Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Lost my appetite for Michelin Optimum Pro tires

May 12, 2015

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Without question I love French cuisine, but I’ve lost my appetite for Michelin bike tires.

The French manufacturer was one of the first to abandon pattern tread, which I’m sure is one reason Jobst Brandt tried their tires back in the late 1980s. The tires didn’t last long and Jobst quickly quit using them.

I got 2,743 miles on my Michelin Optimum Pro ($46.39, 700×25) and probably could get more but the sidewalls look so shabby that I’m not going to take the risk of a sudden failure. I had a couple of other Optimum models and had the same issues.

I’m no tire expert, but from the looks of it the sidewalls are a separate layer of fabric from the inner tire wall. I can peel back the outer layer in areas where it’s separating.

The tires seemed good in every other respect. The rear “model” was supposed to have more tread than the front, which is a dubious selling point. I’m not pleased with 2,700 miles. A tire should last at least 3,000 miles, which is the length of a U.S. transcontinental ride.

I don’t see this tire listed on the Michelin website. It’s just as well.

Shimano CN6701 chain lasts about 4,000 miles

April 16, 2015

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

I have assiduously cleaned my chains over the past 15 months and now the results are in. Swapping between two chains, cleaning them about once a month, they lasted about 4,000 miles each.

I use the Park chain-wear indicator tool and dump the chain between the 0.5 and 0.75 measurement. I found that the chain only needs a couple hundred miles to go from 0.5 to 0.75. Another interesting observation is that half the chain indicates more wear than the other half.

I use Simple Green to clean the chains. After removal I put it into a wide-mouth container and shake vigorously, then let sit for a day. I then remove the chain, wash it off with water and sun-dry.

For lubricant I am currently using ProLink ProGold. Before that I used Finish Line Dry. The ProLink seems to hold up a little better over the miles (doesn’t need more lubrication), but it’s not a big difference.

The days of using car oil are over; these fancy Shimano chains require a teflon-like lubricant that can penetrate the narrow gaps.

My Shimano Ultegra freewheel is still working well after three years and five months, about 22,000 miles. As soon as I start having chain skip, I’ll replace it.

Rideye offers “black box” evidence video

March 10, 2015
Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

While there are already video cameras suitable for bikes (GoPro, Mobius, Sony), the recently available Rideye, a Kickstarter project, offers “black box” features not found in other cameras.

Is it worth the $200 asking price for the 8GB version? It all depends on what you’re looking for in a camera. If your primary concern is to have evidence video in the event of an accident — the Rideye (pronounced “ride eye”) is the obvious choice.

It’s built like a tank. We’re talking about a CNC 6061-T5 aerospace-grade aluminum body, which can withstand some serious pounding in the event of a crash.

The built-in accelerometer insures that the video up to and including impact will be captured.

Battery life is about 10 hours. While that’s way better than the Mobius (1 hour) or GoPro (2-5 hours), it’s still not long enough for an all-day ride. Battery technology has room for improvement. Electronics can be designed to use less power, but the bigger issue is lithium-ion battery chemistry.

I’ve been using the Rideye and I don’t have any major complaints, just minor ones. First, this is not a light camera. It weighs in at 200 grams (mount included). You’ll notice it has some heft when you pick it up.

Second, the rubber band that wraps around the handlebar may stretch with use. Only time will tell. It’s a clean, simple design, but it may sacrifice durability for convenience. There is some jiggling on the handlebar, but it doesn’t affect the still image, which is sharp and clear 1080p quality.

At 170 degrees, the wide-angle perspective captures everything you need to see.

One feature I really like is ease of use. There is only one button, on top. Press it to start. You’ll see a small red LED start blinking every second when it’s on.

If you want to capture a moment, press the button down. It will capture the current 5-minute segment, as well as the previous and next five minutes.

Otherwise, the video works in an infinite loop, overwriting after 1.5 hours for the 8GB version, every 6 hours for the 32GB model ($250).

Files (.mov) are accessible through a standard MicroUSB cable. You will need to set the date/time in a TXT file, which is easy.

Check out the video sample in hi-res, and you’ll see that parked car license plates are easy to read. It’s a different story with a passing car. License plates in the far left lane can’t be read. Car plates in the same lane to your left may or may not be legible. A lot depends on the lighting and vehicle speed.

Bottom line is that if you’re a daily commuter (ideally 1 hour total daily) you will find the Rideye a useful addition that will only need charging once a week. Owning a Rideye is a lot like wearing a helmet. You won’t need it often, but when you do, it could prove useful in court.

Rideye brings to the forefront another issue with today’s well-equipped cyclist. We have too many doo-dads: camera, bike computer, bell, light. It’s hard to fit everything onto the handlebars.

I’d like to see a device more like a smartphone that serves multiple roles. It’s something for the next inventor to conjure up.

Continental Gatorskin rear tire lasts 5,400 miles

November 12, 2014

My Continental Gatorskin  tire lasted 5,400 miles. (Continental photo)

My Continental Gatorskin tire lasted 5,400 miles. (Continental photo)

5,400 miles. That’s how long my Continental Gatorskin 700 x 28 rear tire lasted. Not bad. It saw quite a few miles of dirt too.

I paid $52 for the tire, so it had better last that long. A small amount of cord is showing, so you know it’s time for replacement.

Recently I ran over a large staple and, although it jammed into the rear tire, it did not cause a flat. I stopped after about five seconds and removed the staple, which had not gone in far enough to cause a flat.

I credit some of my good fortune to riding a quality tire.

I still have a Michelin Pro Optimum on the front with the same mileage and it will probably last until I decide it’s time for a new one, usually when the sidewall begins to fray [I took it off a month later because it looked ratty].

Front tires require close attention because if one blows on a fast descent, you could be in trouble.

One word of advice from Continental in its instruction sheet, written in 16 languages, says to toss your tire, tube and rim strip after three years, irrespective of miles ridden.

I guess I’m just too cheap. I’m riding a tire that’s nine years old. It’s on my rain bike. I stored a tire for 28 years before using it. Worked great.

I ride inner tubes until they have so many holes they’re not worth patching, but usually I have to replace them because the tube fails at the valve.

I’m trying out a Continental Grand Sport Race Road tire next. The 700 x 28 version has an actual 28 mm cross-section. Amazing! Check back in 10 months for my report.

Making a case for electric bikes in the Tour de France

June 26, 2014

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

With the Tour de France upon us, what better time to have a conversation about allowing electric bikes in the race?

I conjured up a case for having electric bikes in the Tour de France while writing my novel Skidders. I think it would add even more intrigue to an event filled with drama.

You might say “sacrilege.” But let’s look at all the technology permeating the event today. We have bike computers, electronic shift assist, two-way radios and bikes made of space-age materials. We also have performance-enhancing drugs.

On the surface, electric assist would pollute an event that’s entirely decided by a physical challenge. It’s not all physical though. It’s a team sport. Just think about the lack of winners on weak teams and you know it’s true.

We’re all familiar with the suspicion that Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara rode an electric-assist bike in the Tour of Flanders. See the Michele Bufalino video on YouTube. Whether he did or not doesn’t matter. It’s a possibility. The technology exists and it can easily be disguised.

So why not just allow electric assist? There would be ground rules. It would not be allowed within 2 kilometers of the finish line. Battery size would be restricted to so many milliamp hours, although that’s not necessarily the only factor for battery longevity. Only one bike could be equipped with a motor and the battery could not be changed. They would not be allowed in time trials.

Think of the benefits
Consider the benefits. Most importantly, it would make for a more interesting race. Riders would have to decide when was the best time to use the electric assist because the battery will not last over the distances covered by the Tour race. Sprinters might be a factor on the hillier rides.

However, there is a more compelling reason to allow electric bikes in the Tour. It would send a message that electric bikes are hip, cool.

Many riders would say “if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for me.”

Another benefit we would see is improvements in the technology through increased competition. Companies would vie to have the best, most powerful electric assist.

One of these days we may need other means to get around than gas-guzzling cars. We might run out of oil or it might be incredibly expensive as a scarce commodity.

Electric vehicles, including bikes, might be the best option for getting around.

If more people could experience the ease of riding electric bikes with the latest technology at an affordable price, bike commuting could become more popular than it is now. That’s not saying much, but it’s a start.

Floor pump repairs

June 18, 2014

Topeak sells spare parts for their excellent floor pumps.

Topeak sells spare parts for their excellent floor pumps.

I’m not too particular about floor pumps, so when my Topeak Joe Blow Sport finally failed, I looked for a spare part — the head.

The pump head is usually what fails because its lever clamp gets a workout. Mine finally failed. One side screws into the head, allowing access to the interior. That part started popping off.

I glued it down but then the lever that is screwed in started pulling out. Topeak sells a replacement head and hose, complete with parts for all their pumps, for about $20 online.

It was easy to replace. All I had to do was unthread the hose at the pump base using a wrench and then rethread the new hose by hand.

The pump head lasted at least 10 years. I don’t know when I bought the pump but I paid $30 and now it goes for $50. The only other maintenance you need to do is occasionally grease the plunger. It’s easy to access. Just pull back the tabbed plastic seal at the top and twist.

Jobst Brandt invented what he believed to be the best floor pump, a double-action behemoth. It was custom-built. I tried it once and found it hard to use. That was partly because the pump was built for his 6’5″ frame, but also because it was hard to pump. He claimed he could fill a standard road tire in 10 strokes.

While other double-action pumps have been made, the reviews have not been favorable.

My all-time favorite floor pump was Silca, but it had one irritating drawback. There isn’t a clamp at the pump head. You have to rely on the rubber washer inside the head to hold the presta valve. Those washers don’t last long before they lose their grip. They’re still sold online, but at more than $6 apiece, I’ll pass.

Handlebar sprouts doodads

February 15, 2014

My handlebar can't handle another doodad.

My handlebar can’t handle another doodad.

With the latest addition of an action cam and bike bell on my handlebar, I’m tapped out.

Here’s the list:
VDO bike computer
LED flashlight
Mobius action cam
Spurcycle bicycle bell

More information:

The VDO bike computer has been working perfectly for five years. It records elevation and has an inclinometer.

I’ve written about the EagleTac D25LC2 CREE XM-L2 LED flashlight. It’s a joy to use. The rubber band mount works well.

The Mobius action cam takes 1080p video and, as you can see, is tiny. It records up to 90 minutes of video on battery power and uses microSD cards. The price is about $80 and it’s easy to use.

A drawback is that it’s not even water-resistant and it’s somewhat fragile. There’s a smaller V mount that uses pull ties, but it’s only sold with the Pro kit. I rate the video quality close to the GoPro.

Last, there’s the new Spurcycle bicycle bell. I wrote about the bell in a past entry. It’s everything the company owners promised from their Kickstarter promotion. It’s impressively well made in San Francisco. The bell ships with two wire handlebar clasps adjustable with a 1(?)-mm hex key screw head. Nice design.

Time for a new tire

January 21, 2014

This Continental GatorHardshell stayed on my rear wheel a little too long.

This Continental GatorHardshell stayed on my rear wheel a little too long.

Now this is what I call a worn tire. The Continental GatorHardshell can take a beating. It lasted 6,000 miles, which includes a fair amount of dirt. Costs about $50 online.

I’ve gone from buying affordable tires to buying pricier tires in recent years. I think it’s a wash when it comes to getting the best value.

I don’t care much about rolling resistance. I just want a light tire that lasts forever. Is that too much to ask? Of course. The GatorHardshell was heavier than I’d prefer. My bias is toward folding tires and a bit lighter, but still strong. Continental works for me.

Jobst Brandt, who helped usher in the smooth Avocet tire, once went with the Continental Ultra, an economy tire. He paid for it with a horrific crash on the backside of Mt. Hamilton when the tire casing blew. It turns out that tire’s bead-casing joint isn’t reinforced to the degree found with the more expensive Continental tires.

Jobst is not light. That and his propensity to ride tires until the casing shown through, turned against him.

On the other hand, you could be riding a brand new $70 tire and slash it with a shard of glass. Ka-ching.

Flashlight or bike light?

December 8, 2013

EagleTac flashlight at 548 lumens.

EagleTac flashlight at 548 lumens.

Just about every year I buy a bike light, mainly because technology keeps getting better. Today’s LED lights offer the best lighting ever.

Three technologies account for the improvement: better batteries (lithium ion), power management ICs (mostly analog) and light emitting diodes (LEDs).

The ICs have been shrunk to incredibly small sizes (2mm x 2mm) and they have plenty of intelligence, allowing various light settings (high, medium low), flashing, etc.

Lithium-ion batteries have been around a while, but it’s only recently they’ve become common in bike lights. I’m impressed with the advances over just the past three years.

Most cyclists will go with a traditional bike light. It has the mounting equipment and that’s huge.

However, I opted for a flashlight and rubber band for handlebar mounting. After a couple of months use, I like my choice. It’s an incredibly small light, but puts out 548 lumens and the rechargeable Li-ion battery lasts at least a week of daily use (about 40 minutes a day). It can flash and has a half-dozen different light settings.

The brand is EagleTac, model D25LC2 Clicky, and sells for about $62. An equivalent bike light, such as NiteRider Lumina 550, sells for about $82 online. The difference is that you get the bike mount hardware. If you’re using rechargeable batteries, be sure to charge them at least once a month, otherwise they’ll lose their ability to recharge.

MTBR has an extensive 2014 light comparison on its website.

Ultimate minimalist’s flashlight mount

August 24, 2013

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.

I don’t know about you, but today’s LED flashlights seem to offer more bang for the buck than dedicated bike lights. I will delve into that further when I review the EagleTac D25LC2.

But for now the issue is how to attach the flashlight to your bike. I’ve come across some ingenious methods, but the one shown here (seen online) appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s nothing more than a Save the Rainforest rubber bracelet. Other “cause bracelets” will work. (There is risk though of bracelet failure.)

I test-rode it on city streets for a 7-mile ride and there was no movement. It’s easy to attach and remove, although those with weak hands may have difficulty.

I use tapered Ritchey bars that expand to 32 mm near the stem. You’ll want to wrap some grippy material around the bar where the flashlight is mounted. In my case I used some ancient Cycle Pro cloth handlebar tape. I would not suggest using NOS Cycle Pro tape, which will cost you a wallet-piercing $28 or so off eBay.

Other clever mounting methods include using tee PVC pipe or hose clamps, but they have their drawbacks and look dorky.

You can also buy flashlight mounts designed for bikes, some which look like they would work well, such as the velcro mount.

After a brief ride using the EagleTac flashlight, I was amazed by how well it lit the road. However, I need to do further testing. More to come…