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Yes, You Should Probably Just Get Cyclocross Tubulars

30 Aug

Pile of CX tires

And no, you don’t need this many. // by Patrick Beeson, cc-by-nc

If you’re having a blast on a burp-free tubeless set-up, or have never pinched out on the bell lap/hammered yourself into oblivion on 45psi with clinchers, this post isn’t for you. Tubular tires are not a necessity for racing or enjoying cyclocross. If whatever you’re doing works, and you don’t feel like your tires are holding you back, you just keep on doing your thing. ‘Cross is awesome.

That said, I’m betting that if you are reading this, you’ve probably had some issues with tubeless or clincher set-ups, and you’re wondering if you should undergo the “expense” and “hassle” of “out-dated” tubular tires. The answer is a categorical “yes”.


Rantcast #14 – The Myth of The Infallible LBS

15 Aug

Well, had some people complain about censoring the profanity last time which is fine—since this edition of the Rantcast is probably going to piss the living shit out of everyone anyway it probably won’t matter. Last time around, my beef was what cycling commentators weren’t saying, this week it’s on what the industry won’t shut up about— idiotic myth of the infallibility local bike shop.

Ask rep or pro or insider bro or reviewer about a part and 98% of the time you’ll be told that “Oh yeah—just ask at your local bike shop.” “Your local shop will take care of you”.

I don’t even know where to begin. Actually, I do know where to begin—the fact that a lot of local shops are just lousy. Can we say that? Can we get that out there? It’s almost like an omerta—there are certain shops that you shouldn’t go to, that everyone knows about, but still people are like “Oh yeah, the local shop. Your local shop. Check out our nearest dealer” Not “Blah-blah-blah’s Cycles”. Not “Where do you live? Ok avoid So-and-So’s, but check out Shop X”.

Yeah, and, actually—I shouldn’t have complained about that, because by that same token, I have to talk by name about all the shops that…caused some trouble. Like the The Spoke, in Williamstown MA, that got seized by the State for nonpayment of taxes…with my bike inside! Or Paramount Cycles in Somerville, MA that “saved me some money” by re-using a section of brake housing over a shifter cable—like, bro, if I’d wanted a half-ass job, I would have done it myself.

Or Cambridge Cycles, that gave me the wrong sized track nut despite my very specific instructions or International Bicycle Center in Boston where the Trek Minion there liked to try and swap the parts I’d ordered for cheaper gear, and who vehemently objected to my team purchase of a Surly Cross-Check because it “wasn’t a race bike”—no big deal that I raced it to a Cat 3 Verge Series Top 10 4 years later, long after the Sora equipped XO he wanted me to buy would have shat the bed. Oh, and just last week, the closest bike shop to my location, Central Wheel in Farmington, CT told me that SRAM’s 1.1 cables were just regular cables with a teflon coating.

Of course, none of this is to say that these are “bad” shops, or that there aren’t good ones out there—Cambridge Cycle’s screw up lead me to Broadway Bicycle School and it’s most excellent filing system. Landry’s in Boston never made me feel like a heel when I stopped in to buy a cassette spacer, or ask for an insurance replacement quote after a crash, or any other menial little task that brought them essentially no income. And Cheshire Cycle in Hamden CT always took great care of me—though, unfortunately, they’re also 35 miles away from my house.

And really, distance is a big part of the user experience from my point of view. In Boston, I had my choice of shop, open late and at bikeable distance. But in Hartford (as I would be in much of the rest of the country) I’m fighting to get into a car and out of the city like all the other suburban drones, racing to somehow get from my late-closing office to an early closing bikeshop, burning dollars and a few kilograms of CO2 for the effort. And once I’m there, the shop’s limited supply—what sizes and brands they happen to have on the wall are my only option.

Let’s contrast this with The Internet—I have massive retailers like TreeFort, PricePoint, Nashbar and etc, ready for me to place orders or peruse their wares at anytime, from my home, or office, or even from my phone midway through a ride. And finding what I want is so easy—search by terms, sort by price, by wheel size, by brand. Navigate to a section to see what the have. Google Products search compares price across outlets, and ebay provides more or less real-time information on what an actual, open market price for a given gizmo is.  Oh, and did I mention the bevy of searchable forums covering tips, horror stories and clever compatibility tricks on everything from from fixed gear to freeride?

In a physical shop, I’m dealing with the collective knowledge of maybe five, six guys, each of whom has a financial incentive to goad me into spending as much as possible in return for as little as they can get away with giving. Chances are, if I ask a salesman highly-specific question, which I am known to do, two or three other people or going to have to weigh in, then there’s probably gonna be an upsell attempt, followed by a “well, let’s see what we can do on price”. Some people like to haggle; me, I find it exhausting, time-consuming, disingenuous, and a sure sign that I will almost certain get a better deal elsewhere.

There’s a train a of thought—and one that I don’t deny—that says the shop costs more because of all the value it adds. And for certain consumers—dentists, I believe is the industry term—the local LBS as it currently exists does provide a tremendous amount of value. Something breaks, needs to be tuned, its just kinda old and gross looking—no big deal. No need to get your hands dirty or struggle through a new skill. Just drop off the bike, the shop fixes it, the dentist saves time, gets some status bling, shop and suppliers get paid, everyone wins—no wonder dentists have been the industry’s sole focus for the past decade.

But the problem with the Dentist Model is that there aren’t that many dentists, those that are out there are getting older and/or more tech savvy, and the demographics where bike use is rising the fastest—young people and minorities—tend not to have the massive throwaway income to feed the LBS, which, at least in it’s current incarnation is allegedly infallible and should be the consumers only point of contact for anything to do with a bike.

And really, the cycling industry itself—I know, I know, a too massively amorphous and heterogeneous entity to collectively demonize—is at the heart of this mess. A few months ago, I broke a derailleur. I got it all sorted out eventually—a rant for another time—but during the

discussion a SRAM rep said the company never ships parts to customers. Ever.

Think about that—the company that makes parts for people’s bikes doesn’t ship them to people. it’s bizarre, right—”sorry, sir, I refuse your offer of monetary units for the product I produce. Please bring your monetary units to this third party instead”—and it’s because to SRAM, Trek, Lazer, and pretty much every other company in the industry, you aren’t the customer. The shop is. And to keep the shops buying their stuff, the industry needs consumer buy-in to the shop model. Thus the infallible shop myth.

Shops let industry brands sell a whole lot of their stuff all at once. Much, much easier to deal with dozens of customers instead of thousands. A lot easier to collect money and set budgets when there’s a big predictable, post-Interbike cash dump. And as stock merchandise, bicycles are really crummy. They take up a lot of space, the margins suck, there’s a non-trivial labor investment in each model after getting them in, and as I mentioned before, there’s an Internet full of outlets offering them at a better price.

And yet, the infallible shop myth lives. For the past decade and a half I’ve witnessed and endured all sorts of abuse from industry insiders for buying online and doing my own work. “Hey man, don’t you like riding? Why are you trying to hurt the thing you like?” “Oh, well, you didn’t go through the shop, you get what’s coming to you.” The latest villainy is so called “showrooming” where people research prices and find out as much as they can about a given part before making a final purchase, like, you know, an informed consumer would. Do it at a car dealership, or a computer store, or when you’re getting a loan—right on, man. Do it at a bike shop—you’re a schmuck.

I feel like this petty hypocrisy—we need to fleece consumers so we can keep making rad stuff, man—has kind of toxified the industry, and drawn thick battle lines along existing business relationships, lest the whole house of cards fall. Case in point: last week, a QBP guy who worked on the Lazer Helmets account complained vocally about CrossVegas’ registration system Twitter. Then CrossVegas got in touch to Lazer—a sponsor of the race—who made a call to QBP, which got said internet complainer fired.

Or maybe that isn’t how it happened. The Helmeteer_Chris Internet entity, who I don’t know, but who works for Lazer, and who generally surfaces pretty cool Internet bike stuff suggested there was more to it, but really, what could he possibly say? Confess his employer feel into a perfect storm of douchery between two of its business partners?  Factually and morally correct as that might actually be, he wouldn’t be very good at his job if he did that.  So, for all concerned, the message stands: don’t step out and challenge the system, even if the system sucks. It’s cool—industry bros made nice at the end. It’s the the people outside the system that fucked up. Now why does that sound so familiar?

There must be, there HAS to be, something in this status quo for the local shops—beyond, obviously, the joy of being presented as infallible. but for the LIFE of me, I cannot figure out what it is. It sure isn’t the money. The industry’s own numbers suggest an average dealer sees 25k in annual income—not exactly a retirement figure. It’s not the ease of the day-to-day work, either—I’ve seen massive urban shops, top 10 grossers for national brands, half a million into the red. I’ve seen small, efficient, brilliantly-run operations fail. Aside from the comfort of a familiar environment, I don’t really get why anyone would chose to run LBS under the model that currently exists.

So if this aura of infallibility shop sucks for the shop, and it sucks for the consumers. It would seem to me that time is ripe for a change. Despite everything I said back at the beginning of this, there are thing shops can offer consumers that the internet can’t. Quality tools, stands, a clean, well-ordered workspace. Skilled hands. In-the-moment advice when pressing a headset or trying to figure out which bottom bracket to buy. These are the things non-dentists need—real riders (actually, I’m stepping back from this a bit [see comment])—and they’re increasingly scarce at the among the salesmen and accessory racks in today’s shops.

There’s also an immediacy that shops can meet that the Internet will never be able to. Broken chains, snapped cables, cracked handlebars, stems to soothe an aching back—things that cannot wait for shipping. A bike shop should have components—tiny, easy to manage, low-overhead parts—in droves, in stock, compatible across as many brands and standards as possible, from newest models, and refurbed take-offs to be sold for a song. But in my experience, requests for this one meatspace service no online dealer could ever provide are met with the depressing response of, “sure, our QBP order arrives in on Thursday”.

Of course, this new, consumer-focused approach would require a certain openness on the part of an industry that as I said earlier, tends to be anything but. An admission that 2012 model is more or less as good as a 2013. An admission that ounces off a three pound frame underneath a hundred-fifty pound man will have an all but a negligible impact performance. An admission that 95% of repairs and installations can accomplished by anyone with patience and a $5 set of allen keys as easily as they can by a sixty-dollar-an-hour mechanic. An admission that things are cheaper somewhere else, and maybe you should

buy them there.

Is the industry even capable of this sort of openness? it once was. I certainly wouldn’t be here reading this if the late Sheldon Brown hadn’t codified online, in detail, and for free, every skill he’d acquired and opinion he’d developed in a lifetime of turning wrenches. Back 2001, my old Iron Horse hardtail would have stayed broken, and I never would have been able to restore a decades-old hunk of dented steel from the abandoned bike pile at campus security into a fast, reliable, and dirt cheap road machine.

The de facto state of affairs, with its infallible shops and Dentist ready approach has to change. The demographics of age and income demand it. The real question is how much damage those who profit from the current system are willing to incur upon their brands—and on the newbie retail consumers who, at the end of the day, are the only ones keeping the whole machine running. If the sticker price at your local shop is any indication, plenty of places out there are ready to double-down on the infallibility myth.

Can We Please Stop Ruining Bike Races With Electronic Shifting?

2 Jul

I’m not going to claim impartiality here—if nothing else, I think electronic shifting is massively over-priced. I’ve never ridden it—I hear it shifts well and smoothly and precisely and is super-cool, and I have no reason to dispute that. But similarly, I think there’s no counter-argument to the fact that when it doesn’t shift, you are completely boned.

Goss and Greipel and bikes that don't work

The body posture conveys as much information as the drivetrains.

The photos above are cropped from the highest-def screencap I could find—a 1080i .ts files, no compression beyond what occurs prior to transmission. I can’t see exactly what’s wrong with Greipel’s and Goss’ bikes, but what I can see is a droopy chain—as in probably off the chainrings—and rear mechs that seem more or less intact—that is, not on the ground or above the chainstay.

As far as I can tell, this is the classic mode of failure for electronic shifting. The front derailleur has two programmed shift actions—one to go up, one to go down. Unlike conventional shifters, where a cable always pulls against the tension of derailleur spring, there isn’t an option to half-shift in an attempt to jimmy the chain back into place. When you’re off, you’re off. This is a fact not in dispute.

That said, one report claims Greipel’s mechanical on Sunday was a rear derailleur “smashed to bits…in the big crash that took Greipel out of the running”. This is at least partially inaccurate—he survived that big tumble, and pedaled on for several k before appearing mysteriously at the back, bike rendered non-functional in a very familiar way.

Shared from cyclocosm using Embeddlr

I’ve posted a chopper shot of what I believe to be Goss’ bike failure above. Obviously, you can’t see the chain, and honestly, I can’t even prove it’s him. But inside the final 500m an Orica-GreenEdge rider is jockeying for position, with a teammate (probably Impey) behind him him, then just stops pedaling and stands to coast, leaving the teammate with a huge gap to close. Robbie McEwen claims Goss crashed, and I guess maybe it’s possible, but only if he went down after his bike stopped working.

It’s beginning to feel a little creepy. Consensus is that electronic shifting is still a work in progress—nearly a year after noting its problems last summer, Inner Ring reported on a rash of misfires from this spring. But rather than improve (or better yet—remove) the parts, earlier this week, we got two not-quite-right stories about incidents of likely electronic shifting failures that had a definite impact on how the final results played out. I’m sure it’s all just innocent misunderstanding—on their part or on mine—but I wouldn’t want anyone get any ideas.

So before this devolves to petty subterfuge, let’s all of us—media, marketers, brand managers, riders, directors—just sit down and agree like grown-ups that pros should absolutely have the no-pressure-option of using mechanical shifting. With Greipel on Campy and Goss on Shimano, no one company will take a PR hit.

Everyone’s heard the buzz about the awesome, super-precise shifting produced by electronic levers—and the fondo set is already totally into it. But by taking away the option of historically reliable front shifting, all anyone is doing is making the high-profile failures more obvious—and alienating serious amateur racers in the process.

Let’s be honest—if watching your rider taking a win on legacy gear is a bigger marketing bummer than watching him pout at the side of the road when the latest and greatest fails, your brand’s got bigger problems a front derailleur.

You Won’t Believe These 12 Outrageous Tour de France Bike Seats! [PHOTOS]

27 Jun

Earlier this week, Spanish Journalist Laura Meseguer tweeted a photo of Joaquim Rodriguez’ custom saddle (that’s the technical term for “bike seat”) for the Tour de France.

It’s pretty crazy, but it’s is far from the boldest we’ve seen. Here are 10 other outrageous bike seats from other professional cyclists:

1) Marco Pantani – The Pirate

Pantani custom saddle

Marco was a pioneer in many ways.

(via rainorshinecycles, late 90s-early 00s)

Pantani—nicknamed “The Pirate” for obvious reasons—was one of the first riders to have a custom saddle, with fairly disastrous stylistic results—thought keep in mind, it was the 90s. He was also one of the first riders to find himself unceremoniously kicked out of a Grand Tour with a commanding lead due to a bad blood test. He was a flamboyant, exciting climber, and complicated, emotional man. He committed suicide on Valentine’s Day, 2004

2) Filippo Pozzato – Blond Angel

Pozzato Blonde Angel Saddle

I can’t help but feel something was lost in translation

(via cyclingnews, 2006)

Sometime-classics contender Pozzato has always been a bit weird, but to be fair, he did ride this “Blond Angel” saddle to a win at the 2006 Milan-Sanremo. Bonus fact: Pozzato has a sprawling script tattoo on his back that says “only God can judge me.”

3) Alexandre Vinokourov – The Thing

Vinokourov The Thing Saddle

This isn’t too far off…

(via Cozy Beehive, but I’m pretty sure he stole it from somewhere else, 2007)

Not a bad match for the stocky Kazakh, who did seem to launch every attack with “It’s clobberin’ time” and was indeed imbued with extra-terrestrial powers—though from blood transfusions, not the Van Allen Belt. Vino’ gets additional style props for sticking with the style for most of his career, as this 2011 photo shows.

4) Tom Boonen – The Thing (again)

Boonen The Thing Saddle

I’d be clobberin’ that logo, too.

(via cyclingnews, 2011)

Aside from the fact that this branding is already spoken for, “The Thing” is wholly inappropriate for Boonen, who is a rangy 6’4″, and known for his ability to ride with impressive finesse on rough cobblestone surfaces. At least Prologo got the right comics universe—Boonen’s Autobot allegiance is well-established. Specialized would sort out a proper saddle for Boonen the following year, though there’s no indication he ever rode it BOOM—dude totally rode it.

5) Brad Wiggins – Union Jack Scooter

Wiggins Scooter Saddle


(via Team Sky, 2010)

This could have been a kitchy bit of Austin-Powers mod. Instead, Prologo hired the airplane safety pamphlet guy and got Wiggins, on top of scooter with four headlights, crouched on a track & field starting block, waiting at a stop sign that’s apparently in the middle of the Chunnel somewhere. No wonder Wiggo (the 2012 Tour champ) could only manage 23rd place on this thing.

6) Andy Schleck – The Schleck Brothers Tour

Schleck Brothers Tour Saddle

It’s 3000km miles to Paris, we got a bus full of bidons, half a pack of clif bars, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.

(via Bike Radar, 2009)

So there’s a Tour, and some brothers, and really, the similarities end there. The Blues Brothers were elegantly plump, the Schlecks are awkward and gangly. Still, with little less literal interpretation—glasses on Andy’s saddle, hat on Frank’s—maybe? Alas, shoddy execution makes the duo look like refugees from a Brad Neely cartoon—which, I guess isn’t actually that bad, considering the year Andy’s been having.

7) Alberto Contador – El Pistolero

Alberto Contador Pistolero Seat

Like shooting fish in a barrel. With a finger gun.

(via Bike Snob, but he stole it from Pez, 2010)

Do I really have to say anything about this? I mean, it’s a finger…under his taint…shooting little colored squirts for each of the Grand Tours. No, really. The best that can be said about this design is that its successive versions were far less suggestive.

8) Danilo DiLuca – The Killer

DiLuca Saddle is Clearly a Shark

I’m sorry, but this is clearly a shark.

(via cyclingnews, 2007)

DiLuca, nicknamed “The Killer”, has the nearly-unique distinction of being suspended for doping on three separate occasions. In a similarly unscrupulous move, he rips off the nickname of fellow Italian and reigning Giro champ Vincenzo Nibali—known as “The Shark”—with what are obviously shark graphics. More on Nibali below.

9) Vincenzo Nibali – Insieme si può

Nibali's Insieme si può saddle

A pictographic microcosm of the difference between DiLuca and Nibali

(via BikeRadar, 2011)

Despite the nickname, Nibali himself is known for his soft-spoken personality. In a lovely contrast to DiLuca, he’s ridden with a saddle supporting the Insieme si può charity.

10) Ivan Basso – what we hope is a flower

Basso blotch flower thing

I mean, did anyone consider the placement?

(via BikeRadar, 2009)

Basso lost his mother to cancer in early 2005—her battle with the disease even moved the cold, dead heart of CancerBot to gift Basso a Tour stage in 2004. The green/red spot at the tail of his saddle is supposed to be a single flower in tribute, but it’s awfully, uh, abstract. And taken in light of the whole cyst thing from this April…just maybe hire a new graphic designer, ok?

11) Giovanni Lombardi – Pulp Fiction

Lombardi Pulp Fiction Saddle

“I want you to go into that bike shop and find my saddle”

(via Bobke Strut, 2006)

The best lead-out man for the best sprinter ever, Olympic gold medalist, triples up on Grand Tours from time to time, and poaches a stage win every now and then just ‘cuz he can. Giovanni Lombardi is a bike racer’s bike racer, and has the saddle to match. (And thanks—we know it’s fake).

12) David Millar – Autographed by Mark Cavendish

David Milar's Mark Cavendish-signed saddle

The early work of a fashion icon.

(via Eff Yeah Mark Cavendish, 2010)

Cavendish, the dominant sprinter of his era, launched a new clothing line just last week. But some of his earliest fashion work can be seen here on the saddle of David Millar, at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Seems Cav felt inclined to remind the Scot of his consistent superiority over Millar’s Garmin teammate, Tyler Farrar. The gamesmanship had little impact on Millar, who won the time trial and third in the road race that year

The Perils of Over-Specialization

26 Apr


(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

Today’s rant is abbreviated and delayed somewhat by time and circumstance. If you haven’t been following me on twitter, or haven’t seen the previous post at, then you don’t know that I spent yesterday riding from my home base in Hartford CT, to New York City as part of of the Ride on Washington. If I sound a little different it’s because I’m recording a fabulous Brooklyn studio gazing out over the rooftops at the Kentile Sign and VZ bridge.

As part of the ride, I promsed to raise $500 for, a goal which I’m happy to announced we’ve beaten pretty handily. But just  for your edification, the campaign will remain open until the stated closing date of Friday, May 17, meaning that you can still collect the IndieGoGo perk of having me rant for 20 seconds about the topic of your choice.

Anyway, what occurred to me as I clawed my way over the 130 miles between the two cities yesterday was that cyclists—actually, that’s a dumb word, and kinda part of the problem. What occurred to me was that people who are in someway associated with bicycles could stand to be somewhat less, uh, specific in how they define themselves.

It’s like the newly minted-racer rushing to assign his or her self a label before they’ve even gotten a Cat 5 upgrade. “Oh, hey, I weigh 180 pounds, I’m probably not gonna be a climber”, or deciding that just because they got their wheels blown off in a prime one time, they must be one of those riders who simply can’t sprint

I mean, of course—to a certain extent, you are the athlete you’re born as. But to another extent more immediately relevant to the mass of Category 3 humanity in which I’ve found myself, cycling is a sport with specific skills you can learn, and where serious training can have a huge impact.

For example, it’s likely even the slowest of the slow-twitch could put themselves into the top 10 of most amateur field sprints simply by getting their nose in the mix and learning that savvy positioning is an able substitute 5-second power. Conversely, a reasonable diet, and some serious training could scrape a few pounds off almost anyone—and according to Tyler Hamilton, and few pounds are easily worth a few units of hematocrit as far as climbing goes.

It something that carries over to parts as well—people thinking they need such-and-a-part to gain such-and-such amount of whatever, when leaning to properly hold a wheel would or pick a line serve them far, far better than any upgraded piece of equipment—but after last week, I’m kinda done on wailing on the industry for a little bit.  Suffice to say, there isn’t really any piece of gear you absolutely need to have other than a helmet—yes even tubular cross tires aren’t inescapably a requirement.

But for me, the biggest problem with this rush to specialization is that it inherently segregates groups of the bike riding public from each other. By and large, the mountain bikers don’t hang out with the roadies who don’t hang out with the bearded touring dudes who don’t hang out with the blinky-lighted commuters who don’t hang out with the tight-pants fixie riders, and really has anyone ever even talked to that guy on the the kmart bike with the plastic bag hanging from this bars going the wrong way on the sidewalk?

Even within subgroups, things can get “catty”—get it, like Cat 1, Cat 2? No? Ok. well, you know what I mean—pros want everyone to know that they’re pro, everyone else wants everyone else to know that they aren’t a fred, despite the practical necessity of every one of us being a fred at some point or another.

in some ways, this segregation makes sense—can’t really ride Porcupine Rim on an NJS-certified track bike, you know? But the specialization rapidly becomes nefarious—for instance, a commuter stops at a red light, but a racer or a messenger or even the walmart bike riding behind guy doesn’t really feel the social pressure to stop because hey, stopping for lights is for the commuter subgroup—not the collective responsibility of anyone riding a bike.

The various bike-riding subgroups also waste a lot of energy in the way that they interact with society as a whole. Everyone on a bike—actually, everyone period—has to deal with the government at some level. Not in the “I want my country back” sort of way, but more along the lines of “this is the established system how things actually change”. New bike lanes, access to trails, the right to ride two abreast—or even ride at all—all require the same sort of signature-collecting, hearing-attending, public promotion, and lobbying, and yet for some reason, the various groups of bicycle rider, while all pushing in the same direction, rarely seem to be coordinated in their efforts.

Yesterday’s ride was pretty sweet for me both because I got to draft behind some serious pro cyclist watts, and to cruise around one of the most massive urban areas in the world on hard won, well-planned bicycle infrastructure. And I think it’d be great if everyone on a bike could experience that sort of confluence more often. Which is kind of why I did the ride in the first place. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in supporting, head over to today.

Garmin: The Little Device That Doesn't

5 Apr


(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

Yo, check out this new gadget I got, it’s called a Blackberry.  It’s great for taking care of stuff on the go, like a mobile computer, except that I can’t look at photos or videos or fling cartoon birds at abstractly rendered pigs or really do anything but send emails…but I think it’s pretty nifty because what else out there is better? Yeah, my Blackberry’s almost as cool as this thing I got for my bike—it’s called a Garmin.

Of course, in many ways the Blackberry comparison isn’t really apt. Because the Blackberry, as dull, graceless, and monolithic as it was, actually turned out to be pretty damn good at the one pedantic task it was designed to accomplish. The Garmin, eeeeh not so much.

There’s an old saying—or maybe there isn’t and I just made it up, and if so there should be an old saying—that the best bike part is the one you notice least. For all drool and fingerprints displays cases have caught in their name over the years, Chris King headsets or Phil Wood hubs don’t exactly make themselves known on bike. Unless you’ve been riding something worse—and recently—you’re not going to notice your bike coasts longer or steers more smoothly

But that Garmin—whoof—you better believe I’m noticing it. I’m noticing it when it sits there for three-to-five buzz-killing minutes before each ride, showing me a basically full progress bar, just trying to detect that one last satellite whose absence somehow the other twenty it’s talking to useless. I’m pretty sure, since the damn thing has a tendency to pronounce me 20 feet below sea even in the best of conditions, that that twenty-first satellite really isn’t really the difference between precise tracking and might-as-well-write-a-map-on-the-back-of-your-hand.

I’ve also noticed my Gamrin while forcing my  wrist through the cringe inducing contortions required to access it’s awkward side buttons on a ride. Like seriously—who designed this? The buttons are about two millimeters off the top of my handlebar, another two to the left of my stem bolt, and they’re coated in a relatively stiff rubber material offer nothing in the way of tactile feedback. Trying to operate them on a cold day or through a long fingered glove is like trying to work a typewriter through a the bottom of a trampoline

Of course, I could just move the Garmin from my bars to my stem, but then I’d be staring even further into my own belly-button every time I wanted to see some data from the the thing. You know about potholes, Garmin? Road debris? Curbs? Dead animals? I don’t know if you guys have ever ridden a bike, but gazing into at a glare-mottled, low-contrast screen that’s near perpendicular to my direction of travel ain’t exactly the best way to go about doing it.

Actually, I do know that you guys ride bikes because you have a part that solves this problem—a tiny piece of injected molded plastic that juts forward from the handlebar and lets you keep an eye on your data and the wheel in front of you simultaneously.  You probably should have shipped to every owner of a Garmin cycling unit with an apology card as soon as you got the first crate over from China. But no, you didn’t want to do that. Instead, you’ve decided to sell it to your long-suffering customers, as an add-on, despite the fact that cheaper and faster-to-market versions from other companies already exist.

And you know the worst part is—it’s that all that stuff I just mentioned, it isn’t the worst part. Actually, I guess that’s the SECOND worst part because the worst part is your GPS device isn’t reliable at being a GPS device. I’m not talking about drifting off course a little, or mysteriously shutting down mid-ride as sometimes happens. I’m talking about the days where you turn it on, you start it, you ride with it, it functions normally, you come home, you go through the stop/reset/off dance routine that somehow passes as “save to disk”, plug your device into your computer and suddenly the previous two, or three, or seven hours of your life are mysteriously gone.

I mean, maybe you’re so used to high-centering motorists on railroad tracks, or leading them down logging roads that no longer exist, that you think your customer base is just willing to   accept some range of error. But I don’t think you understand what these rides mean to the people using your devices to record them.  

Cyclists sweat it out in grungy basements all and cobweb-ridden attacks all winter long to for to shave two or three seconds of their favorite climb, or sustain an extra watt or two. Even people who aren’t competitive and who don’t care about the numbers still like to see where they’ve gone, and to share and compare routes with their other weird cyclist friends.

And When riders take a Garmin on their bike vacation to the Rockies or Europe or some other, even further removed locale, they’ve probably spend hours pouring over Google Terrain maps to plot that one, perfect route—because in a lot of cases, it’s a once in a lifetime visit. For us, the data we collect while riding is as integral a part of the trip as the pictures we take or the unpronounceable beers we drink. To my mind, you thinking the current failure rate is acceptably doesn’t just make you a bad company—it makes you guys [expletive].

But hey, maybe I’m being too harsh. You did step up to sponsor one of the most ostensibly progressive cycling teams in recent memory, and even five years after one of the more notable retailers in the Industry began refusing to speak your name, you’re still at it.

And to be fair, I have technically only experienced legacy devices–abeit legacy devices you still sell for the princely fee. I burnt through three(!) Edge 305s before getting bumped up to to the 500 I currently use. So maybe the new devices are better…but I doubt it. from what I’ve read, you do have front facing buttons, but reports of laggy, low-contrast screens, a janky user-interface, and a general recommendation not to upgrade if you’ve got a 500 and make me think that not much has changed. And the alleged killer feature—real-time location tracking that requires a smartphone—doesn’t make any sense . There’s already a bevy of smartphone apps that offer this feature in a cleaner, more sharable format, for free—and that don’t require a batter

-burning requiring a bluetooth connection to get the job done.

And maybe this is kinda the root of the problem. I don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel, or think outside the box or ask “What Would Steve Jobs Do?”. Honestly, I’d be willing to suffer  through all the other crap—bad buttons, ugly screen, whatever—if you could promise me a device where riders who’d ever experienced data loss were the exception rather than the rule. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask—because if you guys can’t come up with it, you can sure as hell bet that someone else will.

Cyclocross Clinchers: Pressures, Sealants, and Tube Variations

25 Nov

latex sealant bubbles through a punctured innertube

Burble, burble, burble… / by Ben Freeman cc-by-nc

Wonderful for most cycling applications, the humble clincher tire does not perform well under the rigors of cyclocross racing. While I’ve discussed this before, there are a few things I didn’t bring up in the previous piece that definitely deserve mention.

The first thing that ought to come up in this discussion—as readers have noted—is pump gauge accuracy. I get the sense that most floor pumps are built to conveniently air up the volumes needed for fat MTB tires, and the high pressures needed for road tires, with the gauge itself being more of an afterthought.

I checked my pump’s readings against an automotive gauge last fall and found them more or less identical, but many other pumps are widely reported to over-estimate pressures in the CX range. Tiny changes make a huge difference in cross, so a digital gauge, or one of those cool cordless compressors is definitely the way to go if you’re going to be picky about it.

The second thing I’d like to cover is the massive variety of innertube types available. I generally ride on standard CX-width 700c butyl tubes, but I’ve still found time to play around with a variety of different innertube types this season. Here are my experiences:

Road tubes: I don’t know why people do this. The only time I’ve had road (18-23mm) tubes inside CX tires is when I have no CX-sized tubes on hand and really, really, really need to ride. They are lighter, but flat almost on a whim. I’m all for kludges and shoe-horning, but this is one shortcut you want to avoid.

Latex tubes: most riders seem to take an interest in latex for its lighter weight and improvements in suppleness. My main interest was in alleged puncture resistance. The lighter weight is indisputable, and I guess I noticed a slightly better ride (though not better enough to be outside the range of the placebo effect). What I did not experience, however, was a reduced number of flats. The problem might be the size (I used 25-28mm, the largest I could find), but short of tearing up old tubulars, I can’t seem to find a source of latex tubes in a ‘cross appropriate size.

Sealant/removable-core butyl tube: this would seem to be a great solution, as most tubular tires are readily repaired/nearly flat-proofed by a quick shot of Stan’s or CaffeLatex. But alas, in my experience it’s proven worthless at fighting off/repairing the dreaded pinch flat in standard butyl tubes. My guess is that the way in which butyl fails—breaking in half-inch-long tears against the rim—is just not the same sort of tubeless tire puncture that sealant is able to close up.

Sealant/removable-core latex tube: there may be some hope here. Unlike butyl, latex seems to pinch flat with tiny, non-tearing holes, and I’ve successfully repaired them with a post-flat application of Stan’s. That said, I’ve still managed to pinch-flat two sealant-filled latex tubes: one by casing a marble curb post-race at Providence (which I consider forgivable), and one by riding easy, afterthought gravel at on the bell lap at Gloucester (which I do not).

Thornproof tube: I readily concede it is pretty much impossible to pinch a thorn-proof tube. However, it’s damn near impossible to race ‘cross on one as well. There’s a significant decrease in suppleness from the extra material, but that probably won’t come into play because at CX race pressures (≤40psi) the tube doesn’t inflate fully enough to press against a 32mm tire with the appropriate amount of force. Best case scenario, the tube wobbles around inside the tire, and you finish the race before the rim hole tears the valve free from the rest of the tube, flatting you out. Worst case, the tire unseats from the rim under hard cornering pressure. Either way—avoid.

Pre-sealed tube: In a commendable mea culpa for last season’s bead-breaking tubeless fiascos, Hutchinson sent me some of their pre-sealed tubes this fall. There’s a noticeable-but-not-awful weight penalty, and through a month of racing—including some not particularly well-chosen lines over the roots at Northampton, they seemed to hold up great.

Even after a pinch-flat on an unlucky rock at the Connecticut State Championships, the pre-sealed tube still held air long enough to see me over a fairly tough off-camber section before deflating. But the very next time I attempted to ride one of them, a pinhole puncture—the sort of thing sealant should have no problem fixing—flatted me out of a ride before I could even leave the parking lot. For the weight, I’d like something a little more reliable.

Put the Sharpie Down and Back Away from the Sidewall

8 Nov

Dugast Sidewall

In its natural state / by Brian Ellin cc-nc-sa

Occasionally, people ask me why I don’t more actively seek out work in the cycling industry. Aside from the fact that it’s an insider’s game and I’ve got the schmoozing skills of a dyspeptic orangutan, there’s just no way I could bring myself to participate in the absolute nonsense the positions tend to require—all the more so when that nonsense runs contrary to the interests of the company I would hypothetically be supporting.

Case in point—the sidewalls of the pro cyclocross bikes making the rounds on cycling news websites the past few weeks. While I applaud the spirit of whichever mechanic or press agent decided to turn Ryan Trebon’s sidewalls into a massive, garish Clement ad, it’s pretty clear no one was fooled by the effort. And while I’m sure the people at QBP smiled warmly at James Huang’s insistance that the uproariously camouflaged Dugast was merely a placeholder, it sure doesn’t look like the Typhoon has been cut from Treefarm’s arsenal. (more…)

Strava – Review

31 Oct

Strava LogoThe luxury of data in cycling—or any sport, really—was once the rarified domain of the rich or professionally supported. Sure, we commoners had cyclocomputers and heart-rate monitors, but they generally only delivered data to a postage stamp screen, and had to be reset between rides.

If you really felt like spending, you might get a blocky device with a usb cable and CD of poorly-written software (PC-only, of course) that turned your speed and HR into confusing looking graphs that you could compare against all your other confusing looking graphs from previous workouts, and not much else.

Thankfully, recent investor interest in social media, and the proliferation of GPS-enabled phones with reasonable amounts of processing power has resulted in a bloom of social fitness sites. The results aren’t universally good—my disdain for the unusable, boggy, UI carnage of MapMyHumanaRide is well documented—but generally speaking, the situation is a lot better than it was. And of all the options out there, I think Strava is the most thoughtfully crafted.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll note that back in 2010, Strava provided me a year of free membership and a Garmin 305 GPS unit to review their product. Lest you think I’ve been bought off, those of you who follow me on Twitter will note my repeated issues with the Edge 305 device, from broken buttons to fragile screens to DOA refurbs, and I currently pay full price for membership, and have been doing so since my trial offer expired.

As far as using the Strava site goes, your killer feature will depend on what you’re interested in as a rider. When I first began using it, the buzz was focused on a power-inferring algorithm, which made up watts for rides without power data, based on rider weight, speed, and road inclination. A cost-effective way of measuring power has long been a holy grail of the cycling world—remember the iBike?—but as intelligent readers probably knew going in, Strava isn’t going to take the place of a PowerTap or Quark anytime soon.

That said, while drafting, downhills, windspeed, and rolling resistance all play hell with Strava’s calculated wattage numbers, it does produce startlingly accurate results for any climb longer than a minute or so. Again, it’s not something you couldn’t do with your existing data, a well-crafted formula, and a calculator, but laid out alongside everything else, in a clean, smooth, web interface, you begin to think that this might be a feature worth paying for.

Strava comparison tool screenshot

Indeed, data analysis and presentation is really Strava’s strength—and nowhere is this more evident than in its comparative data segmentation feature. Clocking historical times for a popular climb or TT is nothing new, but being able to spotlight, second-by-second, the moment where the truly talented make the difference is pretty darn cool. And if analyzing your own crushing defeats isn’t your thing, there are (if you pay) age group, club, and weight class filters, so almost anyone can find a combination of criteria under which they are King of the Mountain.

This sort of “competition without a number” at first struck me as self-aggrandizing and self-indulgent. But as it turns out, it’s a pretty useful training tool. Sure, KOMs might as often be determined by wind direction as wattage, but knowing you’re in an understood race against an army of online competitors is a great way to motivate for the extended agony of simulated race effort, and being able to compare efforts against yourself is fantastic training feedback. Maybe it’s just because my idea of a training log has historically consisted of remembering the previous day’s workout, but I found the total climb and mileage stats almost invaluable.

Of course, it’s not all completely rosy. For some time the segment and ride search tools have been pretty iffy—tracking down segments from a previous year’s race, for example, can be tricky. A lot of this is really a cataloging and indexing problem, since people will refer to races in a variety of different ways (Green Mountain, GMSR Stage 2, Green Mountain Stage Race, etc), but timestamps/geolocation should be enough to link the listings. In a similar vein, every long climb seems to contain 3 or 4 segments, reflecting various start and finish points. I’d be great if these could be grouped as subsections of one primary listing.

Still, the site is under near-constant development, and their recently added “Segment Explore” addresses many of the old issues, laying out all the segments by climb category in a given region via map view. The consistent, steady evolution of the site is very encouraging for future development, though I might gripe a bit that a good deal of the recent work seems to have been aimed at running-specific features. I understand the business logic, but I miss the good old days of “Strava is for Cyclists”.

Strava Explore Screenshot

Finally, and despite pouring some time into creating an API, Strava doesn’t play particularly nicely with others. Their API seems to be focused on allowing other applications to make changes within Strava, without necessarily freeing up any of the data it uses for cool new tools or external analysis. After much user bellyaching, they finally introduced a GPX export feature, but it’s pretty rudimentary, lacking many of the data sets collected by the site, and without the ability to export segments or your performances across them.

So in the interests of interoperability and data liberation, I’ve built two web tools to get your data off Strava the way you want it. One, the GPX Exporter, is not new, but remains the only way to export data for segments and efforts alone, or to get a GPX containing heartrate, cadence, or temperature. The other, a Strava to TCX export tool, ports everything—yes, including power—into Garmin’s bloated, mangled, propriety TCX format.

I didn’t build these tools just for users. As a product, Strava needs export, and probably a route creation feature. After all, what good is a great Explore tool to find a new routes and climbs if users need to handwrite cue sheets to get themselves out there? The fear, I suppose, is user exodus, but at the end of the day the data is cheap, and usability—which Strava has in spades—is the best guarantee of user retention.

This is why I pay for Strava, even though I (and all users) get the site’s most useful features for free. Don’t get me wrong—the things you get for a paid membership are very cool, but what I really want is continued development of data analysis tools with the same eye toward cleanliness and ease of use that the site currently has. And the five-dollar-a-month user fee seems a pretty fair investment to make for pushing things in that direction.

Tubeless For Cyclocross – The Complete Saga

19 Oct

A flat Maxxis RazeA little more than a year ago, I was riding through the local trail system, over rugged MTB terrain, entirely unhindered by the fact that there was a ‘cross bike between my legs. I was railing loose gravel corners, and clawing my way up steep, bony trails, enjoying plush compliance and plier-like grip. I was plowing over rocks, roots, through streambeds, etc., all without pinching or having my seat punch my backside up into the air. I was thinking “this is amazing—it is totally going to change the CX world”.

This is the real tragedy of tubeless cyclocross set-ups: when they work, they’re awesome. The problem is that for racers, they don’t reliably work. There are plenty of instructions out there, and lots of positive stories. Unfortunately, I can’t say this is one of them.

From the Beginning

In 2009, I had a pretty miserable run of it on clinchers. Some bad luck, some bad riding habits, and some unwillingness to suffer a jarring, high-psi ride left me as a DNF in one out of every five events I started. So after flatting out of a grassy practice race at the beginning of 2010, and being unable to afford the expense and hassle of tubulars at that time, I decided to give tubeless tires a shot.

I ordered a Stan’s Conversion Kit for the Easton Ascent II wheelset I had from road racing. It was with much trepidation that I drilled out the inner wall valve hole to 7/16″, but the wheelset (running standard road clinchers) held up just fine through the 2011 road reason—impressive considering its age, let alone the enlarged hole. I will say that the rims are on the “tighter” side of 700c, and I couldn’t mount any tires with the conversion kit and the factory rim strip in place. Even with just the Stan’s rubber strip on the bare metal, it was a tight squeeze.

The tires I chose—Hutchinson’s tubeless-ready Bulldog CX’s—only made it on to the rim with a tremendous amount of effort and a few broken Pedro’s levers. Once I’d wrestled the tires on, I’d expected my lack of compressor would be a liability, but the front tire, with some soap, a half-cup of Stan’s, and a floor pump, actually inflated pretty handily with the valve core removed (others have had similar experiences). Once I’d set the bead, inflating with the valve core in was no problem.

The rear proved more difficult. No matter how much Stan’s/suds I used, air stubbornly kept slipping out faster than I could put it in. Even at the local garage, the (max 85psi) air pump couldn’t keep up with the leaking. Only after I gave up and removed the tire did I notice that the left-side bead had snapped, leaving a flaccid indentation that refused to hold the rim, even when mounted with a tube.

Eff This, I Wanna Ride

The thing is, a freshly-mounted tire really makes you want to ride. Especially when, pry as you might, you can’t get it to slurp even the tiniest bit of air as you manually wrench it back and forth at 29psi. So I grabbed an older Michelin Mud2, a cup of Stan’s, and another bucket of suds, and within a few minutes, had a second tubeless tire mounted—to the Reservoir!

That puts us back at the beginning of this story—tear-assing like a boss through trails that I had no business riding on a ‘cross bike, to the point that the hard bottom-outs were beginning to bang-up my a-little-light-for-this rims. Even on the faster, more-CX-like sections, the compliant ride and tear-the-grass-out cornering grip were just amazing; everything I’d wanted but never gotten on the clinchers I’d been suffering with for years.

There was still the matter of the broken bead, of course—I’d purchased through an online retailer and the warranty process was going to take weeks, since I had to send it to them, and they had to send it to Hutchinson, and then the process had to reverse. But the Mud2 seemed to be getting the job done.

Some Cracks in the Armor

After a few more vigorous shred sessions at the Res, I’d only found one situation where I encountered the dreaded burp—remounting. Now, my remounts have never been graceful, and last fall they were particularly bad, but only on the ugliest, most awkward landings—overjumping by seven or eight inches and slamming onto the saddle as much sideways as down—did a small bit of air scoot out of my rear tire. It was, according to my mini-pump, less than 5psi on the first burp, and generally, 2 or 3 were survivable before things got sloppy enough that I needed to re-inflate.

Because of the burp-out issue, I had to run the rear tire at a higher pressure (35+ psi) at last year’s Cycle-Smart International, which kinda defeated the purpose—namely, to pedal, rather than bounce, across a notoriously rooty section at that race. I also found myself reverting to step-‘n-hop mounts to prevent burping, which cost me additional time. While I had no qualms about driving the 30psi front tire through corners, as the grassy, hard-grabbing corners wore on, I definitely felt my rear tire getting floppier—not enough to physically slow me, but certainly enough to sap some confidence.

A day or two before Putney, the sidewall on the several-years-old Michelin Mud2 finally broke, rendering it more or less useless for tubeless. I picked up a Maxxis Raze at the local shop, which turned out to be a mistake. By the time of the B race, most of the course had sticky, hard-packed mud ruts—fairly easy to ride, but they also pulled hard at tire bead on every corner. I went about a lap and a half before totally deflation and tire loss. Not cool.

(The Raze also rolled at Ice Weasels, running with a tube. As a race tire, the Raze sucks.)

A Side-by-Side Test

Warranty hassle rolled inexorably onward with the Hutchinson Bulldog. The online retailer I’d bought through couldn’t get in touch with the company, so I went through a back channel, and finally got the case addressed—though my tire would not be in before the end of the season. So I bought a Michelin Mud2 at the local shop, and restored the tubeless set-up I’d run at Cycle-Smart, without too many issues.

Last year’s Baystate Cyclocross provided some slick conditions and a truly infernal course—great for testing the efficacy of different cross setups. To sweeten the deal, Colin Reuter lent me a pair of FMB tubulars on the second day, so I had something more or less resembling a side-by-side test.

It wasn’t perfect; Colin, being insecure about his baldness, took a swipe at my weight by not letting me run 28psi in his tires, and there was a not-insignificant difference in tire width (31ish on the FMBs and 34 on the Hutchinsons). That said, while I had a pretty dismal showing in both races, the tubeless setup easily matched the bite and cushiness of their $150 European counterparts.

While I doubt I could have dared the 22psi employed by tubular aficionados in the loosest of muck (and I still had to half-ass remounts and deal with the slow-seep from the rear) the results showed that tubeless was closely competitive with more traditional setups, in addition to fixing many of the problems endemic to clincher racing.

Things Fall Apart

As the numerous Stan’s torture videos will tell you, tubeless is great at resealing itself. But at a Waffle ‘Cross ride in Boston a few days after Baystate, I caught a piece of glass that made a relatively normal puncture in my rear tire. I’d seen Stan’s take care of some pretty gnarly things (tree branches, barbed wire) on MTB tires, but for whatever reason, the cut just wouldn’t seal up, leaving me floundering around on a flat tire until some Good Samaritan passed me a tube. While not a race incident, it sure was “deflating” (tee-hee) to see tubeless fail in the very situation where it was touted as invincible.

In the interval between Waffle ‘Cross and Ice Weasels, things really started to wear out. My rear Stan’s rubber strip failed around the valve hole—or more precisely, the valve ripped free of the rest of the strip. I was able to create a usable seal by reinserting a valve stem cut from a flatted tube through the inside of the hole left in the strip, and bolting it against the rim. However, there rest of the conversion strip hardly seemed in better shape, as it had small cuts and deformations due to the spoke holes.

So I set up what the Internet glibly refers to as the “ghetto rimstrip”—essentially, half an innertube split open and laid down inside the rim bed. This would prove to be a bad decision. While it worked reliably on the trails, on the hard packed corners at Ice Weasels, it slowly leaked air on every hard bend. The demise was slower than Putney, and I managed to get to the pit before total failure, but the tube just isn’t thick enough to seal off the tire under racing forces and pressures.

During the winter, Hutchinson finally came through with the warranty tire, and I was like “effing finally”. After all, running a tubeless-ready Hutchinson with an intact Stan’s rim strip had been great on the front tire all season long. I’d never managed to test it against the arguably more tubeless-unfriendly forces on the rear tire, but there was reason for optimism. That was, until the bead snapped (again) during installation.

It might seem a little defeatist to give up on tubeless, having never simultaneously run tubeless-ready tires without a proper conversion strip on both wheels. But the fact is that the only tire that seemed to be able hold air to the forces of for-real cross racing—the Hutchinson Bulldog—broke before I could set it up almost every time.

To their credit, Hutchinson has backed-up their product, sending me replacements and alternative tires, but [SPOILER ALERT], they’ve given up on producing tubeless-ready rubber for 2012 because their solution, the low-flex carbon bead, can’t stand up to the forces of installation across the variety of rim diameters out there.

We Must Never Forget That There Is Hope

My own relatively frustrating experience doesn’t mean I think everyone out there having a blast on tubeless tires is a liar. For shredding trails on a CX bike—which is awesome, by the way—tubeless was never a hassle for me. And if you’re a for-fun racer with clean remounts who doesn’t mind backing off in the corners a bit, I think you could even get away with doing some less crowded (so you can pick a clean line) CX events on a tubeless setup.

I think there’s also something to be said for rim choice. Both Shimano and Stan’s make what I’m told are very legit tubeless rims. Unfortunately, unless you already own them, it means you’d need to go out and buy a new set of wheels, and the ability to re-use an existing road wheelset is one of the major reasons people race ‘cross on clinchers (and thus inevitably look to tubeless because clinchers aren’t competitive).

Shimano and Stan’s also ship these tubeless rims/wheels at a prices well above Williams’ much-heralded entry-level tubular wheelset. If money is a concern, tubulars (mindbogglingly, considering how much most tubular tires cost) remain the cheaper option.

Mavic’s Ksyrium and Ksyrium-like wheels, which are certainly more broadly distributed within the peloton than either Stan’s or Shimano’s tubeless offerings, might also provide some hope. The rims are free of air-leaking, rim-strip-slicing spoke holes, and as a co-developer of the UST standard, you’d think they’d have the most respect for a solid tire-rim interface. While the company has stepped away from an “official” road tubeless wheelset in recent years (because weight weenies ruin everything), I’m not the only one who thinks it might secretly already exist.

A Note On Tubulars

A lot of people seem to think I view tubeless as some sort of evolutionary replacement for tubulars. I don’t. If you don’t mind dealing with tubular setups (or can afford to pay some other bastard to deal with them), I see no reason to ever switch over to tubeless. Tubies are indeed a complicated, outdated, dirty, resource-intesive, brute-force solution, but they have one singlar, massively compelling argument in their favor—they work.

But viewing the state of tubulars on the road, I think the appeal of a tubeless cyclocross wheelset becomes clear. While pro cyclists with pro mechanics and free gear still use tubulars, most broke-ass racers who purchase and maintain their own equipment don’t. While I’ll stop short of saying there’s no difference between a $180 Tufo and a $60 Michelin on the road, I will say that you’re not going to lose a race because the guy next to you had tubulars and you didn’t.

A viable tubeless CX option would make that competitive parity between tubular and non-tubular a reality in cyclocross as well, and that—from the standpoint of both racers and manufactures—should be where the real allure of tubeless cyclocross lies.