Monday, July 23, 2012

Sometimes your hand is played for you...

I like to tape bars.  I'm pretty good at it.  Consistent, even wraps.  I don't like to tape my own bars until they really, really need it.  Because I tape bars with just the right amount of tension on the tape, just he right amount of overlap, and because I don't "worry" the tape (more on that in a bit), the tape job on my bars lasts a long time.  

However, sometimes something happens that forces your hand.  Something besides the bike falling over and tearing the tape.  Something besides the tape getting filthy and you just can't stand looking at it any more.  Last week, a week ago today, I went riding with a friend at China Camp.  I rode my cross bike.  He rode his single-speed Steelman.  It was a fun tough ride.  Not the traditional China Camp loop.  What I didn't realize is that somewhere on the ride (probably when we were breaking apart a fallen tree on the trail so we could pass) we both managed to get a mighty dose of urushiol oil on ourselves.  Urushiol oil is the stuff that is on poison oak that gets on your skin and causes unnatural blisters, rashes, and causes your skin to itch like a mutha ..., itches real bad.  

Two days after riding, I notice the initial skin reaction to the dreaded poison oak on my arms and legs.  Then later, it starts affecting my neck and face.  Then it's around my eyes and nostrils.  I realize that after breaking apart that fallen tree, I had gotten it on my hands and everything I touched was become affected.  And because I wasn't wearing gloves, I had it on my hands when I got in my car for the drive back, it was on the steering wheel and shift knob, door handles and clean clothes when I changed after the ride.  It was on my groceries when I stopped at the store on the way home.  And it was on my handlebar tape. 

Because my handlebar tape is cloth, I probably wasn't going to clean the urushiol oil off by wiping with Tecnu like I did to my steering wheel and shift knob.  Nope, I was going to have to retape my bars.  

The previous bar tape on my 46cm wide Salsa Bell Laps was likely a cotton tape from Cateye.  With proper overlap, the Cateye tape was about two wraps short of completely covering the bar up to the bulge.  I've also got half a Grab-On grip on the top of the drop section.  

Old Tape

I retaped the bars with Newbaum's cloth tape.  Newbaum's is made in the U.S.A.  But that's only one reason why it's the best.  Newbaum's is longer than other cloth tapes so it's a cinch to properly tape a nice wide, man-sized handlebar.  Go ahead and do it right.  The sticky back side of the Newbaum's is also much more sticky than other cloth tapes.  So sticky in fact, that it is not easy to work with.  You do not want to fold the tape over on itself and get it stuck together.  When someone buys two rolls of Newbaum's in the shop (you need two rolls - one for each side of the bars), I sometimes suggest buying a third roll just in case the first attempt is foiled by the backsides sticking together.  There is a backing paper much like the backing on Cinelli cork tape and you only want to remove a little bit at a time.  I typically back the paper away about a wrap and a half at a time. 

So, fearing urushiol oil had inhabited the cloth tape on my bars, I did what I had been wanting to do for a while, but was too lazy to do it because it was still working - retaped my bars.  And this tape job went all the way to the bulge.  


I find that with Newbaum's (and other cloth tape in general) I don't add a final finish tape using electrical tape (only Scotch® brand 33+ tape).  Nor do I use twine or shellac.  Check out the photo of the old tape.  That's been there for quite a while and has not unwrapped itself.  I'm finicky, but not that finicky.



Oh yeah, "worried" bars.  Worried bars is what happens when the rider holds on too the bars too tight and causes gaps in the tape.  This usually occurs at the bend, but can also happen in the drops.  It's important to get the wrap just right at the bend, but sometimes, no matter what you do, there's that one guy who just cranks on his bars (or hers) and causes gaps in the tape.  Riding with gaps in your tape is completely unsightly. 

And thanks to Stevil, I found Demartini's Spring Hill Pharmacy in Grass Valley, CA.  They make and sell their own killer poison oak gel that seriously soothes the skin and ceases the incessant feeling of never ending scratching the itch.  It's a total bargain at under $10 for a good sized tube.  Compared to the $40 I spent at the local pharmacy for a tiny tube of Zanfel (which did nothing for me), this stuff is gel gold.

(What's playing:  R.E.M. I Wanted To Be Wrong)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Toggle Heim...

I sometimes neglect the blog because I have been posting quick photos and simple posts on the Black Mountain Cycles Facebook page.  I realize that there are some folks who aren't on Facebook (and for that, I applaud you).  So, I need to try to remember that and post some more here.  

With that in mind, here's a quick one of a super-rare toggle-cam that was created by Charlie Cunningham in the mid 80s.  The cam is a two part that is width adjustable.  The width is adjustable so that the upper cam bump can be fit to the roller at the proper location.  The roller needs to be just on top of the upper bump so that when the lever is pulled, the pads travel to the rim quick and then the roller is on the lower ramp where the brake modulation and power are dialed.  By altering the cam shape, the brake's power can be altered.  The beauty of this design is that you can get true one-finger braking that is super easy to modulate.  

The fixed point of the cam on the brake arm is secured via a clever Heim joint.  This allows the cam to be pivoted out of the way when it is disengaged when removing the wheel.  There are only a small handful of these clever toggle-cams that were created by Charlie back in the 80s.  




(What's playing:  Tour de Fance time trial.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Finished the build on this beautiful Steelman last week.  The owner has several other single-speeds from some of the Bay Area's finest builders:  Soulcraft, Rock Lobster, Steve Potts.  The builds on all of them also give the nod to the area's component makers:  White Industries, Phil Wood, Paul Components.  Having multiple bikes with pretty much the same build might seem boring to some, but they bikes all have different personalities and when one finds a recipe that works, one tends to stick with it.  In this case, the owner has developed his own recipe and sticks with it in his business as well.  Focus and consistency. 

That 2.4 Ardent tire got changed out to a 2.35 Nevegal and looks much better - not that a fat tire looks bad, it just looks out of proportion and sometimes, visuals are important too.

Steelman Handpainted
The frame was painted by Keith Anderson and the logos were hand painted as well, not decals.






Steelman/Paul/White Ind.

Steelman/White Ind.



Steelman/Phil/White Ind


NATURALLY RISEN from michael evans on Vimeo.

(What's playing:   Bob Dylan Maggie's Farm)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Been a long time...

Been a long time since I rock 'n road.  There's been a lot of great new tires coming out recently.  The Clément X'Plor MSO 40 came out a month or so ago.  Before that, the Panaracer Fire Cross 45 was (and still is) a hot tire.  Vee Rubber came out with a 47 and a 50 earlier this year.  One of my all time favorites, the WTB Interwolf 38 was discontinued a while back.  There were other tires in the 35 to 40 range on the market, but most of them were more touring-like and the type of terrain I ride requires something with a bit more traction.  I ride these tires where most folks use mountain bikes.  For me, the tire has to have a certain feel and tread pattern.  I can pretty much tell by looking at a tread pattern how well it's going to work for me.  I like rounded tires.  I like lowish profile knobs.  I like knobs in the center of the tire to be somewhat close together so it rides okay on the road. 

My enthusiasm for the Vee Rubber tires has waned a bit.  Not because they aren't preforming well, but because I like to use and support companies that I have somewhat of a relationship with.  I've known the guy who developed the current Vee Rubber line for quite a while.  Before he was at Vee Rubber, he was the guy who pretty much put Kenda's mountain bike tires on the map.  After he left Vee, my connection with Vee wasn't quite there.  Good tires.  No personal connection any more.  

My list of favorites just got narrowed to two tires.  The Clément MSO 40 and the new comer (which is actually older than all the new tires combined), the Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road.  While similarly sized, The Clément and the BG tire are two different tires and you really couldn't go wrong with either.  I got a delivery of the Rock 'n Road tires on Friday and was out on my favorite loop on Sunday.  

Like the first rides for the Vee Rubber and the Clément tires, I headed to my favorite loop on the new BG tires - the Inverness Ridge loop.  If you're familiar with the various manufacturer's tires, you know some have a really sticky, fresh feel.  Panaracer tires have a certain stickiness to them so that the first miles on the road they feel slow because they sound like you are rolling through sticky tar.  That goes away after a mile or so.  The one interesting observation on the road came when I rolled down a short hill and the sound coming off the front tire was really odd.  I determined it was the tire catching the air in the scoops the knobs make and making a decidedly wind blown sound.  I'd not quite heard that before.  These tires are probably not the most aerodynamic, but no one who uses these tires should be concerned about aerodynamics.  

The loop consists of about five miles on the road before the dirt climb.  On the road, they tires roll okay.  Not as fast as the Clément MSO, but faster than the Panaracer Fire Cross 45.  It's when I hit the dirt that these tires really impressed me.  The loose, decomposed granite climb that was a challenge for the MSO tire was a non-issue for the Rock 'n Road.  I started the ride with about 40 psi in the rear and 42 in front.  More in front because on the skinny Open Pro rim, they felt like they needed more than the 24mm Dyad in back.  I think this was the result of the more supple casing than the MSO tires.  Whatever the case, that combo worked well.  

When the MSO went beyond it's point of traction and spun freely, the Rock 'n Road lost it for a fraction of a pedal stroke and then hooked right back up.  Same for descending.  The Rock 'n Road had great downhill braking traction.  It made the steep twisty, loose descent much more confidence inspiring.  The Rock 'n Road tire performed a lot more like a mountain bike tire - which by the virtue of it's more aggressive knobs is, compared to the MSO.  

Descending down a steep paved road, the Rock 'n Road worked well.  I could definitely hear and feel the knobs working hard to maintain traction around steep fast corners, but they didn't squirm.  Overall, the Rock 'n Road tires are fantastic and having these tires in a quiver with the MSO tires gives one's bike a complete range of go anywhere, do anything, do it all.  

Bottom line:  how do you decide which to get.  Easy.  Get both.  However, here's some key items to consider.

1.  Can your frame accept a 43mm wide tire?  If not, easy, get the 40 MSO tire and you won't be sorry.
2.  If your frame can accept a 43mm tire and you want to get out and show those mountain bikers how it's done, get the Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road and enjoy the hell out of a great tire.  

There's no doubt the Rock 'n Road performs better in the dirt than the MSO.  But that's not going to make me not still dig the MSO.  These two tires are a real conundrum for me.  I really like them both.  I guess the choice of the two comes down to if you spend more time riding on the road and your dirt roads are hardpack and not too steep, the MSO might be a better option.  If you ride about 25% on road and 75% off-road and your off-road sections are more challenging in steepness and soil condition, the Rock 'n Road would by the better option.  For me, I have both and will continue to use both because the are both great tires, and I have a great personal connection to both the guys at Clément and Bruce Gordon.  

There are a couple other cool things about the BG tires.  One is the old school, tan colored skinwall.  If you are familiar with Panaracer Pasela tires, the skinwall is pretty much the same since Panaracer made these new tires for Bruce.  And how can you go wrong with a proven tread design that was created in the early 90s by Joe Murray.  Worked great then, works great today. 

I've got a bunch of the Rock 'n Road tires in the shop - $50 each. 

Bruce Gordon Rock 'n Road

Inverness Ridge Trail

Rock 'n Road Tire

(What's playing:  Tom Waits Nighthawks At The Diner)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Time to reorder cross frames...

One of the things that infuriates me about the bike industry (and I guess any industry that produces consumer goods that are superseded by a new item that is purported to be new and better) is that once a new model year product line is announced, the discounts on the old (current) model line begin.  After all, one cannot sell "old" product for the same price that the new, "more better" product is to be sold.  Even if the new product is more expensive, the old product must be discounted.

This product cycle is good for consumers because, if you are patient, you might find yourself with the opportunity to buy what you wanted a year ago at a discount.  Sometimes a deep discount.  However, this product cycle has taught us consumers that the value of any given product is limited to only what it is sold for at the discounted level.  I'm sure there are cases when a new product warranted a fast sell-off of old product.  One does not want to be stuck with old product that, after a time, cannot be literally given away.  I mean, given the state of the iPod today, how much would an a second generation iPod be valued given what the current iPod can do.  Wait, don't answer that.  My iPod is a 2nd gen from 2003 and I probably couldn't give it away.

I recently sold the last 59cm cross frame.  After I sold the last 59, I wasn't truly out of that size until someone called and wanted to buy one.  At that point, I was out of stock.  And now that I've placed the order for more frames, what happens to the current frames?  There are a couple of revisions I made to the current frame, but honestly, the current frame will ride every bit as great as the ones that are on order.  What to do, what to do?  With only about 10 cross frames left (a couple each in 50, 53, 56, 62), I'll probably do something to entice folks to snap up these last remaining frames.  After all, the first production is bound to be a collector's item in 20 years or so.  Okay, maybe not, but you never know.  

Ideally, my size/quantity mix would have been such that I would have been out of stock on all frame sizes at roughly the same time.  The bicycle industry is notoriously poor at forecasting - which is why there are so may old models sold on the cheap before the new models show up.  Closeouts are factored into the whole formula of how a bike is priced so early buyers are, essentially, paying for those closeouts.  I did get pretty close on my size mix.  The one thing that did surprise me, however, is that I have more 62cm sizes left as a ratio to what I ordered than any of the other sizes.  I thought, being a tall guy, that the tall sizes would be the first to be snatched up.  

For now, the situation is this:  Out of stock in the 59cm size, limited supply of the other sizes, and a second production order placed.  And orange frames will be a big part of the new size mix.  Orange?  Yes, orange.  The price for the new frames will remain the same.  As soon as I know when they will be ready to ship, I'll post it here.

As for me, I'm still riding on the original prototype sample because I have no reason to change it out.  It's still a great bike and I totally dig riding it.  In fact, this past week, I've been on two rides on it for a total of about 12 hours riding.  Here's some shots from Sunday's ride, the cross bike doing exactly what I designed it for - riding on the road to some dirt roads and trails, traipsing across the land, and then riding back home.  

Incredible riding on the flanks of Mt. Tam.

Topping out at Potrero Meadows.

The Clément MSO tires also excel in rock gardens.

Sunday's ride pretty much put the hurt on the ole cross bike.  It might be summer in California, but I had warm dry, sun, rain, fog, wind - just about everything.  The bike is now clean.

(What's playing:  The Velvet Underground Rock and Roll)