Tuesday, July 29, 2008


After lots of talk about carbon building technique, I thought it would make some sense to show some pix. So I'll be shooting some 'intermediate' stages of work to use in show and tell - stay tuned.

This season, I've been riding a prototype bike - designed to test some long reach brakes. The fork is straight-legged steel, but with fairly light weight legs - which lends it a nice ride. It's raked at about 53mm to shorten up the trail, because the bike is riding on 700Cx28mm tires.

Generally, I like the ride and handling quite well, but there is one funky handling quirk When rolling into turns at over 14-16 mph,it's sometimes necessary to turn my inside knee towards the apex in order to tighten my line. It appears that there's just a little too much tendency to hold the line, and that the bike may benefit from even less trail, but I'll have to try making another fork to test this out.

My tires have been a set of Hutchinson Top Speed. Lot's of folks look at them and don't believe that they are a real 28mm width, but true that. The key thing is that they're giving me a really cushy ride and they roll like anything. Part of the credit for rolling goes to a set of Record hubs, but note that these were purchased (as wheels) used, and haven't been serviced at all since I got them. Consequently, I think that the tires deserve their share of credit for low rolling resistance.

Anyhow, I didn't think too much about the tires when mounting them. They were in the equipment stash, and of the proper size - hence no cash outlay - good enough for my purposes. Recently, I was testing out a fixee with some nice Gran Bois 700Cx30mm tires. At about 10PSI lower pressure, the ride wasn't as good. Part of the difference is the fork. The fixee is built with an antique set of Reynolds 531, including pre-curved blades with the old English style profile. For those not familiar with this profile, it is longer and narrower at the top when it connects to the fork crown than the more common continental oval. Anyhow, these blades are definitely stiffer than what's on the prototype bike. That said, the frame is stiffer on the prototype.

The Gran Bois are great tires, and I can probably reduce their tire pressure some more. Also, they haven't had enough miles to break in. But the difference in rides between these two bikes is quite remarkable, despite my anticipation that the Gran Bois would ensure that the Fixee was more comfortable - leaving me with a riddle.

After searching online for more info on these Top Speed tires, it became clear that Hutchinson has stopped offering them in the 700Cx28mm size. What a Pity. Anyhow, digging in the equipment stash turned up another pair, same size (although different color) still in their packaging. The printed spec is for a carcass with 66TPI. This surprised me too. I don't usually think of 66TPI offering a very compliant carcass - but there you are, the ride of these is great.

Now I'm really mystified. It looks like it's time to try swapping front wheels on these bikes and riding them back to back. It's hard to believe that the tires are creating the difference in ride, and the wheel switch should help establish if this is true.

Meanwhile, its nice to have stumbled onto these tires and have a spare set, but its sad that they aren't made any more.

Changing topics, let's consider the evolution of handlebar shapes. Along with the evolution to 'anatomical' handlebars, we've seen a push away from long and deep (sometimes called Belgium drop) bars. I've never found an anatomical bar that seemed more comfortable to me than a traditional bar, especially when down in the hooks (which is where the 'anatomical' part of the design is typically located). Hence, they've never done much for me. But the loss of availability of a range in sizes of drop and reach has felt like a loss. So maybe I'm a luddite.

The very latest anatomical bar designs, however, seem to be onto something which may be indicative of modern riding styles. Several mfg's are now offering bars comprised of smooth curves, which quickly bend backwards under the brake levers. Like most anatomical bars, they have a very short ramp leading up to the brake lever.

Essentially, this leaves the rider with several riding positions: top of bars, on the brake hoods, in the hooks, and at the rear of the drops. Note that each of these positions is equally close, or closer, than their respective position on traditional bar (because the hooks pull backward more, and the drop tends to be less extreme than on a traditional bar). Meanwhile, they don't really offer a position on the ramp behind the hoods, because the ramp is so small.

So what's going on here? Are we trying to sit more upright while riding today, than did riders in the past? Absolutely not. But, many riders today seem to stress long and low stems. Often this situation is exacerbated by the use of a threadless headset without the compensation of a longer head tube. Hence, to keep the brakes in reach (not to mention the hooks), it helps to have a shorter handlebar. And to keep the drops in reach, it helps if they don't drop as far as traditional bars, plus having them extend backwards more.

"So what?" you may say, the stem goes one way, the bars in another, and we end up in the same place. But that's just it, we don't really end up in the same place. We lose the ramp as a hand position, and in my experience its a great position - with a low likelihood of aggravating the ulnar nerve. In my book, that's worth thousands of dollars by itself. Also, the difference in body position is reduced when moving the hands from the tops to the drops. Old bars had the tops closer to the seat, and the drops lower and farther away from the seat, as compared to the latest examples of anatomic bars. So, one's body position is less likely to change as much on an anatomical bar when moving between these grips - and that's the first reason to change grips.

Does anyone besides me care about these changes? I don't know, but it's food for thought when trying to tailor your position on the bike.

Finally, in another ludditish (word?) rage, let me take on cassettes (cogs not music). It took me a long time to understand the fascination with cassettes using 11 or 12 tooth small cogs. Let's face it those are for speeds in excess of 40mph, which very few people will achieve except going down hill. You may point out that we all spend our share of time going downhill, some would say I go downhill at an ever accelerating rate. But, pedaling down hill is largely a waste of energy. The exponential growth of wind resistance means that pedaling will add very little to your speed and is unlikely to decrease your elapsed time.

Yes the pros pedal down hill in the Giro, TdeF, and Vuelta - and you should plan to do so also, when you're riding for a pro team in the Grand Tour. But, that's probably not likely to happen (if only because you're reading this instead of training), therefore you shouldn't worry about pedaling down hill or about having an 11, 12 or even 13 tooth cog.

This leaves the question of why the big 3 push these over-geared cassettes on us? I think its because we're all weight-weenies at heart. Lower the size of each cog by 2-4 teeth and you'll lower the weight of your cassette. Have you seen what folks will pay for a Ti cassette just to save a little weight? And the mfg can save weight just by using smaller cogs, which probably also reduce the cost to mfg (less material). Hence most cassettes start with an 11 or 12 tooth cog. Ugh. I wish SRAM would come up with a 13 or 14 by 27 tooth Red cassette. That would be cool. But that wish isn't likely to be granted soon.

Ok, carbon pix soon, and maybe some more surprises.


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