote, and that includes motorcycles.

I tried out a couple of electric bikes at Interbike 2010, where 30 electric bike companies showed up. I was blown away by how fun they are to ride! I could see myself riding to work averaging 20 mph, instead of 14 mph. By law, electric bikes have a governor limiting their speed to 20 mph (not pedaling).

Looking more closely at electric bikes, you’ll discover they’re not a panacea. Batteries don’t last forever, they need recharging, the bikes are heavy, and they’re more complicated than a regular bike.

However, they can be a lifesaver for someone just getting into cycling. Millions of Americans are so unfit that the simple act of taking a walk or a bike ride is a challenge. Even experienced cyclists may find they have a place, especially for long commutes.

Different electrics
E-bikes, as they’re nicknamed, are changing rapidly as the market matures. Companies come and go. Volkswagen has even shown a folding e-bike, although it can’t be pedaled. Trek has an e-bike line. A recent trend is toward e-bikes that look more like motorbikes than bicycles. They can be pedaled, with effort. They’re big and bulky, have wide tires, and motorcycle-style throttles.

Some e-bikes have electric-assist or “pedelec” where power kicks in only when you pedal. Personally, I would opt for power-assist and look for the lightest possible bike. If you’re a home mechanic, you can buy a kit, which runs about $400, and retrofit.

Some big box stores sell affordable e-bikes (less than $500), but you’d be better off buying through a bike shop that can give professional advice and service, and sells better bikes that cost more but last longer. Cupertino Bicycles sells Ultra Motor e-bikes. It’s one of the best bike shops in the South Bay.

Most electric bikes run off a hub – front or rear – that generates power using a big electromagnet and planetary gears. Some retain the traditional freewheel for shifting gears. There are also mid-drive hubs that can mount under the bottom bracket or elsewhere on the frame.

Batteries are improving, but they will only give you a 20-mile range, at best, more likely around 10 miles reliably. Lithium ion batteries with an iron phosphate cathode — much lighter than NiMH batteries — are available. Of course, the more you pedal, the greater your range.

E-bikes generate between 300 and 600 watts. Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France could sustain 500 watts for about 20 minutes while climbing, so you can have all the strength of Lance on an e-bike.

Range is influenced by the following: wind, rider weight and load, road gradient, tire inflation, battery capacity, and motor efficiency. Riding uphill drains a battery quickly.

Stromer, an established name in Europe, is entering the U.S. in 2011.

I tried out two bikes: the Stromer from Switzerland, new the U.S. market, and the Ultra Motor A2B Metro ($2,700). The Stromer is more bicycle, while the Metro is more motorbike. The Stromer offers in one bike both “pedelec” assist (or power assist), and a handlebar throttle. You get to choose your mode.

E-bikes cost as much as $12,000, but $1,000 is typical price for a quality entry-level electric bike. For $2,000 you buy a more elaborate e-bike with a better battery and a throttle or mixed-mode throttle and power on demand.

Recharging a bicycle battery runs about 5 cents, which sure beats the price of a gallon of gas.

Taking the ‘White Roads’ to Success

October 29, 2010

Gary mixes personal cycling adventures with business advice. Insightful.

Ask Gary Erickson – Clif Bar founder – about his favorite bike rides, and he’ll tell you it’s those “white roads” in the Alps. Those are the narrow, winding roads – usually steep – that you’ll only find on maps with a lot of detail.

It’s here that Gary has had more than enough adventures to fill a book, which he does in Raising the Bar, ably weaving in ride stories and business philosophy that explores taking the more difficult “white roads” to business success.

Perils of partners
And what an adventure it has been. Anyone considering starting a business with a partner is well advised to read Gary’s honest assessment of the perils of partners. On another level, it’s a well documented blueprint for business leaders seeking a balance between profits and social responsibility.

All too often, American companies beholden to shareholders take the “red roads” to growth, more concerned about the bottom line than the quality of their products. The red roads on Europe’s maps are the more heavily traveled.

Gary will have nothing of that. He and his wife Kit put sustainable growth at the forefront. It’s a company with “mojo,” not afraid to take chances, but equally dedicated to employee personal growth and community involvement outside the office.

Nice touch for a meeting room.

New headquarters
Recently I had the opportunity to visit their new corporate headquarters in Emeryville, an industrial enclave sandwiched between the San Francisco Bay and Berkeley.

Already rated a top company to work for by Forbes magazine a few years back, Clif Bar has raised the bar. The building – an old valve factory, unused for decades – is state of the art, upgraded to LEED standards for green building certification. Among the perks is a child care center, multiple exercise rooms, and offices bathed in natural light from spacious bay windows.

Bike art hangs above the kitchen entrance.

Clif Bar has not forgotten its roots. According to Gary, “cycling is where Clif Bar got its start. It’s still at the core of our business.” Look up in the open office area and you’ll see dozens of bikes and components, as well as other core sports paraphernalia. “We call our hanging art ‘the Comet,’ Gary says. Cool stuff. Any interest in selling that Colnago? Clif Bar on Facebook.

Gary, right, meets employees and visitors during lunch.

Showers Pass Beats the Rain

October 25, 2010

Showers Pass Double Century jacket keeps out the rain.

Leave it to a company based in rainy Portland, Oregon, to make one of the best rain jackets. The aptly named Showers Pass brand is synonymous with quality foul-weather cycling gear.

I recently purchased and used the Double Century jacket, which retails for $125. You can spend up to $255 for a jacket.

A little about my background riding in the rain. I hate it. It’s uncomfortable and dangerous. However, as a dedicated commuter in Northern California, I expect rain. I also get caught in the rain on occasion during weekend rides, so a rain jacket is a necessity.

In all my years of riding, I’ve never owned a quality rain jacket. Of course, when I started riding, Gore-Tex and other “breathable” fabrics was unheard of. Over the years, breathable fabrics have gotten better and more affordable.

Is “breathable” real?
I’ve also been a big doubter of their worth. Do they really breathe? After riding in the rain on a recent weekend, I can say breathable fabrics work as advertised. It’s still not as comfortable as dry riding, but I don’t arrive home drenched in sweat from wearing a nylon-only jacket, and I’m fairly comfortable riding in the rain.

Features
Features to look for in a rain jacket, all present in the Double Century:

Breathability. The Gore-Tex patent for breathable fabric (basically Teflon) expired in 1996, so now we have lots of breathable clothing. The fabric’s pores allow body perspiration to escape, but keep out rain. Many breathable fabrics now have three layers, with the breathable fabric protected in the middle by more durable nylon fabrics.

Ventilation. My jacket has a vent across the back, a front zipper, and two vertical zippered vents below the arm pits.

Draw strings and Velcro. Many rain jackets have a waist draw string. Velcro wrist straps can be adjusted to keep out the rain. The Double Century has Velcro attachments around the neck for a detachable hood.

Visibility. Look for reflective material on the arms and back.

Packability. How much can a jacket be compressed? It matters if you’re riding light and you will be removing your jacket.

Of course, rain jackets made for cycling have a longer taper in the back to keep off road splash.

Showers Pass has an interesting rating matrix for durability, ventilation, packability, breathability, and waterproofness. In looking at the ratings, the Club Pro Jacket ($100) appears to have the best value.

The main advantage of the Double Century over the Club Pro is its packability. It can be compressed enough to stuff into a jersey pocket, with difficulty.

I like the Showers Pass rain jacket, but does it make me want to go out and ride in the rain? Not.

Bikes and Components Put to the Stress Test

October 20, 2010

Microbac's Steve Ferry, right, confers with an Interbike attendee


While trolling the booths at Interbike Las Vegas, I came across an interesting photo of a contraption that plays a vital role in bicycle industry product safety.

It’s a servo-hydraulic Universal Testing Machine (UTM) capable of performing most cyclic fatigue test protocols. Members of Microbac Laboratories, Hauser Division, located in Boulder, Colo., were on hand. Their division is a full-service chemical, mechanical, physical, and microbiological testing laboratory.

Stress cycles at maximum load
The photo showed a crank and pedals hooked up to the UTM. “We have seven tests for cranks, spindles, and pedals,” said Russ Willacker, Associate Engineer, “with stress durations ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 cycles.” By applying constant stresses at maximum expected loads, machines can provide much faster, more accurate, documented results compared with real-life road testing.

Microbac provides a valuable service for bicycle/component manufacturers desiring to document their product’s durability. While some bicycle companies do their own testing, that sounds to me like the fox guarding the hens.

Failure is not an option
When I described my experience with short-lived bike parts, Steve Ferry, Lab Director, made an important point about testing vs. real-world experience. “Even when a product passes a test, it doesn’t necessarily mean every part will have the same lifespan. There are manufacturing variances. In some instances there are defects in the manufacturing process itself. We determine if the part holds up to a given stress test as designed.”

If a part fails under test, it’s more than likely back to the drawing board for the manufacturer.

While it’s comforting to know bikes and components are tested before being sold, a company’s dedication to quality is crucial for how long parts last.

Standards bodies
So who determines how much stress to apply and for what duration? It’s up to safety and reliability standards bodies, such as ASTM — one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world – and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). While European governments require safety/durability tests, the U.S. government does not. “Most companies do the tests anyway for liability reasons,” said Willacker.

How these standards organizations work is a bit of a mystery, but they are an integral part of any industry. Most of their members are represented by a particular industry. So someone who works at Trek, Shimano, Specialized, on so on, will be a member of a particular bicycle standards committee. There will also be engineers on a committee who have no vested interest in a particular company.

In many instances, a standard specification will be strongly influenced by the dominant manufacturer. Agreeing on standards can and does lead to disagreements that need to be negotiated among standards committee members.

The U.S. bicycle industry adheres to standards set by ASTM and the International Organization for Standardization, (ISO), which has a special technical committee for bikes.

TC149 establishes: “Standardization in the field of cycles, their components and accessories with particular reference to terminology, testing methods and requirements for performance and safety, and interchangeability.”

CEN, European Committee for Standardization, also has a specific Technical Committee, TC333, that defines European standards for cycles. Some CEN bike standards were developed before ISO published their standards, leading to strong European influences in this area. European cycle standards tend to describe minimum safety requirements, while ISO standards have encouraged companies to make bike parts a particular way so they are interchangeable.

Airline safety lesson
Ferry and Willacker are both avid cyclists. When asked for if his perspective on bike part failures has changed since he started working at Microbac, Willacker said it has. “Riding my mountain bike and making a jump, I start thinking about the stresses involved.”

He believes the airline industry has the right idea. Airlines routinely schedule parts replacements, rather than chancing a catastrophic fatigue failure. It’s a good policy to keep in mind as your bike parts pile on the miles.

Bike Trailers for the Low-Tech

October 14, 2010

Maya Cycle's trailer turns into a wheelbarrow.

One of these days — when bikes rule the roads once again — we will find bike trailers indispensable, like the covered wagon. For Maya Cycle and Free Parable Design, that day can’t come too soon.

I saw their promising trailers at Interbike Las Vegas. I preface this review by saying I do not own a trailer, but wish I did. It can be useful for carrying large loads, like groceries, or for the bike camping tourist.

Maya Cycle a wheelbarrow
Maya Cycle offers a 16-inch single-wheel-style trailer. What I like about it is that it turns it into a wheelbarrow.

The trailer latches to solid or quick-release axles and weighs in at 13 pounds. The 16-inch tube tire is readily available. I’m told that a larger wheel is preferable because the tires last longer. It looks like a well-thought-out unit.

Free Parable T1
The Free Parable T1 is a cleverly designed two-wheel trailer (there’s also a single-wheel, the T2) that morphs into a piece of luggage. Its designer, Jung-Hui Weng, grew up in Taiwan and enjoyed riding his mountain bike to Chaishan Nature Park, where monkeys frolic. If you don’t believe me, just check out this website.

Jung-Hui Weng shows his low-tech trailer and water bottle cages.

Weng and co-worker Hwai Chen, based in San Jose, Calif., embrace the idea of “low-tech,” which is all about finding simple, elegant “cave man” solutions. That helps explain their whimsical logo.

Their trailer weighs in at 14 pounds and can carry about 66 pounds, same as the Maya Cycle. The Free Parable website shows how the trailer converts to a piece of luggage, complete with a bag cover. Neat.

Free Parable also has an unconventional water bottle cage, which, while solving one problem, creates another. The Monkii cage uses a Velcro strap, meaning it can accommodate any size water bottle. Clever. However, that means you need to stop to take a drink. That’s OK for some riders.

You can undo the Velcro to get to the bottle, or you can easily remove the bottle cage, which snaps into the bike frame mount. The Monkii cage can also serve as a tool bag or a waterproof bag. The Free Parable Design website has all the details.

Velcro becomes a low-tech solution for a water bottle cage.


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