So Wednesday night, I was all waxing poetic about the beautiful conditions…
And immediately after posting that, someone flatted.
I’m either posting this because: a) I greatly value the thoughtful contemplation of European bike judges as to what new and innovative products are worthy of praise; or, b) I can’t stop looking at pictures of the Carbon Beargrease XX1.
Oh, and also, the Salsa post calls out some of their staff responsible for the bike. Me thinketh that they are also the persons responsible for the amazing aesthetics on a whole slew of recent Salsas. If so, kudos to them.
So it’s been a few months since I woke up one morning to find a Brompton in my garage. In the interim since then, I’ve put a few miles on the Brompton. Some of those miles have been alongside the companion Brompton of my wife, Ms. RG.
Some of those miles have been pulling my daughter on her bike, with a Trailgator.
And some of those miles have been just bombing around.
The Brompton rides happily in the back of my car, ready for action. The small size and portability are great assets, and enable me to sneak in a bike ride many times when otherwise I’d be driving or not exercising at all. I’m still evaluating, but here are some early thoughts:
All in all, the bike has the feel of craftsmanship to it. It feels like a piece of quality. The welds are beautiful. The handling is impeccable, and belies the small size of the wheels. The accoutrements are beautiful to behold and joyous to touch.
What would I say if you’re ordering one? GO AHEAD! But seriously:
Get the 6 speed. Consider going to a lower-geared 6 speed, particularly if you will be riding with kids/riding with loads/riding on hills/riding slowly.
Get the H bars if you’re tall, if you like sitting upright, or if you have wrist issues. Otherwise, get the standard.
Get the hub generator/light package. It’s unobtrusive, and there when you need it.
Get the Ti. (If you want. I didn’t, and I don’t miss it, but it’s Ti. I’d feel wrong not telling you to get Ti).
Get the firm block if you’re over 200#, if you ride exclusively on smooth roads or if you’re an active cyclist. If you don’t meet those criteria, consider the soft block.
Get the stock Brompton tires, unless you’re going to be racing. And if you’re going to be racing, get a different bike.
Get the front luggage block. It’s cheap, and at some point, you will want a front bag.
Get the fenders and easy wheels. They take away an excuse to not ride, and make ‘folded bike handling’ easy.
Don’t pick an ugly color.
Try the stock saddle first.
Try not to smile too much. People will think you’re smug.
From the dawn of mankind, the transition from summer to fall has been a special time for cyclists. Some of the earliest cave paintings show primitive men and women undergoing a critical, seasonal transition in training. You see, in primitive days, these pre-civilized cave-people would ride their road bikes after work during the summer, when the sky was illuminated from the great glowing ball of fire. But as the days progressed towards fall, the great ball of fire started to hang around less and less. Eventually, it got dark early enough that they couldn’t ride road bikes after work. They had to start riding gravel.
The earliest adopters of gravel did things like ride mountain bikes, or road bikes with fatter tires on them. These were heady times. They hoped that the great ball of fire would return the following spring, and thus they would gather in a mass-ritual of appreciation for the sun, and the darkness. They would share in the social experience that was gravel-grinding. While some archaeologists and historians disagree, there is evidence to suggest that these early cycling “group rides” were the foundation for a fundamental shift in human existence, from solitary individuals to small social groups that were the precursors for society and civilization.
Here at Axletree, we’re huge suckers for history. And thus, we are honoring the prehistoric roots of gravel cycling with our second annual Night Bison Gravel Nocturne.
Yes. September 1, 2013. We’ll depart shortly before 8pm, from the parking lot immediately behind North Central Cyclery. To participate, you must have:
Because the ride is self-supported and at night, we recommend riding in groups. We’d suggest bringing a cell phone, but we won’t have anyone for you to call (we’re all riding), so if your bailout plan is a phone, make sure you have someone to call.
Mid-ride, it will look something like this:
And here’s a little video review from last year.
We’ll have some special surprises this year. I guarantee that we will have at least
3 2 of the following 5 elements present:
Remember…3 of 5.
Last year’s inaugural Night Bison was awesome. This year’s Night Bison shall be better yet. Come and join us!
Update: With SRAM’s recall, my Moots is now unrideable as-built. Consider my enthusiasm about these brakes tempered.
So the gents down at North Central Cyclery knew I was interested in the new SRAM Red 22 Hydro setup. Apparently, they were as excited as I was….because I received a call the first day that the kits hit the warehouse shelves. The next day, I was touching a groupset for the Moots. How’s that for service?
I’ve had SRAM Red Hydro on the Moots for about a week now. I didn’t run right out and write this blog post, because I wanted to get a few miles on it first, and provide a slightly more informed opinion. I’m clearly not ready to talk about long-term durability or reliability, but with a shade over 100 miles on it, in varying terrain, I am ready to start a dialogue. That dialogue goes something like this:
I’m a huge advocate of disc brakes on some drop bar bikes. With Illinois’ relative paucity of elevation changes and descents, I don’t need disc brakes on my Madone. But for the varied conditions that I put my Moots through (as the replacement for my Vaya), disc brakes make sense to me. They’re superior in rain and snow, they offer greater stopping power, better and more consistent modulation, greater durability, more flexibility in selecting rims, and a host of other benefits. I’m well aware of the contingent out there that talks about the stopping power of a “well-adjusted set of Cantis.” I think discs are superior in this application. But this isn’t a “disc v. canti” post, this is a disc v. disc post.
Before the Hydros, I was running Avid BB7s. I loved their functionality, but I had some criticisms of them. For starters, even with adjustment on both sides of the pad, I felt like I was always chasing the perfect tune. Too tight, and they’d stop like the dickens, but rub on the rotors. Too loose, and they’d be silent, but wouldn’t offer reassuring stopping power. When they got dirty, there was a lot of mechanism there to clean and lubricate. But when they were properly set up, they worked awesome, under many varying conditions.
In the interests of full disclosure, I will say that going from the partial housing of the Vaya to the full-length brake housing, front and rear, on the Moots, made an appreciable difference in the brake maintenance department. The full-length housing made the brakes more consistent in feel, and reduced the need for adjustment. If I were building another gravel/CX/whatever bike with cable-actuated disc brakes, there is no doubt that I’d demand full-length housing.
So we’ve established that: 1) I like disc brakes; and, 2) I wanted a more consistent brake that required less maintenance. I’ve written close to 20 blog posts over the past year talking about hydraulic disc brakes for drop bar bikes…and anxiously awaiting their release. The time is now. I had no complaints about the functionality of the SRAM Rival front derailleur, Red cranks, X0 Rear derailleur or XX cassette on the Moots…but to go to hydro brakes, I had to go to the new standard of 11 speed…which meant SRAM Red 22.
Instead of my usual, “glossy, clean bike” pics, I put in some miles first, and then shot the bike. It still looks dreamy.
Here are the hydro levers. They’re taller, sure…but not obtrusive.
Riding, I never notice a downside. On steep downhills, the extra vertical rise above the hoods is reassuring. The rest of the time, I don’t notice that it’s there.
Where the magic happens:
If you peel back the rubber cover, here is the fill/bleed port at the top.
Standard tightening mechanism. Note the hydro line going up to the brakes.
Very similar profile for your hand (compared to the ‘non-hydro’ Red on my Madone).
Brifter reach is tool-adjustable, without need for any spacers.
Whoa, she’s a hottie.
Brake line is detachable at the caliper, and the hose is detachable in the standard fashion (with a little brass ferrule to re-secure it under the pinch nut).
Red 22 Compact Cranks, 172.5mm
Red 11 speed rear derailleur, with barrel adjuster.
Cables are still full-length housing. Because they take standard ferrules, it’s easy to trim the brake lines (and easy to install them, as well).
Make Mine a…
So…about the brakes.
Cable-actuated disc brakes have more than enough power to lock up and buck you over the bars, when properly tuned. I don’t need more stopping power. I do want less maintenance and more modulation. The Hydros provide both. What I will do is compare the Hydros to a perfectly-adjusted set of mechanical brakes.
The brakes modulate incredibly progressively over their full range of brake lever travel. When you clamp on them, they provide full brake power…but the ability to gradually add or subtract power is great on limestone, gravel, wet grass, etc. Their modulation is superior (i.e. more linear and gradual) than mechanical disc brakes. They offer the same great stopping power wet or dry, like mechanical brakes. They are completely consistent and repeatable, even when hammering them again and again down the steepest hills in the area. They are incredibly confidence-inspiring, and feel great. I cannot imagine a way of improving upon the modulation and feel. I was a bit concerned that they would be too touchy–that a tiny amount of brake lever throw would generate a huge brake reaction. That’s not the case. The full range of lever travel is useable–and that contributes to the great modulation.
My assumption above is that I’m comparing to perfectly adjusted mechanical brakes. That is a relatively challenging/rare condition. To have mechanical brakes them perfectly adjusted, you have to have tight tolerances (because only one pad moves). That makes them prone to getting out of adjustment. The hydros, with both pads moving, have no such issues. Also, because they are hydro, they are self-clearancing. A warped rotor can push the pad back, so it doesn’t rub. Mechanical brakes cannot do that.
To adjust the mechanical disc brakes, you…
1) True rotor; 2) loosen 2 mounting bolts for calipers; 3) loosen mounting screw for brake cable; 4) take up adjuster slack in brake cable; 4) adjust inside of caliper; 5) adjust outside of caliper; 6) crank caliper down tight; 7) tighten mounting bolts; 8) readjust inside of caliper; 9) readjust outside of caliper; 10) apply tension to brake cable, and try to tighten the mounting screw just right; 11) test; 12) start back at #2 and try again.
To adjust the hydros, you…
1) True rotor. Once in a great while. If it’s really bad and needs it.
That’s it. The Hydros have a huge advantage over the mechanical disc brakes. HUGE. I believe they will be even more versatile than the mechanical discs, because they will be more consistent in adverse conditions. And to clean them, it’s just hosing them down. No need to disassemble, clean, degrease, clean again, re-grease, and reassemble.
In short, the Hydros have thus far shown to be everything that I had hoped they would be. I have no complaints and no suggested upgrades.
That brings us to the SRAM Red 22 drivetrain.
From a shifting perspective, it’s like butter. My comments on the ‘regular’ SRAM Red apply. It shifts smoothly and with a really nice-feeling mechanical precision. It’s tactile, and easy to use. Even trying to throw challenging situations at it, there are no missed shifts. Wanna cross-chain? Go ahead. No trimming necessary.
What about the 11 speed cassette? Well, with an extra gear on there, I’m riding 10% faster now. That’s really all it takes. One more gear makes you faster.
All kidding aside, I have made a significant change in gearing. I still have a 50/34 crank, but I’ve gone from an 11-32 cassette with 10 gears to an 11-28 cassette with 11 gears. With the ten speed cassette, I had a lot of gear range. Dropping down to 34/32, you could grunt up anything. I’ve come to believe that I can do the same thing with 34/28…and the times when I’m fully geared out are so infrequent as to be somewhat irrelevant. (The only time I’ve done that this year was at Almanzo). The middle gears are the ones I use more…and in that useful range, the 11 speed is great. The gear spread is much, much closer, and that makes hopping between gears useful. Let’s compare gears. The ten speed is on top, and the 11 speed is on bottom.
11 12 13 15 17 19 22 25 28 32
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 22 25 28
The addition of the extra mid-range gears is much more useful for my riding than the extra 32 bailout gear. And if you need the bailout gear, you can get a Wi-Fli cassette that drops the 16t gear and adds the 32t.
So what’s my thoughts on the 11 speed?
If you’re buying a new drivetrain, go 11 speed. It’s great. But is it soooo great that I’m going to sell my group and go 11 speed on the Madone? No. Not at this time. I do think the 11 speed is the wave of the future, and will continue gaining acceptance. I don’t see a downside to it. The difference in complication is pretty minimal, and is greatly outweighed by the convenience of either having a lower gear or a closer gear spread. Function is perfect, as you’d expect from a premium drivetrain offering.
The SRAM Red Hydro 22…is everything I had hoped it would be. Mark me down as an enthusiast.
And the Moots? I don’t know where it could possibly go from here. Moots frame and stem, ENVE bars and rims, SRAM Red 22 Hydro drivetrain/brakes, Ergon saddle, DTSwiss hubs and Ti Skewers, Sapim CxRay spokes, Eriksen Sweetpost, King Cages. It’s the pinnacle of this type of bike. And it’s from North Central Cyclery.
If you’re willing to throw on an alternate fork, you could go full-fat up front, and mostly-fat (2.75″) in the rear.
I like where this is going.
I’ve previously written about the Knog Blinders that I use on my bikes. They are lights of the “be seen” variety, not lights of the “see what’s ahead” variety. They’ve been great. I’ve put them through 8 months of hard use, and they’ve been dunked, covered in mud, rained upon, ridden through salty slush, and otherwise abused. They’ve come through with flying colors. Particularly as Axletree takes a step towards ensuring visibility of cyclists by using lighting appropriately, I’ve loved my Blinders. They’re small, light, bright, easy to use, have remarkable runtimes, and super-easy to charge. They’re fantastic. I wouldn’t change a thing…or so I thought.
When I demo’d the Trek 520 a few days ago, it had a set of the new Blinders on it. The Knog Blinder 2 is a front light–a ‘see where you’re going’ light. The Blinder R is a new version of the Blinder for the rear, with a few updates. Let’s see ’em.
This is the Blinder 2:
It has 2 buttons, which control the various settings of the 2 bulbs. You can have one or both on, with varying intensity, and with or without flashing. I have not run these long enough to be informed about runtimes. Knog claims 1 hour on super-high-beam, 2 hours on low-beam, and 6+ hours on flash (‘be seen’ mode). Because of the varying settings and ease of adjustment, you can tailor your light to your conditions. Mounting is via the same, simple (effective) silicone strap that my Blinders use.
This is the Blinder R. See that clear line down the side? At night, it emits light from that clear line, increasing sideways visibility. Brilliant.
The top 3 LEDs are your standard, eye-searing LEDs, that are pointed straight out of the light. On a seatpost, that means they’re angled slightly down. As with my Blinders, there are multiple settings from steady red to eye-catching flash patterns to disco-dancing.
The bottom LED is a mega-LED which is super-bright, even in daylight. Amazingly visible.
And here’s the secret of that bottom LED: it’s angled.
Because it is slightly angled, it shines directly back towards traffic when mounted on a seatpost. This very tiny change in design pays huge dividends. From behind, there is a very noticeable difference in light intensity based on the angle of the light. It’s pretty amazing, and a noticeable improvement over the Blinder that I have. My next taillight will be a Blinder R.
That brings us to the Blinder 2 up front.
I ‘picked up’ the 520 at about 11 at night. (And by picked up, I mean that I snuck it out of someone’s garage). It had the Knogs on it. I was planning on riding during the day, so I didn’t really need them, but they were on the bike already, so I figured what the heck. I wheeled the bike out of the garage, and looked at the little Blinder 2. I figured that as small as it is, it really couldn’t be a useful headlight. I mean a tiny, waterproof, rechargeable headlight? For headlights to be useful, they must be huge, with wires and battery packs and velcro straps–perhaps a small gasoline engine powering a generator. The Knog Blinder 2 was self-contained. Tiny. Unnoticeable.
It was dark, so I flipped on the light, and was blown away. I took a quick spin around the block, and was amazed at the light output.
I was so amazed that when I got home, to my neighborhood with no lighting, I went back out for another, longer spin. In my neighborhood, it’s DARK at night. The Blinder 2 seriously impressed me. On the high-beam setting with both lights running, it’s easily bright enough for any kind of night-biking, including high-speed gravel rides. On that setting, it sports the estimated 1 hour run time, so it wouldn’t be terribly useful for gravel rides…but would be an AMAZING commuter light. It’s rated at 200 lumens. That’s either underrating the output, or the beam is incredibly well-focused. With 2 buttons, it is very easy to control the setting of each LED. I tried taking some night pictures, but the brightness of the LEDs overwhelmed my camera.
On low-beam, with an estimated 2 hour runtime, it was plenty bright for me to feel confident up to 20mph. I wouldn’t necessarily want to bomb down a steep hill at high-speed, but flat-land riding was no problem.
On combo low/flash, I had plenty of light to see at any reasonable speed, and the flashing pattern was very noticeable (when looking head-on), but not seizure inducing for me, the rider. That setting has longer battery life yet.
In the winter, we do a lot of gravel night rides that tend to be around the 2 hour mark. The Blinder 2 would likely work about perfect in that application. Heck, as small, inexpensive and light as it is, you could have 2, and run one until it’s dead (and then switch on the second). The price of 2 of these is still only about half of one of the massive bike headlights with a separate battery. For that matter, these are tiny enough that they’re a great pocket-light. When I’m riding solo, I sometimes worry about my headlight dying, or about needing some extra light to effect a roadside repair. A Blinder 2 would be a great insurance policy. Throw it in your jersey pocket or saddlebag, and it’s there if you need it. If you don’t need it, you won’t notice it.
All of that said, I think the best application for these is likely town-rides. When you want to be able to ride to the bar and need to both see and be seen…mounting the light takes all of 3 seconds. Ride to the bar with great visibility, and pull the light off and stick it in your pocket. (If you don’t go to the bar, substitute another location. Ride to the library. Ride to the Trader Joe’s. Ride to the local cooperative.) In between rides, use the integrated USB plug to recharge it just about anywhere.
The design of these lights is their greatest advantage. They’re tiny. They’re brilliant (and by that, I mean bright and amazing). They’re waterproof. They’re durable. They’re great. Their flexibility and ‘pocket-ability’ are huge assets. Very, very well done. Pick one up at your local bike shop. A shout-out to North Central Cyclery for letting me demo these.