Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Bicycle tires have “r-evolved”

June 25, 2022

Two new tires for my mountain bike. Tired of riding nobbies on pavement. Schwalbe (394 gm) is smooth! Protek heavy at 686 gm, for rear wheel to reduce chance of flat.

There’s nothing sexy about a bicycle tire, as much as the manufacturers would like you to think so.

They make the tread with flashy bumps and dimples, for what? Better traction? No, looks matter even when it comes to tires. At least that was the opinion of one cyclist in 1985. Jobst Brandt had the ear of Avocet and they listened to his argument for a smooth tire, or a “slick.”

What got Jobst going on this rant was the early 80s Specialized touring tire with a raised center ridge. He hated the ridge.

The U.S. bicycle company enlisted the Japanese to build FasGrip tires in 1985. Jobst posed for an advertising photo — riding down Pescadero Creek Road (Haskins Hill) doing 35 mph, his six-foot-five body and massive yellow frame banked over at a perilous angle.

The howls of protest and arguments in the cycling community against treadless tires could not be quelled by Jobst, no matter how logical or scientific his answers. People like to believe myths: “slick tires reduce traction, especially in the wet.”

Here are two exchanges Jobst had on Bike.rec:

From: (Jobst Brandt)
Subject: Re: “Slicks” tyres advice needed
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996

Roger Marquis writes:

There is really only one drawback to slick tires on pavement and that’s
wet traction. Even fat slicks can be very slippery compared to treaded
tires on wet roads. Knobby tires on the other hand have little
traction on wet or dry pavement.

“Unless the words “can be very slippery” are a dodge, this statement is
without foundation and reeks of bicycling myth and lore. It took
decades for smooth tires to migrate from dragsters to racing cars, and
more decades after that to make the transition to motorcycles. Today,
bicycles are the last holdout even though theirs are the least water
affected tire of the vehicles mentioned.

“For the bicycle, the width of the contact patch, its shape, and the
inflation pressure, combined with the bicycle’s relatively low speed,
make water on the road no more a hazard than a light film of moisture.
All the water that can be made to escape from between tire and road,
does this better without tread features than with. Water on slick
surfaces, such as paint stripes, manhole covers, or railway tracks
cannot be removed by tread patterns, just as a sharp-edged squeegee
glides over a wet window.

“The contact patch of a bicycle tire is a sharply pointed canoe-shape
that first makes contact in the center and spreads as the contact area
increases toward the center of pressure. Similar to aircraft tires
that are also smooth except for tread-depth gauging grooves, the round
cross section prevents water entrapment as that makes hydroplaning
possible with automobile tires with their rectangular contact patch
having a broad front. Road bicycles need tread about as much as a
garden wheelbarrow. Of course the wheelbarrow has tread for the same
spurious reasons.

“It is evident that the tread on current motorcycles is essentially
smooth except for some widely spaced artistic lines. The flat and
smooth areas between them are many times as large as bicycle tire
contact patches. These tires are neither directional nor do they have
micro sipes or any “drainage” grooves. When I read bicycle tire
advertisements today, they remind me of motorcycle tire ads from
magazines of 40 years ago. I think that is the fare to which Roger is
treating us.”

From: (Jobst Brandt)
Subject: Re: bicycle tire science (was “Re: drifting”)
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 1996

Matt O’Toole writes:

This has been conclusively established on tire testing equipment
both at the joint tire testing facility in Japan (IRC) and on
equipment that I designed for Avocet to measure rolling resistance (RR) and breakout
lean angle of various tire designs.

“If such testing facilities actually exist, why do they keep selling
tires that go against all common sense design principles? Why does
IRC keep selling road racing tires with tread, and mountain bike
tires with squishy, useless knobs?

“It is easier to pander to the fears of the customer than to try to
reverse commonly held beliefs. Since cornering is not a primary demand
in racing, and most racers are not ones to press that facet of racing,
tires with fine profiles will continue to be the choice of riders.
Motorcycles, until recently, had deep tread patterns on road machines.
Today, from imitating racing tires, they generally ride slicks that
have enough tread lines in them to pass the law that states that motor
vehicles shall not operate with slick tires, a law based on automobile
tires that have a cylindrical surface instead of a toroid.”

Bicycle tire technology has improved over the decades, no doubt about it. Better materials and rubber types and combinations speak to the enhancements, not tread type.

So, can you still buy smooth tires today? I was asked by a reader. I knew there were a handful of models, so I searched the Web and came up with this list. To be considered, the tire must have no bumps, ridges, or lines of any size anywhere on the rubber. Clincher tire unless noted otherwise:

ContinentalSprinter (tubular), Podium (tubular), Grand Prix TT, Tempo II19, 25, 22 mm
GoodyearEagle F1 Supersport23, 25, 28
IRCNone (have chevrons)
MaxxisHigh Road SL23, 25, 28
MichelinTime Trial, Power Cup (tubular and clincher), Lithion2, Dynamic Sport Access25 mm; 23, 25, 28; 23, 25; 23, 25, 28
PanaracerAgilest, Duro, Closer Plus23, 25, 28 (2); 20, 23, 25
RitcheyRace Slick21, 23, 25
SchwalbeKojak 26 x 1.35, 2.0
Veloflex*Corsa Evo (minor pebble pattern)23, 25, 28
WTBThickslick Comp, Flat Guard23, 25, 28

There are quite a few more brands, but they’re niche or would not have what I’m looking for. Road Bike Rider has a list.

I found one affordable, smooth tire for everyday road riding. I’m giving the WTB Thickslick a try. Most everything here is for time trials, track, racing, and expensive.

Schwalbe has a nice smooth tire for 26 inch wheels, oddly enough, given that this size is for the mountain bike crowd.

Without a durable, long-lasting smooth tire in the lineup, I favor the Continental Gatorskin. It lasts longer than other brands, it’s affordable, and it’s reliable. I can live with their silly dimples.

WTB Thickslick 28 mm. Nice looking tire.
I’ll give it a try.

Accuracy test: Specialized Speed Zone Pro vs. Garmin Edge 500

January 5, 2021

They’re 99.2 percent accurate. Is that close enough?

What’s more accurate? A wireless cyclometer from 2000 or a Garmin Edge 500 with GPS, released in October 2009.

I can’t say for sure, but given the recent test, I’d say wireless cyclometers, with the proper calibration, are just as accurate.

On my morning ride — clear skies, smooth, flat roads — the difference after 26 miles came to 25.99 (Garmin) vs. 26.19 (Specialized).

That distance means a lot to runners. It’s the length of a marathon.

So, doing the math, one of the cyclometers is 99.2 percent accurate. Close enough, right?

Not so fast. Let’s say 25.99 is the correct number. If the marathon were to be run based on the Specialized measurement, it would mean a runner has to cover an extra 1056 feet, or 352 yards.

Were this to be a world record attempt, where seconds matter, the runners would be way better off saving 352 yards, or about 60-70 seconds.

Even when doing a century ride, having to pedal another 0.8 miles isn’t a deal breaker.

Meanwhile, note that the Bay Trail at the Sunnyvale water treatment plant has been rerouted again. More pipe work is going on behind the facility.

Bay Trail rerouting will be another couple of weeks at Sunnyvale water treatment plant.

Bored games for when you’re not riding

July 10, 2020

My favorite two-player board games.

My life revolves around the bike, but I also play games. Since these are strange times during a pandemic, I’m going to share one way to keep busy and entertained when not cycling.

These are my 10 favorite 2-player (or more) games. They’re easy to learn and play and they’re especially good for replaying time and again:

Blokus – A Tetris-type tile laying game. Gemblo is similar but with hexagonal pieces.

Manhattan – (2 to 4) Play cards to build highrises. The only downside is that there’s a lot of trashing of your opponent, necessary to win.

Tiny Towns – (2 to 4) A puzzle game using cards representing different types of buildings. Extremely engaging, and frustrating at the same time.

Reef – (2 to 4) Build reef structures using cards with different patterns. Like Tiny Towns, engaging and frustrating. Highly replayable.

Azul – (2 to 4) Lay down colored tiles on a square grid. Simple to learn and play, but always a challenge.

Take It Easy – (2 to 8) Lay down hexagonal tiles on a board with 19 spaces. Each tile has a three-color-stripe design. Simple puzzle with high replay value.

Lost Cities – Card game where you build suits 1 to 10 of a color. Easy to play, and addictive.

Qwixx – (2 to 5) Dice rolling game with a unique way of scoring. Lots of dice rolling…

Can’t Stop – (2 to 4) Dice rolling game (I built my own board) where you try to roll combinations 2 to 12. Not much to it, but fun.

Backgammon – One of the world’s oldest games. It’s an acquired taste. Some may not appreciate its repetitive nature when knocking opponents.

Bonus game…

Splendor (2 to 4) Incredibly simple to play “engine building” card game. Acquire various gems to gain points. Addictive.

Battery-free lights use eddy currents for power

May 27, 2020

I’m a sucker for high-tech lighting solutions so I spent some time studying the new Magnic Lights out of Germany. Ironically, these lights are illegal in that country. Doh!

I don’t see that they’re readily available after a Kickstarter campaign. You never know how those are going to pan out.

These lights promise battery-free, non-resisting energy generated by the moving rim. Strong batteries are required to generate an eddy current.

They don’t say how much resistance is created but I can’t imagine it’s much, and it doesn’t take lots of power to drive an LED light.

I don’t ride at night anymore, so I’m not highly motivated to own one, but it looks like promising technology.

Here’s another similar product, Reelight, with traditional dynamo-magnet technology. It’s clunkier, but available now.

New handlebars give my neck a “break”

March 9, 2020

Old-style handlebars give my neck the relief I have been searching for.

After a couple months seeking a cure for my sore neck, I’m making progress. It will never be that same as it was before my 1981 accident, but I’m finding ways to cope.

The x-rays showed nothing all that bad for a senior citizen. In a word, it’s osteoarthritis. That’s a catch phrase, which includes misaligned vertebrae and bone spurs.

I already had eight weeks of massage therapy, which helped loosen tight muscles, but it could not undo the pain of arthritis, most notably when I turn my neck to the right.

More consultation with a physical therapist has given me some excellent stretching exercises that will loosen tight muscles, and that will improve neck mobility.

But I needed something more before I could ride comfortably.

It came in the form of an upright position in the saddle, and I mean upright.

I purchased Sunlite Northroad alloy handlebars. They have the shape found on 3-speeds of days gone by.

I couldn’t think of a handlebar that would help me sit more straight. These have a sweep back of 7.5 inches from the stem.

Now my neck doesn’t bother me. I switched to a saddle with more padding for my upright position.

The handlebars have a fair amount of give in them, which helps absorb road shock.

Now I’m the only rider on the planet with these handlebars and Campagnolo Super Record cranks.

I added some Shimano EF41 3/7-speed brake/shift levers.

In addition to all these helpful changes, I installed my waxed chain. What a difference.

I pedaled over to Dale Saso’s to show him my Frankenbike. More on that later.

I’ll still ride my Ritchey with the drop bars in the hills.



Bay Area Bike Rides Deck now in digital format

February 27, 2020

Kindle map sample shown on my smart phone.

And now a word from our sponsor. Bay Area Bike Rides Deck, for the first time, is available in digital format, on Kindle.

The print deck and Kindle went on sale this week.

I had a look and I’m delighted with how the Kindle version turned out. Each map and text page is faithfully reproduced.

As a bonus, you can magnify the maps to see the terrain in stunning detail. I spent hours noodling over the roads in magnified mode when I made them. I didn’t just guess where the roads went.

By double-tapping on a page, you can quickly scroll through thumbnails. It’s an elegantly simple design. It appeals to the minimalist in me.

As a reminder, all of the routes are available for download into a bike computer on Ride with GPS.

Close-up view of a map on Kindle.




Shimano’s Ultegra levers somewhat fragile

January 12, 2020

Shimano Ultegra 6700 front shifter fail at cable head.



UPDATE: After mulling over the failure, it might be that two hard crashes on the left shifter caused the spring failure. The shifter has many fragile parts, including the post where the spring clipped in. I haven’t seen any complaints similar to mine, so that makes me think the crashes caused the failure, not normal wear and tear.

Once you’ve been riding as long as I have, you too can trace the arc of bike component design evolution. I hope your results turn out better than what I’m seeing.

Inspired by my recent YouTube immersion watching people fix things, I dived into a complete overhaul of my Ritchey Break Away with Shimano Ultegra 6700 components. I figured this will be the last time I embark on such an odious task.

And now for the results. The brake calipers, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleur work flawlessly after 50,000 miles. The chainwheels have seen better days and need replacement. However, I stripped the allen bolts holding the chainwheels together. I could probably fix them, but it’s not worth the trouble.

The open-bearing hubs are working fine, but I find them difficult to adjust. The Mavic Open Pro rims I built are true.

That leaves the shift levers. Here’s where I think the bike industry is doing consumers a disservice. They’re way too complicated, with lots of little bits that break over time.

The front shifter “failed” when I took out the old cable. The tiny part that holds the cable head in place [more likely the spring clip] has disintegrated. Realistically, they’re not serviceable, and they cost $400 a set.

I didn’t realize that the Ultegra levers have electronic components (ribbon cable, circuit board) inside them, despite not having electronic shifting in mine.

New Shimano 105 front lever where cable head seats.

A bike manufacturer needs to reintroduce downtube shifters. Not that those are any better when it comes to maintenance. They also have a lot of tiny parts that break or wear out, but cost a lot less.

The new brake levers would keep the ergonomic shape of modern brakes. The Campagnolo Nuovo Record levers were small and not so comfortable, at least in old age.

I decided to buy Shimano 105, levers and crankset. I bought a new BB just because I’ve got everything apart and it doesn’t make sense to keep it when a new one is $24.

Shimano 105 costs half as much as Ultegra and will be fine for my needs.

The frame has no dents or cracks. It will outlive me, for sure.


Follow up: The front shifter has broken bits inside that caused the springs to stop working. That makes sense because I noticed more difficult shifting, but just figured it was old age. I need another lever to see which parts are broken.


“Bike Column Memories” brings the 1980s to life

December 17, 2019

Available now on Amazon.

Back in the 1980s I wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle (1985-1988). I repackaged the articles and posted them in print and ebook. Available on Amazon.


Kindle ebook

There’s more…I’m packaging this blog into a single ebook, with photos.

And even more soon…but it’s a secret. Stay tuned.

Cameras capture memories to last a lifetime

March 8, 2019

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. For the past seven years I’ve been using a Sony RX100. In camera years, that’s about a century.

The camera works flawlessly and at 20 megapixels it’s all I need for resolution. What came before the Sony is a series of cameras dating back to December 1980. Here’s the history.

Previous to the Sony, I used a Canon PowerShot SD850 starting in 2007, 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.

Canon SD850is, my go-to camera before the Sony RX100

It was small, durable, had a viewfinder, panorama mode, and took great photos. It was a sophisticated camera with a lot of adjustability in its day. That’s good and bad.

When you’re out on a bike ride you typically don’t want to fuss with settings. I shoot in manual mode on occasion, but I find myself using the Auto setting most of the time.

This camera also had excellent 640×480 video. However, don’t forget that wind noise will ruin the audio, and there’s plenty of wind while riding.

Days of Film
I’m going to turn back the time machine to the days of film. Remember film? I started taking photos on bike rides in December 1980 when I bought an Olympus XA pocket camera. By no means was it the first pocket camera, but it was one of the first mass-produced, affordable, lightweight pocket cameras on the market. It took great photos.

Olympus XA2 was a fantastic value and one of the best film pocket cameras ever made.

No discussion of pocket cameras would be complete without mentioning the Rollei 35. Introduced in 1966, the German-made (later Singapore) camera was revolutionary in its day. It took superb photos, however it was dogged by a light meter needle that broke. Later versions went to LED light meters, but they had their own problems.

I use a long neck strap and put the camera in my jersey pocket, protected in a sandwich bag to keep out the sweat. These pocket cameras are so easy to handle I can take photos while riding no-hands.

In the days before digital, I shot mostly Kodak 64 color transparencies. We had a Kodak lab in Palo Alto that could give a quick turn-around at a good price. I’ve digitized many of my slides using a Konica Minolta Dimage Scanner, no longer made.

Contax T disappoints
In 1985 I decided to upgrade, so I spent a whopping $400 on a ContaxT. It was supposed to be the best pocket camera in the universe. By any measure, it was a finely crafted pocket camera, but I can’t say it was worth the price. I got comparable results with the Olympus. Photos of my Europe trips were taken with the Contax T.

Contax T promised the world in film but didn’t deliver. A fine camera, but prone to breaking.

What was worse, my dream camera broke, not once but twice. I returned it and paid $135 each time for a repair, neither of which lasted long. I would get back clear slides. The shutter must have been sticking.

My last film camera was a Pentax IQ Zoom about 1993. It was bulky but it had a 135 mm zoom. I mostly shot print film for family memories. A handful of ride photos were taken with this camera.

Enter the digital world
In 2004 I switched to digital, starting with a Fuji Finepix a303. At 3 megapixels it was fine for the Web. The camera was easy to use and took great photos.

Fuji Finepix was my first digital camera. A great workhorse that delivered fine pics.

Longing for something with more pixels, I purchased a Pentax Optio S60 (6 MP) in 2006. Pentax has long been my favorite camera maker, but I discovered a drawback. I basically had to compose the photo without a viewfinder. The LCD screen was large, but in bright light I couldn’t see what I was shooting.

Pentax OptioS60 was good, but not great as a digital camera.

Still, it was a fine camera and I used its special panorama setting often. Software that came with the camera could stitch together three photos.

It’s amazing to see all the excellent pocket cameras on the market. No matter which brand you choose, you can’t go wrong. These magic boxes preserve memories and that’s about as close as we’ll ever get to being young and strong again.

Today’s best cameras
I recommend two cameras: the Sony RX100 Model III and the Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II. I think Sony overreached with its latest RX100 Model VI. It sacrifices low-light performance for zoom. Canon’s G9 Mark II is easily the best value. Both cameras are the smallest on the market.

Finally, a word on smartphone cameras. They’re great, but I sometimes like to preserve an image in RAW format. RAW has huge advantages over jpeg for preserving image quality. Some phones will capture in RAW, so check it out if you don’t want a dedicated camera.

GPS vs. Avocet 35: Which is more accurate?

April 1, 2018

Avocet 35 cyclometer compares favorably against the Garmin 500 for miles ridden.

Don’t expect me to give you an answer to this burning question. The Avocet 35 was one of the most accurate cyclometers on the market, and still is today, long after it bit the dust.

I calibrated my Avocet cyclometer before the ride, and measured it against a known distance to confirm. The tire pressure may have been off a few pounds.

The result on a recent ride with some rocky trail was 46.55 miles for Avocet, 46.47 to the Garmin Edge 500.

I looked up the accuracy of GPS and came across Sheldon Brown’s description (speaking to us from the grave) of GPS, which has interesting details explaining why GPS can have some variations. A must read.

On a ride back in 2008, I compared the VDO with the ancient Specialized Pro. My Hecker Pass route totaled exactly the same distance of 95.72 miles!

Two of my favorite cyclometers matched perfectly on a 95 mile ride. Uncanny.