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FSA's Bottom Bracket Documentation

12 Oct

I know my way around the end of a wrench pretty well, but at 6am, on three hours’ sleep, in my cramped, poorly-lit basement, with the bike inverted because I don’t own a stand, things can get confusing.

All the more so, in fact, when you’re dealing with a wrecked, seasons-old bottom-bracket, where half the cup teeth have been chewed off, and everything’s sealed with a fresh coat of North Beach mud. I had been pretty confident about the correct direction to turn things, but after a few mintes of struggling, I figured it’d better check the directions. RTFM or STFU, right?

RTFM, amirite?
click for full-sized inspection

See that part, under Item 1 in “BB Installation”, about how “English threaded bottom brackets have a reverse threaded non-drive side cup”? That part that I highlighted in red? That’s not accurate. And I was pretty sure it wasn’t at the time.

But when you haven’t had your coffee and you feel and look a bit like Laurens Ten Dam’s nose, you’re dangerously willing to defer to authority. Needless to say, the extraction process was downhill from then on. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending, thanks to Northampton Bicycle and the newest addition to my dream workshop, an impact wrench. But it also got me thinking.

Over the past few months my circumstances, my day job, and—most destructively—my commute have really precluded me from doing anything creative, either on this page or anywhere else. I’ve been self-medicating with as much riding as possible, but this fall, that’s become more difficult as I’ve encountered technical problems resulting from gear that just isn’t very good.

So, through the end of ‘cross season at least, I’m going kill two birds with one stone and start reporting on the crummy parts that keep me from riding, make patently false claims, or otherwise ruin my day. Hopefully it can stir up some of my old productivity, but if not, at least the Internet will have a fairly extensive record of what just does not work for the budget-minded ‘cross racer.

The Worst of Cycling 2009

30 Dec

100_angry_pavelsIf you’ve noticed the distinct, sharp-edge whiff of bile around the cycling world at the moment, don’t attribute it entirely to an excess of cheer at various holiday gatherings. Headlines at the end of the year—and the end of a decade, especially—always seem to reek more of regurgitation than perspiration.

It’s not that I’m above a year-end retrospective; I’ve done it at least once, and frankly, despite the four years that have transpired between then and now, that post is still one of the best end-of-year recaps around.

Measuring things in defined units (a Pavel: ), using images, being funny, stringing more than two sentences together, making actual points, segueing smoothly between sections—a more than solid effort, especially by today’s standards.

But hey, maybe you’re a “shit floats” kind of person, and you see no problems with a best-of list that starts off “It’s indisputable that we’re in the post-literate age, but it’s still possible to find lovely & [sic] interesting writing if you seek it out” before calling a site that unironically uses exclamation points in groups of eight “a slam dunk” for Blog of the Year. And no, neither the best-of list or the blog it names will be getting linked to here.

Or maybe you’re the sort of reader who needs to suckle at the teat of repetition. If so, you were no doubt rejoicing (though not especially surprised) to find that same image-thieving, underwritten, over-exclamation-pointed blog mentioned in both Embro’s and Pavé’s end of year lists.

Then again, maybe I’m the one in the wrong here. Maybe my standards are too high. After all, when the publication of record can’t seem to get itself together over whether or not a rider has signed with a new team, why should I expect the part-timers to reach any higher?

That said, online cycling coverage and commentary at the end of 2009 isn’t entirely a lost cause: I’ll readily credit Pavé for mentioning a blog based purely on a nicely-done layout. While I’ve got reservations about anyone who claims that “When Simoni was on top of his game he got to demand whatever he wanted” (Like this 800g front wheel?), or that “Aluminum was still the choix du jour” for frames in 2003, it’s still nice to find an author-designed blog that doesn’t look like a cached Angelfire page.

And I cannot express how deeply reassuring it is to find at least one other entity in the cycling world willing to stand up for something other than pandering to its advertisers and partner sites. Even the various incarnation of’s redesigns throughout the year—regardless of your opinion on their efficacy—also reflect the genuine desire to present the reader with an improved online experience.

Perhaps 2010 will be the year when this desire finally finds itself aligned with the talent and opportunity to needed create something great.

The Raphxis of Evil

22 Dec

Right off the bat, the title should give you a hint that you might want to take this one with a grain of salt. Or several.

That said, despite regularly producing some of the most original, creative, highest quality work in the cycling world for the past four years, there’s a fair amount of respect I’m not getting. I don’t think there’s anyone out there doing what I do or even coming close to it—certainly not the people collecting redirects from the parties targeted above.

So I think it’s time to start aggressively calling out the the motivations behind this industry’s self-appointed arbiters of good taste. My last naming of names got a fairly good response—and, really, what do I have to lose? The respect referrals I’m already not receiving?

Of course, the suggestion of an “axis of evil” in the cycling industry is obviously and intentionally bombastic, so if you find yourself on the receiving end of this, just consider it a friendly nudge—but one that leads with an elbow nonetheless.

It's All In The Pitch

16 Nov

kohl-pitchWhat the hell kind of sales pitch is this? Mr. “it is impossible to win without doping” Bernhard Kohl is now opening a massive bike shop? How are you gonna sell all that gram-saving, wind-cheating schlock to armies of overpaid Masters racers when you’re on record as a member of the Better Living Through Chemistry camp?

Kohl had just better hope that no enterprising competitors—an ex-con, ex-manager, for example—decide to open “rejuvenation clinics” in the neighborhood.

Now this Velonews article is how you really sell bikes. The author, who has plenty of opinions about doping, sticks to talking about the things that make cycling awesome, while subtly mentioning the zillions of accessories (coffee, vests, gloves, bottles, cleaning supplies, etc) that go along with it. Now the same overpaid Masters racers are fired up to ride, focused on having a good time, and ready to buy, almost without regard for result.

Doping, as Kohl no doubt discovered after he was caught, is really only good for grabbing press. Even non-dopers (or at least those who’ve cleared a few more hurdles to avoid being caught) have realized this. The only word I’ve gotten of Chris Anker Sorenson’s new book is that he talks about the one time he missed an out-of-competition test in it, but that tiny incident was enough to get worldwide, English language press.

Not bad for a TdF domestique from a country most Americans can’t find on a map.

Are You A Speed-Seeking, Torso-less Pair of Legs?

9 Nov

Then, man—has Speedplay got the pair of pedals for you.


In a claim worthy of Chesterfield Cigarettes, Speedplay has asserted that wind tunnel testing has proved its pedals will save you an astounding 33 seconds per hour if you use the four bolt attachment.

There are, of course, the obvious problems with this wind-tunnel derived claim—you don’t ride hour-long time trials; even if you did, you couldn’t ride them a consistent 30mph; even you could, they have hills and corners, and you’re overweight and a lousy bike handler. Then there are cross-winds, other competitors, traffic, mental toughness, etc.

But in this post I will ignore these things. Instead, I want to focus on highlighting Speedplay’s ill-conceived methodology and misleading conclusions.

“…the testing of a single component by itself raises questions as to whether or not the component will perform in the same way when installed on a bicycle and used outside of the tunnel.

With this in mind, we mechanized a life-size, lower-half of a mannequin so the mannequin, rather than a person, would pedal the bike.

Yes, you read that correctly—the problem with wind tunnel tests is that they’re not like real life, so we replaced a real life person with a torso-less pair of mechanical legs. Does its motion churn the surrounding air like a real human set of legs? Are its proportions correct? What about foot position—idealized by biomechanics, or average observed foot position of pro riders? These are questions Speedplay didn’t feel like addressing.

At any rate, Speedplay’s use of de-torsoed legs in means that the results—in the unit-less and not particularly useful form of coefficient of drag—apply only to this mannequin. When this bodiless apparatus is wears shoes with 4-bolt-mounted Speedplays, that coefficient is .237.

However, Biomechanics and Biology of Movement found that “a cyclist on a standard road bike in racing position” has a drag coefficient of 0.78. That 200% increase reflects all the things Speedplay’s disembodied legs left out of their results.

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So what appeared to be a small difference in coefficient of drag—2.5%—is actually an all-but-insignificant 0.7%*. And even that minor change requires to you have faith in the reliability of Speedplay’s procedures. Measuring drag coefficient to three significant digits—the finest measure available from the wind tunnel if Speedplay’s videos are any indication—and coming away with a single thousandth of variation invites far closer scrutiny of the study.

Sadly, Speedplay states only that the tests ran for five minutes, at a cadence of 100 rpm, and a headwind of 30mph. Data on number of trials for each pedal design, and variation in wind speed during the course of each trial would be more than welcome, but are entirely lacking.

Speedplay offers similarly little help in saying exactly what “available data” lead them to infer that the advantage to their pedal is “equivalent to the speed gained when switching from a standard front wheel to a deep-profile, aerodynamic front wheel.” The only data I could find using coefficient of drag were from Greenwell, which describes aero wheel advantages roughly two to ten times more pronounced than anything measured by Speedplay in this testing.

So, Speedplay—as far as I can tell, you’re lying to sell more gear. You certainly wouldn’t be the only ones. But I’d hate to stand here casting such aspersions without giving you a chance explain or clarify your findings.

I want to see the precise data behind this test—with detailed descriptions of apparatus, methods, and raw results. I’d also like to know the names and qualifications of those who designed and carried out this test. Finally, I’d like to see what research you used to conclude that, based on the data in this test, Speedplay pedals deliver such marked aerodynamic savings.

My request for this data is genuine. Readers and tech editors alike will tell you I’m receptive to criticism and more than willing publish your response.

*actually, I’m told that the increased surface area of a full-sized rider would make the coefficient of drag an even less relevant than the absolute value I’ve derived here.

$300 on eBay: Your $4000 Frame

26 Jun

If there’s a bike company that exemplifies everything I find ludicrous about the industry, it would be Kuota. From their rococo frame designs, paint jobs (or lack thereof), and high price tags, right down to the .it URL (even Campy isn’t that brand-obsessed), you’d be hard pressed to find a bike trying harder to draw attention away the shortcomings of its rider’s pe…personality.


Even worse, of course, was having to endure the masturbatory, scienceless prose of Charles Manantan at Pez every time he got set up with another bike (“…the vibration that does make it’s[sic] way up all the curves doesn’t get focused directly toward your butt via the seat tube, but rather skirts around it and goes to the top tube!”). His Kuota reviews always aroused particular ire in me, probably because I’m the sort of guy who enjoys spending a few minutes Googling things. Consider the following passage from his Khan review:

I don’t mean to get boring here, but I have to speak about the build quality. It is the logical result when the factory is an ISO 9002 approved facility. That means they have to live up to top flight standards not generally associated with the cycling industry.

ISO 9002, in case you’re wondering, has nothing to do with bikes. It’s a now-obsolete set of standards for running a quality management system. Here it is at a fish wholesaler in Japan. The China Bicycle Corporation, makers of this awesome ride and thousands more like it, is among this apparently select fraternity of manufacturers able to boast ISO 9000 certification as part of their press kit.


Anyway, I mention this because something interesting came up in eBay’s automatically generated “we think you’ll like” widget today. I don’t want (and shouldn’t have) to tell you it’s a Kuota Kredo—mostly because of the flood of “OMG weave angle is *totally* different” comments—but I will say that eBay is chock full of them, and at very reasonable prices, too.

So the next time a salesman, or some douchey Fred of a rider gets uppity about his bike, feel free to redirect him (they are almost invariably male) this post. Because while it’s especially satisfying to see a Kuota sold like this, the fact remains that this sort of thing happens to nearly every brand—and many end up back on the market, often wearing someone else’s paint.

By now, it should be common knowledge world’s bike frames are all produced in the same handful of East Asian factories—and for the most part, those factories do an awesome job. Certainly, outside the realm of custom-fit rigs from Serotta and Indy Fab, you will never notice the difference between the finest stuff Shenzhen churns out, and factory-built rides from Euro brands like Time.

If you’re in the market for a new rig, focus on fit, parts, cost, and service (in that order) and do your best to forget that any of that other stuff even exists.

Why I Look Past Pais Vasco

14 Apr

photo by flickr ryoichitanaka under cc-deed-2.0Now that I’ve gotten some sleep in lieu of videomaking, I’ve been trying to get my head around why I can’t get into these little baby stage races. Maybe it’s because they’re so anonymous—I mean, from Ruta del Sol onward, it’s just 5-day races with roughly three flat stages, two climbs and a time trial at the end.

This is very similar to my criticism of the Ardennes classics, at least after Amstel was revamped to have a stupid uphill finish—you’ve seen one, and you’ve (almost) seen them all. That’s what makes the Cobbles Week classics so interesting: they’ve each got their own unique character. The Ronde has those steep cobbled climbs, Wevelgem has the death-defying descent and looming threat of a group sprint if riders aren’t aggressive, and Roubaix is, well, Roubaix.

But I think what really irritates me about these little stage races is that they’ve become tune-ups for the Grand Tours. Paris-Nice used to be something that all the riders battled after full-gas—Anquetil attacked Poulidour 38 times in a single stage in his attempts to win in ’66, and Poulidor set a Col de Turbie record record that would last a decade to clip Eddy Merckx in 1971. Now it’s “form not bad, time trial average“.

I’m not denying the supremacy of the Grand Tours—obviously, I’d rather have a single Giro or Tour than an epic string of Paris-Nices (isn’t that right, Sean?), but I can’t help but feel the emphasis on them is based largely on marketability. In the controlled, tactical conditions of 20-day long races on smooth, American-style roads, you can make ludicrous claims about product impacts on overall victory.

On the chaos of the cobbles, it’s harder to make such idiotic statements, which is probably why Velonews’ only video from Cobbles Week is a glorified advertisement for Specialized instead of anything having to do with the racing and tactics from (IMHO) the best races in the world.

So yeah—I’m not all that into the short stage races. Tune-up events shouldn’t be placed on the same page with races where a victory makes a career, especially when those career-making events end up taking a back seat to journos hocking bikes made in the same Taiwanese factory as everyone else’s.

Clean Cycling – The Time to Invest is Now

4 Dec

I’m sure that at some point in my life, I’ll be disgraced. And when that day comes, I hope I can weather the storm and resign respectfully, without trampling my denouement under a landslide of excuses; e.g., “I’m not a married, self-loathing homosexual – I’m just prone to misunderstandings. Lots of them“. “I’m not into adolescent boys – I was just drunk. For the past past 11 years“. “I wasn’t doping – I was just having relationship problems

Given the trend toward newer, more stringent anti-doping standards, I don’t think we’ll encounter a dearth of sniveling excuses in the ’08 season, either, even if organizers are aiming for kinder, gentler races. To avoid these embarrassments, organizers will be seeking out out teams unlikely to turn up a doping positive, which means Jon Vaughters’ commitment to clean cycling should be netting him much more than “Sportsman of the Year” nominations. Even if Slipstream shakes out buck-naked last at every major event, no other team lets organizers make as strong a statement for the future of the sport.

If only the Germans had such foresight. With T-Mobile – er, I mean High Road – continuing to chase the dream of in-house testing, odds are their Giants will be getting invitations to the biggest races, and be seen as the face of a cleaner cycling. Adidas, Audi and T-Mobile, however, will simply be remembered as the companies who couldn’t risk advertising on non-doped riders, after funding the sport through its most chemically enhanced years. It’s like they haven’t noticed that Roberto Heras can’t get a job.

No More Pro Dopers, Worlds TT, Silly Bike Ideas

26 Sep

What is up with doping stories these days? I mean, the Dopers Suck guy getting called out for a missed test? Come on, people. I guess the pros are just so clean now that the little guys are the only viable targets left. Alejandro Valverde? Officially clean. Or at least allowed to race at worlds. Same with Allen Davis; yesterday, it was unlikely he’d start. Now? Good to go.

Even when someone does kick dirt on the pros, it’s laughably apocryphal. A German news agency accusing Paolo Bettini of doping? Days before he defends his world title? When last year’s runner up was a German? And Worlds is being held in a German city? Riiiiiiight. If that doesn’t stink to high heaven, you’ve got a bright future in the septic tank repair industry. Besides, Bettini’s gotta be clean, right? He finally signed the DNA agreement instead of quitting.

Not gonna blab much about the two cyclocrossers taking titles in the TT. Everyone else is talking about that, and anyway, I think it’s more significant that the US put 3 women in the Top 5. At any rate, tomorrow’s ride in the cold rain should make for more interesting blog fodder. Not nearly as rich as the announcement of a transcontinental Tour de Stupid (410k stages?), or Yeti’s apparent pandering for a Trek buyout (integrated BB bearing cups? On a mountain bike? Really?), but still fun to write about.

A Whiny Rest Day, Stupid Tech, Britain, Poland and…Missouri?

11 Sep

Note to Carlos Sastre – you know that finishing salute you do? Consider trying it on the days you don’t win. I have it from good sources that you always carry the pacifiers with you, so next time the urge strikes to complain about “secret pacts”, just pop one in, ok? You’ve been a professional for almost a decade now, and you ought to have learned at least three things: 1) unless you build a velodrome on the moon, someone will always be drafting; 2) it’s common practice for race leaders to cede stages to breakaway companions if they aren’t a GC threat; 3) if you’re looking for a “fair” sport, cycling isn’t it.

I mean, I could go on – Piepoli is prone to relentless, often foolhardy attacks; his tiny frame is a lousy draft for the six-foot-tall Menchov; Menchov’s “cooperation” with Piepoli late in the stage allowed many other GC threats to catch back up – but there’s been too much press on this non-issue already. Until someone starts stealing signals, I prefer to focus on more obvious outrages, such as tires that only work one way, the continued triumph of style over substance and “farewell” races that occur with two ProTour events still to come.

And it’s not like there’s a shortage of racing to talk about, either. Even with a Vuelta rest day (though apparently, not a very restful one), there’s the Tour de Britain (Cavendish didn’t win, so expect less coverage), and of course, the Tour de Poland (G-Steiner’s David Kopp took today’s stage, while Graeme Brown won yesterday’s event, despite the best efforts of the Polish Ministry of Propaganda. As for the Tour de Missouri…well, I’ll let the locals handle that.