New Tires: Veloflex Corsa vs. Michelin Pro4

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SpikeI made the mistake a while back of realizing that I hadn’t had a flat tire in a long time.  Sure enough two days later I ended up pick up this spike.  Now, nothing was going to stop that.  But over the next couple weeks I kept flatting, and if I was honest with myself, that back tire was looking a bit squared off.  It’s definitely summer now, so time for new tires.

I had been using 25mm Michelin Pro4 Service Course tires, which were an amazing switch from the 23mm Hutchinson’s I had been using before.  The Michelin’s run big, and measured 28.5mm when mounted on 23mm rims.  These were great tires, but I felt like trying something different, mostly just because.   I also wanted to see if higher TPI tires really were more comfortable, or if it was as big of a scam as high thread count sheets.  So I ordered a pair of Veloflex Corsas, also in 25mm.  These tires are supposedly hand made in Italy by just a few people who left Vittoria after they moved production overseas.  The main selling points for me were the 320TPI casing, available in 25mm size, and no gaudy graphics. A nice bonus was low weight (405g each), although who knows if that makes a difference.

Veloflex corsaThe first thing I noticed about these tires is that they are tight!  The instructions say not to use any tools when mounting, but there was no way I was going to get this thing on without a tire lever.  I actually mounted both tires without tubes and let them stretch out overnight.  This seemed to help a little bit (in that I could actually fit tubes in the next day). Once filled to about 90psi and left to sit overnight, it was clear that no matter how much these stretch over the coming weeks, they were going to be smaller than the Michelins.  After a few days, they still measured right at 25mm on rims with a 18mm inner width.

I now have about 250 miles on these tires, so really just enough time to get some first impressions.  I would say that they don’t absorb the large bumps (potholes, thanks Boston!) as well as the larger volume Michelins.  They do seem to smooth things out a bit better on finer imperfections (chip-seal roads, thanks suburbs!).  Grip is simliar – maybe a bit better when things are slick, but given that it’s mid summer I haven’t had the opportunity to try them in real rain yet.

All in all I’d say this was a lateral move.  Different, not necessarily better.  But also not necessarily worse.  Probably depends on your road surface. I’d bet that a 28mm high TPI tire would best the Michelin Pro4 since they would be closer in size.  Sadly 25mm is the biggest clincher that Veloflex makes (they do have a 27mm tubular).  Maybe when these wear out I’ll give the 27mm Challenge Paris-Roubaix or Vittoria Open Pave a try.

Route Review: Haystack

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Haystack routeIt’s rare for me to get a weekend off, and when I do family time takes priority.  As a result, good rides tend to get saved for the occasional weekday when I can find a free block of time.  In mid-June I had some unstructured time at work, and I decided to pay myself back for all those weekends with a trip out to the Haystack observatory.

I hadn’t made this ride partly because it starts in Lexington and then heads west, so the mileage from home is a bit more than my free time (or my legs) can tolerate.  Fortunately there is a nice public parking lot in Lexington center that is only $2 for the day, so I opted to drive out to the start and go from there.

Haystackhe route I made is based on Pamela Blaylock’s permanent, the Haystack Century, shortened a bit for time (and again, for my legs).  I ended up with a total of 50 miles and about 2600 feet of climbing.  The ride ended up being just about perfect – nice quiet roads on the way out and a short break about 10 miles in along a wide open bike path (no dodging joggers and dogs).  The observatory itself is a site to see, although the climb up was a bit less than I was expecting.

The best part may have been on the ride back, though.  The roads through Great Brook Farm State Park were smooth, empty of traffic, and beautifully shaded, which was welcome on one of the first hot days of the year.  I’ll definitely do this one again, and maybe tack on the extra 17 miles to make it a real metric century.

 

Budget SRAM 1x

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SRAM yesterday announced an expansion of their 1x offerings, now ostensibly for “road” bikes as they’ve dropped the CX from Force CX1 and added Rival 1 at a lower price point.  While more options is (probably) a good thing, there has always been a way to do this on a budget.  I recently switched my commuting bike from single speed to 1×10, and it was a relatively easy change.

I guess the first question is why?  I’ve started increasing my range of errand-running on this bike, and I feel like some gears will give me more options.  Since this is also my fat tire bike, it also opens up the opportunity to try out some trail riding.  I opted for 1×10 rather than 2×10 because I like the idea of being able to more easily swap back to a single speed, especially during the winter time when salt and muck covers everything and a simpler drive train is easier to keep clean.

Wolf Tooth chainringI had been planning this move from when I first built this bike, so I already had the first important element, a special “narrow-wide” chainring from Wolf Tooth Components.  The idea is that the alternating narrow and wide teeth help prevent the chain from jumping off the chainring when the chainline is at the extremes of the cassette.  This is the same thing SRAM uses in their 1x rings (although at higher cost).  There are other aftermarket options, notably Race Face, but I liked the simple look of the Wolf Tooth better, and being from Iowa I thought it made sense to support the Minnesota-based company.  The chainring can be mounted on either the inner or outer position on the crank.  I had originally placed it on the outer and just adjusted the spacers to get straight chainline with a single cog.  Now that I have a whole cassette back there, the outer position gives a bit more cross-chaining at the bottom of the cassette, but I’m spending most of my time in the first few cogs anyway, so it hasn’t been a big deal.

20150321-D7K_2644In addition to the different chainring, the commercial 1x groups all use a rear derailleur with a clutch.  This basically just means that there is a spring that maintains tension on the chain, also with the goal of avoiding dropped chains.  While until yesterday the only “road” option was the Force CX1 at about $250, the nice thing about SRAM is that their moutain and road derailleurs are compatible.  This meant that I could get a mountain X7 Type 2 (type 2 = clutch) that would work with either road or mountain shifters.  It also means that there is a 10-speed option, which I needed because I have 10-speed wheels.  The other advantage of the mountain derailleur is that it allows for a wider range cassette than traditional road models.  I went with 11-36, which when combined with a 42t chainring gives me just about as much gear range as my road bike with 50-34 chainrings and a 12-27 cassette.

20150321-D7K_2646The final step was shifters.  While I had originally put this together as a flat bar bike, I found that I really didn’t like that as much as a drop bar.  So I took this opportunity to swap that over as well.  Since I put on short-pull mini-V brakes when first building the bike, there was no need for a change there. For shifters, I found a set of new-old-stock 10-speed Rival brake/shift levers on Ebay (you can pretty much only find the 11-speed version at retail now).  I then used the instructions at CX Magazine to remove the left side shift mechanism.  While those instructions recommend that you first remove the brake lever, I found it basically impossible to get the pin holding the lever in place out.  Instead I used a small allen key with a right angle bend to push the pin holding the shifting mechanism out of place without removing the brake lever.  This seems vague, but look at the photos in the link and it should make sense.  You can get a matching brake-only lever from SRAM, but I found that since I was looking at the older 10-speed model it was cheaper to just buy the set of shifters rather than a single shifter and single brake lever.  The end result is pretty clean, and you wouldn’t know it was modified in any way.

When all is said and done, I find the bike so much more fun to ride.  Partly because I just feel more comfortable on a drop bar, but partly because the gears make it easier to spin up hills and to pedal down the ones I was spinning out on before.  I’m finding that I definitely ride a bit faster, and take a bit longer detours on my commutes with the new setup.  This was also my first time ever using SRAM shifters, having only tried shimano before.  The double-tap system is easy to adjust to – a short click to upshift and a long “double-click” to downshift.  I would say that my Shimano feels a bit smoother, but SRAM seems to shift a bit quicker.  On Shimano its more of a “click, then smoothly shift” and on SRAM the click and shift happen simultaneously.  I also like the adjustable reach to the brake levers, which isn’t an option on the older Shimano Ultegra on my road bike.  I never noticed before that I had to stretch my fingers a bit to grab the brakes on the road bike, and now when I switch back to that one it bothers me.  Overall, I’d say this has been a very positive change and I think it will make me choose this bike that much more often.

Errandonnee 2015

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I had come across the site Chasing Mailboxes when I saw a reference to “Coffeeneuring” at some point last year.  I happened upon it again recently, just before the start of this years “Errandonnee” challenge.

The idea is that over 12 days you do 12 errands by bike, traveling at least 30 miles.  There are a set of rules however, which require you to spread the errand around through a bunch of categories.  Along the way you Instagram your errands and fill out a control card, in hopes of completing the challenge.

So I tried it.  I rode every day, for a total of about 75 miles (if you count my non-errand fun ride around the Fells, although I guess I did buy a fender on the way home and stop at the coffee shop for lunch).  Where I fell flat was on the types of errands.  For the first few days I was working nights, and I just don’t have the energy after being up all night to do anything extra, especially when I have to be back 8 hours later.  Really though, I had I hard time getting variety because I just don’t do that many errands.  I ended up with only 7 qualifying errands in 4 categories.

Processed with VSCOcam with c3 presetIt was an opportunity to try new things though.  My car had been iced in by the record Boston snowfall, so for the first time I biked down to the South Bay shopping center for a Target trip.  This was a mistake – definitely a route designed for cars above all else.  I also carried some doughnuts in my pannier, only squishing them a bit.  I visited my usual favorites Render Coffee and El Pelon Taqueria, because coffee and burritos are the best reward for cycling.

Even if I didn’t do everything, I think this was a worthwhile challenge.  Reminded me just how little I really do need a car and how much more comfortable I’ve become getting around only by bike.

Route Review: Fells

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FellsNeeding to mix up my rides out of downtown Boston, I mapped out a new route heading up through Cambridge and around the Fells.  This is supposed to stay on roads and not enter the Fells itself, so is doable on a road bike.  At 25ish miles, it’s another good quick ride if you don’t have all day.

The route heads up through Cambridge on smaller side streets to avoid most traffic.  It’s a typical urban ride until you turn onto the Mystic Valley Parkway at mile 8.  This is a scenic route along the Mystic River and Mystic lake leading up to the Fells.  There is a normally nice wide shoulder, but when I last went there was still much of Boston’s record breaking snow on the ground.  Fortunately, there wasn’t too much car traffic so it was doable despite the narrower road.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 presetThe first time I tried this route I mapped it out to take South Border road along the west side of the Fells.  Turns out this is not so much a road and actually a trail.  I gave it a shot, but wet leaves and mud were too much for my 25mm slick tires, so I remapped it to take a left directly onto Highland Ave.

The loop around the Fells is similarly scenic with a wide shoulder for biking.  Like most rides within 30 miles of Boston, it’s pretty flat, but to be honest it’s all I needed this early in the year.

Thanks to melting snow I came back soaked, and stopped off Back Bay Bikes on the way home to pick up a seatpost-mounted fender for my road bike.  Hopefully that will keep me warmer next time.

Tour of Sufferlandria

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ToSI’ve written before about how the Sufferfest videos provide good motivation when stuck inside during the winter.  With a new baby this year I haven’t been riding as much as I hoped, and definitely haven’t been spending time on the trainer.  As luck would have it, I had a light week of work at the end of January, which happened to coincide with this year’s Tour of Sufferlandria.  This is an event where there is a prescribed sequence of Sufferfest videos, one or more each day for a week.  The purpose is to raise money for the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s research.  The Sufferfest puts together prizes, and for each $10 you donate to the Phinney Foundation you get a chance to win.

As a neurologist, and as someone with several family members with Parkinson’s, this seemed like a better excuse than usual to ride my bike.  This year’s lineup of videos was as follows:

  • Jan 24: Elements of Style + The Long Scream
  • Jan 25: Blender
  • Jan 26: Fight Club
  • Jan 27: Nine Hammers
  • Jan 28: Angels
  • Jan 29: Local Hero
  • Jan 30: The Rookie
  • Jan 31: Revolver + Violator + Half is Easy
  • Feb 1: ISLAGIATT

I was a bit worried about being able to handle all this since I’d been riding much less, but it turns out that even just commuting every day has left me in better shape than I thought.  I was able to manage all of these pretty well until hitting the three video stage on Jan 31.  You definitley don’t move around much while on the trainer compared to the actual road, and I was definitely numb by the end of that one.  Getting back on the bike for two more hours the following day was difficult to bear, but I managed to see it through.

Of the videos, my new favorite is The Rookie, which features on-bike footage from the Giant-Shimano and the updated Sufferfest on screen prompts.  Definitely kept me from getting bored on day  7 of 9.

This ended up being a nice kick start to getting back in shape before spring comes.  While I didn’t end up winning anything, I did treat myself to a Davis Phinney jersey from Rapha (which happened to be on sale at the same time, and is now discontinued).  Looking forward to actually getting to wear it outside…

Festive 500

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Urban Covered BridgeEach year, cycling clothing company Rapha sponsors an event called the “Festive 500” in which riders are challenged to ride 500km between December 24 and 31.  This was the first year I’d heard of it, and while I was pretty sure I couldn’t go the whole 500, I thought I’d give it a try.

I was hampered somewhat by having to work the 24th and 25th, and my wife working the rest of the time, making me daddy daycare for the week.  I did commute to work, but that only represented about 12k in total.  In the end, I only managed two “real” rides, and my total was only 140k, or just over a quarter of the goal.

While I didn’t come close, I was motivated to ride when I otherwise might not have, and it will give me something to shoot for next year.