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A Cyclist’s Ode To Electrical Tape…

When one’s thoughts drift to a versatile tape, those thoughts always drift to duct tape (it’s not duck tape). Part of this, of course, is comedic gold. The rest is the reality that duct tape is some truly wonderful stuff.

This infatuation with duct tape ends at home improvement, though (or lack thereof, as the case often tends to be when one resorts to duct tape).

For we avid enthusiast cyclists, our “tape of all trades” is electrical tape. And not just any electrical tape, either. I’m talking about the good stuff.

Anyone can pick up some cheap, brittle electrical tape at the local hardware store that will either fail because of the crap adhesive or crack because of the cheap material, but for those of us who demand excellence in operative use, we go for the Scotch Super 33 or Super 88 (7 mil for the 33 and 8.5 mil for the 88):

The working temperature range on the Scotch electrical tape is phenomenal and will, if you’re using it on a bicycle, work in temperatures beyond those that can be comfortably cycled in… so it won’t fail like the cheap stuff as soon as temperatures dip below freezing.

I like to add four or five extra wraps at my bar tape so that, should the need arise (and it has), I’ve always got an extra foot. In fact, just at the beginning of fall, a few friends of mine and I were out for a ride when one of them had their bar tape unravel from the bottom (the plug had popped out at some point). Before long he was trailing a foot-long piece of bar tape from his drop. He tried to hold onto it for a bit, but when he complained about it at our next stop, I just pulled off a few inches of my extra tape, ripped it off so the end would be at the underside of the bar where you couldn’t see it, and handed him the piece.

He wrapped his bar back up, secured it with the tape and we rolled on for the rest of the ride (20 or 30 miles if memory serves) without an issue. Electrical tape also makes an excellent frame protector, especially for black bikes. Helicopter tape is great, but electrical tape works better and won’t leave an impossible-to-remove layer of glue on your frame when you peel it off.

Brake a shifter cable? No problem. Take some of that extra tape and secure it to the frame so you can ride home. Brake a bottle cage? BAM, electricians tape will hold that broke piece of plastic or carbon fiber together till you can get home. Split a tire on a piece of road debris? A couple layers of well placed electrical tape will hold your tube in (or hold a dollar bill in place) till you can get home to fix it.

I’m sure I could come up with a few more uses, but you get the idea. The humble bumble electrical tape is a cyclist’s best friend. Long live electrical tape!

My Season-long Tire Wear Experiment and How Rim Width Affects Tire Wear.

First, rim width affects tire wear. I’d run standard 19.5 mm alloy wheels and 23 mm tires for the better part of a decade before switching to carbon fiber wheels. And, to be clear, carbon fiber wheels are the cat’s pajamas if you want to average more than 18-mph on your rides. See, when you’re cruising around 16-mph, they really don’t make that much of a difference. When you’re north of 22 or 23, the difference is immense.

There’s another benefit that’s come with carbon fiber wheels: width.

I’ve got two sets of carbon fiber wheels on two different road bikes. I’ve got 38s on my Trek and 50s on my Venge:

The 50s are absolutely superior to the 38s when the wind isn’t howling, but there’s an interesting benefit to the 38s on the Trek and the 50s on the Venge; the rim width of each set matches the chainstay clearance of each bike, almost perfectly so I can use the widest possible tire on each bike. For the Trek, with standard alloy wheels, the best I could run was 24 mm tires. Anything wider would rub the chainstays when I climbed hills out of the saddle. The Ican 38s are 23 mm wide which means I can easily run a 25 mm tire without fear of chainstay rub because the wider rim lessens the “lighbulb” effect of using a wide tire on a narrow rim. I did run 25s for quite some time until I decided to switch to 24s for reasons I’ll get into in the next paragraph. The Venge is even better. The Ican Fast & Light 50 wheels I’m rolling are 25 mm wide so I should be able to fit a 28 mm tire on there. I haven’t bothered, though. I’ve stuck with 26 mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires.

See, the pros use tires equal to or 1 mm less wide than the rims they’re running. 28 mm tires? 29 mm rims. 25 mm tires? 26 mm rims. This is for aerodynamic’s sake. I noticed, however, running 26 mm tires on 25 mm rims greatly improved tire wear. Normally you’ll develop a flat patch at the center of the tire after a few hundred miles that gets “flatter” the longer you run the tire. I noticed the 26s on 25 mm rims didn’t develop the flat patch near as fast – and if I rotated the tires every 700-1,000 miles, having the rear tire on the front of the bike would round it back out. With the Trek, I still had wear issues using 25s on 23 mm rims (though they weren’t near as bad). After I wore out my set of 25s, I changed to 24 mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires.

I got a full season out of the tires on the Venge. They’re about done, but they served me well. Thousands of miles on a tire with an effective life of less than 2,000. The 24s on the Trek did even better. I got a full season on those and I’m not even thinking of replacing them yet. They’re still in excellent shape after having been rotated twice.

I’d heard mumblings about improved tire wear when the rim width approached tire width, but the main benefit was always aerodynamics for those who regularly sprint at 44+ mph. My best sprint with help is around 35-36, so not really my cup of tea, but I wanted to see if rim width affected tire wear.

Now that I’ve seen the extended tire life that’s possible, as long as I can get the right tires, I won’t go back. Tires wear that much better.

How I Keep My Bikes from Rusting over the Long Michigan Winter

I’ve got a lot of bikes to look after. We have a detached garage and far too many bikes to store in the bike room over the winter so I have to employ some pretty aggressive tactics to keep my bikes shiny while they’re waiting for spring locked up in the garage. I’ll start with the easy, first.

The obvious winner for keeping the bikes rust-free is storing the bikes indoors, in a temperature controlled environment whenever possible. My wife once asked if we could store my Venge and Trek out in the garage for the winter. I said that was possible, but if either developed a spot of rust, I’d get a new bike. My bike room stayed “the bike room”, though I imagine I’ve paid a price for that.

*Notice all of the bikes that are hung from the wheels above/right are hung from alloy wheels. I don’t hang the carbon fiber wheels like that. It’s probably a little hyper-sensitive, but I’d rather not risk it. I don’t need a $750 “oops”.

With the good bikes in the bike room, there’s a level of care I can take to keep the others tip-top because the only thing I hate more than a noisy bike is a bike with rusty parts. First, it helps to know which parts will give you trouble. Your main bolts, the cable retention bolts on the derailleurs, the front derailleur frame bolt, the stem bolts and your stem cap bolts are obvious. What about the set screws for your rim brakes, though? I hit them all with a light coating of lube. I even take a towel and soak a corner with a good chain lube and use a 1 or 2 mm Allen key to get the insides of the bolt heads. Basically, anything steel.

Then, I’ll clean the chains and hit them with a light spray lube. This will keep them from rusting out in the garage.

Now, if you use a wax lube as I do, you have to degrease the chains in the spring before you hit them with the wax lube again, but it’s worth that extra effort to save the chains from rusting (or maybe rub a thin coat of the wax lube on a towel over the outside of the chain – I’d imagine that would work, too). Look at it this way; I’ve got eight chains on seven bikes to deal with in the spring. If I have to buy a new chain for every bike, we’re talking near $400 by the time I’m done. I’d rather put a new chain on the bikes when they’re useful life is over.

Then there’s the cassette. This will rust without a little preventative maintenance as well.

With a little forethought and an hour, I can protect my bikes so they’re shiny and ready for duty come spring.

Finally, I use the winter to perform any needed maintenance tasks that might be needed. I’ll bring each bike in and make sure the cables, housings and endcaps are clean and the shifting is right. If anything needs replacing, I’ll handle it while the snow is flying and I’m handling my workouts on the trainer.

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Setting Up the Cockpit of a Road Bike; Handlebar Angle, Hood Angle, and Drop – and the Pain Getting It Wrong Can Lead To: Part 3 The Handlebar

So, in this series I’ve looked at the hoods and the stem. Today we’ll look at the handlebar. If you’ve got one of those new-fangled stem and bar combo’s, you’re pretty much stuck unless you buy another stem/bar combo, or you buy a handlebar and stem separately (if you even can with the fork you’ve got).

Let’s assume we’re talking about a standard setup, though. The stem is one piece and the bar is the other. The handlebar can be almost as versatile as the stem. There are several distinct styles of drop handlebars for road bikes. We’ve got standard drops, round bars, aero bars (where the bar top is foil-shaped), shallow drops, ergonomic drops (the drop with a hump where the hands go when riding in the drops), and we can get all of those in either carbon fiber or aluminum alloy. The different measurements we have to be cognizant of are “width”, “reach”, and “drop”. Width standards are typically 42 cm for a male and 40 cm for a female, but there are variances depending on the size of the person involved. Typically, the width is gleaned from measuring the pointy parts of the shoulder bones in the back. There have been innovations of late, though. The industry is currently trending to bars that aren’t near as wide as the usual drop bars we’re used to for aerodynamic considerations. For this post, we’ll concentrate on standard bars and leave you with enough to make an educated decision on whether or not you want the aero-aero drop bar.

Let’s begin.

From experience, I can tell you without doubt, not wide enough is better than too wide when it comes to your drop bars. I was measured as a 42 but rode a 44 for a time on my first road bike (because I didn’t know any better). I bought a new bike in 2013 that had a 42 cm standard drop bar on it and I immediately loved it. In fact, when I upgraded the handlebar on the new bike to the fantastic S-Works carbon bar in the first three photos above, I put the old handlebar on my old bike. The wider bar forced my arms out at an awkward angle that made riding less comfortable. Just two centimeters’ difference was a vast improvement in “feel”.

Next, we’ve got reach and drop. The S-Works drop on my Specialized is a 125 mm drop with an 80 mm reach. The bar on my Trek has a 123 mm drop and a 93 mm reach. Ideally, we want to incorporate the length of the stem in with the reach to get to the drops. I didn’t on my Trek because I really didn’t know any better at the time, though, and it really hasn’t mattered much. It gets a little “stretchy” in the drops, but it’s livable. And it’s especially livable because the bar looks freakin’ fantastic.

Now, here’s the biggest question I get when we start talking handlebars. The one everyone wants to know before they drop $300 for a freaking handlebar: Can you tell a difference between alloy and carbon fiber?

Yes you can. It dampens road chatter a little bit and makes for a more comfortable upper body at the end of the long miles. That’s the wrong question to ask, though. The right question is this: Is that improved comfort and 50 to 100 fewer grams worth an extra $200? Not even a little bit. Nope. I’m just as happy with the alloy bar on the Trek. If I’m all that concerned with road chatter, all I need to do is spend an extra $10 on some decent bar tape. In reality, I ride just as many long miles on the Trek and find no need to upgrade that bar. If you’ve got the money, and for the Venge I absolutely did… es muy bueno.

In the end, now that I’ve got a better understanding of how everything in the cockpit fits together, the reach of the handlebar will directly work with the length of the stem, and too much reach is a bad thing.

To put a bow on this post, let’s talk about drop a little bit:

VR-CF: Variable Radius-Compact Flare

123 mm seems to be a fairly standard “shallow” drop across the Trek and Specialized lines. There exist much shallower bars, however. I can’t stand anything less than 123 (the 125 mm Tarmac bend for my Aerofly I bar and the 123 drop for my Trek bar is great for getting low to cut through the wind. I had a shallow drop (103 mm) bar on my gravel bike and I absolutely hated it, even on the gravel bike. When I upgraded that bar, I immediately swapped out the bar on the gravel bike. What I don’t like about the shallower drop bars is the feeling that, even though I’m down in the drops, I still feel my body catching wind. In order to get under that, I have to bend my arms so much it becomes a bore and slightly uncomfortable. The drops are not meant for someone to spend the whole day in. They’re meant for turns up front (of a group or pace-line) or headwinds.

To tie everything in, the cockpit doesn’t have, at least not that I’ve found, a set “you have to have this here, and that there, and this has to be this high (or low)” set of measurements. It’s more about “feel”. I want the most comfortable place to put my hands to be on the hoods. I want for the bar top to be a place to set my hands while I’m sitting up, spinning up a hill, or just a place to move my hands to change things up a bit before moving back to the hoods. I want the drops there so I can get as low as possible into the wind, but I want to be able to spend an hour in the drops if needed. The stem, handlebar, and spacers are meant to get everything in a comfortable position. With too much reach in the bar or too much drop in the stem, I might feel more comfortable with my hands on the bar tops. This is a massive red flag that I’ve done something wrong and need to correct it immediately if not sooner. The bar top is a great place for a break. It’s horrible if I have to hit the brakes, though.

If we follow a simple order of things, we need to remember this:

  1. Comfort
  2. Fast
  3. Cool

You can’t be cool or fast if you’re not comfortable.

A Weekend Ride and the Difference Between a Full-Aero Bike and a Standard Road Bike.

My buddy Chuck and I went for a ride yesterday.  I was tempted to take the Venge out but I opted for my Trek instead.  I pulled it off the trainer, swapped the trainer wheel for my outdoor wheel, and readied it to roll.  I love riding my Trek now that I’ve got it right (or at least, this version of right).

Chuck and I rolled out at 1 pm to give it a chance to warm up.  His fever finally subsided Saturday and I didn’t want to stress his system… and I am not particularly fond of riding in temps below freezing anyway.  The goal, agreed to before we left, was for an easy paced ride but we had a problem.  The wind was out of the southeast.  From my house (Chuck lives just two miles away), there really aren’t many good routes that head east and south first.  We’ve got southwest, northwest, and straight up north or west covered, but everything east is ugly.  We had a southeast wind so even our north/south route was pooched because it’s all north to start.

The route we decided on a good first and third quarter.  The second and fourth were gonna suck.  We rolled out slow and easy with a nice tailwind push.  The first quarter was wonderful and we talked about a lot… from a socially distant distance.  Then came the second quarter, several miles dead south, and that’s where it got a little ugly but it wasn’t horrible.  We just kinda kept after it.  A little more cross-tailwind for the third quarter that was nice, but I knew we were going to have to pay the piper when we turned for home.  It was going to be a long stretch into some ugly headwind.

I hate headwind on the way home.  Don’t get me wrong, it beats not riding by a lot, but it’s still a tough way to ride.  And that was when I realized how much more power is needed to keep the Trek up to speed.  I powered on, but I definitely didn’t like it.  Holding 18-mph into the 13-mph headwind wasn’t easy at all… and that’s where my aero Venge shines brightly over the Trek.  With a tailwind, both bikes are fantastic but when the going gets tough, the Specialized slips through the wind.

The differences between the two bikes are quite obvious.  25 mm alloy wheels on the 5200, 38 mm carbon wheels on the Venge.  Standard round tube frame for the 5200, aero frame for the Venge.  Both bikes have aero handlebars, but the Venge’s seat post and seat post tube are foil shaped.  The 5200’s are round.

Eventually, the next nice bonus check will go to a set of 50’s for the Venge and I’ll put the 38’s on the 5200.  The Trek is noticeably better with the 38’s over the 25’s.

I can’t quantify with power data the increase in wattage needed to produce identical results on both bikes, but it’s a fair amount.  On a day like yesterday, it’s the difference between being smoked after 35-1/2 miles and having a good workout.  The GCN boys actually worked this out once, too.  If memory serves, Simon figured watt for watt it was the difference between a 20 minute ride and a 50 minutes… it was a big advantage.

When I ride the Trek I try to look at the bright side:  Every time I ride it, I’m getting faster for where it counts.  Tuesday nights.

Are Carbon Fiber Road Wheels All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

Forgive the pun. I couldn’t resist.

For approximately 2,556 days as an exceptional cyclist, give or take, I was under the impression that the frame was the most important part of the bike to be carbon fiber… well, fork too, but you get my point.

Having ridden a smashingly cool, old-school 1991 Cannondale SR-400, I can honestly tell you, friends, compared to a carbon fiber rig… wait, there is no comparison. Seriously. Riding an alloy bike on anything but perfect roads is a bit on the sucky side. Still, it beats walking. And mountain bikes (just in speed, ladies and gentlemen, just in speed). Chuckle.

Having gone from that Cannondale to a full carbon Trek 5200, it’s the difference between riding…. um… something really uncomfortable, and hopping onto a limo:

Not a super-stretch, of course, a really fast limo, like a Dodge Challenger limo (yes, they actually do exist). The point is, the Trek was outrageously more comfortable than the Cannondale, especially on our chip seal roads. To put the difference in perspective, I went from 17-mph up a particular hill, to 18-19-mph. Simply put, for those not in the know, the additional comfort of the carbon fiber bike translates directly into speed. Even though the aluminum bike is vastly stiffer and transfers power from the pedals to the rear wheel better, the vast comfort improvement of carbon fiber makes the ride faster (modern alloy frames are a notable improvement over old-school.

However, my experience over those 2,556 days (give or take) was limited because I had two sets of alloy wheels (a heavy set for rain and train on the Trek and a light set for big rides on my Venge).

Then I bought a set of carbon fiber wheels for the Venge. Before the new wheels, the Trek was more comfortable than the Specialized by a slight but noticeable margin. After, it was a whole new ballgame. The Venge is on par with the Trek, and maybe even a little superior. The geometry of the Venge is vastly superior to that of the Trek (modern compact frame compared to old-school standard) so the comfort of the Venge was, and still is, superior in the geometry of the bike. The Trek always excelled in smoothness of ride… sadly, only us super-geeks know the difference. There is a difference, though.

Then there’s the aerodynamic benefits of a carbon fiber wheel. I chose 38mm wheels because we deal with some crosswind here in Michigan. I wanted a wheel I wouldn’t be nervous about in the wind. I could have gone with 50’s but chose the 38’s instead. The difference between that and a 25mm aero alloy wheel is surprising. Without gushing too much, the aero wheels are easier to keep up to speed. It’s like a few extra free watts. Free watts are good.

Finally, there’s the weight advantage. My carbon fiber wheels are a little more than 100 grams lighter than the shallower alloy wheels. That’s a quarter-pound lighter than a spectacular set of alloy wheels, with the aero gains. Enough said.

Having ridden approximately 52,914 miles on alloy wheels and a little more than a thousand on carbon fiber, I can tell you without doubt, the carbon fiber wheels bring a surprising level of comfort and speed* to a ride. Up until this past September, my fastest rides were all on the Trek. With the carbon wheels I’ve managed to put in two rides that were much faster than the old “bests” and I finished feeling much better than I had during the slower rides on the alloy wheels. The faster rides on the carbon wheels took less out of me, in other words.

In a sentence, they’re worth it if you’re going to be riding fast enough to get the benefit.

* The speed part of this is a little tricky. There isn’t much of a benefit below 20-mph – at least I can’t feel it – between the alloy wheels and carbon fiber. It’s when you start topping 20 and 25-mph that you begin to notice the improvement.