A Trip to the Armory

Few would argue that Zipp is regarded as the premier brand of aerodynamic wheel. They’re *everywhere*: on many pro cyclocross bikes, many pro tour road bikes and of course the #1 brand of wheel at the Ironman Championship in Kona, year in and year out.

WH-808-CC-V2-700-SR-11S-BLK

I was recently invited to tour Zipp’s Indianapolis manufacturing facility, which is located alongside parent company SRAM’s worldwide distribution center. Also residing in this building are engineers, marketing personnel, support persons and SRAM’s dealer support people. The latter answer the phone when dealers like Pedal need assistance figuring out what might be wrong with a fork/brake/component. It’s a rather new building and looks hip and efficient inside and out.

More than one person told the story of Zipp’s inception. In 1988 Leigh Sargent saw a Mavic disc wheel, an aluminum beast that weighed about six pounds. Sargent was a race car composites fabricator and immediately built a 1400 gram wheel of carbon fiber with a Nomex honeycomb core. He took his creation to Interbike, the North American bicycle trade show, where he was told that they looked too fragile. The story I heard was that he laid one wheel flat across two chairs, stood on it for the duration of the show and talked about his wheel. Since then, Zipp has done a lot of neat things: the disk, a tri spoke front wheel, a carbon beam bike, carbon cranks and of course deep section spoked wheels.

Zipp carbon wheels are still produced in the USA. Layup occurs in Indianapolis and hubs are made in nearby Marysville. Carbon is from Hitachi, travels to California where it in impregnated with resin and then makes its way to Indy. The resin cures — sometimes quickly, sometimes over the course of days — at room temperature, so the carbon sheets are kept in a huge freezer in the factory. Many, many dollars worth of carbon are in the fridge, prepaid in cash well in advance of delivery. Can you say capital intensive?

Sheets of carbon are cut on a huge table by a computer-guided Xacto knife. At this point, the process forks: disks are made one way, and deep-section spoked wheels another. Zipp and SRAM would no doubt spank my bottom if I divulged too much information, but suffice to say that there is a LOT of human interaction with a carbon Zipp wheel. Layup is manual. Cleaning up the rim at various stages of the process is manual. Cleaning the molds is manual. Lacing the wheels is 100% manual. All of the quality control is manual. Hours — tens of hours — of human interaction are imbedded in each wheel. Why do they cost so much? Because the material is expensive, the human expense is high, the R&D is expensive, etc.

Every carbon Zipp wheel has interaction with “the drill bit,” which is the culmination of years and years worth of research and constant improvement. Drilling carbon is a tricky business: there’s the nasty dust, the possibility of heating the carbon matrix and ruining it, the possibility of weak, broken carbon fibers. Zipp’s fancy bit has what they call a world patent; it is Zipp’s and Zipp’s alone, and is a tool that they credit in part for their superior product. Cool stuff, and indicative of Zipp’s dedication to (I almost wrote excellence, but what a bullshit corporate-speak term “excellence” has become. Instead, I’ll say that Zipp is dedicated to) awesomeness — to really solving the heck out of a problem.

I saw the test lab and can confirm that the quality is also very high. How long must the hubs last on the fatigue machine? 60,000 miles. How high are test tires inflated? 300 psi for 30 seconds. Many are the pretty incredible tests that random wheels plucked from the line must endure. Competitors’ wheels are also tested. My hosts tactfully avoided smearing anyone, but I did learn that Zipps wheels endure quite a bit more than some others.

During the tour I saw a few wheels marked as blems and asked what happened to them (thinking, perhaps, I might have stumbled onto an inexpensive source for hightest-quality carbon wheels). Alas (for a sometime tightwad such as myself), those make up many of the wheels you see on pro tour bikes. However this blem conversation did bring up a good point. When you examine a carbon Zipp wheel, you’re looking at the carbon — not the carbon and a clear coat and certainly not carbon with a little black bondo to cover any pinholes — the real deal.

Value is such a personal assessment, the weighing of cost versus benefit. The high price of Zipp’s offerings can be off-putting, but the high price of a Mercedes-Benz or a Stihl chainsaw can also seem crazy to those not interested in high-end German cars or lumberjacking, respectively. I came away from my factory tour with a much greater appreciation for the hand-built nature of the product, the hight cost of materials and the technical superiority of Zipp’s wheels. In the past I always thought of Zipp’s wheels as high quality, but not a particularly good value. Now…well, now I think I could possibly see a pair of these things on one of my bikes.

Your Pedal Bicyclical – Festivus Edition

Winter is here, and I already feel a bit wistful for 2014. So let’s pull a chair by the fireplace, grab a good book and hunker down for a few months of cycle-unfriendly weather. This is a great time to recharge the batteries, to perhaps catch up on some projects around the house that were put off during the warm months, to maybe get a little more sleep during these long nights, to certainly reminisce about the wonderful year we had. What a bittersweet time of year.

A sage FOTS (friend of the shop) said that a seventy year old man who lived his whole life in southern California has a very different mindset than a seventy year old man who lived his whole life in Michigan. I’m sure this is true, and while I’m sure there is a lot to say for CA, give me this. Give me change. Give me the joy of summer.

In my humble opinion, fall went out with a bang. Iceman was nothing if not an experience. Oh! the stories told around the shop. Fantastic. In the event you haven’t seen it, I present a beautiful photo-montage of Iceman. My fingers and toes get cold just looking at it.

The local cyclocross scene just ended, and our Markin Glen race was very close to perfect. Cold. Snow. Mud. Sand. Friends. I’ll probably beat this drum to my dying day, but cyclocross is for everyone. Many, many thanks to our friends who help make Kalamazoo cyclocross possible. In particular ParchmentKalamazoo County ParksRunUp Cylcocross and KissCross have been wonderful partners in our endeavors.

Around the Shop

Yes! Yes, yes, yes. We have all kinds of doodads for your cycling friend/lover/spouse/boss/penpal. Things like a bottle opener for your work stand (increases productivity -20%), actual work stands (from which you can also hang helmets and laundry), a really neat long-sleeve flannel emblazoned with your favorite shop’s name (increases productivity by +/- 5%), clothing (increases warmth and/or hip factor), bikes (woah!), sunglasses that are actually (not) too cool for (grad) school. All ilk of things to support the tree or stuff the stocking.

Yeah. We’re working on the fat bike ride. At night. In the cold, cold air. Our trail day at Blanche Hull was quite successful, despite the fact that the city guys were understandably redirected to work on snow removal. We have but a few logs to cut and we’re all set. A don’t think anyone would be mad if I mentioned that a good number of people ride their fat bikes on Tuesday evenings at Al Sabo. Also: trail grooming at Yankee. Good, good stuff.

Holiday fiesta! Let’s get together at the shop from 5-7 on Friday, December 12th. We’ll have a cooler of beer and soft drinks, some foodstuffs and conversation out the wazoo. I know it’s short notice, but we’d love to see your smiling face and wish you a wonderful time of year.

Signal to Noise
I once enjoyed (?) huge amounts of unstructured time in front of a computer monitor, and I would occasionally fill that time looking at the internet. I know: crazy. While I spend a whole lot less time on the internet these days, here are some sites that I sometimes use to while away the cold winter hours:
  • All Hail the Black Market. What a strange name. What does it mean? Am I too old for this? Does that guy have a job? Who cares? It’s pretty darn fun and the author is a groovy guy with an interesting take on life.
  • Red Kite Prayer. Road bikey at its heart but with a pretty awesome MTB article on occasion, I’ve found this site to have good writing and good purpose, if perhaps a bit advertorial at times. Regardless, I kinda keep an eye on this one.
  • Some people love Fat Cyclist. I am not one of those people. I keep trying, but it doesn’t take. Maybe it’s for you.
  • The Radavist is pretty cool. I’m actually not sure if I like this site or not, but there is absolutely no denying this piece of apres-garde filmmaking, which I found on The Radavist.
  • Bike Snob NYC is indeed a cultural touchpoint. Pretty funny much of the time, too.
  • Lovely Bicycle! is focused on light touring (classic!) and handmade bikes. I kinda like it, though it can sound like an echo chamber at times. Not unlike this very newsletter.
  • Bicycle Graphic Design is right up my alley. So is Eleanor.
Things to Do on Your Bike

It does seem crazy to start talking about spring races, but why not? Things kick off in 2015 with Melting Mannon March 8th. It was a cold, icy, crazy mess last year. I’m curious to see what happens this time around. Registration is open.

Registration is also open for Barry Roubaix. Cross bike, mountain bike or fat bike, there’s a category and distance for you. Great, great experiences are available at the BR.

For those wishing to spend a good deal of quality time on a mountain bike saddle, the Lumberjack 100 is just what the doctor ordered. Registration for that beast opens on January 3.

Big Finish

As I was bumbling around looking up links for some of the above, I happened across this wry cartoon. The cartoon resonated (woah! corporate marketing word alert!) with me because I often tell people in the shop that the bikes we sell aren’t the end-game. The thing we hope you achieve on your bike is a wonderful experience, be it with your friends, alone in the woods, during a race or as the result of an unexpected incident on an otherwise normal ride.

As we look toward 2015 with memories of a fantastic year and high hopes for the future, I wish you a  holiday season of  wonderful, memorable experiences with family and friends.

Sincerely,

Tim

The Light Fantastic

A really long time ago a customer suggested that we round up some bike lights and do some sort of laboratory-controlled comparison thing worthy of a car magazine. Today we had a nice confluence of events: a reasonable number of lights in stock, a short day and a fairly wide open (inside) place where we could shine lights and take pictures.

bikeolights

There’s a nice basket of lights. From Cateye we have a Volt 300 and a Volt 1200. From Light & Motion we have an Urban 650, an Urban 800, a Stella 500, a Taz 1500 and a Seca 2000. All of these lights feature USB rechargeable batteries.

TestRig

Here’s our test rig, Ryan. He pulls a light out of the basket and shines it on a garage door approximately 40 feet away. Once that happens, I turn out the lights and take a picture. Teamwork? Yeah, we’re eat up with teamwork around here.

Volt1200

Cateye Volt 1200

At $200, the volt 1200 is pretty tough to beat. It’s a nice little all-in-one handlebar unit that pumps out a good amount of light. What I notice looking at this is that the light is a spot, very concentrated on the door a few feet off the ground.

Volt300

Cateye Volt 300

The Volt 300 is a nice package — less than $100 with two batteries. This is a great setup for a commuter who mostly rides in the city with the aid of street lights. Like the Volt 1200, the 300 has a tight spot, good for looking down the road but maybe not as awesome for seeing something right in front of you.

Urban800

Light & Motion Urban 800

This is the Light & Motion Urban 800, which will set you back a smooth $150. Notice how this guy puts more light on the ground than either Cateye while still providing a nice tight spot on the door.

Urban650

Light & Motion Urban 650

The Urban 650 costs $130 has a very similar beam to the 800, with perhaps just a bit less punch.

Taz

Light & Motion Taz 1500

The Light & Motion Taz 1500 is a brute, lots of light on the ground while the spot tries to burn a hole in the door. Cheap? No. The Taz is a $300 light. Still, the all-in-one design (as opposed to separate battery pack as seen on the Stella and Seca models) and light weight make this one tops on my wish list.

Stella500

Light & Motion Stella 500

We love the Stella, long a favorite of night-time mountain bikers. Note the nice broad beam pattern. This is a very sweet $200 light.

Seca2000

Light & Motion Seca 2000

For those times when excessive is almost enough, I present the Light & Motion Seca 2000, which throws out just an incredible amount of light. Were I asked to repeatedly ride my bike through the woods at night, the Seca 2000 would perhaps make sense. However, most of us would not exploit the good things one receives from a $500 light.

In closing, it’s hard to believe how good modern bike lights have become, largely due to LED technology and its associated lower power requirements. Any of these lights is a nice chunk of technology that’ll last a good long time. All of the pictures in this post were taken of each light at its highest setting. Yeah, that’s the brightest, but it’s the setting that drains the battery most quickly. If you’re going to be out in the dark for hours, it may make sense to buy a more expensive light, but run it at a lower setting. We can help sort through this stuff.

Markin Glen 2014

mgmud

You know, it’s pretty easy when it’s 60 degrees and sunny. People want to set up the course. People what to get outside on a beautiful day and have a few UV rays hit their bodies. People are understandably less worried about frostbite.

For the first time in four years, Markin Glen today was not 60 degrees and sunny. It was, at best, 32 and barely snowing. It was muddy. It was not exactly a day that begged you to come outside and play. Yet 75 people did, and we had a very interesting time. As a result of the snow and mud, the course was maybe a little bit harder than we intended, but it was harder for everyone.

On this site and in our shop we talk often of the shared experience. The race may be great. The race may stink. But if you do the race with friends, reliving it is always fantastic. The race as community builder — that’s what we think. This race was a good, hard race on a pretty sketchy day. We had a good time. We cheered for the other racers and many of us met at a local brewery to eat and drink and talk afterward.

This post is Pedal’s invitation to you to come and race with us. Cyclocross is great for people of any ability. I encourage you to stretch your envelope just a little bit and give it a try. It’s very hard, but very rewarding and very supportive. I’d say the same of dirt road races like Melting Mann and Barry Roubaix — accessible, welcoming, hard, fun.

I’ll close by thanking Kalamazoo County, KissCross and the wonderful folks who help us design, set up and tear down the course. Big, big fun.

Pads

En route to the garbage can this morning, I took a quick picture of my brake pads:

pads

From the top we have a pad from my rear caliper, removed immediately after Iceman (aka IceMudMan). In the middle is a pad from my front caliper, removed immediately after IceMudMan. The bottom bad is brand spanking new, ready to install. It might not be easy to tell from this angle, but the top pad is worn down to the backing plate. The middle pad has a good amount of wear, and the material that’s left is probably gunk-infused. I replaced both sets.

This photo is a good representation of just about every customer bike we’ve seen this week: completely dead rear pads and if-not-completely-then-mostly dead front pads. Conservatively I’d say we’ve ordered more pads in the last three days than we have the previous two years. What did this? Mud. Grit is thrown up between the rotor and pad and eats away the pad material in record time. Globs of mud settle between the pad backing plates and the caliper body when brakes are applied and prohibit the pads from retracting when the brake lever is released. Pads that would last years were devoured in less than three hours.

The other component that got really munched: chains. Yuck.

Next year maybe it’ll just be cold.

Kalamazoo Cyclocross 2014

Image

2014cross

Check it out! Cyclocross returns to Kalamazoo at our two favorite locations, Kindleberger (home of The Hill) and Markin Glen. Races are $25 each (what a bargain!) and work as follows:

  • C race is at 11:00 and will last approximately 30 minutes. This is a terrific way to test the waters. Kids: welcome. Adults: welcome. Sandbaggers: not as welcome.
  • B race is at noon and will last approximately 45 minutes. Fun on a bun.
  • A race is at 1:00 and will last about an hour. Masochists only.

Cyclocross is a sport everyone can enjoy. Please come out and shake that cowbell.

The Full Cleveland

The white saddle, pedals and bar tape of this bike made me think of “style” in the leisure-suited seventies. If you’re too young to recall the period, this link might help decode the post’s title.

Every now and then someone comes into the shop and says, “Argh! You guys are terrible. You’re always showing me sweet new stuff and it’s just too much for my defenses!” Let me assure you: the exact same thing happens to us all the time. In fact, it might even be more cruel: we must (test) ride and be around cool bikes every day. (I know. Sucks to be us.)

I’ve been grinding along on a single-speed cross bike for about a year now, and recently started thinking that I should have something with gears. My thought process was that a geared bike might allow me to consider gravel rides and races that would be just too much on the uni-gear.

Thus I began looking at available cross frames. Frames? Frames. During the bizarre period in which I was without a road bike, I kinda (completely) freaked out and purchased a complete bike and a drivetrain at the same time. Not the most logical process to which I have been part, but sometimes you have to roll with it.

For pure cross bikes, it’s tough to beat the Kona Jake series. There are several schools of thought regarding “proper” cyclocross geometry, but Kona seems to have gone its own wonderful way. They aren’t set up in the traditional style (short top tube, tall head tube, high bottom bracket), nor are they road bikes with fat tires. As far as carbon cross bikes go, I like the fact that the Jakes are a bit more compliant than some. There are those who believe cross bikes should be mega-stiff in the rear triangle. I’ve owned and enjoyed such bikes, yet I remember the fist time I rode a carbon Jake and thought, “Hmmmmm. Delicious.”

superjakeSo I built this bike. It’s a Kona Super Jake frame, a Rival 22 drivetrain and a set of Stan’s Iron Cross wheels. Other semi-interesting bits are the TRP Spyre brakes, Fizik saddle, Ritchey bar, Time pedals. Slightly less than 18 lbs. as you see it. Pretty awesome.

super

The frame is deluxe. It’s very light, has a smooth ride and looks very sharp. The included fork is also full carbon and very light. Kona is very funny with the frame thing. If you buy a frame, you get a frame, not a frame and headset. Not a frame and a few doo-dads. You get a frame. A frame and fork yields two parts: frame, fork. They figure that if you’re going to build up a bike of your very own, you’ll likely be picky about the headset and seat post clamp. Are they right? I don’t know, but after building up bikes from Kona frames, at least I’m used to it. For the record, I’ve been using a Cane Creek 40 on a few bikes, and it seems like a very good blend of price and function.

spyre

Oh how I once resisted disk brakes. As a guy who owns/owned a pile of rim brake wheels, disk brakes looked like another monetary black hole. And so they are, but by now I’m used to it. Rim brake users know that the best braking happens about the first time you squeeze the lever. With disk brakes, particularly mechanical disks, braking performance actually improves over a period of time. Why do I bring this up? I dunno. PSA I guess.

Traditional mechanical disk brakes are of single piston design. This means that you pull the lever and one piston (typically on the outboard size of the bike) pushes against the brake rotor, which bends until it hits the (fixed) pad on the other side of the caliper, at which point braking starts to occur. It works, but it’s not 100% great.

For this bike I thought I’d try a dual piston brake, the TRP Spyre. In this design, pistons push from both sides of the caliper to squeeze the rotor in the middle. It’s a nice design because bending the rotor is not part of the equation, and expectations are pretty high. I went this route despite the fact that I’ve had terrific luck with Avid BB7s on other bikes. As of this writing, I don’t have enough miles on the bike to properly rate the braking quality. I hope to remedy this situation soon. Sorry for the letdown.

Rival22

Twenty-two speed drivetrain! Who can’t get fired up about that? Luddites, that’s who. For the rest of us, the future looks bright. I put Rival 22 on this bike for the following reasons:

  • I had it handy
  • I was running out of money, fast
  • I can be something of a crasher in CX and am not made out of dollar bills
  • I had it handy

I have no beef with Shimano drivetrains, but I kinda like SRAM on my CX bikes. I treat my cross bikes rather unpleasantly and tend to think that SRAM stuff holds a tune a little longer. Is this bunk? Maybe, but such is my experience.

I’m not sure that I’m 100% on board with yaw front derailleurs. Sometimes they work great with minimal setup hassles. Sometimes there are significant setup hassles. On this bike it worked pretty great from the start. Rear shifting is typical SRAM: bang, bang, bang through the gears. Very nice.

ironcross

If I have a weakness, it is for wheels. Drivetrains stir my tactile feelings. Frames are beautiful or not. However wheels make my little heart go pitter pat. You can make whatever wheels you want. You can go for super-light; you can go for super-durable. You can spend a fortune. You can spend considerably less. You can try to hit some idyllic middle ground, which is the place I typically seek.

I already own two sets of disk cross wheels: HED Ardennes +, which are almost unreal in their awesomeness, and Velocity A23s, which represent a very nice value. For this bike I thought I’d get something pretty cross oriented, but not as spendy as the HEDs. Thus I have the Stan’s Iron Cross which was developed to provide superior tubeless burp resistance, maximum strength and light weight. No, you can’t run ‘em at high pressure for road tubeless, but who cares? That’s not the point of this bike.

heartKona loves cyclocross and so do I. I first rode this bike on the Barry Roubaix course with a good friend. As we rolled out I began kvetching about the fiscal questionability of building a carbon cross bike when I have a nice steel bike in the garage. “What are you talking about?” asked my friend. “This is your favorite thing.”

Yes. It is. And this promises to be an excellent companion.

 

Your Pedal Bicyclical – And now: Autumn

Hello!
I cannot believe that we’re staring October in the face. Wow.

Around the Shop

Cool bikes are coming in. Of special note are some very nice cyclocross and gravel road bikes. Delicious.
We have some sweet long-sleeve shirts that you could stylishly wear while:
- Riding
- Drinking a beer
- Being cool
Quantities are limited. Limited to what? To what we have. Dive in, and be prepared to ward off the paparazzi.
Winter gear? Heck yes! We have tights and jackets and warmers and gloves and hats and STUFF TO KEEP YOU WARM. Do you want to be warm? Yes? Let’s talk.

Politically Speaking

Important stuff is going on. I’m specifically speaking of the Stadium Drive and Michigan Avenue Corridor Study If you, like me, long for a more bike friendly Kalamazoo, it’s happening. I very much encourage you to use the tool here and attend the meetings and make of the city what you will. You. We need *you* to make this happen.
While visiting a friend this summer I shared how impressed I was by bike friendly Missoula. He said, “You can’t believe how hard it was. People were sure that road diets would ruin the city center and stop traffic forever. Yeah, it looks fantastic now, but it was an ordeal.” To this I would tell my fellow Kalamazooters: many hands make light work. Please contribute what you can to this very worthy effort.
I’d also remind everyone that change is difficult. Though it may seem intuitive to those of us who often ride, please be kind to your friends and neighbors who might have difficulty understanding the value of a bike friendly community.

Fun Things to Do

All good things must end, and so it is with the Thursday evening Pedal ride. The sun just sets too darn early these days. Thanks for a fantastic run this summer. I can’t wait for next year.
There are two (2) local cyclocross races this fall:
- October 12th at lovely Kindleberger park in Parchment
- November 16th at Markin Glen
We’ll have practice at noon the Saturday before each event at the race site. Cyclocross is fun. Please come enjoy!
More CX here and here!
The Colorburst in Lowell is this Saturday, and has always looked appealing.
Since the Grand Rapids XTERRA was cancelled (Boo! Hiss!), I guess we’ll all race CX at Manhattan Park and maybe dine as Rose’s after. This is always a good plan.
Iceman registrations are trading hands like hotcakes. Want to race? We can maybe hook you up with someone who can’t go. Want to get rid of your entry? Perhaps we can help. Shoot us an email or call.

The Ramble

Remember when you were younger, maybe eight, and you looked forward to your birthday SO MUCH. The anticipation was incredible. Maybe you knew exactly what you wanted or maybe you didn’t, but were excited by the prospect of being one year older. Then it was your birthday!
And then it was the day after your birthday.
I’m having trouble with the end of Best Summer Ever. I’ve used the term over the past few months, and I’ve believed it. It hasn’t been too hot. It hasn’t been too cold — not too much rain, not too dry. Yes, it’s been a good year at Pedal, but I write of something greater. Our clientele has been so uniformly happy. Rides I attended were full of camaraderie and joy. It’s been so fantastic that I want to give everybody a loud, stinging high-five… and now it’s fall.
Don’t get me wrong. I love autumn in Michigan with brisk weather and grape smells and beautiful trees and cyclocross and apples, but what a marvelous summer.
Big Finish
I went to a wedding this past weekend, a wedding of two people that I love enormously. One of them, a highly educated special ed teacher, told me about the drills she did with her students to train them to better fit into larger society. The drill topics distilled down to four things: curiosity, grit, zest and gratitude. On the cold, dark winter morning when she shared this with me, I thought, “Holy heck. Those are the exact things I want from my employees. Those are the exact things I want to demonstrate to our customers.”
Every day at Pedal we wonder how things work. We solve problems. Sometimes we solve difficult or unusual problems that take a whole lot longer than we think they should. Sometimes there are high fives. Sometimes there is harsh language. Do you care? I don’t know that you do, or that you should.
The thing I really, sincerely want to express in the Bicyclical is gratitude. I thank you for your business. I thank you for your consideration. I thank you for making Pedal part of your life.
I thank you for Best Summer Ever.
Sincerely,
Tim

CX Tires

biketires

It’s that time of year, and maybe a bit past that time of year, when we’re asked about cross tires. I thought I’d talk about what we like around the shop and go from there.

Should I go Tubular?

No, unless you’ve lost your mind or need another challenge in your life. Yes you can run silly low pressure. Yes the feel is sublime. But you have to deal with a bunch of foul glue (or pay someone else to do it, and we’ve learned (slowly) to charge for this nasty service) and buy new wheels and blah blah blah and let’s not even talk about the living shame of rolling a tire off the rim while attempting to mount the bike on an off-camber corner. Terrible. Speaking personally, my only DNFs occurred when I had tubular tires on my bike.

What about Tubeless?

I find this less stressful than tubular, but it is more work than plain old tubes. I’ve always gone the hard way and used non-tubless-ready tires, about which I’ll talk about later. I’ve learned through painful experience that the only setup I’ll do for a customer will involve tubeless-ready tires on tubeless-ready rims. There you go.

Tubes

Piece of cake. You should feel like you’ll pinch flat once or twice a lap. Run much lower pressure than you think you should. Have fun. Crash a time or two. Have more fun. Attempt to eat more post-race bratwurst than Ryan. Call in sick the next day. Yeah. That’s it.

So What Tires Should I Purchase?

All of them. Seriously, I once had a garage full of tires, something for every possible condition. These days I try to pick one awesome tire and hope that it’ll do me for everything. And I still have a few odds and ends in my garage.

Michelin Mud2. I’ve used this tire for a long time.with tubes and tubeless on a NoTubes Alpha 340 rim. They say it’s a 700×30, but it feels (and looks) fatter than that. This tire exudes confidence and sticks better than anything I’ve used in my lame-o career. It is not a fast tire. I once switched from a Vittoria XG to a Mud2 in the middle of a race (don’t ask) and could immediately feel the difference. However, in mud or a wet grassy corner, the Mud2 will not be denied. A similar tire is the Vittoria XM. Very grippy.

Vittoria XG. This is a fast tire with a nice, supple sidewall. It is very fast, but is not nearly as confidence-inspiring as the Mud2. To be fair, it might stick as well, but it just doesn’t feel like it sticks as well. What does this mean? I don’t know. However, I would very seriously consider a TNT (tubed or no tubes) version of this tire for my tire this season if I didn’t always want to try something new. Note: excellent gravel tire. Killer for Barry Roubaix. There: secret’s out of the bag.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph. I ran these in tubular form for a while. As I recall, I ran a Racing Ralph in the front and an XG in the back for a really nice combo. This tire is seriously Not Cheap, but it is nice. A contender in tubeless format for this year along with a WTB tire to be named later.

Vittoria XN. I love this tire for dry days. Typical Vittoria suppleness with a fast ride. Another great tire like this comes from Challenge (XS). If you’re doing a mix of mostly road and dry dirt, these file tread tires are tough to beat.

Ritchey SpeedMax. Another good dry tire, but I don’t think it has enough mustard for a wet or snowy day. Inexpensive.

Clement MXP. Not terribly different from the Vittoria XG, but fatter and maybe more grippy in the corners. I used this in tubeless fashion last year and loved it. Loved it. This is also the tire that I blew off a rim and threw sealant all over the shop and hurt my hand and forced the policy of only tubeless tires and rims.

WTB Cross Wolf. We found this tire after the debacle described above and have been very impressed indeed. My west coast friends (not as pretentious as it sounds) think this might be the tire of 2014/15. I have a pair set aside for this year, but the Racing Ralphs also look good.

Other things I have not Personally Tried include the Fango and X’Plor from Clement, the cool-looking tires from Maxxis and others from Continental and Hutchinson. Many are the good options; finite is the amount of time/money I have to invest trying them.

And We’re Done

If you’re a dude or dudette who loves the idea of switching around tires the night before a race, you probably want a dry tire, an intermediate tire and a mud tire. Tubes are a good way to go if you don’t want to mess with sealant, an air compressor and all that stuff.

If you’re a carbon based life form with less time and/or willingness to switch stuff around, you want to pick the killshot tire. Here I think you should look for a tire that plays to your weakness and use your strength to overcome its shortcomings.

They’re Real, and They’re Spectacular

While not exactly under the cover of a darkness, I haven’t been terribly forthcoming about the fact that I’ve been scratching an itch, an itch to which few men are prepared to admit an obsession, a problem, an addiction. I’m not necessarily proud, but nor am I ashamed about my recent infatuation with: steel bikes.

IMG_3159

Exhibit One, The Unit

In the late spring of this year it came to pass that I could no longer mute the siren song of a single-speed, steel mountain bike. I thought about buying a 27.5 frame, but that just didn’t make sense. We’d sold a few Kona Units, and that bike started looking really great — everything you need and nothing you don’t for a very attractive price. Let’s discuss: Reynolds 520 frame, steel fork, oversized headset so you can fit a modern suspension fork if you wish, very nice sliding dropouts that can be configured for 10×135 or 12×142 in either geared or single speed — just like on my Explosif. So I ordered one in my size, threw some tubeless tires on it and signed up for the Expert (hah!) single speed class in the Yankee Springs Time Trial.

I have a beautiful friend from a far away land who used the term “throwing my name away” to describe an evening in which she once drank too much and did foolish things. Though alcohol played no part, I threw my name away the instant I signed up for that race and backed it up the minute I hit the trail. I have many minutes of comedic material about this race, but suffice to say that I’ve never set my self up for failure — and achieved it — quite so thoroughly. And it left me wondering what the hell I’d done by purchasing a single speed steel mountain bike.

I rode it to work and back one day and really really liked it. I took it to The Dump and really, really liked it. I put hydraulic brakes on it and like it even more. It’s turned into the bike I typically haul to Mountain Bike Monday. This is a very fantastic platform.

IMG_3161

What’s it like? It’s neat. I had not ridden a modern rigid-front mountain bike before this, and I’m still pretty impressed by how well it works. It is (of course) much more efficient going uphill and is very confidence-inspiring going hard into corners. I think this is because the geometry doesn’t change in the corner as it does when a fork compresses, but I could be wrong. Regardless, it sticks in there very nicely. Related to the steel fork, I was pretty impressed by my sore wrists after the YSTT, but there’s a little bit more to the story. I had, like many of our customers, been over inflating my tires. I used the same pressure as my 27.5 tires, but the fat 29er front tire has much more air volume, allowing for sill lower pressure. Getting the front tire at the right pressure (close to 20 for me) took a lot of the sting out of the rigid fork.

IMG_3160

The rest of the bike is a hoot. I love riding it. I also spend way too much time thinking about it. Maybe I should put a suspension fork on that bike. Maybe carbon doodads. Maybe really light cool wheels. I actually had thoughts of putting an RS-1 fork on the bike with compatible wheels until I realized that I’d quickly multiply my initial investment and possibly ruin one of the things I like most about it: simplicity. I ride the bike. I smile. I wash the bike. I lube the chain. I repeat.

IMG_3164

It comes in purple for 2015. How’s that for a kicker? Please don’t tell my wife that I’m thinking about another one with smooth tires for a commuter.

Exhibit Two: The Eclipse

I’ve been thinking about an Eclipse for a long time. I worked with a guy a few years ago who showed up on an Eclipse frame with a fancy Campy drivetrain, and I thought, “That’s pretty cool.” I rode a Jamis steel mountain bike for a couple of years and thought, “A road bike like this would be pretty cool,” but I loved my Xenith Elite and stayed the course.

In the span of three weeks I sold both of my road bikes and found myself doing everything pavement-oriented on my (single speed) cyclocross bike, which is hardly a terribly situation, but perhaps not optimum. So I started looking at vendor availability and thinking about what I wanted and generally doing everything I could to make myself crazy. Ultimately I bought an Eclipse just to silence the voices in my head. And it’s cool. Facts: Reynolds 853 steel, carbon fork, Ritchey wheels and cockpit, Ultegra 6700 drivetrain.

IMG_3165

I vacillate on the bike weight thing. I think there are more important attributes to a bike than weight, but I also appreciate a svelte machine. I was curious that Jamis’s literature claimed the Eclipse weighed 17 pounds. That’s pretty light for a steel bike, and seemed perhaps a bit of marketing hyperbole. Upon arrival, I ripped my bike out of the box, put it on the scale and saw 17 lbs, 1 oz. Wow.

IMG_3167

Delivery of the Eclipse has forced me to admit that I have gotten sloppy with my own, personal road bike fit. There was a time when I would get a level, a ruler maybe a laser and some other fancy tools to set up each new road bike exactly like the old one. Because I was anxious to get this thing on the road, I didn’t go through that process and it’s taken me a little while to adjust my way to a good position on the bike. While every mile has been nice, the last few have been terrific. I think this is going to work out very nicely.

IMG_3166

I’m occasionally asked what a modern steel road bike is like. Mostly it’s like a really good modern bike regardless of material. This bike has great handling. This bike has geometry that works for me. This bike is zesty. This one is smooth like butter. Maybe (probably) it’s not as efficient as a modern carbon thingy with a huge bottom bracket, but I’m not sure I can tell. Thinking about it a bit more, I’d say this bike is almost the epitome, the acme of a road bike. It is a very tight, zippy bike that files the edges off the really, really awesome roads around these parts.

The not terrific news is that the Eclipse ended its production run. I learned this information between the time I ordered my bike and its delivery. It was not altogether shocking — the Eclipse has never been a strong seller for Jamis — but still sad. I think well done, mass produced steel bikes are a hallmark of Jamis, and the 853 bikes are just fantastic. Still, they are expensive and business is business. I cannot help but note that Kona might have recovered the Jamis fumble with the Kapu. We’ll see.

Trying to Wrap it All Up

So what do we have here? A single-speed sledgehammer of a mountain bike and a lithe little road bike. As I’ve massaged and mangled this post over the last few weeks, it occurs to me that I didn’t buy these bikes because they’re steel. I bought them because they spoke to me in some subtle way. It’s not that I don’t like carbon bikes (watch this space!), it’s just that a couple of steel bikes happened to meet the needs I had. And they’re good bikes. Really neat. Really fun.

In the end, I took two bikes that had one thing in common and tried to shoehorn them into one post with a tired Sinefeld reference. Regrettably, you might be getting what you paid for from this blog.