Monday, April 29, 2013

Weekend of Rediscovery.

The author aboard his trusty, old Honda CB450T Hawk, circa 1985, Willow Springs International Raceway, Rosamond, California.

Not that I have been neglecting my journalistic duties, it was just that I was away for a bit rediscovering my former, two-wheeled roots.  See, before I was super-serious about my fitness, and discovered the wonderful world of road cycling, I was a big-time gearhead.  Truth be told, I never thought I would give up motorcycles until the day I died.  Having a motorcycle a full seven years before I bought my first car, motorcycles were in my blood.

Road cycling changed all of that.  Not that I have turned my back on the combustible part of the two-wheeled realm, something just clicked the moment I clicked into my first set of clipless pedals.  In addition to the fitness component, cycling was different in respects to cost, time, and the biggie, I could start having a ball right outside my front door.  With motorcycling, and in particular, motorcycle racing, I had to travel at great time and expense just to get the fun started.

Nothing beats the sights and sounds of a Honda CB160 race.  Shot location: Turn 4, twenty-eight years after the author dragged a knee through there in the photo atop the article.

Rewind to the tail end of last week, and a trip back to Willow Springs International Raceway was on the agenda, courtesy of an old gearhead friend of mine, to take a gander at the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA), for the annual Corsa Motoclassica.  Three days of vintage motorcycle racing, camping and friends, well, of course I signed on to attend.

Yes, I have been of the bicycle for about a week.  However, after being off of a motorcycle, any motorcycle for over a year, the homecoming was indeed a welcome one.

Yes, there is room for both in my life.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

“Get A Life!”

Libraries are full of books related to the Human Condition.  I mean volumes and volumes of manuscripts have been written, and hundreds-of-thousands of people have earned PhD’s attempting to explain how the human brain works and how we communicate, relate, and value each other. 

Well, without all of the aforementioned scholarly orgasms, I am proud to announce I can sum up how humans relate, and more to the point, how Motorists relate to Cyclists in three, simple, direct words: “Get a life!”

Yes, this was the lesson I learned today, courtesy of a mid-40’s woman as she crept up behind me at a signal in her old-beater car, honked the horn, and then squeezed her way between myself and the car in the left lane.  Rude?  Yes.  Dangerous?  Definitely!

When I expressed that I legally held the lane, with an additional, firm, verbal concern for my safety (while pointing out her obvious rudeness), that was when the Philosopher-Behind-the-Wheel laid on me those three, little words, and showcased how motorists relate to cyclists for having the nerve to share the roads with them. 

All I did was impart to her the legalities of the situation, and ended my part of the conversation with a “Please drive safely.”  I find it is easier to be armed with the facts than insults.  People don’t like facts, which usually leads to insults – From them, not from me.

In totality, while it is obvious this motorist’s behavior is not the mainstream, just remember this – It only takes one of her kind to end your life.

You know, before you “Get a life!”

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Rule of Carbon

Editors Note:  Following the recent article on Carbon Fiber Wheels (Cycling Dynamics, 04/18/2013), here is a more in-depth look at this wonder material.

Composites are pretty cool things.  In the most basic definition, a composite is when two or more materials are combined together to make a new, unique, and stronger material.  Therefore, something as simple as concrete, or as complex as carbon fiber, are both classified as composites.  In between are a world of materials such as fiber glass and plastics, however, the subject of our study will be carbon fiber.

Carbon composites can be formed into just about anything one desires, from prosthetics, to wheelchairs, to cars, to satellites, to whole airplanes (yes, they do), plus bicycles and their associated components.  Carbon structures are light, strong, can withstand ridiculous temperature variations, positive and negative atmospheres, are moisture impervious, non-conductive, low maintenance, and have a relatively long life.  A wonder material?  You bet.  However, like all things in this life, carbon does have its limitations.  Carbon composite structures do not take certain stress loads very well, especially blunt impacts.    

 Raw Carbon Fiber Weave

So just what is Carbon Fiber?  In its most basic form, it is strands (or threads) of carbon which are then weaved into a cloth.  Depending on the intended use, the cloth is woven into different weight weaves, and it is here that the finished product gains its grade, strength and expense.  On its own, it is strong in tension (though easy to cut laterally), and it is very flexible.  Think of a blanket, and you get the idea of the properties of carbon cloth.  Add a resin, and in most cases, some heat and pressure, and the whole picture changes dramatically (as can the shapes). 
Carbon Monocoque Lola

And now for a very important distinction - The carbon fiber in your bicycle is not the same as the carbon fiber in a race car, nor is it the same carbon fiber used in a Boeing 787 commercial airliner.  The blanket term carbon fiber needs to be used very carefully, as it encompasses all similar composites (such as Carbon Graphite), much as the word steel encompasses all alloys, thereof.  And, while carbon is amazing stuff to work with, what has some of us bothered in the aerospace industry are sub-surface delaminations which cannot be detected until a catastrophic failure of a structure occurs.  And, these are not false concerns, folks. 

Failed Airbus Vertical Fin Carbon Fiber Attachment Lugs

Think back to September 2001, and the American Airlines Airbus A300 in New York which shed its vertical stabilizer in-flight.  Regardless of what “Officials” said about the First Officer’s “Stomping” of a rudder pedal (rudder hard-over); the real cause was delamination of the load bearing fin attachment points, which were all carbon composite.  A host of other manufacturers use a Titanium/Carbon combination to insure lightness, strength, longevity, and most of all, serviceability.  A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified repair station I used to work at kept a 1948 Cessna 140 as a parts-fetcher/lunch wagon/play toy.  I could rudder hard-over on it all day and the tail/rudder would not fail.  Then again, it is made completely out of aluminum.

Lugged Carbon Fiber Bicycle Frame

So, what does this have to do with bicycles?  Well, the grade of composites used is pretty good stuff, but it is designed for a ground based vehicle, thus supreme strength and redundancy of load paths are not built in (in my opinion).  They work well, do the job, and in many cases look awesome, but stress loads are not their unique forte. 

Now, the stress loads I refer to are primarily compression, tension, and torsional, plus extreme bending loads.  As a bicycle frame, the carbon will work fine.  Ride the bike out of its design load and it will fail.  This is where the quality of the carbon comes into play, and unless the company you bought it from tells you so, you have no idea where the raw materials came from, its grade rating, who formed and cooked it, plus, who assembled the final product (plus the risk of contamination). 

I personally ride an aluminum frame, but that is due more to cost consideration then a fear of carbon.  Carbon composites are damn cool things, and you can do a whole lot of things with them.   My next bike probably will be carbon fiber.  I use the word probably, being Titanium and Stainless Steel look almost too cool to pass up, and I really like their durability. 

Arai LTD, Carbon Fiber Corsair V Helmet

Bottom line, carbon fiber bike frames, wheels and components can achieve some pretty cool performance parameters these days.  However, just keep an eye on your carbon bike for any visible damage, and by all means, avoid extreme loading conditions like Volkswagen sized pot holes, plus collisions with vehicles and immovable objects (like your Mother-in-Law).  It is a very good material to work with, however, it is not THE material to solve all of the industrial applications for the Ages.

With this in mind, a decent carbon component, if properly cared for, should last almost a life time.  But, today’s carbon composites will definitely be outshined by tomorrow’s carbon composites, and that is what I am truly waiting for.     

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Carbon Wheels – A Sexy Necessity, Or Over-Hyped, Expensive Toys?

 Reynolds RZR Full-Carbon Bicycle Wheels - $4000.00 to $6000.00 USD.

The carbon fiber bicycle wheel.  Whether Tubular or Clincher, they are light, exotic, and sexy.  They make us faster.  They give us status.  They are flat-out cool.  They are considered the “Holy Grail” of bicycle components.  They are also an expensive double-edged sword.

So, just how dare I speweth forth such carbon blasphemy, you say?  It is simple really.  Unless you are a sponsored racer, comparing the cost/benefit analysis of the proverbial “Bang for the Buck,” is all it takes to question marketing hype on the subject. 

So, just what is the real price of achieving “Carbon Bliss?”  In actual, everyday life, this is a perfectly viable question to ponder.  In this author’s humble opinion, one must be independently wealthy, a knucklehead, crazy, or a combination of all to pop for a set of “Top of the Line” carbon wheels. 

And, for the record, I too love all things carbon fiber just as much as anyone, and I own a set of carbon clincher SRAM S40’s, complete with aluminum brake tracks (I am not sold on full-carbon wheels).  Not that full-carbon wheels are horrible, mind you, I just question the amount of hype, the safety concerns, and I definitely question the very real cost versus performance equation to the average cyclist.
Consider the following.

Back in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, carbon wheels were a pipe dream except in World Championship motorcycle racing where they were just being introduced.  It took a full 25 years, however, for them to be offered to the public at a cost approaching reasonable and being built tough enough for everyday street use, if desired. 

Blackstone Tech Full-Carbon Motorcycle Wheels - $4000.00 USD
Today, for $4000.00 USD, you can own a set of full carbon fiber motorcycle wheels which can sustain speeds in excess of 200 MPH.  They can support a rider of any weight, are strong enough to support load paths in, and from, all directions, including having brake discs bolted to them, plus cushion drives, and sprockets.  Remember, all this performance and durability for about $4000.00 USD ($150.00 additional for ceramic bearings).  Oh, and they come with a full warranty and can conceivably last the life of the motorcycle.  Heck, the price of a set of “Top of the line” carbon bicycle wheels even makes forged Magnesium motorcycle racing wheels look like a bargain at $3000.00.  Or, one can even procure a darn good set of forged aluminum wheels for about $2000.00 bucks.

And remember, weight is just as important in the motorcycling world as it is in bicycling.  The technology that was previously the realm of Grand Prix racing has now been brought down to the level of the everyday consumer.  The results are predictable, too.  They are showing up on street bikes, with the durability to survive the pot holes and bad streets of the real-world we all live in.

And, the benefits are real.  A set of carbon motorcycle wheels can knock twenty (20) pounds, or more, off a motorcycle.  A set of carbon bicycle wheels, meanwhile, will maybe take off a pound, possibly two in extreme cases.  In reality, it is only grams we’re fighting with our wallets, which is why I call all of this madness in cycling “The Gram Wars.”
 Lightweight Full-Carbon Bicycle Wheels - $5000.00 to $6000.00 USD

As for the realities of carbon bicycle wheels, these puppies can easily reach the same $4000.00 USD, and can even go as high as $6000.00 USD (a price no motorcyclist would pay for wheels, this side of a MotoGP World Championship team).  This end cost of product is a completely relevant discussion, as it is what we consumers are being asked to swallow (or bend over for, depending on one’s perspective).  In other words, what does motorcycling know in total about carbon fiber wheels that bicycling does not?  And, in even more basic terms, it is money out of the consumer’s pocket that won’t go to rent, food, gasoline, or the light bill.

The issues of reliability are very real, too.  See, you can make something so light that it basically becomes flimsy.  That is called compromise.  Sure, carbon bicycle wheels are asked to do a lot of things motorcycle wheels are not (and vice-versa), and one of the major functions is braking.  While MotoGP (and Commercial Aircraft, like the Boeing 787) can take technology to the fullest, utilizing carbon rotors AND carbon pads, bicycling is still trying to get by with rubber pads on carbon tracks, and doing a miserable job of it, too.  Disc brakes will solve this issue, completely.

So, what we have here are two different applications of a similar material, however, in motorcycling, the wheels are being asked to do a whole lot more for less money.  And, that is the basis of this article. 

Additionally, the roads we ride upon are so bad (especially here in sunny California, land of movie stars and the wealthy) that anything less than a very durable, dare I say it, alloy wheel, is a waste of material and money for anyone short of a sponsored racer.  Yes, I state it boldly here – Carbon is nice, but it is an oversold feature to the average cyclist. 

But wait, there’s more.     
I recently spoke to a friend of mine who is an engineer for a major civil and military satellite manufacturer.  Being they utilize a boat load of exotic materials on spacecraft (yes, including a whole lot of carbon composites), I asked him, off the cuff, how aerospace and racing can make carbon work reliably, without all of the downsides that bicycling seems to be facing (heat issues, stress load failures, and high cost).  While admitting he was not familiar with the variables involved with the bicycling world, he did state that in aerospace the issues of stress loading, reliability, strength-to-weight ratio, temperature variance, and even to a certain point, cost, had long since been realized with composites, including carbon fiber.  What he ventured to guess in bicycling were the issues of economics and weight, and figured the lack of a total wheel solution in bicycling must be due to cost – It (reliability) could probably be done, but at a price (and weight) that no bicyclist would pay for.

I then mentioned to him that you could get a set of feather-weight wheels which possess hit-or-miss braking performance in the dry, will not work worth a damn in the rain, and not take much abuse from road irregularities for $6000.00.  He just laughed.  “Why would anyone pay that kind of money for something which was basically unreliable in most aspects of its design envelope?”

Good question, my friend.  Good question.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Year And Another Gear - SRAM Unveils Their 11-Speed Gruppo's And Hydraulic Disc And Rim Brakesets.

SRAM's 11-Toother.

Well, they finally really did it.  No, I am not referring to Charlton Heston's famous quote at the end of the original Planet of the Apes.  Nothing that drastic, but news extremely exciting, none the less. 

On Tax Day 2013, Chicago based SRAM took the opportunity to unveil new 11-speed Red and Force gruppo's, plus two new hydraulic brakesets - One for disc's, and the other for rim brakes.  This is big news, people. 

 Read the rest of the "Good news everyone" at Road Bike Action.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Turn-About Is Fair Play. A Victory For Mature Adults.

The Podium at the Redlands Classic.  YOU GO GIRL!

Political Correctness (PC) has turned people into a bunch of weak-kneed sissies.  Case in point: Peter Sagan pinches a podium girl and people throw a fit.  Sagan was forced (yes, he was) to apologize, and another victory over the human spirit was won by the PC Crowd.

Well, Australian cyclist Loren Rowney doesn't see things that way.  In a brilliant bid to "Even the score," she turned the PC World on its collective head with a blantant, and welcome, butt grab of a race official.

And then... There was silence.  No screaming, no tantrums, no Tweets gone viral, no, none of that.  See folks, this is how the mature world handles things, and it is high-time we return to being adults, not sniveling, little children, ala, the PC World.

Well done, Loren.  Well done.

Still Drunk After The Completion Of Paris-Roubaix, The Crowd Decided To Ride By The Local Nudist Colony On The Way Home.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Wrap-Up. The Week In Review.

Fabian Cancellara: Winner 2013 Paris-Roubaix.  Photo courtesy Graham Watson

Spartacus wins, and wins big!  No electric motors, just big legs and the lungs to match.

What can you say about Fabian Cancellara’s 2013 campaign so far?  First, big wins in the Tour of Flanders, and now Paris-Roubaix.  This man, and the Trek Domane are on fire.  And, regarding the Trek Domane, here are my thoughts:

2013 Trek Domane.  Photo courtesy Bike Rumor

Bike News - The Trek Domane must be the real deal.  From Cancellara’s exclusive use of it over the magnificent Madone, to all those I have asked their opinions about regarding its performance after a test ride.  However, we can’t get took excited about it can we, as Trek is the ride of that vicious, evil-do’er, Mr. Armstrong.  Additionally, every test of the Domane has returned very favorable results, however, there was always some nagging, extremely subjective reasoning for not proclaiming it a winner in so-called “Objective Testing.” 

Take Velo News, for instance.  Please!  A blind man could have seen right through their “Objective Testing” of endurance racers in the May 2013 issue.  Not only was the Domane dinged for issues totally unrelated to its performance, but the Volagi Liscio was scored dead-last (with the Look 675???) while, surprise-surprise, the Specialized Roubaix magically managed to best all-comers.  Me thinks the crew over at Velo must be kissing that big “S” tattoo on Mike Sinyard’s butt quite often.

The World Sport.  Schwinn catalog, 1979

I rode a 1979 Schwinn World Sport yesterday.  Wow, what a beauty to ride, she was.  It had sat in a garage for the better part of twenty-five years before recently being rebuilt by Pasadena Cyclery.  I had not ridden a steel frame since the late 1980’s, and I was reminded why people like the material so much.  While the brakes and Non-STI shifters were not up to modern standards, the ride was nothing but smooth and produced a whole lot of smiles.

2013 Raleigh RX 2.0 Cyclocross bike

I also tested a 2013 Raleigh RX 2.0, courtesy of Pasadena Cyclery during the week.  What attracted me to this certain bike was the overall package it presents for a whole lot of fun riding, regardless of terrain, mood, or whether one was wearing a kit or not.  Basically, I was looking for something that I could just jump on and not care about jersey’s, bibs, shoes, or cleats.  A Cyclocross’er seemed to fit the bill.

The bike comes with an aluminum frame, carbon fork, Shimano 105 gruppo, FSA 46/36 crankset (gearing can be changed if needed), Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes (with bar-top levers), and toe-clips.  A smooth riding, fun, durable, twenty-pound, throw-around bike, all for $1,100 on sale.  This is the kind of bike I would ride on the Pacific Electric Trail, as it would absorb the bumps quite well with its size 32 tires.  It could indeed be ridden in the dirt along the trail to escape the pain of the concrete expansion joints.   

Zipp hub for road disc brakes.  Hallelujah!  Photo courtesy Zipp.

In the New Stuff Department, Zipp announced new 303 wheels specifically designed for disc brakes.  Also, SRAM leaked news of an impending 11-speed gruppo, as well as hydraulic brakes. 

So, will bicycling embrace road disc brakes?  Paraphrasing Samuel Jackson from the movie Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts,” you bet they will!

Shimano also let loose strong rumors of their own updated road and off-road gruppo’s, plus new wheelsets, and behold: Hydraulic brakes.  

Stay tuned for more from the power-house of the East.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My SRAM Goes To Eleven? What Was Originally Thought To Be An April Fool's Joke, May Not Turn Out To Be The Case After All.

Well, things are set to get a bit hotter this season in the Road and MTB drive train arena's, with the hard rumor, and now apparently fact, of new SRAM 11-Speed groups.

Check out this bit 'o news from Velo News on-line.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Essence Of Cycling

I love it when the purity of cycling is laid bare for all to admire – To those whom can grasp it, that is.  See, in a time of all things exotic, carbon, colorful, and expensive, it was nice to see the joy of two wheels is still appreciated by some. 

How so?  Peruse the following.

Unbeknownst to this pedaling scribe, until recently, there is a group of very competent and fast riders that meet on Wednesday evenings to circle Bonelli Park here is Southern California.  And it was there, among the sea of Lycra and carbon fiber that they were seen: Two, new, young riders out to discover what this whole cycling thing was about.  And, doing it their way.

Astride bikes no one in the Peleton seemed to give a second (let alone a first) glance at, they were on a Cannondale down-tube shifter, and a Schwinn World Sport, complete with steer tube shifters.  Nice!

 Classic Cannondale.  Note the first generation Look pedals.

The classic Schwinn World Sport.  Check out the rake on that fork.

While these two indeed had extremely lofty goals, that was actually the real beauty of their effort.  Beginners in every sense, not even wearing clothing that would be considered “Proper” in any snobbish riding circle, they were there to see what they could do – And, loving every minute of it, even as the pack spit them out on the first climb. 

Yes, there is technology, and there is nostalgia.  But then, there is also the purity of the human spirit.

And, cycling can take you there - Again, and again.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Why We Love Peter Sagan.

The podium, Tour of Flanders.  Photo courtesy Getty Images

"The pinch heard around the World," it has been called.  I'd call it the pinch felt around the world, as all the overly-sensitive people on the planet (namely Feminists and Metro-Sexuals) felt the need to cry foul over a harmless gesture even the Podium Girl did not mind.

A lapse in judgement?  Poor taste?  Sexual harassment?  Nah, just a very young warrior being himself.  However, in this Politically Correct (PC), pansy-assed, wussified, corporate world, unfortunately for Mr. Sagan, he may  never be the same.  Since all of this PC crap came out, the world sure never has been the same.

Me thinks cycling has real problems that need solving.