Monday, April 26, 2010

Question Regarding Brakes

I recently received a question regarding brakes that went something like this:
Been winter commuting for the last five years on an old Norco mountain bike and it is time to get a new ride. My question is about disc and rim brakes. Have asked around and get mixed reviews. Thought that I would ask you since you seem to use disc brakes in the winter. What do you find the advantages are and what are the disadvantages.
Your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
My response was as follows:
I don't see any disadvantages to disc brakes in the winter. During extremely cold weather (-25F and below) they don't modulate as well as they do in warmer weather, but other than that I have no complaints. I have heard that on extended snow rides, the calipers can become clogged with snow and start to drag, but haven't experienced this with the brands of brakes that I use (Formula). Again this is something that really seems like it would only be a problem in extremely colder weather. On the upside, the advantages are many. First and foremost, disc brakes just stop better. Second, disc brakes will continue to work in some conditions that rim brakes don't, like when you have a layer of ice and snow built up on your rim. Lastly, if you switch between summer and winter width rims on a commuter, you don't have to fiddle with disc brakes to make them work like you do rim brakes.
Anyone that doesn't think disc brakes are better than rim brakes raises some doubt in my mind. I have heard what I consider rational opinions against disc brakes that I don't agree with (mainly that disc brakes are somehow too complex to work on), however, I still haven't heard a good argument for claiming rim brakes were better than discs. They are less expensive, but you generally get what you pay for in any situation. I have a slightly angry rant on disc brakes that can be found here. To add an update to that post, I still have that set of brakes on the same bike and they still work. Four years of summer and winter riding, commuting and they still work great. They still have the original pads. And recently the rear got loaned out to do a 135 mile winter race in February in Minnesota. It worked so well that the loanee won the race and asked Formula to start sponsoring him.
My end statement is this: If you are riding in the snow, or doing technical mountain biking, then I think disc brakes are a must because their extra performance is necessary. If you are doing mellow/light trail riding and commuting only during the summer, or someplace where it doesn't snow, they they are a luxury that you need to decide if you can afford.
Thanks for the letter and I hope I have been some help.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Subarctic Splendor

Tomorrow’s weather promises to be significantly different than a week ago, temperatures above freezing in the morning and wonderful sunny 60s during the day. Last week was colder, but the display I was given last Thursday afternoon was a rare piece of subarctic splendor. My ride home was characterized by snow, hail and plenty of sunshine. There is a certain amount of awe inspired by being pelted with the perfect size hail (large enough to be easily felt, but small enough not to hurt) while having to wear sunglasses against the glaring sun. Riding during a fresh snow is one thing, but riding in a fresh snow with warm sun is a whole other level. There are things I sometimes miss about the weather in other places I have lived (dark warm nights being one), but the interior continues to make it up to me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Too many choices, too many spots

Once you’ve worked at a bike shop, you start to develop a warped view of how bikes should be. As a consumer, you are limited to buying a bike as a package and dealing with any shortcomings you may feel are in the manufacturer’s build, or you can go the ultra expensive route of purchasing everything yourself and having the shop assemble it, or worse yet trying to assemble it yourself. As a shop guy, not building a bike yourself from all the parts you want almost doesn’t make sense. Most manufacturers and the bike industry in general are pretty sensitive to this. There are various standards for things, but at least there are standards. You can do stupid mix and matching to make monster creations and have it all work without needing to do any fabrication on your own. When you get out onto the fringe of the industry, sometimes that isn’t the case. Some companies are working in a small enough niche market with little enough competition that they can afford to market a system. Most consumers aren’t bothered by this, it is easier for them. But for shop guys, it just doesn’t seem right.

So right now the weather sucks and since I can’t seem to get excited about summer riding, I am dreaming about changes to make next winter even better. The Pugsley frame and fork will probably go, but what to replace them with? I was in Skankorage (I have to admit their definition is wrong, but funny. Alaskans call is that because it is just a big nasty city) for the weekend and stopped into the fat tire shops down there to investigate answers. Sadly I didn’t come away feeling any more confident about a plan. I am leaning toward a 9:Zero:7 Ti frame and possibly upgrading to a Fatback crankset (unless of course someone comes out with a non-shop branded lightweight 100mm crankset before then). I am hoping that a manufacturer I talked to this winter will stick to their plans and have a 135mm spaced carbon rigid fork out this summer. If not I’ll be looking at the carbon fork that they have coming for the Fatback, or failing that, a Ti fork.

All this keeps blazing through my head despite the fact that my morning commute was three times long as normal (owing to forgetting something and having to go back home to get it and then ride back to work again). I really hope the local trails clear up soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Now is the Spring of my discontent. Actually every Spring is the Spring of my discontent, or, as we call it here in Fairbanks, “Break Up”. Students at UAF celebrate said feelings by throwing large fruit from the top of the Gruening building on campus. I, on the other hand, wake up every morning and try to decide what appropriate riding attire will be for a frozen 7°F ride on the way to work and a 45°F ride with large nasty puddles and slush sections on the way home. The answer to this so far has been to carry two sets of riding clothes, which sucks, but gets the job done. While some roadies have have been driven out of the woodwork (complete with frozen hands since poagies don’t fit drop bars) by the lack of snow, I am content to just commute. I’ll wait until the trails have thawed to the point that mud is only a minor concern before I start riding again for real.

Sadly that means Puggie has also been put away for the year. It’s been a big winter for me and that bike. I have for sure done more riding on that rig in the last several months than I have ever done in such a time before. And, it was fun. It is with mixed feelings that I realize I may not be riding the same frame next year. Which is also strange because right now the geometry on it seems more comfortable than the custom made Ti frame I had been riding up to this point. Although it isn’t anything a longer stem and flat bars couldn’t help. When I had the frame designed, I had it designed for commuting, because that was the vast majority of my riding at the time. Now, it’s a smaller part of my riding, and I find myself wondering if I should really get to call myself a racer. Then again, maybe I’ll just say what I’ve always said. I am a cyclist.