December 30, 2011

Nokon Cable Set Review

Do you have a really difficult cabling route on your bike? Tight curves? Sharp bends? You might want to try these if nothing else seems to work. In a moment of weakness I bought a set (they are pretty expensive). They were too expensive to fit only one bike in my world. The housing is the key benefit and it fits conventional cables so you can stretch your cabling dollar if you wish.

When you see these things in person, you realize why they are expensive. The cable housings are made of many separate machined aluminum pieces. In the photo, each thin/thick segment is a separate tiny anodized aluminum cylinder. The cylinders are held together by the plastic tube that the cable runs through.

When you install these housings, you will find that they easily negotiate tight turns with no apparent strain. You don't have to fight with them to make the turn, they seem so relaxed. You can basically push the cable housing where you want and it just stays there. I have chosen to use them for my problem areas - that last chunk of housing on a rear derailleur is one area that gets attention. Especially on the time trial bike - don't want a bunch of excess cable causing all that drag, do you? This housing makes the turn much more tightly, can be simply pushed against the frame so it doesn't stick out, and even after all that shifts at least as smoothly as long, messy cable runs of Jagwire, Gore, Yokozuna or other conventional cable systems. The housing also works for brakes, but given the expense, I have focussed on shifting. I find brakes tend to work pretty well and are less finicky, even with conventional cable housing.

Other advantages? Well being aluminum, the light colored options are feasible for greasy-fingered mechanics like me. I bought conventional white cables once and what a disaster in terms of good housekeeping. Plastic housing in light colors sucks, this doesn't. It wipes off nicely. And it looks better than plastic from the get go.

Wear and tear? Well this housing does not self destruct over time. You know how the inner steel layer starts extending past the outer layers of the housing, eventually jamming up your cable stop? Doesn't even take all that long to happen. Bigger problem for shifters because the steel inner layer runs lengthwise in most systems. Gradually makes your bike shift like crap. Can't happen with this stuff as the housing is not composed of separate component layers. There is just one layer - the aluminum cylinders and they do not delaminate or whatever you call that. The inner plastic sleeve can wear out, but that hasn't actually been a problem to date. But I see you can get extension kits that have lots of plastic sleeve in them for a much more reasonable price. Along with some more housing to boot.

And it's reputed to be 30% lighter than conventional cable. Maybe more if you actually use less housing, eh? It is very light which is understandable as there is no steel inner housing. And for a lot more money, the carbon version saves a tiny amount of additional weight.

Disadvantages? I said cost right? And if the aluminum version isn't expensive enough, the carbon version should satisfy your spending urges nicely. I also found that they were pretty skimpy on the length of housing. Definitely not enough for some bikes. Which means you also need the extension kit mentioned previously. And careful you don't drop the loose pieces on the floor or you will be playing "pick up the tiny aluminum cylinders" for quite some time.

Bottom line: I like them and plan to buy some more when I can save enough money.

Update 6 May 2012: I know I said these are expensive, but I had a brilliant money-saving idea. If you buy an assortment of colors, you can dual purpose your purchase. Because the aluminum cylinders are essentially beads, you can outfit both your bike and your significant other. Here is the plan. Focus on the color(s) you prefer and add one or two extension kits in suitably artistic offsetting colors if absolutely necessary. HINT: a single color probably has limited aesthetic value.

Then outfit your bike. When the bike is complete to your satisfaction, take the leftovers and some string or fishing line or something and make a beautiful necklace. Hopefully large enough to fit over his/her head or you will have to figure out a clasp which seems like a pain and not worth the trouble. Maybe used SRAM powerlinks would work but degrease them first. If you are short on beads, then go to a craft shop and get some cheap plastic things to fill up your string. Then gift the result with the proud claim that you made it yourself - this is an important point - you cared enough to take time away from your precious training and bike maintenance to actually make this yourself instead of just taking 5 minutes to buy something at a store (HINT: don't verbalize the 5 minutes part though - inside voice). Almost a guaranteed win. Likely your significant other could care less about your bike and will never notice that your true love had first dibs and sports your preferred design.

There you have it. You can outfit the bike and get something you can claim was very expensive (at least it was for the Nokon beads) AND hand made for that special occasion gift. The gift item savings potentially offsets outfitting both bike and significant other. If you change significant others, you can recycle this idea and outfit your other bikes too. Too bad Xmas isn't in cycling season eh? Hopefully you luck out on a birthday or anniversary. For style ideas simply google "bead necklace" and peruse the many options made by people who actually care about these things and who have better artistic sensibilities than you. This is bound to impress - I believe. Haven't actually tried it myself yet.

December 27, 2011

Dual Eyewear SL2 Sunglasses Review

Do these glasses make me look shifty-eyed?
I bought these online for a Christmas Gift. Seemed like a good idea - sunglasses that still allow you to read important things like menus at restaurant patios and cycle computers when you get old and lose your near vision.

Well what a piece of crap. Clearly, something is lacking in the quality control department. Although it may look like you could see through the bifocal part if you looked waaayyyy to the right. But you can't. It is impossible to see through both of the close focussing lenses at the same time. I tried and almost dislocated my eyes.

Now I'm sure that a properly constructed pair of these things would work. But I'm thinking that if they miss such an obvious mistake concerning what is really is the only selling feature for these glasses, how good are these things? I'm thinking not very. One of the hazards of buying online I guess - you can't actually see the item you are purchasing. I sent them back for a refund.

December 24, 2011

Soy Sauce - Best Cycling Electrolyte Product Ever?

Expired?? I think not.
I have tried a lot of electrolyte products in my quest for a way of preventing late race muscle cramps. This is a problem I often have on hot days during long races. It has screwed up more than a couple of races for me where I felt great until the cramping started. Most commercial products are relatively costly, sometimes ridiculously so considering what they are made of. But a fellow racer related an anecdote that a much better racer than either of us used soy sauce. The kind you get in the little plastic packets at restaurants. Very interesting.....

Positives
  1. They are prepackaged in nice little portions, easy to carry on the bike in a jersey pocket or under the leg band of your shorts if you are wearing a skinsuit. No special hokey dispenser required and they don't crumble to pieces when you sweat on them.
  2. 575 mg per tablespoon according to my bottle of China Lily. Similar to a commercial electrolyte tablet.
  3. Easily taken when you are out of breath. Just bite a hole in the package, squeeze and suck. 
  4.  Contain lots of salt, but are also real food with a variety of real food trace constituents, unlike a pure chemical salt preparation.
  5. Best of all, they are free for the taking at a variety of fine oriental-type fast food establishments (but don't be a pig and overdo it in one go).

So I gave it a try this year. In the first hot race of the year, we were about 5 km from the finish and I felt the  first cramp twinge. I had been taking one package per hour to then. Well I dropped back a few spots and immediately downed another packet. I then soft-pedalled and thought good thoughts for a few minutes. Then I moved back up in the pack and executed a very nice sprint with no cramp issues whatsoever. Wow. Really, I could almost feel the electrolyte thingys dispersing through my body, calming my angry muscles. That was the first time I had dealt with cramps effectively as opposed to limping in to the finish. Sold.

Unfortunately, I forgot to stock up for a few key races later in the year and had cramps galore. Partly the dog's fault and partly my fault. Cramping occurred even though I took the usual commercial products I still had in my bag. I now have a medium sized plastic vitamin bottle completely filled  with soy sauce packets for next year. Look out.

Apparently soy sauce has other benefits as well. According to Livestrong.com (must be right, Lance wouldn't lie, eh), it supports heart health, has antioxident effects, and stabilizes moods. Hopefully the good ones. Those real food constituents at work I guess.

Negatives
  1. I get a tremendous craving for sushi immediately after ingestion. 
  2. The plastic packets are somewhat easy to break in your race bag. Makes a real mess.
  3. My dog ate my electrolytes.
  4. Do not drink an entire bottle of soy sauce. Probably too much of a good thing. Proves that they have electolytes though, doesn't it?
Overall, a cost effective, specially pre-packaged for cycling, effective electrolyte. This is all I am going to use in 2012 and we shall see how it goes.

December 09, 2011

Craft Storm Tight Review

These are my go-to extreme winter cycling tights. They are far warmer than your typical fuzzy interior lycra tights. These tights have a couple of layers in front - a windproof layer and inside that an insulating ribbed thermal layer. They have a heavy lycra layer and the ribbed thermal layer underneath everywhere else. The front lower shin area (below the piping in the photo) and back of the leg are not windproof. The inner layer is nice and cozy against the skin. They have reflective piping for those inevitable dark winter rides.

These tights are warm at road bike cruising speed to at least -10C (14F). If you pedal harder they are warm enough to -15C (5F) at least. I really like them for pre-riding cross courses on cold days to quickly get myself nice and warmed up as well as for apres cross. But they would be too warm for a serious training ride at -5C (23F) or above. When it gets really cold, -20 to -30C (-4 to -22F), I put on a pair of windpants and I'm good to go. If you want to see the full gear for really cold cycling, check this out.

They are great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing too at much colder temperatures - something like -30C (-22F). Because you usually aren't going as fast there is less wind chill for those types of activities.

Couple of downsides though. They are quite a bit heavier than regular brushed interior lycra tights. Of course, if you want to go cycling at cold temperatures, you really cannot wear only lycra tights, even heavy ones. And even the wind protection found in many lycra tights isn't enough. You need insulation too - like the inner layer in these tights. I expect they are not any heavier than wearing heavy lycra tights with wind pants for example. But too many layers tend to bind and reduce pedalling efficiency. These are more comfortable than a layered approach and seem to pedal easier.

The other downside is the lack of suspenders. Since I wear them over a pair of cycling shorts (they have no chamois themselves) I find they can ride down on my butt if I'm doing a lot of sliding around on the saddle. Mountain biking in hills for example. I sewed a pair of hockey suspenders onto mine to reduce this tendancy. Cost about 12$.

For the right conditions - cold - these are a great option. I normally take a medium, but I found I needed a large or they were a bit too tight in the thigh. They aren't as stretchy as lycra so you don't want them tight or pedalling efficiency suffers. The large fit my waist fine and I'm a 31 waist. Also they were a touch shorter than usual in medium. I machine wash with everything and then hang to dry. No issues over a couple of winters of use although I don't wash them every day or anything like that.

Bottom line? These are an important part of my winter sports wardrobe and if I wore them out or lost them, I would definitely buy another pair. I haven't found anything better.


December 06, 2011

Ergon Mountain Bike Handlebar Grips Review

Handlebar grips don't get the respect they deserve. Of the five points of contact between you and your bike, your grips provide two. That's nearly 40%!  They are usually by far the cheapest. But really, is that appropriate? They are the brains of the five - or at least they should be. Feet are the brawn and the butt is the bottom - by definition.

I have in my head a great plan to improve my mountain biking bike handling by practicing and doing some races. In turn this is supposed to greatly improve my cross bike handling and racing success. There is no doubt that I am a crappy technical off road rider. But mountain biking is also lots of fun and I have been ignoring that important discipline for the past several years.

Anyways, my wrists used to get sore relatively soon when I went for mountain bike rides. I have to confess, I was only using road bike handelbar tape for grips and that wasn't cutting it. So I have been mostly ignoring the mountain bike until this fall. I did a bit of on line research looking for reviews for grips that other people like and find comfortable. I found that the Ergon grips tended to get very good reviews from people with wrist issues (and no, the wrist issues are not from "Internet" addiction).

So I decided to spend huge dollars (for grips, but only cheap crap price for pedals or a bike seat) and purchased the Ergon GX1 performance grips because I am a performance-minded person. They are on sale right now at Excel. But I paid full price. It took a little bit of fiddling to get them in the right spot. Best go for a short solo ride or two while you tinker with the angle of the grip so you don't drive other people crazy. But in the end, these grips really do provide a couple of nice points of contact for your hands.

I found the grips provided some relaxing hand positions, but also provided a good shape to grab onto for high intensity efforts like steep climbs. They are not flat on the bottom like they are on the top - they have a rounded bottom shape for grip. The flat top portion provides a nice platform allowing you to shift your hands around during the ride.

Bottom line? Comfort is comfort and any of your contact points can be problematic if they aren't comfortable. These grips allow me to spend more quality time with my bike while remaining comfortable and I think they will be invaluable if I do the endurance rides I hope to next summer. I see they have a few new models coming out that are a bit slimmer yet for racing. But I'm pretty happy with these and have no complaints. They easily doubled my comfortable riding time on the bike. I would have purchased a set with the integrated carbon bar end, but unfortunately those models are not compatible with carbon bars. But I find I am getting pretty used to no bar ends and no longer miss them.

Good product. 40% of my bike contact points give this two thumbs up. And the other 60% lack thumbs, so that's 100% thumbs up.


December 03, 2011

Cyclocross Tubular Mounting - Mastik Glue Plus Tufo Tape Method

Tire bondage - something every crosser strives for. First of all, here is how you mount a tire using Tufo tape with a view to making it stick extra well. This is the method I use although I'm perhaps a bit less meticulous on the gluing and tape pressing down-ing. But I am more fussy about removing the plastic layer. Once I get the tire straight, I try not to disturb it. I just slide the tape out without moving the tire in any way.





For cross, I center the tire using higher than normal riding pressure. So I use about 40 psi (I ride at about 30ish psi) for centering the tire. I found that the cross tires sometimes had a tendancy to rotate slightly when you pumped up a tire that was centered at low pressure. I think this is the same phenomenon you see when you pump up a tubular that is not mounted. It tends to rotate with the inner base tape turning to the outside of the tire. Anyways, the result is an off-center tire that seems to be leaning over one side of the rim. Centering the tire at 40 psi seems to solve this. Of course you have to drop the pressure before you can remove the pink plastic that is covering the sticky tape. If you don't, you will break the pink plastic layer off. Of course, one can forget, can't one? Breaking the tape should remind you. Fortunately, you can then drop the pressure and remove the tape properly using the other end of the pink plastic. If you break both ends off, you will have to dig under a partially glued tire for one of the ends. Have fun.

I also brush one layer of glue on the base tape and one layer of glue on the rim. They only need to dry about 10 minutes or so. Compared to Tufo tape alone, the glue seals the base tape on the tire across its whole width, I believe it provides better adhesion, and it keeps water out of the bond better.

What's the advantage over conventional multi-layer glue methods?
  1. Minimal hand-eye coordination required. You don't have to be a craftsman to end up with a firm bond and a rim that isn't covered in glue. It's a lot less messy.
  2. You can race a tire the next morning after initiating the glue process the night before. Actually, I rode a tire in the afternoon that I mounted start to finish in the morning. Pretty hard training ride with no mishaps.
  3. You can take your time getting that tire mounted straight. Take 10 minutes, take 30. You decide, not the drying time of the glue.
Disadvantages?
  1. Costs more than glue. Also costs more than the Belgian tape method. But only if you do either of those yourself. Cost less than the bike shop.
  2. Some folks think this method is crazy reckless. Call me a rebel.
Anyways, here is a video with a real session where I remove the tire from the carbon rim at the end of the 2011 season of racing. As you will see, it is really stuck on there. I have never rolled a tire or even had to remount a tire because I was afraid the bond was breaking down using this method. But I do live in a dry climate and mud isn't an issue here. Maybe water is an issue? Doubt it but can't say for sure. I do have to wash the bike a few times a season with no tire bondage issues to date.

video