Thursday, March 23, 2017

Retrogrouch Reading: Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture

Brooks Saddles has been in business for 150 years - essentially going back to the beginning of bicycles as we know them. To celebrate that history, the iconic company has released a book, The Brooks Compendium of Cycling Culture (Thames & Hudson, $32.75), which they describe as "A celebration of the bicycle and its wide-ranging cultural impact worldwide -- an insider view into the world of cycling bound to inspire the imagination of professional and amateur cyclists alike."

As a whimsical touch, the top of the book is drilled through with
three holes, like the top of a B17 saddle.
The Compendium is an eclectic (and perhaps eccentric) collection of stories, essays, photos, drawings, profiles, and more - compiled from a range of writers, artists, designers, and athletes, and edited by Rouleur magazine's Guy Andrews.

For the most part, the book is NOT about Brooks Saddles, the company or its products. In fact, some chapters are only tangentially related to bicycles at all. Instead, the book captures a wide range of "areas of interest" in the wider world that might appeal to cyclists, or to like-minded folks who appreciate tradition, craftsmanship, creativity, or perhaps even a certain distinctive "Britishness." There are chapters on British innovations (among which, the leather saddle and the pneumatic tire are listed alongside electric teakettles and hypodermic syringes); the simple joys of cycling, whether for adventure or simple transportation; the sometimes hostile relationship between London's cyclists and taxi drivers; British vs. Continental bicycle racing; naked bike rides; and an explanation of words and phrases from bicycle racing, including of course the expression "on the rivet."

The only chapters that really seem to be centered on Brooks include the story of the company's early beginnings, and a photo essay depicting the inner workings of the Brooks factory.


The photo essay of the Brooks factory includes some wonderful, 
and in some cases quirky, glimpses into the factory.

Perhaps because of its eclectic nature, the Brooks Compendium is not quite the book I expected it to be, and is not like most other cycling books in my collection - but it is an engaging book to read and peruse. If I had to compare it to anything that Retrogrouch readers might relate to, I'd say it reminds me a little of an expanded Rivendell Reader in book form. Like the Brooks Compendium, that periodical would frequently feature articles that had little to do with Rivendell bicycles specifically, or sometimes not even bicycles in general, but somehow would capture the interest of anyone who would be drawn to that company's distinctive (idiosyncratic? contrarian?) philosophy. It was always an enjoyable read, and so is the Compendium.

Among many great innovations listed in the book, the Brooks B17
is probably the only one that is still used in basically unchanged
form since its Victorian-era inception.

Racing "Over Here" and "Over There," compares British racing with its
Continental counterpart, and features insights from retired racer Robert Millar

Wonderful illustrations, and other cycling-inspired artwork.

Would it surprise anyone to know that London's cabbies hate bicyclists?
They hate bus and lorry drivers, too. But all of them hate the cyclists.

The Brooks Compendium is a large format, beautifully bound book, and over 190 pages of stories and pictures that any true bicycle devotee would be sure to enjoy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wabi Woolens Jersey

Regular readers of the Retrogrouch know how much I enjoy a classic wool jersey. For the last couple of months or so I've had the pleasure to wear the Wabi Woolens Winter Weight jersey for some of my morning commuting. Made in the American cycling mecca of Portland, Oregon, Wabi Woolens are a great choice for winter cycling - and with different knits and styles available, would be a good year-round choice as well.

Wabi Woolens was started in 2008 by Harth Huffman, who coincidentally (just like myself) is also a full-time English teacher. Huffman set out to create top-quality American-made wool clothing for cycling and other outdoor activities. The company now offers their Winter Weight long sleeve jersey, with or without rear pockets (without pockets, it is called their "Adventure" jersey, and would be good for things like X-country skiing), and the Sport Series, which is made from the same merino wool but in a lighter weight, available in either short or long sleeve.

One thing about the Winter Weight jersey is that it is not meant to be machine washable. The jersey is cut/designed to be a little larger/longer out of the package to allow for a small amount of shrinkage, and the amount of shrinkage can be controlled by the washing method. The company recommends that the first wash be done in the machine (I used the delicate cycle, then laid it flat to dry), which will shrink it about 2 inches in length. That initial wash also makes the knit a little "denser" which adds to its resistance to wintery weather. After that, it is recommended that it only be hand washed and laid flat to dry. According to Wabi Woolens, the Sport Series jerseys are treated to be machine washable (though to be safe, I'd probably still use only the delicate cycle and lay flat to dry).

I'm a fairly thin guy, and I found the overall cut to be a nice one, giving a fairly close-to-the-body fit which I appreciate. The company recommends going up a size for someone with a broader build. It's worth mentioning that even though the fit is a trim, athletic cut, it's not restrictive in any way, and will "relax" a little with wearing. I found that the length was more than adequate, and even with the initial shrinking, the sleeves were still long enough - and I have fairly long arms. The length in the body is probably a little longer than I need. If the body were to shrink another inch or two without also shortening the arms, I'd be in heaven. But on the bike, the extra body length does help to keep one's bum warm, and there's no danger whatsoever of it riding up and leaving the lower back exposed.

I am really pleased with the construction of the jersey. The wool, just as advertised, is nice and thick, very soft to the feel, and the stitching and quality are all top-rate. Like any classic cycling jersey, it has 3 pockets in back, and one has an additional zippered pocket-within-a-pocket that is perfect for carrying a cell phone.

Colors and styling are quite traditional. Most are single-color only, without stripes, contrast panels, or other embellishments, though there is a version of the Sport Series jersey that has a 2-color chevron design that looks pretty classy. On the whole, the Wabi Woolens jerseys are about function - not flash. Prices range from $160 for short sleeve jerseys, up to $175 for the long sleeved Winter Weight. That's right in line with other wool jerseys I've seen, and considering the made-in-America provenance and the fact that they are made to last for years, I think they are a great buy. The jerseys can be purchased directly from the Wabi Woolens website.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shortening a Silca Frame Pump

Despite the popularity of mini pumps, which now are often small enough to fit into a seat pack or even a back pocket - sometimes a classic frame-fit pump is a great way to go. And when it comes to frame-fit pumps, the most common choices have long been either the Zefal or the Silca. I've used both, and honestly the Zefal works a little better - but the Silca is my sentimental favorite.

The classic plastic-bodied Silca Impero has long been discontinued, but lightly used or even NOS examples are still easy to find. Getting them in the right length, however, can sometimes be the trick. Not all that long ago, there was a discussion on the Classic Rendezvous group about shortening a Silca frame pump. The timing was pretty fortunate, since I had recently picked up a nice old pump on eBay that turned out to be just about an inch too long for any of my bikes (always make sure about whether the seller's measurement includes the pump head or not!). Since I didn't really want to bother with the hassle of trying to return the pump for a refund, I decided to look into shortening it instead.

There are a couple of methods for shortening a pump. The method that the CR friends seemed to agree was the most reliable is pretty clever, and seemed easy enough to follow, but unfortunately, also requires a drill press for the best results, which I don't happen to own or have access to. However, I did find someone in the group who was kind enough to shorten the pump for me, which was great. Still, even though I didn't end up doing it myself, I thought that revealing the method might prove useful to some Retrogrouch readers who might want to give it a try.

So here, with some pretty simple diagrams, is the method for shortening a Silca frame pump:

First, you'll need to disassemble the pump. Easy enough to do. Remove the plunger, and take off the head, rubber gaskets, and metal sleeve.

Remove the plunger by unscrewing the knurled ring at the top of the barrel.
Unscrew the pump head and remove the gasket and the metal sleeve. Cutting operation will begin by removing material at this end of the pump, and then re-gluing the nipple end back into the shortened plastic barrel.
From here on, you'll have to refer to my home-made diagrams:

Carefully cut the pump to the desired length from the nipple end of the shaft as shown. Make sure that the cut is straight, and clean up any burrs on the barrel with fine sandpaper.
To make it easier to work with for the next step, you may want to make another cut to remove some more of the excess material. Get it down to roughly one inch or a little less.

Here's where the drill press comes in. Carefully chuck the nipple end into the drill press. Take precautions not to damage the threads. The drill press will essentially work like a lathe.

With the end of the pump spinning in the drill press, and using a file, remove the remaining bit of the barrel tube from the "plug" that is glued into the end. Work slowly, and remove just enough material to reveal the plug. You can always take off a little more, but you can't put it back on once it's gone. When it's finished, it should just slip into the newly cut barrel tube.
Use 2-part epoxy to re-glue the plug into the newly shortened pump barrel. Make sure everything is clean and grease-free before gluing.
Next, you need to shorten the plunger tube by the same amount.

Again, cut straight, and make sure the cut is clean on the piece you're saving.
The plunger itself is simply pressed into the shaft and held in place by a couple little punched-in "dimples." Carefully put the plunger shaft into a vise and file through the aluminum shaft to free the plug.

Press the plunger piece into the newly shortened shaft.

Tap with a center punch tool to make new dimples to hold the plunger piece in place. Really - that's how they did it a the factory. If you want to add some epoxy in there just to be safe, it probably won't hurt, but it will make any future changes more difficult.
As you can see, the process seems pretty straightforward. The only thing that prevented me from trying it is the lack of a drill press. If you have a Silca Impero that is too long, and you have the tools, it might be worth a try.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shattering Wheel Deals

Right after I posted about the amazing 2-Spoke wheels (that supposedly generate speed in crosswinds) I caught "wind" of this other high-tech wheel-related story - about Shimano 3-spoke aero wheels shattering under a Team Sky rider in the team time trial at this year's Tirreno-Adriatico race.


The wheels are Shimano PRO Textreme carbon fiber wheels that were also being used by the BMC, Orica-Scott, FDJ, Sunweb, and LottoNL teams in addition to Team Sky. Shimano claims that the wheels passed "rigorous testing" and have a "flawless record."

When the front wheel of Gianni Moscon begins to shatter, he appears to be on perfectly smooth pavement, just riding along (at nearly 40 mph). Although Moscon's wheel is the one that was utterly destroyed and caught on camera, teammate Geraint Thomas said that two other wheels used by the team were also badly damaged in the stage. So much for the "flawless record."

So, what happened? The failures are being blamed on three of the riders hitting potholes in the road (how big these holes were isn't mentioned) but what's interesting is that the wheels didn't break right away. According to the interview with Thomas, Moscon's wheel was the first to break up, but others broke further down the road, whereas the rest of the team had to wait for the others to catch up so they could finish the stage with at least five riders.




By the way, the same wheels have been available to the public for a couple of years now and sell for about $2500 (yes - that's for just the front wheel). I can't imagine paying that much for any wheel -- not even one that doesn't shatter spectacularly.


Shimano is reportedly investigating the incident. In their statement they said, "We are continuing to look closely into all factors that could cause the incident. During production the three-spoke wheel passed PRO's extremely high internal quality control and ISO/UCI standards. PRO's three spoke wheel was introduced in 2014 and has a flawless record, achieving countless time trial victories since, including BMC's team time trial win in the same stage."

In other words, "isolated incident" and possibly, "rider error." Something tells me that their investigation is going to conclude that the riders should have known better than to hit potholes in the road. Good advice for any fool with more money than sense who shelled out $2500 for a single wheel.

Just to put this all into some Retrogrouchy perspective, I recently built what I consider to be a pretty killer set of wheels with NOS vintage Campagnolo Record hubs and Mavic Monthlery Legere rims, and butted stainless steel spokes (36 rear, 32 front). The components were about the best one could get in the late '70s and early '80s -- professional quality all the way -- and in my view, just as good today as they were back then, regardless of the current era's carbon fetish. Their weight rivals a lot of today's carbon fiber wünderwheels, and I expect that they'll probably last the rest of my life. I think the total cost was about $350. Hmmmm . . . which would YOU choose?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Free Speed?

I'm always skeptical when I hear bike and component manufacturers tout the idea of "free speed." In fact, I'm more skeptical of "free speed" than I am of the proverbial "free lunch."

The Dutch firm M5 has recently released a new aerodynamic two-spoke wheel design that they have (somewhat unimaginatively) dubbed "2-Spoke." The wheels are said to not only be the most aerodynamically slippery wheels to date, but that their unique profile actually generates speed in some cross-wind situations.

Well, that's what they say anyhow. The 2-Spoke website claims that compared to 12 or 16 steel bladed spokes, 3 to 6 carbon bladed spokes, or even full disc wheels, the 2-Spoke design  "has the LOWEST air resistance of ALL existing wheels" making them "currently the fastest wheels in the world." But more than that, the company claims that their special airfoil design makes them "generate speed" when crosswinds hit the wheels at angles between 10 and 170 degrees. Hmmm. . .

In this shot, you can pretty clearly see the wing-like (or maybe I should say, propeller-like) profile, where the leading edge of the spoke is rounded, and tapers almost to a point at the trailing edge. Notice that the rim depth also changes from deeper at the trailing side of each spoke, and shallower at the leading side.
Like all companies that make promises of incremental gains and increased speed, 2-Spoke touts how much time a person could potentially save in a time trial. In this case, the benefit is said to be "as much as 2.5 minutes in a one-hour time trial when averaging 51 km/h."

Cue the "record scratch" sound effect: Scraaaaaaattttcccchhhhhhh!
Wait. . . WHAT?? 51 km/h for an hour? Are we aware that the current hour record  (Bradley Wiggins) is 54.526 km? And remember that Eddy Merckx's long-standing record from 1972 was 49.43!

Well that's not a bit overly optimistic, is it?

Okay, so what do these wonder wheels cost ('cause they sure as hell aren't free, either)? List price, in Euros, is about €2400 for the pair, or about €1178 for the front wheel alone. Not quite as expensive as some of today's wonder wheels, but definitely up into the seriously rarefied air.

As often happens when I work on stories about bikes and components with hard-to-fathom promises of performance and speed gains for outlandish prices, I find the need to to go lie down in a dark room with an inhaler. So, as much as I'd love to write more about the 2-Spokes, I've got to cut this short because that tin of Proofide is calling my name again.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Riding a Bike: You're Doing It Wrong

Look at some of the recent headlines you'll find in the mainstream cycling magazines and websites:

Why Everyone Should Take a VO2 Max Test

Get The Perfect Pedaling Stroke


Pain Is The Cycling Coach You Didn't Know You Had

Why You Should Invest In A Bike Fit This Season

The Ultimate 30-Minute Get Fast Workout

Breathing For Cyclists

Four Ways Your Tire Pressure Is Wrong

Rookie Cycling Errors That Will Ruin Your Ride

Ten Cycling Accessories That Will Transform Your Ride

Why You Should Throw Your Rim Brakes In The Trash

Honestly, you'd think that riding a bike was some kind of ancient unsolved mystery, and the magazines, blogs, and websites seem determined to convince us that whatever we're doing, we're doing it wrong. We're using the wrong bike. The wrong accessories. The wrong wheels. The wrong tires. The wrong brakes. We're apparently pedaling wrong, and even breathing wrong.

I'm not going to say that there aren't certain skills involved in bicycling that can't be improved upon, but I really wonder how many people learn to improve upon them by reading these "self-help" articles. In fact, the people who are probably the most in need of help are probably those who would never read a cycling magazine or website in the first place. Certainly, riding in traffic requires not only a good bit of skill, but also a fair amount of nerve. Just understanding the rules of the road (and realizing that they apply to us cyclists as well as drivers) is a big part of it. The "nerve" aspect of it isn't something a person gets from reading articles, though. I've found that the people who are most comfortable in traffic are those who have the most experience in dealing with traffic - and those who started sharing the road with cars at a younger age are often more comfortable than those who avoided riding among cars until they were well into adulthood. Riding with a group requires certain skills too, but again, a lot of it comes from riding with groups.

A billion Chinese people can't be wrong.
The "go-fast" workout advice and coaching tips have always struck me as a waste of time, too. I've always gotten the impression that people who take that stuff seriously are still hacks on the bike, and annoying to talk to, much less ride with. They talk in numbers - RPMs, watts, intervals, heart rate, and O² levels. They talk about "spanking" the climbs, and take pictures of themselves at the end of a ride with their bikes held aloft as if they've just done something unique (Dude - you rode your bike, just like millions of other people who don't even own cars). The "victory" pictures get posted to Facebook, because if it's not on social media, it didn't happen.

The post-ride "victory" photo: probably the most valid pro-carbon argument that can be made.
So much easier to hold the bike aloft.
Then there are the articles about how this component or that accessory will change your ride - or even change your life. Electronic shifting. Disc brakes. Smart phone integration. Power meters. Carbon fiber anything. What most of these things have in common is that they almost always require buying a whole new bike (perhaps I should say another whole new bike). The recent article about "Why you should throw your rim brakes in the trash," which appeared in Outside magazine, is pretty much the epitome of why I can't take such magazines seriously. Throw your rim brakes away - which means, by extension, throw your whole bike away too. If it doesn't have disc brakes, it's hopelessly obsolete and worthless, right? Never mind that the vast majority of bikes being ridden today have rim brakes, and somehow their owners are not careening out of control to their doom.

The Outside article cites a head-to-head comparison between a Trek Domane SLR 8 with carbon fiber rims and rim brakes and a Trek Domane SLR 7 with hydraulic disc brakes. Well, right there is a major problem, because rim brakes on carbon fiber rims are probably the worst braking combination a person could devise on a modern bike. And that's the head-to-head comparison model? They might as well have compared it with the braking of rock-hard 1970s-era brake pads on chromed steel rims. In the rain. Carbon fiber rims are probably the best justification for disc brakes on road bikes today. In trying to shave every gram of weight, wheel manufacturers have been pushing carbon fiber rims - but the braking on them is notoriously bad. So disc brakes are the solution to a problem that can largely be avoided by not "upgrading" to carbon rims. Modern dual-pivot brakes paired with high-quality aluminum rims work amazingly well with very little effort. Later generation higher-end single-pivot sidepulls also work great, and in my opinion, have better modulation. It's only a matter of time before disc brakes take over completely - but I'll never buy a bike specifically to get them.

Despite what the articles say, I'm also quite certain that I will not be getting a VO2 Max test this year, (or next year, or any year for that matter), nor would I recommend it for anyone who isn't getting paid by someone to win bike races. If I was making a significant investment in a brand new custom bike, I might opt for a fit session to make sure I get the best bike for my body, but otherwise I'm not going to shell out for one just because someone who doesn't know me thinks I should. Nor do I think a bike accessory has ever transformed my ride, much less my life.

Riding a bike is a deceptively simple thing -- so simple that people are always eager to overthink it, and to try to get us to do the same. I mean, most of us probably learned how to ride before we got out of the 1st grade, if not sooner. And there's some truth to the old saying that you never forget how. Millions of people enjoy riding on bikes that might be dismissed by some bike snobs as crap, but which get people where they're going cheaply and reliably. Most of us enjoy riding and get a lot out of our time on a bike, whether or not we know our O² levels, our heart rate, or how many watts we're expending. We're happy to use our thumb and forefinger to decide if our tire pressure is "about right" and leave it at that.

Enjoy your ride - don't overthink it. If you're not a danger to yourself and those around you, how "wrong" can you really be?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Cyclist and the Hair

Let's talk about hair for a moment.

Am I the only one who's finding Peter "Mr. McFeely" Sagan's current look to be . . . well . . . a bit "coarse"?




He's kind of got that mountain-man-moonshiner look going these days. I guess he's still winning races - a lot - but he really looks like he just doesn't give a f#%k any more.

Long hair and beards have never really been part of the bicycle racer's image - regardless of what the fashion might have been in other areas. I mean, in the early '70s, when hairstyles were shaggier, one could sometimes see Roger DeVlaeminck's hair reach his collar, and Eddy Merckx began rockin' some serious sideburns - but shoulder-length hair and full beards just never became part of cycling's image.

I think the rider who was probably the most serious about the look of his hair would have to be Jacques Anquetil. By many accounts, he never rode without a comb in one of his jersey pockets. I've seen images of him at the finish line of a race and immediately pulling the comb through his hair. It's difficult to find photos of him with even a cycling cap on his head -- probably didn't want to flatten that awesome pompadour.


Note the scarred elbows, and the sweat still beading his face - but Jacques still had to fix that hair.
On the bike and off, Jacques just exuded class. In 50 years, will Sagan be remembered like Anquetil?