Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Some Tire Makers Sell Smooth Tires

November 27, 2011

Tires with deep patterns like the one seen here do the cyclist no favors. They trap glass and rocks.


At the urging of Jobst Brandt, author of The Bicycle Wheel, Avocet marketed smooth-tread tires in the 1990s. Initially some cyclists thought they posed a hazard because they were “slick.”

However, Avocet knew better and had the test results to prove superior traction on dry and wet roads. After a time Avocet tires caught on, despite some difficulties in buying from the company. When Avocet went out of business, so went the tires.

Some tire companies have adjusted their product line to include smooth-pattern tires, but still include pattern tread in other models, including Continental. Michelin tires are pretty much all smooth and Bontrager sells smooth and pattern tread. These patterns do absolutely no good in rain. Hydroplaning is something car tires experience, not bike tires. Bike road tires have about an inch of contact and cannot trap water.

One tire I saw recently has deep patterns, which attract small rocks and glass shards. While smooth tires will pick up grit and glass too, a deep pattern encourages this undesirable event.

Custom-built Wheels Accompany New Bike

October 29, 2011

Components needed to build your own wheels.

Today was the first step to building a new bike. I assembled some wheels to my liking: Mavic Open Pro 700C rims, 36 holes; Shimano Ultegra hubs, Wheelsmith 14 gauge spokes.

I’m not a wheel builder any more than I am a car mechanic. I change my car oil and do other light maintenance. I learned how to build wheels 25 years ago, thanks to Jobst Brandt’s easy-to-understand instructions in The Bicycle Wheel.

This was the first set I had built in more than 20 years. My Mavic MA2 rims and Campagnolo hubs have served me well, only rarely breaking a spoke.

I like Ultegra hubs because they’re serviceable — no sealed bearings. MA2 rims haven’t been made in decades so I had to settle for the Open Pro. MA2 had an advantage with an internal sleeve that seated the spoke nipple better.

I use an ancient truing stand and a Park spoke wrench. The one item I used that’s not in the photo is a small flat-head screwdriver.

About 5 1/2 hours later I had a set of wheels. Ten-speed freewheels may give you more gears but they compromise wheel strength. The dish on the freewheel side is severe, putting more load on these spokes where torque is transmitted. Spokes are much more likely to break here than elsewhere.

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.


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