Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder


Fork seal replacement time

Just before Covid changed 2020 so dramatically, as in about 2 weeks prior, I got my Ibis Ripley. As I wanted this to be my "Stromlo" bike and also my replacement XC race bike (the proper race bike was going up for sale) I specified the 120 mm Fox 34 SC fork rather than the more usually installed Fox 34 with 130/140 mm travel.
Meanwhile I had reached the end of the road with my hardtail's fork. A Fox 32 with a straight steerer, Fox hasn't supported these forks in years. The bushings were quite worn, the stanchions had bushing marks on them - it was past its best. Virtually nothing decent was available with the necessary straight steerer tube. And the Ibis convinced me that I needed updated geometry - a much longer reach being way more suitable for this tall and long-armed rider. I bought a Spot Rocker which came with the same Fox 34 SC 120 mm fork as the Ibis. The Spot was almost exactly 12 months behind the Ibis into my life, coming in March 2021. Yet the fork was the same on each bike (Fox usually changes stickers each year or so and they have the same stickers).
As mentioned in a prior entry, I swapped from Feedback Sports app to ProBikeGarage app to keep track of my maintenance. PBG told me instantly that my Fox 34s were past-due for seal replacements.
I picked up the two seal kits with one for the Ibis shock and used a recent weekend to attend to the two. My first problem was that the bolts holding the sliders onto the stanchions are highly recessed in the SC forks. And with the step casting (what SC stands for) the bolts are off-centre in the bottom of the leg even though they are dead centre to the stanchion's circle. I really needed a 10 mm thin-wall deep socket to get on the nut. Luckily, my 12-point shallow socket was just thin enough to sit on the nut.
The Ibis fork had lots of oil inside it, but it was moderately dirty looking. Not the golden syrup colour of new oil, but more like burnt butter. Still quite clear, but also rather dark. It was past time to replace these seals and given that PBG was telling me I'd almost hit 150 hours of riding, it really WAS by all accounts. The Spot fork was quite different. This exemplifies why some Fox forks work really well and others don't - the builds are not identical despite mass production. There was hardly any volume of liquid in this one in either fork leg, but it looked absolutely brand new.
Using a trick taught to me by a former sponsored-by-Fox racer (thanks Brent!); with the trick being to use a little Fox Float Fluid in each leg to increase the slipperiness of the splash oil and make the fork that bit smoother for longer. I don't use Fox Fluid. It is a viscous but fully soluble in fork oil liquid that is used primarily inside the shock bodies. Maxima has a great reputation for fork oil as a probable supplier of Fox fluids (which are reportedly made by a local-to-Fox company, which would be Maxima) and the definite supplier of Rock Shox's Maxima Plush used in current forks - so I use Maxima 10 wt and Maxima Assembly Lube (both more readily available and about 1/2 the price from MX shops than from bike shops).
To refill the splash lube I squirt about 1-2 ml of the red Assembly Lube into the syringe through the plunger side, insert the plunger, and then slurp up the correct amount of 10 wt (10 and 15 ml total for the 34 SC's two legs) and squirt it down the hose and through the bolt hole in the slider. Then push the sliders so the threads protrude, and tighten the nuts to 5.7 Nm and done!
One wrinkle in this whole process was I haven't used the seal press I bought for my 34 forks before. This one is from Unior. It was available locally, but it isn't as nice as the Real World Cycling presses I have in sizes 32 and 36 mm. They fit snugly in the bushing forcing the seal to go in straight. There is a long nose on the Unior tool, but it doesn't fit very snugly in the bushing and it requires operator diligence to get the seal in squarely. Also, the outer lip on the RWC tools give a strong indication (if not a positive stop) that the seal is pushed in the correct amount. I note that the new Unior seal presses proclaim a new design that bottoms out positively on the fork to prevent overdriving the seals.
The first seal I did with the Unior ended up too far in, by 2-3 mm, because there is no indication and I pushed too far. Knowing that, the other 3 went in the correct distance. I had to squeeze the foam ring in between the seal and the bushing because the gap wasn't quite the width of the ring. Hopefully everything will function fine for the next 100ish hours.

Pirelli Scorpion Trail M first ride

I use my Ibis Ripley like an XC bike, but technically it is a trail bike. What's the difference? I'll suggest the difference can be as simple as "intent" but in this case the Exie is the Ibis XC bike and the Ripley is usually delivered with a 130 mm fork (more often a 140 mm fork in Australia according to the importer) making it a trail bike. My build uses a 120 mm Fox 34 SC, which is more XC than trail. But then I ran 200 mm rotors so I could swap in the chunky tyres from the Enduro bike for occasions such as Stromlo enduro races where the Ripley would be faster, but held back by the tyres.
Well, no more. I had almost 150 hours of good use out of the Scorpion XC tyres I put on the bike from new (the front was original, the rear was much newer and still had some life left). Now replaced with the Trail version of the tyre - complete with bigger size (2.4" rather than 2.2") and bigger knobs - much bigger. After 20 km of riding, this is very much a first impressions report.
I used my usual 18/24 psi F/R settings that work on the DH tyres on the Sender, the Enduro tyres on the Slash and the XC tyres on the Spot - but they felt pretty hard on this bike. I was bouncing off of some stuff during the ride. The pressure might need to decrease a little. Inside the tyres is the same CushCore XC insert I had in the old tyres. CushCore says to run them until they lose their radial tension. And these still fit tightly into the rim well under their own elastic pull. So should be good. I did peel off most of the sealant that had built up on them before reinstallation.
First impression is that they are MUCH grippier than the XC tyre. Not surprisingly with the much bigger knobs. I got them into sliding on the loose dirt on the backside of Stromlo and they recovered nicely; I was never sure with the XC tyres if they'd bring it back so tried to avoid sliding the front tyre at all.
While they are heavier (more knob, more volume - of course they are heavier) they didn't feel it.
First verdict: great fun. I'll happily trade off a little speed (though I don't know if I did) for more fun, especially when I'm not racing.

Flexy seat posts

My first experience with a seat post specifically designed to make the ride more comfortable was the Specialized Roubaix carbon post back circa 2004. That one made a remarkable transformation of my oversized aluminium Cannondale CX frame from its original aluminium post. Even before that I had used posts like the Syncros one, which was primarily aimed at being light in weight, but as a consequence of being made so thin-walled it also flexed quite a bit. Unlike modern flexy posts, it flexed evenly in all directions.
Fast forward to my first Trek Checkpoint. Like most Trek road bikes it used a seat mast rather than a seat post. These very large diameter units slide over the frame and must be close to inflexible for it. But the Checkpoint had Isospeed decoupling where the seat tube is not rigidly joined to the top tube/seat stay junction (instead an axle at that joint permits the seat tube to flex like a leaf spring). I found this bike to be perfectly comfortable. There is a lump in the pavement in my neighbourhood that is a good indicator of how a frame transmits harshness through the seat. On that Cannondale, even with the Specialized post, it was sharp enough that I tried never to hit it. On the Checkpoint, it was a dull noise and not much of a feeling at all.
And now everyone wants a dropper post on their gravel bike for the same reason everyone needs a dropped post on their MTB - it just works better. So my new Checkpoint uses a seat post again - and has routing room for a dropper post actuation cable. The post I put in it is the Bontrager RSL - a very high-end post designed to be flexy fore and aft but rigid side to side. I haven't ridden the Checkpoint without this post, but it does float over my harsh neighbourhood lump approximately as well as the old Checkpoint did.
I've been contemplating this as I ride it for the past week. There is no indication that this post flexes at all. However much it absorbs, it does so in conjunction with the Isospeed and it is not materially different than the older frame.

As a corollary of this, my Madone race bike has its own version of Isospeed - the seat post floats inside the seat tube in a carbon leaf spring mechanism that permits adjustment of the spring rate in that spring. You can have more or less movement for a given force to reflect your body weight or preferences. It came in the middle of the adjustment range and I haven't adjusted it once - it was fine on day one and remains fine. Interestingly to me, it feels a lot like the first Checkpoint (and therefore the second Checkpoint) despite the deep aero sections of the frame. It suggest that Trek know what they are doing with the Isospeed thing. I wonder what the new Checkpoint would be like without the flexy post? I don't have any other 27.2 posts, nor do I want to fuss around with the swapping of posts, so I won't find out any time soon.

The most extreme looking flexy post is the one that Canyon puts in their gravel bikes. It is a two part leaf spring that is held together on one end by being in the frame and at the top by how it bolts to the post head. An idea whose time is here. If you haven't tried a designed-flex carbon frame you should. They're brilliant in their ability to absorb bumps and still feel firm underfoot when you pedal.

OneUp Thick Grips

I purchased a set of OneUp Thick grips roughly the week they were released in Australia. I put them on the Ripley and they felt a bit odd. I decided that I must have gotten Left and Right mixed up, so I swapped them around. Then I found in a photo online that they are marked for handedness! I totally missed that in real life. On checking, they were the wrong way around on my bike. So I swapped them back. Third time's a charm, and with a bit of rotational tweaking, they felt right this time.

I've now ridden them four months properly oriented so it is time to comment on them here.

Size is great. Grippiness is also great. The various shapes seem appropriate to holding on too. There is a pad of thicker rubber under the palm, and this is where it falls down for me. It is just too firm and it hurts my hands. I just can't come to terms with them regardless of how I rotate them or which gloves I wear.
Previously I had Deity Supracush grips on there for a couple of years. They might have been slightly too soft for ultimate control, but they sure were comfortable. What I'm looking for now is something with the comfort of the Deity and the control of the OneUp.

I managed to tag a tree with the end of one grip a few weeks ago - I sometimes forget that I have 82 cm bars on the Ripley and this can be sub-optimal in tight forests. It shows that they are quite tough as there is a mark, but it could have destroyed the grip. I did a small involuntary separation of bike and rider, but remained on my feet. Mostly it made me laugh.

So I'd highly recommend the OneUp grip for big-handed riders looking for a grippy grip, but not if you are after higher than average comfort from your grip.

AXS Transmission

When SRAM introduced the universal derailleur hanger, I don't know if they knew where it was going, but it seemed a great idea. If you've ever broken a derailleur hanger you will know that there were about 1000 different models and it has to be the exact one. The whole idea of the UDH was that one derailleur hanger fitting on a standardised attachment on the frame meant any new bikes built to this standard could use any new UDH. A good start.
The bonus now is that those frames can remove their UDH and replace it with a Transmission rear derailleur. I've seen three or four videos of reviewers standing on the derailleur to demonstrate who solidly it is attached to the frame. The derailleur is anchored into the through-axle system so it is robust and secure.
Because there is no hanger, there is no B-tension screw. The derailleur has been redesigned to be set in a particular position during setup and then it remains there statically. There is a red sprocket on the cassette that reminds the mechanic which gear to set up the derailleur in. The derailleur is so tough that a collision with typical rocks or trees might not damage it at all, but if it does it won't be ripping the derailleur from the frame. And some sub-components of the derailleur are sold individually for rebuilding after a collision.
Also because of the way the derailleur is setup and because there is only one cassette it works with, there are no inner or outer limit screws either. Suntour invented the slant-parallelogram rear derailleur about 50 years ago. This is perhaps not as revolutionary as that, or perhaps it is. A big step forwards.
The new Transmission cassette and flat-top chain will only shift in the shifting windows. Hyperglide introduced us to the idea of shifting windows back in about 1990. The Transmission uses taller than normal teeth for all but the shifting teeth, so there can be no shifting except where designed. That can be perceived as a delay in the shift - waiting for it to come around. Several users I know don't complain about it and it seems fine to me.
Eagle was the name applied to everything new when SRAM went 12-speed. "Eagle Technology" SRAM called it. Given there is no real cross-over compatibility with Eagle and Transmission, they really ought to have called it another bird name (Condor for better soaring? Falcon for higher speed?). Naming oddities aside, Transmission seems a good step forward for AXS MTB drivetrains.

Transmission shifting pod

The biggest visible change with the move to "Transmission" drivetrains from SRAM is the shifting mechanism. It used to be a butterfly shaped rocker switch. One way for one direction of shift and the other way for the other direction (probably - the AXS app allows one to reassign all button functions). The shifter for transmission can only be called a pod - it is a small rounded-off unit with two buttons. It no longer connects to the bars via the excellent MatchMaker system (via the brake lever clamp) but now has its own figure-8 shaped clamp (one around the bars, the other around the round projection on the rear of the pod). It tightens via a single bolt in the middle of the "8".
I would say it is fair to call the pod controversial. People who were perfectly happy with the old AXS shifter have had to adjust to the new pod. The buttons have been known to fall off on rough terrain. It is highly adjustable, but not really in the direction I wanted to adjust it. The bolt in the middle is labelled "max 3Nm" but I tried that with a torque wrench and it was far from tight. In an era where everything bike is going lower profile (think the new SRAM brakes and their master cylinders sitting almost on the bars), these pods are very high profile.
Function-wise they seem fine. The buttons are easy to press. If you get it in the correct position, it takes only a light tap to effect a change.
Aesthetically, they don't pair well with the Reverb button on the other side - why isn't it a new pod too, off the same figure-8 clamp?

All things considered, I wouldn't rate the pod higher than a 7/10. And honestly, I don't think it really deserves that much.

Box Two Prime 9 drivetrain

Close to 20 years ago now I bought my first 29r. A titanium hardtail with XT bits providing the gears and stopping. That was my race bike until I got a full-suspension bike for that role and the hardtail was modified to be a singlespeed. Then about 3 years ago I bought a new singlespeed and the titanium bike went in storage. It came back out just before Christmas to become my son's new bike. But he needed some gears.
Box is a company that was known for making high-end BMX gear. They decided to get into MTB and eventually released four levels of related drivetrain components that are all 1x9 (Prime 9 = 1 x 9). The top one is quite expensive and called Box One. The cheapest one is not very nice looking and is called Box Four. The Box Two pieces aren't quite as flashy as the Box One, but much lighter and nicer than the Box Three level stuff. Seems like Box Two hits the sweet spot. Especially when it is on sale when you need it!

One small box contained the derailleur, the shift lever, the chain, the cassette (11-46 range), some cable housing and a shift cable. Instructions were provided online either written or YouTube. It all went together really easily. It did require a lot more B-tension than I expected to keep the upper jockey wheel from hitting the low gear teeth on the cassette. And when I was finished it was not shifting nicely into the second-lowest gear when coming from a higher gear (but it was fine from the lowest gear). No adjusting could quite get rid of that.

I checked the derailleur hanger and it was not perfectly lined up with where it should have been. Once that was fixed, then the shifting was perfect.

In use, the Box Two items work really well. I did find that the amount of pressure required on the shift lever reflected the gear the bike was in - some strange relationship between cable tension and lever effort that suggests Box hasn't nailed every last aspect of their design philosophy quite yet.

It was also my first exposure to anything in the CUES line from Shimano. I put new cranks on the bike because the new owner didn't need my old 180 mm cranks but by remaining in the Shimano brand I didn't have to change bottom brackets. The CUES crank preloads like a SRAM DUB crank, except there is no locking mechanism for the preload collar.

Only having 9 steps for most of the SRAM Eagle gear range means the steps are wider. In use, that seems OK. Especially for a fun bike. XC racing might benefit from more options, and any decent downhill slope (whether XC or Enduro or anything) would benefit from the 10T high sprocket the Box cassette lacks. But for a fun bike, it's great and you pretty much know what gear you need to be in at any time. Given that the entire box-set (pun intended) cost about the same as an XT cassette, it can't be just as refined and light as Shimano's second tier offering.

I like this brand. I'll be curious to see how it fares with use. I'm betting OK.

TruTune "magic" spacers

The progression in an air shock is a predictable process. Halve the air volume, double the pressure. The choice the manufacturer makes is what is the overall progression. Longer travel demands somewhat greater progression, as do higher speeds and bigger jumps. So a pro rider doing a pro enduro race needs more progression to make the fork behave as desired than does an amateur who rides slower.
One way to adjust this is through volume spacers inside the air chamber. Some shocks and most forks have these as regular options and may even include some in the package if you buy it aftermarket (whether your new bike includes any depends on the deal the bike brand does with the suspension brand). Back 15 years ago when these bits of plastic weren't offered by suspension brands, a mechanic could achieve the same thing with
a lump of grease inside the air chamber somewhere out of the way.
The Fox brand ones for forks clip on to the underside of the air cap and each other. The RockShox brand ones for forks are threaded onto the air cap and each other. Same end result, slightly different method. For rear suspension, they are usually bands that run inside the air can around the hydraulic innards and therefore very specific to the model of shock in question.

But what if zero spacers is still too much progression? And with some of the forks on the market today that is a real issue for many riders. My Zeb wasn't giving me full travel when set at a reasonable sag, and felt way too soft if I lowered initial pressure enough to achieve near-full travel.
Enter the magic of TruTune negative spacers. They look like one massive spacer of either Fox or RockShox variety (I purchased both so I can compare them directly). The end of the spacer is a filter allowing air to enter (but not oil?). Inside is something special. As the pressure increases, the amount of air that is soaked up by the carbon inside also increases. This happens instantly and therefore lowers the progression of the fork. They produce a smaller and a larger version for people who want a little less or a lot less progression.
With a normal amount of sag on my Zeb I was also seeing full travel on the o-ring. Success.
My partner is a small woman and her new Fox 38 with a TruTune inside it also returned full travel when pushed hard but started with a good sag point around 20%. Most success.
While 100 pounds plus shipping is expensive, it is a minor expense compared to even a few thousand dollar new bike.

5.10 Impact

Back about 2010 I decided to try flat pedals on my DH bike. I bought a pair of 5.10 Impact shoes as worn by Sam Hill as they seemed the most DH oriented shoe in the range. I wore them for a couple of years before I picked up some Freeriders and then a whole range of other brands. But because the Impact shoe was still the best for the DH bike, I kept my original Impact for riding the DH bike.
Then a couple of years ago I bought a new DH bike, the Canyon Sender CFR. Which gave me plenty of opportunities to wear the Impact shoes again. The shoes started to show their age and in addition to heavily worn soles (the pins had carved out lots of holes), the sole was beginning to peel off from the shoe.

Black Friday sale I picked up a pair of prior year (how many years prior I'm not sure) Impact shoes for $100. Superficially they look like the same shoe I was replacing, but in detail comparison they had nothing in common, except for looking like plain black orthopaedic shoes - the Impact has never been about style.

The sole is different - sewn to the shoe in places instead of simply glued on. The older 5.10 shoe had a cat incorporated in the tread pattern of dots which was a weak point (the thin outline of the cat tore off quite quickly) and was absent from the newer shoe. The tongue is different. The padding is different. The lacing is different.

What remains the same is the feeling of protection for the feet and the secure connection to the pedals. After a 5-day visit to Thredbo using the lifts every day and the Impact shoes every day I can say they are still good.

I can't see the Impact in the current Adidas 5.10 catalogue, which suggests they've discontinued them. So there won't be a replacement for these shoes when the time comes. That seems typical of the way Adidas has treated 5.10 since purchasing them, and a bit sad. For now, the chunky black shoes will remain my go-to pick for lift-served riding.

There's more than one way to fit a bike

The usual approach for me to fit a customer's bike is to start with the frame that they have, and do what I can to make it fit better. When I purchased a Checkpoint to be my new commuting bike, I selected a stem that would yield my usual saddle to bar reach based on previous (and current) bikes I was riding. And it worked fine.
Then the frame was replaced with the new model Checkpoint. Which has 2 cm more top tube reach than the old model had. I should have swapped to a stem that was 2 cm shorter to achieve the same fit. However, the nearly new stem I had on the Checkpoint was one I found very attractive and both light and stiff. In the meantime, the stem was updated which meant new graphics that I don't like as much. And the price has gone up considerably in a couple of years. Plus they were out of stock everywhere in that size.
I tried the bike with the "too long" stem. I added the maximum permissible (according to the manufacturer's build guide) spacers under the stem to diminish the impact of a longer stem (the stem seems closer when it is higher and as it goes up, it comes slightly back towards the rider thanks to the steering angle).
I ended up with the saddle to bar distance and saddle to pedal distance the same on my racing bike and my commuting bike. The pedal to bar distance was a little longer on the commuter, but this can be "adjusted" by hand position on the bars and elbow bend in the rider's arms. I now think having extra room is mostly good. I definitely adapted over a couple of weeks to the new position. And going to another bike doesn't feel weird. These are good. I have a bit extra weight on my hands. That is potentially bad. If I rode this bike for hours at a stretch regularly, it might not work. I rarely ride it more than 3 hours in a single day, and for that much time it is fine.
Sometimes a bit of a lateral approach will achieve the desired result.

Adjusting a Zeb

After having a couple of Fox 36 forks on past bikes, and really liking the Boxxer forks on my DH bike, I selected a Slash with Flight Attendant; meaning Zeb forks.
My experience with the Boxxer has been ideal from day one. Set the pressure to that recommended for my weight and one or two minor tweaks to make it feel "right". And then nothing since. It was so "right" I didn't bother to install a ShockWhiz for feedback.
The Zeb began in much the same vein. I put in the recommended air pressure and ended up removing a few psi. It was great. Big hits would use up almost the entire travel, riding along it seemed to sit not-too-far into the travel and the Flight Attendant lockout was a very solid lockout. On my final day of a week riding in Tasmania, something changed. The lockout was soft - the fork visibly moved a lot under pedalling and there didn't seem to be the same amount of rebound damping as I'd had up until that point. I thought the Charger cartridge had blown.
The fork went to RockShox and their dyno said it was 100% as intended.
My shop just happened to have a new customer's Slash being built at the same time, so they set both forks up for the mechanic and he rode them both back-to-back and couldn't discern a difference.
I got the bike back and did all my riding over winter on shorter travel bikes. The Slash mostly sat. And with Spring on us and Thredbo opening in sight, I pulled the Slash out and started riding it again. I had to set up the pressures from scratch because of all the experimenting by RockShox and the shop. I put a ShockWhiz on the fork this time. With the same pressure I used in Tassie a few months ago, I found it very stiff and impossible to get more than about 1/2 travel. The ShockWhiz concurred:
Too much air pressure.
Too much compression damping.
Too many tokens (there were none!).
Dropping the air down incrementally until it was about 1/3 less, I was still not getting full travel and while the fork felt soft, it was also not settling into travel with sufficient sag.
The Flight Attendant's function of locking out the shock when pedalling isn't fit for purpose with the ShockWhiz measuring damping and spring rates, so I have had the fork in manual "open" mode the whole time. Thus, I can't comment on the firmness or lack thereof for "locked" mode.
A suspension fork is a pretty simple device, really. I cannot imagine what could have changed that effected such a significant change in the fork's behaviour.
It is going back to the shop for a strip-down. Shop owner has put a Zeb on his own bike recently and went through the fork lubricating seals and checking torque on bolts to get the best possible performance out of his fork - he's going to check everything internally is good with my Zeb.
Fingers crossed he finds something to "fix" because I'm almost out of ideas.
There is a British company that makes negative tokens for forks. Effectively reducing the compression ratio in the air chamber, perhaps it will permit me to run more baseline pressure and still achieve full travel? Check out
Trutune.co.uk if you're curious. Obviously, I haven't tried one yet so I can't comment on how much difference it makes. The science seems sound, if a little bit like magic.
I want my "new" Zeb back.

Dial twirling - how to set those knobs on the suspension

MTB suspension is very sophisticated these days. If you read my last entry on air pressure in suspension, you'll know I ventured into the setting of the knobs without fully exploring the topic. That is here...

Even on my Slash with Flight Attendant, I still need to set all the electronic knobs properly and get the air pressure right. Flight Attendant really only flicks the platform switch to one of three positions (open, pedal or locked) as I ride based on slope, bumps and pedalling input. On more regular suspensions, it is all manual and the setting up is still the critical thing to an enjoyable ride.

Take the Fox Float X shock or the Grip2 fork. They have 4 adjustments which few other models or brands offer: high and low speed for both rebound and compression. In contrast, entry level forks might have zero adjustments although they usually have a rebound adjuster because that has to be adjusted for air pressure to behave anywhere near properly.
Assuming you read and followed the previous entry to get your air pressure correct, what's next?

First, let's look at what this high speed and low speed stuff is all about. It refers to the shaft speed of the suspension rather than the forward velocity of the bike. When jumping a bike, the face of the jump loads the rear suspension a lot. A big jump face will just about bottom out the shock. As the wheel leaves the lip there is suddenly zero resistance to the shock fully extending. It will do so with full speed - this is high speed rebound. The low speed happens when you go through a big bowl-shaped depression in the trail. As the bike travels down into the bowl, speed of the bike increases. On the other side it goes up the side of the bowl, slowly compressing the shock (this is LSC's territory) and as you roll out of the bowl at the top back onto flat terrain the load comes off smoothly assuming a gradual transition from up to flat - this is low speed rebound. Low speed compression also happens from pedalling but mostly it is the gradual increase in load from gentle terrain changes. High speed compression is running into a rock at high speed. The front wheel instantly wants to move up the height of the rock. There is so much oil flow attempting to go through the low-speed circuit that it is overwhelmed and the bypass IS the high-speed circuit.
Many HSCs are governed by a shim stack. These are merely thin steel washers that are pushed out of the way by the oil flow through the tiny holes they cover. This is why, as I mentioned in the last entry, you require some HSC to get any LSC. If the washers aren't forced down onto the holes by the HSC adjuster, then the oil can just flow through the holes with little to no damping going on. Once the HSC is set the oil will be forced to go through the LSC circuit. I should have mentioned that this circuit is typically governed by a needle in a hole. The needle has a taper (much like a sewing needle) and the adjuster moves the needle up or down, pushing more or less in the hole. More needle in the hole means less flow (more LSC). Less needle in the hole means more flow (less LSC).

In regular riding conditions you'd like the suspension to ride quite high in the travel range. At or just below sag. This leaves more reserve for bumps and preserves the bike's steering geometry which gets really messed up as the suspension compresses. This calls for a decent amount of LSC (but not so much that the bike feels wooden, slow or sluggish to answer bumps in the trail). LSC might be quite different front to rear because rear suspension has a leverage ratio between wheel travel and shock travel usually around 3:1. Forks area always 1:1.

HSC is the last thing you play with. Once air pressure, rebound and LSC are set, HSC can step into control the movement of the suspension when it hits stuff. Too much HSC will feel rough and make hands sore. Too little HSC relies on the air spring to ramp up and can make the suspension not respond to repeated impacts as well as it might.

Finally, once this is all set, go out and ride the bike and pay attention to what is happening. Keeping notes helps. If it feels right most of the time, but bottoms out when you go faster or rougher - the solution is probably a travel token. If it springs too much off jump lips, that is rebound. If it sits too low in the travel, that is LSC or air pressure. Every problem typically has two remedies. But one preferred remedy. Because everything affects everything else in some way, the best solution for your suspension depends on the impact either adjustment will make to the other things.

Which is where ShockWhiz is quite helpful. Because it looks at compression and rebound, for different kinds of events in isolation, it can recommend a single fix for any problem having considered everything else that might be impacted by its recommendations. A rider is doing well if they can look at one thing per run.

When you do make changes, only change one thing at a time and not more than 1 or 2 clicks on the dial. If you change two things and one is an improvement while the other is worse, the end product might be "feels the same". You'll forego the improvement. Keep notes. Bracketing can also help quickly narrow in on what works. If there are ten clicks, first try 3 clicks and then 7 clicks. One should feel better than the other, try either side of the one that is preferred - eg, you prefer 7 clicks so next steps are to try 6 and 8. If you prefer 6, try 5 and 7 (again). One of these three should be your pick. Another great option is to take the manufacturer's suggestion - they usually offer starting points based on air pressures (which are based on body weight). I find them very close.
RockShox has a setting page on their website if you want to play with that. If you have a Trek, they also have a settings page on their website which goes to tyre pressures as well as suspension settings.

You need to experiment a bit, and pay attention to settings in general, in order to get the most out of our suspension and by association, your bike.

The importance of air pressure 2

Part 1 was all about tyre pressures. This bit is very much MTB specific because it is about shock pressures. Very few road bikes have shocks!

I remember having to regularly pump up my shock back in the early days of suspension. They leaked. Regularly. You would start out at 250 psi (as an example) and two weeks later it would be down to 200 psi - soft enough to make a difference. I am quite certain I haven't pumped up the shock on my DH bike since I set it on the first ride! That is 2 years (or maybe it is 3 years - yikes).
One of the issues with checking your shock pressure is that the combination of a very tiny air chamber and a very high pressure means that almost every method of checking results in it no longer being at that pressure any more. A shock pump has a short hose that fills with the pressure from the shock when it is connected - it is long enough and has sufficient volume to take at least 10 psi out of most shocks. You can check this by attaching and removing the shock several times.Each time the pressure will decrease by almost exactly the same amount.
This is different from letting air out when removing the shock. Most shock pumps have that problem covered. My favourite shock pump is a Topeak one I've had for years. The hose threads onto the shock valve, sealing air tight. And only then do you thread in the next "stage" that pushes in the valve to release air into the pump. On removal, the process is reversed. Pump the shock to the desired pressure, move the second stage back so the valve is closed and then release the pump from the shock. The noise of releasing air you hear is only air coming out of the pump. Not air coming out of the shock.
Of course, if you worry about this and reattach the pump, it will fill the hose up with air again thereby diminishing the pressure in the shock by that small amount.
Most of my shock pumps (I must have a dozen from all the ones included with bikes over the years - most of them unused in their original packaging) have a different attachment than the one I described above. Instead they do this whole thing in one step by threading onto the shock a long way - first contact is with the seal making it air tight and keep threading until the pin pushes in the valve and releases the air.

What is the correct air pressure in a shock anyway?

Sag is a good starting point. But it is not the end point. With riding gear on (which includes some water in your backpack if that is how you ride, plus riding shoes and helmet and glasses and tools and whatever else you normally ride with) sit on the bike while someone holds the bike upright. Bounce a little and settle on the seat as you would pedal - which means dropper post in the uppermost position. Assistant should slide the o-ring marker on the shock shaft up to the shock seal and then you very carefully dismount the bike without moving the suspension in the process of getting off - sometimes easier said than done. Check the o-ring. On RockShox you'll usually find a set of sag markers. On Fox and other forks you'll have to break out a ruler and some math. Ideal sag is a bit dependent on the type of suspension and the amount of travel - look to your owner's manual for recommendations here. It is around 30% for a DH bike but less - maybe 20% - for some XC bikes.
For the fork, it is very similar but slightly different. Again with full riding gear on, mount the bike while someone holds it upright for you. Get into standing riding position. Bounce a few times and then hold the position. Move the o-ring marker to the dust seal on the slider. Gently dismount. Again, many RockShox forks have sag markers on the stanchion. Other brands do not. With a fork you require less sag than with a shock - 20% is a good starting point for most forks.
Note that you cannot assume the o-ring will end up fully on the other end of the shock shaft or fork stanchion at full travel. Often there are top out bumpers that prevent what appears to be full travel. My old Slash had a travel reducer inside of what was a longer-throw shock, so it never looked like I achieved full travel even when I did. Same with forks. Whether 100 mm travel or 200 mm travel, there can be several millimetres more space. Check it out by measuring the distance from fork seal to fork crown along the exposed stanchion and compare with fork rated travel. They seldom coincide.

Now go and ride it. There is a rule of thumb that you should achieve full travel at both ends on every ride. This is demonstrably false. If you have a DH bike set up to go fast on rough terrain and then ride it slowly down some smooth trail, it is not going to come close to using full travel. On the flip side, if you set up a short travel bike to use full travel on a smooth trail at low speeds you will dangerously bottom out if you go faster or rougher with the same settings.
I use a ShockWhiz because it gives some guidance to what I might do on my own anyway. I don't rely on it fully but it speeds up the process. Across every fork I've ever put the ShockWhiz on, it has told me to soften it up. I must ride really lightly on the front end because I seldom see full fork travel on any bike and even on my 100 mm travel Fox 32 that I performed surgery on to reduce the ramp-up rate in the air spring (I cut the shaft that holds the air seal piston inside the air spring making it ride lower in the chamber and finish lower in the chamber - the opposite of putting in a travel token - much less increase in air pressure as travel is used up) the ShockWhiz told me the rate was too high. It often wants me to install tokens in the shock - I guess if I'm light on the fork I must be heavy on the shock. I mostly ride flat pedals and that pushes my weight rearwards when I drop my heels for pedal traction.
The best way to dial in the shock/fork pressures is to ride a short loop on a technical and turn-laden trail. Adjust the pressure in one unit by 10 psi and ride it. Repeat. Keep notes. When it feels best, it probably is if you chose the trail correctly. Adjust the pressure in the other unit until it feels right. Now go ride for real. Watch for times the bike feels funny, bottoms out, etc.
If I use my Ibis as an example, it has 120 mm of travel at both ends. I get full travel on the rear end (or within 2 mm of shock travel = more than 110 mm of wheel travel) almost every ride. I get full travel on the fork on any ride I do some jumps or drops, or ride rough tracks fast. It corners well. Whatever air pressure I am using is perfect for me. I don't adjust it to suit the place I'm riding. Or the weather. On my Sender I seldom see more than 180 mm travel up front. But that last 20 mm is there and gets used sometimes. Plus it feels great so I don't mess with it. The ShockWhiz wants me to take another token out of the fork, but they are all removed already. I could try - and have been thinking about it - a TruTune negative token (if you haven't heard of these things then go look it up, amazing chemistry/physics to make a negative volume token - the stuff of science fiction) but it is very good already.
Pay attention to the balance between front and rear. Sometimes if you set them up independently and don't bother to pay attention to the balance, it is possible to end up with an imbalance. A few psi extra in one will usually sort that out. Generally if you want better traction at one end, add air to the other end. That pushes some traction away from the firmer end towards the now relatively softer end. That is without the rider changing anything from their behaviour.

Keep detailed notes. Record your final air pressures. Because when you get a service, they'll probably let all the air out and not restore the same pressure it was at. Or maybe your shock will leak. Or you'll lend your bike to someone who needs to change it. Whatever the reason, being able to restore it to how you like it is important.
I haven't tried it yet, but my new digital pressure gauge has no hose. In fact the volume inside the system is so incredibly small that it doesn't seem to change any air pressures at all on checking. This is great. Given it will register up to 350 psi means it can be used to check shock pressures too. And check them without decreasing them. If I do it this way it means the crappy gauges on cheap shock pumps are irrelevant. I can pump up close to correct and then set with the gauge and know it is same as last time.

Beyond the scope of this article, but just a reminder, once you set air pressures you need to twirl the dials to set the rebound and compression settings to match the air pressure, bike, rider combination. Everyone should run rebound in almost the same setting - for a given air pressure. Not too fast and not too slow. If you have HSC and LSC, most compression circuits require a bit of HSC to get the LSC to work properly. LSC is a small orifice with fairly high resistance to oil flow, but at low speeds the flow is low enough that it can flow through. Unless the HSC is zero and then it can bypass the LSC circuit and just go through the HSC circuit. So a couple of clicks of HSC is a good starting point for everyone. LSC like rebound will scale with air pressure but there is more room for personal preference in LSC than in rebound. HSC can make up for not enough tokens, but too much HSC makes for sore hands (more tokens is a better solution).

Set your air pressure, test your air pressure, record your air pressure and periodically check your air pressure for a happy bike.

The importance of air pressure 1

Pneumatic tyres were a critical development in the expansion of bike use in the late 19th century. Solid tyres just aren't very nice. Once Dunlop's air-filled tyres were put on bicycles, everyone was better off. Better traction, lower rolling resistance, better handling.

And all these years later, tyres filled with air are still mission-critical on all bikes.

Mountain bike tyres rely on conforming to the surface (where lower pressure is better) and forcing sharp edges into the ground (where higher pressures are better) to enable navigation of unpaved terrain. From MTB commercial origins in the 80s until the late 2000s, we were forced to use a rubber tube to contain that air. The tubes can be heavy - thinner is better from a riding standpoint. But thin tubes are easy to cut. Tubed MTB tyres were always prone to pinch flats necessitating more air than optimal for ultimate traction and handling.
And thanks to Keith Bontrager, we got skinny rims for most of those tubed years too. Keith re-rolled some road rims to 26" diameters, achieving something that the rim companies weren't doing: strong and light double-walled rims. The problem was that road rims were very skinny (around 13 mm inside width) and gave a light globe shape to a 2"+ knobby tyre. That, too, necessitated more air pressure.
Almost all mountain bikes above the very cheapest are now tubeless. To the point that high-end MTB no longer come with tubes inside and leave the tubeless step to the consumer or shop. Now they come with some sealant and valve stems and no tubes.
With tubes and large tyres on relatively skinny 26" rims, I had to run as much as 40 psi to prevent pinch flats. There is a lot of traction loss with that much air pressure in the tyre. In the case of some rim/tyre combinations, I had the tyre rotate on the rim under braking with (not much) lower air pressures - which ultimately rips the valve stem off the tube if it progresses far enough.
My current quiver of mountain bikes all run 30 mm inside width rims. That width supports the sidewall of the wide tyre much better than one half that width can. I run CushCore foam inserts in all of the wheels too. CushCore acts like a fork volume spacer by decreasing the space for air in the tyre (by roughly half). When a bump is hit, the pressure in the tyre increases more quickly due to the lower volume present. Less "travel" is used in the tyre for any given bump than would be the case without the foam. When a big enough impact occurs to bottom out the tyre on the rim the foam intervenes and cushions the impact. Impacts have to be much larger to cause rim damage. On 29" wide wheels with foam inserts I (@100 kg) can get away with around 20 psi - around half of what I used to use with tubes.

On the road side it is only very recently that mainstream tyres and wheels have gone tubeless. And it is by no means (yet, at least) a universal changeover the way it has been in mountain. High pressures and a desire for lightness push more strongly towards tubes. The biggest lever moving us to tubeless tyres has been the realisation that wider tyres are all of: faster, more comfortable, better handling and can be similarly aerodynamic if the wheel is designed for the bigger rubber.
My first new bike in Canberra came with 20 mm wide tyres on it. That wasn't a universal size, but it was very common. Not long after that, 23 mm tyres set in as the main size for a racing oriented bike. For a period of months, until I purchased a floor pump with a gauge, I inadvertently ran upwards of 160 psi in those skinny tyres. I had a frame pump that advertised "up to 150psi" and most of these claims are over-statements of the easy reality, so I pumped up the tyres as firmly as I could with that pump. I assumed it was around 130 or 140 psi. The gauge revealed that it was more like 180 to 200 psi! Good pump. Too much air.
My current race bike doesn't sport tubeless-friendly rims. I run latex tubes and light 25 mm tyres - which is actually considerably lighter than the tubeless alternative. Some 60 grams for a tube plus 200 grams for a tyre and nothing else; adds up to 260 g. I can run these at 100 psi for a solid but comfortable feel.
My commuting bike has tubeless-ready rims. I have used both tubes and sealant over the time I've had the wheels. I could run similar 260 gram tyre and tube options as on the race bike. In tubeless, the similar racy tyre is around 300 grams and the valve stem only weighs a few more grams plus 50 ml of sealant adds up to 330 grams or so. Currently I am running a less racy option (meant to be quite puncture resistant and long wearing) that is only 350 grams. So far they are great.
Sealant does its magic when pushed through a small hole to congeal and seal the hole. Often prior to the rider knowing it ever happened. With 25 psi, there isn't much force behind the sealant and it works effectively. With 125 psi, sealant often sprays under pressure (it has happened to me twice before). Sometimes everywhere (bike, rider, pavement, etc). Currently on 28 mm tyres I only require 75 psi tubeless and it feels fine.

The implied issue here is that as tyre pressures get lower and lower, a single psi difference becomes a higher and higher percentage of the total pressure, and therefore more important. An expensive pump might have an accurate gauge installed, but mechanical gauges are subject to being bumped out of accuracy even if they were good to begin with. An associated problem is scale. Road bike tyres require around 100 psi. The gauge typically goes to 150 psi or higher. That leaves very little resolution for distinguishing between 16 and 18 psi for a MTB tyre (those 2 pressures ride completely differently, by the way). You can get a MTB specific pump with a 50 psi gauge, which improves things a lot (but then you'll require a second pump for the road bike if you have one of those too).
I've just purchased my second digital tyre gauge. The first one recently stopped working after almost 15 years. I can only hope the new one lasts as long. This coincides with the gauge on my main floor pump deciding to become crazy in its readings. Instead of being around 3 psi out at 20 psi (consistently, so I could compensate) it is now something like +15 psi at indicated 20. With no markings below 10, the range I need to in when be filling up MTB tyres is useless to me. It seemed better to buy the gauge than to get a new pump - the pumping part works perfectly still.
The pump explains the difficulties in my household with off-road riding of late. An extra 15 psi in a tyre, when it is only meant to have around 20 psi inside in the first place, means it doesn't ride like you'd expect. Bouncing off of things was common, where normally it would roll over the top. I tried a portable mechanical gauge in the interim, but it really only reads to the nearest 5 psi and even with that I found out using the digital gauge that it was reading low; my road bike tyres had around 5 psi too much inside.

Your tyres are your connection to the terrain, be that the smooth boards of an indoor velodrome, the bare rockslabs in Squamish or anything in between. It really is the first adjustment after bike fit to get correct on your own bike(s) before adjusting anything else. Not the suspension sag or anything else related to suspension should be seen as more important. Without having the tyres right first, the suspension cannot work as it is meant to. On a road bike, go too low and it won't go around corners confidently and safely. Get it too high and you'll be prone to extra punctures, you might bounce off of road bumps and you might damage a rim if you go too high. It also rides poorly with too much air on any surface.
Accurate and consistent air pressure in the tyres is the start of a good experience with any bike.

Suspension set-up issues

If you read this blog regularly, then you’ll know I got a new Slash late last year. I took it to Tassie to ride the Blue Derby trails in March. I had the fork off the bike for a while so SRAM could look into its behaviour (oddly, it all checked out OK, despite it clearly being quite different at the end of the week in Tas than I was at the beginning. Maybe it wasn’t right to start?). Now that the bike is back together and summer is coming and the suspension is more or less fully broken in, it is time to worry about getting it set up “just right”.
Previously, I set it up by getting the sag close to correct and then adjusting the dials until it felt right. But I know I can do better than that with a little iterative adjusting.
Last weekend I installed the ShockWhiz on the fork. Getting all the air out of a RS fork is a difficult challenge for me. I am obviously missing the “how to” understanding as both my Zeb and Boxxer have thwarted me in the past in getting them empty. I finally got the Zeb empty when it wasn’t stuck down (the negative spring is the part I am functionally challenged to empty), measured all the parameters necessary, and then went for a ride with 78 psi in the air spring chamber.
After a 2-hour ride at Stromlo, the app suggested I was a little on the firm side with the air pressure. I reduced that to 72 psi this weekend, reset the app and did another 2-hour ride. Nothing changed except the app now says I need to reduce air pressure more (it has gone from amber to red). I don’t know how that is possible. Yet I can confirm I used a lot less travel than the first week, despite dropping 10% of the air out of the fork.
My plan for next ride is to zero the air pressure and pump back up to 70 psi before pedalling away. Can’t imagine it will make a big difference, but it seems worth trying to make sure the negative and positive air chambers are both at 70.
Once I get the fork dialled in, I will be going after the shock.
I never did this with the Canyon Sender for two, practical, reasons. I set the sag and rode it – it felt divine immediately. When I got the ShockWhiz out of the box to put it on the Canyon, I couldn’t find a location where the ShockWhiz would sit on or near the shock (it sits in a small tunnel) and I couldn’t get the air out of the fork to start calibrating. So I put the ShockWhiz back in its box and went back to riding the Sender.
Even with a ShockWhiz, you can set your suspension up badly. There are numerous set-up goals. You need to pick the one that is right for your bike and your riding (do you want planted or poppy, as an example). And the anomaly of my most recent ride aside, it is a valuable tool to baseline your settings and make known adjustments with measured outcomes. It is also good for diagnosing suspension problems. If your rebound circuit fails, that will show up when it calls for more rebound (but you find it is at zero clicks from full already).
For the first time that I can remember, I had to change the battery in the Whiz. The first ride on the Slash reported a low battery. It wouldn’t wake up a week later. Thankfully SRAM/Quarq designed it to be replaceable while mounted on a bike. It is a bit expensive for what it is and does. It won’t work with many forks (Manitou, DT, Formula, Ohlins and so on with dual positive air chambers or progressive air chamber designs). And paradoxically, I find it easier to use on Fox suspension than RockShox units. But all that aside, it is a useful tool. Something that monitored the front and rear simultaneously would be even better because it’s possible to have them working with, or against, each other. The bike shop has a telemetry unit they want to try out on my Slash in the coming weeks. I can’t wait to see it in action.

Wahoo Speedplay pedals

I have been using Speedplay pedals for a VERY long time. The first I tried were the Magnum MTB pedals almost 30 years ago. They updated them with a revised design and a better cleat and called it the Frog - I bought those straight away and used them until I got tired of lots of cleat maintenance. Soon after that I bought some X pedals for the road bike. They were great with one caveat. The X-shaped retention spring in the cleat ran over the pedal axle. Thousands of kilometres and numerous rotations of the pedals resulted in a shallow groove in the pedal axle. Speedplay's response was that they had never seen an axle break on the line, but I wasn't convinced. Perhaps neither was Speedplay because it wasn't too long before the Zero pedal was released. Like the Frog was a vast improvement on the Magnum, the Zero was an update and improvement on the X pedal. I sold my two sets of X pedals and bought some Zero pedals. I'm still using them.
Literally. I still have those original pedals in use. I think I bought four pairs of navy blue Zeroes in one go, and they are still going well today. Regular greasing and cleaning does wonders for pedals, I guess. I added three pairs of the Zero Track Special along the way too. I actually preferred the stiffer release of the Track version so they found their way onto my track bike, my road racing bike and my time trial bike.
I put my left foot down when I stop. So I clip/unclip much more with my left than my right. This can be seen in the wear on the plastic pedal body of the Zeroes. I started using a pair of the Track Specials with my red Checkpoint three years ago - they were both red. But after three + years of commuting not to mention all the use before that, the pedal bodies were looking rather worn (the letters moulded into the bodies to identify left and right were gone).

Meanwhile, a few years ago, Wahoo of smart trainer fame bought the Speedplay company. They completely changed the pedal line. Gone were all the legacy options: no more MTB pedals (they did a replacement for the Frog and a flat pedal), no more X pedals, and the Zero had an easier in-and-out little brother called the Light Action - all gone. The Zero was totally reworked with new plastic (no more colours - boo), new metal (better bearings fit in the revised design, and the pedal body was fully ringed in steel) and new cleats. But they retained full compatibility with the Zeroes of old. Old cleats fit new pedals and new cleats fit old pedals. How clever. And in deference to the discontinued Light Action, they made a new cleat with easier release. (In my opinion this is a much better option because once you get accustomed to clipless pedals in a Light Action pedal you would have to change pedals to get better retention - under the new system you only need to change your cleat.) The old cleats were anodised aluminium; very slippery to walk on. The new cleats have a built in rubbery cover; apparently (I haven't tried them yet) much better to walk on. I have coffee shop cleat covers for the old cleats. Don't require them for the new cleats.

When I was sourcing all the parts for my new commuter bike I found some Wahoo pedals on sale. I bought one set. Now that I have been using them for a couple of weeks, I thought I would reflect on them. The new Zero seems as stiff as the Track Special, rather than the regular Zero of old. This is a great thing, I thought the regular pedals were too light in their action. Other than that, the transition has been invisible. They click into the old cleats fine. They release fine.

Soon I'll have some experience with the new cleats because I have decided to retire my commuting shoes, deprecate my racing shoes to commuter duty, and roll out my new-old-stock been-sitting-in-the-cupboard-for-over-a-year new Northwave Extreme shoes to racing duty with a pair of the new Speedplay cleats on the soles.

Wahoo also bought some in-development power measuring pedals company and solved their technical issues and released a Speedplay power pedal. I'd love to try those. In fact, the bike magazine and I tried to get me a set to review. The agent wasn't interested in having their pedal reviewed and neither was Wahoo in the US. So these remain on my list...

The source of unwanted sounds

Back in the days when everyone rode steel frames, they made noise quite often because everything required frequent maintenance. Bottom brackets had loose bearings in them. Headsets had loose bearings in them. Pedals had loose bearings in them. Freewheels had loose bearings in them. One ride in the rain was sufficient for most bikes to contaminate at least one of these and cause noise.
I remember Saturday morning bike fixing when I was at university. There was always something that either drew attention from noise, or because it felt loose, tight or rough. High end gear was better, but it still needed a lot of TLC.
If you were a regular cyclist, you got in the habit of continuous maintenance just to keep your bike running well. I never knew a regular cyclist in those days who wasn't their own mechanic, so I don't know how someone went getting their shop to do it all for them - saving things up might well have ruined something or left the bike stranded.
But I digress. One thing you could count on with a skinny-tube steel frame is that it wasn't overly annoying to have a creak in it. Those thick, skinny tubes didn't amplify noises.

Fast forward to today. Everything is sealed. Sometimes beyond even replacing/adding grease to it. Headset and bottom bracket bearings are sealed collections of bearings that simply drop in in the case of headsets and press in with bottom brackets (even the threaded bottom bracket units have the bearings pressed into them - the current Shimano bottom brackets can have the bearings pulled and new ones pressed in for less $$ than a whole new assembly as an example). And everything is installed in a super-oversized thin-walled carbon frame. These bike frames isolate the sound from its source (where did that noise originate?) and amplify it to the point it cannot be ignored.
On the plus side, even when making noise there is seldom damage being done. These cartridge units can wiggle and make noise in the frame but be perfectly fine doing this for thousands of kilometres. Noise control is not about perfect adjustment - in fact there is seldom any adjustment possible. Instead it is about getting just the right compound in just the right place so that the motions continue silently.

Take my recently departed Checkpoint. It was an absolutely brilliant commuting bike. Comfortable. Speedy. Light. Top of the line gear in the form of mechanical shifting Campagnolo Record 12 speed. But it was noisy. For almost every ride over the three years I rode it. I made lesser and greater efforts to exorcise the noise. New bottom bracket bearings. Different cranks. Lubricate the adjustable dropouts. Check the torque on everything. Grease the headset. Grease the chainring/spider interface. Lube the through axles. And more. I went over absolutely everything at least 2x in 3 years. Then the shop had it for a total of 2 weeks where they did one thing I couldn't do (replace the bearing seats for the bottom bracket) and re-did everything I did do (lube everything and check the torque settings). And still it creaked. We could only conclude that perhaps there was a flaw in the carbon construction, somewhere invisible, that made a noise. Trek agreed and offered me a replacement frame.

Thanks Trek!

Even my racing bike, a Trek Madone, makes some crazy noises from time to time. I think that is just the way it is. This large volume, thin wall, carbon structure is light and fast and noisy. It has an almost identically Campagnolo Record mechanical 12 speed build as the Checkpoint had. Nothing is ever loose. And it almost never gets ridden in the wet. But it can make a noise sometimes.

As a bike shop mechanic there were many times that customers brought in weird ghost noises. Once it was one particular spoke crossing in the rear wheel - once lubricated with one drop of oil, the bike was silent. But it took hours to get to the spoke crossings.

Mountain bikes are even more prone to it with their suspension systems moving all over the place. I have two noises in my Ibis. One seems to come from the shock itself. Is it internally dry? Probably time to replace the seals on it just in case. The other comes from pedalling, but does not seem to be related to the mechanical components. Maybe a derailleur hanger? That was an early noise on the replacement Checkpoint on its first rides after it got damp - there is an aluminium derailleur hanger than interfaces on bare carbon. A touch of heavy grease made it quiet. Time to investigate the same pieces on the Ibis for noise.

On my single speed MTB, the dropouts move to provide chain tension. The eccentric bottom bracket alternative is a constant source of noises, and they tend to rotate and wreck carefully adjusted tensions. The sliding dropouts are a nice alternative. They also must move slightly in use. Every time I remove them, clean them, lubricate them and reinstall them at torque spec, they are quiet until they get wet/dusty again or about 3 rides, whichever comes first! I don't want to exceed specified torque for fear of breaking anything. So I have to put up with some noise in between services. This brings me back to where I started this entry - I could be doing this servicing after every second ride to prevent the noise from ever occurring. Lazy? Perhaps. But I also always have a backlog of much needed bike work to do so I don't want to do this non-vital work as well. Need time to ride!

The Canyon Sender DH bike also has a little "tick" noise in the drivetrain. I strongly suspect it is dropout related. The dropouts are many pieces permitting wheelbase adjustment. I think when moist/dirty, the pieces make noise. Given how little actual pedalling happens on the DH bike, I've been happy to ignore it. But not forever. I will get around to covering the pieces in grease to see if it quiets the noise.

My favourite no-longer pro rider, Phil Gaimon, even did a video on creaks. His TL:DR was that it is never the bottom bracket. And with current equipment this is 99.99% true. It really always sounds like, but never is, the bottom bracket. So do not start there. Unless you have a press-fit bottom bracket that isn't press fit properly. They can make noises. I put a thread-together bottom bracket in my first Slash not long before I sold it - instead of just pressing in, the two halves thread together in the middle ensuring they are parallel with each other and provide a good support to the axle, as well as ensuring they're tight in the frame. I didn't think the noise was the bottom bracket then either, but the replacement unit did make the bike quiet. At least until I sold it.
Suspect everything, except the bottom bracket. Even if you get through everything and the only thing left is the bottom bracket it is still not likely that. They basically don't seem to make noises any more. Hoorah.

Postscript: Today I got rid of a creak noise in my Ripley trail bike by snugging up the drive side bottom bracket cup. It was finger tight and that's why it creaked. So it can be the bottom bracket.

Good luck and good hunting.

SRAM hydraulic wireless brake levers

My first shift/brake levers (I cannot bring myself to call them brifters like "they" do on the Internet) were 8-spd Shimano. Then I changed to 10-spd SRAM. Both of these were obviously mechanical for rim brakes as that was the only option back then. Three years ago I changed once more, to 12-spd Campagnolo. Again with mechanical shifting but now with hydraulic braking. This was the third shifting pattern to learn, but as I always had the same shifting pattern on road and commuter bike it was easy to swap.
Now I've gone to Red AXS with its wireless shifting and hydraulic braking. After a couple of weeks of riding on it, it is time for an early review. Incidentally, this is the first time I haven't updated both race and commuter bikes at the same time. The race bike still has 12-speed mechanical Record on it. And it will forever as the frame cannot take a DUB axle and I've never seen a 12-speed Red GXP crank.
I really liked the feel and function of the Record hoods. The hydraulic master cylinder sticks up a long way above the brake lever pivot. This is a good spot to grab onto for the hands. The hoods feel quite slim, but not too slim. The hood rubber wore well, despite the big slot in the inside for the upshift lever to poke through.
The Red levers feel completely different. Without a shifting mechanism, there are no holes or gaps in the lever body so the rubber hood feels very solid. It also feels quite wide. I like it with my large hands, but I wonder if small riders don't feel like it is too much? The rubber is quite grippy and soft. The knobs and hooks on the rubber hood don't seem to lock onto the lever body quite as solidly as the Record design, but it hasn't proved a problem. The master cylinder is set lower in the lever body because there is no shift mechanism in the way, so they don't stick up quite as much as the Campagnolo ones, but enough that there is something to hang onto.
I was a tiny bit worried because so many reviews suggested that the Campag disc brakes were the best of the big three. However, I find the SRAM brakes almost identical to the Campagnolo ones in use. One finger braking is more than enough for most stops. The lever doesn't move much (it shouldn't, I'm competent at bleeding brakes after all these years) and there is good feel of how much slowing you're going to get. On the hood or on the drops, the brakes are good.
I set the levers up to flow straight out from the bar tops. One straight line in total. And the mix of these Bontrager bars and SRAM levers means the hoods are a touch higher than they would be with Campagnolo levers set up flat. Which moves the lever out from the drop a bit more. Not so much that I can't reach with my long fingers, and I can always wind the lever in a bit with the reach adjust, but usually I end up with them a little closer than I might like because of how low they are positioned on the curve of the drop.

The original 11-spd wireless Red shifting was simply e-tap (with the mechanical being called double tap, this was a cute play with words). Now 12-spd is AXS, but still e-tap. E-tap is, I believe, the shifting pattern. In the AXS world you can change the shifting pattern and even make it semi-automatic (you select up or down shift and the computer decides when to change the front and rear derailleurs), but the two lever system is preserved from 11-spd times. Default is the right lever moves the chain right at the cassette to a higher gear. The left lever moves the chain left on the cassette to a lower gear. And both levers in sync activate the front derailleur to move to the opposite chainring. With only 2 rings, it is super simple to just swap the rings. No need to tell it which way to go. I love it. Brilliant.
On installation I noticed two ports in the right lever body to add wired "blips", the remote buttons that sprinters, climbers or TT riders might want elsewhere on the bars. These are for historical reasons, mostly, because there are now wireless blips too. If you have a TT bike with only blips, you can run a wireless blip box to receive the signals and tell the derailleurs what to do. The blips can be programmed for function in the app too - whatever you want.
I'm shifting way more than I need to just because I enjoy playing with the system. I still occasionally try to flick a gear change with my thumb in the Campagnolo style - there is no button there to receive my command, but I guess I'll do this still because I have to shift that way on the racing bike.

So far, so very good.

Unusual tools

When I made the switch to Campagnolo components, I purchased as many tools along with them as I knew I would need. That didn't begin to cover what I'd actually require over time. As lovely as Campag components are, perhaps their tools are nicer again. Many a shop mechanic loves to own a set of the traditional tools from Italy. I almost took a job once simply because I would get my hands on a multi-thousand dollar set of Campagnolo frame preparation tools (headset and bottom bracket facing tools, to name only two in the set).
The Campag chain is meant to be joined by their unique method. Like Shimano, there is a specific joining pin with a pilot that breaks off after use. Unlike Shimano, the ends of the pin need to be peened to assure a secure connection. So I got the Campagnolo chain breaker. It is a beauty. Not only does it have chain breaking and rejoining functions, but an anvil against which the pin can be peened and a retaining device to ensure the chain doesn't slip upwards and damage either the chain or the tool mid-use.
My chain whip is very old and I have repaired the chain on it numerous times. Plus it dates from 8-spd days, so it is a properly wide chain (perhaps 5-spd?). It really doesn't fit on 11 or 12 speed sprockets properly. The Campagnolo chainwhip came with a nice section of Campagnolo chain on it (not the cheap chain on my older one) and it is just pleasant to use.
Every hydraulic brake system is a bit different (size and type of opening, fluid requirements, etc) so I got the Campag bleed kit. Which is a re-badged Magura bleed kit as the calipers are so close to production Magura brakes that they share pads. It works really well.
The Hirth joint that connects the two half axles on the cranks uses a big Allen headed bolt. I didn't buy - or even check if they offer - the appropriate large allen key to drive the bolt, but I did purchase a socket driven Allen tool so I could put it on my torque wrench. It is unfortunate that the Super Record cranks use a left-hand threaded titanium bolt where the Record cranks use a right-hand threaded steel bolt. My, and most, torque wrench doesn't guarantee accuracy when used on left-hand threaded fasteners.
I have adjusted the rear hub several times in 3 years of riding the wheels. The axle is a large aluminium tube, onto which threads various pieces. To get the drive-side locknut off requires either two 18 mm cone spanners (I only have one of this size) or an 11 mm Allen key to fit the hex inside the axle shaft (I do not have nor have I ever seen - except in a Campagnolo catalogue - an 11 mm hex key). However, it doesn't need to be very tight so an 8 mm plus a 3 mm pair of Allen keys will fit pretty well inside, and if coupled with an 18 mm cone spanner on the opposite side it can be tightened sufficiently by using my smallest shifting spanner on the locknut. I had to do this to replace the freehub body (Campag to SRAM XDR) and all the videos are of people doing it with Zonda wheels. I can see from the info supplied with the freehub that both the Shamal Ultra and Zonda use the same freehub body - but the Zonda rim-brake wheels use a 6 mm Allen key in the axle making life so much easier. Of course it is left-hand threaded, which is unexpected but makes sense to keep it from loosening in use.
Way back when, the original Campagnolo cassette lockring tool also did double duty as a bottom bracket tool - the cartridge BBs had the same toothed socket profile around the axle. Two for one was nice while it lasted. It could hardly look different to the Shimano one, but it is enough different to necessitate a separate tool. SRAM just used Shimano's profile, even with the XDR cassettes.
I found that they make a caliper alignment tool that fits in the brakes in place of the pads with a slot for the rotor to get optimal alignment when building the bike. I probably would have purchased that if I knew about it first. I do have a Birzman alignment tool that fits a thin stainless plate between the pad and the rotor on both sides making it hard to get the alignment wrong. But the Campagnolo part is just nice.

Now that I've swapped to SRAM on and off the road, I don't see many specific tools that I either don't already have or aren't included with the parts. An example of the former is the bleed kit. I have a SRAM professional bleed kit with both threaded and push-fit ends so I can bleed road or MTB brakes with bleeding edge calipers as well as the older threaded port calipers. My original Eagle XO1 bikes didn't come with the B-tension gauge tool. My Eagle AXS XX1 bike did come with the - different - B-tension gauge tool. My new Red AXS derailleur came with the - road specific - B-tension gauge tool. And the front derailleur came with the alignment tool installed, ready to go on the bike perfectly. Shimano used to have dealer-only front derailleur alignment gauges that were harder to use than the eyeball method most mechanics were used to. But this SRAM tool sits on the teeth of the big ring over enough teeth to practically ensure perfect alignment by even a semi-competent mechanic. The derailleur cage has alignment marks on it too, so should it ever come loose or get bumped it will be easy to see it is out of position.
Thankfully, I didn't encounter any tools I required but didn't have in assembling my Checkpoint because I wanted to get it ride-ready as soon as possible. I have three chain breaker tools and only one fits the flat top chain large diameter rollers in its guide, but one was sufficient to shorten the chain for installation.
The T47 DUB bottom bracket - of course - doesn't use the same installation tool as the BSE DUB bottom bracket tool. Therefore it was serendipity that the bike shop installed it for me before I took the Red ensemble away.
The brakes appeared to be fully bled on delivery. That won't work for me because the hose has to run through the frame to near the axle before emerging, and the tunnels they run in are so narrow the olive has to be cut off the hose to slide it through. Luckily I know how that all works from lots of SRAM brakes around the house.
SRAM doesn't really make tools aside from the mentioned ones (bleed kit, b-tension gauge). So there are fewer opportunities for a weird one to pop up in assembly - if it is a routine tool then I have it and if it is a very specific purpose tool then they probably make it and I'd know I need it.
The rollers on SRAM 12-spd chains are larger in diameter than any other chain, even though they retain the 1/2" pitch of other bike chains. That means that you shouldn't try a Red chain on another brand's rings or cassette, nor should you try another brand's chain on Red sprockets. It is a good thing that they are a decent chain given the lack of options. My chain wear checking tool (a Shimano one - almost all the tools for this on the market are useless, although more 3-points-of-contact checkers are around than before) probably won't do the trick. I rarely use it anyway because a 12" ruler is best.

Design decisions

Is a gravel bike a road bike that takes fat tyres, or a mountain bike with drop handlebars?
With the Trek Checkpoint, Trek's design decisions place the frame somewhere in the middle of these two alternatives and have had multiple impacts on my commuter bike.
A bit over 3 years ago, Campagnolo released the Record 12 speed group. I had ridden the 11 speed disc brake option at Campagnolo Press Camp the year before, and I was sold. As I have put it many times, I didn't know I wanted disc brakes on a road bike until I tried them. They were that good. I purchased 2 groups from Campagnolo and then found frames to hang them on. For commuting duties, I picked a Checkpoint. I would have had fewer issues if I picked an Emonda, a Domane or even a Boone, but none of these frames will take a rack. I learned a long time ago that panniers beat a backpack without question.
There is a Trek kit to fit Campagnolo cranks in the BB90 bottom brackets most Trek frames had up until recently. This involves gluing some pieces into the BB bearing seat area to fully support the bearings that are pre-installed on Campag cranks. Then it is just bolt them in place and go. But that wasn't so simple with the Checkpoint. The chainstays bulge right behind the bottom bracket shell to make room for a fatter rear tyre. And the very straight arms of the Campagnolo Record crank wanted to pass through the left stay. Suddenly I had cranks I couldn't use.
After a lot of looking and frustration, I ended up with a set of Red 10 spd cranks with a 130 BCD spider for 39/53 rings. Before they even arrived I learned that they wouldn't fit on the bike either. That 39T inner ring would contact the right chainstay, and the 53T big ring was too tall for the front derailleur to clear at the top of the mounting slot. Those cranks went back and a set of 110 BCD compact Red cranks were purchased. Onto these went Praxis 34/50 chainrings. These fit fine.
Except the glued in Campagnolo adapter pieces were slightly in the way. And by slightly, I mean that when the cranks were installed, the inner face of the arms just around the bottom bracket shell lightly touched the rings on both sides. Ideally, they wouldn't be there. But the glue used was very strong and I was afraid of trying to remove them and damaging my still unridden frame.
Everything (except one thing - I'm coming back to this in a minute) was fine for 26 months. When the Red cranks broke at the pedal eye. Not a catastrophic failure; the pedal remained in the crank. But it wouldn't have taken many more kilometres to break it completely. With a 24 month warranty, SRAM said they would give me a discount on new Red cranks - only they didn't have any in stock.
To keep riding to work I installed a set of older Rival cranks I had on hand. With a 130 spider, my only option was to run the small chainring on the outside and remember not to touch the front derailleur for fear of losing the chain into the space where a small ring was meant to be. This went on for far too long. 39/11 is not a large top gear!
Eventually I found some near-new Rotor cranks that were old enough they had a 24 mm axle (new ones have 30 mm axles) and therefore fit in the frame (BB90 cannot accept 30 mm axles without running incredibly tiny and fragile bearings). These happened to have the same Praxis 34/50 rings on them as I had been running on the Red cranks. So they just bolted in and away I went with front gears again.

Back to my exception. The frame had a little temperature sensitive creak in it from day 1. I spent hours hunting the creak. Check bolts, lube things, pad things, remove things - nothing made the creak go away except really cold weather. Across the three different cranks the noise went on unaffected. It could not have been anything to do with the cranks or their bearings (the Red and Rival cranks used different bearings than the Rotor cranks - and I swapped bearings a couple of times just in case). I ran a different set of wheels. I removed the mudguards and rack, just to check. Swapped pedals. Got the torque wrench on the bar and stem.
The bike shop offered to replace the bearing seats for me. Trek customers used to have to toss their frames if they had a bearing seat issue in the bottom bracket before they developed a solution. There is a cutting tool to remove the existing seat surface, some new carbon bearing seats, some high-strength glue and a jig to ensure the new seats go in square to the frame. And as I left the shop after all this, it creaked.
The bike shop owner got the bike for a week and unbolted absolutely everything. He lubed and used a torque wrench and checked everything from pedals to water bottle cages to seat rails. He reinstalled my mudguards and rack in a slightly different way. And as I left the shop after all of this, it creaked.

Trek, to their credit, heard all of this (but they didn't get to hear my creak!) and agreed to replace the frame with a current equivalent (or credit me a frame's worth on a full new bike if I chose that option). As luck would have it, the colour they had in my size was one I loved. As the old Checkpoint used a seat mast and the new one a seat post, and because I had upgraded my aluminium mast to a carbon one, they replaced it with a carbon seat post. New Checkpoints use T47 bottom brackets (now you can use a 30 mm axle) and Trek put a new T47 bottom bracket for 24 mm axles in the box.
What we didn't know until I tried to assemble the new bike in my head (this will go here, this will go there, do this first, do this second ... etc) was that there is no cable stop for the front derailleur cable. Look at just about any bike, including my older Checkpoint, and you'll find that the cable housing stops on a fitting on the frame at the bottom of the downtube, and the bare inner wire runs around the bottom bracket and up to the arm on the front derailleur to pull it down for a shift to the big ring. Not on the the new Checkpoint. Trek's bike lineup of Checkpoints has one inexpensive mechanical Shimano drivetrain model, and Shimano's newest mechanical derailleurs have their own housing stop built into the front derailleur - and all the rest of the models are either one-by drivetrains (no front derailleur at all) or electronic shifting. Trek had no solution for my Campagnolo front derailleur.
I checked for solutions online. I can imagine a solution that is a cross between a chain drop device that attaches to the front derailleur bolt (it prevents the chain from moving inside of the inner ring when properly positioned) and a cable housing stop for cantilever brakes that hangs from the seat post binder bolt. No one makes such a thing that I could find. I guess the total market for these things is about 10 people.

If I wanted to go one-by, I would need a narrow-wide chainring and a K-Edge single ring road chain guide up front with a wide-ratio cassette at the back to give me close to my usual top and bottom gear choices. Unfortunately, I had ridden the bike as a one-by for some months and didn't like it much. And I have recently purchased a new close-ratio cassette to go on the new frame. Super Record cassettes are not cheap. It would bug me to purchase another in such short order.
The second option that came to mind was the recently announced Super Record wireless shifting. Then everything would either stay or be replaced with another Campagnolo part. Unfortunately, these pieces are not currently available. There is no solid time frame for when, either.
Option three was to go with the now obsolete wired Super Record option. It bugged me to buy more tools and a charger that will only ever be used on one bike, but it was a decided option. It not only has the benefits of option 2, but the shift levers are almost identical between mechanical and wired electronic, and it was all in stock.
The final option I considered was SRAM Red AXS. Super Record is so expensive, I thought a full Red gruppo might be about the same price as a partial Super Record one. Turns out it is a bit more, but not all that much more. The advantage of AXS is that I already have 3 bicycles at home in the AXS app (used to update firmware, control options in setup and view battery charge levels) and two that use the universal batteries (so loads of chargers and batteries to move around as needed).
Yes, I could have put a 105 mechanical or even electronic gruppo on for less than any of these other options (well probably more pricey than the one-by option), but I haven't liked anything Shimano since about 9 speed. I could have gone "gravel" and opted for Campagnolo Ekar, but I didn't know if the cranks would fit and my wheel (yes, Campagnolo brand) is not Ekar friendly - so new wheels necessary.
I chose Red. I still have Force on my old Madone, and the single shift lever per brake lever works a little differently for AXS than for mechanical, but I think I'll adjust quickly. I've ordered the SRAM-friendly freehub body for my Campagnolo wheels too (even got it on sale); odd that I can change to Shimano or SRAM but not to new Campagnolo with this wheel.

Every decision Trek made might have simplified their life, but it surely complicated my bike-building journey.

You can expect some Red reviews soon.

Tubeless and valve cores

Those pesky presta valve cores. How many times have they caused a problem on the trail?

My most vivid memory of a problem was once I was riding on the backside of the Stromlo. A group of young men were out there with zero tools amongst the group. One guy had burped a tyre and needed some air to keep pedalling. Reluctantly (this should be a blog entry in its own right) I leant him my pump. Those who know, will know - but the rest of you will not. I use a Lezyne pump. It is great for pumping but because it threads onto the valve it also tends to unthread the valve cores once pumping is finished. Especially if the full pressure is still in the rubber hose part of the pump. My solution to this is to really snug up the cores when I install them. So, guy pumps up his tyre until it feels full and when he unscrews the pump hose it brings the valve core with it. All the air departs his tyre. I explain what has happened. He reinstalls the valve core and refills the tyre. And again the hose removes the valve core. At this point I departed with my pump and he started walking back to his car.
Check those valve core people. Even with the pressure release button on the hose (a direct reaction by Lezyne to this problem) it tends to unthread loose valve cores.

The other problem with tubeless and presta valve cores is that they love to clog up with sealant. A pump usually pushes the air with enough force that it will go in, but the release of air is much more gentle and can be completely blocked by a blob of dried sealant in the valve shaft. I also find the exit hole into the rim cavity gets blocked. These can be pushed out with a tiny Allen key pushed up the core-free shaft of the tubeless valve. Individual cores can usually be cleaned of the offending sealant but they can also be purchased for very little money - one way or the other, hard to pump tubeless tyres can be fixed easily.

Some tubeless valves are T-shaped, where others are Y-shaped. Some rims do better with one than the other. If the hole is snug around the valve stem, then the Y-shaped ones often don't seal well - in these cases the T-shaped ones are better. With larger holes, the T-shape can leak, where the Y-shaped ones will snug down into the hole and create a good seal. Bontrager valves are T-shaped but have an o-ring on the underside of the T. They're specifically designed to work with Bontrager plastic rim strips (which have a smooth flat surface at the valve hole) and are probably the best option for Bontrager wheels with the rim strips. They might not work so well with other rims.
In other words, it pays to match the valves and the rims.
Insert-friendly valves are ones that have the air exit port in a location that cannot be blocked by the foam of the insert. Cush Core valves have a large base with a large hole on the side of the base - free of interference by the foam insert. Early Cush Core inserts (before they had their own branded model) were Bontrager-looking inserts with a hand cut slot in the T-piece to allow air to escape if the foam rests on the top of the T.

Santa Cruz has spun off their carbon rims to its own sub-brand: Reserve. They now have a high-flow tubeless valve that is kinda like presta, but flows several times more air because the entire valve stem is the valve - not some miniature piece that threads into the stem. I've heard of, but never seen, people using Schraeder valves in tubeless too - they're more robust than presta.

Whatever valves you might use on your tubeless rims, when a new tyre goes on, or even a top-up of sealant, that is a great time to pay a little attention to the valve.

Flight Attendant - the first glitch

In the six months that I've had the new Slash, I have ridden it a fair amount. After I broke my collarbone, I chose to ride it on my return because it was the plushest bike I had that would go uphills (the Sender might be plusher, but it does not go up hills). I thought that would insulate my shoulder better.
The first proper use of the bike was in Derby, Tasmania last month. It worked perfectly well as an enduro and a trail bike for 5 of the 6 days. Through some of the wettest riding I have ever done. On day 6, the servo motor and indicator lights were doing their thing, but the fork was not locking out. At all. Not even a hint of change when locked from when open. It also had zero rebound - with the knob not making any difference.
Recently it went on the test rig at SRAM DSD in Melbourne, and tested 100% fine.
The fork is coming back to me and if it doesn't work, I have to document it and get the bike shop to experience the fault.
Hopefully the Flight Attendant was on holiday that final day and will work flawlessly when I get it back.

How odd.

Checkpoint, take 2

I have been riding the original Trek Checkpoint SL to work for around 3 years. There has been this weird, temperature sensitive creak in the bike for that entire period.
I replaced the bottom bracket bearings several times. When even the Trek oversized bearings didn't fix things, I turned to the dealer. After checking on a few things, they replaced the bearing seats in the frame. Trek uses direct pressfit bearings in the BB shell of the Checkpoint and most road frames of the past decade or so (which meant no 30 mm axles). If a rider neglected their bearings too long, the seat would be damaged and that was the end of that frame. Until they developed a fix. A cutting device carefully removes the carbon that the bearings sit on, and then new seats are glued in. A jig holds everything in alignment while the glue dries. Voila - good as new.
In my case the creaking was instantly back. Phil Gaimon (ex-pro cyclist and now YouTube cycling guy) did
a video on creaks where he said it is never the bottom bracket. I suspected it wasn't the bottom bracket. It wasn't.
On another occasion the bike shop owner spent way too long going over the bike and not only lubricated every interface on the bike (from brake levers-bar and bar-stem to dropouts-rear triangle and chainrings-spider) but checked the torque of every fastener. And it instantly creaked again.
That suggested to me what I'd long suspected (since I'd done the same thing as him twice over before) - that the noise might be inherent in the frame. Perhaps a joint was improperly glued together?
A claim went to Trek, and to their credit, they provided a new 2023 Checkpoint SL frame for me, with a new high-end seatpost and appropriate bottom bracket (because I'd upgraded my Checkpoint to the high-end carbon seatmast that Checkpoints no longer use, and many Trek bikes now use threaded T47 BBs). Thanks Trek.
The 61 cm frame they had for me turned out to be the best colour that Checkpoints have come in since their release. The main colour is dark aquatic, a sort of deep sea teal colour with a metallic flake. The second colour, used for the TREK writing and the contrast marks on the frame, is bare carbon. Superb.
My frame is in the bike shop and the bottom bracket has been installed, ready for me to pick it up and transfer all the Record pieces over. The old bike was two-tone red. I purchased the matching two-tone red Ortlieb bags, red bottle cages, red Speedplay pedals, red bar tape and even a red not-a-bottle to carry my spares in. The bar tape has to be replaced - I found some cool metallic oil slick effect tape from Supakaz that has lots of green tones in it. But the bottle cages, pedals and bags are going on as is. Supakaz also makes matching oil slick cages - I don't plan to buy those, but who knows...
I have a new chain and cassette to go on. The brake hoses have to be disconnected to go through the frame, so a full bleed will be required. New Campagnolo cable housing and Campagnolo-compatible cables (since the proper Campag ones are too short for the big frame) will go in at the same time. And finally, new Pirelli Cinturato 28 mm tubeless tyres with Orange Seal sealant will go on the Campag wheels. I have some spare brake pads that I bought with the chain and cassette, just in case their more worn that I expected.
I am swapping saddles with my trail bike too. I think that saddle is good with an aggressive forward leaning position (which you don't use all the time on the mountain bike) and might be great on the commuting bike (a Fabric Scoop Race Flat). I don't expect that the Fizik 3D printed saddle will be great on the trail bike, but it can't hurt to try it.
With a complete cleaning it should be just like a new bike.

I am not sure when to build it. A rebuild probably takes longer than the initial build, because disassembly and not everything is brand new. And I'd like to continue to ride to work every day. Look for a first-ride entry soon.

Post-writing note: I have discovered that new Checkpoints do not have a housing stop for the front derailleur. They rely on one of three things occurring in the build: many are 1x drivetrains lacking a front derailleur; many have AXS shifting with no cable at all; and one (the SL5) uses a Shimano front derailleur that has its own housing stop built in. I could go 1x, but I like the small chainring when I'm tired. I could use a Shimano derailleur, but I went to great lengths to avoid mixing Shimano and Campag on the one bike. Hopefully there is some kind of solution that works with my Record front derailleur.

Belt drives don't like rocks

I can still remember back in 2006 when Stromlo got what would become the 2009 World Championships XC course. For 2006-8, portions of that course were used for competition at Stromlo as they dialled in the details for the big show. In 2006 it might well have been National Championships that ran on these trails. In 2008 there was a World Cup round held on virtually the same course as Worlds would be the next year.
If you have ridden a mountain bike at Stromlo, you've probably ridden up the front-side climb to the summit. Beginning from the parking lot you hit Cockatoo Switchbacks. At the top of this trail you turn left onto a firetrail and head back into the singletrack at Blue Gums. This is where the competition course begins. There is a trail on the uphill (right) side of Blue Gums called Cardiac Arrest (the earlier Nationals course used a climb called Heartbreaker - so this one is a bit of a pun, a bit of a continuation of the naming convention, and a LOT more difficult). Near the top of Cardiac, one has to ride over a small boulder. I can't remember how many people I knew who took a tooth of two off their big chainring (back then, everyone had front derailleurs and multiple chainrings) on that rock. The rock is still there, sporting the scars from all these hits. The only way to protect the teeth was to have the chain on that chainring - hard to use the big one when you're climbing a technical trail.

It was about that same year that I got my first single speed bike (a Gary Fisher Rig). It had a single mid-sized chainring (32T) and sprocket (18T). Being single speed, the chain is always on that chainring. Which meant if I happened to drop the chainring on a rock during a ride, the chainring teeth were protected and usually no bad happened. Fast forward to single speed #3 for me (Spot Rocker SS). This one has very little in common with that Gary Fisher from nearly 20 years ago. Where the Fisher was aluminium, the Spot is carbon fibre. The Fisher had a chain, the Spot a belt (Spot brand was instrumental in the development of the Gates belt drive system). They did share some traits too. Both had Fox forks. Both were 29ers.
I've long wanted to go to a belt drive on my single speed. Belts are quiet (but not silent I've learned), and light and they last a much longer time than a steel chain does. What I didn't think about was rocks. Even taking two teeth off a 40T chainring leaves you with a working bike. Touching the chain against the rock leaves a mark on the chain, a mark that might impact shifting on a geared bike but nothing that will impede a single speed. That same touch against the rock with a belt drive could well leave you stranded at the trail side. The belts are carbon fibre, which is why they have so many restrictive handling rules (don't bend them, don't fold them, don't roll them up tight, don't turn them inside out and so on); if you break the carbon fibres then the belt will fall apart quickly. Just an innocent tap of the belt against a rock (between the chainring (beltring?) and the rock) can slice the belt in half. I touched something once, don't even remember what, and lifted up a tiny piece of the protective rubber covering and one fibre sticks out. I was initially worried, but it is holding up fine after a year or more.

My intention was to equip the bike with something to protect the belt from touching down ever again. But what?
My first thought was a bashring. These are larger in diameter than the chainring and chain combo and several millmetres thick to ward off any impacts. Except that they are all designed to replace the outer chainring when the middle chainring is the in-use chainring. And the beltring on the Spot is in the outer position on the spider AND the belt is really wide compared to a chain. No easy mounting solution for a bashring.
Another tricky part is that the belt has to go on quite large sprockets at the hub, so the chainring also has to be quite large to get the desired gearing (which for a 29er bike is usually around a 50" gear). This makes it more likely to hit a rock and also harder to protect.
I found a Shimano Saint DH bashguard device that might fit. There weren't any in Australia, but Shimano kindly brought one in for me. That took ages. The Saint device only protects 1/4 of the circle. Which is OK.
Divide the circle into four pieces and two of those pieces are protected by the crank arms themselves. And most people ride one foot forwards preferentially most of the time. That means protecting only 1/4 might be enough.
Again, the thickness and outboard position of the belt were problems. The Saint device is meant to attach to the outer position of a Saint crank with the chainring in the inner position.
I succeeded in installing it in the correct position with some chainring spacers and much longer bolts. Long enough that there would be a huge leverage on the protection device if it hit a rock.
Then I found a bottom bracket mounted ISCG device. By removing the 5 mm spacer which usually sits between the drive side cup and the frame, this space can be devoted to an ISCG mounting bracket. Which in turn can hold any ISCG mounted chain device. I found a tiny chain protector of the correct size to sit outside the belt. I have similar bash guards on my DH and enduro bikes. The belt is sandwiched between the inside positioned fixed protection mounted to the bottom bracket and the 1/4 circle outside protection mounted to the crank spider.
Being mounted on a hardtail means that the bottom bracket doesn't change height quite so much as a full suspension bike and therefore the belt doesn't touch down quite so often on things. It also means I'm probably travelling a little slower on rough terrain where the probability of a strike increases.
Inside and outside protection is probably overkill, but the belts are quite expensive and I'd hate to cut it on a trail simply for misjudging a rock's position. I have some good piece of mind that my belt will last a while.

There are numerous places where you could ride a belt-drive bike without any protection. Sparrow Hill is one such place. With a little bit of experimenting and a build-your-own-adventure result, I can ride my belt bike anywhere and not fear for the life of the belt.

The Albek Atlas bike bag

As mountain bikes get longer, lower and slacker, the wheelbase is growing beyond the bounds of what fits on roof racks or in travel bags. My brand new Yakima bike carriers are really very good in many ways, but their ability to carry my two long-travel bikes is not one of those ways. But that is a story for another time.
After booking a trip to Tasmania to ride at Blue Derby and St Helens, I realised my new Slash would not fit in either of the two Evoc bags I had stored in the cupboard. The oldest was from my first trip to Whistler more than 10 years ago when the travel bikes were 26" wheeled machines (I already had XC 29ers, but the long travel bikes were still small wheels). As soon as I went 29" wheels, I couldn't use the old bag (2018 trip). Evoc enlarged the pocket space to fit a 29er wheel in there (if only just). Otherwise they were identical.
There is now an XL Evoc bag and a Pro Evoc bag. They will both take a couple of centimetres extra wheelbase in the bag, but my Sender has a 133 cm wheelbase that is too long for any Evoc bag and the Slash is about 15 mm shorter than the Sender - also a no fit solution.
Enter Albek. Their new Atlas bag lists 135 cm as possible. Eureka. A solution. And an Aussie solution at that. Albek is a (primarily) moto-x company out of Newcastle. After deciding that even with some inconvenient disassembly, the new Slash wasn't going in the old bag, I ordered a new bag. Lots of the places that might stock one were out of stock, but I found one (at full RRP, no discounts for me!) from the MX Store in Qld (bought a few items from them before: fork oil, goggles and lenses). It arrived promptly, but had two production issues. The external pocket I would normally store a few small tools in hadn't been sewn up properly. And there is a foam piece that supports the rear end of the swingarm, and it hadn't been glued together properly.
After informing the MX Store, I got a call from the mountain bike guy at Albek. Nice one guys! He said he would send me a spare foam piece from his shop supplies - one that he knows was glued correctly. And he said he would find someone to sew up my pocket. I'm actually happier with mending this one than replacing it - less shipping, lower impact on the planet.

I used the bag for the trip to Tassie and back and it was fine - bike was protected and packing is simple. So that part is great. Still haven't heard back from Albek about fixing my bag. I'm sure they'll get back to me again.

First comment is that this is really Evoc bag mark 2. It is not a 100% direct copy of the Evoc bag. It is more like a direct copy with improvements in spots that needed them. Starting with two straps to wrap up the collapsed bag in storage mode and keep it all tidy and together. Two struts go at each and of the bag to stiffen the ends - they are like sail battens in the Evoc bag and round tubes in the Albek. Four PVC pipes go into the wheel pockets to protect the brake rotors - no difference there between the two. Two big skate wheels at one end and a handle at the other for pulling through the airport. The Albek bag has slightly bigger wheels set slightly further apart for greater stability. The handle is not moulded rubber, but velcro nylon and foam. Possibly more comfortable and easily replaceable should it get damaged. Two key changes in the Albek bag. The circumferential foam rubber that runs along the spine of the bag gets squashed in the Evoc bag when it is folded up for storage. It is removable in the Atlas bag and quite easy to insert/remove. There is also a fibre rod that runs around the periphery of the bags opening zipper. This keeps the bag standing upright when open. Evoc bags tend to droop when open, making inserting the bike that little bit more challenging. To carry a road bike in the Evoc bag they recommend using the fork bag because the fork retention system in the bag only works with fat suspension fork blades. In the Albek, the fork goes in a bag that then is secured into the main bag. Hence it works with road bikes by default. They even threw in the plastic dropout protectors that new bikes ship with in case a Quick Release bike has to go in the case (prevents the pointy dropout ends penetrating the bag material).

The Atlas is a little longer, a little more versatile and a little more expensive than the Evoc equivalent. Having had two team coloured Evoc bags I find the black Atlas a bit boring, but the brightly coloured Evocs do tend to get dirty on conveyor belts in airports so there is that. If I am going to go back to Whistler next year, it will be with both the Slash and the Sender and I'll have to buy a second Atlas to carry both of them. I'd definitely do it after using it for this one trip - it really is an improved Evoc.

Yakima Highroad bike carrier

I had two Thule bike carriers permanently installed on my car. My partner had three permanently installed on her car. For a trip to Thredbo I moved one of mine to her roof bars so we could take two bikes each. There were three different bike carrier types represented here and she had a new car that we wanted a different solution for.
I sold all five Thule mounts in about an hour online. I probably could have received even more money for them at the rate they flew out of the house. I put that money towards the Yakima. I found a place online in NSW that had four in stock (it was pandemic times and no one had much in stock). They even gave me a good deal on buying four.
The beauty of the Highroad is that it goes on or off the car in about 30 seconds (probably faster). I leave the roof bars on my car because they're involved to get on or off (and the plastic that they sit on to protect the interface between rack and roof is well and truly dead after so many years). We got Seasucker roof bars for my partner's car. They go on in 5 minutes and come off in 30 seconds. I can put one, up to four, bike carriers on either car in about one minute. Super convenient. And it means the carriers don't get used (or use fuel) except when required.
I hung four hooks on the garage wall and the racks hang from those when not in use. Out of the way, but readily available.
I once used a couple of them on the roof of a friend's car and it only took a little longer to mount them there because some adjustment of the strap length was required to get a good fit on his roof bars.

The only thing wrong with the Highroad is that it doesn't work with mudguards. It clamps the front and back of the front wheel snugly to hold the bike upright and secure. A small strap goes over the rear rim to hold the back wheel in place. The rear clamp tries to squash the mudguard onto the tyre - not ideal. When I have to carry my commuter bike I just take the front wheel off and slide it in the hatch of my car, but I'd rather be able to put it on top.

As I alluded to in my Albek Atlas bike bag review, the Highroad does not cope with modern long wheelbase gravity bikes (at least in size XL). The 131 cm and 133 cm wheelbases are not so long that I can't put them on the carrier, but are too long for the rear wheel holder to sit under the rear hub. Instead I use the fat bike strap (really long) to reach up the rim to pull down on the wheel well in front of the rear hub. Slightly sub-optimal, but it works. I've taken the Sender to Thredbo multiple, multiple times since I got both the Sender and the Highroad with never a problem.

Like all carriers that hold the front wheel, there is no scope for moving bikes in relation to each other. On a small car with narrow roof bars the wide flat bars of a mountain bike can (and do) interfere with each other. To get four bikes up there requires turning the bars on at least one bike 90 degrees by loosening the stem bolts - a minor change that makes them so easy to get in place. Luckily it is only one as the DH bikes with their direct mount stems can't do the 90 degree rotation. One also has to pay attention to pedal placement as they pedals can rub each other. The bikes do end up close together.

I prefer the wheel holding system to one that clamps the frame. A post-mud-ride leaves the bikes filthy and I can put a filthy bike on a Highroad without fear of damaging either the frame finish or the clamping mechanism.

Yakima, you got it so close with these. You just needed to make them a few cm longer for modern bikes.

Reflections on the rubber

It has been around 2 years since Pirelli released the Scorpion line of MTB tyres. Initially I tried the XC tyres and loved them for grip, feeling of rolling along easily and durability. They also held air extremely well.
Pirelli expanded the line to include trail and enduro tyres too. Back in October my new Slash arrived and I put new Scorpion Enduro tyres on it. An "M" up front and an "R" in the rear. I wrote not too long ago that I was going to discontinue my habit of running less tread in the back. My recent trip to Tasmania only reinforced that intention. But for the moment, I have a rear-specific rear tyre on the Slash.

It was wet in Derby. Like riding in the bathtub wet. Our first day out it didn't rain much, but it had rained VERY heavily overnight and there was flowing water everywhere. The second day it rained all day. All day. Days three and four were actually much more sunny, but still oh-so-wet. As I haven't been anywhere in the past 2 years to ride (thanks Pandemic) this is my first experience with the Scorpions in the wet. The rubber sticks well on wet things. That's "chemical grip". Obviously I don't know how well another brand might have gone (Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental, Kenda and WTB all having been used at some point in the last 10 years), but the chemical grip was tops. The tread itself provides the "mechanical grip". That is, the knob edges dig into soil and other soft substrates to grab on. The front tyre was excellent. The rear one, not so much. The Slash is a long bike - only 2 cm less wheelbase than my DH bike. If I put my weight forwards to keep the front tyre weighted and gripping, then the back tyre is a bit free to do what it wants. Sam Hill is possibly the best ever at ignoring what the back tyre is doing. I'm not Sam Hill. Having the back slide around too much concerns me.

I thought it was amusing. When we drove up to our accommodation in Derby, the owner was just departing having done some prep-work for our arrival (firewood and smoke alarm batteries he said). He had dirt all over his face. He said he'd been for a ride just prior and thankfully it was raining. I don't think the locals like riding in the dry. Late summer in Squamish can be slippery with all the dust loose on top of things. Your tyre might grip the dust, but the dust doesn't grip anything. Those big rock slabs (like on In N Out Burger) go from reassuringly grippy to sketchy and a bit unpredictable. Derby rocks (there are big slabs here too) get covered in mud dragged by the bikes and that makes them slick. Unless it is raining (or dry enough to have zero mud - I'm sure it happens, sometimes). I knew then that I was in for a four day mud-fest. I was.

To be fair, my partner was on an Assegai and DHR2 combo and had zero issues with sliding (except in the really slick mud). So I'm not suggesting that the Pirelli tyres do things that others cannot, but I am suggesting they are excellent at what they do. Pirelli makes the spec tyre for Formula One, for World Rally Car, and for some top motorbike competitions both on and off road. They know rubber. I think they got these pretty "right". Even if they are only as good as other tyres, they are a similar price, hold air better (in my experience with numerous examples of each brand run tubeless) and show lower rates of wear (and are also nearly immune to tearing off knobs).

And yet, having read they recently finalised their new enduro and DH tyre tread (same tread, different carcass) after 2 years of testing I see a bike from the Pirelli-Canyon DH team using a non-Pirelli tyre. What's that about?

Next time you need some tires, consider the Scorpion. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Unblemished alloy rims...

As a taller, heavier rider - one who doesn't take the smoothest line - I am well used to putting dings in my MTB rims. As a result, all my XC/trail bikes for the past while have had carbon rims. You can't ding it (though you can smash it/break it).
I've had two DH bikes. The V10 for several years and for the past 3 years, a Sender CFR from Canyon. The current bike has DT Swiss DH wheels on it consisting of 240 hubs, the wider of the two DH rim options and some DT spokes. (There is even a QR code on them for "more information" about the wheel, but it leads to an "unknown" type error. Leading me to suspect there are some special Canyon-only wheels that are somehow special.)
Normally, on the basis of both the experiences with the V10 and even the XC bikes, I would put at least one ding in a rim in a season of lift-serviced riding. To go three years without a mark is unprecedented for me. While the alloy used in rims has improved over the years, not so much that the rims by themselves get all the credit. The majority of the credit goes to the CushCore Pro foam inserts in the rims from day 1.
Yes I used proper (Maxxis in this case) DH tyres. But for the most part I did that on the V10 too. And given that the V10 had tubes inside for most of the seasons of action, I had to keep enough air pressure in them to prevent pinch flatting - something I did quite a lot when using tyres with too-soft a sidewall.
CushCore has allowed an amazing transformation of my expectations on the MTB. My hardtail and short-travel bikes have the smaller, lighter version of CushCore (an intermediate choice was just released this month so it doesn't come into play for me) while my Enduro and DH bikes have the Pro version. It means I can run as low as 16 psi in the front for excellent traction and low rolling resistance on irregular terrain while still getting adequate support in corners. I haven't been able to go quite so low in the rear without feeling a bit loose - I suspect I sit a lot of weight at the back of the bike much of the time. Still, I can routinely run 24 psi in the rear without feeling like the back end is moving too much.
The evidence that the foam is doing its job is the number of permanent marks in it where some edge has trapped the foam against the rim edge. Many of them on the Enduro bike (the first bike of mine to get CushCore and also the one that gets the most riding on rugged terrain) at the rear wheel - almost zero up front. I swapped them around when I replaced the tyres so the rear gets what is effectively a new insert and the front won't tax the insert the same way.

But the inserts are about more than protecting the rim and more than running low pressures safely. The inserts occupy roughly half the air volume of the tyres, causing them to ramp up in pressure more quickly than they would otherwise - much like a volume spacer in a fork or shock. The whole "insert" thing stems originally from attempts to more closely couple the movement of the tyre (soft, undamped, precedes any suspension movement) with movement of the suspension (well damped, trails the tyre compression - leading to an out-of-control phase at the edge of performance). Syntace and Schwalbe released ProCore (a road tyre inside your MTB tyre in essence) to force the suspension to activate earlier in the overall travel range with the unexpected benefit of tyre retention and rim protection.
Inserts like the Huck Norris occupy so little of the tyre volume that they are a good choice for those who do not want to alter the characteristics of their tyres.

I've written about CushCore before. I'm such a big fan. They've improved my tyre grip. Stopped the frequent burping of my tubeless setup. Prevented rim dings. Better coupled the tyre and the suspension (which I believe can be felt in certain situations). And I've even become quite good at changing tyres with a foam insert inside. The extra mass can be felt, but it's a small price to pay for the rest, and I think the mass can help with the grounded feeling of the bike too.

Inserts are the way to go.

3D printed saddle - part 2

My Fizik printed saddle has taken a lot longer to reach 30 hours than I would have predicted due to breaking my collarbone - I took 13 weeks off the bike commuting thing. But now that I am approaching that milestone I am really thinking that I don't like it.
One of the benefits of 3D printing is that the padding can be soft in one spot and firm immediately adjacent to that spot. There is a very firm spot where ones sit bones are meant to rest. And most of the rest is quite soft. But the saddle is too wide, even in its narrowest option, to suit my sit bones. Normally one can sit further forwards on the saddle and be fine. But when I move forwards, I slide into the soft space that doesn't support well. When I sit on the firm and supportive place, the sides of the saddle rub on my inner thighs and irritate them.

I think the tech is great. The basics of the saddle seem fine. The specifics for me - not quite right.

I'm not quite sure where to next for me in the saddle game. I have tried a number that I don't like recently, and none that I do like.

Flying with bikes

Starting back in the 90s, I really only travelled with a road bike. I had a Tri-All-3 hard case. It was very protective of the bike, but the box itself often got damaged by airline handling. Because it used a quick-release font axle device to hold the bike securely centred in the box, it would only work with a standard 100mm QR front fork. And even a mountain bike with such a wheel could be a problem due to the wheelbase being too long for the box. It was also relatively difficult to pack the bike into, a bit like an advanced Tetris level; you were never quite sure where to put the next couple of pieces.

For my first trip to Whistler in 2011, I purchased an Evoc soft bike bag that easily swallowed my Extra-Large size Santa Cruz V10 DH bike. Unfortunately, mountain bikes kept evolving and 29" wheels were too large for the wheel pockets on that original Evoc bag. I purchased a second generation bag that had 29" friendly wheel pockets. And mountain bikes kept evolving.
The longest wheelbase that Evoc suggests will fit in the bag is 125 cm. The length of my recently-sold Trek Slash. It only just fit. Now I have a new Slash with a 131 cm wheelbase. There is no way I can see to get this bike in that bag. Looks like I am buying a third bike bag for my upcoming week in Tassie.
Evoc now makes an XL bag with extra-large wheel pockets (think fat bikes) but they only increased the wheelbase capacity of the bag by 1 cm to 126. That is no use to me at all. Enter Australian bag maker Albek. Their Atlas sports a 136 cm capacity. There are bikes longer than that, but my two long wheelbase bikes are shorter than this by a little bit (the Canyon Sender CFR is 133 cm).

I was thinking, initially, of taking the trail bike to Derby. Loads of their trails are XC oriented and the Ripley is perfect for that. But if you've paid attention you know that there have been 3 Enduro world rounds in Derby and they have some really gnarly trails to ride. I'm also going to St Helens and it sounds like they have less gnarly terrain than Derby, but still some good rough stuff to play on, and some jumps tracks. It really has to be the Slash that I take. It will be a little bit extra work on the ascents, but
a lot more fun and security on the descents.
And so I need an Atlas bag.

You can count on a review after my trip…

Flight Attendant

Now that I am back riding it is time to catch up on some of my new technology. Today I'm writing about the Flight Attendant system on my Slash. In case you don't know and don't want to look it up, Flight Attendant is Rock Shox's AXS integrated intelligent suspension adjustment system. It is the SRAM equivalent to Fox's Live Valve system, but aimed at gravity riders rather than XC riders.
At release there were about 7 bikes available with Flight Attendant. The Slash being Trek's entry to the game. Using the same batteries as an AXS rear derailleur or a Reverb AXS post, and the same motor, the damping in the shock and fork can be adjusted between open, medium and locked almost instantly.
Not only is it adjustable to rider preference across a spectrum of locked-preferred to open-preferred, but the left lever can also over-ride the system (to a pre-selected option of locked or open). I particularly like the split settings where the fork is open and the shock is in medium - this is selected quite often in the more open end end of the adjustment spectrum (where I have settled for the moment).

What's it like on the trail?
Almost invisible. Though a bit noisy. You can easily hear the adjustments happening. And the mode is reflected in the lights on top of the fork crown (they can be turned off in the settings). Mostly while you are pedalling, the suspension is locked. The instant you stop pedalling it swaps to open. If you are pedalling on bumpy trails, it will firm up rather than lock up.
Basically it is a transparent almost-always-right system that makes the plush descending bike pedal up bob-free. It is fast enough that if you get air, it is always full soft for the landing.
It doesn't transform the Slash into an XC bike, but it does make it pedal like my old Slash with the locks on fork and shock, but I can't forget to turn them off at the top because the smart system does it for me.

TL;DR: Flight Attendant is a smart system that almost always adjusts the three-way adjustments on the fork and shock across the fully open, platform and fully closed settings to the one you would pick just now if you could easily pick these settings while you ride along.

Flight Attendant doesn't make the Slash lighter, but it does make it completely bob-free.

MTB geometry evolution

While my newest bike was originally scheduled to arrive last month, and it actually arrived several months early, it was only a week or so ago that I sold off the bike it was replacing. There was not any particular "use" reason for selling the "team build" Trek Slash. Yes I have had it for a few years, but it was working great and remained tons of fun.
Rather, when I purchased it the frame reach was a full size bigger than any other bike I was riding at the time. This last generation Slash in size XL had a roughly 48 cm reach. This coming from four older bikes with roughly 45 cm reaches was a revelation. There was so much more room to move when standing up. Wow! A guy I was riding with at Whistler every year commented
I'd finally bought a bike that fit.
But the industry kept going. I bought an Ibis with a 50 cm reach, then a new hardtail with a 50 cm reach and a DH bike with a 51 cm reach. Suddenly, every time I rode the Slash, it felt too short. Many brands run 20 or 25 mm extra reach per size. That makes the 50ish cm bikes a full size bigger than the 48ish cm bike.
The new Slash came out with a 51 cm reach. That's why I ordered one, to make all my bikes feel an OK size.
The old XL Slash has a reach roughly the same as a current generation Slash in size Large.
This was driven home when a potential buyer came to try the Slash. Only around 180 cm tall, the reach looked entirely correct for him. That's nearly 15 cm shorter height than me.
He did encounter a problem in that the seat tube was too long for his leg length. I honestly thought he had a chance of it working out. My legs are short for my height. My height is in my torso. In the end, he purchased a new, shorter, dropper post and was on his way with a bigger travel bike. In the abstract, I wasn't sure if he would best fit the Large Trek or the Medium/Large size (they only offer this in-between size in some models). Looks like he's more L than M/L.
This reach increase with each generation seems good for everyone at the tall end of things. More choices and better fit are to be encouraged. But what about the shorter riders? Where a Small bike once sported a 40ish cm reach, it will now be at least 42.5 cm and possibly as much as 45 cm. That's a size or two too big for some. A couple of companies have added XS to the mix to cater to the height-challenged riders, but many have abandoned the shorter customers. Even a big company like Specialized doesn't appear to offer the Enduro in size S1. For me, the small end is important because I know a lot of average height women who like to ride - this size of bike. Hey manufacturers, let's make sure they've got something to pick from!

Fast-Rolling Rubber

As long as I have been riding a mountain bike, I have been attracted to a fast-rolling rear tyre. I am quite sensitive to the perception of rolling resistance in a bicycle, and lowering it always seems better for me.
Low rolling resistance rear tyres (LRR for the rest of this entry) can be semi-slicks. These tyres have almost zero tread in the middle (the slick part), where the majority of pedalling takes place (ie, with the bike upright). But they have some cornering knobs on the sides that only come into play when the bike is tipped over for a bend. They can be quite large (check out the Minion SS from Maxxis), but even if they are small (I’m looking at you, Thunder Burt from Schwalbe) the lack of inner knobs can make them dig in quite well.
[Incidentally, when they first came out I bought a Thunder Burt once to try. I got about 4 km into my first ride when one of those tiny cornering knobs ripped off the tyre leaving a hole behind which my sealant wouldn’t seal. Schwalbe said “no warranty” and I couldn’t reliably patch it. That’s about $20 per kilometre!]
The ones I have the most recent experience with are the Pirelli Scorpion “R” tyres (in both XC and Enduro guise). They are not really semi-slicks because the knobs in the middle, while optimised to lower rolling resistance, do provide some bite for both pedalling and braking traction. Maybe a meta-slick? I installed a Dissector on my DH bike this summer because I couldn’t find one of the aggressive tyres I have used in the past. The Dissector isn't really either of these because the middle tread knobs are quite large, but few in number. It is not a clearly defined category; it's a gradient.
When the going is fast, such as descending a steep hill, I usually want for more rear tyre. I think Sam Hill might be fine with the slightly loose feel of even a brand new LRR tyre – but I am not. There is this one particular left turn at Thredbo that can be taken quite fast. On my Slash, with the Scorpion Enduro R rear tyre, I have to dab the brake to get around without sliding. On my DH bike, with the Dissector, I do not have to. Both the tyres and the bikes are enough different to not attribute it all to the tyres, but I believe with two "front" tyres on either bike (Scorpion Enduro M on the Slash and Assegai on the DH bike) I could go even faster.
When you are playing off the chairlift and especially if you aren’t racing, does anyone really care about rolling resistance? I think I will not in future.
On my trail bike I recently replaced the Scorpion XC R tyre with a Scorpion XC H tyre. Lots of small knobs designed to grip on harder surfaces. I haven’t ridden it yet, but I expect it will hang on better than the R tyre it replaced in all situations. Probably I should have simply matched the front “M” version of the tyre and been done with it!
Great Kiwi rally driver Possum Bourne used to tell amateur rally drivers to spend their money on tyres rather than some go-fast part for their motor. No extra power is getting to the ground if your tyres are rubbish. I think this will be my approach for MTB tyres in the future – not the spending thing because a LRR tyre costs the same as a grippier one – meatier rear tyres just make the bike feel that bit more secure. When you want to get down the hill safely and quickly, the meatiest tyre is always the right choice if you aren’t earning your living on the bike.

Air suspension volume spacers

Despite the drawbacks, air suspension is what the majority of mountain bikes use. Air is light. Air can be freely adjusted with a shock pump. These two benefits alone are responsible for why air is King.
The alternative is a coil spring. Coils are very smooth, but also heavy and to change spring rate you must change the coil.
There is another difference that is neither positive nor negative in its own right, but generally means that the bike frame has to be designed around it - that is the linear nature of a coil spring versus the progressive nature of an air spring. A 100 lb/in spring requires 100 lb of weight on it to compress it one inch. A second 100 pounds of weight will compress it a second inch. This continues until all the coils are bottomed out on each other and the spring is maximally compressed. An air spring works very differently. Compress an air spring through half of its travel and you have approximately increased the spring rate by 100% (approximately because the air chamber does not reduce to zero volume at bottom out). Compress it by another half and this happens again. Every millimetre of movement in the coil spring requires the same input as every other millimetre of movement but every millimetre of movement in the air spring is unique in the amount of input required to achieve that movement.
Downhill bikes that typically use a coil spring require the rear suspension to build in a progressive linkage for the rear end to prevent bottom out on big hits. Cross country bikes that typically use an air spring may even have a falling rate in the rear linkage to prevent the spring from ramping up too much. Some coil sprung shocks have fancy hydraulic anti-bottom-out features as well.
The design in air springs has been towards make them feel more linear; more coil-like. Increased air volume can go some way towards that. But the amount of progression any rider requires to get both a good (comfortable) feeling at their sag point (ie, just riding along) and also to not bottom out too easily varies widely between a beginner and a professional (who might well be using the same shock).
Enter the air volume spacer.
If the air chamber is quite large producing a compression ratio in the chamber of around 4:1, then beginners will be well served. They will see most of their travel used under their moderate demands on the equipment. Put that same system under a competitive professional, and the suspension will bottom out often and hard enough to cause damage. They require more ramp-up at the end. The volume spacer that goes in a RockShox fork is a plastic disc that threads onto the underside of the air chamber cap. Simply remove all the air, unthread the cap, add or subtract a token (as RockShox calls them - the Fox system is nearly identical except they snap together rather than thread together) and reassemble/reinflate. By removing some volume from the air chamber (the plastic takes up some volume in the part of the chamber that is still open at full compression - clearly it can't occupy any of the volume used by the air piston in its travel) and beginning with the same air pressure as before, the end pressure increases. Typically the difference is only from around 1/2 travel to the end.
At sag (just riding along) the fork or shock behave the same regardless of volume spacers. But in a decent hit, the air pressure increases faster after half travel and increases the resistance of the suspension to bottoming out.
I had an old Fox 32 XC fork that was designed to be like a modern fork with several spacers in it. The compression ratio was in excess of 5:1. I never achieved full travel. Over two trials (the first to try an intermediate reduction) I shortened the air piston rod (which connects the sliders movement outside the fork to the air piston movement inside the air chamber) enough to take the compression ratio down to 4.3:1. At this lower compression ratio I could occasionally bottom out the fork without that happening too often (or requiring so much air pressure that it didn't sag adequately).
Now my hardtail has a Fox 34 fork with 120 mm of travel. It came with 2 spacers installed and two more in the packaging. At the other end of the travel scale, my new Slash has a Zeb fork with 170 mm of travel. It had one spacer installed and two more in the packaging. To get full travel in both of these forks, I had to run slightly more than normal sag and zero spacers. I seem to be light on the fork across all bikes. Not that I'm super fast - I acknowledge I'm only moderately quick. But I'm a big guy and weigh a lot and I do like to ride steeper trails (where more weight ends up on the front wheel). Yet I don't require any spacers.
I've written mostly about forks, and also about suspension linkages (rear end only except for the unusual few bikes out there) - but fork and shock can be freely interchanged in this theory. They both have air chambers and they both can use spacers inside them to take up some volume and lend more bottoming out resistance to the unit. The main difference is that a fork has a 1:1 relationship between wheel travel and air chamber piston travel. They are directly connected to each other. But the shock is on a linkage that compresses the shock 1/2 to 1/3 as much as the wheel moves. A 200 mm travel DH fork has 200 mm of movement between the sliders and the stanchions. A 200 mm travel rear end on a DH bike probably uses a 75 mm travel shock (almost 3:1). While this puts more stress on the shock, it is otherwise the same.
Prior to suspension companies making all these volume spacers available and designed into so many higher end products, the go-to solution was a blob of grease placed in an out of the way corner of the air chamber. So it has always been possible to increase the compression ratio. And my physical modification of the old Fox fork demonstrates the decrease was possible too - if rather more involved.
There are also several unconventional solutions on the market. Formula suspension uses closed cell foam volume spacers. As the pressure in the chamber increases, the volume of the foam spacer decreases. This limits the ramp-up at the end to less than you'd otherwise see. Good for controlling the mid-range without overwhelming the final range of travel. There are also designed-in and aftermarket solutions with negative air chambers. If the air chamber acts upon a piston with air pressure behind it, like the close cell foam, once the chamber pressure exceeds the opposing air pressure, it will move the piston and lessen the compression ratio. Several European producers of forks use this sort of system in their own forks and the MRP Ramp Control cartridge replaces your stock air cap and spacer stack with an on-the-trail adjustable volume spacer.
The take away message from this is that regardless of how your air suspension behaves it can be modified quite simply to behave differently. If you can't imagine undertaking this challenge yourself, there are shops and people who specialise in helping with just such problems.

Fork break-in observed

If you read all these stories, then you know I recently got my long-awaited new Slash. I put a Shock-Whiz on the fork before taking her to Thredbo last week. Riding every day in the bike park is a good workout for any part, especially suspension. The Shock-Whiz began telling me I was running too much air pressure and too much compression damping - especially the non-adjustable high-speed compression setting. By the end of the week, without doing anything to the fork (except ride it) the Shock-Whiz was telling me that these things were right in the centre of the range.
The difference was the wearing in of the seals with use.
I would assume not only the fork bushings and dust seals, but also all the o-ring seals in the damping cartridge all loosened up slightly, making the fork's action smoother.
This suggests that setting up a fork shouldn't be "finalised" until it has had at least 20 hours of use. I don't know if the Zeb will continue to loosen up with further use, or if it has plateaued now.
The other thing I take away from this experiment is that I am close to what the Shock-Whiz tells me without its input. I've been adjusting suspension on vehicles (cars, motorbikes and bicycles) for a long time. I learned something it seems. The Shock-Whiz did get me to add one click of LSC before it was happy.

For anyone interested in the Shock-Whiz as a tool, I can recommend it. Even if just for observations of the suspensions activity during a ride. It notes all manner of good and bad shock behaviours during a ride (packing down in the travel, deep compression events, air time is logged, pogo behaviour, etc) which assist with dialing in the correct settings. The answers it provides are NOT definitive because there are so many end goals in the set-up matrix (soft to firm suspension feel and active to planted behaviour): perfection in one set-up window can be terrible in another one.
Lots of people borrow or hire a Shock-Whiz to do set-up on one bike, but I really think the value is longer term. It teaches riders the relationship between a click on a dial and the behaviour on the trails in subtle ways that are hard to feel.
I learned that the break-in process lasts longer than I had assumed.

Scorpion Enduro

I have been using the Scorpion XC tyre for a couple of years and really like its grip and durability. When it came time to put new tyres on the Zipp wheels for the new Slash, I chose the Scorpion Enduro. The Mixed condition (M) on the front and the Rear specific (R) on the back.
These are the same choices I made for the XC tyres and seemed suited to riding wherever and whenever riding presents itself.
After a week of riding at Thredbo I can definitely say "wow". Particularly the front one, it just hangs on like Velcro. The rear wasn't quite as amazing, but it has much less tread as a trade-off to provide low rolling resistance. Low rolling resistance is good on the XC bikes. And it might be good slogging up a big mountain for an Enduro stage on the Enduro bike. But it is NOT good in a bike park when you're trying to go quickly. The rear end sliding is fine if you're Sam Hill (he seems to revel in that), but it is distracting for me sometimes.
I think two of the "M" tyres might be optimal for all around use, but the soft (S) variation is probably perfect for Thredbo where the ground is often quite soft (dust or dirt).

Pirelli and Continental getting serious about MTB tyres is one of the best developments of recent times in the mountain bike space. I frequently rave about the Scorpion tyres in their various options and I am looking forward to someone having the Continental Kryptotal in stock so I can try those.

Bar rotation

Does anyone actually agree on how a bar is meant to be set in the stem?
Riser bars have both upsweep and backsweep (as well as rise). Shapes differ, but generally the fat central portion is dead straight to play nicely with the stem clamp. Not far beyond the stem the "rise" part happens. At the end of that riser piece, the remainder of the bar is narrower and tilted both upwards and towards the rider.
But the clamp section is round. It can be rotated through 360 degrees inside the stem clamp. Only a few of those degrees make any sense, but they can make quite a difference to how the bars feel.
I observe that my chosen position is not the same as most chosen positions. I like to put the rising section such that it rises vertically and leaving the backsweep to provide the backsweep. Most people seem to install their bars rotated more backwards than this, with some of the upsweep contributing to backsweep (and some backsweep diminishing the upsweep offered).
My new Slash is up and running with the one-piece bar and stem combo that Slashes have this season. There is no bar rolling going on there and I'm super-keen to see where it sits and how it feels.
On one bike I ran a flat bar with loads of backsweep. I rotated it such that there was some upsweep and less backsweep. While that is how I believe it should be installed, the logo ended up pointed at the front wheel rather than dead ahead. Strongly suggesting I am wrong.
Within reason, there is no wrong. Only what suits. I strongly suspect most riders don't even think about rotating their bars in the stem and just take what their mechanic gave them when the bike was assembled.
I'll report back after some riding on the Slash...

Bar Width

How wide should your handlebars be?
I don't think there is a definitive answer to this.
I've seen it suggested that one’s ideal hand spacing for push-ups is also ones ideal bar width. For me then, my actual bar width is pretty close to perfect.
I moved to Vancouver when narrow bars were all the rage. I remember seeing guys riding flash (for the time) MTBs around on the road with ultra-narrow bars and thinking they had to ride offroad to justify those narrow controls. This was a time when a 58cm wide bar was normal, and the bars I am talking about where sub-50. This was all predicated from the tree spacing on the trails being built in those days - minimal tree cutting meant narrow was necessary.
There is a trail in Whistler on the edge of the village down to one of the primary schools. That trail is called "cut yer bars" and back when it was built in about 1991, it challenged people with 58cm bars to navigate the narrow-set trees. You can clearly see where an entire row of trees has been cut out to widen the way for more modern bars, but not so far as to get away from the spirit of the track. The first time I rode it I had 75cm bars and they just fit. The last time I rode it was with 82cm bars and that's considerably more challenging.
Between the 58cm bars I used when I started on a MTB and the 82cm bars I use now was a whole series of small progressions: 64, 68, 70, 72, 75 and 78 before 82cm. Each step felt better. No step felt like I'd gone too far. And before anyone tells me I'm "over barred" let me tell you I have a 2.1m wingspan. As I wrote above, I have tried push-ups at different hand widths and 82cm is perfectly fine (I can do just as many at a narrower width, but max reps at 82cm and 74cm are the same). I haven't specifically tried wider, but I think I'm at (or very close to) my perfect max.
I like the longer lever that the wider bars provide.
I've also seen many shorter people stuck with bars too wide for them. Many will be through ignorance and the fact that many bike companies specify one bar across the size range - not suitable to anyone riding a small but possibly not wide enough for those on the extra-large. I had a student recently who was clearly struggling with her bar width. She took it back to her bike shop and they shortened the bars to a much better length.
If there is a take-away message here it is that experimenting with bar width is important to find the optimum.

Ibis Ripley

Time flies when you are stuck in a pandemic. Or something.
It seems like just a few months since I got my Ripley, but it was early 2020 before the pandemic struck. That's more than 2 years. Actually going to be three soon!
The Ripley is the first bike I've had with a Dave Weagle suspension - in this case DW link. It does what the brochure says: it doesn't bob with pedalling but it responds to terrain inputs. It does lack the plush feeling that other suspension designs have, but it doesn't seem to detract from performance.
I took the Ripley up to Thredbo once. While the Flow trail in particular doesn't have gnarly terrain and doesn't seemingly require loads of travel to navigate, at speed on the 120mm travel Ripley I felt like I might get vibrated to pieces. Jumping on the Slash instead was much more comfortable. Even tame trails at speed reward more travel with a plusher ride.
But on XC trails it rips.
It jumps well.
It climbs well.
It is pretty light.
I can (just) get a bottle under the shock into the cage down there.
For me, it replaced a full XC race bike and I don't believe it is slower anywhere but it is faster in many places. Head angle is several degrees slacker than the XC bike. Seat angle is several degrees steeper than the XC bike. The 200mm dropper post gets the seat well out of the way - giving me more leg travel than I'd get with a lesser dropper post.
I am running a 60mm stem. With the reach on this bike it is perfect when standing but a bit short when seated. I think a 90mm stem would be better when used as an XC race bike. I even have the stem, but it has a 31.8mm bore for the bars while the bars on this bike are 35mm diameter. (If it were the other way I could shim it...)
Rowney Sports indicated that most of their builds use a 140mm travel fork. The default by design on the Ripley is a 130mm fork. I read in the release info on the then-new Ripley that they'd raised the bottom bracket so that people running a 120mm fork wouldn't hit their pedals and that decided it for me to run the 120mm option. With two bigger bikes at my disposal it didn't make sense to try to upfork the Ripley and stretch its use envelope towards bigger terrain. It did make sense to downfork it and push it more XC-wards.
I should probably make a separate entry for the fork as I find the same model on two of my bikes now, but suffice to say I like both the fork and how it performs on the Ripley.
I did a full protective vinyl wrap on the Slash, but I wanted a less labour-intensive option for the Ripley. I purchased a roll of wide and thick protective tape and cut three pieces for top, down and seat tubes. That has worked well as those are the parts of the frame that get the most abuse. The outside of the chainstays would benefit from more protection, but otherwise I'm content.
The tape I used is from Effetto Mariposa. It is too thick. It might provide extra protection being 1.2mm thick, but standard 3M automotive film does a great job on thousands of bike frames. That thick it is difficult to bend on compound curves and even hard to cut cleanly.
The Ripley is an enthusiastic bike; it encourages going faster and faster and has the traction and handling to back that up. With some medium weight wheels and fast rolling tyres (1500g Bontrager carbon wheels from my Slash and Pirelli Scorpion XC M & R tyres) it feels like the bike I was after: a playful but race-worthy bike.

Tyre Tech

Sometimes it seems as if there is only one school of thought in MTB tyre design...
While you might think I am going to talk about tread patterns, I'm not. Sure many tyres "look like a Minion", but that isn't what's on my mind today.
Maxxis is probably the tyre of choice in Australia (at least here on the East Coast - perhaps everywhere). They do produce a tyre for every purpose, which helps them to be popular. My main grumble about Maxxis tyres is that most (if not all) of the modern tyres (read that as anything that comes in a 29" size) have a dual compound knob on the tyre. To get chemical grip, they use a soft rubber that is capable of high grip on hard surfaces; but to get mechanical grip they form most of the knob out of a harder rubber that resists deformation under load. On day 1 this is great, but as soon as the soft rubber is worn away from the underlying support rubber, the tyre is done. Sure you can keep riding it, but it has poor chemical grip at this point (if it has any at all, that hard rubber can be pretty slick on some types of surfaces) and probably it didn't wear evenly, resulting in less than stellar mechanical grip too.
About three years ago, Pirelli entered the MTB tyre scene with a new range produced by a partner (Vittoria I believe - in Thailand) using Pirelli rubber compounds. One of the distinguishing traits of these new (XC only initially) tyres was the single compound through each knob. In a tyre like the XC-R (rear specific), the cornering knobs start out looking a bit worn, so they don't really change much through their lifespan. And they do provide very good chemical and mechanical grip.
Pirelli hired Fabian Barel, ex-World Champ at DH and renowned engineer for fast bikes on dirt, to help develop a DH tyre for Pirelli. After a couple of years of running prototypes under some fast racers, Pirelli has announced their new DH and second-generation Enduro tyres. And - queue unhappy noises from me - to get the characteristics the fast racers wanted they had to resort to dual compound knobs. Soft over hard, like Maxxis. The Enduro tyres on my Slash are single compound and have a tread pattern quite different to these new (now made in Italy by Pirelli too) MTB tyres.
I've run several sets of tyres on my Slash in the time I've had it. It came with Bontrager SE4s, front and back. At some point Trek added the SE5 to their lineup, and I've been running an SE5/SE4 combo for the last year or so. With little fanfare, Trek has introduced a revised SE tyre line, including the new SE6 (if an SE4 is like a Minion DHF, and an SE5 is like a Minion DHR2, then the SE6 is like an Assegai). One feature of the new line is soft over hard rubber to make the tyres more suited to race use in the EWS by their fastest Enduro team riders. This replaces single compound knobs (the SE tyres were softer on the outside and harder in the centre, but any individual knob was a single compound).
This probably cuts a tyres useable life in half.
If they were half the price then it would just be the inconvenience of purchasing them, mounting them and getting them sealed.
But dual compound knobs are harder, not easier, so if anything, the price of the tyres has gone up.
Now there is less incentive to reach for a Pirelli or Bontrager tyre next time I need new rubber on the rims.

Wahoo Kickr

When I'm riding inside I use a Kickr. I thought I'd briefly run through why.
My first stationary training device was a set of Belgian rollers. Three plastic drums in a steel frame were great for developing balance and spin, but not so good for strength because there is no real resistance in traditional rollers. The alternative was a wind trainer. They are very loud. Very.
After the wind trainer came the mag trainer. This was a foreshadowing of the smart trainer (as most smart trainers use electro-magnetic resistance not too dissimilar to mag trainer resistance) but definitely not smart. They weren't even as good as wind trainers, but far quieter. And quiet wins in many households. I never liked any mag trainer I tried because the flywheel was too light and there was no momentum.
And then came the smart trainer. I don't know if the Kickr was first, but it was among the early options. And it has continued to progress to keep abreast of industry developments. The latest version is #6, which offers only tiny changes from version #5 - though one is really good when you require it. When you stop pedalling it can be impossible to get back on top of the gear as the trainer tries to force you to put out the rated power, which at a low cadence is a very large load. Now it takes a few seconds to ramp up to the set load when restarting. If you never stop in mid-ride then you'd never notice.
Kickr is unique in the Headwind (a Bluetooth paired fan that speeds up based on power, velocity, heart rate or a simple manual setting). And in the Climb (a companion to the Kickr that moves the front of the bike up and down in response to slope in the virtual world. I have a Headwind and would love to have a Climb.
My Gen 1 Kickr (technically I'm minding it for a mate who wore it out with tens of thousands of kilometres and replaced it with a Tacx Neo; and I purchased the spare part to make it work again and am now keeping it safe for him by using it once a week) is not Climb compatible. The rear "axle" doesn't freely rotate in the housing to permit free rotation of the bike through simulated hill slopes.
I did a group test of smart trainers including Tacx, Elite, Wahoo, JetBlack and more. We bought the Gen 3 Kickr from the test pool for my partner's use.
The Kickr has good folding legs (stable when open, small when closed). It has a good handle. It is quiet. It is fast to respond to power changes from any controlling app. That power is consistent and stable. The Saris Hammer was also good, but just more awkward to use. The JetBlack was cool in that it generated its own power from use - no plug-in required. I don't know if the current model shares this with that older model, but this new one has become the Zwift Hub - Zwift's first foray into hardware. I guess if Wahoo can buy in two apps to go with their hardware then the app makers can buy in hardware to go with their software.
The market has progressed enough that Wahoo and Tacx both do a "bike". A hybrid between their trainer and a studio bike, they easily reconfigure in order to fit most riders. The Wahoo bike has the Climb's tilt function built in. The Tacx bike has something like the Headwind built in - with 2 fans on the bars.
Tacx also makes a mega-treadmill that is large enough to accommodate a full road bike. That one would be my choice based on the real-ness of riding on a moving belt over fully stationary trainers. But the size (big) and price (over 8000 Euros) are very unfriendly. And apparently not in Australia at all.
I have a good bike on my Kickr. Which is why I would not choose the smart bike. But would choose the Magnum treadmill. My seat. My bars. My position. And only my position.
Smart trainers open up the prospect of indoor, remote racing. Indoor, remote bunch riding. And simulated riding just about anywhere in the world. Zwift has multiple real and imaginary roads contained inside the app. RGT has "magic roads" that let you upload a GPS file and re-ride the road in a simulated environment (RGT doesn't attempt to mimic the scenery of your road, just the slope).
Virtual riding is only going to get better from here.

Slash pre-ride impressions

After 12 months of waiting, my Slash has finally arrived – early! My first observation is that paint is more complex than I expected. It is not only hue-changing paint but there are two paints. The top is dark and mostly purple.  The bottom is bright and mostly blue. Somehow they’ve been able to paint it with a “grain” so that the writing behaves exactly opposite the background in how it reacts to light. What makes one bright, makes the other dark. Very cool. I’m also sad that most of the blue paint gets covered by the chainstay protector and the downtube protector. Yes that protection is essential. But it hides the cool blueness to a great extent.
Second impression is that the new Slash is much more of a beast than the previous version (which I now have for sale). Longer, lower and slacker. The Zeb fork is much beefier than the 36. Both ends are primed for one size larger disc rotors (200/180 rather than 180/160). I ran 200/200 rotors on the old Slash and will run 200/200 on the new Slash. It ships in low position where the old Slash shipped in high position (which I never rode once).
The gearing is lower. That makes sense after my time on the other Slash as top gear is too big for most trails, but I occasionally wanted a lower gear on long climbs up a mountain. Both a smaller chainring and a larger big sprocket on the cassette means the low gear is quite a bit lower. Ten per cent lower in fact.
And finally: It still looks like a Slash. The Trek family lines are there.

3D printed saddle - part 1

Following on from the recent post about saddles, I found a Fizik Antares Versus Evo R3 Adaptive (3D printed top, metal rails) on sale. Since mid-last week I've had it on my commuter as a trial.
My first impression was that it was comfortable but after a few rides I'm less certain. I plan to give it 25 hours of ride time (19 commuting days) before I make any definitive decision.

It is obvious that the nose is soft and the back area is firm. Whether these are soft or firm
enough remains to be seen.
For what it's worth, it looks nice.
Compared to the Arione that was on there before, the Antares is essentially missing the rear 4cm. From the nose to the tail it is the same as an Arione, except the Arione has a convex rear shape and the Antares is blunt to slightly concave. I never use that portion to functionally they should be the same.

Track gearing

I recently wrote about road gearing. In the aftermath of Ganna's amazing Hour Record recently, track gearing has been a topic of conversation amongst my cycling friends. So I decided to write about that today.
English speaking cyclists tend to reckon in "gear inches". Which is an arcane measure of how big the front wheel of a Penny Farthing would be if you were riding one! Because they were direct drive, the biggest wheel that could fit between your legs was the size you used (assuming you could afford to commission a brand-new custom bike back 150 years ago). A 700C road bike wheel is roughly 27" in diameter. Of course this depends on the tyre size (a 42mm gravel tyre is MUCH bigger than a 20mm track tyre on the same rim). But this reckoning is strangely tyre independent.
I ran a "fixie" commuting bike for a while. Fixed-wheel bikes demand that you pedal as long as and as fast as you are moving. So a particularly small gear requires lots of leg speed, particularly down a longer hill. Conversely a bigger gear demands leg strength on the way up any hill. For a few weeks my gear selection on the commuter was a ridiculously small 39/17 gear combo: 61". I then tried 52/13, which is a crazy big gear: 108". It was a couple of weeks before I was able to muscle up the hill to my home, but I was happy to finally make it up there.
On a Friday afternoon about 3 km from home I decided I had had enough of commuting on a fixed-wheel bike and resolved to swap back to gears over the weekend (before going to work on Monday). The decision was taken away from me when the light turned green. As I stood to power away from the intersection, the threads on the hub holding that 13T sprocket in place sheared off for good to end my fixie fixation. I scootered home and replaced the drivetrain on the bike with gears.
There are no hills on a velodrome, but acceleration is critically important to racing success. So, a gear in the high 80s would be a typical warm-up gear. Then, a gear in the low 90s would be good for actual racing. At an event like Nationals these tend to go up a little because everyone is riding faster and is fitter, plus the good wheels come out for these occasions; allowing bigger gears. The big change in world level track racing in this century is going to bigger gears and going much faster. I remember when the team pursuit first went under 4:00 for 4000m, but now the individual pursuit has also gone under 4:00. In the 90s, Graeme Obree could often catch national teams in demo events where he raced them solo: his ability to do a sub-4:20 time put him on par with a decent team pursuit team.
For the Hour Record, Ganna used 65/14. That's about 125 inches. Much bigger than anything I've ever used, even in fun. I remember trying out different gearing for club track racing and one night I threw 108" on the bike and managed to get a gap over the field in the final scratch race of the night and no one could catch me thanks to my big gear. On the pursuit side I turned nearly identical times on everything from mid-90s inches up to 110" because the limiting factor was neither strength nor fitness; but power. A Watt is a Watt and it takes more Watts to go faster no matter how fast or slow you turn your legs over.
But if you watch the 5 minute highlight video (or the entire hour replay) for Ganna's record ride, he starts out very slowly. He's young and strong and fit but that gear is still a huge effort to get going. Ganna's speed works out to 15.75 m/s average. Or 945 m/min. Or roughly 450 wheel rpm (obviously tyre size dependent but that won't change too much regardless of what rear tyre he ran-maybe 5%). With his gearing selection that is a very comfortable 105 rpm for his legs. In contrast, on a 90" gear (50/15) that's more like 136 rpm. I can do my FTP output for an hour at 105 rpm. I can do it at 136 rpm for maybe 1 minute before something in my legs tightens up and I have to slow down.
So 125" is a huge gear, no doubt. But it is right in the sweet spot for a good track rider to pedal for 60 minutes. Which suggests if you plan to ride 57 km in 60 minutes you need an amazing combination of fitness and strength permitting use of such a monster gear choice.


Finding the right saddle for your bike is much like finding anything where fit is involved in a mass-produced good. Which is to say maybe the first one you try is close enough that you never look beyond it, or perhaps you try all you can get your hands on and still find yourself wanting something different.
Most saddles follow a tried and tested construction process. A nylon shell is covered in foam which is further covered in leather or leather-like substance. Rails can be made from many substances, most of which have little influence on the comfort level of the saddle.
The first saddle I tried that wasn’t of this variety was way back in my teen years when I got a traditional saddle – stretched leather over a metal frame. These days that pretty much means a Brooks saddle, but there were other choices back then and mine was from France rather than England. It was quite comfortable, but it left all shorts with black dye in them and it got bent when my bike tipped over and couldn’t easily be straightened. End of experiment 1.
Much more recently, Brooks released a modernised version of this same saddle in rubber and canvas instead of leather. I applied to be a tester and was granted a C17 to review. I liked it quite a lot, but it moved around too much to be a permanent addition to my bike. I’d love to try the racier version with carbon rails – both for the lighter weight and narrower dimensions as for the stiffer chassis that might all contribute to less movement. Just in the past weeks this has found its way onto my indoor bike. With no corners and no bumps the movement is a non-issue.
Fizik is an Italian saddle brand that had 3 main road saddles to suit the more flexible, the less flexible and the inflexible rider. The Arione, the more flexible option, was my go-to saddle for many years. The one drawback was that the shell had “cuts” in it to allow the shell to flex out of the way of pedalling legs for greater comfort, but the cuts eventually ran through the middle of the shell rendering it unrideable. Fizik has a gen 2 version of the Arione now, which I have 3 examples of for my 3 road bikes. It is much more durable than the original (no cuts), but also much less comfortable for me.
On the trainer, the Arione was replaced with the C17 to good effect.
The state of the art in saddles is now a 3D printed unit. The printer creates a spider-web like network of small plastic struts all joined at thousands of nodes to create the three dimensional shape of the seat. There is no padding and no cover, just the lattice of plastic struts. Specialized was first to the market with one of these, and now they have two models and two variants. Fizik came out with something similar more recently. Again they have two models and at least two variants. I was interested to read that both saddles are produced by the same American company that has unique 3D printing technology and the ability to create numerous saddle tops in a short period of time.
I really want to try one of the printed saddles. They just look like they’d be comfortable and the reports on them suggest most people like them. Unlike foam, which is the same stiffness everywhere – the 3D printed lattice can be different in stiffness anywhere across the structure to suit local conditions for a seat.
One drawback is price. There is no such thing as a cheap printed saddle. Though they have gotten markedly less expensive than they were a year ago.
MTB saddles are less demanding than road saddles because you sit for so brief a time on a mountain bike and the ground jostles you around on the seat too – effectively resetting things all the time. I bought a new trail bike two years ago and needed a saddle for it. The bike shop recommended something (Fabric brand) and leant me a demo model. I thought it was pretty good, so I bought two (one for that bike and a variation on it for a bike that required a new seat). With time I’ve realised I do not like the Fabric saddles. The flat one on the trail bike might be better on a road bike with more drop to the bars (rotating my pelvis further forwards and changing my relationship with the seat) while the more saddle shaped saddle on the long-travel bike just doesn’t work.
There are just so many “nearly” saddles. They are nearly what I want… I find it quite difficult to find the “yes” saddle. It can take 20 hours on a broken in saddle to decide if it is right, and it can take longer than that to break one in. Which means a typical demo situation is of little use except to toss out the obvious losers early. I almost hope that I get a 3D printed saddle and dislike it because it would be unthinkably expensive to put one on every bike…

Road gearing

If you begin looking at road bike gearing in the 1960s, everyone had a 144 mm spider that would accept a 42T small ring. Not surprisingly, that happened to be the standard at the time. By the late 1980s the spider has shrunken to 130 mm (135 mm for Campagnolo), with a small chainring standard of 39T (the 130 mm will accept a 38, just as the 144 mm will accept a 41 - but neither was common).
Both of these small ring sizes were usually accompanied by a 53T big ring.
By the mid-1990s, the triple chainring option (which was usually 74 mm for the granny and 110 mm for the two outer rings) was losing favour to the better shifting "compact" crank option of two rings on a 110 mm spider. Standard rings for the compact are 34T for the inner ring and 50T for the outer ring. I remember when this 16T jump taxed the ability of front derailleurs, but they have improved considerably since then.
Over the same period of time, the set of sprockets on the hub have added more choices and a bigger range. In the early 1980s most bikes had 5 sprockets on the freewheel. By the early 1990s the sprockets were now a cassette (the freewheel mechanism became part of the hub) with 7 gear choices. My 1992 road bike had the brand-new 8-spd gearing from Shimano.
Serious riders would pick their 5 options from a larger range to suit the course they were riding. A 12-16 had five one-tooth jumps for flat courses. A 12-24 had huge jumps between gears, but provided a more hill-friendly option. With 8 choices, there was far less need to swap cassettes between rides. A 12-24 with 8 sprockets has comfortably small jumps so it is suitable for both flat and hilly rides.
The low gear on that 8-spd road bike was 2:1 (42/21), a relatively high gear choice. I attended a road race in Buderim Queensland in approximately 2000. I was still on 8-spd and I brought my 12-23 cassette with me just in case the course was hilly. It was actually pretty flat except for one climb which was incredibly steep. I could barely make it up there in a 42/23! Someone from Canberra leant me their lower geared 8-spd cassette and I removed my 16T and added in the largest sprocket from their cassette just in case the state of wear was different between my chain and their cassette. I didn't want the chain to skip and I didn't have time for testing. I got terrible shifts across the gap where the 16 was meant to be and then into and out of low gear, but I managed to get over the climb multiple times in a many lap race.
This trend continued until now, all high-end road bikes have 12 sprockets on the hub. My current race bike still has a 39/53 up front, but now it has a 11-29 range at the rear. My commuting bike runs a compact up front (34/50) with the same 11-29 at the rear.
I read somewhere that most pros choose to ride most races solely in the big ring, using the wide range of modern cassettes to avoid the use of the front derailleur as much as possible. I note that the lowest gear in my big ring (53/29) is considerably lower than the lowest possible gear on my old 8-spd bike (42/21). In fact, almost 10% shorter gearing. That is why I can ride a lot of places around Canberra only in the big ring if my fitness is OK and I am going swiftly.
The lowest gear on my commuting bike is a whopping 71% lower than my old 8-spd road bike. But! The top gear is also 3% larger.
The trend has been towards smaller chainrings and more range in the sprockets (smaller = higher high gears and larger = lower low gears). Where 8-spd sprockets started at 12T (and freewheels could go down to 13T, but usually started at 14T), now all 12-spd cassettes start at 11T, except SRAM (which uses a different style of freehub) which uses a 10T high gear.
The only drawbacks to smaller sprockets are higher wear due to the fewer teeth to share the chain load and chordal action, which happens noticeably with bike chain on sprockets 14T and smaller - this phenomenon is of low importance on a bike but not of no importance (it causes vibrations and fluttering in the drivetrain).
In the days of 8-spd cassettes I was routinely able to get over 20,000 km out of one chain and cassette. Now with 12-spd cassettes, despite much better metallurgy and surface treatment, I believe my commuting bike won't make 6,000 km on a chain and cassette. Despite the 12-spd one being markedly more expensive too.
Modern stuff is super-effective and easy to ride along with being incredibly reliable, but it just can't last the way older stuff did. I have often opined that an 8-spd system made using 12-spd material science might last the life of the bike. I don't know if many would be willing to go back to 8 sprocket cassettes - I don't think I would do it.

P Zero Velo

Having had a couple of failures with the tubeless tyres on my commuting bike (holes that leaked all the sealant out instead of sealing up), and being unable to purchase the tyres I've decided to try next, I was forced to pick something from my "inventory" of spares.
On the rear of the bike I put a GP4000Sii because I've found the Conti race tyres to be quite puncture protected. Less puncture critical, I put a P Zero Velo on the front. And that is how the commuter bike has been for a few months of commuting.

Last night it was merely damp out and I suffered two punctures on the way home. The first was an unpleasant discovery when I got my bike from the bike parking at work - must have picked up some glass on the (dry) way into work. The second was about 400 metres from home. I got off and walked rather than deal with it on the side of the road.

This morning I took the bike down off the wall to have a look at the tyres. The rear tube had 2 holes in it on opposite sides of the wheel. No wonder it went down rather quickly. The rubber isn't worn through to the fabric, but there are some very thin patches and some historical holes where the fabric is visible. That's about what I expected given the two punctures in one day.
The front was interesting and unexpected. There were about 1000 small cuts in the Velo tread and perhaps 20 pieces of super-sharp glass in the tread face. I haven't had a lot of experience with these tyres but I am much more impressed now than before. Given Pirelli's history in the tyre business I can't say I'm surprised, but it is a very pleasant surprise. Some of the glass pieces were deeply imbedded in the rubber but were stopped by whatever puncture layer is in that tyre.

Which bodes well for my chosen tubeless tyre: the Pirelli Cinturato Velo. As soon as they come back into stock I will be putting a pair on my Checkpoint.

In the meantime, I have replaced both tyres on my bike with some Conti GP4 Seasons. They are a tried and true commuting option being both grippy and very puncture resistant. I borrowed them from my partner's commuting bike (she isn't using the bike - in fact it's for sale if anyone wants a small commuting bike?) and put some brand new tyres on that bike so it is still rideable.

Given the third summer of La Niña, I expect more rainy commutes to come. The GPs will do well to fill in the gap until I can go tubeless.

But, next time the race bike requires new rubber I will seriously consider the P Zero option after seeing the damage withstood by my front tyre in months of commuting.

AXS installation

I have done a few installations of Shimano’s Di2 digital shifting system, but I recently had my first experience with the SRAM version: AXS (pronounced access according to SRAM). AXS being wireless is its distinction from even the newest 12-spd version of Di2, which I’ve seen referred to as wired-less (the derailleurs are wired to a common battery while the shifters have their own power supply and communicate wirelessly with the derailleurs). AXS has one battery per unit – in the shifters it is a CR2032 button battery and in the derailleurs and seat post it is a small LiIon clip-on battery that gives a decent amount of run time (typically around a month I’m told) for frequent riders.
Being totally wireless means there are no connections whatsoever to run through or around the frame. Bolt on the derailleur(s) and set them up with the SRAM set-up tools. Attach the control mechanisms and align them for rider preference. Then pair the controller and the controlled unit (derailleur or seatpost) by clicking a button on each one. Super simple and worked first try with each pairing.
SRAM has an AXS app. I have it on my phone already because I use a Quarq power meter and it gets new firmware updates from the app. But using it for AXS was new to me. One “builds” a bike in the app and all the associated wireless devices show up there. I can see the derailleur, both controllers but not the seatpost on this particular bike. I know it can see the seatpost since I updated the firmware to the latest version on initial connection. One is meant to be able to swap shifting functions to any logic one desires – even if it makes no sense – but I couldn’t move rear derailleur functions to the seatpost commander.
Flight Attendant, the digital lockout controls over RockShox suspension also appears in the AXS app (and they use the same batteries for their power supply), permitting the Flight Attendant specific left controller to be programmed for which paddle does which function (and presumably to make a mess of things if one desires by including right paddle functions too).
By far my favourite aspect of the AXS process is fine tuning the shifting. Hold the button on the shift lever down while tapping the shift lever in the direction of required change and the derailleur moves one tiny amount in that direction. Di2 has a similar function but I always have to look up what the process is to invoke adjustment mode. With AXS there’s nothing to remember.
The owner of this bike has small hands. She sometimes is challenged to do the shift she wants towards the end of a race. AXS means no physical effort is required to effect the shift – she will be able to shift any time as desired.
Shifting seems faultless. The motor has a bit of grunt so it just moves the chain regardless of the terrain or pedalling going on at the time.
In the Reverb seatpost, it is virtually instantaneous between touching the paddle and the saddle being freed from its current position. These AXS Reverbs benefit from no hose connection either, so they can easily be removed from the frame for maintenance, flights or whatever. And when the post gets a bit squishy from air on the oil side of the floating piston, just flip the post over and insert the bleeding tool to free the air. New hydraulic Reverbs do the same, but it is hidden under the saddle clamp as the bottom side is occupied with a hydraulic fitting.
AXS is available across XX1, XO1 and GX. In GX it costs roughly the same as analogue XX1 – which is expensive but for anyone who has shifting issues with mechanical systems then the digital option is a good way to go. My own AXS-equipped MTB is now about 2 months away (if delivery date can be believed) so there will be more on AXS in a future post.

Fox Proframe

A long-term review
I've had a Proframe for several years now. It is my go-to helmet for Enduro racing and riding anything steep, except for lift serviced riding on anything but the hottest days (where I choose my Rampage Pro Carbon for its higher level of protection).
The Proframe is breezy. Everything from the open mouth port to the interior channelling in the foam contributes to a better flow of air than in the Rampage (which has filter-like foam in the mouth port and smaller internal channels for air flow).
It is light. All those holes "add up" to less mass.
It is comfortable. I have a Fox-shaped head (all my MTB helmets are now Fox) but the padding in the Proframe is good at moisture management and keeping the MIPS liner off the actual head. The weakest point is the brow pad which is very thin and takes a lot of pressure and movement from donning and doffing the helmet. The brow pads disintegrate before anything else (I have used several so far in the life of my one Proframe).
Protection seems good. Thankfully, I haven't crashed my Proframe but people I know have. One fall directly to the chin bar did break that into pieces, but it also absorbed nearly all the fall's energy leaving the faller with no facial injuries and only a couple of tiny marks. It doesn't look as solid as the Rampage chin bar for example, but it took a big impact and saved the owner.
With either a drink pack or a bottle you can drink with the helmet on - the open mouth port lets water directly into the mouth.
I try to replace my helmets roughly every 5 years because the interior generally only remains a pleasant place for my head for about that long. And so it is time for a new Proframe this coming summer. I read a story about a Pro version of the Proframe (will Fox really call it a Proframe Pro like the Rampage Carbon Pro?) but maybe I don't need more complexity and weight (and expense) when I have the Rampage too. Regardless, it will be one or the other as I'm very happy with the helmet.
I just hope Fox does some good colours and has stock when I decide to buy one.

A Crank Length Experiment

To make a long story short, I have used 180 mm cranks on my road bikes for nearly 30 years. This is becoming virtually impossible - even the new Dura Ace 12-spd lacks the 180 mm option. It's all about shorter cranks these days.
And the 177.5 mm cranks on my commuting bike cracked over a year ago. SRAM couldn't easily replace them (they were just out of warranty cover so they offered to give me a great price on replacements) because they're all about the DUB axles now and DUB doesn't fit BB90.
At this point I thought "what about 170 mm cranks?"
Why 170?
Because that is the length I have migrated to on the MTB (well, 2 of 4) for ground clearance. The remaining two MTB are the DH bike > 165 mm and the Single Speed > 175 mm. I'd like to change the SS to 170 mm as well, but basically can't be bothered.
Enter a set of loaner cranks with all the critical dimensions OK for my BB90 Trek. A 24 mm axle, a compact spider, the 170 mm length and enough offset to clear the chainstay. That they happen to be lightly used Rotor cranks is a bonus because they look good with the bike and the Record parts on the rest of the bike.

To make the swap I had to change the off-side bearing. SRAM GXP uses a 22 mm inner dimension while Shimano (and equivalents) use a 24 mm axle the entire length from left to right. In the end I put the original Trek bearings back in (the bike came with Shimano parts) on both sides. They have a thin nylon sleeve that covers the outside of the bearing and runs inside the bore to sit between the axle and bearing race. I have zero idea how durable this will prove, but maybe it will be quieter than a metal on metal system?

A side note: this bike has had a very noisy BB area from day one. The drive-side bearing doesn't seem to fit tightly enough in the bearing seat and the off-side bearing fits too tightly. So anything that makes it quieter is welcome!

The Rotor cranks might also be good in that they are not a fixed width system like Shimano cranks. Perhaps a bit of inwards pressure on the bearings will keep them quieter? Yes it might come at expense of a couple of Watts of power and early bearing failure, but I'll take it after 2 years of listening to noise from down there.

First up after installation was front shifting. It was perfect. The Rotor cranks located the two chainrings in the same place as the Red cranks before them.
Second was the test ride. I didn't have much light left, so I headed up Stromlo access road for one "effort" that would test out the system. Big ring all the way (which is so possible with compact cranks). No noise. The cranks did feel a bit short. I think I was running smaller than usual gearing to compensate.

Only time will tell if the shorter cranks become OK in a road environment. I'm also concerned about jumping back on either Madone with their 180 mm cranks. Will they feel too long?
Another side note: I haven't changed my seat height. The expected thing would be to lift the seat up by 1 cm to compensate for the 1 cm shorter crank and still achieve maximum leg extension. But that changes the top of the stroke by 2 cm. I've not been convinced for a multiple-crank-length riding cyclist that different seat heights are optimal. Many tell me I'm crazy. I always ran my track seat at the same height as my road seat. The centre of the circle of pedalling remains the same that way (concentric circles). I may also experiment with seat height as I go.

So expect me to report back in a few weeks with how radically shorter cranks are going for me. Dependent on going back to the office too, as working from home provides few demands on my commuting bike.

Flat Pedals

What makes a good flat pedal?
There are hundreds of flat pedals out there. Some brands offer many more than one option. How to pick? What to look for? What to avoid?
The more aggressive the bike and the riding that will be taking place, the more aggressive the pedal should also be. Harmony works. That means a DH bike requires a more aggressive pedal than the bike you want to ride on the neighbourhood singletrack with your kids.
Metal pedals are more difficult to damage than nylon ones, but cost more, weigh more and are still susceptible to ruin from a single rock. When mountain biking, most people don't get a chance to wear out their pedals. More likely, they are beaten into submission by continuous impact with rocks, roots and the ground.
I hit a pedal into the face of a jump when a prior incident meant I was one-footed. I didn't consider just how much the suspension compresses under the load of a jump face. I was ejected from the bike and the pedal was twisted into a new shape.
So nylon pedals can be a good choice. Loads of colours; and the colour runs through the entire pedal (so scratches don't show). A big impact will tear/fracture the nylon, but that same impact might just have bent the metal pedal out of shape anyway.
I don't like grub screw pins. Their traction isn't the best, regardless of length. They are easily damaged on the upper surface, and that makes them more difficult to remove. I'd also argue they aren't aesthetically pleasing, but that is a minor complaint.
Most bottom loading pins are a better option. The pointy end can break off or bend yet it still can be removed via the head under the pedal.
Some top loading pins are also OK. I have two pairs of old E*13 LG1+ pedals. They use top loading pins that are threaded in from the opposite side of the pedal - the Allen key runs fully through the pedal body to engage the pin. This permits a big shoulder supporting the pins against the pedal body while also making the remnants easy to remove because the threaded part is never damaged.
Pedal shape can be concave, convex or flat. And this can be further modified by the pins heights across the pedal. Long pins are more vulnerable than short pins so I'm not a fan of too-long pins. Making a flat pedal concave by long pins at the front and rear edges isn't as robust as properly concave pedal bodies.
Concave pedals make your foot feel attached to the pedal. Convex pedals force your shoe to wrap around the pedal body. Flat pedals fall in between.
Pedal size should vary with shoe size somewhat. Crank Brothers has it right with two sizes of flats to suit most adult feet. Some pedals are extra large or extra small - don't stray too far from the average without a reason.
Pedals can run on bearings, bushings or a combo of both. Bushings work pretty well, until they wear a little and then the pedal has loads of play in it. Bearings maintain their form longer than a bushing in terms of wear, but the bearing itself can wear faster than a bushing (depending on bushing type, and protection from contamination).
Bearings tend to be bigger in diameter than bushings. Many pedals have a large bearing up close to the crank arm that creates a bump on the inner edge of the pedal. This bump usually interferes with shoe placement. Beware the bump, but don't avoid completely (many great pedals have the bump).
Axles are usually steel, unless you pay a lot and get titanium. Ti can be accompanied by a magnesium pedal body. The combo is very light and very expensive - also quite fragile. Mg doesn't hold up as well as Al. Ti is 2/3 the weight of steel in the same dimensions, but not as strong. Ti axles usually have a weight limit.
The thinner the pedal body, the better it feels under foot. How thin they can be depends on the shape (convex/concave) and the bearing style (bushings tend to be smaller than ball bearings).
The Spank Oozy and Straitline AMP are very similar to each other and close to my ideal pedal. Thin with a good chamfered leading edge to not get hung up on rocks, slightly concave, enough meaty pins to make traction great while not succumbing to every rock and decent bushings without a massive lump on the inside. Straitline has given up (no more MTB products from them) while Spank has slightly redesigned the Oozy (haven't tried the new one) - but you get the idea.

Madone SLR

On the eve of the release of the newest Madone for the '22 Tour, I thought I'd put up a short review of what is my best bike ever - Madone SLR Disc.
Having been through many generations of design, the recent few have been full-on aero race bikes. This sacrifices some weight for being slick in the air. To maximise this, they use truncated air foils. Not only does this make them UCI legal, but road bike practical. The flat back of the downtube is convenient for a bottle cage, for example.
Disc brakes are something I never thought I wanted on a road bike. Sure, I've used them for years on the MTB, but rim brakes work fine on the road. And then I rode them!
As an added bonus, carbon rims don't need to be brake friendly. This makes the rim's life easier, lighter and more aero.
Mine is the first Madone with IsoSpeed. A means of pivoting the seatpost on the frame so it can move slightly in response to bumps - it takes the sting out of potholes. On the Madone it is adjustable. I have never tinkered with mine because I like how it came and thought it aligned well with the response of the non-adjustable one on the Checkpoint. So no reason to mess with it.
After 30 years of carbon frames, Trek has enough experience to make the Madone really stiff while hitting all their other targets. Never does the chain rub on the front derailleur. NEVER! The bike feels super solid.
So: the bike is aero, the brakes are good, the ride is good and it is sufficiently stiff for a big guy like me. These traits all come together most often when I hit a decent hill at speed and realise I am pushing it up the slope at crazy speeds. This much power should flex the frame. It should not go quite this fast. And such a deep-tubed frame should have a rougher ride.
Couple that with my Project One pick of metallic Emerald paint and the superb Record drivetrain and I've got a fantastic bicycle. One I love to ride. My best one ever.

Dressing for Winter

If it is really cold (or really warm) then clothing selection is quite simple. When it is not so clear-cut in temperature, or the morning and evening commutes are very different, then the clothing choice becomes difficult.
I've been failing at this a lot recently. You'd think after years of choosing clothing I could get it right...
The initial shock of leaving the building into the chill wintery air should never be accommodated because as soon as the rider warms up, they'll be greatly overdressed if they worry about being warm in those initial ten minutes. And still, you don't want to get too cold. Sometimes a starting layer pays off - something that can be unzipped or even removed early in the ride.
Chill comes from the ambient air temperature, is affected by the humidity, and then there is the wind. Even on a perfectly still day, if you ride along at 30 kmh you are in a 30 kmh wind. On days like the other day, when I was riding along at 20-something kmh into a 30-something kmh headwind, then we've got some serious chill-factor to deal with.
Thus, in winter, you almost always want to be wind-proof. The waterproof breathable fabrics are all wind-proof. But they also lead to overheating pretty quickly by the amount of warm air they retain inside. (I haven't tried Gore ShakeDry fabric, but even with its excellent breathability it still retains warm air inside and therefore could lend itself to overheating.)
Wind-proof can be a single layer. This week I have been wearing a light shell jacket over the top. It keeps the wind out, but by itself would be insufficient for adequate warmth.
Accompanying the wind-proof layer needs to be an insulating layer. In cool temps that might be a long-sleeve summer jersey. In colder temps that would be a long-sleeved winter jersey. In coldest temps that would be a winter jacket.
I have two winter jackets that are also wind-proof. They're great, but if you get warm there is nowhere to go. You can't shed the whole jacket so you're stuck with the wind-proof and insulating layers together. I stopped part-way to work this morning to lose my wind-proof layer and continue with only the insulating one. Can't do that if they're one and the same.
On coldest days you might want the winter jersey under the winter jacket, but it seldom gets that cold in Canberra for me.
Extremities can get chilled pretty fast so something for the hands and feet are important. I bought some "Lobster" gloves from Pearl Izumi many years ago. I was never able to wear them in Canberra on even the coldest mornings because it has to be below -10 for me to feel comfortable in them (I got one chance to wear them in Canada on a Christmas visit at -20, where they were perfect). Lately I wear some Campagnolo brand gloves with a high-tech fabric that is water resistant and wind-proof plus insulating. And yes, they are often too hot. I used to commute in some Castelli winter gloves that were very thin - they had the wind-proof part going on but virtually nothing in terms of insulation. And that was perfect many days. No glove lasts forever and they have worn out.
On my feet, my favourite is a set of Lycra overshoes with wind-proof material at the toes. No insulation. Simply keep the wind out. That's enough for all but the coldest rides. I have some fleecy shoe covers that are also good for most rides. Because they let wind through, they aren't so good for longer cold rides - eventually the toes get cold.
One thing that never works is thick wool socks. Cycling shoes are pretty low volume. There is no space inside for a thick sock. If you do go that route, then it cuts off circulation and your feet get cold. Guaranteed.
I also tried some GoreTex shoes. They were great for keeping the rain out (as long as you didn't let it run down your ankle, because then the shoe filled up like a plastic bag and the water couldn't go anywhere). But I didn't like the actual shoe. So they got zero use for a few years and then I gave them away.
Ears can also get cold. Mostly in the commuting department I am fine. The ride is always less than 40 minutes and my ears don't get cold on most 40-minute rides. If it is frosty out, I have a thin beanie I can wear under my helmet which keeps my ears warm. It almost always has to come off after 20 minutes. I've been using the same beanie for 25+ years. It doesn't get a lot of use so it has lasted forever. I had a wind-proof ear loop (a band that goes around the head, covering the ears in the process) but it cut off a lot of hearing and ears are important on the road. It kept my ears comfortable but affected my perception of the world around me.
Once it starts to rain, then you need a different approach. The air can't be below zero, else it would be snowing. Rain means relative warmth.
Now you want water-proof. That means a membrane fabric like GoreTex, eVent or the like. Usually the water-proof layer is close to enough by itself due to the humidity (high when it is raining) and higher temps. I've often commuted wearing water-proof pants and jacket over a long-sleeved jersey (the inside of the rain jacket sleeves can be very cold when wet) and been fine.
I bought some Fox Ranger H2O pants (fully water-proof and seam sealed). I actually bought them with British Columbia in mind - there are days when I've ridden in shorts and gotten pretty wet and then cold. But with the pandemic, I haven't been to BC in 3 years and so I've used these pants for the odd wet commute. Where they've worked well. (Not sure I could ride with actual knee pads under these quite snug and non-stretchy pants anyway.)
I occasionally consider that I have too many choices. Having cycle commuted the entire time I have lived in Canberra, I have collected several winter jackets, winter jerseys, rain coats, undershirts and tights/pants. Some days I dress too warmly. Other days I never quite feel warm enough. Yet I've seen colleagues ride in the same jacket and tights from mid-Autumn until mid-Spring and endure.
Given how much their jacket stinks by Spring, I definitely prefer to be able to launder my stuff regularly and not have to try to dry it out for the next commute. Caught in the rain last week (when it wasn't supposed to rain at all) I tossed everything I was wearing in the wash on getting home and wore something else to work the next day.
Adapting clothing to temperature takes practice and an eye to how long and how hard the ride will be. If you're too warm, back off on the pedals to generate less heat. Or, if chilly, pedal harder to generate more heat. I cruise to work at about 300W. But the human body is about 25% efficient. So I'm generating about 900W of heat. That's enough to warm a bedroom. No wonder I get hot!

A Leaky tyre

A couple of weeks ago I entered a fun enduro at Mt Stromlo. I planned to use my Enduro bike but had to swap to the Trail bike because the new rear tyre on the Slash wouldn't stay full of air for more than an hour or so. This is a quick tale of a leaky tyre and a race run on the wrong bike.
I think the tyre on the Slash rear wheel was the first tyre I had installed on that rim (about 2 years ago). I swapped wheels on this bike and - thanks to the pandemic and the purchase of a proper DH bike - the new ones haven't had as much use as I might have anticipated. When I changed the tyre I assumed the quick deflation was due to damage to the rim tape. So, I re-taped it. With no impact whatsoever.
When I eventually got around to sticking the wheel in a bucket of water, I discovered air leaking from everywhere in the entire sidewall. It was like they forgot to line the tyre with the tubeless-ready lining. It wasn't much air from any point, and there was zero sealant leaking with it, but hundreds of micro-bubble streams means a flat tyre in no time.
After several emails back and forth with the shop that sold me the tyre, they got agreement with the importer to replace it for me (as soon as I provide video evidence that I destroyed the leaky tyre).
Between the realisation that I had a still-leaking tyre before the race and the discovery of the bubbling sidewalls, I had the actual race. When I put my Trail bike together, I made a deliberate decision to make the wheels swappable for just such occasions. With the front wheel of the Slash in the fork, I took my 120mm bike to the Enduro. It was probably the faster bike on one stage, but definitely the slower bike on two stages (and I'm not sure about the fourth stage). It was really fun to try to ride as fast as possible with a little bit less bike than I desired. Perhaps the weakest link was the fairly worn semi-slick on the back. The rougher sections of the DH track were fine, if slightly slow, on the small bike.
My biggest memory of the event was going off course! I came up to an obstacle and turned left when I should have gone straight ahead over the obstacle. Left sent me to a shoulder-high vertical ledge that I rode off of fine. The safety person monitoring that road crossing came running - I guess she thought I'd gone splat. I pushed back up the hill and tried again. I don't know why I turned left... but I did. The second go was much better, and way faster with no deviations.
Overall it was a fun day and I was slower than anticipated.
In a week or so, I'll have a new tyre on the Slash and look forward to riding it while it holds air...

Northwave Revolution 2

Who thought matte finish cycling shoes were a good idea?

I have used Northwave shoes for many years. A couple of years ago they rolled out a new sole plate that wraps further up the sides of the shoe; in both the all-carbon top-of-the-line shoes and the partially-carbon mid-line shoes. The idea is greater stiffness from the no-longer-flat sole plate.
I wanted some new commuting shoes. Usually I deprecate the old race shoes to the commuting duty at the same time as I introduce a brand new shoe to racing duty and retire the old commuting shoe. In this case, there was zero wrong with the racing shoes (not a lot of that going on lately!) but I wanted a new commuter shoe.
Revolution 2 in silver is a reflective finish grey shoe with virtually zero graphics on it - it is simply a slightly reflective material with this matte finish. The texture of the matte holds dirt like crazy. So every time I ride in the rain, I need to scrub the shoe to try to clean it, and it doesn't work so it gets slightly more grubby with each wet ride. The reflectivity is disappointing as well. My current race shoes are reflective camo print. Only portions of the pattern are reflective, but they are intensely reflective. Almost painfully so if you look at your feet in the dark when a car headlamp catches part of the shoe pointed at your eyes. The Revolution however, is dimly reflective. Maybe it's the matte finish? Not likely - it just isn't as shiny as other Northwave shoes have been.
The partial-carbon sole is really a misnomer. Actually I'd call it a lie. The sole is nylon like a cheap shoe, with a flat-ish disc of carbon where the cleat attaches. Even with the 3D shape, it is not stiff like the full carbon sole on my older Northwave shoes. And it has this odd squishy feeling like it has a thick and soft insole in it that compresses with each pedal stroke, except it has my custom orthotics inside and they are solid. The squish feeling comes from the shoe, somehow.
Being nylon, they get more flexible with age. I don't know that I've noticed it over the approximately two years I have been commuting in them, but I always notice how much less stiff they are than the shoes I race in when I wear them back-to-back.
I have a high instep. That gives me a large foot volume and makes shoes like Sidi a no-go option for my feet (even the Mega series shoes don't quite fit). In Shimano I get the best fit from the wide fit option shoes. But going back to the 90s, Northwave has fit me well. The Revolution is a little low in volume for my foot and I'm at the limit of comfort.
The final unwelcome aspect of these shoes was the fact that all the bolts (like BOA, but Northwaves on SLW adjusters) that hold the dial adjusters onto the shoe were loose out of the box. They didn't seem to be any Allen key size I own. Not 1.0mm. Not 1.5mm. Finally I was able to jam a very tiny Torx driver in there and tighten them sufficiently that they haven't come loose again. I contacted Northwave Australia and they couldn't tell me what size they were - only that replacement dials came with the tool.
The new version, the
Revolution 3, differs only in that it has the new version of the SLW on the shoe. The same matte grey reflective shoe is available. I won't be buying these. In fact, even though they are not worn out yet, I want to chuck these away and start using my race shoes to commute (I found a new-old-stock pair of the same shoes in a different colourway so I have a new pair to race in when I choose to introduce them to the shoe line-up in my closet).
For a $300 shoe (3/5 the price of the pro model), I don't think a plastic sole with a disc of carbon in the middle and faux reflectivity is good enough. Stiffness index is 12 where the pro is 14, but it feels more like a 7; literally about half as stiff.
If, however, you are lighter than me, have a lower volume foot than me and generally place fewer demands on your cycling shoes than me; this could be a great shoe for you. The dual dials give precise tightening during use and I prefer the SLW to BOA that I have used on other shoes. The build quality on the shoe is excellent. They appear as though they will last well beyond 2 years of daily use. They don't hold a lot of water on wet days, though they can be slow to dry out after.

Smith Squad goggles

Traditional goggles fit the lens into the frame with several keyhole cutouts in the lens that slot up into the frame. It can be quite tedious to make them all fit in without feeling like the lens is going to fold in half.
Modern goggles all have some kind of quick install mechanism. Dragon uses a frame glued to the lens with pins that simply press fit into holes in the frame. Swapping lenses is so quick and easy. The 100% version locks the lens over the nose into a groove in the frame and then pulls the lens tight into the frame with "buckles" at the ends of the lens. Oakley has a similar latching mechanism too. The Smith Squad isn't quite a swiftly changeable as all that, but it is pretty close. The cutouts in the lens are few and large, and the ends of the lenses have hooks that drop into slots in the frame. It occasionally feels like the hooks might break off, but so far, so good in that regard.
The squad is unique in being a MTB specific goggle. Everything else is either a modified (or actual) MX goggle or a modified snow goggle. Thus where the MX goggles have foam over the vents to keep out the roost and dust, the Squad has open venting that allows much more airflow and therefore much less chance of fogging up. Really, to fog up a Squad lens requires stopping completely and standing around. The lack of foam is rarely irritating - small bugs can fly in for example, but is more often a good thing.
Smith's fancy coloured lenses are called ChromaPop. The lenses in these new-school goggles and glasses filter out the frequencies of light that cross-over between any two colour receptors in the human eye. By eliminating them, there is no confusion as to which sensors got stimulated. They can make colours look unnatural, but they do add depth perception and texture comprehension from this elimination of select frequencies of light. Within the ChromaPop label, there are numerous lighter and darker choices. I have two: a medium-dark rose tinted lens and a dark green tinted lens that cover most light conditions short of stormy or dark (which is when the clear lens included with the goggles works best).
They are good for picking out trail details.
They are easy on the eyes.

The rest of the goggle is good too. The foam rests lightly on the face. The strap is sticky enough to not move on the helmet. The lack of foam in the vents plays well with my contact lens wearing habits 99% of the time.
They are a touch small for my XL helmet-wearing self. That should be taken care of by the newer Squad XL option (which admittedly does me no good at all…).
ChromaPop options range from 12% transmission down to 65% transmission; plus clear which has 89% transmission. That covers most contingencies.

Really, goggles are about 2 things: do they fit and can you see?
These are comfortable and fit well in helmets with their slightly smaller sizing; taking care of point 1.
The moulded lenses (they aren't flat when removed from the frame) are usually higher optical quality than the flat ones and the ChromaPop colouring does highlight trail features well; taking care of point 2.

Highly rated in other words.

DMR MotoX pins

I bought a pair of E*13 LG1+ pedals. They were unique in that they used what was effectively their bashguard plastic on both sides of the pedal, sandwiching the aluminium core, to provide the advantages of plastic pedals (sliding over rocks instead of gripping) with the advantages of metal pedals (solid and long lasting bearings) in a renewable package (the plastic pieces were not expensive). I liked the grip so much I bought a second set.
And as with so many things, E*13 discontinued them almost immediately.
The weak point of the pedals was the pins. They were extremely grippy, but they sheared off at the base if you looked at them wrong. In a place like Whistler one of my daily maintenance duties was to replace all the missing pins ready for tomorrow. This was only possible because I purchased a large quantity of pins before they vanished forever.
I still like the pedals, but I was running out of pins. I stole the pins from one pair to service the other pair. The pins hold the plastic plate onto the metal piece, so any thread-in-from-the-bottom standard pins wouldn't cut it on these pedals - although the thread turned out to be one that many pedals use for the pins. Then I found the DMR pins.
The Vault pedal looks like a good pedal, but one of its best traits is how many options DMR provides. It comes with thread in from the bottom bolts as pins. And it has completely different options as well. One is a longer length of the OE bolts. The Mg pedals have shouldered bolts for better support of the delicate magnesium pedal body.
Finally there are the MotoX pins. These are some serious pins. They thread in from the top and have a shoulder - perfect for the E*13 pedals I own. The pin part is a tapered cone with a hole in it, providing a lot of biting edge into the shoe. They seem to be hard on the shoe sole, but not as hard as the E*13 pins were. I wouldn't want to run either of these up my shins!
One set of these for my DH pedals freed up enough pins to get the second set back in action for my trail bike. I have only lost one in almost two years of using the pedals on the DH bike and I think that one rattled loose (because I found several other were only finger tight when I noticed one had vanished).

If you have some flat pedals with M4 threaded pin holes, definitely give these some consideration if you need new pins. They insert from the top with an included spanner so they will work with most pedals if the thread is correct.

Garmin Fenix

My Fenix is the middle-sized one, but when I got it that was the only one (47mm). Garmin released a smaller version (S) and more recently a larger version (X) that are mostly just cosmetically different (though the X tends to have a few features the S and regular do not share).
While mine is several generations old - exactly how many is less straightforward than you might think since Garmin can't count each generation with a new number - my observations apply to all the Fenix series watches. The watch is slate grey and it came with a black band. The metal ring (which acts as, or protects, the GPS antenna) is the part anodised slate grey. It scratches moderately easily. I first purchased a genuine Garmin green silicone band for a bit of colour, but the band broke very quickly. I then bought three off-brand silicone bands (green, blue and yellow) and despite their low price, they have outlasted the Garmin band by years.
I find the watch vibrates a lot during mountain biking. Enough that by the third day of lift-served descending, my wrist could have a hole in it where the watch rubs on the skin. Doing the band up a notch tighter does help, but it also can make it feel too tight. In fact, it vibrates enough that on several occasions the main button has been pushed causing the watch to stop recording. Reverting the watch to watch mode protects the recording function because the button would have to get pushed twice to achieve stop.
Someone I know recently purchased an X-sized Garmin. It is only 4mm wider, but it looks so much larger than the regular one. He told me that his new watch moves around on his wrist less than his old, regular-sized watch. That was enough of an endorsement to make me consider buying an X.

I always use the Fenix in dual mode - where it uses both GPS and Glonass satellites. On road this isn't so important. Off road this is much better for accuracy. It gives a small hit on the battery life but I seldom get close to running the watch down in use.
While I read lots of stories online about the Fenix series not holding power meters well, I have used mine with at least 2 different power meters without encountering any dropouts in connectivity.
I once had an issue where the watch froze. I sent it back to the dealer and they got in touch with Garmin (or sent the watch back to them, I'm not clear on this part). All it needed was for me to upload all the files in the watch to Garmin Connect and then delete the lot from the watch. It was just a memory issue. It hasn't recurred in the years since. Weird.

With the recent release of the Fenix 7, there was also an Epix 2. The Epix only comes in the middle size like I have now. The difference for the Epix is the OLED screen. It is considerably brighter and more colourful than the Fenix passive screen, it offers more pixel density - it just looks better. Unfortunately there is no Epix X (or I'd probably have one already).

In many ways the Fenix line function like an Edge bar-top computer for the wrist. That is good, because the Edge line are well done.
Even better, the Fenix is not in the "sporting" line of Garmin products, but in the "outdoor" line. No lives depend on the sporting, so the firmware is usually released before it is 100% right. The outdoor line is considered essential survival gear, so the firmware rarely goes wrong (either early in the lifecycle or at any subsequent point).
Both the beeping and the buzzing could be more attention grabbing during a ride - it is easy to miss them on the bike most of the time.

I reviewed a much less expensive Garmin when mine was very new. That model would identify sporting activities as they started and record them just in case you wanted to record that sport. The Fenix doesn't do that. I got to work and it suggested I had just been on a bike ride, would I like to save that activity? Pretty clever.

It is almost impossible to read the screen with the watch hand on the bars. If you really want to read it, it could go around the bars and point up towards rider's face. But that gets the heart rate module off the wrist where it can function. Yes, I usually use the HR chest strap for greater precision in HR, but putting the watch on the bars is a slow task and prevents any use of the HR module.

After 6 years of using the Fenix and 7 years of using my Edge bar-top GPS, both could probably use a refresh/update as the battery doesn't have the original run time any more. I am seriously considering foregoing a new wearable GPS and going with only a bar-mounted one. A lot of expense goes into squashing everything into a watch-sized device. The Fenix 7 I prefer is about 3x the price of the Edge 530 I also prefer.

There are some options that the Fenix gives that an Edge lacks. I run DH ski mode for lift-served cycling which gives me run-by-run data and a count of how many runs were done (and then in Strava I swap it back to cycling and it reinterprets the data in that light). I also use the Fenix for walking and the like - I could skip all that for a new Edge, but I might miss it. While the old Edge and old Fenix continue to function pretty well, I can keep thinking about my future needs.
Incidentally, I have had opportunity to use quite a few other GPS brands, from a Suunto watch to Wahoo, Bryton and Xplova bar-top units. Each has appealing aspects, from being less expensive to more customisable. I don't think I'll go away from Garmin any time soon.

DHaRCO MTB pants

About eight years ago I ran across this new women's mountain bike clothing company - DHaRCO. (I don't know why the unusual capitalisation is used.)
I bought some for my partner. Good colours, good fabrics - nice clothing.

Fast forward to the 20's and DHaRCO has added clothing for men and kids to the line. In fact, every trip to Thredbo is like a visit to the DHaRCO fashion parade. It seems like every second rider is wearing their kit.
I have several pieces of the clothing now, but it is the pants I'm writing about today.

The fabric is quite heavy. It stretches making it very comfortable to wear, but this fabric makes the pants quite warm. I've been wearing them for my Wednesday morning skills classes because it has been chilly in the mornings the past couple of weeks. Warm is great when apparent temperature is about 3 degrees, but when it is perfect summer weather these pants are far too warm.
The cut of them is also a bit "skinny". I've been racing a bike since I was a kid. I have larger leg muscles. I also have a small waist. To get pants that fit my legs (even the knee pad space) required sending back my first pair and going with a 38" waist (at least 2 sizes too big for my actual waist). There is a velcro and elastic sizer on each side of the waist band to pull them in snug, but it would be so much better if they were more "cyclist" shaped.
The pockets are good. One just below the waist band at the back is small and quite well protected (unless you do a full flat-back crash landing). The left one is on the thigh with a diagonal zip opening and where I keep my lift pass when at the bike park. The right pocket is a vertical zip and a good place for a phone if you carry one when riding.

After a couple of seasons of any colour you want as long as it's black, the pants now come in a rainbow assortment of shades from leopard spots to plain white (please don't use white in the mud). I'm hoping they can make a lighter weight version and maybe even a different fit as they increase the range of their offerings.

Despite their not being quite perfect for me, I have worn them a lot this year at Thredbo in particular - epecially the blue pair as I really like the colour. I love at the end of the day being able to peel off the pants and having clean legs inside - no dusty gap between sock and kneepad. And even the pads remain clean.

If you've never tried riding in pants, consider giving it a try. If I had pants on at Buller that day a few years ago, the rock that split my shin skin open probably would have left only a small bruise. Pants are now the de facto uniform for UCI DH racing. It was only a few years ago that everyone had shorts on, but now it is pants, pants, pants.

Quarq DZero

For two years now I have had a Quarq power meter on my XC bike. Prior to that I had a Stages power meter on the previous bike (sold about 2 years ago when the new bike was coming together). So this isn't a story about what it's like to have a power meter, rather how have I gotten along with the Quarq.
As one might expect with a product owned by a major player in bike parts (SRAM in this case) the Quarq feels like a quality product right down to the battery case being easily accessible and robust (neither of which were true for the Stages). I purchased the cranks and the power meter/spider as separate units and assembled them myself. While SRAM cranks have a robust 3-bolt attachment mechanism (and you can put a Power2Max spider on those arms) the Quarq version relies on an 8-bolt interface to really hold the two pieces together.
The battery lasts a long time. I replaced one last month and that is the first battery in my service records for the bike (making it likely but not definite that this was the first battery). The meter doesn't require much user input - zero is reset autmatically and it is self-calibrating as well; basically get on and pedal.
The absolute numbers are nearly identical to those from the Stages, but I do get a left:right report that the Stages one-sided meter cannot provide. I am slightly right heavy if you're interested; usually 48:52.

Using power is great if you want to keep track of TSS (training stress score) because weekly TSS is the actual figure that should be slowly incremented throughout the training cycle rather than hours or miles or any other proxy for what we really want to measure - fatigue. And TSS is a direct measure of the effort leading to fatigue. At least on the bike.

When I have failed in a race, bonking before the end, I can look at the effort levels that went into hitting that threshold and work on increasing them.

Because cadence is an essential component of power, the Quarq reports cadence to the head unit without any sensor or external magnet for reference. Pretty clever.

Power readings are very stable, independent of bumps or anything that might spike the power momentarily in other meters I have used.

I have an upper chain guide on my bike after having the chain fall off and cost me first place in a race on the older XC bike (it had a narrow-wide chainring that did a pretty good job of keeping the chain on, but a chain guide is insurance against that happening). Quarq makes the spider thicker than normal and the bottom bracket area of my bike is a very busy place with the solid Quarq spider hiding the ISCG tabs and the upper guide behind it. The crank axle bends just enough to close the sub-millimetre gap between the back of the meter and the bolt head holding on the upper guide. There is some light scratching on the Quarq as a result - but it doesn't look anything but cosmetic. Despite years of progress in chain guides (they used to require luck, a drill, a hammer and lots of washers and options to install one on a DH bike - now most bikes fit them quite simply) they still cause issues with other equipment a lot of the time.

I did propose a power-based experiment for an article to Mountain Biking Australia before they closed their doors, but it never got editorial approval and importer backing to get me all the bits I needed to get it running. That's a bit sad because part of my reason for purchase was knowing I could use it for research. Still, I'm always learning about my own legs and what separates a hard race from a very hard race, or an easy ride from a moderate ride. All good things to learn. One of the final articles I wrote for MBA, in fact, was the review of the bike with the power meter on it.

I'd have Zero hesitation (pun intended) putting a DZero on another bike. They're great power meters.

Canyon Sender CFR

For 2021, Canyon released an all-new Sender. All models and sizes get a 29" front wheel with the rear wheel size dictated by the frame size. Small and Medium get a "Mullet" with a 650B rear wheel, while Large and XL get two wheels the same size.

The shock linkage looks superficially the same as on the previous generation, but the shock now links to the downtube rather than the top tube - bringing the weight lower in the frame.

Frame dimensions went longer, lower and slacker. I chose the Sender as one of perhaps 3 DH bikes that had a 50+cm reach. The other two were the Commencal Supreme and the YT Tues.

The bike was offered in two specs - the more expensive version used Rock Shox suspension and the XO1 DH group. As I was really after an air sprung bike, and the Super Deluxe shock and Boxxer forks were exactly that, this was my bike.

Neither colour scheme inspired me. Either a red and white option I didn't care for, or boring black. I knew I'd do something to it from new - and adding the blue and white hibiscus pattern was the choice I made (thanks to Peter at Bunnyhop bike wraps for making a custom kit to suit my Sender).

I modified only a couple of components from the OEM spec. I added my used E*13 LG1+ DH pedals (with really grippy DMR pins), I swapped the front DHRII for an Assegai putting CushCore inside both tyres while I was at it (and Stan's sealant) and I added 220mm rotors to both wheels. I decided to run the rear wheel in the longer wheelbase position to better balance the long front centre and don't plan to try the shorter position anytime soon.

It wasn't 100% perfect out of the box. Canyon sent it to me without the stem bolts and the Australian office didn't seem willing to source the four bolts for me. The chain guide rubbed on the chain stay - unforgivable if you ask me. But these things were easily remedied.

Canyon designed the Sender to have an adjustable reach. The headset bearings fit in cups that fit into the frame. As shipped, it comes with cups that have the bearing seat centred in the cup. It also ships with an offset cup that moves the bearings either +8 or -8 mm from the standard position. What they don't tell you is that you may not use the shorter position with Boxxer forks. I would be so angry if I needed the shorter reach and purchased the bike only to find out I couldn't do that unless I had Fox forks.

It was a few years since I sold my 26" wheel DH bike. I didn't know what I'd think of the very long, big wheeled Sender. I shouldn't have been worried as it felt right from the first ride. In fact, the Sender feels the most right of any bike I've ever ridden. I can't put my finger on it - it isn't the longest reach bike nor the most extreme in any dimension. It simply goes where you want and does everything effortlessly while inducing a big grin and generating easy speed.

I pedalled it down the hill from my house to Mt Stromlo. Then I hit the little jumps line on Evolution. As expected, I could run the full trail without touching the brakes (which gave me the confidence to do the same thing on the trail bike). It jumps with confidence-inspiring stability and predictability. Going back up the hill to get the Sender home was less fun, but I didn't have to walk at any point so it was OK.

I feel like there is so much more speed and capability in the bike than I'm an extracting. But even at my pace it is big fun. I really love the Sender.

With the length, it won't fit in my Evoc bike bag. I'll have to buy a new one before I go on a plane with the bike. The Albek bag looks like a good copy of the Evoc, with some marked changes to accommodate modern long frames. Looks like it might be 2+ years old before I get a chance to go anywhere further than Thredbo with it.
I've had around 20 days at Thredbo over the last 2 seasons and around 16 days have been with the Sender. It is so much more comfortable on the chatter at Thredbo that I might not take the trail bike back there again. I can (only) just get up the little climb on the Upper All Mountain trail with the DH bike - it would actually be easy if the gearing was lower. XO1 DH has only 7 gearing choices and they are all pretty high options (it is meant for DH racing after all).
Thredbo bike carrying is decidedly NOT set up for bikes as long as this one. On the Gunbarrel chair, where you hang your bike on a hook on the outside of the chair and then sit down and self-retrieve at the top, someone (sometimes the lifty does it for me) has to walk the bike to the end of the concrete pad so it doesn't get caught (and damaged). On the Merritt's Gondola, it hangs so low that the rear wheel doesn't sit in between the sway control arms. Were it to sway, the arms would damage rear wheel spokes. We watched it get pushed by the gondola guidance system entering the middle and top stations, which isn't much of a deal if the bike is in the rear position, but one could imagine a problem occurring if it was in the front position. On the Kosciusko Chair, there are two bike carriers on the rear of each seat. These are easy to use, but once my bike was dumped from the carrier as it entered the summit station. After a long talk with the Lift Services Manager I learned that they can't move the bikes upwards very much at all before they start to interfere with operating clearances for that Doplmeyer Chair; that only a handful of bikes per season fall out; that they lost a lot of 29ers the first season 29ers started showing up (they had to change the tilt of the bike rack on each chair to remedy that) and that Gunbarrel will be getting a higher capacity option next summer. Tilting the bike to the outside of the chair gets the rear wheel away from the concrete pad at the summit station and is my new mode of operating for the ride up. I hope it never falls out of any lift ever again.

Long, low & slack

Every mountain bike from the mighty downhill bike to the humble hardtail is getting longer (wheelbase and reach), lower (bottom bracket height) and slacker (head tube angle) with each generation. This is fantastic for a big guy like me.
Ten years ago, I was riding bikes with a 45cm reach (size XL). There were few exceptions that were markedly longer, and they were seen as freaks.
My five year old Trek Slash was a full size larger, with a 48cm reach (again, size XL). Comments were offered that it finally looked like I had a bike that fit me.
But now it seems too small. All three of my newer MTB are another size larger again than the Slash. It is fine if I ride it a few times in a row but as soon as I jump on it from any of the other bikes, it feels too short.
In 2021, I ordered the new model Slash. It is another full size larger again than the one I'm riding today. If the bike industry wasn't currently a disaster of supply and demand, I'd have had my new Slash since December. Instead my delivery date is early February.

So tall guys are finally getting bikes that fit.

But on the shorter end of things, bikes are also growing and I think they're growing away from the shorter riders who were well served with the old-school bikes. An average woman who was well fitted on a size Small with a 40cm reach will now find most bikes that size with a 42 or even a 43cm reach. That's a full size larger - effectively a Medium - and too long for those short of arm and torso.
Really what should have happened is the Small remained suitably small with larger sizes added on top. The problem with that is making 6 or 7 sizes of bikes instead of 4. No profits in that. When something like 5% of a typical bike is sold in size XL, spreading those few sales across multiple sizes is never going to work.