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You’re Killing Me with The 1x Drivetrains, Smalls… A Bike with a 1x Drivetrain Cannot, By It’s Very Nature, “Do It All”.

You’re killing me, interwebz… I’m seeing more of the “the S-Works Crux is the one bike that does it all” videos on my YouTube feed. It’s enough to drive a fella a little nuts, I tell ya.

1x drivetrains aren’t all bad, of course. Adjusting a modern mechanical front derailleur so the chain doesn’t rub the cage or the cage rub the crank arm has become an exercise in patience, but it is possible, I’m here to tell you!

What a 1x lacks to a 2x is gear options, and those gear options are massively important when riding with the fast crowd.

Each tooth jump in a cassette cog is worth 5-rpm on the crank. Therefore, when you get a cog tooth jump of something like three teeth when you get to the hard gears, it feels like you’re always in the wrong gear to match your cadence to the speed the group is going.

Better people might be able to get used to that. I changed my chainrings to put the cadence gap in my 11/28 cassette where I wanted it; at 14 to 17-mph rather than at 18 to 21.

For that alone, the S-works Crux can’t be “the one”.

Now, put a 2x on that svelte beauty and that changes the conversation landscape immensely.

What’s the Fastest Tire Pressure for a Tandem?!

Much has been made of tire pressure over the last few years, but mainly centered around road, gravel and mountain single bikes. What about tandems?!

My wife and I ride 30-mm Specialized Turbo Pro tires and we’ve been riding 100-psi for quite a while, but we’re not your sleight, sub 160-pound cyclists. We could be, but American barbecue just tastes too damn good. We rode 28s in the same brand and line for a year before at the same pressure… and even with Michigan roads, we’ve only ever had one pinch flat, and the feel was fantastic. In my opinion, we’re at the right pressure for those tires and our current weight.

The simplest way to explain this, without getting too deep into the nerdy weeds of cycling’s geekdom is that we want the lowest pressure possible without pinch flatting when you hit something reasonable. Now, this is not the easiest thing to find, obviously. It’s not like you’re going to want to take six spares and a floor pump out with you so you can figure your optimal pressure, so here’s what my did, in a nutshell.

We started out at the max pressure for the tires, I think 125 or something. Unless you’re a really big tandem couple, that’s way too much pressure, and I knew that from being way too geeky about this stuff. So, I dropped 20-psi off that right from the beginning. Then, I had to consider we’re two people on two tires (not two on four), so my normal 85-psi on my 26mm tires for my road bike wasn’t going to be enough. We went with 100 and gave it a run. I hit a couple of railroad crossings on that ride and everything was smooth. Next ride out I dropped five psi and everything was fine but the ride felt a touch squishy… bouncy when we really got into a rhythm. I dropped five more the next ride and we pinch flatted. 100 psi it was.

Now, some will have us running to a tire pressure gauge that’ll give us the nearest tenth of a psi and try to dial it in to the nearest psi. In fact, I could be that silly… but my wife wouldn’t put up with that ridiculous shit, so I keep it simple to the nearest five psi.

I roll 90-ish psi on my Trek 5200 with 24mm tires, 85 on my Specialized Venge with 26mm tires and we roll 100 psi on our tandem… with zero pinch flats.

I’m down as low as I want to go without being silly… and without squishing when we sprint. And that, my friends, is the proper balance.

Clipless or… Erm… Pedals Without Clips… Erm Flat/Platform Pedals?

I believe I’ve seen all of the videos GCN has put out on flat/platform pedals vs. clipless. For the uninitiated, “clipless” refers to a lack of toe clips and straps… you still, ironically, clip into clipless pedals.

What they rarely cover in the whole discussion is foot position, though they did for a second or two in the imbedded clip.

First, clipping into clipless pedals, to spoil the clip and add my two cents, is only slightly more efficient than using platform pedals with little screw-in flat spikes and mountain specific shoes without cleats, until you get out of the saddle and sprint. At that point, a person who has used clipless pedals will feel vastly safer to hit the gas harder because their feet are connected and secured to the pedals.

Having ridden a 30-mile loop with the Elite A-Group on Tuesday night on a set of platform pedals (though, admittedly, the pedals I used were the cheap, stock plastic platforms without spikes). At a decent pace and cadence, it’s simply too hard to keep your feet in what I approximated was the proper position.

And that word, “approximated”, was the important part of that sentence, folks. You have to guess… and at 90-rpm, guessing where your feet should be gets old in a hurry. Especially bad is when you’re a little off and you can’t move your foot in little increments while moving at that rate of speed. What I ended up experiencing was a lot of pain from having my feet in the wrong place on the pedals to work the crank efficiently for my ankle, knee and hip joints. For that reason, I’ve never bothered with trying platforms again. Perhaps cycling at a less aggressive pace wouldn’t prove so difficult.

Next is the mountain bike issue (and this applies to potholes on the road as well – especially bunny-hopping an unexpected pothole). When descending, you can experience everything from roots to rocks making the descent tricky. If your feet are clipped in, you don’t have to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. The spiked platforms wouldn’t be as bad as straight up plastic, but I’ve always felt better being connected to the bike in clipless pedals.

In the end, the choice to go clipless or platform will come down to choice. This commentary is included to help those new to the choice to make a reasoned choice. It’s always an interesting topic.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments. What a great topic for well-reasoned discussion based on experience. Great stuff.

In Bike Frames, Steel May Be Real, But Can It Compete With Carbon Fiber?

Six months ago, I’d have answered “not a chance” if you’d asked “can a steel bike frame compete with a carbon fiber frame?” That abruptly ended when we bought my wife a 2004 54 cm steel Assenmacher with a 10-speed Campagnolo record drivetrain and I set the thing up with a new stem and handlebar to suit her.

Her reports of how the thing launches when she puts the power to the pedals, when contrasted against her carbon fiber Specialized Alias, had me perplexed. The smile on her face had me convinced I’d been fed some bad information.

My wife’s 18-pound steel Assenmacher next to my 18-1/2-pound carbon fiber Trek 5200 (my Trek is five years older):

Now, there’s no amount of money (that I’m aware of) you can spend that wouldn’t end up with a carbon fiber a pound or more lighter than the steel option in terms of modern bicycles. In fact, I have no doubt my Trek would be a touch lighter than my wife’s Assenmacher if we had the same wheels and components on the different frames. However, I now believe the notion that the steel bike wouldn’t be as responsive has to be tempered for we weekend warriors… and a steel bike can obviously be made exceedingly light with the right groupset.

There’s no question my wife’s bike is lighter than my carbon fiber Trek 5200.

How Much Should You Spend for Carbon Fiber Wheels (and How Good Are the Cheap Wheels)?

A couple of Specialized Venges on Ican wheels…

I’ve been a big fan of Ican wheels. My wife did get a bum rear wheel from them, that’s since been replaced, but other than one bad rim, we’ve got thousands of miles on Ican wheels with only a broken spoke or two – no more than we’d expect from any other name brand expensive wheel (I’ve had similar problems with a number of name brands such as Rolf, DT Swiss & Velocity).

My wife and I have three sets of Ican wheels; two sets of base price 38s and I have a set of Fast & Light 50s on my Venge. We have less of an investment in three sets of wheels than some spend on one wheelset (a little north of $1,600 for three wheelsets). We’ve put those wheels through the ringer, too. Multiple 23+ mph average rides, a few 20+mph centuries, countless 50+ mile rides… and when I ride an alloy set of wheels after my carbons on the same bike, there’s an unquestionable difference related to speed and effort.

So, when I saw this video on my feed, I was drawn to click on it like a moth to a porch light:

Without ruining the surprise ending, the cheap wheels weren’t the slowest, but they were close to the slowest, and a cheap set was among the fastest. In fact, two sets closer to the affordable end did quite well. The testers also didn’t test Ican wheels, so I have no idea where they’d come out, anyway.

The point is, if you can afford those $4,000 wheels, by all means, have at it. They’re awesome. If you can’t, don’t feel like you’re missing out, because you’re not. If you’ve got a decent set of 40s or 50s on a reasonably equipped road bike that’s mechanically sound, at that point it’s simply a matter of working on the engine if you can’t (or don’t want to) keep up.

In Cycling, Variety Isn’t The Spice of Life. Nor is Carbon Fiber… Though Carbon Fiber Does Help.

I’m atop my Trek 5200 for an indoor commute to nowhere watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back for the umpteenth time, and it occurred to me how much I love this bike. It’s nowhere near as fast as my Specialized Venge, but it’s as comfortable or slightly better… and I had a hand in rebuilding it from the ground up. Put simply, the old alloy wheels that came on the bike sucked the life out of a ride so upgrading to wider rims allowed for wider tires which meant a better ride quality, too.

Now, the Trek needed the upgrade to carbon fiber wheels.

I also ditched the original Ultegra triple for a more efficient and 14-years newer 105 compact double. The compact 50/34 chainrings match my 18 to 24-mph average pace perfectly. The old 52/36 put a cadence hole between 19 & 22-mph so I always felt like I was in the wrong gear. I could have gone with an 11-26 cassette and fixed the gap but I felt I needed the 28 for climbing. For that reason, I went to compact rings and haven’t looked back.

With that out of the way and with those upgrades, there’s nothing I can do on my Venge that I can’t do on my 5200. Conversely, there’s plenty I will do on the Trek I wouldn’t on the Venge. It does take a noticeable amount of effort to make the Trek perform like the aero bike, but it’s not a bridge too far.

My eight-year-old Venge is perfect in my eyes. It’s light. It’s sleek. It’s aero. It’s got decent wheels. Great components. It ticks all of the boxes except “new” and that’s a box I don’t care much about.

My 5200 checks light, decent wheels and decent components, but it’s got something that the Venge couldn’t have; me as a designer. For having that history with my Trek, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for that bike above all others. It’s kind of funny and ironic, really. Now that I’ve got a whole stable full of bikes, I’ve come to realize it’s not about having new stuff so much as it is a great bike that’s mechanically sound. It did take me eight years to get that Trek to where it is now.

Above: My 5200 as it sits today. Below: My 5200 in March of 2012. Just a few months after I brought it home.

How To Set Up A Bike For Someone Else; Pitfalls and Problems to Avoid… And The Thing That Made It Easy To Work On My Wife’s Bike.

The hardest thing about setting up a bike for someone else is trying to navigate around what they’re feeling. It’s real easy to look at my own setup and know that I have to drop the nose angle a little, or if I need some upwards tilt on the hoods to keep my hands from going numb. What do you do if you’re trying to fit your wife to a bike? I tried to approach this using what worked for me, only to learn my wife needed something a little different. I threw myself into research and, thank God, there was enough decent information out there from reputable fitters that I could make some good choices and put as much effort into setting my wife up as I did my own bikes.

The first thing we have to do to set someone else up is develop a language that we can both rely on. Assuming you’re the more experienced, this will fall on you. Use your patience here, especially if you’re working with your spouse. If you don’t have any, get some. In a pinch, try Xanax or Valium. I’m kidding. Don’t do drugs.

For saddle height, get it close, say within a couple of millimeters, first. Then work on fore and aft positioning. Start out with the old “heels on the saddle and pedal backwards without rocking the hips” trick to get close.

Next, for saddle position fore and aft, think backwards. Use a level or plumb bob to get the knee over the spindle if possible, or a little forward of the spindle if necessary because of the bike’s geometry. If your victim pin cushion guinea pig the person you’re working with feels like they want to skootch their butt back as they’re riding, you move the saddle forward. If they feel like they want to skootch up, you move the saddle back. Basically, move the saddle to where their butt wants to be, not vice-versa.

Next we’ll work on saddle tilt. I didn’t know this nine months ago. A female’s saddle will typically tilt a little more that what we learn in bike setup school (YouTube) because of the shape of their pelvis in relation to a male’s pelvis and saddle. This video helped my understanding what I was working with in setting up my wife’s bikes a lot. It was a game changer in setting up my wife’s bike:

In the end, we want the saddle to cradle us whether we’re on the hoods or in the drops. We don’t want to slide forward which will require bracing ourselves with our arms and lead to neck and shoulder issues, and we don’t want the saddle nose pressing into sensitive areas when we’re in the drops. Look for the middle ground. It is there.

From there, we can start looking at setting the saddle height perfectly. When I was setting up my wife on our tandem and her road bike, this exposed a neat difference in switching from road to mountain pedals. My bikes are almost identical in height going from road to mountain shoes. My wife is different by about a quarter of an inch. Also, as we narrowed in on her “perfect” saddle height on the tandem, she began having hip pain on one side. One leg was longer than the other, and this became clearer as we were professionally measured for a new tandem we’d ordered. My wife hated lowering the saddle so her hip pain could subside. When the saddle is too low, we tend to push our butt into the saddle and this leads to a hot spot wherever your butt hits the saddle. Raising the saddle clears this issue but meant my wife had to ever-so-slightly tilt her hip to get down to the bottom of the pedal stroke. We put an extra insole insert in her right shoe to bring her right foot into level with her left. No more hip pain and her saddle was high enough she didn’t grind her butt into it.

There’s one final trick to setting up a bike for someone else… I like to go for a slow ride with my wife after we’ve set up a bike for her. I bring a 4 & 5 mm Allen key with me so I can make adjustments on the road to suit how she actually feels riding the bicycle outdoors. Ten miles should take an hour with six or seven minor adjustments along the way. This has proven to be the final key to getting her bikes as close to perfect as I can get them.

Once I got the first bike right, I simply repeated the process and already established the feel and vocabulary needed to repeat the process, quickly.

I’d written this post over two days and it never really felt complete. It struck me this morning why. I’d missed one important point that makes working on someone else’s setup… erm… work. For my wife’s bikes I committed myself to putting as much enthusiasm into setting her bike up as I had for mine. That’s really what made it click in my mind.

Why the Specialized S-Works Crux ISN’T The One (All-Purpose Bike)

I watched a YouTube video (link below) that suggests in the Title that the S-Works Crux, a $12,500 bicycle, might be The ONE. The ONE all-purpose bike that let’s you do it all. Group rides, road rides, dirt rides, the whole nine.

It is, without a doubt, a decent bike. Especially the eTap wireless electronic shifting option. I’m going to pull the curtains back on this one pretty fast, though. The ONE, this ain’t.

At around 17-pounds (7.7 kg), it’s a fairly light gravel bike. However, while it does have a decent set of Roval wheels on it out of the box, you’d need a road set of 50s to make the most of a club ride. Especially so you don’t have to swap tires to ride gravel or road. Unless, of course, you like spending your free time swapping tires around throughout the summer months… oh, and working a little harder than everyone else in the group your riding… So you’re looking at another $1,000 to $2,000 for your road wheels, plus another $120-ish for tires. Oh, and rotors, and a cassette… and shims so you can swap one set for the other without messing with the brake calipers. Throw on another $300.

We’re not done yet, though. That $12,500 bike that is already up around $14,000, comes with a 1x drivetrain. With a 10t to 44t cassette and a 40t chainring. Now, the fella in the video actually said he spins out at about 34-mph in the last gear 40/10. This makes sense. I could probably get it to 37 with a little extra kick, but you’re out of gear there. I can get 45-mph out of a 50/34 and 11/28 cassette. 37 is pretty good, though, so maybe swap out a 42t chainring for a little extra oomph in the sprint? Hold on, though, sparky. There’s another problem that must be addressed before we call this good. You’re looking at a 12-speed 1x system with a 10 to 44t cassette.

Having already played this game before, here are the cogs:

10-11-12-15-17-19-21-24-28-32-38-44

You’ve got a 1-tooth jump for the smallest three cogs, but you’ll always be in the wrong gear going from the 12 to 15. So I’m not going to bother doing the math on Sheldon Brown’s gear calculator site. Actually, I will. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right. See below for the results.

You’ve got a massive hole between 19 & 24-mph. So you’d need to shrink that chainring so the hole is in the slower speeds. But we need a bigger chain ring for the sprint!

So let’s throw another $700 at the problem and get a front derailleur, a double crank with a legit 50/34 crankset on it (surprisingly, it looks like the original shifter might work with a 1 or 2x).

So your $12,500 Crux is now just shy of $15,000 and you’re finally ready for a road ride! Wow, I’m tired. And exceptionally broke.

The Crux isn’t The ONE. I’d take my 10-year-old 16-pound Venge over a brand new S-Works Crux out of the box in a road ride any day of the week and twice, literally, on Sunday. And I’d work you into the ground on your S-Works Crux with a smile on my face…

Maintaining A Shimano 10-Speed Groupset on a Road Bike So It Always Shifts Perfectly; There Are A Lot Of Little Things That Add Up to Perfect.

The first tip for maintaining a mechanical groupset on a road bike so it always shifts perfectly is, don’t use Shimano’s 10-speed groupset as your example of perfect.

Campagnolo? Awesome. SRAM 10-speed? Fine and dandy. Shimano? Well…

I should know. My wife and I have four bikes in our stable with differing lines of Shimano 10-speed drivetrains. We’re in the process of acquiring a Campagnolo Record equipped 10-speed bike and have an 11-speed Shimano and 9-speed Shimano gravel bikes (one of which was upgraded from Shimano Claris 8-speed which was absolute garbage). In the 10-speed camp, at the top of the range, we have my Ultegra-equipped Specialized Venge, then my 105-equipped Trek 5200, my wife’s Specialized Secteur, and our Co-Motion tandem. My wife’s Specialized Alias has Shimano’s 105 line in 11-speed.

The key here is knowing the one problem with Shimano’s 10-speed line; if you know this problem, you can fix that when it rears its ugly head. Worry about the other minor problems as they arise. The main problem resides in a weak spring in the rear derailleur. This causes the derailleur’s performance to degrade long before its useful life should be over.

I chose the words in that last sentence very carefully, because they’re exceedingly important to how the drivetrain performs when that spring goes bad. It’ll operate like the shifting cable has drag in it, leading you on a wild goose chase for a phantom problem you’ll never be able to find. Oh, there will be signs that you’ve finally found the problem but your shifting will soon be pooched yet again… because you really just need a new rear derailleur.

Basically, you won’t be able to dial the rear derailleur in. It’ll shift well going up the cassette or it’ll shift well going down, never both as it should.

Unfortunately, that’s also a major clue for having drag in the shifting cable that’s preventing the derailleur from properly indexing. A little dirt or grime, some rust on the cable, grime in the connecting bits (ferrules and grommets and such), as well as grime in the cable guide under the bottom bracket… even grime in the shifters themselves – any of those issues will make your bike’s shifting go bad.

The simplest way to fix the rest is to pick up and install a shifting cable set from the manufacturer of your drivetrain. Even though you can technically use SRAM and Shimano interchangeably, I’ve taken to using only products that complete a line, with the exception of chains and cassettes. I use Ultegra chains and cassettes on all of the 105 bikes. They cost a little more, but the weight savings is worth it to me. New cables, housings and end caps (also referred to as ferrules) from the shifters to the rear derailleur, along with a shifter/hood cleaning will cure all ills if the derailleurs are in good working order.

A Two Bike Ride and Bowling Sunday; The Only Thing That Could Make That Sweeter Is Spending The Day With My Wife and Daughter.

We experienced a bit of a heatwave after Saturday’s cold, rainy, messy start. Jess and I rode on the trainers Saturday morning, but Sunday’s forecast was for a light breeze and enough warmth that road bikes were preferable. That meant we’d be on the tandem – our favorite bike of the 2022 season. I won’t lie, I was a little giddy. I missed riding the tandem with my wife.

I prepped the bike with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. We rolled out promptly at 8 am to a bit of a crossing headwind, but it was mild at that, and we had three tandems and four single bikes in the pace-line… it was a fantastic group and we made short work of the headwind. Mike, on the way out, remarked that it was nice to be in a pace-line again. Chuck added that it was nice to have a draft again, that he hadn’t had one in weeks. I thought, “I’m glad to be on the tandem with Jess.”

We proceeded to tear the Deer Loop up. My wife has discovered a new gear now that we dialed her position in to within an ounce of perfection and had a discussion about wattage and effort… I actually had to give her an, “easy – easy” when we were up front and hit one of her favorite segments on the way back… we took something like a four-mile pull and started to approach 26-mph on the flat. It was such a massive pull, our friends actually complimented the two of us as they passed after our effort. It was a massively enjoyable ride. We pulled into the driveway after our 35-mile ride with a 19.7-mph average. It was a beautiful fall day for an excellent ride with friends… and having three tandems was a treat. Feeling my wife on the pedals so often, and reaching back to squeeze her hand from time to time and to have her rub my back and pat me on the keister after the squeeze was the cherry on top. It was a date on a bike, for sure, and a fast one at that.

We cleaned up, washed our kit, and had a bite to eat whilst playing a couple of games of Qwixx with our daughter. My wife won two and my daughter won one, and it was time to load up the gravel bikes and bowling balls for the rest of our day. We were signed up to ride the Haunted Flint Bike Tour with one of Jess’s coworkers. It was a short jaunt of only seven miles, but we rode around Flint checking out four or five houses and two locations where some truly heinous things happened, leading to the haunting of those houses. It was an eerie ride, for sure, but my wife and I had a fantastic time of it. I’ll write another post about that in the coming days.

After our ride, we drove over to our old neighborhood where my wife had spent much of her youth and we’d purchased (and sold) our first home, which has since been demolished. It was awesome to drive the old neighborhood with the fall colors going off like fireworks.

Finally, it was a bowling night, and after dropping the bikes and gear off at home (and taking a much needed nap), we headed to the bowling ally at Richfield Lanes and the best Stromboli this side of New York. I kid you not, best I’ve ever eaten, and we were hungry.

Unfortunately, the lanes must have been hit with some super-secret ultra-slippy oil because I couldn’t even get my strongest ball to hook up and I normally use my medium oil ball. It was an exercise in futility and we got our asses handed to us. We had to give the other team 100 pins and we simply couldn’t make it up. Still, Jess and I had a marvelous time of it (minus the bowling part). I rubbed her back, she rubbed mine, and we whispered sweet somethings in each other’s ear all night.

After bowling, we headed home and watched an episode of Castle… and drifted off to sleep. It was the period at the end of the paragraph on a wonderful weekend. Good times and noodle salad, indeed.