Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

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.

(Update: I installed a true 28-mm rear tire (Continental Racer) and there was only 1 mm clearance at the brake bridge. I had the bridge moved up (re-braze) 5 mm and now it’s perfect.)

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…

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.


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