no one line


Spooky Skeletor
February 8, 2010, 3:43 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, road bikes


The folks over at Spooky Bikes were nice enough to sponsor a really good cyclocross race in Easthampton back in November. They were nice enough to raffle off a frameset. So nice, in fact, that I was the winner. That’s how nice they were.

I’ve mentioned the Spooky Skeletor that I picked up from their awesome workshop over in the Eastworks a few times here on this blog, and since, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten some hits from people searching the internet for reviews of the Skeletor. There aren’t a whole lot out there (one, two, among some talk on bikeforums calling it the CAAD9 killer), but since Spooky’s star is rising, there are bound to be more people searching for one. So, with a conscious attempt to avoid the absurd slang that’s all-too-pervasive in reviews (laterally stiff, vertically compliant?), here’s my take on things:

If you hold one in your hand, you notice three things about an aluminum frame first off: first, you notice the fancy crap – the paint job, the decals. Then you notice the welds. And third, you notice the shaping of the tubing. Here’s what the Skeletor looks like: simple, rugged. It’s anodized black with simple decals. I like that, despite also owning an ostentatious bike (why yes, those are rainbow sparkles in the clearcoat, thanks for noticing!). The Spooky’s welds are very evenly beaded – more so than my CoMotion, more so than my Felt track bike. The tubing shapes are interesting: there’s a nice, subtle ridge along the top tube near the headtube, the downtube is fat as hell. I expected it to ride stiffly.

I built it up with the stuff I’ve been riding on various bikes for a couple of years: Campagnolo 9 speed drivetrain with Eurus wheels. I bought a cheap carbon fork from ebay. I had an Alpha Q sitting around with a loose dropout, and I was too impatient to leave the Skeletor unbuilt while waiting to hear back from True Temper. The build went smoothly – the bottom bracket threaded in fine, and the Cane Creek headset I bought from Spooky went in with no problems. I bolted on the BB cable guide and put the wheels on it and started dangling parts on it, like you’re supposed to, and the build encountered nary a problem.

Then I got to throw my leg over it and ride it.

Now, first off, I knew I’d like it because it fit me better than my old bike. I’m short. Even small bikes need fairly ordinary-sized headtubes to avoid difficult mitering and welding of the top tube and the downtube, which means that with my fairly low saddle, there’s only so much bar-drop I can set up with. There’s only so much I need, too – I’m comfortable riding long, and with short arms, I don’t need them too far down to get a flat back. That said, while my old bike was comfortable, there was room for improvement, and my fit on the Spooky was an improvement. If Spooky had a 48cm bike, I may have gone for that to get a bit more option in getting my bars 5 or 10mm lower, but they didn’t, and a compact 52cm bike is enough to give me reasonable standover, the reach I need, and a proper bar drop.

I took it out for some sprints and found it stiffer than my track bike. Stiffness has its pros and cons: I found my way on to some rough streets and noted that it bounced over rough pavement. It required some deft handling; using legs as suspension became a bit more important. Some of the stiffness is from the front end, attributed to the cheap fork; I look forward to noting the difference between that and the Alpha Q. That said, for all the talk on the internet about the pain of stiff aluminum frames, I’ve never experienced discomfort from a stiff aluminum frame. I’ve ridden my TK2 all day, and the only pain I got was from riding steel handlebars with no cushion on the tops. I’ve ridden my CoMotion all day with no problems. I don’t expect pain or discomfort from long rides (though anything involving cobbles or “unpavé” may impart its own pain).  The rigid ride of the Skeletor might makes for some wide-eyed moments over rough stuff; I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who’s looking for an all-around bike – this is a race bike. With that in mind, I wouldn’t expect its stiffness to be much of a mark against it in the long run. Again: I look forward to putting on the superior carbon fork.

I like the bike’s handling a lot. My old bike was fairly longlegged, with a very stable, predictable front end. The Skeletor is quick and nimble – with a little bit less trail than I’m used to, it wants to dance around. But taking it down some descents, it sort of evens out and feels more stable than I’d expect. It wants to dive into corners and lean steeply – it asks me to lay it over much more quickly and readily than my old bike did. Oh yes: this is how a race bike should handle. Remind me to let out 5psi, to accommodate the rigid ride and to make sure I’ve got enough grip leaning as sharply as it wants me to… especially with so much sand still on the roads.

So there you have it. A product review that hopefully doesn’t read like industry lubricant. I think that Spooky is a company with decent stuff between its ears. I like my Spooky Skeletor.



A New Build
December 8, 2009, 7:57 pm
Filed under: bikes, products, road bikes

Here’s the deal, world. I will go to my grave insisting that I am a not the new-bike-each-season type of jerk (I say “jerk” out of jealousy, which is a form of love). Now, I know that the evidence against me is pretty staggering. Let’s see – two seasons of track racing on three different frames. Starting my first full road season on my third road frame in a year and a half. But I swear – I’m a cheapskate. There were extenuating circumstances!

And here’s another extenuating circumstance. I’ll race next year on a Skeletor, from Spooky Bikes. I rode home from their facility in Easthampton, MA with the frame over my shoulder, excited as all hell. I won it at SpookyCX in Easthampton, a few weeks ago. All pre-registrants were entered into a raffle, and what happened went something like this.

Promoter: “[Blah blah blah], Category 4 men, to the line, please!”

(everybody scuffles and shuffles forward. I take a spot on the side, in the first row)

Promoter: “As you all know we’re raffling off a Spooky Bikes frame today.”

Everyone: “Whoo! I hope it’s me!”

Promoter: “With Mathmumble Mumblesomesuch please step forward?”

Me: “Uh, was that my name?”

Promoter: “Sure!”

Me: Why am I getting a call-up? Are there call-ups? Did I somehow score points in this series at some point? Seems unlikely…

Promoter: “You won a bike.”

Me: “What?”

Promoter: “Everybody chase that guy. He just won a frame.”

Me: “What?” I throw my arms into the air, victory-style.

Them: Laughter and raging jealousy.

Me: “Holy shit!”

Even getting called up to several feet in front of the field wasn’t good enough for me to get a decent hole shot, and I settled in ten back as the field rocketed through the fast course. It was the funnest ‘cross course I’ve ever raced – which I can say because I didn’t get a chance to race Tracklocross – and I had a big smile throughout. The course had lots of fast, sweeping hardpack, some good terrain, and I passed  more people than passed me, kept hunting a podium spot, but wound up finishing 4th.

Afterward, I settled down near the Spooky Bus to talk things over with Mickey, the mad genius behind the company, and in short order I was convinced that this rag-tag outfit of ruffians really knew what they were doing. A visit to their shop a week later only had me further convinced, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on my frame.

I’ll build it up classic cheapskate-style – the parts from my CoMotion, of course, and an Alpha Q fork that I got for cheap because it needs a minor repair. Of course, I’ll crow loudly the day it’s finished – probably with pictures from an inaugural ride. It will be a little bit, maybe a few weeks or so, but it will happen pretty soon all things considered.

And I’ll review the bike here on my blog, but you can expect me to be pretty positive about it. I’ve already been given lots of reason to be impressed with Spooky’s business and products. You can take my nonsense with a grain of salt if I’m recommending a frame or a company before even riding their darn frame, but hey – go visit them yourself, spend a half hour talking with Mickey, and see if you’re not in my shoes.



Slogfest 2009
October 25, 2009, 2:19 am
Filed under: products

Tonight, weathering the storm at my parents’ house in New Jersey, a weather alert scrolled across the screen, interrupting a sentimental moment by George Clooney in The Perfect Storm. Flood alert, it said. I nodded, knowingly and wearily, because earlier in the evening I had ridden from Brooklyn to Northern New Jersey, with the rain going from a dreary drizzle (Williamsburg Bridge) to a steady rain (West Side Bike Path in the 30s) to a torrential downpour (90th street or so until I got to my destination).

In Bergen County, roads were flooded near where I went to middle school; the descent down Fort Lee Road was utterly terrifying as I gripped my brakes and squinted my eyes, trying to keep water out and my contact lenses in. And when I got to my destination, twenty minutes after I had started to shivver in my soaked pants and thin top layer, a defensive skunk blocked my path, raising its tail any time I tried to pass, keeping me in the rain a few more minutes while I waited for it to clear off.

When I shed my sodden layers in my parents’ basement, I realized to my relief that the book my sister had lent me was still dry in my Ortlieb messenger bag. Sure, it’s old and beaten up. I got it used, and there was a small tear near the bottom of the only compartment, a big bucket of a sack. The velcro is worn and weak, and I had assumed that the flap would roll open and water would get in in my twentyfive mile soaking wet slog through New York City.

Nope. Dry as a bone inside. I don’t often plug products but I felt that this was worth it. If you need a bag that’s waterproof, buy an Ortlieb.



Fixed Gears at Interbike – Winners and Losers
October 7, 2009, 2:56 pm
Filed under: bikes, fixed gears, frame design, products, Recycled Content

Instead of thoroughly scouring the internet for pictures from Interbike, I made do with following Hipster Nascar‘s coverage (which is too exhausting for me to link each post).

In the past several years, amid the fixed gear boom, companies have rushed to market consumer or budget-end fixed gear bicycles, occasionally completely confusing themselves about whom they think will ride them – track races? Stylish types? Commuters?  People who like to purchase uniqueness in the form of pre-customized bikes?

Snideness aside, I think that a lot of bike companies are scrambling to meet new demands, but frequently wind up trying to put too much into one bike. What all too often starts out as a basic road fixed gear turns into a mish-mash when a company hopes that it will look both classic and modern, be simple, sleek and be utilitarian, be customizable and already match its bar tape to its rims. A lot of these bells and whistles conflict with each other – track drops, brake levers, brake callipers, annodized and unmachined rims – and the resulting bikes are a mess.

With the hopes that this post avoids Bike Snob mimicry, here’s my take on some of the winners and losers from Interbike, with thanks to Hipster Nascar for having attended Interbike and taken and posted so many photos.

Winner:
Fuji: a smart lineup of bikes; maybe a few models on the budget end are stepping on each others toes, but for the most part they are distributed nicely along price and performance points.

Loser:
Rock Racing, which for some reason is making bikes – or at least, has made  a few bikes.

Do

Do name your performance track bike after the local track – a nice nod to the local roots.

Do make sensible, dual-brake-equipped SS/FG bikes, but don’t put cross levers on track drops, don’t put crazy handlebars on anything, and don’t put two brakes on annodized, unmachined rims.

Don’t equip all-purpose fixies with seatmasts.

Don’ts

Don’t take a storied name in Cycling and do… this.

Velocity, HPlusSon, EighthInch, and other companies: don’t continue the “deepest V” competition.

Don’t do what Bianchi did: call a bike “classic” despite being outfitted with a threadless stem and a straight-blade fork; and then put aerospokes on the competition-worthy Super Pista.



Aero Wheels
September 21, 2009, 2:52 pm
Filed under: pro crap, products

Recently, some good reading on the subject of aerodynamic wheels came up. I didn’t really understand aerodynamic wheels until I read this post and this post by sprinterdellacasa a while back.

A few months ago, NYVelocity posted an equipment review of rental deep carbon wheels from Revolution Wheels. Using Zipps as a familiar point of reference, NYVelocity concluded, “These wheels are maybe 95% as good as Zipps, for 42% of the price. Unless you’re lighting cigars with twenty dollar bills these babies are hard to beat.”

A few months later, Zipp’s lead engineer gave a very open interview to NYVelocity in response. It offers some interesting insight into Zipp’s R&D as well as the industry’s copycat process. Plus you get to learn some juicy details about ceramic bearings.

Now, another response comes from Steve Hed, who apparently wants to clarify some of the Zipp-v-Hed issues brought up in the interview with Zipp’s engineer. Hed picks apart some of the claims and illustrates a chicken-or-the-egg rivalry going on between the two companies: The fact is that since Zipp acquired our patent (sometime in the late 90s) their wheels have changed shape to more closely mirror the wheels we started selling 18 years ago. We have continually improved them since then, but the underlying aero shapes are still similar. As Zipp’s wheel shapes have changed to more closely resemble ours, it only follows that their wind tunnel data is more like ours too.

It’s a good read for the nerds who enjoy not only technical data but industry sparring as well.



ELVS rims
May 27, 2009, 4:05 pm
Filed under: products, the cycling world

I’ve recently gone from underemployment to overemployment, and my schedule fits together like tetris pieces. That’s part of the reason why a wide-open morning for a lovely ride – fast and hard in parts, but sans-computer and without a hard end time – is such a welcome rarity.

One of my jobs is working in the laboratories of Laek House, run by Ethan Benton, a local cyclist and all-around great guy. Laek House specializes in semi-technical cycling clothing, and Ethan’s niche is printing patterns with retroreflective ink: the Enhanced Light Visibility System. Shine a light, see the bright.

The particularly cool innovation he’s made is applying a retroreflective treatment to Velocity Rims – see photos here and video here.

The rims are a great choice for bikes with hub- or disc-braking systems (rim brakes will ruin the treatment). They are incredibly bright, and given the dangers inherent in riding in and around the city, extra visibility is always safer.

I’ve been working with Ethan, treating Velocity rims with the retroreflective application, so to be clear, this post is obviously a plug for the Laek House/Velocity ELVS rims. They are a smart product and deserve exposure. Check them out! You can order them through your local bike shop, which can place an order from Velocity or from Quality Bicycle Products.



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.