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Wednesday
Nov302016

Silent disc brakes (we promise)

There's a lot left to the debate over disc brakes for road, but for mountain, "all road" or "gravel" or whatever the kids are calling it these days, and really cross (I saw zero people using cantis in last weekend's World Cup race), it's all disc all the time. There are some valid points of resistance to them for road (perhaps chief among those being the garage full of rim brake wheels a lot of you have) but one of the consistent complaints about discs is that they squeal like stuck pigs. Set them up right, and they're quieter than most rim brakes. 

First step is parts prep, starting with scuffing/cleaning the pad faces. Use a Scotch-Brite pad like we do, or even some mid-grit (220 or so) sandpaper. This is especially helpful for used pads which may have oil or other schmung in them, which contributes to noise and detracts from slowing you down. 

Give the faces a good scrub

After you're done scrubbing the pad surface, clean the whole pad with rubbing alcohol. 

Next, we're going to grease the pads. WHAT?!?!?!?!?!? Grease the pads?!?!?!? Yup - except you're going to grease the BACK side of the pads, comme ça:

Wear latex gloves so your skin oils don't get on the pads or rotorsWe use red boat trailer bearing grease, but any thick grease works. The critical thing is that it's thich enough to stay put, and the more waterproof, the better. Disc brake silencer from the car parts store works just as well. What the grease is doing is muting the resonance that occurs between the caliper piston and the back of the pad. It works like a champ. Be very careful not to get ANY grease on the pad face. 

After that, very carefully reinstall the pads in the calipers, and clean up any errant grease that may have gotten onto the caliper body. 

Next, scrub your rotor. New or old, do this. Very important not to get any skin contact with the rotors. Give them a good hard scrub, to the point where abrasions are visible on the rotor surface. 

Scrub a dub-dubEven though this rotor got a few small rust spots after a super wet ride, it's silent thanks to the good scrubbing. After the scrub, wash the rotor off with your rubbing alcohol.

Next you reinstall the rotor on the wheel, then install the wheel in the bike. Following the instructions for your brakes, align your calipers with the rotors, making sure that they are as square to each other as possible. Misalignment makes noise. Torque everything down to spec, as movement also creates noise. 

Now it's time to bed the rotors and pads. Get going about 10 or 12 mph, and then make a medium hard stop. Repeat that a few times, then get going faster and faster and make harder and harder stops. This whole bedding process should take maybe three or four minutes. 

And that's it, you're ready to go. When it's really damp out, your brakes will make a bit of a groan at the first stop (we get lots of foggy mornings in Newport to test this), and they'll be loud when they're downright wet, but your rims brakes probably do then, too. And unlike your rim brakes, your disc brakes will actually work really well in the wet. 

This prep will usually last the life of your pads, unless you ride in some really excessively nasty conditions. We prefer sintered pads to organic. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but to us sintered works in all conditions and ultimately has more power. Which you prefer is up to you. 

I have absolutely no tolerance for squealing brakes, to the point where I can promise you that there's no way I'd ride a disc road bike if loud brakes were an unavoidable part of the equation. They simply are not. 

Tuesday
Nov292016

Back to screwin' you Tuesday

There's not much getting around the fact that our Black Friday deal (our Novemberfest spoke upgrade, plus a stylish and versatile November pint glass) was badly overshadowed by some of the insane deals out there, and the response to it was suitably muted. In an environment where it was easy to find 40% or more off regular prices, our 10% or so effective discount looked paltry. 

Of course, this all goes back to regular pricing. At 40% off, we're close to selling you a set of wheels at zero margin. Even if we want to grow our customer base (which we do), and even if it's a slow time of year when we are operating at less than capacity (it is), the unattractiveness of doing a bunch of work and obligating ourselves to the service that we provide for zero profit should be self-evident. Other brands simply have more margin with which to make these deals, and we don't. There was one brand whose Black Friday deal was within a whisker of precisely our every day deal, and we don't doubt that they got a huge amount of takeup on it.

Plenty of retailers passed along deals that supplier brands had set up. There's tons of evidence of overproduction and excess inventory needing to be cleared out, and almost everything in the world can find a buyer at some price. There are also some products that came out which clearly didn't find their footing as quickly as planned, and those need more dramatic promotion (in the form of deep discount) to either gain traction or, at the very least, clear out and stop gumming up the system. 

We've had plenty of internal discussions about how to respond to these three situations, and what we keep coming back to is responding by not responding. We're not going to raise prices most of the time just to bring them down a few days a year, and there's nothing we can do about other companies blowing out their overproduction or "unsuccessful at full price" products. Our overhead is low, we don't any Sword of Damocles hanging over our head in terms of inventory that must be turned into cash or financing payments due, so we're well positioned to just weather these times and continue to do what we do the rest of the time. 

That said, you'll notice that the previous Novemberfest and Drinksgiving promos are down, and they'll be replaced with free continental domestic shipping (and reduced international shipping) for December. That's a reasonable and responsible level of promo for us, and it benefits consumers no matter what their ideal November wheel set is. Simply use code "Decembership" at checkout and you're good to go. 

The incredible value build we've been teasing, which gets you a set of top quality, hand built, beautiful wheels for barely more than $500, is also days away from launching, and will be eligible for free shipping. 

Tuesday
Nov222016

Spoke lacing for rim brake versus disc brake wheels

In the height of in-season madness I wrote this list of blog topics on a whiteboard on the fridge, and now that it's a bit less frantic I have a chance to get to some of them.

Pretty in Pink

A customer asked this summer why there was no 20 spoke front wheel option for disc brakes, and followed that up by asking why there is a 24/24 option for disc but not for rim brakes. That the questions were asked by the guy who asked them was notable to me, because he's fairly switched on in terms of knowing about bikes, so I figured there might be a lot of people with the same question. So it made the whiteboard list.

Ummmm, tangy!

There are a few reasons why there is no 20 hole option for disc brakes. The first is that a rim brake wheel transmits no torque from hub to rim. Transmitting torque from hub to rim is a fairly stressful activity for a wheel, so a wheel that does it needs more strength than a wheel that doesn't. In order to effectively transmit torque from hub to rim requires crossed spokes. The spokes in a radial laced wheel would just bend when you hit the brakes, and then eventually do a bad job of transmitting the brake torque to the rim. I still get a chuckle out of one company having introduced radial laced disc wheels, claiming they'd tested them and they worked great. We didn't even have to be the ones to call them out on it! But it's actually sort of improbable to do 2x lacing in a 20 spoke wheel as one spoke's head tends to interfere with the body of its neighbor spoke, and interlacing them as is the common convention just ain't happening without tortuously bending the spokes. 

Red's still the fastest color

A rim brake front wheel is symmetrical, while a disc brake front wheel is dished. Symmetrical wheels are inherently stronger (it might be better to say "more stable" instead), all else being equal, so conversely a 20h disc front would be weaker than a 20h rim brake front. There is also the tension imbalance between the spokes on the disc and non-disc sides. With a 20h wheel, you have a fairly long span between spoke holes in the rim, and the longer the span, the greater the likelihood that you won't be able to get spoke tensions evenly matched throughout. That potentially takes away all of your margin for error against having a non-disc side spoke go slack, and then break. Plus the greater stress that goes on the disc-side spokes at all times, which then goes up whenever you hit the brakes. As aero disc-brake bikes become more of a thing (and they're already a thing, so they're sure to become more of a thing), we're sure to see wheel designs which "address" this. Because nothing says aero like a low spoke count. Actually, deep wheels say aero more than a low spoke count, and deep wheels with low spoke counts say aero the MOST! And with straight pull spokes, it's fairly easy to get around the crossed-spoke interference bit, albeit with some heavy compromises. But the bike industry is all about hiding compromises in order to bring out stuff that's differentiated and looks really cool! Do I sound jaded?

As to why 24/24 makes sense for disc and not road, as Sheldon Brown has said, if your front and rear wheels have the same number of spokes, either your front wheel is overbuilt or your rear wheel is underbuilt. 

I've run long so I won't go into equivalencies between overall spoke count between disc and rim brake wheels now, but that will come later. 

Tuesday
Nov152016

The shiny purple hubs of death

Anyone who rides in DC will be familiar with the 10am ride, and most of those people will be familiar with a famous/infamous local who we'll call "The Muscle" (partly because everyone calls him that). He's had some incredible race results even at the national level, but hasn't been on any of the major big teams. He'll show up for the Goon Ride on a TT bike and no one cares because he's on the front at a speed that no one can pull through. I've never seen him without earphones, supposedly it's Bad Brains and hardcore ska type stuff going on in there. Again, no one minds. His situational awareness and ability to respond, even with music cranked, are higher than yours. 

So you meet up at Beach and Broad Branch for the start of the 10am, and he's never there, and you don't even think about it. One time a friend and I were so hungover that we had to exploit what's know as "the top burn." The top burn is when you use the previous night's still-present alcohol as fuel. The trick is to go fast enough to put some hurt in your legs and take some out of your head (pain being a zero sum game, and pain applied in one area means pain removed from another), which usually turns out to be pretty fast, but avoid going too fast because if you break the glass ceiling of the top burn it's all over and you probably need a taxi ride home. Not pretty. Anyway, we were riding a top burn out in the "neutral" section and this former pro woman completely unloaded on us about how some people like to warm up while we get out to Grosvenor. Totally, 100% deserved, but I think the bloodshot eyes that een cycling glasses couldn't hide went someway towards an explanation. 

Perhaps Ted's new wheels will play a similar role?

So you get out past Grosvenor and onto Tuckerman, and things get a bit lively. The timing of the Old Georgetown and Seven Locks lights is key; a red light at either means a bigger group for the first tough sections, as stragglers get a moment to recoup from the first challenges. Although it isn't always so, this ride can be fast as HELL. On a fast day, it's much tougher than most races you do because the fast guys are just taking huge swings. Who cares? It's training. 

So you've made it past Seven Locks and you're getting out towards Glen where it usually starts to get really quick, and then you remember that this is where The Muscle usually joins. And the first thing you notice is the hubs. His hubs may actually be responsible for my own hub fetish: a set of purple Chris King Classics, with plenty of spokes laced to some non-descript silver rims, likely an Open Pro variant. I see a guy on a bike up ahead, quick check to confirm purple hubs, and I know the game's on and it's about to get fun. 

I neither give myself nor deserve much credit as a bike rider, but there was this one day... It was late summer, and time to drag out the cross bike. Since I wanted to go ride the Blockhouse Trails in Potomac, and since the 10am goes right past a bunch of trailheads there, I figure I'll get a tow out there with the 10am until I get dropped (because, you know, I'm riding on Grifos) and then go ride trails. Except I've got the biggest case of wonderlegs(tm) I've ever had, and I'm twisting the throttle on EVERYONE, including The Muscle. Who's pissed about this. Though we have one good mutual friend, we've never talked, and I get the distinct impression (fairly, as most do) that he doesn't like me. So to have me turning screws while I'm on knobbies? Not cool. It was fun. Then, just as we get done with the Esworthy false flat (the toughest part of the ride, in my opinion), I get a flat. C'est la vie. 

It's easy to give living in DC guff for about a zillion reasons, but man the riding culture there is pretty fantastic. 

Monday
Nov072016

You knew this one was coming

Another "game changer" came out last week, this time Zipp's new 454. The primary porpoise (yes, there will be cetacean puns, it can't be helped) of the new design is to reduce steering force input from cross winds. From what I've read to date, the benefit to outright speed is minimal, it's just handling that's been substantively improved.

The 404 Firestrike had some small aerodynamic improvement over the 404 Firecrest (as I recall it was on the order of 3 seconds over the course of the 40k standard TT), but the primary improvements there were to braking and hubs. It was also unclear to which 404 Firecrest baseline the Firestrike's aerodynamic savings were: the 16 spoke original that we baseline, the then-current 18 spoke model, or the now-current 18 spoke with CX Sprint spokes, which the 404 Firecrest became coincident with the introduction of the 404 Firestrike. The ShowStopper brake surface and Cognition hubs were the primary stories at the Firestrike's launch. The 404 Firestrike is now apparently gone, replaced by the 404 NSW, the difference between the two being the hubs. 

Price-wise, the 454 costs $4000 a set, the 404 NSW are $3000 a set, and the 404 Firecrest are $2000 a set. Cost is objective in that it is what it is, but it's also subjective in that for some people the $13k you might spend on a cutting edge superbike is a rounding error, while some people don't have those means. 

The forums and comment boards have plenty of interesting posts about the goods and bads of these new wheels, but my take is pretty simple. For one, it's good that new ideas are coming out and that progress goes on. When we tested the 404 Firecrest, it was the laggard in cross wind stability, so improving that aspect is good business for Zipp and good for their users. 

The other side is that I hope that road cyclists, and in particular people who might like to race, don't see all of this and say screw it, I have no interest in a sport that's that much of an arms race. You hear terms like "game changer" and other hyperbole, and it takes a lot of self-possession to know that the bike that you loved yesterday is still the same bike today even if the game has been "changed."

Our goal has always been to provide enthusiastic and committed riders with great gear at lower expense. The wheels we're sending out every day are aimed at bringing you joy when you use them, but also to match your specific goals and add a ton of style to your bike. We've always considered that the best comment someone can make when looking at one of our customer's bikes is "that guy/girl makes some great purchase choices." 

Without data available to show for the 454, I can't say what stability gains they've made. Based on the data linked above, we can say that wheels in the "moderately deep for aluminum" category do exceptionally well in crosswinds. The world has also come to consensus (through data) that cycling actually takes place at low yaw angles, with somewhere around 80% of riding being done at equal to or less than 10* angle of incidence. Tour Magazine has even changed their weighting on this. From our iterative studies, we always knew this deep in our heads, but for us to try and influence the discussion on that comes off as unattractively Quixotic, so we just followed the prevalent conventions. Now the prevalent conventions have changed. Based on that, it's no challenge to make the statement that 80% of your road riding will take place at 10* wind angle or less, with the lower angles making up the majority even of that 80%. But if you take an even weighting of the wind tunnel data at 0, 2.5, 5, 7.5, and 10 degree and compare a Kinlin XC279 (which we continue to reference since it's representative of a lot of rims these days, and we have great data on it) to a 16 spoke 404 Firecrest, the time savings to the 404 is 14.2 seconds over the 40k 30mph TT (that's just comparing fronts - add half that again to account for the rear, so you're just a hair over 20 seconds for the set). My unshakeable belief is that your actual race, town line sprint race, Strava KOM hunting, and all other quantified riding pursuits are affected precisely bupkis by all of this. How the cost savings affect you is for you to decide. 

We know that our stance on this often has all the sex appeal of a beige sweater vest, so I'll leave you with a pic of some wheels which aren't slowing anyone down, and have considerably more sex appeal than a beige sweater vest.