Friday, January 20, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Return of Schraeder

No, not this guy:

This one:

That's right, I'm getting bold and saying that 2017 will be the Year of the Schraeder Valve.

(Aside: Don't be fooled by the metal valve in the photo. That's not a Presta valve; it's a fancy, newfangled Schraeder valve as blathered about here.)

Okay, so it's not that bold. It's not like the Schraeder valve ever went away. You'll still find them on scads of low- to mid-range bikes, not to mention those four-wheeled, gas-powered horseless carriages that seem to be all the rage. But I'm saying here and now that in 2017, the Schraeder valve will make a comeback on high-end bikes. Here's why:

One, everybody's going wide. Fat bikes with 5" tires. Gravel bikes with 700x45. Heck, even pro racers are riding 700x25 or 700x28 these days. And they've all figured out that wider tires are better supported by wider rims. In days of yore, high-performance, light rims were stupid-skinny, narrow enough that you'd be pushing your luck drilling the larger hole needed to accommodate a Schraeder valve compared to the narrower Presta (which didn't preclude me from doing it a few times, because, well, I was dumb). With a wider rim, why not? Probably shaves a fraction of a gram, too.

Two, with wide comes low. As the tires get wider, the pressure in them gets lower, to the almost comical extreme of fatbike tires at single-digit pressures. The knock against the Schraeder valve was always that it didn't cope well with high pressures. In a skinny tire at 120psi, that little valve flatulence from removing the pump head from a Schraeder valve could cost you 20 psi. In a big honkin' tire at 40-50 psi, you'd never notice.

Three, tubes are passe, don't you know? The big thing now is TUBELESS. You're still running tubes? Well, so am I. But, man, that's so 20th century! And tubelessness brings with it two needs that the Schraeder valve meets far better than Presta. First, setting the beads of the tire takes a lot of air volume in a big hurry, something best delivered by an air compressor -- and most air compressors use Schraeder fittings to work with those horseless carriages. Second, tubeless relies on sealant to fill small holes in the tire, sealant best delivered through a removable-core valve stem. Yes, there are plenty of Presta valves with removable cores, but they're fiddly compared to the good old fashioned Schraeder valve and its ubiquitous valve core tool, likely found in every hardware store and gas station from coast to coast.

I haven't really put my money where my mouth is on this one yet. If you look at the vast test fleet here at The Cycle, you'll find a mish-mosh of valves... some Presta here, some Schraeder there (it helps that my battered old floor pump has been upgraded to a dual-sided head and is thus valve-agnostic). But when I look at that fancy metal Schraeder valve with dork-nut above, I'm sorely tempted to break out the drill and make the whole fleet Schraeder-compliant.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rub Some Dirt On It

Poked around my old photos and found yet more evidence of my own folly dating back to those more innocent times in early/mid-2016. Y'see, when I added the Red Sled to my collection, I borrowed the fenders from my Rockhopper for it and (very briefly) considered the Rockhopper a stripped-down "go-fast" (snort, snicker) bike.

Of course, I then decided to commute on the stripped-down "go-fast" (chortle, guffaw) on what promised to be a dry day... which promptly turned into a rainy day the moment I arrived at my office. At least the commute home provided some artsy-fartsy blog fodder photos, to whit:

Mmmm... crusty drivetrain parts. Can't you just hear the sand in the chain, grinding its life away? (To add the tiniest bit of value, notice the presta valve dork nuts under the bottle cage, spacing it out over the front derailleur clamp. Pro tip!)

I am perhaps the worst smug bastard on earth whenever I see a fenderless rider get a skunk-stripe of grunge on his or her back. Here's karma in the form of a serious mud bath all over my Arkel backpack, a fairly new addition to my increasingly large and embarrassing bag collection that I have yet to fully review on these pages. Mini review: The stuff inside stayed bone dry, and the crust wiped right off without a trace.

Jeez, now it's a "how many different brands of (non-matching) bags can he stick in one post?" contest. This is my who-know-how-old Jandd handlebar bag, one of those tubular/barrel-shaped throwbacks that adorned the saddle or bars (or both) of a lot of 1970s ten-speeds. It may look like this bag took the brunt of the front wheel spray, but trust me, there was still plenty left for my face.

The moral of the story: Fenders. Or mudguards, if you're British. After this ride, I abandoned the silliness of a "go-fast" and adorned that sucker with a set of legit full-coverage fenders post haste. The bike still gets filthy because I'm lazy, but at least my teeth don't.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Year the Rim Brake Died

Predicting the future in the bike business is an exercise fraught with peril. Take for example, my pal Bill, a former bike shop owner and my former boss, who saw mountain bikes coming out in the 80s and predicted that they would be the end of his business, since they were "so durable that they would never need repair." (For the record, Bill is now out of the business by choice, not because he was driven out by those indestructable mountain bikes.)

I wasn't in the business when MTBs hit, but if a customized Delorean had pulled up to Bill's shop in 1999 with a message from 2017 that the 26" wheel (a.k.a. 559mm bead-seat-diameter) was all but gone, replaced by some obscure French size we probably didn't have in stock, I would have laughed that fool right out of the parking lot. Yet, here we are in 2017, and see how many 26"-wheeled bikes you can find in the catalogs of any of the big players. They've all been pushed aside for 27.5", a.k.a. 584mm bead-seat-diameter, a.k.a. the obscure French 650B.

Still, with all that evidence of past failures piled up against me, and my own Luddite retrogrouch tendencies crying "say it ain't so!", I'm going to step out onto a dried, cracking limb and say that 2017 will be remembered as the year that the invasive species known as the disc brake finally sucked up all the oxygen, leaving nothing for rim brakes.

Sure, the pro peloton hasn't embraced them (yet). But that (finally) doesn't matter. We're in a marketing moment where new riders just aren't excited about skinny dudes on skinny tires in tight shorts (not that there's anything WRONG with that). For all my grumbling about the hooey around gravel bikes, the industry push these days is away from one-trick race machines towards all-surface, all-purpose bikes (you could say that Rivendell's vindication finally came). For once, a bike can still sell even if it doesn't look like the one some doped-up freak with 2% body fat rode real fast around France for three weeks. And for better or worse, the big players (and fashion police) have decided that those all-surface bikes must be disc-equipped.

Once those high-end/enthusiast dominoes have fallen (and you don't have to spend much time looking around your local bike shop or trail to see that they have), it's just a matter of time before rim brakes go extinct all the way down to the Wal-Mart level. The message that discs are better in wet, mud, and snow is pervasive... even though a huge percentage of riders won't go out in those conditions anyway, and would be just as well served by a good rim brake. The stores are going to love it, because the ability to brake no longer relies on the ability to keep a wheel trued. And the manufacturers are going to love it because they only have to weld on a couple disc tabs per frame rather than four precisely-aligned cantilever posts.

Fear not, those who come here for retro-grouch grumbling. The Cycle World Headquarters remains a disc-free zone, mainly because I'm not the least bit dissatisfied with the cantilevers and V-brakes in my fleet -- they even work on (gasp!) gravel. (It also helps that switching brake paradigms at this point would be a costly and time-consuming endeavor, and I'm a cheap, lazy man.) Still, even though I've held out vain hope that discs would be the Biopace chainrings or chainstay-mounted U-brakes of the 21st century, I think we're stuck with them.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

PSA: Pal Steve Announcement

If you're a Des Moineser (Des Moinesian? Des Moinesiac? You'd think after 17 years, I'd have the answer, but all I know is that it's French for "The Moines") or plan to be in/around Central Iowa on Saturday, January 21, y'all should get down to Hy-Vee Hall for the Iowa Bike Expo.

Sure, some snarky blogger gave last year's expo a meh, but the 2015 expo featured The Cycle's own Local Steve, Steve Fuller, chatting up his plans for the 2015 Tour Divide... and this year, Local Steve is back, talking about his (SPOILER ALERT!) successful completion of said Tour Divide. I have to go since I was there in 2015 and I'm an obsessive completist. You should go because it promises to be entertaining and informative, despite my presence in the room.

So, Saturday, January 21, 2017, 3-5 p.m. Central Standard Time, Hy-Vee Hall room 105, 833 5th Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa. Be there or pedal squares.