The Tandem Experience

By now, you know about the Mandem and you’ve seen my preliminary thoughts on the fun of riding it.  I’ve now had an opportunity to ride it with 5 different riding partners, and the experience continues to be great.

I started riding with “A”, who prefers to captain.  He and I have ridden the Mandem together the most, and I’m most attuned to his particular riding habits.  Over time, he has gotten accustomed to riding at a faster cadence than he would normally ride–and if you’re a new tandem rider, I’d suggest working towards a faster cadence.  The ride is smoother, and it’s easier to synchronize putting down a lot of power when spinning than it is when churning at a lower cadence.  Riding with A, I can see around/over him–so when we’re in a group and start pushing up on the rider in front of us, I can back off the power a bit.  He’s gotten really good at giving feedback through the pedals when he wants to increase or decrease power.  Our starts and stops are silent and easy.  A’s a strong rider, and riding together, it’s a fast bike in all conditions.

I’ve also ridden with “B”, who stoked.  B is an incredibly strong rider, and the experience was what I wrote about in the Fun post linked above.  With a  really strong stoker, under power, the front of the bike almost seems light–like driving a drag racer.  B very quickly picked up on the body english necessary to keep the bike stable, and also was good at not moving around a lot.

I’ve captained with “C” as well.  C is a regular rider, but not the strongest rider.  What was interesting about that experience was the feeling of the bike when C was working hard.  Riding normally, it felt like I was doing all of the work, and I could feel when C started to pedal in earnest.  It kind of felt like solo riding, except when we were working hard.  Going from riding with really strong riders to riding with a more casual rider was an interesting experience.

I stoked with “D”, who is a strong rider.  The interesting part about stoking with D is the contrast between D and E (see below).  I could see around D.  His power was very consistent–steady power at all times.  I could feel that he was having a hard time figuring out exactly how hard he was working; getting used to riding a tandem can be disconcerting.  On hard efforts, his power came on progressively and smoothly, and the bike would gradually ramp up speed, like a turbine.  He moved around on the saddle a lot, which made the bike move around a lot, which contributed to his sense that steering the bike was tiresome.  (The more you ride with someone and get used to the handling, the easier it gets.  Riding on gravel with 2 riders on 35c tires requires some faith that the long wheelbase will get you through just about anything, and you have to let the bike wander a bit).

Most recently, I stoked with “E.”  E is also a strong rider, and he’s a bigger guy.  The interesting things about riding with E were the contrasts in riding styles.  Whereas D was like a turbine that gradually ramped up in power, E was more peaky.  Under ‘normal’ riding, I felt like I was doing more work than normal…but when he wanted to push, the surge in his effort was instantaneous and awesome.  He has a totally different riding style from D.  I’ve ridden thousands of miles with those two guys, and until I had ridden the tandem with them, I had never really appreciated the difference in their styles.  Seeing–feeling that difference on the tandem gave me a far greater appreciation for their respective talents on the bike.

As I said above, E is a bigger guy.  With him as captain, I couldn’t see anything forward unless I sat way up, or leaned way out.  Since we were riding at night, I could look for light on the ground to see where we were relative to other riders, but it was more challenging.  On the other hand, it was chilly out, and I had a nice warm pocket of still air, out of the wind, in E’s draft.

His size also totally changed the handling of the bike.  I’d guess that he has about 30 pounds on the guys I had previously ridden with.  (And don’t get me wrong–he’s not fat, he’s just a bigger guy.  While it comes as no surprise to people that I’m a cyclist, he’s more likely to be confused with a football player).  That extra weight was palpable in the vertical compliance of the frame.  Coupled with his lunging power in hard efforts, the bike was noticeably more _________.  I don’t want to say flexible, because that has a negative connotation…but it was had noticeably more vertical movement.  I suspect that as he got used to riding a tandem, and if we were riding at a higher cadence, there would be less bounce in his pedaling.  If there wasn’t less bounce, then I’d potentially want to look to a frame that was a bit less vertically compliant.  I gained a lot of appreciation for the strength that it takes a larger guy to move a bike.  E’s probably got 50 pounds on me, and my respect for his riding ability has increased exponentially.

There was a strong crosswind at times when riding with E…and I learned that crosswinds are a tandem’s worst enemy.  First, the crosswind negated a lot of our drag advantage.  Ordinarily, in head/tail winds, we have the power of two riders and the drag of one.  In a crosswind, the drag of both riders was palpable.  Additionally, we had twice the cross section as a normal bike, being controlled by one steering tire, which made handling a bit more complicated.  On the other hand, when I’ve ridden solo in 20-25mph crosswinds, I get pushed around a lot on the road too.

Having experienced riding with these guys, I have to say that I love the Mandem.  I’d be curious to see what it’s like riding with someone that’s smaller than me, at some point…to check out how it handles under those conditions.  Riding with people on a tandem is perhaps the very best way to gain a direct understanding of their abilities and weaknesses–it gives me better ideas on how to support them on group rides; when to take a pull for them, and when to let them take the lead.  If I were devious, I’d say that it gives me a better understanding of when to successfully attack, as well…but I’m not devious.

If you have a chance to ride a serious tandem (i.e. not a 50 year old schwinn beach cruiser tandem), I’d highly recommend it.  It’s a completely different experience, and well worth the time.  If you’re considering that, here are a few pieces of advice:

  1.  Don’t spend too much time worrying about how to synchronize starts and stops.  Have good communication the first few times (including a discussion of which foot is going to unclip and go down), and it comes naturally very quickly.
  2. Do consider riding in a higher gear than you normally would, to increase your cadence (if you’re trying to ride fast).  It’s easier to put down power when spinning on a tandem, than it is when churning.
  3. Do consider putting the stronger rider in front.  I tend to think the bike is more stable that way.  If the riders are of equal strength, I’d suggest putting the larger rider in front.
  4. Remember to drink.  For some reason, when riding the tandem, I tend to forget about drinking.
  5. If you get to stoke, look around.  It’s a totally different experience to be able to crank along at 25mph, while actually seeing the environment around you.
  6. In contradiction to #5, if you stoke, you still have to support the captain and watch for cars and such.  It’s great to have a second set of eyes that can look back for passing cars, monitor intersections, etc.
  7. Only tandem with someone that you trust.  If either the captain or stoker screws up, the consequences are bad for both.
  8. Ride the tandem a few times before you try to ride it in a group.  Group riding in a tandem takes more skill…and you should be comfortable/competent in handling it before you try.
  9. Remember the wheelbase length.  That means wider corners, pulling through farther when in a paceline, etc.
  10. Have no pity for the solo riders.  Crush them, mercilessly.  There are few things more fun than cranking past someone on the tandem at a ludicrous speed, while they suffer along alone.

Get out and ride!

The Great NickelBacking Incident

One of my dear, dear friends is a talented bike mechanic that we’ll call Chad.  I’ve been with Chad on many adventures.  We’ve mountain biked Steamboat.  We’ve mountain biked Brown County.  We’ve raced fatbikes at Barry-Roubaix.  We’ve ridden through ridiculous mud.  Multiple times.  We’ve spotted Gnarwals.  We’ve ridden gravel–so much gravel.  We’ve ridden in some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen on two wheels.


We’ve seen a lot, and done a lot together.  I once even saw him get eaten by a giant caterpillar, while standing atop a park bench in Indiana.

Chad is a talented rider–he has bike handling skills that many are envious of.  Those skills used to be frequently displayed through his impromptu, back-parking-lot BMX demonstrations…on just about every type of bike out there.  And then…then Chad decided to race Cyclocross one year.

I had an idea for a little prank.  I thought I might slip a sticker on the underside of the top tube of Chad’s CX bike before an upcoming race.  I ordered one online, it arrived at my house, and I waited for the right moment.  One Wednesday night, before a gravel ride, his bike was sitting in the repair stand, unattended.  I quickly slapped the sticker on, guessing that he would see it.  He didn’t.  I didn’t mention it, and no one else mentioned it either.

He went to the race, which featured a few jumps right in the middle of the course.  It was a perfect opportunity for him to show off his bike-handling abilities…and there happened to be a photographer present at just the right angle, to catch a glorious shot of Chad…flying…midair…through the CX race.

I never could have guessed that the course would have a jump.  That Chad would hit it hard.  That a photographer would be there at just the right angle.  That the stars would align in such perfection…but they did.

Oh how they did.

Twas was one of my greatest accomplishments.

Disc Brakes for Road?

Since UCI’s recent announcement that it will permit riders to utilize disc brakes on road bikes in UCI-licensed events next year, there has been much ink spilled worrying about this issue.  Hyperbole has ranged from “pros sure to cut off limbs via razor sharp disc rotors” to “all of your non-disc bikes are now worthless in the resale market.”  On that first point, I haven’t seen too many serious disc brake related injuries in cyclocross races (where there is a significant amount of rider to rider contact and crashing).  On that second point, if you’re buying bikes based on resale value, then perhaps your values are off.

The real pros and cons of disc brakes are pretty self-evident.

Pro:  Greater stopping power and greater modulation than rim brakes.

Pro:  Greater braking power in wet/inclement conditions.

Pro:  Easier to dissipate heat in a safe fashion on mountain descents, as compared to rim brakes.

Pro:  More consistent braking force in all conditions.

Cons:  Wheel removal/installation becomes more challenging or time consuming because of rotor alignment (and in particular, when thru axles are involved).

Cons:  Greater weight.

Cons:  Greater aerodynamic drag.

Cons:  When not properly aligned, greater propensity for brake drag / mechanical drag.

Cons:  More technically challenging setup.

Honestly, a lot of the pros and cons are situation specific.  I’m never really in a circumstance where cutting a second off of a wheel swap will impact my life, so the wheel installation/removal is a non-issue; that’s the case for many riders.

I’m typically pretty pro-technology.  The last time I posted on this topic, almost four years ago, I was rabidly pro-disc brake.  For gravel, touring, and many other purposes, I am still very pro-disc.  The reason that I am pro-disc in those venues is because I believe disc brakes are well suited for those types of riding.  So are disc brakes well suited for road riding?  Sure.  For some.

I ride here in flatlandia.  I’ve never had a descent on a road bike where I’ve had a concern about stopping power or brake overheating.  Even when it rains, a minor adjustment in technique (squeeze the brakes a bit early to dry the brake track; modulate pressure more carefully) works well.  For me, the penalty in weight and drag outweighs the benefits of disc brakes on road settings.  When we’re doing a fast group ride, the 10-15 watt drag penalty of disc brakes at road speeds is palpable and not appreciated.  I’ll take every advantage I can (legitimately) get in those rides.  As a relatively light rider who runs quality wheels and well-maintained rim brakes, I run out of tire traction long before I run out of stopping power.

So for me, riding here, disc brakes for road don’t change my life.  And when the weather gets really bad, I shift over to the Moots and ride it instead…with disc brakes and 35c tires.

If I was riding in Colorado on a regular basis, I’d be agog about going to disc brakes.  They make perfect sense in mountainous conditions.  Right gear for the terrain.

I have a good friend who has switched to road disc, and he loves it–even in Illinois.  More power to him.

In the pro-cycling realm, I think it’s unlikely that every bike will suddenly become disc brake.  We’re not going to see TT bikes with disc brakes any time soon; the drag penalty doesn’t make sense.  In flat stages, running disc brakes likely won’t make sense.  In the mountains, disc brakes give riders a performance edge–and more importantly, they give riders a safety edge.  Better, more predictable stopping in all conditions–that’s what they bring.  To me, it makes perfect sense for UCI to allow pros to use disc brakes…because it makes the riding safer in mountain stages.

I suspect that the real effect in pro races will just be even greater specialization of bikes.  Just as some riders have switched mid-ride between a TT bike and a ‘climbing’ bike in mountain TT stages, we will see riders bringing a TT bike, a disc-brake bike for mountains, and a rim-brake bike for flatter road stages.  Does that mean rim brake bikes are suddenly worthless, or that every rider is going to go out and have to buy a new bike?  Nope.

It means that pros will have a better-suited tool for one aspect of their racing…and that technology will trickle down to other riders for whom it makes sense.  Will my next road bike be disc or rim brake?  I don’t know…I don’t have plans to replace the Madone any time soon.  When I do go to replace it, I’ll look at the available options and pick what makes the most sense for my riding, as I’ve done in the past.  By then, I suspect there will be lower drag disc options…and maybe those will make the benefits of disc brakes win me over.

What I perpetually don’t understand is why so many in cycling are so anti-progress.  I can understand that shops don’t want to have to stock forty different bottom bracket variations–completely get it.  But when there is some “new technology” (to the extent that road disc is new) that enhances safety for a significant group of riders, why be so pessimistic?  The sky is not falling.  Road disc for those whom it benefits.  Rim brakes will be around for others, for a very long time.

ENVE the Mandem

With the recent availability of my ENVE 29XCs, the Mandem has received an upgrade.




As expected, they’re snappy, durable, incredibly fast, and awesome looking. These are 32/32 laced to DT240 hubs. I’ll give a durability update in a few months…

As related in my last post, the ENVEs weigh 780/852 grams front and rear, versus 966/1236 grams for the generic aluminum wheels that were previously on the Mandem.




That’s a reduction of 570 grams of rotating mass–1 and 1/4 pounds. A reduction in rotating mass, going to a wheel that is wider, more aerodynamic and stronger. Win, win, win.

I look forward to a lot of miles on the Mandem.  I also look forward to one final upgrade.  Stay tuned.

Zipp Firecrest 202 Tubeless Setup

(Brief intro: those who follow this blog know of the Mandem.  It’s an amazing bike, but was built up with the wheels that we had available at the time.  Of late, I had an opportunity to pick up a set of Zipp Firecrest 202s, set up for disc brakes.  They’re amazing wheels, but do not have a weight rating to support the Mandem with 2 riders.  Accordingly, my plan was to move my set of ENVE 29XC wheels from the Moots to the Mandem, and put the Zipps on the Moots.  But in order to do so happily, I wanted to run the Zipps tubeless.)

Zipp 202s are supposed to be amazing wheels.  Light, aero, durable, disc-compatible…all good things.  But they’re not tubeless compatible–or they’re not supposed to be.  I wanted to run a set, but I wanted to run them tubeless.  They’re going on the Moots (linked above), which is an all-purpose, all-terrain, gravel, mixed-surface, crappy-pavement, whatever you throw at it bike.  I wanted 202s because they’re light, surprisingly aero (according to tests) and because the narrow depth is supposed to be cross-wind resistant.  I’ve had conditions on gravel roads in DeKalb where the cross-wind is so strong that I have a hard time keeping a straight-ish line on loose surfaces…so I need all the help I can get.

Jumping to the lead: Zipp Firecrest 202s can be set up tubeless.  I am not responsible for your warranty claims.

The setup was pretty simple.  I took some Stan’s 25mm tubeless setup tape and used 2 wraps around the wheels.  2 wraps covered the inside of the rim, almost from bead to bead.  I then mounted up some tires with tubes, inflated them, and let the whole setup sit overnight with 80 psi in it.



After 24 hours, I pulled the tires and tubes off, and the tape was nice and firmly adhered, like so:


You can see that it does a really nice job of going up to the bead, without impinging on the bead.



For comparison’s sake, I did a little weigh-off between the ENVEs and the Zipps. The Zipps are stock build–the “77/177D” hub, which is convertible from QR to 2 different thru-axle specs, Sapim brass nipples, and 24/24 Sapim CX Ray spokes. The ENVEs feature DT Swiss 240 hubs (also convertible), ENVE nipples, and 32/32 CX Ray spokes–so a heavier build. Both wheels (front and rear) are weighed with just the built wheel, plus tubeless tape (ENVE tape on the ENVEs, Stan’s tape on the Zipps). No rotors, no cassette, no valve stem.



ENVE front weighed out at 780 grams.



ZIPP front weighed out at 734–a little under 50 grams lighter. Since the spokes each weigh 4.5 grams, plus something for the nipples, I’d guess that all of the weight difference is just in the extra spokes on the ENVEs.


Just for fun, the fully built, taped, stem’d, tire’d and sealant’d Zipp front comes in at 1414 grams (with 2.5 ounces of sealant).



The rear ENVE comes in at 852 grams…


Versus 840 grams for the Zipp.



Accounting for the spoke difference, my guess is that the rear DT240 is lighter than the Zipp hub. Both hubs are set up for 11 speed. (And of note, the Zipps were perfectly clean, and the ENVEs had a couple grams of dried sealant on the inside). I was pretty surprised by how close the weights were.

Those weights include 2 wraps of Stan’s tape on the Zipps, versus one wrap of ENVE tape on the ENVEs.  The ENVE tape is more like Gorilla tape, and I like it better.

Here’s the finished product:


Tubeless setup was a breeze. Slapped the tire on, removed the valve core, and one hit with the compressor–the tire instantly seated. I let the air out, put some Stan’s in, put the valve core back in, and pumped them up to 60 psi. The Stan’s shake and roll ensued, and everything sealed tight as a drum. 48 hours later, almost no pressure loss.

I don’t have enough time on the Zipps to comment on their durability. I have a lot of confidence in the ENVEs, based on the abuse I’ve given them on gravel and on the Fuel.  I’m hopeful that the Zipps serve just as well.  One feature I really do like about the Zipps is the external nipples.  While the ENVEs have not needed attention in terms of truing, if they ever do, it will require stripping the tire off, pulling off the tubeless tape, and getting at the internal nipples.  The Zipps are a far simpler enterprise.

In early riding, the Zipps are…well, Zippy.  They roll just as fast, if not faster, than the ENVEs.  They seem a bit snappier under acceleration, but I don’t think they’re quite as rigid.  From what I’ve read, they’re intended to have some more vertical compliance for better riding on hard surfaces.  That may be what I’m feeling.  Nothing weird (they go where they’re pointed), but noticeably different from the ENVEs.

As far as aero goes, I’m trying to decide if it’s in my head or not…but they seem more aerodynamic.  Crosswinds are less noticeable, headwinds are more bearable.  That’s all subjective, but subjective is important when you’re the rider.

In terms of tubeless setup, I didn’t encounter any roadblock that made me second-guess proceeding forward.  The Zipps have a nice bead that made setup easy, and the tape worked like a charm.  I hope to get a lot of life out of them.

Can I Run Hydraulic Brakes on my fatbike in Winter?

(Editorial note: In addition to writing this blog, I’m the SuperMod of the Fat Bikes page on Facebook, which currently has over 10,000 members.  From time to time, the page gets repeated questions from members, and accordingly, we are developing a Fatbike FAQ page to answer those questions.  I’ll be hosting that here.  Helpful Fatbike related topics will be posted on here, and linked to a master link of the FAQs.  This is the first of those posts).

Many entry-level fat bikes come with mechanical disc brakes.  One of the very first questions that gets commonly asked by those new to winter biking is whether they can use hydraulic brakes on their fatbike, in winter.

The answer: Yes.

Have a nice day.


Ok, just kidding.  We’ll give some more content.

Why run mechanical disc brakes in winter?  When perfectly adjusted, they have good braking power, and you don’t have to worry about hydraulic fluid–so say the proponents.  Why not to run them?  There’s a myriad of reasons:

  1.  If not perfectly adjusted, they don’t have good braking power.  In winter, when the pads will likely have water/crud/ice on them, that can majorly detract from braking power.
  2. If they get wet and then freeze, the mechanical components do not work well, and they can either freeze up (no brakes) or freeze tight (no movement).  Both are bad.
  3. Over time, when exposed to salt, snow, slush, etc., the mechanical components rust/seize/wear badly.  In my experience, unless you’re really on top of it, you can ruin a set of mechanical calipers in a single season.
  4. With a really good set of cables/housing, the cables should be fine.  But with a cheap set, you’re in trouble, as the cables will bind when it is cold out, and then you’ll be back to #2 (no brakes or seized brakes).  Also, even with a good set of housings, mishaps can take your brakes out.  For example, last winter I was riding a frozen river and broke through.  The right side of my handlebar was dunked in the water.  Water got into the housing, froze during the ride, expanded, and split the housing.  I lost shifting, because it took out my rear derailleur housing.  Because I used hydro brakes, my brakes were fine.  With mechanical brakes, I would have lost brakes and shifting.
  5. Generally speaking, mechanical brakes require more attention in inclement conditions than do hydro brakes.  (IMO, mechanical brakes are always more work…but that’s because I like my brakes to function perfectly, and with mechanicals, you’re always chasing the right tuning).

So what about hydro brakes?  Can they be run in the cold?  Absolutely.  In my experience, over several years of fat biking in the winter, hydro brakes are far more reliable, resilient and durable.  They’re better suited to winter than mechanicals.  They are sealed, and can withstand being dunked, frozen, and ridden further.  From time to time, if you get them really wet, they may ice up.  The solution is to pedal a bit and hold the brakes down lightly…they’ll self-clean and clear off the ice.  Set them up once, and go.

Whenever this topic comes up, the inevitable question is: Shimano or SRAM?  The answer: whichever you prefer.  I’ve run AVID and Shimano brakes.  I prefer Shimano, because they function more reliably, are easier to bleed, and frankly, require less attention.  After initial setup, I’ve never had to bleed my Shimanos…across a number of bikes (both drop bar and flat bar hydros).  With Avids, a lot more attention was required.  For example, my Beargrease originally came with Avid XX brakes.


I replaced those with Shimano XTRs, because of recurrent air/bleeding issues.


The next thing you will hear is: “Avids use DOT brake oil and Shimanos use mineral oil.  Mineral oil freezes at a warmer temperature than DOT oil, so you should use Avids so that the oil doesn’t freeze up when riding.”  While it is true that mineral oil has a higher freezing point than does DOT brake fluid, this point is irrelevant in all but the worst conceivable conditions.  I’ve run my Shimanos in temperatures below -35F.  (Quick note: that’s actual temperature, not windchill.  Windchill is the perceived temperature on exposed skin, based on wind and temp; it is irrelevant to mechanical things such as brakes, which do not perceive temperature.  So when talking about mechanical items, stick with actual temp, not windchill).  Even at -35, I had no issues with the brakes being sticky, sluggish or frozen.  That was the case, even after several hours of outdoor biking, when everything was fully acclimated to the cold and fully as cold as it was outside.  That was the case after hauling my bike on an exterior bike rack in those conditions, and then riding it.  That was the case even after being set in the snow on a break, and then picked back up and ridden.  From my perspective, the greater resilience of Shimanos (and lessened need for bleeding) means that they are less likely to have contaminants enter the brake system…and I’d be more worried about the contaminants freezing than the fluid freezing.  Of note, I haven’t run the latest generation of Avid brakes, which I understand are greatly improved.  But unless you’re regularly riding in temps much colder than -35, I’d suggest you pick whichever hydro brakes you prefer and run them, without worrying about mineral vs. DOT brake fluid.

So, in short: If you want to run hydro brakes, they’ll work in the cold, and they’ll almost certainly work better than mechanical brakes.  The fluid won’t freeze up–unless you’re riding in really extreme conditions.  My personal experience extends to -35F, and I’ve read of others using them successfully down to -50F.  Buy a set you like, set them up properly once, and go for it!

Derailleur Hanger: The Move to a Circuit Breaker

Have you ever broken  a derailleur hanger?  I mean really, really broken one?  I mean broken one so hard that the derailleur goes into your rear wheel, breaking a bunch of spokes and taking you out of a 200 mile gravel endurance race?  No?

Me neither.  Who would do something like that?

But some people have.  Some very nice people.  And those people started thinking about how dumb derailleur hangers are.

You see, years ago, cars included these things called fusible links.  I had a mid-70s Jeep CJ and it was full of them.  I spent untold hours hacking them out of the wiring harness.

In the world of wiring, you have to accept that from time to time, something will draw too much current.  When it draws too much current, it can result in the wiring harness getting hot and/or burning up–literally melting and/or catching fire.  For a variety of reasons, that’s not a good thing.  And hence, cars include circuit protection.  The basic idea of circuit protection is providing a weak link in each wiring circuit–something that will ‘give’ in the event of an overdraw in the circuit, before the wiring harness (or an electrical component) blows up or catches fire.  That’s a very good thing.

Circuit protection in cars comes in three typical forms.  There are fusible links, which are essentially a failure point built into a length of wire, directly wired into the wiring harness.  The fusible link will burn up before the rest of the harness, but once it goes, replacing it involves hacking and splicing a new fusible link into the harness.  The second type of circuit protection is a fuse.  A fuse is a little circuit protector that goes in a fuse holder or fusebox and serves the same purpose; it blows before the wiring harness burns up.  When a fuse blows, you can pull the fuse out and just stick a new one into the fuse holder (assuming you fixed the underlying issue).  No drama, no hacking, no wiring.  Much more eloquent.

The third general type of circuit protection in cars is a circuit breaker.  A circuit breaker is an automatic device; it will trip when there’s an overload, and once the overload condition goes away, it will reset.  The power windows in your car are likely wired to a circuit breaker (unless they’re on a computer-controlled circuit).  If you hold the ‘window up’ button for too long, the motor will start to heat up and the circuit breaker will interrupt the circuit, allowing the motor to cool down.  Thereafter, it automatically resets.  (Sure, there are manual-reset circuit breakers, but let’s get back to bikes here, some time).

The general thought I have is that in most applications, a circuit breaker is superior to a fusible link.  It doesn’t require tools to fix, and can be reused and reset.  You want the protection that it offers, but when it trips, it’s a lot easier to deal with a circuit breaker (or for that matter, a blown fuse) than it is to deal with a burned out fusible link.  And that brings us back to bikes.

Derailleur hangers are fusible links.  They’re designed to be a weak spot in the system–a spot that will break before the derailleur explodes (hopefully).  But when they break, they break.  You have to have a spare with you, unbolt the old one, bolt a new one in.  Not simple.  Not eloquent.  Necessary, but inconvenient.  And when they do break, the derailleur is fully cut-loose, ready to wreak havoc on unsuspecting rear wheels.  That leads to my underlying suggestion: derailleur hangers need to become more like circuit breakers.

Imagine a derailleur hanger that, instead of being firmly bolted on, was held on by high-powered magnet and perhaps a pinch-bolt.  Under normal conditions, it would be totally rigid.  Under ‘something’s about to break’ conditions, the power of the magnet and friction of the pinch bolt would be overcome, and the derailleur would pop off the frame, serving the purpose of derailleur circuit protection…but after you stopped, you’d be able to loosen the pinch bolt, pop the hanger/derailleur back on, tighten the pinch bolt, and pedal off.  No need for extra parts, no heartache.

The one missing piece of that setup is something to prevent the derailleur from blowing into the rear wheel and taking it out.  I’m still working on that part…but I’m picturing either a limiting cable that would attach the derailleur to the frame and prevent it from moving laterally into the wheel, or a tension device of some form (spring?  elastic?) that would pull the derailleur and hanger away from the wheel and out towards the chainstay, in the event that the hanger released from the frame.

Is this needed on every bike?  Certainly not.  There’s a narrow niche market of bikes that could use this technology.  Fat bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes…there are some potential applications.  There are certainly other solutions as well..singlespeed, internal geared hubs, carrying a spare derailleur hanger, etc.  But the current system seems to inelegant.  This–this seems like a more intelligent approach.

I may be an embittered veteran who suffered a broken hanger.  Ok, I am that person.  But regardless, there’s still room for improvement in the design of bikes.