Fun With Road Tubeless Tires, Part 5

Get plugged!

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.

For more information:

Genuine Innovations Repair kit


Showers Pass Body-Mapped Baselayer

SP top

                                                                   Your next top?

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.

Different Spokes Kit for 2019

Loud and Proud!

Am I Dark Enough?

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.

To view the full kit and to order, go to the Different Spokes Jakroo store:

Lucky boys and girls who got in on the first order will have their goods by February 4. If you order now, your goodies will be here after February 26.

Ottolock: A Fool and His/Her Money Are Soon Parted


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.

Continuing Lessons on Road Tubeless Tires

Orange Seal tire booger
Orange Seal tire ‘booger’ blocking a puncture

I recently got a flat tire on a road tubeless tire. How is that possible you say? I’d love to tell you it was because Jason slashed my tire with his chainsaw leaving me hapless by the side of the road. But it was much more mundane and humiliating. Whatever caused the puncture was rather small. I never did see it, only the tiny hole it caused. How come there wasn’t any sealant bubbling out and doing its thing? When I got home and took the tire off, I found the sealant was almost completely dried out!

I was initially puzzled—hadn’t I put Orange Seal in there just a few months ago? It turned out it was 14 months ago, which is an eternity when it comes to tire sealant. That’s one of the little maintenance tasks that go along with tubeless: put more sealant in your tires at regular intervals. But it’s also a task that is easy to forget, just as I did. In my case I had been checking at regular intervals when I first set the tires up, about every three months. At the time I was using Stan’s sealant, which is notorious for drying out in just a few months. But after a year the Stan’s was still there, and with confidence my diligence dropped off. I then switched to Orange Seal and checked my tires only once since then. I won’t make that mistake again.

I was fortunate in that I flatted just about a mile from home. I was able to get back to the house riding an almost flat rear tire (sealant also seems to help clincher tire beads bind to the rim). If I had been further away, I would have had to put in a tube. If the sealant were still working, it would have been an ugly mess to pull the tire off and put in a tube. On the other hand the hole was small enough that it surely would have sealed too. And by the way, did you know that tubeless tires tend to be hard to mount because they have tight beads? It’s enough hassle to try to get those Schwalbe tires on when I’m in the shop let alone by the side of the road. I’m not sure I could have gotten a tube in that tire without breaking a bunch of my finely manicured nails!

By the way this experience gave me an opportunity to check the inside of the tire to see how sealant works. Orange Seal consists of a liquid and lots of particles that flow to the puncture and clog it up. I was able to see two boogers inside the tire where apparently I had punctures that sealed. I made sure not to disturb them. It turns out the particles in Orange Seal are tiny little sparkly squares that look like metalic flakes. Whatever they are they seem to work very well at clogging holes.

Well, did I put more sealant in and mount the tire? Nope. I was going to but then I got Lesson Number Two: make sure you have a working air compressor. Air compressor, you say? Yep. Mounting a tubeless tire isn’t always possible with a regular bike pump. Sometimes it is but you don’t necessarily know ahead of time. It depends on the rim-tire combination. To seat the bead you often need a firm blast of air that literally blows the beads into place and create a seal. If you have a tube, the tube inflates and pushes the tire bead into place. But there isn’t a tube with tubeless tires. Nowadays you have three choices: air compressor, CO2 cartridge, or newfangled floor pumps with compressor tanks. CO2 is easy to get and cheap but has one problem: it causes tire sealant to coagulate. So you must do it in two steps: blow the beads into place and hope they stay there and then add sealant. Air compressors are the tool of choice but how many of you have the interest, need, or space for a shop air compressor? They’re moderately bulky and the cheap ones weigh about 40 lbs. They also make a lot of noise. If you’re a tool kind of guy/gal, then you probably already have an air compressor to drive your nail gun or air sprayer. But I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t know an air compressor from a tongue depressor. The third option is rather new. You can now get bicycle floor pumps that have a tank you inflate with the pump. Then you flip the switch to send the compressed air shooting into your tire. Genius. But they cost more than a cheap air compressor. Those floor pumps start around $125 and you can get a really cheap compressor for about $100 and it’s good for other things besides blowing your tubeless tires. But if you live in a SF apartment, the floor pump is definitely the way to go.

In my case I have an air compressor. But first I tried the floor pump because it’s worked before. No go—matter how I positioned the tire it didn’t want to inflate. Plan B was the air compressor. But when I turned it on, it was broken. Then I tried CO2 cartridges and after two failures I gave up and put a latex tube in the tire. I ordered a new compressor but I wasn’t going to wait for it to show up. So now I have a tubeless tire in front and a regular tubed tire in the back. I’m going to try this for a while. Right now I don’t notice a whole lot of difference in the ride. That’s not too surprising to me because latex tubes are very, very supple and give a Cadillac ride. But that brings up issues around maintaining latex tubes. But I’ll save that for another post!

Disc Brake Hype

Disc brake

If you are contemplating purchasing a road bike or you perhaps fervently peruse cycling magazines and websites for the latest bike porn, without doubt you have been exposed to a deluge of hype about road disc brakes. I’m here to disabuse you of the marketing drivel and share a real world user’s experience.

My experience with road disc brakes goes way back to 2003 long before road disc brakes were a thing. I met a Swiss cyclist from Zurich who had a custom Ericksen road bike with disc brakes, which at the time was a real rarity. I disparagingly asked him why he bothered with discs. He said, “It snows in Zurich and I ride year-round.” Oh. Made sense. If you’ve ever tried to brake in snow or sleet, you know how unreliable and scary it can be with rim brakes. Well, actually it’s scary regardless of the brake type but it’s especially scary with rim brakes. As I also commuted to work by bike, the idea was planted. In 2005 I got a cheap road bike that was EOLed by the manufacturer and it had Avid mechanical disc brakes—probably because no one was buying road bikes with disc brakes back then. It was an experiment perhaps motivated by a specific need. I commuted to work by bike rain or shine. My beater commuter bike often was a filthy mess despite having fenders, partly due to rim brakes. The black brake pads shed material and filth; add water and you have a black, oily slime all around your wheels and frame. Since I was carrying my bike up and down BART stairs, I was getting filthy too. I also was hoping that the braking would be more consistent when it rained; I had already gone down once in the rain due to being unable to tell when the rim brakes were going to lock up. Disc brakes do have a reputation for powerful braking but I just needed to have a consistent feel so that I wouldn’t brake too much or too little.

Roger and I had also been riding a tandem with Avid mechanical disc brakes. Due to the increased mass of two riders, with rim brakes you can produce so much heat during long downhills that you can blow the tire right off the rim. That happened to a friend on his single bike on a long, steep downhill in the Alps and we were also aware of a tandem that did blow its tires on a hairy, steep technical descent in Switzerland leading to copious road rash and a trip to the hospital for the duo. I’m a firm believer in disc brakes for tandems when you’re riding in mountainous terrain.

I now have a road bike that has the latest and greatest Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The brakes are very nice—they stop the bike, require little hand force to produce immense braking whether dry or wet, and have reasonable modulation. There really aren’t any significant downsides purely with respect to braking. But are they that much better than good rim brakes? Well, yes and no. In dry conditions I find that rim brakes, especially Campagnolo brakes, provide really excellent modulation even if they do require more hand force. Shimano and Avid disc brakes modulate well in the middle but as you get near the lock up point the braking curve suddenly goes up. This is really noticeable with metal/sintered brake pads but less so with resin pads.

Then why did I get them? Because I am running big tires. Current Shimano rim brakes top out at about 28mm tires; older generation brakes—and that’s all that I have—can rarely fit around a 28 mm tire and usually top out at 26 mm if you’re lucky––the tires are just too big to fit under the brake arch. That’s partly a frame problem because until recently major bicycle companies thought no one riding a decent road bike was going to use anything bigger than a 25 mm tire. If you ran big tires, then you had to use “long reach” rim brakes, cantilever brakes, or V-brakes. Over the years I’ve used them all and guess what: they work quite well at stopping. So-called long reach side pull brakes actually have really good modulation but they do require more hand force. But they are not uncomfortable on the road to use even for prolonged periods. Cantilevers and V-brakes can stop on a dime just like disc brakes but they use also brake pads and so shed muck and that wouldn’t work for my commute. In an ironic turn Shimano has made their newest rim brakes so powerful that they stop like disc brakes. But I find their modulation is worse than their hydraulic brakes or their older road brakes. They have so much force in a short pull that I’ve had to relearn how to control them.

When reviewers go gaga over hydraulic brakes what are they getting at? Probably the reduction in hand force that to them feels like better modulation. But 99% of the braking you’re going to be doing is exactly what you’ve been doing to date. Do you often think your brakes are underpowered, lack modulation, or just plain suck? For most of us the answer is no. I do think a reasonable case can be made for very heavy bikes such as cargo bikes or e-bikes and very heavy cyclists. Also if you regularly do crazy long and steep downhills or ride in the rain a lot, then disc brakes are extra insurance against blowing a tire or skidding and crashing. But these are not everyday concerns unless you live in the Alps or Dolomites or live in the Pacific Northwest. Even for descending Mt. Diablo or Mt. Umunhum standard road rim brakes are perfectly fine. And how many of you ride your bike regularly in the rain?

Often you’ll see in reviews that the big minus with hydraulic disc brakes (usually no one mentions mechanical disc brakes anymore) is the added weight. The extra weight is probably just under a pound but I don’t think that’s the real problem with disc brakes. What they don’t mention is the extra maintenance that disc brakes incur. If you want to read an in-depth explanation of exactly what maintenance they do require, go here and here.

In my experience disc brakes require frequent and more complex maintenance than rim brakes. Rim brakes are relatively easy to take care of. It’s trivial to replace brake pads, and I usually go years before needing to replace pads despite riding lots of miles. Setting the pads the correct distance from the rim is also a snap. Disc brakes are another matter altogether. Although the pads cost about the same as rim brake pads, they wear through much more quickly and that means you’ll be replacing them often. Resin pads, which are the preferred type, wear very quickly; I’m getting about 2-3,000 miles per brake and having to replace them at least once a year front and rear (note: and I’m light!) The rotors wear out too. With rim brakes you will wear out rims eventually but it’s many years (about 25-40,000 miles in my case). But I’ve discovered that Shimano rotors wear out in about a year of riding. And they’re not cheap, running $60-90 each. Rotors also warp easily. Massive heat from hard, long braking seems to cause rotors to go out of true. You can also accidentally bump the rotor or lean it against something. The distance between the pads and the rotor is so minute, a few millimeters, that minor warpage means the rotor rubs against the pads usually with a grating, annoying squeak. You can true rotors with a rotor tool but I find it’s much harder than truing spokes in a wheel. Finally, replacing a brake cable is super easy for rim brakes. But bleeding a hydraulic line is a tedious process and you’d better have read the instructions carefully for your brakes because there are nuances in how you bleed your brakes depending on the model. At the moment I’m tearing my hair out over inconsistent piston retraction on the front brake. One of the two pistons doesn’t retract quickly after use so I often get a rasping squeak that only goes away when the piston slowly retracts

Of course if you don’t do your own bike maintenance—which seems to be the trend these days—then you escape the hassle. But your shop bills are going to increase instead.

So before you buy that next bike with disc brakes, think: are you ready to trade the convenience and low cost of rim brakes for the complexity, more frequent maintenance, and higher cost? If you’re going to be riding the same old roads, you are gaining weight and cost for what? Road disc brakes do make sense if want to go up to bigger tires, you ride in the wet a lot, or you need to stop a lot of weight. The other application that make more sense to have disc brakes is if you’re riding on fire roads and trails with your road bike: essentially you’re mountain biking on a road bike and the reduced hand force of disc brakes will definitely feel welcome. It’s no surprise that disc brakes are de rigeur for mountain biking. I have an old mountain bike with cantilever brakes and my hands do get tired and crampy. Now, I do like my hydraulic brakes and the extra weight means little to me. But I’m spending more time futzing with them than I did with the worst rim brakes I’ve ever owned. It’s a pain. And rotor rub just becomes a fact of disc brake life—for some it’s easily ignorable but for me it’s a princess-and-the-pea problem: the noise drives me crazy. There is one other advantage to disc brakes: if your wheel goes out of true—whether it’s due to a broken spoke, tacoing the rim, or “just riding along”, you can usually keep riding to get home. With rim brakes you’ll have to do some serious wheel truing by the side of the road/trail or else call a taxi.

Road Tubeless Update

Schwalbe Pro One tire
Schwalbe Pro One, 700×28, on Hed Belgium Plus rim

For almost two years I’ve been running road tubeless tires on my bike and I’ve commented about my experience here and here. It’s been an experiment on several fronts. In addition to using tubeless tires I have also been using sealant, which is optional although often recommended. I have the tires set up on HED Belgium rims, which at 25 mm are much wider than standard road rims usually at 20 mm. This allows the tires to take less of a “lightbulb” shape and actually increases the volume of air. This means I can run lower pressure and get a cushier ride. Whereas I usually run rims about 85 to 105 psi, I have been running the front tire at 45-50 psi and the rear tire at 55-60 psi without risk of bottoming or a pinch flat. Finally I’ve been riding on fire roads and some easier mountain bike trails with these tires despite running a strangely low spoke count of just 28 (32 is most common). The tires are Schwalbe Pro One, which are nominally 28 mm in width but on the wider rims they measure out about 30 mm. I think the only person in the club running a fatter road tire is Nancy on her 32 mm Continentals!

The bottom line is that these tires have been reliable after the initial teething issues I wrote about and have held up well on dirt. I’ve put almost 3,300 miles on these wheels and the tires are still going strong. I’ve had only two noticeable punctures both in the rear tire. I say “noticeable” because it is possible I’ve had more punctures but they may have sealed so quickly that I never saw them. That said I do check my tires after nearly every ride for signs of sealant, embedded objects, and lowered pressure and I haven’t noticed any other punctures. But two punctures in nearly two years is low for me. So I am guessing that in reality I have had other punctures but the sealant took care of them so quickly that I never had to deal with them.

At this point I can cautiously recommend tubeless for road. The main convenience is the ability to ride even after a puncture and without having to stop and replace a tube. The main inconvenience is getting sprayed with sealant after a puncture; fortunately sealant seems to be easy to wash out of clothes and it’s fairly easy to remove from your bike. If you run fenders, which I did in the winter, then you won’t have this problem. There is a problem that I yet to encounter but is a distinct possibility: getting a tire gash or a large puncture that sealant cannot plug. Guess what? You either walk home, call for help, or put in a new tube. If you’re the Boy Scout type, you’ll still be toting a spare tube, pump, and levers thus obviating any weight reduction by going tubeless. (You’ll need to carry a pump regardless because you never know how long it will take a puncture to seal. In one case the tire was down to 28 psi before sealing!) By the way putting a tube into a tire coated with sealant is messy, so pack a couple of latex or nitrile gloves too. You may have read about struggles others have had with tight beads on tubeless tires making it difficult or impossible to mount a tire. I haven’t had any issues with my set up.

The last thing I’ll say if you are contemplating going tubeless is that the paeans you read in cycling rags about the ‘magic carpet ride’ of tubeless road tires—“it’s like riding sewups!” is greatly overstated. Good tubeless tires have heavier casings than regular clincher tires and that makes the ride less supple. Another wheelset I have, which is very similar to my tubeless set, has expensive Michelin tires and latex inner tubes and it has an even cushier ride that IS just like setups! Of course when I get a flat on these tires it’s all old-school repair. But it’s clearly the better ride despite not being tubeless. An increase in comfort is primarily going to be function of the sophistication of the casing and the inflation, not because it’s tubeless.

Tubeless Update

I wrote about my early experience with tubeless road tires last year; you can find that article here. Since last August I’ve put another 700 miles on those wheels and I experienced my third puncture a few days ago. As I mentioned before, one of the downsides of running sealant in tires (tubeless or otherwise) is that if you do get a puncture it often will not seal immediately especially if it’s more than a pinhole. In the meantime as your wheel is spinning around it’s ejecting sealant in every direction. Since it’s winter the bike now has fenders, so I didn’t notice I had a puncture until I got home and saw the Orange Seal sealant on the mudflap and on the inside of the fender. Upon inspection the 2 mm puncture was completely sealed. The astonishing discovery was that the tire had lost less than 10 lbs. of pressure; in other words, even though it looked like the contents of the tire had been massively spewed out, it must have sealed very quickly, so quickly that I didn’t notice the loss of air pressure. I was impressed—I was able to continue riding as if nothing had happened! Of course if there hadn’t been a fender in place I would instead likely be trying to launder dried latex sealant out of my bike clothes. Although it wasn’t raining when I got the puncture, you can imagine how miserable it would have been to replace an inner tube while getting drenched. I can see the advantage of running tubeless tires with sealant during our rainy season. So far, so good…

Shiny New Things: Garmin Edge 25


Garmin recently released two new GPS cyclecomputers, the Edge 20 and 25, which might interest those of you who are looking for a simple cyclometer but with the ability to record a GPS track to post to Strava or other online fitness/mapping sites. By Garmin standards the 20 and 25 are “bare bones” cycling computers giving you just the basics—current speed, mileage, average speed, ride time, etc. and in the case of the Edge 25 also cadence and heart rate. The Edge 20 is completely self-contained and goes for $130; the Edge 25 costs $170 and that premium buys you the ability to pair it with an optional heart rate monitor, cadence and speed sensor. By comparison Cateye makes a heart rate cyclometer that does everything the Garmin 20 and 25 do except GPS and runs for about $115. Keep in mind that the Edge 25 does not include any sensors and their cost bumps up the overall cost quite a bit. In fact, the overall cost starts to run into the territory of Garmin’s mid-line computers such as the Edge 500, which although long in the tooth can be had for about $150-$200 and which has many more features including the ability to be paired with a power meter.

The Edge 20 and 25 have two “features” that stand out: they’re by far the simplest Garmin cyclometers to use and they have a small, pleasing form factor. Neither simplicity nor ease of use are Garmin’s design forté but it has mostly managed to accomplish both of these by drastically cutting back on the number of features and by making the screen small so that at most three metrics can be displayed at once. Compare this with the Edge 1000, which has a plethora of customizable training pages and up to ten fields that can be displayed at once—talk about distraction!

I’ve been using an Edge 25 so I’ll focus on that. If you want a full review (actually, a preliminary hands-on review) you can do to dcrainmaker. There is also a good summary at I’m going to comment on just a few salient things that have either irked or pleased me.

Size. I was looking for a cyclometer to replace a dead Polar and I wanted it to be small. Although I also use a Garmin 800 and 1000, I find their size to be awkward, bulky, and inelegant. Also their advanced navigation features, although quite useful if not indispensible for touring, are irrelevant for riding around home. I’ve always admired the long-gone Avocet cyclometers for their small size and the Edge 25 comes very close—it’s barely bigger than the mount to which it attaches. It’s unobtrusive and gives your bike a very clean, old school appearance as it does on my DeRosa. Of course if you tend to go to town on accessorizing your bike, e.g. full-size bike pump, lights, bell, handlebar bag, etc., having a small cyclometer for the sake of esthetics is, well, pointless.


Screen. The screen is black and white and very readable in sun or shade, better than the older Edge 800 I still use. The two data pages have just three fields presented vertically. This is a lot less visual clutter than on Garmin’s other units, which can have eight to ten fields per page. However the size of the type is almost the same in all three fields—the central field is just a hair bigger than the one above and the one below. I’d prefer it be significantly bigger to increase its salience when glancing at it quickly: 90% of the time all I want to know is how fast/slow am I going. The screen is small so all three metrics are close together and in this case it’s both a plus (easy to see all three at once) and a minus (now which one is speed and which is distance?).

Screen Management. It’s a simple button push to go through the pages. The screen is not touch sensitive and that’s good because I’ve found Garmin’s capacitance touch screens on the 800 and 1000 to be just modestly reliable, I’ve found the 25’s buttons to be a relief especially on such a small screen.

Set up, Part 1. It’s pretty simple especially if you have no sensors to pair it with. It relies on GPS to calculate distance and speed, so no calibration is necessary. Like Garmin’s newer units, the Edge 25 uses GPS and GLONASS satellites, so the location accuracy (and hence distance and speed) is quite good. The Edge 800 only is capable of using GPS satellites and it’s usually (although not always) accurate, so I think the Edge 25 should be even better and more consistent in areas where satellite signals are weaker (e.g. in the trees or near tall buildings or landforms). Locking onto satellites is very quick when using both systems, a matter of seconds. By comparison with my old Edge 800, which only uses GPS satellites, it usually is less than a minute but sometimes, especially at a new location, it can be much longer.) You can also turn off using GLONASS satellites if you want to conserve power. Configuring the fields on the two data pages is also very easy because the choice of metrics is purposely kept to just these: speed, distance, time, average speed, calories, and total ascent. On the 800 and 1000 the variety of metrics you can display is positively dizzying and to be honest, really unnecessary for 99% of us; the Edge 1000 has 92 different metrics!

Set up, Part 2. Going back to their handheld backpacking GPS devices, Garmin has a long history of providing, uh, challenging documentation. Their manuals tend to have overly terse explanations of how to set up, use, and problem solve their devices. For example years ago when I got the Edge 800–and being a “I read the manual before I do anything” guy–I tried to follow their directions on setting it up only to run into roadblocks. After much swearing and pulling of hair, I found out that there was an unmentioned firmware update that changed the interface so that the included manual was no longer accurate. Keeping to that theme in the case of the Edge 25, they “forgot” to mention some critical things when you try to connect the 25 to the optional sensors. First, it turns out you can pair only one cadence sensor and one speed sensor (or just one cadence/speed sensor). If you have more than one bike, you’re going to have to re-pair your 25 each time you switch bikes. Second, if you use a speed sensor instead of relying on the GPS to calculate distance and speed, Garmin never tells you that you don’t need to calibrate the sensor as you do with almost any other cyclometer. The Edge 25 does it automatically against its GPS signal. Now, that’s great but it never tells you it’s doing this or that it has accomplished doing it nor is anything mentioned in their paper or online documentation. Third, when you do pair optional sensors the Edge 25 will alert you that a pairing is successful, but the message is flashed across the screen so quickly that if you were not staring at the screen the whole time, you will probably miss it. The natural thing one does is in that case is to think that the pairing wasn’t successful or didn’t start and then to attempt again to pair the units. You will then get a message that pairing “wasn’t successful”. That’s because you actually did pair successfully the first time and now the Edge 25 thinks you’re trying to pair to a second sensor. After a round of puzzlement that turned to annoyance, I finally figured out that everything was alright and paired when I spun the crank and the wheel. Be warned.

Power. Oh, you have a power measurement device like a PowerTap, Stages, or a Quarq? Well, don’t get the Edge 25. Even though it can connect to ANT+ sensors, it apparently was deliberately dumbed down so it could not be used for power measurement. Of course Garmin doesn’t mention this. It’s such an obvious thing to include, why would Garmin not? It’s probably because they want you to buy their much more expensive 510/520/810/1000 models that can measure power. If you’re really into training and racing the one factor you’re most interested in is power, so the Garmin 25 is not going to help you at all.

Uploading your track. I don’t have anything to say to you Stravanauts because I don’t use Strava and I find Garmin Connect to be interesting but pointless. But I do upload tracks to Garmin’s BaseCamp application and it works easily, the same as with the 800 and 1000.

Battery life. I haven’t pushed the boundaries of battery life yet since most of my rides are under five hours. But the advertised battery life is eight hours. I’ve done some three to four hour rides with both GPS and GLONASS on and the battery has been down about 60%. Since most of us don’t do rides that last eight hours, this isn’t a problem. But if you’re doing centuries and taking your time or you like to do epic all-day rides, this isn’t the device for you. There is no way to attach an auxiliary battery pack while the 25 is attached to the bike mount, so when the battery dies it’s game over. On the other hand I’ve encountered the same problem with Garmin’s flagship cyclocomputer, the 1000. The 1000’s real battery life barely goes over nine hours; I can stretch that a bit by cutting power usage through turning off the screen, turning off GLONASS, and putting the device to sleep at rest stops. But those are all more than minor inconveniences and cause other annoying problems. But the 1000 can attach to an external battery pack if you use a dedicated bar mount rather than Garmin’s inexpensive quarter-turn mount, and that’s exactly what I do now. The only way to hook an external battery pack on the 25 is to remove it from the bar mount, attach it to its recharging mount, which has a USB connector, and plug it into a USB battery pack. But then you can’t attach it to your bars. I suppose you could then use duct tape to attach it to the stem but that seems inelegant!

Navigation. The Edge 25 has rudimentary navigation ability. You can download a track from Garmin Connect (incidentally, who uses Garmin Connect??) and the 25 will give you bread crumb navigation on its tiny screen. Keep in mind that the screen has no map and you’ll be following a black line with no other information. If I really wanted to download a route to the 25, I’d get it from RideWithGPS rather than Garmin Connect, but Garmin doesn’t currently provide a way to do that. In any case navigation is pointless for most of us because we’re riding at home on the same routes we do every day. Robust navigation is usually only critical if you’re riding on unfamiliar roads such as on a tour. If you want real navigation, you have to step way up to the 810 or the 1000. If you want to use the Edge 25 on a club ride with breadcrumb navigation, in your computer you would have to export the RideWithGPS route, upload it to Garmin Connect, and then download it to the Edge 25. It’s a bit of a pain.

Despite my kvetches about the 25, now that it’s up and working I do like it. As you can tell, I most appreciate its simple, limited abilities and interface. I also like its diminutive size and easy-to-push buttons. However the price is something else. If you just want a simple, bare-bones cyclometer, you could get one for under $40 and not pay the $170 that Garmin demands. A less expensive cyclometer would probably have a battery that lasts a year or two rather than eight hours. On the other hand, you then do not get a track, heart rate measurement, nor the sundry online and phone communication that the Edge 25 has (and that I didn’t care about). You would also have a wired wheel sensor, which may offend your aesthetic sensibility.

Medicine of Cycling Six Week Class

Evan Kavanagh passes along this flyer and information about a six week class for the public called “The Medicine of Cycling” featuring expert physicians, psychologists, trainers, and specialists covering important concepts for cyclists like bike fit, metrics, psychology, nutrition, and of course aches and pains! The course was adapted from professional education programming for sports medicine physicians and will be very high quality, but still accessible for a public audience.

UCSF Medicine of Cycling 2013 flyer

Registration is discounted to $60 until February 1st for the six-lecture series. He has already signed up for the series which starts February 28th and runs thru April 4th, at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus from 7-8:45pm.