Sunday, July 3, 2016

New Things Under the Sun

Please excuse the poor quality photo. The white patch in the tire with the black dot on the middle is a cut in the tread, the white being the tire casing and the black dot, the inner tube peeking through. Obviously, this is not a stable situation.

As I have previously posted, I believe there is value in periodically revisiting equipment reviews; it is often how a piece of equipment performs over time that determines its value. I have done this in the past for tires and my Garmin Edge 500 cycle computer and decided to do it again.

Garmin Edge 500

I have posted on this product several times since I first purchased it at the end of 2012, most recently in this post. My two major complaints about this product are that it occasionally loses data from a ride and that the strap for the heart rate monitor stops working after a few months. The data loss problem persists, it has gotten no better and no worse and I am living with it. This amounts to losing one ride every few months when I am riding about 5 days a week. Since the Garmin Edge 500 is no longer sold (the current model is the 520, two models newer) I am not sure this is still relevant, though I would be curious if newer models still have this problem. As to the strap problem, I have tried a variety of solutions. About two years ago, I tried replacing the "premium" heart rate monitor with the much cheaper "classic" monitor. The classic monitor is an integrated unit with the strap, you cannot replace just the strap, you have to replace the whole thing. On the other hand, the classic monitor costs about $25, whereas just the replacement strap for the premium monitor costs $35. (The premium monitor plus strap costs $60.) Appearances and advertising notwithstanding, the classic strap is every bit as comfortable as the premium strap. But the most important difference is longevity. The premium strap fails after about three months. After two years of use, the classic strap is still working. The classic strap has been discontinued by Garmin and I don't know what I will do if the one I have fails. Given the sad state of obsolescence that characterizes my Garmin, this will be the last time I review it.


In the six years I have had my Surly Crosscheck, I have tried seven different sets of tires. (I have not worn them all out, see below.) The tires I have used are as follows:

Ritchey SpeedMax Comp32Original tires. Knobby. Not fun to ride.
Specialized Armadillo28"Fine"
Grand Bois Extra Léger32Wonderful feel. Fast? Prone to flats.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus28Clunky and squirrelly. Hard to mount. No Flats!
Clement Strada LGG28Felt fast. Insecure when wet. Wore out quickly.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus32Rides fine, mounts fine, feels secure. No Flats?

My wife and I purchased matching Surly Crosschecks at the beginning of 2010 and they came with the Ritchey tires. I replaced mine almost immediately because I did not like the way they looked or the way they rode. My wife, who purchased her bike at the same time, wore hers out and then started using mine, until she switched to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires to reduce the number of flats she was getting. I have no memory or record of what kind of tires the bike shop put on my bike except that they were skinnier than the Richies and had a slick (non-knobby) tread. They worked fine and I rode them for two years until they wore out. The shop then put on similar Specialized Armadillo tires, which again worked fine. For my second Brevet which I rode in May of 2013, I temporarily replaced the Specialized tires with the Grand Bois Extra Léger which randonneuring experts promised would be faster and more comfortable, especially in the somewhat fatter 32 mm width which I got. I have never been able to document that the Grand Bois ride faster than any other tire (and I have tested them fairly carefully under controlled conditions), but they sure feel better than anything else I have ever ridden. After the brevet, I put the Armadillos back on to "save" the Grand Bois for special occasions. When the Armadillos finally wore out, I replaced them with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires because I read somewhere they were "rugged", and worry free appealed to me. Because I wanted "skinny" tires, I bought them in the 28 mm width. They were very hard to mount and did not have a nice feel on the road; they felt both slow and insecure when cornering. Nonetheless, they virtually never got flats, so I learned to forgive their sins. I probably would still be riding these tires, but my wife got tired of getting flats, I wanted to try some different tires, so I put my old 28 mm Marathon Plus tires on her bike, and decided it was foolish to keep saving the Grand Bois tires, so put those on mine. My wife had come to love her 32 mm tires and was somewhat concerned about riding 28 mm tires so I promised her that if she liked them, I would get her new ones in a 32 mm width. Within the first month of having the Grand Bois tires on my bike, I got two flats. At the same time, Lovely Bicycle reviewed Clement Strada LGG tires which she promised had a nice ride and which were flat resistant, so I bought those to replace the flat-prone Grand Bois. At first, I liked these very much, but shortly after I put them on, was riding on wet roads and fell. For the next six months, I didn't fall again, but often felt like I was about to fall, a very unpleasant sensation. On the other hand, I did not get any flats. Then, almost miraculously, the Clements started feeling more secure, presumably because they had "worn in" a bit. However, at the same time, I started getting flats. Not all that many, maybe one every three months or so, but I did find it demoralizing. Soon, I noticed a cut in the back tire which rendered it unusable. So what to do? These tires had lasted about half as long as I was used to, and I didn't like either the crashes at the beginning of their life nor the flats at the end. On the other hand, they felt almost as nice to ride as the Grand Bois and at their worst, flatted less. Nonetheless, I decided that the morale benefits of no flats outweighed a nice ride (plus, I still have the Grand Bois any time I want to ride them) so went back to the tried and true Marathon Plus. I got this set in the 32 mm width with the idea that I might swap with my wife so she could have the wider tires she wanted, but for a variety of reasons put them on my bike first. They have only been on a few months, but I have the following preliminary observations: 1) No flats yet. 2) These mounted much easier than my first set. Is this luck of the draw, has Schwalbe improved their product, or does the width make a difference? I have no idea. 3) Visibly, their width is barely distinguishable from the 28 mm Marathon Plus's on my wife's bike. When she saw them, she lost all interest in swapping tires with me. 4) They seem to handle, well, "fine". Nothing special, but not bad. We'll see about the flats, stay tuned.

For reasons I am not at liberty to discuss, I don't know when (or even if) I will be able to ride another brevet. If I did, would I put the Grand Bois tires back on, or would I ride it with my Marathon Plus tires? I think I would go with Marathon Plus. Although I love the feel of the Grand Bois, I hate worrying about flats. Yes, yes, I have read all the articles saying that I should simply get fast at repairing flats, they are inevitable and no big deal. "You should be able to repair a flat in 10 minutes" say the experts. Well maybe. I have a great deal of experience repairing flats as it happens, and have no objection to doing so at home, but despite all that experience, I do not like doing it on the road. Part of the reason is that I believe it is important to do it right and find that hard to do sitting in the dirt by the side of the road without access to my bike stand. One common problem that occurs when fixing flats is that the object that caused the flat may remain in the tire, and no sooner does one hit the road than one has another flat - from the same object! To avoid that, I find I have to take my time inspecting the tire and to inspect it in very good light. So what does this old man fussiness cost me? Again, I have not been able to measure the speed improvement I get when riding Grand Bois tires compared to Marathon Plus, but based on my attempts to do so, I find it hard to believe that it amounts to more than 0.2 miles per hour. My last (and longest) brevet was 130 miles long. Over 130 miles, 0.2 miles per hour amounts to a 12 minute slower finish. If I have one flat, and if I managed to fix it in an unrealistic 10 minutes, then I have only saved 2 minutes on the ride. On the other hand, I would expect to average fewer than one flat per brevet, and there is the fun factor to consider, but still, all things considered, the Marathon Plus tires come out ahead for me.

Tour de Pink

Every year since 2011, my wife and I have ridden the Tour de Pink. It has become the centerpiece of our cycling life together. Thus, it was with great sadness that I read the email from the organizers saying that last year's 2015 Tour de Pink was the last there would ever be, there will never be another. It seems that the plethora of breast cancer charities had doomed this ride. I discovered this ride back before I retired, and every year since 2011 had tried to ride it with some of my old colleagues. For one reason or another, it never happened, and now it never will. In my old age, the list of things I will never do again is getting longer and longer. Add one more to that list.

The title of this post is a reference to the famous line from Ecclesiastes 1:9: "There is no new thing under the sun." It is just a different way to say "update", a word which I feel is both overused and off-putting.

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