Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Brooks Cambium Cloth Bar Tape - Brooks should stick with saddles

I just got a package via DHL from Brooks with some Cambium Bar Tape in it.

I didn't order it, didn't pay for it, haven't said boo to Brooks in a long time. Maybe it's a belated gift for signing up for their Cambium C15 beta program many months ago? I dunno. But, I do appreciate that they're thinking of me. :)

Actually, I had been interested in trying this stuff just because I'm so fond of my Cambium saddles (I now have C17s on three different bikes), but was a bit hesitant due to the price tag. It's €45 in the Brooks store (about $50). As bar tape goes, that's not cheap.

Now that I see it in person, boy am I glad I didn't pay for it.

Basically what you get for your €45 is:
  • 2 rolls of pretty standard looking cotton tape, very similar to Newbaum's. 
  • 2 rolls of really plain/cheap looking black "cork" (aka foam) tape. 
  • 2 cool looking Brooks branded rubber bar end plugs. 
  • Italian looking packaging. 
There were no instructions, but I believe the idea is to first wrap with the black cork tape and then go over it with the cotton cloth tape.

I can buy Newbaum's at my LBS in just about any color I'd ever want for $5 per roll, and cheap cork tape is $10 for a full handlebar's worth. The plugs are cool, but I think of plugs as something you get for free when you buy tape. So, basically what you get is $20 worth of bar tape for $50. The fact that you can get it in a color that matches your Cambium saddle is kinda cool, but since it's cotton tape, I would expect that the color is going to fade out pretty quickly anyway, and then it won't match.

Never mind that the idea of wrapping cotton cloth tape over cork tape doesn't really work for me. Either I want cork or cotton, not both. Cloth over cork is going to be sort of bulbous and weird.

But, as I said, I appreciate that old man Brooks is thinking of me, and I owe it to them to at least give it a try. So, I think I'll use just the cloth on my Rawland Stag, since its black cork tape is starting to get a bit ratty anyway. The color they sent is the "natural" which matches the saddle on the Rawland and, well... that's cool.

I still love my Cambium saddles and in general I think Brooks is a very cool company (they did send me free stuff after all), but I think they sort of missed the mark on this Cambium bar tape. Because they are Brooks, I was expecting something unique and in some way superior to other options available. So far I'm not seeing it.

I'll be sure to report back if in the process of installing and using this stuff, I find that it has some magical properties that I'm not seeing at the moment.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Riding The Big Island's Mana Road

On a recent trip to Hawaii I was able to take a little time out for a po'okela dirt road adventure, Hawaiian style. My friend Dave and I rented full squisher mountain bikes and rode Mana Road from the top near the Mauna Kea Visitor Center to the bottom near the town of Waimea.

Mana Road spirals about 4,000 feet down the slopes of Mauna Kea in a little over 45 miles. From those numbers, I expected the ride to include a lot of high speed downhill white-knuckle coasting. And it does, but surprisingly we lost very little elevation in the first half of the ride. For nearly 20 miles it was non-stop steep rollers.

The quality of the road varies from well-graded gravel that rides like pavement, to rocky, rugged washed-out jeep trail that was as challenging as any single track I've ridden. In the first few miles I mentioned to Dave that I thought it might be fun to ride Mana with a randonneur bike with 650b x 42mm tires, but by half-way through I was convinced that the full suspension 29er mountain bikes were a far better choice.

We were in the clouds for much of the trip, and at times the visibility was quite limited. As a result, we never saw the ocean or the top of Mauna Kea, but the immediate surroundings of lush forest with wild turkeys, nenes, pheasant and pigs were other-worldly. 

Not long after riding through some of the roughest sections of road, we encountered a road crew grating the road and laying down fresh gravel. We couldn't quite decide if they made the road better or worse. Smoother, yes...  but with fresh deep gravel in places it was tough going on the uphills.

Note the "670B" on the front. Is this the latest wheel size for serious gravel grinders?
In the last 10 miles we finally got our reward for all those ups and downs in the first half of the ride. We flew down mostly smooth-ish cinder covered roads with ear-to-ear grins. I half expected Tinky-Winky to pop out from behind one of the green grassy knolls.

Overall, I had a great time riding Mana Road, but it wasn't at all what I had expected. I went into the ride ready for a high-adrenaline downhill roller-coaster ride. There were some downhills that scratched my adrenaline itch, but it was the solitude and surreal scenery that left an impression. With the wide range of elevation, Mana Road passes through a variety of ecosystems that you'll miss if you never venture far from the resort beaches of Hawaii. I highly recommend a ride on Mana road the next time you're on the Big Island.

Logistics and other details: 
We rented our bikes from Bike Works in Kailua Kona. They had a good selection of well-maintained bikes and they took good care of us.

My wife, Sarah drove us up to the start and picked us up in Waimea after the ride. It would be a long slow grind to ride to the start from either Kailua Kona or Hilo. Making it a loop from Waimea might not be too bad if you're feeling more ambitious than we were.

The ride from end to end took us about 5 hours. That was at an easy pace with plenty of short rest stops.

The temperature at the start was mid-40s, and it slowly warmed until we got to Waimea where it was high-70s. Dress warmly at the start and make sure you have a place to put the layers as they start to come off.

There's no water to be had anywhere along the route.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One Good Thing About Climate Change...

"Winter" riding hasn't been so bad lately.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Velo Orange Campagne Bag Five Years In

This here is what Grant Peterson refers to as "beausage:"

And these are what you call "holes:"

And this isn't a hole yet, but will be soon:

This Velo Orange Campagne front bag has served me well for five years. Through five Super Randonneur series, the Cascade 1200, the Goldengate 1000, half of Paris-Brest-Paris, a couple of Fleches, dozens of other brevets and permanents, and countless rides that didn't count for anything in the rando world, this bag has carried everything I needed to get through cold rainy nights and blistering days. On most rides, if it wasn't in this bag then I just didn't need it.

For a bag that costs less than $100 (at least that's what it was when I bought it five years ago, it's a little over that now), I'd say it's held up well. It probably hasn't held up as well as the fancier bags that cost two or three times as much, but... well, they cost two or three times as much.

It's been a good bag. Not great, but pretty darn good. To be great it would need something easier to deal with than the buckle enclosures that confound me when my hands are cold, or when I need a candy bar in the dark. And hardware that didn't rust would be nice too. It wouldn't hurt if the window on map pocket on top were bigger and while you're at it, waterproof would be a nice feature for the map pocket. But these are really fairly small nits. Overall, the bag did what I expected it to do and did it with a good attitude. It didn't even complain the many times I over-stuffed it with smelly wet clothes and sticky candy wrappers.

This bag is far from used up. I think I may get a new bag for my main brevet bike, but I'll continue to use this one on my commuter bike until the holes get too big and I start leaving trails of bike tools and Clif Bars. Even then, some hand-sewn-on patches should put things right for a few thousand more miles.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Braking Technique and Going "Over the Handlebars"

A couple of months ago Jan Heine posted an article on his blog about effective braking technique on a bicycle. In the post Jan talked about tests that Bicycle Quarterly had performed to learn some things about braking performance. The tests explored both the equipment (brakes, shoes and pads) and braking technique (front only vs. rear only vs. both), but in the blog post Jan talks about conclusions related specifically to braking technique.

One of the conclusions that seemed quite counter-intuitive to me is that on dry pavement, the front brake alone will stop a bike faster than both the front and rear brakes applied together. It’s easy to understand that under hard braking, the rider’s center of gravity shifts forward, significantly unweighting the rear wheel. As a result, the rear wheel has little traction and can’t help much with braking. But why would using the rear brake actually diminish braking performance? The article doesn't completely answer that question, but I get the impression that it has more to do with human psychology and physiology than with physics. That is, when we brake with just one lever, perhaps we’re better able to focus our effort on stopping the bike safely and quickly.

Jan was convincing enough in the article to get me to consciously shift my behavior from using both brakes most of the time to almost exclusively using the front brake. I still use the rear brake in certain situations, like when signaling with my left hand, braking on slipper surfaces or controlling my speed on a long descent, but otherwise I've been almost exclusively using the front brake lately.

Using the front brake alone is a bit unsettling at first for some who don’t have a lot of cycling experience. It’s easy to imagine braking too hard with the front brake and something like this happening:

But as Jan points out, it’s possible to brake quite hard with the front brake without going over the handlebars as long as you shift your weight backward and brace yourself firmly against the handlebars so that the deceleration doesn't force your weight forward.

Recently I did some real world testing of my own on this whole over-the-handlebars issue. My methods may have not been up to the same standards as BQ, but I think I came away a little smarter none-the-less.

I was coming home from work on the Burke Gilman trail, riding my single speed Trek 311 which lately has been set up with a fixed gear drivetrain. I'll admit I was going faster than I should have been as I approached an intersection between the trail and a road that generally sees very little traffic (actually, I was going about as fast as I could, trying to squeeze in some interval training on my commute home). At this particular intersection, it's very difficult to see a car coming until you're almost into the intersection. I was leaning forward, stretching my neck out trying to see around that corner a fraction of a second earlier so I wouldn't have to lose any momentum. Unfortunately what I saw just as I entered the intersection was a car on a perfect T-bone collision course with me. There was no time to thoughtfully reflect on the BQ brake tests or to consider which brake lever would stop me quickest. It was complete instinct and muscle memory that grabbed the front brake as hard as it could.

Okay, let's pause to review some of the facts we've learned so far:
  • I was going pretty fast. Definitely over 20 mph.
  • I was leaning forward on the bike, trying to "see around the corner." (yeah, like that's really going to help)
  • I was riding a fixed gear bike.
So here's a thing about fixed gear bikes. I've spent a fair amount of time riding fixed gear bikes, but I still occasionally "forget" that you can't stop pedaling on one. Generally when that happens it's a very momentary thing; the bike quickly reminds you with a strong "nudge" and you're back to pedaling, no harm, no foul. Of course that friendly nudge reminder tends to push you forward on the bike since as soon as you stop pedaling, the cranks want to take your whole body in a circular trip with them over the front of the bike.

Back to my story. So as you can imagine, the same instinct and muscle memory that caused me to grab the front brake with all my might also told my feet, "STOP PEDALING NOW!"

You can see where this is going, can't you?

In what seemed like a nanosecond I felt the back wheel of the bike lift up as I went somersaulting over the handlebars and landed on my head and right shoulder on the pavement directly in front of the car. All I remember about the impact is the deafening crunch of my helmet and body striking the pavement. There was none of the super cool time-freeze effect that Joseph Gordon Levitt's character experiences in Premium Rush. No weighing of options, no super slo-mo flight through the air. Just a loud crunch.

With my right clavicle in four pieces, four sprained fingers, and a number of other bumps, scrapes and bruises, I dragged myself and my bike out of the middle of the road and sat down next to the trail to take inventory. I knew immediately my collarbone was broken. I've broken a couple of bones before and there's a certain unmistakable feeling when your bones aren't all where they belong.

I never lost consciousness, but between being in shock and most likely having suffered a mild concussion, my memories of the first few minutes after the crash are fuzzy. I know the driver of the car got out and asked if I was okay, but I have no memory of whether they were male, female, young, old or what kind of car they were driving. I apparently convinced them I was okay, because they left me sitting by the trail trying to work out my next move. The next move of course was to call Sarah and ask sheepishly, "can you come get me and take me to a hospital?"

Okay, so what did I learn from this experience? I'm still trying to figure that out, but here are few things that come to mind:
  • Sometimes I can really be an idiot.
  • It takes about 12 weeks for a fractured clavicle to heal completely and during that time you get to see some really breathtaking bruises.
  • It's difficult to shift your weight back quickly on a fixed gear bike.
  • When your head hits the pavement, a helmet is a good thing to be wearing.
  • Leaning forward to peek into the intersection as you approach is not the same as slowing down.
  • Blowing through an intersection at high speed just because there "usually" aren't any cars there is a bad idea.
As far as braking technique, and going "over the handlebars," I'll continue to do most of my braking with my front brake. I have little doubt that it's possible to stop very quickly and safely on a bike using only the front brake, if you have time to prepare. Had I grabbed only the rear brake in the scenario described above, I would have barely slowed down as I skidded into the intersection directly into the path of the car. Luckily the car stopped in time, but if they hadn't, the rear brake would have been no help.

The key is having that time to prepare. So, if I learned nothing else from this experience, hopefully I at least learned to pay attention and always be prepared to stop when approaching uncontrolled intersections. In other words don't act like I'm Joseph Gordon Levitt in Premium Rush because, duh... that's not real.