Friday, May 1, 2015

Video: Campagnolo Revolution

I saw this little promotional video from Campagnolo a couple days ago that really caught my eye: The Revolution Continues. The concept is cool, the music is energetic, it has some intriguing camerawork, and it features some really awesome vintage bikes. As commercials go, it's almost more like a short movie.

The concept of the video is that we see a rider on a Campy-equipped bike riding through gorgeous Italian countryside -- as well as through time itself. His bike, his Campy components, and his clothing keep changing, or evolving, as he rides.

The rider starts out on a 1940s-era Bianchi with Cambio Corsa shifting. You get a nice drive side view of the bike and the shifting system -- though you don't actually see the rider shift gears with it, which I think would have been a great touch.
Close-up of the twin levers of the Cambio Corsa, identified as being from 1946.
The rider, with his Bianchi wool jersey and a spare tire wrapped around his shoulders, passes the mysterious gentleman leaning against a car, reading a newspaper. . .
Who is this mystery man?
The rider stops to fill a waterbottle. . .
And when he comes back, he discovers his bike has changed. What are these levers on my downtube?
It's now 1951, and the bike is another Bianchi, this time with a Gran Sport parallelogram derailleur -- the granddaddy of Campy's derailleur designs for the next 35 years or so.
One of those unusual camera shots.
Stopping by woods for a "natural break."
The mystery man appears . . . 
. . . and leaves a calling card of sorts. By the way, that must be a really early version of the Campagnolo cone wrench. I've got several, some which might be as old as 1970s, but none looks quite like this one.
The rider comes back to his bike and finds it replaced by a Colnago with the full Campy. . .
. . . And a new jersey. 
I have to question the video's dates at this point. The video says Gruppo Record 1963. It's true that Record was introduced in '63 -- but this really looks like Nuovo Record, which was introduced in '67 (with modified chainrings on the crank). I'm thinking that the Colnago is more like '70s, or even '80s vintage, as well.
There's the tell. Campagnolo completed their gruppo with the addition of brakes in 1968. But this is a short-reach Super Record brake with other details (script logo, domed quick-release lever) that say early '80s. Oh well.
Another water stop, and the rider transforms with a really bad mustache (in what era would that have been stylish? Maybe in Italy?) and a new jersey . . .

. . . While the bike transforms into a Super Record-equipped Atala. Super Record was introduced in the '70s, so I'm not sure why they chose to highlight 1983. But it's a good period choice.
The rider continues on in his Atala team kit and bike -- still being watched by the mystery man.

. . . Who is now following in a VW Microbus.
The rider transforms again into lycra kit, on a bike that looks like a pretty generic aluminum and carbon-fiber machine. At this point, the Retrogrouch stops being interested in the bikes.

On the close-up, we see 10-speed Super Record. Still don't know what the bike is -- don't really care, either.
I can't identify the team jersey at this point -- but I really think it says "Gran Fondo." He rides into a tunnel, and when he reemerges back into the light . . .
. . . His bike is transformed into a carbon fiber Trek with 11-speed Super Record. Odd, because I'm not aware of Trek offering bikes with Campagnolo (I could be wrong).
At the top of the climb, we see the mystery man, surrounded by Campagnolo support people. I still don't know who the mystery man is -- I know he isn't Valentino Campagnolo. Maybe he just represents a visual personification of the Campagnolo name, identity, or "presence" -- like some kind of visual metaphor? 

They present the rider with a new bike. A pretty generic-looking carbon fiber frame, loaded up with the latest Campy Super Record parts.
I still think that's a really ugly crank.
The rider at this point pulls on a Europcar team jersey -- and actually changes into a completely different person -- I presume a member of the team. I'm having to declare ignorance here, as I don't know who it is. The only Europcar rider I would recognize is Thomas Voeckler, and this ain't him. Also, I find it odd that it focuses on Europcar, since last I heard, they were denied their WorldTour license for 2015
A few odd choices, and maybe some questionable dates, but the overall effect was kind of fun to watch. You can watch the complete video, which is linked here to YouTube:


Enjoy!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who Needs a Power Meter?

Who needs a power meter?

You do, of course.

Or at least, that's what some people would like you to think. You can't pick up a bicycle magazine, or click on a bike industry cheerleading blog without reading about the latest power meter that's "guaranteed" to take your cycling up to a "new level." If you aren't measuring your watts you're just pedaling around, and what's the point of that?

Crank based, pedal mounted, or hub-based -- power meters come
in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Why limit yourself to just one?
I know that a lot of pros out there are measuring their power output, though I have no doubt that even among their ranks there are at least a few who see it as a waste of time and probably do it only to fulfill some clause in their contract. But the pros do it, so you should too. For a lot of riders out there, that's all they need to know. So they plunk down maybe another $1000 on another electronic gadget that will spit numbers at them -- numbers they can track on computer programs and combine with all the other numbers they get from their heart-rate monitors, and speed and cadence sensors -- numbers that should, if anything, just remind them that they are not professional cyclists, which is of course exactly why they don't need a power meter. What they need is to get a grip on reality.

Maybe they spend so much time watching their performance numbers that they forget to look at the numbers in their credit card statements?

You can never have too much data.
The funny thing, though, is that to the performance addicts for whom this stuff seems important, $1000 is a "bargain" for a tool that they believe will give them an edge, no matter how small and meaningless. If they're a mid-pack-finishing Cat. 4 racer, they're still going to be a mid-pack-finishing Cat. 4. Measuring increasingly intricate data won't change that. Or if they're really successful they might temporarily bump somebody out of a Strava ranking. Temporarily.

Searching around various bike blogs, I've found examples of performance addicts for whom having just one power meter wasn't enough. For something as important as measuring watts, you can't necessarily trust one type of meter to give you the most complete performance picture. You need meters of different types so you can compare the results. Get the numbers from the crank, then compare them with the numbers measured at the hub. Crunch the numbers through a computer program. Add in heart rate and everything else, and guess what? You're still an amateur, but an amateur with a lot less money.

I liked this quote from one of the blogs, Why You Need A Power Meter: "So why should you get a power meter? The short answer is that you simply are more likely to achieve your race goals by training -- and racing-- with a power meter than without. It is the most affective (sic) tool you can get to go faster on a bike."

In fact, that blogger would recommend a power meter over "fast wheels" -- "every time." "When it comes to speed the engine is always the most important part. A power meter will help you develop a bigger one. With sleek wheels you still have a small engine."

Except that for the performance addicts, it's not a question of one or the other. It's both -- or all of the above. It's the $1000 power meter and the $3000 wheels. The $6000(+) bike. It's the heart-rate monitor. The computer programs. The off-season stationary trainer. The dietary supplements. Oh, the humanity.

Ultimately, with all this data -- the obsession with numbers and incrementally miniscule (and meaningless) performance gains -- a bicycle just becomes a really expensive training device, and gets farther and farther away from what makes a bicycle great.

My advice? Forget about watts. Unplug and just enjoy the ride.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Death Knell for Rim Brakes?

The UCI, the organization which regulates professional bicycle racing, has finally "embraced" disc brakes on racing bikes -- which just might be the beginning of the end for rim brakes. It probably won't happen overnight, but now that the pros are switching over, the industry marketing machine will go into overdrive to make sure everyone makes the switch.

The UCI decision will introduce disc-brakes on a trial basis later this year as "all teams will have the opportunity to use bikes with disc brakes at two events of their choice during August and September." The testing period will continue through the 2016 racing season, and then the brakes will be introduced officially in 2017. According to the UCI announcement, "The aim is to eventually introduce disc brakes to all levels of road cycling."

Like I said, it's only a matter of time.

What I find hard to swallow in all the discussions about disc brakes, road bikes, and racing, are all the various claims being made. Take this claim from UCI President Brian Cookson: "This step is part of the UCI's desire to encourage innovation in order to ensure cycling is even more attractive for spectators, riders, bike users and broadcasters."

How exactly does this make cycling "more attractive" for spectators, or bike users? Does anybody watch bike racing and find themselves wishing that the bikes had disc brakes? Are there people out there who think, "I'd love to watch bike racing, but not until they start using disc brakes"?

As for "bike users," they've been able to get bikes with disc brakes for years now. Other than providing some kind of meaningless "validation" to their braking choice, what difference does it make if the pros used them or not?

The benefit for broadcasters is obvious. Everyone will "need" a new bike, which means more ads for the "new" and "superior" disc brakes, and the bikes equipped with them.

Of course, nobody benefits from the decision more than the makers of bikes and components. And the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) was on hand when the UCI announcement was made earlier this month. "This decision will further develop innovation and create new possibilities for the bicycle industry as well as additional performance for the riders."

Look at some of those claims. Additional performance for the riders. Really? Apart from anecdotal evidence, I have yet to see anything that convinces me that disc brakes are remarkably better than rim brakes (which, functionally speaking, are disc brakes too). Performance in the rain is somewhat better. And one can apparently reach maximum braking with less lever effort. But the lever effort on modern rim brakes is pretty light, and the modulation is great. If the only experience one has with rim brakes is of the crummy old stamped steel calipers on steel rims of old low-budget bikes, then discs would have to look pretty amazing. Modern brakes, even some of the cheaper ones, work remarkably well. The only downsides to them are that they're light, simple, and effective.

There are other drawbacks to discs that don't get mentioned much. The components are downsized so much in an effort to reduce the weight, that overheating becomes an issue. People sometimes talk about rim brakes getting so hot on a long descent that tires could burst. That is true, but with hydraulic systems, the same scenario can result in the brake fluid boiling, leaving the user with no brakes at all. Too much heat can also warp the discs. It happens on cars with their massively thick vented brake rotors -- how can anyone argue that it doesn't happen on bikes with their tiny 1/8" (or less) thick discs?

Another issue, one that barely gets mentioned, is that disc brakes put tremendous forces on a fork at the ends where the fork is weakest, instead of near the crown where it is strongest. What this means is that the fork needs to be "beefed up" for disc brakes, making it less flexible, which in turn affects the comfort of a bike.

In the debates over disc brakes in pro racing, a claim I have heard more than a few times dealt with the danger over mixing disc and rim brakes in the same peloton. People would say that if some riders used discs while other used rim brakes, it would lead to a dangerous situation in the mountains and in the rain. Any time I've seen independent tests of brake performance, there is so little difference between rim and disc brakes that I'm convinced the concern is overblown. It makes good marketing, though.

The real issue with rim brakes in pro racing is not the brakes, but the rims. So many racers are switching (or have switched) over to carbon rims instead of aluminum -- and the braking on those, especially in the wet, is known to be lousy. It's no secret, considering that the carbon rim makers tout their best rims as having braking performance that rivals that of aluminum. That right there is probably the biggest reason for the push to disc brakes.

For most people, and in most conditions, it makes little difference.

If I were buying a new bike and it came with disc brakes, it wouldn't be a deal-killer. But nobody should get the idea that rim brakes are inferior, or necessarily obsolete. Given the simplicity of rim brakes, their solid reliability, and the versatility of having widespread brake-pad compatibility, I see no reason to make a switch. How much longer will I have the choice?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Totally Legit 100% Guaranteed Zero-Creak Bottom Bracket

Much has been written, and many curses uttered, about creaking press-fit bottom brackets on expensive state-of-the-art bicycles. Here on this blog, I take an almost perverse glee in the problem. Just last month I wrote about a couple of new entries to the bottom bracket market that were supposed to silence the issue -- the BBInfinite, and the Enduro TorqTite.

Now there's another new solution that has its makers so bold and so certain of success that they promise it to be 100% Guaranteed Zero-Creak, and it comes from a company called . . . (wait for it) . . . Legit Engineering. What seems somewhat less than "legit," however, is the fact that it's impossible to find a website or any other info about the Taiwanese company. In fact, it might just be impossible to purchase one here in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Legit has a solution, and other writers are calling it "ingenious."

What's so ingenious about it?

It's a threaded bottom bracket that fits into a press-fit shell. The two halves thread together in the middle, while the flanges tightly sandwich the frame between themselves, locking it together to eliminate creak-causing movement.

Actually, the Enduro TorqTite is also a threaded bottom bracket solution -- but the Legit unit also incorporates compressible nylon rings at the flanges that are supposed to make up for any possible variables between the BB unit and the frame, and serve as a buffer to further silence the problem.

I find it hilarious that the solution for these problematic press-fit bottom brackets is to install threaded bottom brackets -- even as the industry keeps telling people that their mind-boggling myriad of press-fit BBs are so much better than the old-tech.

What's next?

My prediction:

The next and final solution to press-fit bottom bracket woes will be a fully threaded bottom bracket unit that is tightened into matching threads cut into the frame's BB shell. Carbon frames will have an aluminum shell bonded into place, with precisely machined faces, with threads cut into it. The industry will declare it "revolutionary" and treat it like something brand new. Somebody will come up with a catchy new name for it. ThreadTech™  or something similar.

Not only that, but aftermarket companies will offer products to properly and permanently convert current press-fit BB frames to the new threaded system (and I should probably patent it right now, and I'll be able to retire early)

Here's how it will work:

A machined and internally-threaded aluminum sleeve is pressed into the bottom bracket shell with a headset press. Instead of loctite, it will be coated in permanent "aerospace bonding adhesive." Don't worry about removing it later -- why would you want to remove it? It's a permanent fix. Once the threaded sleeve is bonded in place, a proper threaded bottom bracket (sorry, ThreadTech™) can be installed. It's just like what should have been done right from the start.

Now that's legit.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Curtis Odom - RuthWorks SF Tool Roll

Maker of exquisite vintage-styled hubs, and friend of the Retrogrouch Blog, Curtis Odom is giving cyclists a sneak peek at a new item -- a tool roll designed by Curtis, and made by RuthWorks SF.

The fabric on the inside has almost a whimsical splash
of color and pattern -- though when rolled up, it has a more
neutral "goes-with-any-classic-bike" look.
"I really like this item," Curtis wrote me. "I wanted to make a tool roll and thought about it a long time. I wanted a Ghurka bag quality item." The new roll hangs from the seat rail and seat post by a stainless steel backbone bar. When unrolled, it stays attached to the bike, and everything is easily accessible.

Curtis told me the first prototypes were made by Eric Hjeltness, who restores vintage Mercedes cars in Escondido, CA. Hjeltness's shop is not set up for production work, however, so he suggested Curtis talk to Ely Ruth Rodriquez, of RuthWorks SF, who is building quite a reputation as a maker of beautiful and functional bike bags. I don't currently have any of the RuthWorks bags, but I've seen some really gorgeous work and been reading very good reviews. Go to the RuthWorks website to see a range of drool-worthy bike luggage. Curtis tells me that the bag, which is just about ready for production, will likely retail for about $125. That might be dear for some, though keep in mind it is a hand-made item, and I understand the quality, like other RuthWorks bags, should be outstanding.

One thing you'll notice about the tool roll is that it attaches very compactly, tucked in between the saddle rails and the seatpost -- keeping it very narrow and unobtrusive. In that way, it reminds me a little of the way we used to cinch a spare sew-up tire under the saddle. I might suggest, though, that the roll have two ways to mount. One, in this more vertical orientation as shown, which is great for saddles that don't have bag loops, but maybe another option where it would mount horizontally, with the straps passing through the saddle's bag loops. Just a thought -- not a criticism.

By the way, if you click on over to Curtis' facebook page, you can see some other projects he's working on, including a wine stopper and corkscrew set, which should also be ready for production very soon.
The rando bike shown, which is owned by Ely of RuthWorks, was built by Winter Bicycles in Oregon. The leather saddle is by Rivet Cycle Works -- a U.S.-based maker of leather saddles and other bike accessories.
The tool roll looks like a stylish, but useful accessory, particularly for those times when someone is riding light and not needing (or wanting) to carry a load. Check with Curtis Odom, or with RuthWorks for availability.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nikola Pedals: Pedal Like a Skater

You've been pedaling wrong.

I know what you're thinking. You probably thought it was enough that you pedaled in circles, and maybe even "ankling" like all the bike magazines used to say you should (do they still say that?). You might have even switched to clipless pedals that allowed more "float" to protect your knees. But none of those things is enough.

A totally new pedal design that incorporates a completely different movement has recently been developed by Nikola Innovation. At first glance, they don't appear to be much different from any other Look-type clipless pedal, but the Nikola pedals utilize something the company calls "Zivo Technology" which is a fancy, copyrighted name that means that the pedals have about 25 mm of lateral motion on the spindle.

The pedals come from Cleveland, Ohio, and were developed by Nick Stevovich who has a background in speed skating. After studying the motion of speed skaters, whose leg movement takes a lateral path as the leg extends, Stevovich believed that if a cyclist could achieve a similar movement, then they would put more muscles into the pedaling motion, and they would see more power output as a result. An added benefit is supposed to be that it might offer a more natural movement which could ease knee and/or hip pain for some riders (that claim is currently being studied).

The pedals have been tested by the Human Performance Lab at Cleveland State University in a study involving 50 riders. According to Nikola, 70% of the riders showed a 2% improvement in efficiency, and 7% more peak power. And of course, they can tell you how much time that translates into for a 40km time trial (because you always have to know how many seconds new tech will save in a time trial): 135 seconds. That's supposedly more time saved than using aero bars, a skinsuit, or an aero helmet. Okay - obviously, I couldn't care less about performance claims. But if there is actually something to the biomechanical benefits of the movement that might benefit people with hip or knee problems, then that might be worth looking into.

(from Nikola Innovation)
There are currently two versions of the pedal - one made with stainless steel for $339, and a titanium version which sells for $549. The company claims the skating-motion pedals will benefit not only racers, but also commuters, and stationary bike users. Unless the prices come down, though, I don't imagine too many commuters seeking these out.

The Nikola pedals are definitely not something I've seen before. Time will tell if they're a success, but I do know that the pedals are getting a lot of attention in the cycling press and blogs. As with most new technologies, I'm a bit skeptical -- but having never tried them, it's hard to be too sure. Would the side-to-side movement feel natural -- or awkward? As it is, I've long happy enough with traditional toe-clip and strap pedals that I don't see myself plunking down big bucks to try to pedal like a skater. Any thoughts?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Please Don't Call Them Bikes

A platypus has a duck's bill, webbed feet, and lays eggs. But that doesn't make it a duck.

Not a duck.
By that same principal, just because something has wheels and pedals does not mean it's a bike.

Not a bike.
The Raht Racer is billed by its creators on Kickstarter as the "World's first highway speed bike." Nice, but No. The Raht Racer is a small, lightweight, electric car that happens to be equipped with a pedal-powered generator to extend its battery range.

From their Kickstarter page: "If you're a die-hard bike commuter who rides in all weather, that's commendable, but most of us have a hard time riding when it's cold, wet, and dark, not to mention, in heavy traffic." In other words -- biking is great, but what you really need is a car. And let's just be honest folks -- despite all the company's references to this vehicle as a "bike," the Raht Racer is a car.

The makers of the Raht Racer talk quite a bit about safety, noting that "there are more than 40,000 bike-car accidents every year." They describe the Raht Racer as "safer than a motorcycle, or bicycle on a busy street" and tout its "integrated roll cage, reinforced carbon fiber body and automotive safety features like headlights, tail lights, seat belts & air bag." All very nice -- but don't all those "automotive safety features" basically make it a car? Small and efficient maybe -- but still a car.

By the way -- not to sound nit-picky -- but the makers of this vehicle seem to make the same mistake made by many car-centric thinkers: to believe somehow that cars are safe. They note 40,000 bike-car accidents (they don't cite where they got that number, and I can't confirm it, but let's just go with it). Those accidents result in roughly 700 cyclist deaths per year. According to NHTSA, there are an average of more than 5 million vehicular accidents every year, resulting in well over 30,000 deaths annually, and about 1.5 million injuries. If I'm getting hit by an SUV, I'd rather it happen in my car than on my bike, but that doesn't mean cars are necessarily safe. There are all kinds of ways to get killed in a car.

The Raht Racer has some interesting features that make it an innovatively efficient zero-emissions car. For example, the pedal power is connected directly to a generator that recharges the batteries and extends the vehicle's range. It's worth noting that in no way do those pedals actually propel the vehicle. Like I've said, it is NOT a bike. Not only that, but all-electric drive is available at the touch of a throttle button, and the batteries can be recharged with a regular household power outlet. Pedaling can extend the range, but it's apparently unnecessary.
An admirable project for a zero-emissions car. Please don't call it a bike.

However, unlike most cars, one can, if they wish, get some exercise while they're on their way to work. Even when sitting at a light, apparently one can keep pedaling, and the car's computer can run a workout program. "You could be driving the flat lands of North Dakota, but experiencing the hills of San Francisco, even while stuck in traffic."

The makers also claim a top speed of up to 100 mph, and a range of about 50 miles. It seats two (though only one provides pedal power -- it would be nice if both could) and weighs a claimed 570 lbs. They expect it to be priced between $35,000 - 45,000. That might put it out of reach for many people, though there could be EV subsidies available to make the cost more manageable.

Don't let me come across as too negative about the Raht Racer. All one has to do on a typical work commute is look around them to see how the vast majority of vehicles on the road only carry a single occupant. A compact, lightweight, pedal-generator electric car would probably be a great option for many of those drivers. And I'm sorry to say that, based on the fact that they are less than half-way to their fundraising goal with only days left to go, they're unlikely to make it happen. Too bad. As a car, it's pretty cool.
Crispin Sinclair with the Babel Pedal-
Assisted Electric Vehicle. (from BabelBike)

Just don't call it a bike.

Taking a somewhat different approach, the Babel Bike is touted by its creator as the most significant innovation in bicycle safety "since the 1884 Rover Safety Bicycle." I suppose it is still technically a bike, but it stretches the definition. Maybe something like this should be called a "Pedal-Assisted Electric Vehicle." There is apparently a non-electric version, but I don't imagine anyone who would be interested in such a vehicle as this would buy it without an electric motor. It is currently seeking funding on Indiegogo.

Equipped with a "safety cage" in which the rider sits, the Babel PAEV includes seatbelts, built-in lights front and rear, turn signals and hazard flashers, a loud car-like horn, and huge rear-view mirrors. It also has large U-lock-shaped bars to protect the rider's feet. Basically, this thing is loaded with almost as much "passive" safety equipment as a modern car, lacking only airbags to go the full auto. The inventor, Crispin Sinclair of the U.K., says that the design of the Babel PAEV allows it to "bounce off" lorries (that's trucks to us here in the States) instead of being dragged under them. I have my doubts. If someone gets hit on this thing by a truck, the only difference is that emergency crews will have to spend a little more time extricating them from the cage. I could be wrong. Or maybe just realistic.

The folks at Treehugger.com say "There are a hundred reasons why this is a terrible idea. Cyclists shouldn't have to be in safety cages; they shouldn't have to defend themselves against trucks in the first place. If there was proper infrastructure for cyclists this wouldn't be necessary. If trucks and buses had side guards and proper mirrors and well trained drivers they wouldn't crush cyclists." Still, they say, "If every driver was well-trained, alert, sober, kept their eyes on the road and never made mistakes, we wouldn't need seat belts. Passive safety has worked in cars, might it not also work for bikes?"

Maybe. But then, isn't the whole point of a bicycle that it is something active, not passive?  After one adds all that "passive" equipment, is the vehicle still a bike?