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Monday
Jun122017

Areas of focus

The promised rim discussion is coming, but there's a topic I've been meaning to raise since the winter and just now getting to it. A strange thing happened when the wind tunnel results from February came back: I started cleaning my bike a lot more, and paying more attention to how I inflated my tires. 

When sites like Friction Facts came out, I found it sort of easy to dismiss them. The processes for getting the gains they talked about seemed onerous (complicated chain baths, waxing your chain in a crock pot to save a few watts but only have it last a couple of hundred miles) and more one of those "the juice just ain't worth the squeeze" type of deals. But then, as happens, discussion started happening around the ideas and knowledge, and all of a sudden the byzantine techniques had accessible analogs that didn't take any incremental time or effort or even money over what you'd already do if you took care of your bike. 

Coincident with this, the info available on tires and rolling resistance started to explode. Velonews published a lot of info, Bicyclerollingresistance.com (link here) threw a ton of info out there, and all of a sudden everything that everyone was talking about was tires and not wheels. There was a topic on slowtwitch.com's forum where a new triathlete asked about the top several upgrades he could make to his equipment and it took two pages of answers before anyone said anything about wheel aerodynamics. This was a new world indeed. 

And then we augmented the significant relative values of aerodynamic savings of various wheels with more absolute values, and my personal approach changed overnight. I've always been something of a princess with tires, and it turned out that the tires I'd preferred were at or near top of class anyhow, so that was good. But latex tubes went from the periphery of my awareness (we'd done good testing on them a few years ago) to "oh I should make it a point to use them instead of butyl when not going tubeless." Inflation pressures got a real close look, and while I wound up not making sea changes I have generally been using higher pressure than the really low pressure I'd been using. The thing that's underreported about latex tubes is how effectively they mute road buzz. So using really supple tires and good latex tubes, inflated to the correct trade-off pressure for my use, results in a really fast and smooth ride. 

Chain friction is another one where I took a good hard look. I'd never neglected my chain really badly, but neither was I a freak about it, either. And I'm still not, but I have been paying more attention. Get a chain cleaning tool, pair it with a good degreaser, and use it every couple of hundred miles. Heck, even Simon from GCN finally gave up the ghost on his WD-40 based chain maintenance program and does what I now do. Get your chain clean and that's going to reduce friction, increase component life, improve shifting, and reduce noise. The cost? A minute or three per week, that you should be spending on this anyway. And then you just have to make a good choice on lube to optimize. I prefer Squirt, which is like an easy to use "out of a bottle" version of the crock-pot-wax thing, or Rock and Roll Gold for the mountain bike. Both score very well in friction testing (Squirt isn't in this test but similar wax lubes do very well). And the blissful silence...

I also did a thorough go-through of all the bearings all over my bikes, and though we're still sure that ceramic bearings are wasted on bikes, worn out, rusty, dry, or otherwise janky bearings waste your watts. And they make noise. 

And then when you add all that stuff up, you have a faster, smoother, quieter, more efficient, longer lasting, cleaner, and all around sexier bike that's more fun to ride. All of this comes with literally zero downside, no extra expense, no compromised braking, no crosswind handling issues, and no switching brake pads for race day. Plus the benefits actually exist, and exist at 100% whether you are drafting or not, climbing or descending, riding at 15 or 30 mph, whatever. 

So that's been a substantive change of mindset and action for my approach. In the great and grand scheme of things (okay it doesn't even have to be a great and grand scheme), I'm nothing special on a bike, but we all like to ride bikes that are efficient and smooth and feel like they're working as well as they can. 

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Reader Comments (5)

These are the "marginal gains" for the non-pro that can make much more of a difference than any set of carbon wonder wheels. Tucking in and shortening cables, narrower bars, a tight fitting jersey, aero road helmet and proper strap placement, extending your reach with a longer stem, doing some core work and stretching for a longer and/or lower position , the already mentioned chain prep, latex tubes and tire choice plus cleaning up the rubber molding nibs on some tires and a 10 - 15 watt savings is easily accomplished. An experienced and well trained racer would have to wok hard to get that much improvement in a year of training.

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDarrell Edwards

Absolutely, and it's all cheap or free - just a matter of making some more informed choices. And none of it comes with any downside, it's just there for you to take advantage of.

Had a conversation this morning with a friend who has a small high end "by appointment" kind of shop and he sells quite a few wonder wheels. His input this morning was that they decidedly DO NOT come without downsides.

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

Squirt lube: been using it for at least the last 8 years on all of my bikes. I'll do a few a rides on a new chain using the gunk that it comes coated with, them run them through the park tool cleaner and apply squirt lube every couple of rides (basically, when I start hearing some noise from the chain).

Just bought a shop-sized 17oz bottle that should last me the next season or two.

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMike E.

I e been doing the rice cooker with paraffin wax and paraffin oil combo for two months now. Checked my chain the others day and that sucker stretched an entire half link! Has about 1700-1800 hundred miles on it. Is it the milage or the method that has cause so much wear? I clean the chain with and orange cleaner before soaking every 200-250 miles. I'm always looking for better ways to keep the drive train at its best. Will lovin my rail 52s!

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohn c

Hi John,

Huh, that's as strange as it gets. I don't know. Half a link sounds like it would be skipping all over the place and not shifting right at all. I'm due for a new chain too but I'm at maybe 5x your mileage, so I don't really know what to attribute yours to.

June 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdave

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