August 29, 2010

Perfect Cycling Cap To Use With A Helmet

It is pretty cool up here in the north country to wear a cycling cap under your helmet. Actually, a cap does have true functionality. It keeps the sun out of your eyes when the sun angle is low. Great for morning and evening rides. And of course it is warmer, which is soon to be a factor up here in Canada. Also nice during a rain storm as it keeps the rain out of your eyes. Actually, I got into this trend last fall during after work cross races. The sun was often directly in my eyes, but a little bit of a brim and voila! I can see clearly now. Sure I could get a mountain biker helmet with a visor, but that just looks dumb on a road or cross bike. Just a no go.

But the problem I have is I can't see worth crap when I'm in the drops with the usual bike cap versions. Yeah they have smaller brims than a baseball cap. But not small enough when you are wearing a helmet too. They are modelled after the caps everyone used prior to the invention of the bike helmet. In those days, the cap worked fine as you could adjust the brim angle on your head. Brim down into the sun, brim up in the drops, etc. But now the helmet limits how far back you can wear the cap and brim up isn't an option with the helmet. The traditional caps just don't work very well for me if the helmet is at a reasonable angle. Of course, the retro/traditional caps still work fine as fashion accessories for a night on the town or as a spectator accessory at any bike race you can name.

I have finally discovered the perfect bike cap for wearing under a helmet. Now I am going to share it with you. This design is extremely rare and this is the only cap I can personally guarantee works for me. The perfect bike cap is made by Pace in one color, one size and one style only - as in the photo to the right. The brim on this baby is just big enough to do the job and it never gets in my way when I'm on the drops. You can buy it at Jenson right here for a very reasonable price. I did. If you have a huge head, it won't fit. But if you only have a large or medium head, it will fit.

August 28, 2010

SRAM Rival Shifter Review (With Free Comments on Red and Force)

Well that was certainly disappointing. My first real cross ride of the year the other day and my Rival rear shifter died. Shades of Shimano! It had that same frustrating "shift all you want, but I'm not going to do anything" feeling. I had to get a stick, take in a wrap of cable (external cable routing has some benefits when you have to McGyver it), and get the derailleur on the 25 tooth in the back. Left me with a 2-speed for the ride home (it was uphill).

So when I got home I had a look at it. Rolled back the hood and took off the side cover to see if anything looks broken or jammed. Everything looks normal and I can make it shift normally by pushing in on the metal thingy as annotated in the photo. It's like the spring doesn't have enough power. The return spring is very tiny and weak but seems to be connected OK and not broken. You can see the shifter isn't that dirty inside either as I haven't really used this shifter all that much. Just for cross season last year and we don't have mud here - at least we didn't last year.

So I thought - let's take the cover off my SRAM Red shifter and see if there is any difference that might indicate a problem. Cause that Red stuff just works and works and works. Well there is definitely a difference. Although the action is similar, the Red shifter has a somewhat different looking set of parts. The parts that click into the cogs all look a bit beefier. There seems to be more plastic in the Rival shifter. The plastic do-hickey to metal thingy size ratio is different as well. Note how the return spring for the equivalent part is thicker and presumeably stronger in Red. The Red shifter is a lot dirtier inside as I have been using it for basically 3 road seasons now. But it still works perfectly with 0 maintenance.

The mechanism is relatively simple and I couldn't find anything amiss. So what now? Tried the WD-40 trick to see if something was simply sticking a bit. After a day or so of periodic fiddling - no dice. F@ckin f@ckers f@cked as Cavendish would say.

Had a look around on the web. It appears that the new Rival is the same as the 2006 Force internally. But this supposed photo of Force is like the Red internally. Actually looks like Red graphics on the levers too. These are the only two photos I could find of the supposed internals of the SRAM Force shifters. Seems no one much wants to take out those tiny screws, see what's under the hood and take a picture. But I like taking things apart - always have. Was I sure Force is built like Red and not like Rival? No I wasn't. So I went to a mega bike store where the service sucks and the staff have better things to do than serve customers, found a Force bike, rolled up the hood and discretely took a look. I could see what I needed to without removing the screws. Actually, it wasn't that hard, I was the only person on the whole floor where the road bikes were located (close to closing time). Bad news, the Force looks like Rival. Red is different internally.

After much fiddling and cleaning and twisting and turning, it is clear that the Rival is shifting poorly because it has too much play. When I hold the lever just right, I can make it shift properly. But if I don't, it won't shift at all and will dump all the gears at once leaving me in the small cog on the freewheel. It is also clear that the Rival shifter does not feel as authoritative and firm as the Red shifter by a long shot. Red really does a nice solid KER-THUNK between shifts. Force feels like Rival - a bit mushy compared to Red. Kinda makes you wonder why you would buy Force, eh?

I have read of a few problems, but there doesn't seem to be any chronic problems with Rival. I guess I just got a lemon. But I did learn a bit about the construction of these shifters - they ain't all the same inside despite what we have been told. Same patent perhaps, but not the same bits inside. Kind of lame when you think about it. Is it really all that hard (expensive) to make them all like Red for those little metal bits? Still, warranty should cover my issue. But it won't after 2 years - so if you keep your stuff longer than that, I think Red may be worth it.

February 2, 2012 Update  - Well this is just too bizarre. I answered a comment for this post yesterday and today on my way to work, I broke another Rival shifter in exactly the same way. Now this shifter would be about a year and a half old. It was the replacement for the last broken one. I'm pretty sure it broke from using it in cold weather when everything is stiff. It was having a hard time shifting and made a clunking/cracking sound. Basically, I didn't shift it for that entire cold week (this was colder than average Canada winter cold, -30C or so, but it occurs every winter for a while) after the first tough shift. That was a few weeks ago and I thought I had escaped disaster. Apparently not. But still, it shouldn't break. My mountain bike stuff is impervious to cold weather and never breaks down. Not ever in 4 years of winter commuting. So I'm running two for two on Rival shifters and I do think SRAM had/has a chronic problem with Rival rear shifters. Have they fixed it as Anonymous says below? I guess you can pay your money to find out and take your chances. Or not. Will your version be the new version or an old version that sat in some warehouse somewhere for a year. Is there even a new version? Why isn't there a recall? Do you feel lucky? I don't.

January 20, 2014 Update - Both left and right Red shifters (10 speed hub) continue to be flawless. Left Rival levers continue to be flawless as well. Thank heavens for Red right shift levers on Ebay.

August 23, 2010

Off-Road Crit (Cross) Season Begins Today!

At least is does for me. After a successful weekend of road racing and my first and only win, I took the Quarq off the road bike, switched to 46/38 chainrings and put it on the cross bike. Kinda the start of the off-road crit season when you think about it. At least when I look at my heart rate download for the race, they look a lot alike. But with cross you don't have to worry about guys drafting you only to outsprint you and then win off your hard work. You get the satisfaction of knowing the guys behind you are in just as much pain as you are.

August 20, 2010

Maddux Bike Wheels - Would You Like Hot Sauce With That?

There is no doubt that the orient rules the world of bikes. Damn near everything is manufactured there. And this add is obviously part of that overwhelming trend. It's been running in Velonews for at least a few months with this inscrutable catch phrase:

Maddux Wheels, Your Another Choice!!
Choice Means of Very High Quality
Try It.

Of course when I read this, I have to wonder - is this a good thing or a bad thing?  I don't know and have no way of knowing. Is this like a honky getting an oriental tattoo he/she cannot read and hoping it says something profound instead of just "chicken with broccoli"? If I buy these wheels am I getting something good, or is this a tricky way of saying "chicken with broccoli" to the unsuspecting western buyer? If you substitute "chicken with broccoli" for "Maddux Wheels" it does seem to match some of the oriental menus I have seen. It works for a menu item - I'd try it. Not so much for a bicycle wheel though.

But shame on Velonews for not telling Maddux this ad makes no damn sense. After all, it has run in multiple issues. Or is this chicken with broccoli in reverse? Is Velonews telling Maddux this is an excellent catch phrase sure to capture the hearts and minds of the western bicycle wheel buyer? Does the sales manager at Velonews have a tattoo that says "chicken with broccoli" and this is revenge? Hmmm.

August 17, 2010

Cyclocross: Training and Technique Book Review

That time of the year is almost here. In fact I went out for a ride to work on my mounts and dismounts on Saturday - first one of the year. Even though road racing is now at its furious peak this month with Provincial Championships in the crit, road race and time trial all happening. But definitely not the last technique ride - still have that little skip step on the mount. Dang.

But enough of that. If you have the cyclocross bug or just want to read about it, this is the book to get. I won't bore you with the details. It explains the sport, and tells you how to participate and get better at it. Buy it, read it. Or go to the store and browse it, then buy it, then read it. Your choice. Worth every penny.

August 14, 2010

SRAM Red Shifters and Derailleurs Review

I have been riding SRAM Red for two full seasons and part of this season now. Originally I bought it because I wanted to dump Shimano and support the little guy. I guess they aren't really all that little any more. I also liked the fact that it was nice and light - the lightest group. And I got a decent price on it. And my last experience with Shimano left me feeling empty and wanting more.

As for the doubletap versus the other systems out there, I don't think it matters too much. You adapt to whatever system you have pretty fast. It became second nature to me after one or two rides and there was no painful transition period of any kind. I'm sure going the reverse way from SRAM to Shimano would be equally painless. Not that I plan to try it any time soon.

One slight issue. The relatively large paddle on the shifter can trap your finger if you don't keep them out of the space between the levers and the handlebars and give you a boo boo if you squeeze too hard. I noticed it a few times when I first got them, but I haven't noticed it for some time. I guess the pain thing is an effective training tool. Another cool thing is that you can grip the handlebars and the rear derailleur shifter at the same time. Then with just a slight twitch, you can shift to the next higher gear. You can sprint full out and shift while hanging on hard to the handlebars. Theoretically that should help your sprint if you get spun out. I do it in practice, but I always forget during a race. But I'm not a hard core sprinter and it hasn't affected my results any. Still cool though.

I don't know exactly how many km I have on it now as I ride several bikes, not just one. But it certainly would be over 10,000 km. I have crashed it once, so one of the shift levers is a bit scratched up, but no casualties.

The front derailleur shows no sign of wear on the derailleur cage. Just wipe it down every so often to get the chain dirt off of it. The rear derailleur seems to be pretty durable. In my one crash, it did go into the spokes and the derailleur hanger was bent. I bent it back (by the derailleur body) and went on my way. Shifting was not bad. Replaced the derailleur hanger and shifting was as good as ever. Nice. Can I tell the pulleys use ceramic bearings? No. But I'm sure it gives me an edge of some kind, doesn't it?

How has it worked? Basically, it works just as well today as it did on day 1 - pretty flawless. When it does start shifting poorly, it is only because my cables or cable housings need replacement. As soon as I replace the offending frayed cable, or delaminating cable housing, Voila! It starts shifting perfectly again. The big difference I notice between SRAM and Shimano (Ultegra admittedly) is that the Shimano shifter starts to get loose on the downshift. It gets dirty or something and starts to shift like crap after several thousand km. The SRAM has never shown this tendancy. It started out sharper and crisper than Shimano and it is still just as sharp and crisp after lots of wear and tear. Maintenance? None. No lube of any kind in the shifters. The derailleurs get a shot of WD40 on the pivot points and a wipe down after severe wet rides but I have only done this 2 or 3 times to date. I'm not an obsessive cleaner type. You can believe that.

The whole index shifting, derailleur thing used to be a pretty finicky affair with a couple of shimano drive trains I used in the past. Lots of adjusting and poor shifting at times for no reason I could determine. And of course, nothing is more frustrating than a shifter that won't shift, no matter how many times you click it (and you cannot repair it either). So the SRAM is a pretty spectacular upgrade to all that in my books. It just works. It's easy to adjust the shifting. It stays aligned longer. And I don't expect to have to replace it any time soon. It's working that perfectly.

Bottom line? Kind of obvious isn't it?

August 10, 2010

Stupid Bike Tricks

Bike competitions are about far more than going from Point A to Point B, as fast as possible. Some people, typically Europeans, find extremely stupid competitive things to do with bikes. But since they make me laugh (for a few seconds anyway), the money, time and trouble they invest is well worth it.

What can you say about Bike Ballet that hasn't already been said? I know I get razzed enough about lycra and leg shaving. Imagine what these guys must endure. I admit, I couldn't watch the whole thing. But I did notice that the crowd seems extremely excited when they quit.

August 07, 2010

Zero Gravity Ti Ciamillo Brake Review

I have had these brakes for a couple of years now. Here is my take:

  • Nice and light
  • Swissstop yellow pads
  • Work well, strong braking action with conventional rim width and good pads. 
  • No mechanical issues, seem bulletproof
  • Nice and expensive, but they're titanium!
  • The swissstop pads are the Campy version, so they cost more than the Shimano version to replace. But you can switch to different pad holders.
  • The brakes cannot accomodate the newer wide carbon rims from Zipp and Hed. The calipers only work for pretty conventional rim widths.
  • The quick release lever doesn't do much of anything. Wide tires are a pain to get past the calipers.
  • They are pretty clunky and square looking. Definitely not aero. The nooks and crannies trap dirt and are a pain to clean out.
  • The front brake nut was too short for my Cervelo. They promised to send me a new longer one, but they never did. Had to buy my own. Service issues?
Bottom line? If light weight is more important than just about anything else, then you will like these. Otherwise, give them a pass.

August 04, 2010

How to Dress for Cycling - or Maybe The Local Java Joint Patio

Well, I was planning on a ride and I thought I would get expert advice on what to wear. What better place than Velonews, right? They have a very sophisticated system by Castelli that should be guaranteed to keep me not too cold, not too hot, but just right - like Goldilocks!

So I dialed in my weather characteristics and like magic, I was told exactly what to wear. Of course it is all Castelli stuff, but you can substitute if you have to. Imagine my surprise when I put in 60-70F, <10F increase, and dry conditions only to find out that I need a lot more clothing than I have been wearing. I normally would wear bib shorts and a jersey, socks, shoes, helmet, gloves. That's it. Apparently I also need arm warmers, a vest, a hat, a baselayer, and strangely shoe covers (actually "Belgian booties") to keep spray off my feet. Since I said dry, I'm guessing it must have just rained and the road is still wet, I just don't know it. Either that or it's a dry spray of some sort.

Not a particularly useful tool for choosing clothes for riding. But for sitting at the patio, on a day with a bit of a breeze and perhaps in the shade, the recommendation should be perfect. And you will look very sporty in your new Castelli gear - all clean and shiny. With warm dry feet in case someone spills an ice latte on them or better yet cold beer, as they are Belgian booties, after all. So yes, it is a very useful clothing guide.