The Enemy: Poison Oak

August 15, 2022 § Leave a comment

One of the very few nasty little hazards in our fair MTB trails in San Diego is the poison oak plant. Toxicodendron diversilobum. More specifically the leaves thereof, and even more specifically the oily urishiol that coats those leaves. This is your enemy. Do NOT touch.

Poison oak (wikipedia)

As I wrote briefly in a post about one of my favorite trails, this canyon is infested with poison oak. Keep an eye out and don’t touch it if you can possibly help it. This includes the dead leaves lying on the ground, btw. Remove all clothes and launder them after riding there. Don’t forget to launder your bike gloves. Shower with a detergent (dish, laundry) and not soap.

The plant is green most of the year and turns red somewhat variably on a schedule I never bothered to learn. Mostly because I am convinced that the color is absolutely irrelevant to the risk, much as you might assume red means most dangerous. I have had numerous exposures to poison oak over the years and have on at least four occasions had to resort to oral prednisone treatment. More on that in a minute.

The reaction to poison oak (not me, obviously)

This is what a bad reaction to poison oak looks like. In my experience one can have an exposure that is limited to a few of the large dots pictured here, or a broader expanse across many square inches of skin. It itches. badly. The pustules eventually start to leak or burst and this not helped by your need to scratch that itch! Over the counter anti-itch creams are, in my experience, insufficient to deal with this except in the very lightest of cases.

So what to do when you are riding? Obviously I am not recommending not riding in these canyons. This is a mostly manageable problem.

First, I am absolutely on alert for the plant at all times. Avoid touching! At just about any cost. Stop the bike, get off and figure it out if you can’t just dodge it in full ride mode. Apparently the dead leaves which often litter the trails and trail side can also have a lot of urusiol on them. I found this out the hard way about two years ago, never having noticed this problem before. I did a low speed tipover and fell on a bunch of leaves. Didn’t think much of it until….later.

Water. Now, I admit that some formative experiences with poison oak have made me paranoid and for some reason I got it in my head that I was once exposed by crossing one of the creeks. Our major local canyon venues, Rose, San Clemente, Tecolote and Penasquitos, all have waterways in them that you may at times wish to cross. If you look carefully, particularly in the stagnant places, you will see an oily sheen on the top of the water. I have been, and remain, convinced that this is in large part urishiol oil from the poison oak plants. And this, my friends who may be confused as to why I do not blaze across water crossings at full speed, is why I am cautious. I will preferentially get off and walk on the stones, even when I am easily capable of riding through a bit of water.

I was noticing on Strava that a frequent local rider was recently badly exposed to poison oak, suspected via water. Apparently we had a water main break somewhere and this ended up turning one of the creeks into a raging river for awhile. This rider happened to be out for a ride and chose to ride through. This ended up with a massive nasty poison oak rash, as I understand it. This is the motivation for this post.

Despite your best efforts you are occasionally going to get a urishiol exposure. Hopefully, you will actually notice when this happens and can take some post-ride steps. It is, of course, possible to do some prophylaxis. There are skin lotions you can smear on that supposedly diminish exposure. You could bring along some alcohol wipes to instantly clean your skin when exposed. I find this to be overkill given my paranoia. I am good at avoiding contact and I am pretty good at knowing when I have sufficient contact as to demand some post-ride attention.

Understanding that you are fighting oils which get on everything is the key to success. Get out of your riding clothes as soon as possible and put them in the wash. Everything. Do not forget your gloves, headbands, and any pads you might wear. Shoes…maybe. If you use a sneaker type flat pedal shoe without any cleats, definitely. I never bother with cleated cycling shoes. Then, get in the shower and wash with a detergent, not soap. Dish detergent or clothes detergent. Bring it in the shower and slather it on. I used to bring bleach into the mix as well, but I think I’ve convinced myself recently that this is overkill.

Depending on how much your bike was exposed, and how soon you plan to use it again, you may want to next turn to washing it. Again, use a detergent. Use dish gloves and avoid splashing yourself. This may be the time to wash off your shoes if you use the cleated type.

The above pictured rash is several days after exposure, in my experience. Starts with a few little blisters and then progresses. As mentioned, I’ve had minor exposures before. So sometimes you can live with it. The over the counter creams may work for you. But once it gets to the point of the illustration, you are in for it.

My recommendation is do NOT screw around. Get to see your care provider and get on the oral predisone. It works and will reduce the length of your misery. Getting you back out riding more quickly. It’s a steroid so you may even get some PED effect, although you did not hear that from me.

Here endeth the lesson.

The Carbon Years

August 4, 2022 § Leave a comment

When the Toblerone IBOC eventually cracked, I was not surprised. If we learned anything from the proliferation of MTB frames made by some guy who knew how to weld back in the early 1990s, it was that aluminum frames frequently developed cracks. On this frame the damage was at the rear of the seat tube if I recall. Where the rear triangle was welded on, most likely. Now, of course, the presumption was for an improved production level from Mongoose, at the time a relatively big bicycle company (they’d made BMX bikes ever since 1974) compared with the boutique upstarts like Mammoth. Frames were made in the far east somewhere, most likely Taiwan, IIRC. One assumed some degree of manufacturing consistency and quality. But still…aluminum has some generic issues as a bike frame material and who knows how much was really going into testing and quality control? Manufacturers changed things up every model year and argued back and forth about the type of aluminum being used, their heat treatment, welding approaches, etc. For a bike company working with Taiwanese (?) factories, who knows whether they used the same ones from year to year….or even within a year. At any rate it was not too big of a surprise to find a welded aluminum MTB frame had cracked.

Since I had paid for the frame, albeit under the contingency race program, I put in a warranty claim. This was in the 1994 model year by this point and Mongoose was no longer making that welded aluminum IBOC Pro SX Toblerone frame. The top level was now a beautiful carbon frame, dubbed the IBOC Team SX, which used a lugged-tube construction. Instead of the full monocoque carbon layup we see in most modern use, this strategy used straight carbon tube sections bonded onto (aluminum?) lugs at the dropouts, head tube, bottom bracket and seat tube junctions. It even came in a lovely green color!

1994 IBOC Team SX (not mine)

Mongoose also had, to my recollection, a more conventional looking aluminum frame somewhere down list. A little bit of googling suggests that the IBOC Comp SX from 1994 used the same lugged and bonded design, but the tubes were all aluminum. A hybrid design for the IBOC Pro SX used the carbon tubes in the front triangle and the aluminum rear triangle, note the rear end looks like the one on the 1993 Toblerone frame. The lugged and bonded approach gave the company a nice modular solution to making frames to fit three levels out of two.

The distributor wanted to give me one of these lesser frames, I think it was the Comp SX, arguing that aluminum equals aluminum. I argued vociferously that top level frame equals top level frame. I seem to recall the weight of the new aluminum IBOC Comp SX was much higher than my 1993 model, an argument which was also deployed. Weight weenieness was very much a thing back then and was a strong argument for (in)equality.

1994 IBOC Pro SX (note Aluminum rear triangle)

In the end, I won the argument and received the green IBOC Team SX. It was sweeeeeeeet! Perfect geometry for me, where the Toblerone had been a little bit long in the top tube. The 1994 frame was stiff where it should be, comfortably compliant where it could be and quiet! None of that loud pinging you got with an aluminum frame. Light, strong. Minimal slope to the top tube fit my style preference. The geometry seemingly designed with the assumption you’d use a Mag 21 fork on it. The perfect mountain bike.

My 1995 Mongoose IBOC Team SX during the occasional commuter days

After at least a year I managed to pull out one of the water bottle mounts, possibly due to me not prepping the screws enough and possibly due to an actual manufacturing flaw. At any rate, I complained to the distributor and got *another* IBOC Team SX frame, this time the 1995 model which came in black. It was the same as the 1994 frame as far as I could tell. Same awesomeness. This was my most comfortable ride all through the dark days when I wasn’t riding much. That started somewhere in the late 90s, not sure I ever raced the 1995 frame. For the next two decades, I’d occasionally take a MTB ride, or go through a several week phase of commuting on it with slick tires installed. It didn’t seem to matter how fat or out of shape I got, hopping on this bike always felt totally natural.

Three fantastic MTB frames for the $250 contingency racer program. Not too shabby!

Epilogue: Notice how all of these bikes have bar ends fitted? I am just saying.

Also: The bike warranty deal during the first Golden Age of mountain biking was variable and weird. Frequently they would say that racing voided the warranty. Occasionally some language that was basically “no taking this mountain bike off road or you void the warranty”. So most people who bought a bike from a shop and broke it would just lie about not racing. Given that I bought a bike frame under a racer contingency program, this must not have been a mongoose concern.

Brake pads

August 4, 2022 § Leave a comment

I’m on the fourth set of disc brakes that I’ve put a heap of miles on. A set of cable actuated Avids on the cross bike barely counts for this discussion, so three sets in actuality. Relevant are, first, the Avid Elixers that came stock on my hardtail and a set of Hayes Strokers. I ran the front Stroker on the Sette (160 mm rotors) with the Avid on the rear for years. And now I have a lot of miles on a set of Shimano XT brakes (resin pads, 180 mm rotors) on the Oiz. I’ve been feeling lately that the Shimano XT brakes are better. More stopping power. And when I use my hardtail recently, it seems way under braked.

This could be my imagination, a difference in maintenance of the older bike or a real performance difference. The hardtail now has Hayes Stroker brakes front and rear. The rotors are 160 mm, front and rear. Increasing rotor size is easy enough but one has to purchase the new rotors and new mounts for the brakes. Which costs money. The one thing I can do easily is the maintenance part. The rear pads have very little wear, but has been sitting in a box in the garage for about 7 years. They are aluminum backed (much lighter than the steel replacements) but I’m not sure what the pads are. I presume semi-metallic or organic because they never made any noise. The front ones were replaced with semi-metallic, steel backed ones within the past two years. I am pretty sure I bedded them in. But not well. I’m pretty sure I did both brakes at once and did the low speed slowdown only.

So first, I put on new pads, mostly in case I had inadvertently contaminated them with WD-40 or spray lube. I went with semi-metallic in the rear and metallic pads in the front. The latter are reputed to offer the most bite, but are also accused of being noisy. I’m going to see if that is true. I also went by the book for installation. I cleaned the rotors with isopropyl, and did the extended bed-in. One brake at a time. 10 slowdowns from about 10 mph, followed by five slowdowns from 15 mph. The front one squealed a little bit on the first two faster ones and then quieted down. This enhanced my confidence that maybe this bedding procedure was actually doing something.

The test ride returned a feeling of good braking, noticeably improved relative to before I did the maintenance. This may be the first set of metallic pads I’ve ever run and they do bite quite nicely. No squealing noticed after the bedding procedure. The initial ride also reported the brakes to be notably less effective than the Shimano XT brakes. To be surer, I will have to go back and forth with the other MTB to really compare. But it feels as though I’d managed to glaze the pads, contaminated them with something or dirtied up the rotor surface somehow. This little bit of maintenance helped. I did not bother to bleed the brakes and it is possible that this will likewise produce an improvement in brake feel.

Sidebar: I put the hardtail, which always feels light to me, on the scale. It’s 25.6 pounds in riding trim. Bottle cages and pump bracket mounted, real tires (Minion DHR II and DHF), sealant, bar ends, steel backed brake pads (which I now realize are really heavy compared with Al pads), longer than stock stem and bar, small cyclocomputer and sending unit. Oh and a light coating of dirt here and there. In stock configuration, with pedals, it probably runs low 23 pound range. The Oiz weighed 26.13 pounds out of the box with pedals and bottle cages mounted. Real tires added about 0.75 of a pound, not sure what the bar ends weigh.

MTB racing: The lightening

August 3, 2022 § 1 Comment

Somewhere in 1993 I discovered a contingency program that Mongoose was running. By now the details are very hazy in my memory but the outlines were that you sent them something like $250 and Mongoose sent you their latest fancy aluminum race frame, the IBOC Pro SX. Possibly you had to apply with a race resume in advance (?). They also sent you two sets of kit and water bottles. There was some sort of payout for successful placings but I can’t recall what that was. I don’t think I ever qualified.

Obviously this was a clever marketing scheme. They had Tomac riding their bikes at some point, had a long history of BMX bike excellence, and had a position in the middle tier of comprehensive bike companies. But they weren’t really hot sellers on the high end MTB race bike side of things. Or so I recall was the case in So Cal. Putting a few more frames into the race scene, with brightly branded kit on the riders, had to be helpful in generating sales at a relatively low cost to the company. That $250 likely covered most of their cost.

1993 Mongoose IBOC (not mine, source)

The frame was rockingly light, especially from the perspective of my first steel pipe MTB. And the price was low in comparison with the boutique frames. Half to a third of the price? I jumped at the opportunity. Ride wise? Stiff as hell, as many early Al bikes were. There were two funky design features lending a distinctive look;,the curved one piece seat/chainstay arrangement and the Toblerone box shaped top tube. I can’t remember what parts I fitted it out with and I don’t have closeup pictures to refer to. I did put the Mag21 on it and probably as much Shimano Deore XT as I could afford. And after that I may have done some stupid-light mods. At some point I had OnZa brakes, at least two different super-light cranks and eventually a White Industries rear hub (which sucked, there was an axle grub screw that simply wasn’t up to the job of holding the bearing tension).

Snow Summit of course

From this set of pics I was on some sort of Shimano hubs and cantilever brakes. So presumably this was before I started going with aftermarket componentry. Apparently I’d also given up on the white OnZa Porcupine tires, these look like the Ritchey Zmax ones I settled on. Super predictable tire, low weight and good price/durability ratio.

Definitely not the White rear hub

A note on camping at the race venue. I had my 1971 VW bus which both carried a lot of bikes and tools with ease and had a very comfortable bed. No struggle sleeping in a tent on the ground for me! And come to think of it, I think they let us park overnight in the Snow Summit lot so maybe I didn’t always use the campground.

The bus

The Toblerone IBOC gave me a lot of great service but it eventually cracked. The rear of the seat tube if I recall.

No worries, this led to my next MTB frame and it was amazing.

Missing the point about electronic shifting systems

August 3, 2022 § 1 Comment

The Bike Radar podcast has an episode which overviews electronic bike shifting systems. If, as I had been, you’ve been essentially ignoring bicycle technology developments for years, we now have electronic shifting. The mechanical solution of pulling a cable one way with a shift lever to adjust the derailleur position, and permitting a spring in the derailleur to return in the opposite direction when the cable is released, has been supplanted. Electronic systems use a servo motor in the derailleur to move it in both directions, and that motor is controlled by a push button of some sort. Pretty cool, right? There are all kinds of advantages, which the podcast addresses.

However. There is an obvious issue with the electronic power that is required.

My very first ride with a person who was sporting an electronic groupset on his road bike revealed what to me appears to be the biggest problem. The guy said, about halfway through the ride, that his battery had run out and he was stuck in one gear (including his big ring up front). One of my more frequent MTB riding friends recently upgraded to an electronic shifting system. We’ve been on maybe 6 or 8 rides since, over the course of about two months. Last ride, we got to the trail head and he discovered he had forgotten to bring his battery with him because it was sitting on the charger at home. Of course, his bike was in a fairly high gear and after trying to single speed it for a couple of miles he turned around and went home.

I am just saying. Out of the two people I know personally that have gone to electronic shifting, 100% have had a power problem while on a ride with me.

At the end of the Bike Radar podcast they are discussing what they’d like to see in future development of electronic shifting and other than bringing down the price, didn’t really have much to say. They did discuss the issues of battery expiration during the podcast, but just as a sort of pluses and minuses discussion relative to mechanical systems. There was no mention of what appears to me to be a highly needed and game-changing feature.

As is often the case with bike enthusiast discussions, I am absolutely flabbergasted that other people miss that which is so obvious.

As far as I can tell, there are none of the complete electronic shifting systems that permit manual gear adjustment when the battery runs out. The potential to be stuck in a gear which makes it really hard to get home seems to me like a tremendous stumbling block to going with these systems. Sure, people adjust to charging batteries- my Apple watch needs daily charging for example, and if you asked me 15 years ago if I’d ever wear a watch that required daily charging I would laugh about great great grampa winding a pocket watch. But making the problem of battery expiration slightly less problematic for cycling systems seems like an relatively easy fix to me.

There is an interesting half-way electronic shifting kludge made by Archer Components which partially addresses the issue. This is a device which clamps a cable-pulling servo motor to the bicycle down stay or seat stay. This can be added to any traditional cable-operated rear derailleur, with the cable pull distance and cog number all tuned with the software. Point being, they tout a “get me home gear” function. When the battery is losing power, the device returns to a pre-selected gear.

This would seem to be an easy add for the full electronic systems.

It does not, however, fix the problem of forgetting the battery altogether. Unless they introduce an “eject” button for the battery so that each time you take it off it does the “get me home” selection, which seems like an annoyance. This would also not fix the problem of being out in the middle of a ride that has one longish section that requires one ideal single-speed “get me home gear” and another longish section that requires another.

A more comprehensive bail-out solution would seem to be the ability to move the servo motor by hand. I’m thinking the addition of a hex-key socket somewhere that allows you to move the derailleur to any gear.

Could this be any more obvious of an improvement?

Epilogue: Mechanical shifting systems do support an emergency bailout function, btw. Another riding friend recently snapped off the downshift lever (i.e., the one you need mechanical advantage for) on his Eagle NX system mid-ride. There was not enough leverage on the stub to shift the derailleur. It was, however, possible to move the derailleur by hand, and then to click the stub of the lever into the right gear. For more catastrophic failures, including a cable snap, it is possible to re-clamp the cable to get a mechanical derailleur in the right bail-out gear. I haven’t had to do it but it might even be possible to jam something in the derailleur parallelogram to keep it in the right gear.

MTB Racing: The limits of retrogrouchery

August 3, 2022 § Leave a comment

The diversity of bike equipment that was available in the nineties, and the riders that I rode with, was broad. There were big brand bike offerings across the range, established MTB brands at boutique prices and newcomers who welded some aluminum together and called it good. All of them were fighting to go lighter, design frames that went faster or that looked better. My weekly MTB ride had a range of participants in their early twenties to forties with various levels of experience biking, fitness, courage and…disposable income.

Graduate school paid a stipend but I was definitely not rolling in dough commensurate with the rapidly expanding mountain bike tech in the nineties. I would ride with a local group that featured a lot of Yetis, Mammoths, Manitous, etc. A sweet red gold and green Rhygin. A Merlin titanium. One of the plainest guys I remember rocked a Ritchey. My ride was pretty basic by comparison. And heavy. In the beginning I was, however, a prime of life kid who had just finished six years of bike racing. Two spring seasons at the high school level followed by four years at the college level. In those days there was only one college level and it was barely a club sport. (I was not ever at the “A” level for my team but was a solid “B” rider.) My local group only had a few with a similar history. A few of those wildcat talents that could climb like goats (aforementioned Ritchey rider) but mostly just early adult enthusiasts who apparently started riding along with the whole mountain bike thing. I was almost always at the front end of the mix…even on the climbs there were only a handful that could scorch me.

Paul Turner invented Rock Shox in 1989, dropped the Mag20/Mag30 in 1992 and introduced the mighty air/oil Mag21 in 1993. Doug Bradbury’s elastomer Manitou fork was in close pursuit for market share (and bragging rights at my local ride).

At first, I saw no need. I was skilled, you see. Sure, I wasn’t the fastest descender in the world but I was fast enough and I figured the differential was courage, not bike. On the local group ride, I was mostly fast enough on our frequent trails that it never occurred to me that I needed front suspension. This version of my retrogrouchery persists. I’m not against new technology. I just can’t usually afford the latest and greatest and I enjoy myself on the existing stuff so long as it functions.

Also, these forks were not cheap. This history page mentions the Manitou coming out at $400 and the original Rock Shox RS1 at $350. It doesn’t specify the Mag 20/30/21 prices but $350 rings a bell. This page claims $370 as “approximate” cost. This page from bikePro.com (remember them? Rock bottom mail order pricing on parts) says the Mag21would only set you back $250 in 1996, but by then the Judy was out as their top level offering. At any rate, these forks were about half as much as my whole bike had cost (the 1993 version of my first Mongoose apparently had a $700 MSRP, which seems to square with my vague memory of what I paid in 1989) and that seemed like an excessive “upgrade”.

Eventually though, enough guys that I managed to outclimb, or drop on the flats, in races started catching or dropping me on the descents that I abandoned my fork retrogrouchery. I recently ran across a bike diary entry that said “I need rock shox!”. Heh.

Somewhere in early 1993 I got a Mag 21.

Mag21 added to the IBOC Comp

And it made a difference. A massive increase in fun factor and at least I didn’t have this fork handicap to blame for any race results anymore.

Eventually my Mag21 made it through four frames and almost 30 years before the fork ends broke off. That was a worthwhile purchase.

So was my next frame.

MTB Racing: The Beginning

August 2, 2022 § 1 Comment

I got my first MTB in 1989, while still in college. I had my first race bike stolen from my dorm porch, that was the much beloved 531 Bob Jackson which had been outfitted as a sort of crosser (add specialized tricross tires, done) and campus bike. Insurance paid a nice sum and covered the MTB. I rode it around the local C. Springs trail offerings quite a bit, but not obsessively. The road race season was taking my time and I didn’t really discover MTB racing until grad school.

My 1989 Mongoose IBOC Comp

This bike was from well into the mature MTB market. Old school, yes. Steel pipes, above bar thumb shifters, cantilever rim brakes, a rigid fork (the pictures show a one piece bullhorn bar I won in a raffle after my first Sagebrush Safari race). But most of these bikes worked really well by this point. Even with entry level enthusiast component spec- Shimano Exage 500LX. At this point this groupset was third in the lineup behind Deore XT and Deore DX. But this third level group worked pretty well and was reasonably durable. And justified “” a lot of money spent on upgrading.

When I moved to San Diego I quickly found we had a lot of incredible mountain bike riding. There were a ton of great trails within a 1-4 mile road segment from my door! Including the wonders of Peñasquitos. I rapidly found a Wednesday night ride which might run 15-30 participants. Amazing!

So of course I ended up racing.

Finishing a race

The races put on by Team Big Bear at Snow Summit were only three hours away, and one could camp right at the base of the ski mountain. There were usually a handful of folks from the local Wednesday night ride who came up and we’d share campsites. Cheap!

Team Big Bear ran maybe four or five races per summer for their Amateur Cup (I think that’s what they called it) and the classes were packed full. I may have started in Beginner but probably rode most of them in Sport. This was the first golden era of mountain bike racing for sure.

Hike a bike!

Courses were not what we’d call ideal for me. It was basically climbing up the mountain from base to top in one go at the start. Then across the top on mostly fire road, mostly flat. Then drop down the mountain in a long descent. Start or finish loops might throw in a bit of hike a bike. The climbs defined the races though. And I suffered.

From an equipment perspective there wasn’t much to talk about- weight weenieness was Goal 1 given the climbing that was involved. And that was a factor of what you could afford. I couldn’t afford much. Change a handlebar (like the free bullhorn), swap out a few bolts for Ti or Al, select tires carefully. A much lighter frame was not initially in my scope of affordability.

Goal 2 was tire selection and pressure. No suspension made it attractive to lower the pressure. So did the top section across the fire roads since there were a few fast sweepers after slight downhills. Trying to make time with my roadie legs against the climber MTBers with no apparent road background meant I was drifting both wheels on the corners. So I’d go as low as I thought I could get away with- in those days dropping below 30 psi was pushing it. 1.95” tire widths and unimpressive volumes with no suspension did not leave a lot of margin. And as mentioned those white OnZa porcupines (see above) were not great tires but they did have decent air volume.

I flatted more than once. Which really slows your race, fixing a tire. There’s a frame pump mounted in these pictures (just behind the seat tube) but I went to a CO2 inflator eventually. (Turned out handy to have kept that for three decades when I had trouble mounting a tubeless Panaracer tire.) Apart from race strategy this ended up giving me a lasting aversion to pushing the limits of tire inflation. I’m now….in recovery.

Other than that I can’t remember much of the early tech swaps. If anything I probably was just gradually inching up to XT. Shifters? Rear derailleur? Brakes maybe?

Then…..the guys with the new fangled Rock Shox started blowing by me on the long downhills.

Nineties NORBA

August 2, 2022 § Leave a comment

This was most likely 1994, the Pros race at Snow Summit.

Professionals

Tinker Juarez, John Tomac, Bob Roll, Ned Overend with Tinker, Julie Furtado and Rishi Grewal.

Tinker is in different kit so these can’t all be from the same race day. His different bike suggests it wasn’t even the same season. According to Wikipedia he was on Klein 1990-1993 and Volvo Cannondale from 1994 onward. I think the rest of the pics are 1994, probably the same race.

Roadie wrenching

July 29, 2022 § Leave a comment

One of the excuses for putting a more expensive group set on a bicycle is durability. And I have generally found the groups that are one down from the top level offerings (aka jewelry) to be amazingly durable. That means I’m a fan of Shimano XT for mountain bikes. I’ve never regretted spending the money. I’ve never regretted not spending the extra money on the top flight XTR components either.

On my road bikes, weeeeeeelll…. I’m a Campagnolo fan. Not back in the day. When I was racing it was first on a bike with SunTour Superbe Pro, dated, but excellent performance. In its day it would have almost qualified at the jewelry level, but mine was well used. Then, long story, my parents were guilted into finally replacing my race bike when constant breakdowns and repairs got me to quit riding. For this I ended up with a weird Santé group from Shimano that was pitched as their second group, but it functioned about on the Ultegra level. This latter is the much longer running second tier for Shimano road offerings, and would otherwise have been my choice. But a relatively inexpensive overall package led to the Santé.

After college when I was making a regular paycheck and had no responsibilities, I tried to replace my beloved first race bike with a new steel pipe Bob Jackson. Another story for another day, but for the groupset I decided to go Campagnolo. Which was, and is, expensive compared with Shimano offerings at a parallel level. I couldn’t justify second tier so I went with third tier, Athena. This was my first bike with them new fangled integrated shifters and I absolutely loved the ergonomics of Campy Ergopower and the shape of the brake hoods. The quality of the Athena group was very high and I never questioned my choice. The gruppo (that’s Italian) worked really, really well. IMO. I sold that bike (for reasons unrelated to group set) after a couple of years, and then eventually started jonesing for another road bike.

2000 Campy Chorus derailleur (yes with new pulley wheels)

I was feeling flush enough in 2000 to spec my new road bike with Campy’s second tier, which was then Chorus. This confirmed my preference for Campy ergonomics, shifter feel and overall function. Multi gear up and downshifts. A “positive feel” to the shifts. Fixed brake lever instead of using that to also shift (the Shimano solution). Great rim brakes. It has been a durable gruppo. And tolerant of abuse (lack of maintenance) over the past 22 years. Every time I got motivated and got the bike out for a ride, it just plain worked. No muss or fuss.

In the Time of Covid this group set has returned to more regular service like a champ. I’d initially had a nagging annoyance with the right up shift lever going wonky. I thought it was broken but when I looked into it, merely corroded. From, you guessed it, essentially zero maintenance over two decades. I worked it lose with a lot of elbow grease and spray lubricant, and it was fine. The build quality (“hmmm I bet Shimano would have used a plastic bushing there instead of brass”) was such that it could be restored to normal function. I’ve even been going on group rides, a scenario where bikes take more than the usual beating. More shifting under load, more cross chaining, more bump hitting, etc.

Eventually the right shifter stopped working properly, the down shift lever wasn’t returning, complicating rapid shifting needed in group riding. Now, one of the other reasons we justify the price of Campagnolo is the legendary rebuild-ability. So I ordered up a spring kit from Branford.

And so we begin

I was slightly intimidated by online descriptions of the Ergopower lever refurbishment. Thinking it might take me awhile to get to it, and I might screw it up anyway, I also ordered a down-grade upgrade. It turned out that 11 sp Campy fits on my 10 sp freehub. It also turned out that a set of Campy Centaur 11 sp shifters, a derailleur, cassette and 11 sp chain were not outrageous in price. And they can handle up to a 32 t rear cog, a big change from the 27t limit on the 2000-2002 groups. I have a 2002 Centaur group (with Chorus shifters) on my cross bike. At the time it was the third level group and this has also held up really well. Centaur 11 sp was, however, the fourth level group and by now is out of date since Campy is evolving into 13 sp cassettes. Thus, discount pricing.

Final rationale: It turns out that moving to 11 sp cassettes was the threshold to force all major manufacturers to use identical spacing. Previously one could not use a Campy cassette with Shimano index shifting, nor the Shimano cassette with Campy index shifters. Nor could one fit a Shimano cassette on a Campy freehub or the reverse. So what, Campy boy? Well, my crosser was a very early disc brake cyclocross frame, it hit the market about a year before the UCI disc ban for 2003. Regular road axle spacing and of course quick-release for the hubs. Campy was not making a disc hub at the time. (I don’t know where the cyclocross frame company was getting the hubs for their full bike builds.) For my custom build, the good folks at Excel Sports built me a 700c rear wheel on a down-spaced Shimano XT hub. (Down spaced because road rear hubs fit 130 mm axle spacing and MTB hubs were 135 mm at the time.) And back then, one could get a Campy 10 sp spaced cassette from Wheels Manufacturing that fit on the standard Shimano Hyperglide freehub. That all has worked flawlessly. But…the aftermarket no longer makes this cassette. If I wear mine out, I’m facing a new wheel built with what seem to be the endlessly customizable DT disc brake hubs. Unless I happened to upgrade to an 11 sp shifter and rear derailleur. Campy indexing now works with any old 11 sp cassette, including any of the ones that fit on my XT hubs’ Hyperglide standard. Plus I get a gear range extended to 32 teeth. So putting the Centaur 11 on my road bike, pending repair of the shifter, made even more sense since it had a home on the crosser after that.

It took me a good nine months to get around to fixing the original shifter. A topic for another day but I didn’t like the Centaur 11 sp as well as my old Chorus 10 sp so I did eventually find the time. Interestingly, nothing was actually broken. Not the G springs, not the carrier. Oh well, maybe the springs are just weak? I watched this YouTube and it was enough to manage the main shifter spring replacement. I went for a shake down cruise and remembered that which I had forgotten. The problem was the downshift lever return spring. Which is a lot easier to repair. You just drive the pivot for the brake lever out to get it out of the way. Then you can replace the shifter lever spring easily.

Hmm old spring not broken

All fixed now. I will have to see how it works on the road and if I managed to actually restore it to normal operating condition.

Bar Ends

July 21, 2022 § 2 Comments

As noted before, I’ve returned to more regular bike riding after Covid hit in 2020. I’m on about 28 months of riding somewhat regularly, with most of it mountain biking. The sport has changed and evolved and improved and diversified, which is awesome. The bikes are better than they have ever been, more terrain is available on which to ride legally and I see a more diverse ridership out on my beloved trails.

After about a year, I modernized my primary MTB. The bike I’ve ridden (infrequently) for a decade now is an old school design. It is a hardtail MTB designed for XC racing type of riding with design and spec that was already getting dated. A three chainring / 9 speed cluster drivetrain with 26″ wheels. At the time the fight between 27.5″ and 29″ wheels was fully engaged and 10-sp clusters had been out for at least a year or two. It was slightly better than the 1990s bikes, mostly due to the disc brakes and tubeless-ready wheels, but I had not made the switch to tubeless (until 2020).

So when I made the upgrade to modern hardware, everything was different. Including the cockpit, which I immediately set about modifying to meet my needs. Of course, that involved putting on some bar ends.

Bar Ends on Everything

Back in the 1990s, slapping some bar ends on was the first modification most riders made to their rigs! They were standard. Obligatory even. Not too expensive, many different shapes and lengths to choose from and you would hardly ever see a serious (read: fast) rider without them. Look at all of these pictures of Alison Dunlap, late 90’s-00’s American superstar, sporting bar ends. Deadly Nedly with bar ends, and Julie Furtado as well. Alison Sydor and Ruthie Mathis. Bob Roll and Thomas Frischknecht. Tinker Juarez, to my recollection, always seemed a little odd for not using bar ends but everyone knew he started in BMX so…

For a converted roadie, which many were, it was like having the position of hanging on the hoods on a road bar. This, btw, is where have my hands 90%+ of my minutes on a road bike. Either on the brake lever tops (hoods), or just behind them, on the forward curve part of the handlebar. And even when on the drops of a road bike bar, guess what? Your hands are in the same approximate orientation as is provided by bar ends on a flat bar MTB.

I’ve started watching top level mountain bike racing, thanks to free streaming coverage of the UCI World Cup MTB races on Redbull’s app. Zero riders with bar ends. Nobody I ride with has them. I never see them on the trails. I even got hazed by the announcer at a race this summer for my bar ends!

I do NOT understand how people ride their MTBs without them. Seriously.

Since I have been out of the sport, not following the racing, not following product reviews and discussions and not consuming any enthusiast media for so long, I have no idea when this happened or why.

I recently thought to do some web searches of the pro racing to try to figure out when bar ends were last seen at the top level of XC racing.

2008 Marathon championship looks like almost everyone had bar ends, as did the U23 men in 2009. This 2009 season kickoff piece has a mixture of with and without bar ends although I am just assuming the pics all come from 2008.

In 2010 I see no bar ends at the Mont St Anne round although Nino Schurter was sporting bar ends in 2011 at the Dalby Forest round. Maybe I should just key on Nino since he was TEH MAN during these years. Here he is without bar ends in 2013. He had them at Pietermaritzburg in 2012, but not at Mont St Anne.

Another person to check would be the legendary Gunn-Rita Dahle. Undated picture here shows her sometime before late 2008 with bar ends, in 2011 with bar ends. Bar ends being used by Gunn-Rita in 2012. Definitely without bar ends in 2017.

and speaking of legends, here’s Julien Absalon sporting bar ends in 2008, again in 2009, but not in 2010. Flipping through that Luca Pedroni photostream from that 2010 race shows some bar end users.

So far, we’re looking at 2010 as possibly being the decisive year where bar ends were done, done, done.

So, why bar ends? For me it is the ability to change hand positions around during a longer ride, the seeming change in pedaling power when you get longer and lower on a bike (any bike), fore/aft leverage you can apply when fighting for traction balance on a loose-surface climb and the more natural hand position for out of the saddle. This latter is number one for me.

Why does the enthusiast press, online blather and what not think bar ends were for and why they went away? Here’s MTB action from 2012, seemingly. Bikeradar from 2016. restoration.bike from 2020, in a post which has a review of bike catalogs, charting the appearance of bar ends in the early 1990s. Brainy biker from 2021.

It is difficult to find any real reason for why bar ends disappeared. The consistent claim seems to agree that wider bars, and possible the riser versions, killed bar ends. Because supposedly the width (and height?) provided “leverage”, argued as being required by the increase in wheel size from 26″ to 27.5″ and 29″. Leverage is often referenced as a benefit of bar ends. This post from MBR suggests old school narrow bars required bar ends for leverage. I find this to be nonsense. Bar ends do not, to my feel, give you rotational steering leverage. As you would get with a wider handle bar- this I have plenty of experience with due to my experiments with bar length. Trying out different widths, adapting to the 29″ wheel bike and ending up trying additional widths on the 26″ hardtail…yeah, width changes leverage. Bar ends do not change steering leverage. They give you fore/aft leverage. The ability to titrate rear wheel pressure to maintain traction on loose climbs, mostly. IMO anyway. So no, wide bars do not replace that function. And I am not seeing where risers make any diff, although I suppose the fact that most people run bar ends at an upward angle means you get a little riser effect by moving to the bar ends… but if that is a big deal, maybe your bars are not in the right place anyway. All a riser does is take the place of proper stem angle and mounting height on the fork.

The restoration.bike article claims that a change to shorter, more technical courses in XC racing de-prioritized the benefits for climbing, but I’m not buying that one. The climbs are plenty long enough to shift your hands around and get some advantage. OTOH, the mass starts of today’s XCO and short track racing definitely give me pause. There would be an increase in hooking crashes, that seems clear. And maybe all of the close passing as well. I’ll buy that. But climbing? no.

But this doesn’t explain the loss of popularity with the non-racer, which is most of us. Hooking trees? I mean, that’s a function of bar width and minimal skill. I never hook trees with my bar ends. never. And if you argue that some people ride in much denser trails, with branches and vines and what not? Sure, they can eschew the bar ends but what about everyone else? Colorado? Utah? AZ? Cali? We don’t need to worry about snagging trees.

We are left only with fashion. And that is stupid.

Are you a regular on the D1 ride?

July 17, 2022 § Leave a comment

This was asked of me by the ride leader, about midway through. Those guys rotate leader duty and I have not been on many of the rides, something on the order of 7ish, in about 15 months. I said no, only a few. Which is technically true. He said something sort of complimentary about my riding, particularly in the pace lining part. Some other club kitted folks said things endorsing that comment. SDBC is a very welcoming club.

In a way, I’m slumming it on the road ride I have been doing. The SDBC D rides are developmental. The D1 ride is supposed to be the last bit of skills tuning before releasing riders into the regular ride ranks (A-C). Skills such as riding in a paceline without gapping too much, doing a proper rotating paceline, and just generally not being a squirrel.

I do not require skills tuning to ride in a recreational club ride. What I do require is a club ride that goes slow enough that I can keep up. And preferably one that waits to regroup after key climbing sections. The D1 ride meets that set of requirements. I am clearly not alone in this as there are frequently older folks on the ride that are well experienced pack riders.

The C ride can be a bit much for me if I am not at the higher end of the form I’ve managed to regain in the past two years. I did it once and it was fine, particularly because I skipped a key climb in the middle. Then I tried it several months later, in lesser form, and it did not go well.

So I most often choose the D1 ride. And this is right for me. I’m definitely getting the workout I need from a group road ride. It’s hard to describe the benefits but compared to riding your own pace, pack riding is different. You ride a bigger gear because of the slipstreaming effect and because, ideally, you’ve picked a ride that has people faster and stronger that want to ride in the wind. You are constantly making small changes in power output because of the accordion effect and because the lead riders are riding their pace. And your weaknesses are…laid bare. On two of the moderate grades I have to focus to stay with the wheel in front of me while keeping the HR in a reasonable place, although by now this is well within hand for me. I do get dropped on the bigger climbs. Mostly I’m not dead last on the climbs but I’m close to it.

But….

There are a couple of places where I get to show off. Downhills that permit some pedaling up through to tucking speed. The flats after one of them. The approach to the line sprint. This is one of the reasons I have always loved cycling- fast is not always fast. For any level of rider, there will be strengths and weaknesses. Some are really good climbers. Some can put down a lot of power on the flats or modest descents. Some can sprint really fast. And even though group rides are not really competitive, you can show your stuff in key sections of a ride.

And it’s not just my competitive nature, and need to show off. It’s why I’m out on these rides in the first place. I.e., to get a workout I can’t get any other way. So I’m less trying to “win” the section and more trying to see how long I can hold top big gear power.

It was after I’d taken off on the descent in the middle of the ride that the leader asked his question about me doing the ride before. He also semi-apologized and said he was encouraging people to get on my wheel. I don’t know if anybody tried, but they sure didn’t succeed. Heh

I later told the leader he asked the wrong question. I indicated I spent many a Saturday in my twenties on the ride, before there were any letters. It was just one real ride and one developmental ride, as I recall. I felt guilty I guess? As if they were erroneously complimenting me on being a quick study.

Oh and I got a nice comment on my BLM jersey from some guy in his sixties. Told me his mom taught him all about that. I’m happy my jersey makes people spare a thought or two for the ish. Just another reason I wear it.

Chains, supply and other

July 15, 2022 § Leave a comment

I thought we had mostly come through the acute issues of interrupted supply chain for bike parts. Road tires seem plentiful now, and I’ve had no difficulty getting the things I needed for at least a year. Including a chain about six months ago. Welp.

I was not really connecting the dots on the early season pro-biker dropped chain complaining. There was a lot of talk of insufficient supply of Shimano 12 speed parts (I gather Dura Ace 12 sp was launched last August) and mixing and matching with older 11 speed parts. Maybe I thought it was all fixed now, since there has not been recent chatter from the pros. Factories up and running after re-tooling for the newish Shimano 12-speed needs? or maybe I thought it was just a Dura Ace level problem. Because I got an XT chain in January, no problem. A few weeks ago I thought maybe I’d need a chain soon and….dun dun dun, my regular place to order was out. No problem, the next place I checked had them. “Maximum of two per customer” I read without really thinking about it. Did not order one.

On my one year anniversary clean of the new bike, I measured the chain as worn. The lesser mark on the gauge, 0.5%, but still. The recommendation seems to be change 11-sp and 12-sp at 0.5%. Clusters are much pricier than chains, dummy! Could not find stock at several of my usual online vendors. Ruh-roh.

Resorted to… EBay. First hit was “direct from China” with a long lead time. But phew, one slightly less sketch vendor was promising one week or less.

Package

This did not really build my confidence. What is this, bulk OEM diversion or something?

Better….

Phew. This looks more like the genuine article. Won’t really know for sure until I compare with the old one.

Wrenching

July 2, 2022 § 2 Comments

Noting a few maintenance items. It is one year since I ordered the dual suspension, I put roughly 1,250 miles on it, and I’m finished with the summer race series. So, it is time for a couple of things.

I swapped the meatier Aggressor tires back on. The rear (Ikon) race tire was sealant free but the front one had some left. Instead of Stan’s, I’m trying a muc-off product: it looks thicker for sure, and has little black bits in the pinkish medium. May be overkill? My sealant is usually activated by fairly small pinholes and not big tears so I may not need the apparent burliness of this sealant.

I installed new brake pads, a straight replacement for the Shimano finned jobbies. J03A Resin models. There is some wear left on the old pads but not a lot. A year seems like pretty good service to me. I see quick Google hits saying “up to 1,250 miles if you have sintered pads” and lower end estimate of 500-700 for resin. Given our generally dry and dusty conditions, and the fact my riding doesn’t really hammer the brakes too badly, this seems about right. The brake levers had been feeling squishy and this was immediately reversed in the bed-in test. Maybe a little too much. I may have to fiddle a bit with the front one, re-bleed even, to get the pads retracting properly.

Wash. I am not a huge fan of wet washing but it was time. Of course that eventually entailed pulling the cluster off and apart to get all the crud out from between the teeth. Scrub, scrub, scrub. Man the dirt gets into every crevice! I didn’t measure the chain but it is getting about time to keep an eye on it. I got 666 miles out of the first one and swapped it for performance reasons, did not bother to measure. Shifting is getting slow so it’s either time for a chain, shifter cables or both.

The pedals had been releasing a bit too stiffly lately so I put new cleats on my shoes, cleaned the pedals and sprayed them down with lube. Will have to see how that works- the old cleats didn’t look all that bad so I’m thinking that was not the major issue. Perhaps the generous lubing will work.

I put new tires on the road bike, as well. It hasn’t been getting as many hours of use as the MTB but the colored side stripes were looking imbalanced. And I think I put these on during the first Covid year, I remembering not being able to find exactly what I wanted for a few months. I have been making more hard rights than lefts, apparently. There were also two or three punctures on the tires, not a huge deal but with enough wear the punctures start coming faster. I put on new Conti Ultrasport III’s on, working against my old anti-Continental bias that I can’t recall a source for. Something about wrestling tight beads onto rims maybe? These went on about like an average tire. Mileage marker of about 1,350 miles on the Strava equipment tracker. Which is probably reasonably close for the miles on these tires. I have not worn the Panaracer tires down to the threads (like I did with the last pair) so they probably have at least 400-500 more miles in them. For reference, for those that squeeze every mile out of a set.

Race Report: Quick n’ Dirty Summer Series #8

June 30, 2022 § Leave a comment

The final race of the summer series was on the shortened clockwise course. No shenanigans on the start lap so it was three laps identical to the final two from last week.

I felt pretty good! Nice to end the series on a high note. I completed seven races over nine weeks. Since #4 was skipped and the bye week was after that, there was a three week break in the middle. Still, pretty good to handle the weekly grind without major body breakdown.

I discovered the battery on my Cateye had died so I wasn’t able to monitor heart rate during the race. That may have been a good thing? Strava says that I kept it under threshold for most of the race. And even on the climbs I managed not to max it at the top going over the last steep part. Lap averages were 157, 162 and 163 bpm, compared with 166 bpm ave for each of laps 2 and 3 last week.

Lap times were 19:26, 20:25 and 20:34 so as per usual my drop off is from lap 1 to 2 and less so for laps 2-3. Just missed breaking the hour, 1:00:26. All three laps were faster than laps 2-3 last week, further confirmation I was feeling good all race.

Got an enthusiastic comment on my BLM jersey…from a guy. Joining the guy who said something two races ago so….no longer a woman-only thing. Go figure.

Series points for the Big Boned category had me at 5th out of the six riders that completed at least six races. Not too surprising given that I am usually DFL or close to last in the category. I was 5 points behind 4th place, since there was a one point difference for every place, I would have had to be one place higher relative to that guy in each of five races. My recollection is that my times were not ever close enough to have had a chance to pick up another placing.

Race Report: Quick n’ Dirty Summer Series #7

June 26, 2022 § 1 Comment

The course was clockwise again….but putting all of the climbing into a half-mile section mid-lap was not the worst part.

The start for this week was….terrible. The water authorities lowered the Lake by 18 feet to do some dam repairs. So the lovely folks at QnD thought it would be fun to insert about 500 meters of former lake bed into the start lap. All was sorta ok as long as you were rolling across the crust. But, like crusty snow, once you sank through to the loose sand, it was almost unridable. I walked probably the last third of it. All kinds of waves passed me. I think the lead Beginners included.

The lake bottom section, 1 week later

They clipped off about a mile from the top of the course. At first I thought this would feel like the 2nd and 3rd times up the climb came too quickly but naaah. That part was fine. Felt maybe slightly better on the climbs. Strava claimed a few seconds faster on each time up the hill, compared with the same lap on Race #3, amounting to a grand 11 sec in total, so the feeling better is down to marginally improved fitness, not going slower.

No that water wasn’t there

With the altered main laps and the novel start to the first lap, I can only compare segments with Race #3. The 12.9 miles was almost 3 miles shorter than the 15.7 miles of Race #3 and 1:04 completion time versus 1:13:24 for the longer race says those were easy miles. I ran the 2nd and 3rd laps, the only comparable ones, about the same, only 10 sec slower by the end. In essence I dropped 20 sec by the top of the major climb, kept that lag through to about the parking lot and then regained about 10 seconds in the last half-mile or so.

I tried to focus on getting a big rest after each trip up the climb, as per prior experience. I did not get going as hard as I could immediately after the climb, and tried to let the HR get back down below threshold levels. This lost me 28 seconds total on the upper flat section for the three laps versus Race 3. I was also a few seconds slower on the following descent each lap, adding up to another 7 seconds. This was mostly due to not getting a good launch out of the hairpin turn near the top. Still, there was no indication that dialing it back at the top of the climb allowed me to speed up thereafter.