no one line

H Plus Son rim failure
November 24, 2008, 2:41 pm
Filed under: products

Do you know what that is? That’s a picture of a bad component going badly. The story is here, but the abridged version is: some kids were riding on poorly made rims, and one failed impressively.

A few months ago, an unheard-of company called H Plus Son started making deep dish aluminum rims marketed toward the fixed gear crowd. The rims are an even Deeper V for the crowd who enjoys matching accessories on their street-fixes.

Since H Plus Son’s rims were only made in 32 and 36 holes, I speculated that they weren’t made to be aerodynamic, but rather that they were just made to be a bigger rolling surface to match to your toestraps or grips or saddle – or whatever. Had they made rims with 20, 24, or 28 holes, I would have considered lacing up one to a front wheel for track use.

H Plus Son also boasted that they’re lighter than Velocity’s Deep V, which is known to be something of an anchor. But what happens when you make aluminum thinner, longer, and lighter? Stories of rim sidewall failure are surfacing already, which actually doesn’t surprise me as much as the fact that internet forums are somehow already calling these rims “durable” – presumably because they’re riding the coattails of the Deep V’s only arguably deserved reputation.

The lesson here is that companies with no reputation who surf trend waves into style scenes should be viewed with skepticism until they prove otherwise. Admirable performance over prolonged use is the proper vetting process when new bits and pieces hit the market. To jump to claims of durability and performance is, well, a bad choice.

Photo and inspiration from Flickr user ganring, with thanks to John Prolly for the link.

EDIT: Update – more information from the event; generous skepticism from Prolly; words of warning at Bike Albany. If I hear more stories about other manufacturers’ rims failing like this because a tube blows, well, I would back off a bit. But I haven’t. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen – I’d be learning something.

Staten Island Cross!
November 23, 2008, 10:08 pm
Filed under: bikes, cyclocross

If you keep up with Bike Snob NYC – which you shouldn’t, as he’s ran out of witticisms and his blog posts serve only as a medium for a surprising volume of spectator idiocy – then you’d know that next Sunday, November 30th, New York City will see its first cyclocross race in over ten years.

Those of us who’ve never raced ‘cross know it as a sport where in order to qualify for the post-race beer-drinking, you’ve got to spend about an hour getting cold, wet, dirty, and exhausted running, pushing, fouling, and occasionally riding a bike that’s only marginally suited for the terrain at hand.

And we’ve also learned that everyone who rides cyclocross absolutely loves it.

The organizers of Nov 30th’s Staten Island Cyclocross, however, seem to have missed last spring’s Sludgement Day, a ‘cross-inspired mudfest on the curiously out-of-the-way playground/construction site Randall’s Island.

But, that aside, Staten Island Cross looks like it will be a blast. I’m going to race it on what may prove to be a wholely inappropriate bicycle.

Photos as I put together a semifunctional cyclocross bike and sack up and register to race will be forthcoming.

Route 9W
November 19, 2008, 8:48 pm
Filed under: accidents, the cycling world

Those of us in New York City who feel the frustration of dealing with red lights every tenth of a mile and a world-class levels of automobile congestion, there is always Rt 9W, and Nyack.

It’s easy to get to. Ride up Manhattan in a leisurely warm-up pace via the West Side Bike Path or Central Park, and cross the George Washington Bridge. If you’re sentimental, take a moment to appreciate the feeling of being hundreds of feet over a mile-wide river.

There, in New Jersey, is the ride for area cyclists. Oh, there are other rides and other routes of course, but Nyack is the quick and easy choice. It’s as close as you can get. The road is well-paved with a generous shoulder. There are lengthy flats, a few rolling hills with short climbs and quick descents that make for enjoyable terrain.

When out there you will see other cyclists. Hordes of them. Impromptu pacelines may form amongst strangers – we exchange a few words of greeting and rely on our common language: a flick of an elbow, a sweep of the hand. If you flat, whether or not you’re alone, somebody will slow and ask if you’ve got everything you need.

And I’m quite certain that car drivers are used to seeing so many cyclists, in groups, gaily dressed in our tight, colorful finery, that it’s generally safer to ride there – even while cars fly by at 55+ mph – than it is in many other places.

So it comes with discomfort to hear the news of a terrible crash a few days ago, that left a cyclist being treated while in a medically-induced coma. Details are scarce; several days ago I had heard the rider’s description in an effort to identify him.

Best wishes to Camille Savoy, and to everybody else on the road. And a reminder – carry identification and emergency contact numbers. And, among the thrill of 29 mph pacelines and 50mph descents, ride with a healthy sense of self-preservation. The fewer ghost bikes that are installed, the better.

And it should go without saying that those of you who are bi-curious in your transportation choices: when you get behind the wheel of a car, take care. Your sense of safety is dulled by your steel armor and the ease with which pressure on the pedal translates to acceleration. The people on the outside – in our neighborhoods, on our streets – are at risk.

The autumn winds blow chilly and cold.
November 15, 2008, 9:42 pm
Filed under: training

Recently I spent a little while during a long, lazy autumn morning trying to plan when I would pull on my kit and go for a low-intensity, get-the-legs-moving ride in Prospect Park. In the bathroom, brushing the coffee out of my teeth, I looked down at my legs and realized that as much as underemployment might give me plenty of time to ride, I’m not making the most of it. My legs are unshaven. My excuse or reason is that there is no need to keep up appearances when race season is over. The reality that struck me, however, was that I haven’t done a whole lot of riding in recent weeks.

I did squeeze in a really wonderful Century a few weeks ago, out to Montauk. Al and I put our heads into the wind and ground along for five hours, then stopped for a bunch of pizza, to watch the cold wind and the waves on the abandoned dunes, then climbed on the LIRR for a lazy train ride back. Six days later I did sixty or seventy miles through the city, up toward Nyack, and then down into New Jersey for family reasons, and the fatigue in my legs suggested that I had been lazy with my recovery – I hadn’t ridden between those two long rides, and my recovery is best when I’m riding almost constantly. When I’m not tiring myself but always keeping my legs going.

In order to better be able to evaluate myself and keep myself on a schedule, I put together an excel spreadsheet that will let me track my riding and make plans and changes where I need to. One of the downsides of no longer living up in the Bronx means that everything I do no longer has a twenty to thirty mile round trip associated with it. This eats into my base miles.

However, this week I’m starting part-time work on my bicycle, which will get me on the bike every day and putting in some miles. That, combined with my excel spreadsheet, should keep me moving, thoughtful, and motivated.

It’s been rainy a lot in the past couple of weeks. As November starts to get dark and grey it will be harder to really want to ride, and despite the fact that I welcomed autumn with open arms this year, it won’t be long before I long for those warm spring days when you take the first opportunity to dress lightly and go out for long rides under the new sun. I plan to be well-prepared for next season’s racing, though, and that will require me gritting my teeth and getting the miles in throughout the winter.

We’ll see how I do.

Wine, cheese, and bearing grease.
November 3, 2008, 4:38 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, the cycling world

Cycling is on the rise. To hear about greying locals talk about the sport twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, it was a blue-collar sport. Al Toefield was a cop who managed Olympic Teams, got the Kissena Velodrome built, and founded the Kissena Cycle Club; David Walker was a cop too, working in community relations, who started one of New York City’s biggest and most enduring races, the Harlem Skyscraper Classic Criterium. Pete Senia, it seems, organized most of the races in the 70s and 80s that laid the foundation for the cycling scene. I hear stories of these men driving vans full of young, aspiring racers – just kids – to the races in the pre-dawn hours of the morning. The scene consisted of a lot of dedicated, working-class men, a lot of immigrants. Circling Prospect Park on a Saturday afternoon, there are still groups of older Caribean men, and mustachioed Latino men, riding bikes from the 70s and 80s – Nuovo Record, downtube shifters – wearing faded colors, muted kits from bygone days.

The working-class flair that local bicycle racing had matches the technology from the time – when you’re talking about a lugged steel bike with 32-spoked wheels and downtube shifters, there’s really not a huge technological gap between entry level and high-end (leaving out, of course, the 1970s era Bike Boom’s drive to create cheaper and cheaper frames and components). Sure, there were ways to ramp up the cost of a bike – get the frame custom made, rely on Cinelli and Campagnolo parts – but at the end of the day, the manufacturing process and the final product between basic and bling were going to look a lot alike.

These days, the price-to-quality graph looks a lot more exponential – the higher you climb, the faster the prices increase, and the less you get for these increases. Campagnolo’s new Super Record 11 groupset – cranks, cogs, front and rear derailleurs, brake/shifter levers, and brakes – cost upwards of $2,000, while last year’s midlevel groupset, Veloce, sells for around $600. One can get a great frameset for well under a thousand dollars – indeed, just several hundred if you’re looking for somethins used – but high-end, specialty carbon fiber framesets can readily run to several thousand dollars, even climbing over the $10,000 mark. The higher up on the scale you go, you pay more and more for smaller and smaller improvements in performance, quality, or manufacturing – a rapidly declining value system.

Ironically, the growing popularity of cycling is turning it into a more exclusive sport. Case in point – I was recently at an event featuring one of the world’s greatest cyclists. As the event’s attendants inconspicuously crowded around and waited for a pin-sized gap in the conversation so that they could speak to (to, not with) a consistent high finisher in the Paris-Roubaix, the conversation somehow turned to high finance, and almost everybody in this circle – barring myself, a journalist, and Big George Hincapie – chimed in. Not just everybody bearing an opinion about the collapse and the bailout – instead, it seemed that everybody present was in the industry. “Oh, so you must know so-and-so at Big Firm, then.” These are the consumers in the new cycling industry, an industry of “it goes to eleven,” of this year’s model, of custom carbon fiber, of powermeters and high-end aero wheels for the casual racer.

Threads on the internet asking when you know your frame is obsolete. Though people know that while the industry churns out “improvements” each year, the bike that you bought two, four, or ten years ago is still just going to rely on the juice that’s in your legs – and yet, the industry plows on and people buy the bikes with the newest graphics. Friends, it’s an economy of wine, cheese, and bearing grease, but unlike wine and cheese, I fully plan to turn this to our advantage by looking at the resale markets of so-called “obsolete” components.