If you’re going to dress to be chic, it will cost you. You already knew that, right? Let’s see—Rapha, Assos, Castelli….or Bike Nashbar, Performance, Decathlon? We all want to be PRO and not Fred, so our closets are filled with physical incantations that will transform us into Those To Whom We Aspire. You should not be surprised that this also applies to your bike. Hence the current obsession with hydraulic disc brakes. Setting up and maintaining hydraulic brakes perhaps becomes second nature after practice. But the learning curve is a lot steeper than with old-fashioned rim brakes. Cutting lines and setting the olive and barb, bleeding lines and making sure they’re free of air, to name just a couple of tasks, are probably unfamiliar to most road cyclists while very familiar to mountain bikers at least those who do their own maintenance and repairs.
Nowadays road bikes are getting more complex and the tradition of DIY maintenance and repair is slowly eroding away. Having your LBS handle routine brake maintenance is going to cost you not just because it’s more time consuming but also because you’ll probably need to have it done more often than you would with rim brakes.
The other dirty little secret of hydraulic brakes is that the replacement parts are much more expensive than for rim brakes. I alluded to this in an earlier post but I was incorrect about the cost. I said that rim brake pads and disc brake pads cost about the same and that is not accurate. Top end Shimano Dura Ace brake pads cost a mere $9 a set—$20 for two sets and you have brand new brakes. Contrast that with hydraulic brakes: Shimano replacement pads run about $25-30 for one set. You will also have to regularly change the rotor, which wears out quickly. Shimano rotors run about $60-75 for one rotor. I run through about three sets of pads before I’ve worn down the rotor to the point it needs to be changed and I run through about one rotor per year. So in a year I’ll be spending about $130 on replacement parts for disc brakes. Another way to put it is the per wheel cost: the average maintenance cost per wheel is about $50 for hydraulic brakes but for rim brakes it’s just $9. For me rim brake pad wear is measured in years but rotors and hydraulic disc brake pads it’s months. Of course the unmentioned cost with rim brakes is that you eventually will wear out your rim. But in my case that’s somewhere north of 25,000 miles so the cost per year is really quite small. Of course the cost is less important if your use case warrants it. When I’m going down fire roads those hydraulic brakes are a blessing!
This is probably the final update on my experience with road tubeless tires.
Although the rains had ceased a couple of months ago in July I still had fenders on my bike. Normally I’d have pulled the fenders by May but we had some late spring rains that delayed that minor maintenance. Then we did a ride where copious marine fog made the roads wet under the trees and I was glad to have the fenders. So they stayed on even longer. I used to be a weight weenie and fenders were relegated to my commuter bike. The bike I’d ride for pleasure was almost always stripped down to the minimum of baggage. Back in the day I used to look quizzically at Jerome’s bike because he always carried a handlebar bag plus other stuff on his bike. Why would you carry all that? It just weighed you down and made you slower. As for fenders, skip them—I’d just wipe the bike down after a wet ride (if I wiped it down at all). But if you were to look at my bike now you’d see a veritable laundry list of “Boy Scout” items—front and back lights (with battery packs), saddlebag with not just a tubes but multitool, patch kit, nipple wrench, quick patches, tire bolt, chain tool, spare battery; a bento bag with more stuff, a bell, a full size bike pump (no CO2 or minipump for me!). Oh, and like Jerome I often ride with a small handlebar bag that has more junk in it—pen, wipes, Advil, Swiss Army knife, pickle juice, emergency snacks, sunscreen, lip balm, crash kit, electrolytes, bike lock(!), etc. etc. In other words I’m completely fredded out these days thinking that the bike-ocalypse could happen on any ride. One day I weighed it all and it was like four pounds of extra “essential” stuff. It’s true that we become our parents when we get older, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll hitch a Green Egg grill and tow it so I can cook up a really good lunch on my rides! Which brings me back to those fenders: so what that they add a couple of pounds to my bike? I’ve already drunk the Fred Kool-Aid, plus they keep grime off of me and most of my bike. It’s just one more chore to take them off and put them back on. However if you’re using road tubeless tires those fenders actually come in handy. If you have a puncture, all that sealant doesn’t get flung all over you and the rear of your bike. In a momentary brain infarct I decided to remove the fenders anyway. Maybe I was thinking I’d go faster and make up for my lack of conditioning. Maybe I was engaged in magical thinking—I’ve come to realize that that’s most of the time—and thought that I just wouldn’t need them with a dry summer ahead. In any case taking off the fenders was not laborious although it did induce me to spend more time than I wanted or should have cleaning the bike after this wet winter. The next day Roger and I went out for a really nice ride—perfect weather—and when I got home I noticed the entire rear of the bike was coated in dried sealant. I’m not talking about a little sealant, I’m talking about so much sealant that it dripped to the bottom bracket and formed a hanging booger underneath. I was half tempted to say oh-f**k-it and in frustration just leave it a mess. But after cleaning the bike the day before, damned if I was going to let that shit stay there. I checked the tire to make sure it wasn’t a really bad puncture (tire plug time?). The tire was actually quite hard and when I checked the pressure it was down only a few pounds. Whoa, all that sealant got out and the pressure was still really good! Definitely a plus. Inspecting the tire I couldn’t find the puncture—a mystery. Usually there is sealant dried around the puncture but apparently just riding along scraped away the remains on the outside. What are my thoughts on road tubeless now? As you know I’ve learned using road tubeless tires is not without negatives. It’s not quite obvious that they can be messy—messy to set up and messy if you have a puncture. If you’re fastidious in your bike maintenance, you’ll potentially find that the time and convenience you’ve saved in not having to fix flats and repair tubes either by the side of the road or at home is somewhat offset by any cleaning up you’ll encounter as a result of a puncture. If you don’t care how your bike looks, then sealant muck on your bike will just blend in with all the other wheel spray you’re letting fester there and road tubeless will definitely a big plus. But if you like a clean rig, you’re going to find some of that saved time offset by wiping sealant spray off your bike. Mind you, it goes everywhere. Which brings me back to the fenders. With fenders sealant is not going to get on you or your bike. When I took the fenders off I did notice that there was dried sealant all along the inside (which I dutifully cleaned off!) from the past winter. So I had some punctures that I didn’t even know about. But if you’re in your weight weenie stage there is no way in hell you’re going to ride with fenders. But consider this: PRO isn’t just having a pristine, well-kept bike—PRO is riding that beast in all conditions including rain. So when people with $8,000 bikes tell me they don’t ride in the rain and would never put fenders on their bike, I wonder. Yes, even pros use fenders in training. The fenders are going back on the bike to join the rest of the junk that’s living there. But at least I won’t have to clean the rig up as often. I must confess I’m torn: if I weren’t using tubeless tires I wouldn’t leave fenders on this bike. So for the dry season that’s a trade-off for me. I’ve had at least four punctures that have given me pause. The first one had sealant spraying everywhere (it was pre-fenders); the second wouldn’t seal with Stans and I had to switch to Orange Seal; the third was when the sealant all dried out and I flatted; and now this one, no impact at all on the ride but boy, what a cleaning job afterwards! There is one situation I have yet to encounter: the puncture that’s so bad you have to put in a tube and maybe a tire bolt as well. I’m dreading that because wet sealant is really messy, which is why I now carry latex gloves and paper towels. (No, I’m not planning on giving someone a prostate check “in a roadside emergency”.) They’re to wipe off the inside of the tire and the resulting mess, which is unavoidable regardless of where you are when it happens. Ironically before I started playing with tubeless tires the only thing that would get me to phone for a ride home was if my bike became unrideable from having a broken derailleur hanger, a trashed wheel, or some such thing. You would think that tubeless tires would reduce my concern about needing a rescue. But I’ve found instead that my concern has gone up. Years ago Roger and I were riding the tandem in the Solvang Century and we flatted the rear tire. Upon inspection—and to my embarrassment—it turned out the tire was so worn that we had worn it down to the inner tube! Hey no problem: I put a tire bolt over the worn-out spot and slipped in a new tube, which shows you that with standard inner tubes you really can handle just about anything. (We probably could have ridden that tire all the way but we found at the next rest stop that we could buy a tire. So we replaced it in just a few minutes.) So what am I saying? Doing roadside maintenance on tubeless tires can be much more tiresome and frustrating than with regular tubed tires. But with tubed tires you are guaranteed to be doing roadside repairs whereas with tubeless this is going to be rare. But if it does happen to you, it will likely be not just a minor inconvenience like the flats you’re used to having but a major PITA. And a mess. And, if you like a clean bike but eschew the weight of fenders, then you’re going to have to weigh the one against the other because you can’t have both with sealant. For now I’ve put more sealant in the tire and the fenders are going back on. But I am leaning more towards going back to lighter and better tires with latex tubes instead of running tubeless. Then I could ditch the fenders during the dry season (but why bother?) The ride is definitely better with other tires, eg. Michelins, than the tubeless Schwalbe Pro Ones (although Schwalbes are better than average) and I have some misgivings about the independence I may give up by having a set up that’s less friendly to roadside repairs. But I do like that I can ride on these wheels with a much reduced likelihood of a flat. But let’s face it: I’ve been riding bikes for almost sixty years and have fixed literally hundreds of flat tires. It’s second nature to me and merely irksome that it happens at all. So although my experience with tubeless is improving as I learn more how to work with this technology, I have to ask, “Is this really an improvement?” and the answer is a mixed one. If someone told me today that tubeless road tires stuff went out of existence, I’d shrug my shoulders and ‘whatevs, bro’. If you’re coming to cycling now and growing up with road tubeless, then maybe you’d have a different reaction. Do I feel the same about other bike technologies? No, I don’t. For example, when indexed shifters came along and especially brake/shifter levers (“brifters”), I was sold even though I had grown up with non-indexed downtube shifters. I immediately recognized that the convenience far outweighed any inconvenience or extra weight that this technology would introduce. For me brifters are a huge improvement with no serious downside, so I’m no curmudgeonly retrogrouch. I don’t feel the same about tubeless tires, at least not yet. It seems to me that with road tubeless the trade-offs are serious enough that you are going to have to think about your individual use case and what you are willing to tolerate. For me it’s nice to have fewer flats to repair. But the prospect of a serious tubeless failure out on the road still gives me pause. I do like a clean bike and since I don’t mind the weight of fenders, having to use them with tubeless tires isn’t enough of a deterrent to completly drop tubeless for now. And of course during the rainy season having to use fenders is a joy rather than an imposition. And fixing a flat in the rain? No thanks. Been there, done that (a few dozen times). Lastly keep in mind that burping tubeless tires is a real but low possibility and as I mentioned in the last post about tubeless tires burping high pressure road tires can mean a crash due to the sudden, immediate deflation of your tire. In my case I’m very light and have 25 mm wide rims with 30 mm tires. I run my tires at 40-60 psi depending, and those medium pressures reduce the risk of burping and catastrophic failure. But if you have narrower rims, narrower tires, and thus have to pump them to higher pressures, you need to be careful. So there you have it—after almost three years of playing with road tubeless my curiousity has been sated and this technology—for me—is not a must-have but a mixed bag. Maybe you’ll feel otherwise if you try it. It’s a plus if you either don’t know how or hate to repair a flat tire. But tubeless tires do not eliminate flats nor do they make your cycling life problem-free. You will still have flats, just fewer of them, and your maintenance shifts from one task to another. So you are losing perhaps the inconvenience of more minor repairs by the side of the road and having to pray you don’t have a total tubeless failure that will guarantee you’ll be screaming at the gods for the shit show you’re having to endure. I will say that if you’re a slob, then road tubeless is probably the way to go. You’re not going to clean your bike anyway, so a layer of latex sealant on top of yesterday’s wheel spray, tar, and filth is not going to give you pause. Just be prepared to call for a ride when that day comes when your tubeless tire is hopelessly hosed and you’re miles from home or a friendly bike shop.
What’s up next? I’m going to experiment with Tubolito tubes, a 38 gram inner tube. Back to weight weenie…
I have a post coming soon with some final thoughts on road tubeless tires but I thought I’d pass along this article that the Technical Editor at Velonews, Lennard Zinn, penned about a month ago about the dangers of accidently burping tubeless road tires. You can find the full article here.
It is not a secret that you can burp tubeless tires if the pressure is too low or say, you’ve done a ‘ghetto’ tubeless set-up with rims not designed for tubeless use. In the past I’ve heard these stories associated with mountain bike or fat tire wheels. But this article seems to show that burping road tires is also possible and that the consequences can be devastating. No one wants to crash and when it’s caused by equipment failure you really begin to look at and question your equipment choices.
That said, this story has to be framed against the overall picture: there have been plenty of crashes on sewups and clincher tires. No one I know in Different Spokes is still using sewups or even has any experience with sewups. But I did. I stopped using sewups not because of safety but because they’re really a lot more work to maintain than clinchers. Sewups are glued to a tubular rim. Those of us who did use sewups knew that the glue job had to be carefully done in order not to peel a tire off in a turn because it could be devastating just as in the story above. In the 2003 Tour de France Joseba Beloki had a terrible career-ending crash due to a sewup tire coming off his rear rim. (Video here, at 1:44 minutes). If you glued a sewup, you let it cure for days in order to make sure the solvent in the glue was completely evaporated and the adhesion was good. Yet as the Beloki incident shows even glue jobs at the highest level of the sport can fail.
Clinchers have a similar story. Catastrophic failure of clincher tires due to blow-outs are not unknown. If you hit a rock hard at high speed you can instantly deflate it, and since nothing holds the tire on the rim except air pressure you risk crashing just like the dude above. We had exactly this experience on our tandem while touring in France many years ago. We hit a rock with our front tire at high speed (>40 mph) descending and our front tire went flat very quickly. But because of luck and Roger’s excellent tandem instincts and the fact that the curve we were in was very broad he steered the bike straight to a stop just off the road by applying only the rear brake. The tire (and tube) did not come off the rim. Fortunately we did not run out of road.
So yes, you can burp a tubeless road tire and because the tire’s air volume is small you risk deflating it to the point it comes off the rim. Note that Zinn calls a rim with spoke holes “standard” in contrast to “tubeless-specific” rims, which he takes to mean ‘has no spoke holes’. The general point he makes is a good one: be careful when it comes to marketing lingo. Many rims are called “tubeless compatible” and what that means is vague. A rim may have no spoke holes and still not be “tubeless-specific”. The HED Belgium rim in the above story is a “tubeless compatible” rim whatever that means. That said, I use exactly those rims in my tubeless setup. What Zinn doesn’t explicitly mention is the Universal Standard Tubeless (UST) rim and tire combination. This was invented by Mavic, Hutchinson, and Michelin originally for mountain bike tires but they now have moved that over to the road. This has a very specific rim and tire bead shape to help the two interlock and so mitigate the danger of burping and rim-tire detachment. If the above story gives you pause but you still want to try road tubeless, consider using official UST rims and tires. Just know that you will be limited to a small subset of available wheels, rims, and tires, as the UST has not taken off either for mountain or road bikes.
It’s been seven months since my last “lesson” in managing road tubeless tires. In many ways I’m glad I’m not a “fast” learner and I appreciate that my lessons are coming at long intervals rather than all at once since my lessons have always been hands-on, at inopportune times, and involved a lot of swearing and consternation. On the other hand the see-no-evil philosophy of bike care, for which I have great fondness, in the long run leads to more inconvenience. So there you go.
This time I decided to do a little preemptive maintenance and ended up learning something profitable. How many of us check our tires before or after a ride? It’s one of those items that is inevitably included in handy-dandy lists for beginners in Bicycling magazine (which they reprint practically every year). Yeah, me too—there is no way in hell I’m going to be that diligent after climbing up the hill to the manse. After doing a one-mile 10% grade at the end of a long ride, I’m not thinking a lot about how my tires are doing. Not flat? Great—throw the bike in the corner for the next ride. But this time Roger warned me that I had ridden through a big honking pile of glass. Uncharacteristically I hadn’t seen it, and even more uncharacteristically after having been told I had just piled through a splatterfest of future tire flatness I didn’t bother to wipe my tires down. They’re not flat? Great, dodged that bullet and keep on riding. But after returning home despite my innate lethargy and diminished mental capacity due to climbing El Toyonal, I thought I should check them just to be sure I wasn’t going to have a surprise the next time I rode.
The front was fine but the rear tire had something embedded towards the sidewall. I tried to dig it out and it turned out to be a dried plug of sealant. Pop! and the tire started to deflate. I immediately spun the tire so the hole was facing down and sure enough, a spray of Orange Seal came out and shortly thereafter stopped. No problem! Just wait to let it seal up…
The next day I checked the tire and the pressure was down (duh!) but it seemed rideable. When I inflated it with a pump, the seal broke and the tire couldn’t hold pressure above about 40 psi. The hole was just large enough that even Orange Seal wasn’t going to work unless I resigned myself to riding at low inflation all the time. (For dirt it would be plenty but for pavement 40 psi is a little bit too cushy for me.) Since the tire was $70—a Schwalbe Pro One—I wasn’t interested in just tossing it and putting a new one on.
So this is what I did.
A long time ago in a Boy Scout moment I purchased tire plugs for tubeless tires just in case. Tire plugs, you say? Whazzat? If you’ve had a flat on your car tires, you know what these are: they’re big honking plugs of rubber that the repair shop jams into the hole the nail made in your tire using a special tool along with some rubber solvent. The hole seals up and you can inflate your car tire back to 28 psi or whatever. It’s a quick fix and it works on puncture holes typically. Well, they also make tubeless tire repair kits for bicycles. Mountain bikers know what I’m talking about because dirt riding went tubeless years ago. So there is a thriving cottage industry of tubeless tire repair kits—usually a plug jammer with some tacky plugs—just for mountain bikes. Those same plugs *mostly* work for road tires too. Being a cheapass amateur bike mechanic I of course bought the bottom-of-the-barrel brand, Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Repair Kit, for about six bucks. It’s the aforementioned plug jammer tool with about five plugs. The kit is two years old and I had never used it. Usually I’d go to YouTube if I were doing some new bike repair thing just to make sure I wouldn’t completely fuck up. But again in my new liberated state of oh-fuck-it-let’s-just-see-what-happens I opened the kit, put the plug sort of on the jammer, and tried to stick it in the hole in the tire. Of course it didn’t work.
Now, why is that you ask? Because (a) the tire plug, which is a short, strand of wound fibers dipped in tacky rubber, doesn’t like to go into a tiny hole without a lot of force, and (b) the jammer tool is rather dull and large. After several attempts at trying to get the plug into the slightly-too-small-hole (but not so small that Orange Seal could plug it), I came to the conclusion that the only solution was brute force since I was way too lazy to try to carefully ream out the puncture. If you’re an amateur mechanic, you know that resorting to brute force often leads to an unhappy ending (and you know I always like my repair sessions to have happy endings!) In a fit of frustration I had a boy-moment and just JAMMED that tool as hard as I could into the tire. And it worked: the plug went in and stuck in the hole like a condom off a limp dick. No leaking air. Voila! The last step is to cut off the part of the plug that sticks out of the tire with a razor blade and then I had a ‘flat’ tire again.
I went riding yesterday on my repaired tire and it worked like a charm.
Yes, tubeless road tires can be a pain in the ass. You’ve got to remember to put fresh sealant in them at regular intervals, put up with getting sprayed with sealant when you do get a puncture, you can’t use CO2 cartridges, and seating the tire on the rim can be Sisyphean. But boy, the pleasure of riding without worrying about flats is leading to a new, oh-fuck-it-all me.
If you want an even easier tubeless tire repair kit, there is Dynaplug. Their tire plugs have a sharp, pointed metal tip that looks like it would slip easily into even a small puncture—no need for brute force! You simply load a tip into the inserter and jam it in. The metal plug can’t be pulled out so it stays in place. The catch is Dynaplug kits start at $42. And that’s with just a tiny number of their proprietary plugs. As I said I’m a cheapass amateur mechanic so I won’t be including these in my repair kit anytime soon (unless they come at my birthday!) But they’ll look cool with your $15,000 Colnago and Zipp carbon wheels.
That name sounds like text from a porn story, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s subtle marketing from the evil minds at Showers Pass in Oregon. This is just a long-sleeved undershirt that’s very good at wicking moisture away from your skin and it is just as worthy as the Assos Body Insulator I swooned over a few years ago. The Assos baselayer is my go-to shirt for the cool winter weather we are having. It’s warm, supremely comfortable, and made from some hi-tech synthetic that promised just about everything under the sun. On top of that it fits very well and has a short neck zipper and collar for adjusting the right amount of cooling or warmth that. The strange thing was that the Assos marketing speak turned out to be mostly true. Even more awesome is that I can wear it for about four or five rides and it doesn’t smell rank and repulsive. (I remember the first Helly Hansen polypro t-shirt I bought in the mid-70s when synthetic athletic wear was nascent: it reeked after one wearing and had to be washed.) Well guess what? This Showers Pass shirt is every bit as good as the Assos. I just got through wearing it for six consecutive rides and it barely has any odor—unbelievable!
It comes in only two sizes for men but is very stretchy; women get four sizes and in an even nicer plum color versus the drab grey for men. The shirt is made of a bamboo-merino wool blend that is adept at wicking sweat, staying warm, feeling plush, and doing what a baselayer is supposed to do: be invisible and unnoticed. It also has thumb holes so that the arms stay in place; I find them very helpful when putting on a cycling jacket with form-fitting arms so that the sleeves don’t get bunched or pulled back on my arms. This shirt is so comfortable in cool and cold weather that I like to wear it just lounging around the house or backyard. I can’t say much about durability since I’ve been using it for only a short time. But it’s not fraying and the seams show no signs of stress or failure. My only wish is that SP would make a version with a higher neck and a zipper like Assos used to. On the other hand, this shirt is about two-thirds the cost of the Assos. Oh, and Assos stopped making base shirts with a high collar and zipper so these two are directly comparable.
And Showers Pass is having a sale right now where you can get this shirt fo $55, down from $69.
It’s not often our club gets a new jersey. Over the 37 years of existence we’ve had only four jerseys. Either you don’t give it a second thought—probably because you’ve got a closet full of cycling jerseys already, or because you’re happy wearing the same three jerseys over and over—or you wonder, “Why the hell don’t those lazy board members get off their sorry bike saddles and design some fab new clothing? After all, I can’t wear the same clothing year after year without getting called out. So when cycling Fashion Week comes around, WHERE THE HELL IS OUR NEW FASHION STATEMENT!?”
I mean, our last kit was in 2017 to celebrate our (gulp) 35th anniversary—that was literally so two-years-ago. Well boysettes and grrlenes, your wait is over. Our fab Apparel coordinator Brian got on the stick and has not one but TWO different kits for you to ooh and aah over. If you missed the first ordering period, which closed last Friday, no worries: he has reopened the Jakroo store so you won’t have to gaze with green envy at your fellow Spokers who jumped at the chance to be Abso Fab.
We are offering two kits for 2019, one mad splatter design and another more contemporary blackish-is-the-new-black, with matching bib shorts and even a cycling cap. The jerseys are $64, the bibshorts $104, and the caps are $18 each.
Unfortunately I am one of those fools: I put down $65 at REI for one of these locks, the 30-inch model a month ago. It’s really light, lighter than one of those inexpensive cable locks you see at Ace Hardware (don’t you just love that name?) for about $15 and which I have been using for years. But it turns out it’s no more effective at thwarting bike theft than the $15 type—just a lot more expensive. So much for disruptive technology; about the only things that will be disrupted are your wallet and your ride when you find your bike has vanished from outside Starbucks. It has steel and Kevlar but so what if it doesn’t stop a thief. The Bike Picking Lawyer posted a video showing that you can cut one of these idiotic locks in much less than a New York minute with a pair of $10 tin snips from Home Depot—see the video. Years ago when videos showed up on the Internet showing you could open a Kryptonite U-lock with a Bic pen, Kryptonite revamped their locks and to their credit undertook a massive years-long recall. I’m not sure Ottolock is going to be able to pull off a similar apologia because the raison d’être of their locks is ultra-light weight. Plus, Ottolock is a child of Kickstarter, i.e. it’s young and not well capitalized. However when a complaint was raised to Ottolock about how you could actually palpate the tumbler to detect the numbers used in the combination lock, apparently they did improve them so that you can’t do that anymore. So maybe there’s hope.
That said if you are in the habit of using a cheap cable lock for your coffee stops [for the record I never let my bike out of sight when I’m on a ride] the Ottolock will be lighter. It just won’t be safer. If you do use an Ottolock, like a cable lock it will only delay a thief momentarily. So you should use the usual tricks in combination with the lock (wrap helmet straps around wheel/frame, use more locks, put bike in high gear, pile bikes together, etc.) And by no means think that an Ottolock (or cable lock) allows you to dawdle inside a store for a few minutes. That’s plenty of time for your bike to be whisked away. Just hope the bike thief goes after easier prey, i.e. a nearby unlocked bike.