Crank Brothers Sterling Pump Review

IMG_4392Mini-review of mini-pump.

I formerly had a tiny (Bontrager) pump I’d keep in a jersey pocket.  And then one day I needed it.

4,253 pumps later, my road tire was hard enough to ride on without being on the rim, but nowhere near inflated.

I resolved to get a pump that would actually work when needed.  After much research, I ended up getting  Crank Brothers Sterling.

Things I love:

  1. The head locks onto valve stems securely and doesn’t leak.
  2. The pump has a 2 stage system that you can switch between high pressure and high volume.  This allows you to pump in high volume mode with MTB tires and high-pressure mode with road tires.  It also allows you to start pumping road tires in volume mode, and then finish them off in pressure mode.  It greatly reduces pumping time.
  3. The included mount was convenient and works well on the Horsethief.
  4. For road use, the pump is small enough to easily fit in a jersey pocket–it’s a great compromise size between utility and convenience.  Smaller would impair functionality too greatly.

This pump does not have a hose, which I had initially wanted.  However, since the head locks on so securely, it has not proven to be an issue for me.  I’ve had to use it 3x with flats over the past year, and it has worked with aplomb.

Inexpensive, reliable, functions well, aesthetically pleasing.  Can’t ask for much more than that.


Salsa Horsethief Update: Plus in the Snow


It’s been a while, so it’s time for an update on the Horsethief.

In keeping with my desire to limit the number of bikes in the stable, I simplified quite a bit.  I formerly had a road bike, a touring bike, a vintage bike, a gravel bike, a singlespeed, a fat bike, a FS mountain bike, a cargo bike, a folding bike and a townie.  I’m down to a multi-use allroad bike (the Dune), a multi-use mountain bike (Horsethief) and a townie.

The idea behind the downsizing in mountain bikes was the same as road bikes: I found that I’d build multiple bikes around the same principles.  I tried to build my FS mountain bike and fat bike to both have the same bars, pedals, saddles, grips, drivetrain, brakes, etc.  All that distinguished them was suspension vs. rigid, and 29er vs fatbike.

On the suspension front, I’m of the belief that there really is not a downside to a well-designed full suspension bike.  For my riding, saving an extra pound isn’t going to change my life.  I’d do a hardtail if I was doing a SS bike, but otherwise, I find that having suspension allows me to ride harder and faster in just about all off-road conditions.

That left 29er vs. fatbike.  I enjoy the speed and agility of ‘normal’ mountain bike tires, and wanted to keep a 29er.  However, I’ve ridden 29ers in the winter, and even with aggressive tires, they leave a lot on the table.  I’ve ridden just about every “standard width” 29er tire in snow, and also 26×3.8, 4.0, 4.7 and 5.0.  There is a major and quantifiable difference between a standard tire and a fatbike tire, in the snow.  Living in Illinois, we have snow and ice for a good chunk of the year, and I didn’t want to be left out.

That said, we don’t have fabulous groomed trails here.  If I lived somewhere with groomed trails, I’d be looking at a 4-5″ tire as ideal.  In the absence of groomed trails, even fatbikes have limitations.  In powdery snow, you can ride through a lot–perhaps even as much as 10″.  Your pedals press into the snow with every crank, but if you keep moving, you’re golden.  With wet or slushy snow, however, the practical limit is a lot closer to 5″.  In some conditions, even 3″ is too much to push through–traction limited–even with 5″ tires.  I know there are some who claim to ride fatbikes through incredibly deep snow without concern or issue.  I rode fatbikes for 5 years and have a fair understanding of their capability.  It’s not rider ability or power–it is the ability of a 1wd vehicle to drive an unpowered front tire through deep snow.  Again, groomed conditions or having a track to ride in greatly changes the equation.  When you’re riding groomed conditions and can float, or when the snow is hard enough to support float with a 4-5″ tire, a fatbike is unequalled.

I’ve found that for me, living in Illinois, and having some constraints on my time to bike, a fatbike just didn’t make a ton of sense any longer.  There’s novelty to riding a fatbike…but over time, I’ve found that if I’m going out riding mountain bikes in ‘normal’ conditions, I’d rather ride the full squish.

That’s a long way of saying that the Horsethief seemed like a wonderful compromise: 29er full squish when I want to go fast, and the ability to use 3″ 27.5+ tires in the snow.  The question was whether the plus sized tires would meaningfully work in the snow, here in Illinois, on ungroomed paths.

I’m pleased to say that the experiment has worked, swimmingly.

We’ve had a fair amount of snow this year, and I’ve ridden in up to 8″ of medium-dry snow (the most we’ve had).  Aired-down, but still running tubes, the 27.5+ platform has been surprisingly capable.  I have not yet encountered conditions that the Horsethief cannot surmount, that a true fatbike could have ridden through.  It’s been fantastic.

The SRAM GX1 drivetrain and Guide brakes have been flawless.  I can’t compliment them enough.  They work just as well as the XTR 1x I had on my last bike.

The Thomson dropper seatpost is a delight (other than annoying cable routing on the remote, which points the cable straight forward from the handlebars).  Cold weather has not impacted the functionality at all; it works perfectly.
IMG_2808 Full squish hasn’t been an issue in the cold.  When in ‘fatbike’ mode, I tend to set the suspension to climb, which relatively effectively locks it out.  When riding trails, even in the cold, the suspension works perfectly.  Yes, riding in the cold may require more frequent maintenance, but it’s a tradeoff that seems fully worthwhile. IMG_9139
The biggest question lingering in my mind is whether I should just bite the bullet and go all 27.5+.  Running moderate 27.5+ wheels and tires, with tubes, has a substantial weight penalty over my moderate 29er wheels, set up tubeless.  But if I went to a good set of 27.5+ wheels and tubeless tires, that wouldn’t be so much an issue.  I’m inclined to think that the future holds a set of good, lightweight 27.5+ wheels and tires, tubeless, and that I’d get rid of my 29er wheelset.  My current 27.5+ wheels could be used for dedicated winter purposes, preferably with a set of studded tires (as enough ice will stop any bike, fat or otherwise).

On the whole, the experiment has been successful, and I enjoy spending more time riding and less time maintaining a fleet of bikes.  I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Horsethief, now coming up on a year into our time together.  The geometry is dialed and confidence-inspiring, and the split-pivot design performs as advertised: great suspension action with minimal pedal-induced movement.

Zipp 202 Tubeless Update

I’m now over a year into my Zipp 202 Tubeless experiment.  As per my initial update, they continue to work flawlessly.


As pictured, I’m running a set of 40C Maxxis Ramblers.  The Ramblers set up tubeless with about 1 ‘red cup’ of Stan’s, and have been flawless since inception.  A little shake, rattle, roll and bounce, and they were good to go.  Given their volume, I never really run over 40-45 PSI in them…if I’m riding hard surfaces, I’ll typically run 40 up front and 45 in the rear (with my 155# weight).  On softer surfaces, I’ll drop pressure, and have run as low as 25 up front and 30 in the rear without any ill effect.

The Zipps continue to impress me with their durability, rigidity and great feel.  I still believe they offer greater vertical compliance than do ENVE XCs, although I would not trust these on the Mandem, with their low spoke count.

All in all, a great set of wheels on a beautiful bike.

Spooky Dune Review Update

IMG_6197Man.  I just love this bike.

I came from a preexisting philosophical perspective that I needed a different bike for every job.  A road bike for road, a gravel bike for gravel, a touring bike for touring, a winter bike, etc., etc.  I had lived under that paradigm for years, and wanted to embrace simplicity.  I wanted to have fewer bikes.  I had found that I was building different bikes around the same geometry and components–I was starting to ride the same bars, the same saddle, the same saddle height, the same reach and drop–on different bikes.  It was getting to the point that the only differences were wheels and tires.

While I wanted that simplicity, I was also scared that one bike could not rule them all.  I was worried that I’d downsize the fleet and find myself missing a dedicated road bike.  I’d miss a dedicated gravel bike.  I’d miss something I once had–I’d wax nostalgic for the Vaya, for example.

It hasn’t happened.  Life has been about much change in the past 2 years.  Unbelievable, unforeseeable change.  Priorities have changed, available time has changed, riding patterns have changed.

What hasn’t changed is my love for this bike.  Since the day I built it, I’ve loved it.  I’ve never come away from a ride and wished for more, or for something different.  The ride quality is amazing–a perfect blend of compliant and responsive.  A fantastic frame enhanced with amazing components.  It’s beautiful to behold–I smile every time I see it.

Swapping wheels has proven to not be a chore.  It takes about 3 minutes and a Y wrench.  And the wheels I’m using on here (Zipp 202 tubeless for gravel, ENVE SES 3.4 for road) are as good as they get.

Every once in a while, I think I should have gone 1×11 rather than 2×11.  I think that, and then I go out and do a group ride and am thankful for small increments between gears.  I do a windy, hilly ride and am thankful that I can put an 11-32 on the rear, and run 36-32 to crawl up a headwind climb.

There’s not a component I’d change–across the whole bike.  I can’t envision a (foreseeable) adventure that I couldn’t ride this on.  I can throw a rack on the rear with ease…and if I had to put a rack on the front, a fork change could enable that without much difficulty.  I don’t really see that happening, but it’s possible.

What amazes me is that the bike is so versatile.  When last I rode it, the wind was kicking at 25mph.  The bike was as stable as possible on the road.  I ground out slow miles, suffering in the wind, and decided to drop off road and cut through a forest preserve.  The trails were frozen, with clod-bumps from a muddy day’s horse ride.  At regular intervals there were patches of ice and snow.  I dropped some pressure from the tires and pressed on, winding through single track, delicately picking the tires up over fallen logs, deftly gliding over patches of ice, feverishly churning through deep snow.  The Dune did it all, without complaint, and then hopped back on the road and took me home like a quintessential road bike.

If you can have one bike that is THIS GOOD at everything, it makes me wonder why you’d need more bikes.  Sure, if you’re doing races where the 3 watts of savings you’d have with an aero frame matter, then god bless you.  But I don’t want to go back to a garage full of bikes.

Some day, I’ll get a cargo bike again, if I live somewhere that supports its use.  Someday, I might get a singlespeed to not feel bad about abusing on salty, slushy, crappy days.  But the Dune is the bike that rules the roost.

I did a group ride in Downtown Chicago, where there were guys on $20,000 custom-ordered Italian carbon wünderbikes.  People on the ride walked right past those bikes to gawk and gape at the Spooky.  It’s just that great.

I’m happy to have joined the aluminati.  I’m in on a secret that few know–and the secret is just how good these bikes are.

Kask Rex Helmet Review

For the past few months, I’ve been wearing a Kask Rex Helmet for my mountain biking duties.  I’ve also pressed it into service for a new venture I’m trying with my daughter–horseback riding.

I picked the Rex because my old MTB helmet had seen better days and was due for replacement.  I wanted something with a sturdy, branch-deflecting visor, a good fit system, great ventilation, and perhaps most importantly…good coverage for the base/rear of skull.  I’m constantly surprised by the number of MTB helmets out there that fail to provide any protection to this relatively vulnerable part of the skull.

IMG_1876 IMG_3380

IMG_3607The Rex provides great full-head coverage and excellent ventilation.  In terms of fit, it has Kask’s excellent systems that you’ll recognize from their road helmets.  The chin strap is a delightfully comfortable leather with infinite adjustment (via buckle).

The ‘fit around the head’ is done by virtue of the strap around the back of your noggin.  It has a nice, tactile dial that you can use to adjust to the proper tension–with a large enough dial that you can adjust it even when wearing winter gloves.  It has palpable detents as it turns, but they’re small enough that you can make finely-tuned, nuanced adjustments.  If you’re wearing a helmet all day, the ability to crank it up or down a notch can make a huge difference in terms of helmet fit.

The other critical part of the rear band is Kask’s system for adjusting the height of the car band.  It is adjustable with an indexed vertical adjustment–again, there are palpable detents that allow fine tuning.  What this means is that it can accommodate the shape of your head with great comfort.  For some, you need to be able to position the strap at the very rear of your head and have it held in place for maximum comfort.  With the shape of my head, I like to move the strap a little lower, just below the part where your skull starts curving inwards towards the neck, to help hold the helmet on your head in the event of a crash.  The Kask is perfect for that purpose.

It’s light, it’s well ventilated, and thus far (six or so months in) has proven very durable.  Fit is true to form for Kask–I’m decidedly a L/XL, but can just barely squeeze into a M if it’s all the way loose (and if I don’t wear a cap).  I have not yet tested the crashworthiness, but I’m comforted to see how well it covers the sides and rear of my head, as a good MTB helmet should.  Quality has been typical Kask, which is to say perfect.

At this point, highly recommended.

Fizïk Endurance Tacky Tape Review


So the Spooky was intended to be the bike to end all bikes.  The bike to ride on the road, on gravel, on light singletrack, on exploration rides, on recovery rides, and on so much more.  I spent a lot of time contemplating what parts to use for the build, and each part was hand-selected.

Touch points are one of the most critical parts of any bike–they’re the literal intersection of rider and ride.  And when it comes to hand-selection, hands are critical.  The handlebars were easy to pick…ENVE Compact Drop 44cm handlebars–my favorites.  But that left the critical question of bar tape.

In the past, I’ve run Lizardskins DSP.  After trying cork, synthetic cork, and a myriad of other bar tapes including synthetics of all types, I had thought Lizardskins were the best.  And so it was my plan to use them on this build.  On past gravel bikes, I had used a thin layer of Bontrager handlebar gel under the bar tape, because the bar tape needed a bit of help with vibration absorption.  That was essentially my plan for this bike.  But as with all components of the bike, I researched and considered my picks carefully.

I came across the Fizïk Endurance Tacky tape.  It seemed to somewhat fit the bill for what I was looking for–soft, tacky, aesthetically appealing, grippy, durable.  It had good reviews.  It was from a company I liked.  I put my hands on a box of it and liked feeling.  I decided to give it a go.

Install was easy.

No, install was awful.  It’s not the tape’s fault.  The tape was great.  I suck at installing bar tape.  Really–it’s a great personal failure of mine.  I can’t get it even, I can’t make it nice. All I want to do is make it nice.  I eventually got it on, and in somewhat acceptable fashion.  Then, I took it out for a ride.

It’s fantastic.  If you look in the pic above, it’s raining.  That day, it started misty, and ended full-on raining.  No problems.  Nice and tacky, nice and grippy.  It’s some magical combination of factors and characteristics–it doesn’t stick to you when it’s hot/muggy, but it’s super tacky when the weather is bad.  It doesn’t twist on the bars when you’re really tugging on them–it stays perfectly in place–but it offers impeccable grip.  The tape does a fantastic job of finding the dividing line between diminishing vibration on rough surfaces and conveying good road feel.  That’s a fine line, straddled perfectly by this tape.

There are 3 contact points between the body and the bike: pedals, saddle and bars.  In the realm of pedals, the shoes have far more of an impact than any bike component.  Saddles are certainly critical, and I’ve written about them at length.  Hands–hands are unique.  Hands are more sensitive than feet.  Hands have to support your upper body, steer, brake, shift, and otherwise fully control the bike.  Too thick, your hands go numb.  To thin, your hands hurt.  Too hard, you feel every crack in the road.  Too soft, it tears every time you lean it against a wall.  It’s got to be perfect.  The needs of a road bike are different from those of a “gravel” bike…and yet this tape has been perfect for both.

In the end, I like the Fizïk better than the Lizardskins.  It’s got better grip when it is wet.  It doesn’t need gel under it in order to be comfortable.  The matte finish looks better (to my taste).  It meets my needs for road and all-road in one product.  I can’t ask for more.

Continental GP4000SII Tire Review Update: 700x25c vs. 700x28c

A little over a year ago, I posted about the Continental GP4000SII tires.  At the time, I was running 25c Contis.

I’m now running 28c Contis, and have several hundred miles on them.  In the realm of reviews, I stand behind what I said about the Contis last July.  They’re fantastic.  They have amazing traction under a lot of conditions, and have shown great durability and wear characteristics.  Riding here in flat/straight Illinois, I tend to wear out rear tires faster than front, so I swap front to rear about halfway through the rear tire wear, and everything goes pretty smoothly.

A big part of this post is comparing the 25c to the 28c.  You wouldn’t really think 3mm of width would make a big difference, but in reality, that 3mm is more than a 10% increase in tire width.  Particularly when mounted on a wide-ish rim, it’s noticeable.  One of the biggest advantages is that I’ve been able to significantly drop tire pressure.  I’m running in the 75psi range (a little lower in the front), to great effect.  They’re fast, grippy, roll smoothly, and there’s no palpable “bounce” from underinflation, even when out of the saddle or sprinting.  There is a significant and appreciable difference in compliance.  I still have great road “feel” and can tell what’s going on at the tires, but they really help knock the sharp corners off of road imperfections, potholes, expansion joints, and the like.

I’m still a data nerd, and hence I was worried about weight and aerodynamics.  In the realm of aerodynamics, a 23c tire would be superior to a 25 or a 28.  Candidly, I’ve run ENVE 3.4s with 20c, 23c, 25c and now 28c, and I’ve never been able to discern a difference in aerodynamics.  Headwinds suck all around.  I’m sure that over a measured distance, there is some difference in drag/wattage.  It is small enough to be inconsequential to a rider like me.  If you’re doing TTs, you may wish to reconsider.  If you’re doing crits, I tend to think that the extra grip in the corners from a 28 would outweigh any aerodynamic disadvantage.  And from what I’ve read, in the realm of aerodynamic disadvantages, carrying a bottle cage or unzipping your jersey a bit carries a greater penalty than riding 28s.

That leaves weight.  By manufacturer’s specs, the 23/25/28 are 205/225/260 grams.  I’ve found mine to be within a few grams of that, typically plus a few grams.  If you went straight from 23 to 28, you might notice an extra 110 grams of rolling mass.  That’s about a quarter of a pound.  I went from 23 to 25, and then from 25 to a new bike with 28s.  I haven’t discerned the extra rolling mass.  In that same bike jump I went to disc brakes and a different frame material.  I don’t feel that the 28s are holding me back in weight, and haven’t noticed them in an adverse way, even on hill repeats.

There’s an interesting study of rolling resistance over here, which concluded that the 28c tires save you 1-2 watts of energy in comparison to 23s at the same pressure and speed.  Candidly, I can’t sense that kind of change either.  What I do notice is the smooth ride and amazing traction.  So in conclusion, unless you’re riding a TT and need every millisecond, I’d go wide on road tires.