Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Perfect bicycle components, Part 1

Have you ever tried to find the perfect little bit to put on your bike? Just some little fiddly thing. You're hoping that someone makes one that won't sully your nice ride. After all you aren't riding a SledgeHammer with sweet shocks and pegs.

But back to that little thing. Surely there is someone out there that makes that little thing and it isn't a piece of junk.

Such was my problem in the fall of 2007. My LeMond Poprad shipped with a crummy integrated seatpost collar-cable hanger. Problem was that the cable stop forced the brake cable to exit at an angle. Now, when you apply pressure on a bicycle's control cables, they try to seek the shortest distance between the lever and the component. So my rear brake performance had degraded to the point where I was having to crank the cantilever springs almost all the way to 11. The cable was busy sawing a groove in the cable hanger. "Well, what a stupid design!" I thought. Then I began my search for a good, decent rear brake cable hanger. My problem was I was in the wrong century to find one. 1988 or maybe 1992 would have been a good time to track one down.

Searching, searching, searching. It seemed that out in the real world, CX bikes came with the too-short Tektro hanger or a brazed-on cable stop across the seatstays. I won't even mention the cool solutions present on custom or high-end bikes.

I went through three cable hangers. They were all so short! I had to fiddle and fuss with that tiny segment of cable housing at the seatpost in an effort to make the curve as gentle as possible. The cursed cable hangers didn't help any since they forced the cable housing to make a nasty curve immediately behind the seatpost collar.

I FINALLY, after much Googling" discovered that Surly had just produced a rear cable hanger with a generous 70mm length (compared to about 30-40 for widely available components like the Tektro hanger). So I called a nearby shop that had so far come through for me with the good stuff that other, larger, CLOSER shops couldn't seem to get -- Cyclepath.

Well they did it again. Actually even better. See, Surly's hanger was apparently still too new to be immediately available. But Josh tuned me onto a little hanger, very similar to Surly's (but pre-dating it) that was made by Chris Kelly (www.kellybike.com) and called the "candy basket". Because, when you look at it, it kinda does look like a little basket.

It's so simple, yet it does its job so well. And so so hard to find.

My next question? Why do seatposts seem to be so heavy, junky, ugly, over-complicated, un-workably simple or some combination of those attributes??

Thomson has produced what is simply the most beautiful, strongest, "not-heavy" seatpost I've ever had/used/seen/examined.

But that's all for another post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Handmade Bike Show - NAHBS 2008

Yeah, Christmas came either early or late. Or something. After a couple of years of thinking "Aw, why doesn't the cool stuff ever come to Portland?" the cool stuff finally did. The North American Handmade Bicycle Show.

Incredible. two days later and I'm actually still buzzing.

It's impossible to try to sum up an event like this-- you either grok it or you don't.

"NAHBS? Yeah. Awesome, dude. Sweet sweet stuff."

"NAH-what? What? bikes?" Ah never mind.

Couple of things:
The guys at RRVelo had a flipping sweet carbon-composite 'cross bike with internally routed cables. My first reaction was : "Nice but these guys must be from somewhere dry." (They are.) But then I thought I'd check the BB shell. Bingo-- slots in the BB shell. Makes sense-- not only to ease routing but also allows drainage. The paintjob was stunning-- transparent candyapple red with opaque metallic in the middle of the tubes (behind the logo decals). It was lit from below and the bike glowed. I swear. I'm a steel person (aluminum is okay, too) but that composite bike almost made me switch my allegiance! 

I spoke with the guys at the Thomson booth-- yeah, the seatpost and stem guys. I asked them to please make more cool stuff so I could buy more. Their response: "Just wait!"

They've got a very nice seatpost collar coming out soon. Typical Thomson awesome. I asked if they could pretty please make an allowance for a rear cable hanger. I wish I could remember his name, but he was an engineer with Thomson and he said that was exactly what he was going to do and that he was using the Surly hanger as a reference. Excellent-- I use one of Charlie Kelly's "Candy Baskets" which is likely what gave Surly the idea. 

It also sounds like they may produce a front cable hanger at some point in the future. Which is nice. The engineer mentioned a problem they had identified with most of the available front hangers in that they're not square to the steerer and once tightened can put uneven pressure on the headset. Yup! I've grumbled and cursed to myself many times in my search for decent seatpost clamps, rear and front cable hangers. I just can't believe that I have to settle for some uneven piece of forged junk to put on my CX bike. I mean, seriously-- I paid too much to sully the bike with cheap-ass garbage from Tektro. But I don't have much choice. I was fortunate to discover the Charlie Kelly hanger (Thanks Cyclepath!) and now Surly has just about everyone else covered with their similar product. Now we just need something for the front. Hopefully Thomson will step up  with a front hanger.

Anyway-- talking with the Thomson guys was a treat. They were so enthusiastic about what they were doing. Awesome. Keep making stuff guys-- I'll keep buying! Oh-- and start checking their site www.lhthomson.com beginning this summer. They'll announce the release of their seatpost clamp there.

Courage Bicycle Mfg. -- a new builder in Portland -- had a sweet 'cross bike to show off with a super-trick "shark-fin" kinda rear brake cable guide. The cable runs through the seat-tube and then over the little fin projection above the seat-stays. Part of the deal is that they slot the seatpost. Super-slick. And the Thomson post is good for it, too. Anyway-- their bikes show lots of nice little touches. Plus they claim to give back 5% of the purchase price back to local advocacy groups like the BTA. Awesome.

Paul's Components left me a bit underwhelmed. I only troubled them with a couple of questions but got bored-sounding, mono-syllabic responses in return. Sure, I suppose that Paul has been around for a long time and seen and done much. But still, pull the stick out, okay? :)

And Dirt Rag opened up my bag and shoveled in a ton of merch just for subscribing (Years later I finally got around to subbing to my favorite bike mag.). Man! Procrastinating never paid off so well!

Unfortunately the NAHBS moves east next year... Indiana? The organizer's home town I believe. Well, good for me. I was suffering serious handmade bike envy.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Of love and Cannondale Headshoks

Part I

I used to dearly love Cannondale bikes. Even when they ventured into manufacturing motorcycles.

It all started with an ad in Cyclist magazine sometime in the mid-to-late 1980's. It was an ad for Cannondale's "Black Lightning". Do you remember it? I've ridden bikes since I was a kid and never really stopped -- sure my bike life went on hiatus now and then for motorcycles, girls, etcetera but I always came back to the bike.

When I saw that Cannondale I seriously had to have one. But as a teenager in rural Idaho the only thing going was lots and lots of manual labor at the surrounding farms. Not much money. So I built up a road bike from my dad's old Miyata Americana-- I had it repainted, I replaced the old worn out stuff with a hodge-podge of newer equipment-- 105 cranks (Biopace!!), Dia-Compe brakes and levers, Weinmann alloy wheelset (replacing heavy chromed steel clunkers). I was pretty proud of it but I never forgot that Black Lightning.

Then, the summer after I graduated from college, the planets aligned and I bought my first Cannondale bike. An R-400. Metallic black. Sort of a 2nd cousin to the Black Lightning.

Then when it was time for a new mountain bike the only option was... a Cannondale. With a Headshok even, woo!

First time I ran into a problem with the Headshok, the dealer kept my bike for 7 weeks! I've always been the sort that places great value on self-sufficiency so it galled me that I was unable to deal with the Headshok myself. Cannondale makes no service manual available. Their line is that only authorized service centers -- or their own factory center -- is capable of servicing the Headshok. Now I can understand wanting to protect the quality of the ride for the customer. I have met plenty of folks that have sworn off various components or even brands simply because of their own mechanical ineptitude. However, taking a customer's bike for 7 weeks is hardly a good alternative.

Cannondale's tight fistedness with the Headshok is the only worm in a really good apple. But it's a really big, ugly worm.

Stay tuned for Part II. In which your intrepid author takes the plunge into the black arts of Headshok self-service... sort of.