Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Making a case for an ancient side-pull brake

March 31, 2017

Aging Campagnolo rear brake caliper finds new life on my road bike, solving several problems.

I’ve always been a fan of Campagnolo Nuovo/Super Record brakes because they were built to last and looked nice.

But with age comes weaker hands and I have difficulty squeezing the front brakes hard enough to stop quickly. It’s an issue with those old Campagnolo brakes because they had a 1-1 cable pull ratio.

I can’t begin to explain how brakes work, but suffice it to say they use cables and fulcrums to create mechanical advantage. The bottom line is that the higher the mechanical advantage, the easier it is to exert force. Today’s brakes mostly use a 3:1 mechanical advantage.

But it comes at a cost. As Jobst Brandt so often pointed out in the biketech forum, Campagnolo brakes of yore had the advantage of working even with a wobbly wheel, say after breaking a spoke. As brake pads wore, you didn’t have to adjust your brakes so often. Finally, Campagnolo brakes could accommodate fat tires with ease due to a quick-release that opened the brake calipers plenty wide.

All that said, I decided to try Campagnolo brakes on my modern brake levers. The result was not good. I found the front brake hard to use. I had to pull especially hard to stop. The Campagnolo brake arms work better with their original levers, but they’re still harder to use than Shimano Ultegra or other modern brakes.

After giving it some thought, I tried using the Campagnolo brake caliper in the rear only. That worked well. It’s still not quite as easy to use the rear brake, but 90 percent of your stopping power comes from the front brake. No big deal.

I gained the advantages of using Campagnolo calipers, and that is a big deal on the rear wheel where most flats occur and spokes break much more often. I especially dislike Shimano brakes when it comes to removing a wheel with a 28 mm wide tire. That’s no longer a problem with the Campagnolo rear brake.

Doing the research made me realize that brake ratios are not something taken lightly by the bike industry. Bike companies are constantly fiddling with brakes by changing ratios and designs that try to fix problems. However, like so many well-meaning engineering efforts, the lack of understanding about how things work has delivered us some less-than-satisfactory solutions over the years.

More reading here:
Arts Cyclery; Park Tool; Bike Forums; Cycling UK

Wool jacket fits active lifestyles

January 4, 2017

I purchased the Sheep Dip jacket. Other garments are available.

I purchased the Sheep Dip jacket. Other garments are available.

I haven’t owned a wool clothing item in eons, so when Dave McLaughlin offered a jacket on Kickstarter, I figured I could use one for those wet cold days, like the one today.

A Kickstarter purchase is never a sure thing, so when it arrived on time I was already ahead of the game. I’ve had all good luck with Kickstarter, purchasing a bike bell made in San Francisco, a board game, a book, and a cycling video camera.

Quality has generally been excellent with only one minor disappointment. The video camera broke, but it was replaced free of charge.

I’ve been wearing the jacket more often with colder weather, so I can now give my review. I’m pleased with the purchase, with two exceptions. The sleeves are a little tight at the wrist when putting on the jacket. The sleeves are just right once on.

It’s itchy. However, with wear that is becoming less noticeable and I expect it will disappear with time. The fabric reminds me of felt, a blend of wool and polyester. It’s washable in cold water.

What I like about the jacket first and foremost: it’s fashionable. It fits perfectly on my slim frame. I like the full-length zipper and the abundant, large pockets, a big plus on cold days when you want to keep your hands warm. My size is medium.

It’s not a cycling jacket, but you can wear it for short bike rides around town with no problem. Dave designed his jacket for post-exercise activities, like going to a restaurant or visiting friends, and so on.

Another plus is that the jacket keeps me warm. No complaints in that department. Wool is a great fabric for warmth even when wet.

The price was a real deal on Kickstarter and it’s still competitive with other similar jackets on the market. If you’re interested in buying a jacket and supporting a veteran Northern California cyclist with your purchase, check it out on the DMAC website or on Facebook.

2017 Bay Area Bike Rides Calendar

November 25, 2016
2107 calendar cover. Available now.

2107 calendar cover. Available now.

I create a Bay Area Bike Rides calendar every year, mostly for fun and to remember my rides for the year. Enjoy.

Ultegra Cassette lasts 25,000 miles

May 2, 2016

Cassettes wear out eventually. Small cogs go first.

Cassettes wear out eventually. Small cogs go first.

Inquiring minds want to know: How long will my freewheel cassette last? How about 25,000 miles?

That’s what I got from my Ultegra 6700. Here are some caveats:

1. Cleaned the chain regularly, like every 500 miles.

2. Rode mostly on pavement, only about 2 percent off-road.

3. Replaced the chains between 0.5 and 0.75 on the Park chain-wear measurement tool.

So how do you know when your cassette sprockets are worn? The chain skips or catches sometimes; you feel the occasional slip when starting up. Note that when a chain is worn, front chainwheel shifting degrades.

Track your miles. I can’t imagine a cassette lasting more miles than what I got from mine.

Once again, I got about 6,500 miles from Ultegra 6600/6701 chains. I could not detect any difference between the models in terms of longevity or shifting.

Unless you break a sprocket, I wouldn’t bother trying to save money by swapping out the smaller or worn cogs. I replaced only the sprockets, not the body. It’s running smoothly.

Finally, my Ultegra brake pads lasted about 25,000 miles as well. I moved the back to the front to extend life. I still have the originals on the back, so more than 25,000 miles with careful management. Of course, I ride where there are a lot of hills, so these pads could last longer.

Continental Grand Sport Race rolls for 7,500 miles!

March 10, 2016

A Continental Grand Sport Race lasted 7,500 miles on my rear wheel.

A Continental Grand Sport Race lasted 7,500 miles on my rear wheel.

What’s my favorite tire? After just replacing my Continental Grand Sport Race (700×28 folding) with 7,500 miles, the answer is obvious!

I put this tire on my rear wheel in November 2014. It stayed there all that time. I’ve gotten 5,400 miles from a Continental GatorSkin.

During that time I had about two flats. This tire is built to last, made in China.

The tire sells for about $35. That works out to about $1 every 214 miles. That means a century ride costs me $1 in total tire wear.

Lilliputian bike light an LED marvel

September 17, 2015

Is there a smaller bike light? From Kikkerland.

Is there a smaller bike light? From Kikkerland.

We have LED lights, yet another semiconductor marvel, to thank for small, powerful bike lights that brighten those rides home in the dark.

None would be smaller than the Lilliputian Kikkerland® flasher bike light.

I found this useful doo-dad at The Container Store for $2.99, including front and rear units. While the size and price are small, the amount of light it puts out is nothing of the sort.

In the fast- or slow-flash mode you’ll be seen with ease at night, both front (white) and rear (red). In the non-flash mode you can even see the road ahead.

Weighing just 7 grams each, you can’t complain about the weight. The clever mounting is fabulous. There’s a stretchy rubber loop that wraps around the handlebar. The body has two small notches to hold the loop. It’s a secure fit.

They come with replaceable CR1220 batteries, which are a breeze to change.

The only issue you may have is that they’re flimsy and may require some tape or glue to keep in one piece. Other than that, they’re a handy item to keep in a bike bag for those rides at night when you’re caught without a light.

Check out the video above.

Sigma rear brake light gives warning

August 20, 2015
The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

I immediately liked the concept of the Sigma rear brake light — lightweight (7 grams), easy to install, affordable ($10), a safety feature.

Here’s what I think after making a purchase.

Installation is not as easy as it looks. I had to back out the Shimano Ultegra adjustment barrel all the way to accommodate the light. They recommend at least 25 mm of exposed brake cable.

Be sure to push the light firmly against the brake cable in order for the screw to securely clamp the brake cable.

I’d like to see a better fit for the screw against the cable. As it is now, it mashes down on the brake cable.

Test to see that the brake light doesn’t get stuck on. That can happen, if it’s not installed properly.

You’ll need a 2.5 mm Allen key. The light comes with a CR1025 lithium battery, which should last at least a year or two.

It comes in five colors, but I think red and white have the best visibility against the red LED.

Now you can see when your ride partner is braking while descending Page Mill Road, or motorists can know when you’re stopping for a light, assuming they’re not looking down while texting.

Available now at the Bicycle Outfitter, Los Altos, and other fine bike shops.

Endura gloves fit for a long ride

July 16, 2015

Endura Hyperon glove wears well, but be careful with the size.

Endura Hyperon glove wears well, but be careful with the size.

After my less than satisfactory experience with Pearl Izumi gloves, I went to my local bike shop to try another brand and settled on Endura, a Scottish company in business since 1992.

I had never heard of Endura, but I’m not buying bike gloves every day. I liked the amount of gel padding and it seemed to be strategically placed, so I tried them on. Much to my surprise M felt too small. I tried L and even they felt a bit tight, but I bought L anyway because I’ve always worn M and there’s no way XL would be correct.

I knew they would stretch and sure enough they did. Now they’re a good fit if a tiny bit on the loose side, but the last thing I want is a tight glove.

I’ve worn them on some long rides and I can say they’re not causing any problems. They don’t get in the way of the ride or cause discomfort. I could use a bit more gel, but only if added in a certain way. Back in the day, Gant gloves were the best brand out there. They had good padding that covered the entire palm. If more padding is added, the entire palm must be covered like the Gant, otherwise the padding will have the “pebble” effect.

Removal is problematic with these gloves, as it is for others. They have reinforced fingers for easier removal though.

There’s a “terry sweat wipe,” which I never use, but it’s there if you sweat a lot. I only realized it existed after reading the literature.

Endura has lots of models for cyclists who have specific needs. Cost is on the high end for a bike glove, but that may be because these glove are, much to my surprise, made in Scotland. Build quality looks to be top-notch.

I don’t care where a product is made, as long as it’s good quality. In our global economy, that can be a hard pill to swallow. It certainly ratchets up competition. But I digress. Global economics is best left for other blogs.

I'm told this is how to size for gloves. I'm 8 cm, clearly a M.

I’m told this is how to size for gloves. I’m 8 cm, clearly a M.

Garmin 500 GPS bike computer has a lot to like

July 9, 2015

Garmin 500 uses GPS to record your ride with amazing accuracy.

Garmin 500 uses GPS to record your ride with amazing accuracy.

I’ve been avoiding writing about the Garmin GPS 500 bike computer because there’s so much ground to cover and so many features to learn.

After seven months of regular use, it’s time to weigh in on GPS bike computers. It’s hard not to be impressed with the technology, but don’t feel bad if it seems a little overwhelming.

Military madness
GPS stands for Global Positioning System and we have the Cold War to thank for its existence. The U.S. military has invested billions of dollars in GPS all for the sake of accuracy — ballistic missile accuracy.

Our government made it available for the world over in the 1990s, with few restrictions. The military, I imagine, has ways to shut it down should we become involved in a confrontation.

Your Garmin relies on 32 satellites circling the Earth in such a way that anywhere on the planet your GPS receiver can lock in on four satellites to obtain a fix accurate to within about 12 feet. Your results will vary depending on location.

If you’re at the bottom of a deep canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains obscured by trees on a cloudy day, your signal may be degraded.

I’ve lost a signal that way once and I’ve had a couple of other unexplainable glitches that caused a signal loss. I imagine some are due to software errors and not the GPS itself.

But enough with the technology: is a GPS computer worth the price (at least $120, and about $180 for the Edge 500)?

Yes, if you’re willing to learn how to use it and put up with its quirks. GPS computers need a fair amount of care and feeding. It’s like owning a highly tuned musical instrument. Sounds great with constant tuning.

Pros and cons
For starters, the battery only lasts about 18 hours in use. So you’re good for about 8 or 9 two-hour rides before recharging, which takes at least an hour.

You don’t mind software upgrades and occasional problems uploading your data. Let’s face it, the reason most people own a GPS computer is to upload their rides for analysis. You can spend hours reviewing the ride — speed, altitude, temperature, cadence, etc., from the convenience of your computer.

It took months before my Garmin 500 synced well with Garmin Express, the software you’ll need to upload your data. I went to Garmin forums to learn what was up with issues I had using Windows 7. You get the picture.

Those problems appear to have been sorted out and now I can sync reliably. It still takes way too long to sync, in my opinion, but at least it works.

Programming the Garmin 500 is straightforward. The challenge is sorting through all the features to figure out what you want. There’s so much to go over that it would take an hour just to cover everything.

Helpful advice
A few pointers will have to do:

1) Take your Garmin outside when locking onto the satellite signal. It may lock on indoors but accuracy is reduced.

2) Many settings can be made visible on a single screen, but I found that five is about the most you can have and still maintain legibility.

3) You can auto-cycle through all your data pages. Turn off the pages you don’t need, especially if you don’t have cadence.

4) Be sure to apply privacy settings to your uploads on sites like Garmin Connect, Strava, and others, if you don’t want people to see where you live. There are settings that cut off your route within a half-mile of your start point. You can upload a Garmin file to Strava with no issues.

5) Altitude is determined by a built-in barometer, not map. Set the gauge to your home altitude for better accuracy.

6) As with all bike computer thermometers, the Garmin 500 reads high when in direct sun.

7) If your Garmin loses the signal, you will probably only lose distance until it’s re-established. I found that it now reconnects, which was not my experience earlier. Other electronic devices within an inch or so of the unit may disrupt the satellite signal.

8) The Garmin 500 does not store maps for navigation. It can record a route, but it’s pretty lame if you’re trying to use it for guidance. Not recommended if it’s your only means of following a route.

9) Mounting is a breeze. You can even carry it in your back pocket and capture a signal.

10) Comes with a standard Type-B USB cable, and compatible with Windows or Apple OS (Garmin does not support Linux, officially).

11) Remember to turn it off when done with your ride. If it detects movement, it will keep working when, for example, you’re driving home from a ride.

So which is better, a non GPS or GPS bike computer? That depends on what you want in life. If you’re into recording your route and capturing the data, GPS is the way to go. If you don’t want the accompanying hassles, use a non-GPS bike computer.

Of course, neither is necessary to enjoy a bike ride.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Blackburn’s Atom SL cyclometer an affordable electronic marvel

June 16, 2015

Cyclometers I've owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

Cyclometers I’ve owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

As I begin this review of the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 cyclometer, let me take you for a quick trip down Memory Lane.

I worked for Palo Alto Bicycles mail order in 1984 and we were the first to ship the groundbreaking Avocet cyclometer. After clearing up some early problems with the gate array chip, it went on to be a huge success and was the cyclometer of choice in the Tour de France peloton in the late 1980s.

Since then, cyclometers have matured and we have at least a dozen models and brands. Still, I’m seeing innovation in the Blackburn Atom SL cyclometer.

I bought my first full-featured wireless cyclometer similar to the Atom in 2003 — the Specialized Speedzone Pro. The Atom SL 5.0 (6.0 has cadence) follows that kind of cyclometer, where altitude is measured.

One selling point stands out about the Atom SL 5.0 — price. It’s about $60, 70 percent less than what I paid for the Specialized cyclometer and the VDO. A great value!

Atom SL 5.0 features: Speed – current, average (up/down arrows), maximum; Odometer; Trip distance; Ride time; Time of day; Wheel size; Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA); Temperature; Altimeter; Slope; Total Altitude gain; Maximum altitude gain; 2nd bike setting.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.


Distance: We expect an accurate cyclometer and Atom SL 5.0 does not disappoint. It recorded exactly the same distance — 62.5 miles — as my Garmin 500 on a ride. The altimeter is also precise, within 10 feet of a climb to 2,625 feet on Hwy 9.

Slope is accurate as well, but as with all cyclometers measuring gradient on a steady climb, your numbers will shift as you climb. It’s a quirk that I don’t fully understand, but after a while you’ll know which number is accurate: usually the first one or two results.

Accuracy greatly depends on wheel/tire measurement. This measurement varies with body weight, tire pressure and tire wear.

The manual describes how to get the best measurement by rolling out the wheel for one circumference, but you can do more. Sit on the bike while doing the roll-out. Body weight reduces the rolling distance by 0.5 to 1 inch. Measure several times for the best accuracy.

Entering the measurement in millimeters calls for closely following manual instructions. Note that if you reset the cyclometer, you reset the wheel size to its default of 2150. (My tire setting came in at 2115 mm for a 700×28 tire while seated.)

Altitude: Don’t expect accurate readings at high altitudes. I’ve seen variances of 1,000 feet and more in cyclometers, which I call a “feature.” However, the Atom SL altimeter is 99 percent accurate at lower altitudes (up to 5,000 feet or so), remarkable considering it’s an affordable consumer device.

Bike cyclometers use a tiny built-in barometer where the analog reading is converted to a digital electronic signal. It’s incredibly complicated stuff.

Meanwhile, atmospheric pressure changes by the hour, even minute. Set your altitude before a ride to ensure the best accuracy. Even then, if there’s a change in the weather during your ride, the altitude will be off. However, the number we care about most — cumulative altitude — will be mostly accurate.

Temperature: All cyclometers heat up when exposed to direct sunlight and hot plastic invariably affects the reading by up to 10 degrees. In cool weather or shade, the Blackburn Atom SL temp gauge is as accurate as any cyclometer I’ve used. It displays temperature to tenths of a degree.

User interface
Font size is great for speed and satisfactory for other readings, even for my aging eyes. The displays are appropriately spaced. What stands out about this unit, over other cyclometers I’ve used, is Scan mode. In scan mode all of the cyclometer’s readings cycle through in about 25 seconds. You will still manually push the Set button for each reading to cycle through those readings listed in the manual under Bike mode and Altimeter mode.

Scan mode is an improvement in usability because there’s no constant button pressing to see a particular reading, or squinting to read tiny type. If you think the Atom SL’s text is small, some other brands have even smaller text.

The manual describes cyclometer settings, but as with any electronic device, it takes practice to master (remember) the functions. Some cyclometer owners express frustration over changing settings. That frustration is common to all electronic devices, not just cyclometers. Be patient and take time to understand how the settings work. Most importantly, remember that “Set” is the left button and “Mode” is the right button.

The manual’s type is small, typical for most bike cyclometer manuals, but at least there’s a printed manual! When was the last time you saw a smartphone come with a printed manual? If you’re having difficulty reading the manual, go online to see it in a large-font PDF.

The batteries last about a year, typical for CR2016 (wireless transmitter)/2032 (wireless receiver) 3-volt lithium. Four Phillips-head screws must be removed to access the receiver’s battery compartment.

Mounting is a breeze and you have options. It can be mounted on the stem or the handlebar. I like the mount because it uses a convenient Velcro strap that holds securely. While not explained, the strap goes on a certain way. My photo shows how it mounts.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

The transmitter takes two pull ties that wrap around the fork, while the magnet screws onto a spoke. Be sure the transmitter is no more than 22 inches from the cyclometer (receiver) for the best accuracy.

If you’re someone who will be riding in hills and don’t want the hassle of constantly charging batteries, the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 is an outstanding value.

PROS: Best value for the price, every function you could ever want, excellent mount, accurate, scrolls through features, small.

CONS: Lacks explanation for mounting the Velcro strap, small type in instruction manual, prefer showing trip mileage instead of altitude on the main screen.

Check the Blackburn website for shops selling the Atom SL:

Addendum: (7/21/2015) The speedometer function stopped working, probably from a bad transmitter. Disappointed. If it happens to you, be sure to return under the lifetime warranty.