Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Flashblog Seasonal Upgrades

Greetings, and, as always, welcome to Flashblog,

I'm your host, Flash, sifting through the detritus of modern culture for molecules of joy, seasonal and otherwise, as it relates to my almost obsessive interest in bicycles and bicycle riding.  In this edition, I get to report some very good news.  I've acquired even more bike parts since the last installment!  Here's an intriguing fact:  all these parts are brand new, the result of throwing cash around locally, and all over the internet.  Flash is doing great things for the economy!  And supporting the Euro as well, I'm proud to say.

"So just what are these parts?" you are probably asking yourself and I was hoping you would ask that.
The first thing is a new bottom bracket for my Lemond road bike.  Yes, it is at the bottom of the bike, but no, it is not a bracket at all.  What it is is a hollow splined axle with ball bearings inside a sealed metal tube.  I know, that's pretty fascinating.  I could let the warmth and tingleyness stop there, but I'll go on.  You see, the bottom bracket, in this case a type called ISIS, is an important thing in that it connects the gear thingys to the pedal thingys, and lets them go round and round smoothly.  If it fails, the "smoothly" part goes away and it literally becomes a drrraaaaaaaaag.

Here's what it looks like,but you don't see it because it is hidden inside the bike frame

Anyway, my previous BB got a little bent somehow, so the gear thingys (chainrings)  were pulsing side to side a bit, rubbing on the derailleur.  And dragging at the same time.  Bummer.  So I dropped some cash at the LBS (local bike shop) and let them order the part and install it.  Costs more this way, but its time I gave them some business as they've been very good to me.  ISIS, by the way, was an interim technology to combat the market supremacy Shimano appeared to be gaining when they "dropped" their proprietary Octalink splined system.  ISIS was formed by a consortium of competing parts concerns to combat Octalink, so they basically copied the Octalink but put on 10 splines instead of 8.  Time would show that the ISIS system, while stiff laterally, has a bearing design that wears out faster because it is forced to use more, but smaller ball bearings, thus more bearing surface area compared to a system of larger balls.

Thus, The Market then "rolled out" the external bearing system which put larger bearings on the outside of the bike, fixing the inherent shortcomings of the splined systems.  The external system is not so good for sealing out water and dirt, but it is stiff due to its larger axle shaft.  The hollow axle is integrated into the crankset, a light and efficient setup.  

This is what the external bottom bracket looks like, bearings on the outside. 

Even newer is the BB30 system, invented by Cannondale but now also on many  high end bikes.

Note the large bearing races sit inside an oversized frame tube shell.  Lighter, stiffer, most efficient.  The BB30 system results in frame swelling in its nether regions to accommodate the large bearings.

I know what you are thinking:  "Flash, why didn't you just upgrade to an external bearing system?"  Because I didn't want to also have to buy a new crankset to fit it.  My current crank features my time tested 52/39/28 gears that can not be had in a modern triple, which is commonly 50/39/30.  Beside, that would have been a $400 upgrade, just to modernize a bearing system.  I decided to put that cash into a different area, so I just replaced the ISIS unit and I'm back in biz for a good long time. 

So where did I put the cash?    Here:

Giant P SL1 Road Wheelset 

Designed for performance road riding, aimed at enthusiasts and beginner racers seeking a stiff, durable wheelsystem.
  • 6061 Rim · Forged 6000-series hubs
  • DT Aero bladed Stainless steel spokes, 18 front, 24 rear
  • Single handed wheel release
  • DT Swiss sealed hub bearings
  • 21mm wide rim
  • Weight 1775g per pair
The 2012 Defy Composite 1 with the P-SL1 wheels

I went on a wheel research bender, and got quite overwhelmed.  Brands such as Easton, American Classic, Shimano, Most, Neuvation, Velocity, Rolf, Rol, and a myriad of boutique wheelsmiths all claim to make the best wheel at the best price.  At first, I was thinking about a very light climbing wheel like the Easton 90, which comes in at under 1500g per set.  Or Rol Alp Duez at 1490g.  Then I started reading reviews over at and it became clear that the lighter the wheel, the greater risk of breaking spokes or of wheel flexing.  Not to mention the cost skyrockets commensurately. The Rolf Vectors I have been using the last few years weigh in at around 2000g, so these Giants save about 200 grams, or about half a pound.  I found them on Ebay, at a great price, so threw down for them.  They feature a wider rim than usual, 21mm vs the 19mm normally found on road rims.  However, the Rolfs measure a spindly 17.9mm wide, so the new rims are something like 15% wider.  When mounting 23mm tires on the 21mm rims, the resulting tire cross section profile looks less like a lightbulb and more like an airfoil.  So this is reported to result in better cornering and road feel, almost tubular-like.  

What I can report is that when I spin the new wheels, they are completely silent, so utterly smooth that if I closed my eyes I could not tell if they were spinning.  This is new to my experience, believe it or not, I've never had spanking new wheels on a bike.  This is going to be a treat!

Road report:  SWEET!  I definitely feel a small but better difference going uphill.  It feels easier going up.  Descending feels about the same as before.  Cornering is better, and overall ride feel is zingy-er without being harsh at all.  Drawback:  changing a tire on the road is HARD.  Not sure if this is due to the Lithium tires mentioned below or the wider aspect of the rims.  I've now included liquid soap in my saddle bag to make the next road repair easier.  I kid you not!

Lastly, I contacted my people across the Pond, and they sent me over some Michelin Lithium 2 tyres.  I really like the Lithium as it rides like a ProRace, but has better puncture resistance,and is the most cost effective tyre in the line, I got a pair for $42 American. 
In progress shots.  

The wheels with tires on looks how I want them to look, understated yet with a high tech, no-nonsense appearance.  The black, gray and white colors fit the bike's overall scheme quite well.  The wheels appear as climbing wheels should look, light and purposeful, none of this aero, oversized, super deep dished carbon  excess so prevalent in bike marketing today.  Here' a fine example of blingtastic wheels:

Ugg. I hate this look on a bike.  It reminds me of this:

I just improved my machine quite a bit.  It runs like a Swiss watch and goes just a little bit better than before.  Riding should be about the fun, and it is fun that I'm having right now.  Oh yeah.  

Lastly, my New Year's resolution is to add a second ride name to my personal roster.  This name is inspired by the recent news of a long covered up family story that due to a philandering enjoyed by my grandmother  I may in fact be 1/4 Italian!

Ride On My Friends

Ciacomo Gordoni