New Bike Gear

PumpGlovesI’m another one of those periods again where some of my sporting gear is wearing out.  Most of that nice, quality bike stuff that I bought 16 years ago is slowly being replaced. Yesterday’s damage came to $150 at MEC.  I needed to get a new chain ($10), some new cool weather gloves ($60) and a new bike pump ($50).  The bike pump was strictly needed, I still have my old Silca pump.  The Silca continues to impress me – I’ve never even replaced the rubber gasket that clamps to the tube valve.  I just shove the the end onto the valve and pump away.  However, it is getting harder and harder to get a good seal with the Silca.  On top of that, I’m not every confident in the accuracy of the pressure gauge anymore.  The kicker is that new pumps have ends that automatically adapt between presta and schrader valves.  Since I’m often pumping my kids’ tires, this is a welcomed feature.

The chain was a different matter.  Last week I decided to replace the chain on my commuter bike. I measured the stretch to be 1/8″, which typically means that the cog likely needs to be replaced too.  I was fine with that, since I wanted to try running a 20T cog on the back instead of an 18T.  My commuter bike uses the Shimano 8 spd Alfine internal hub, and using the 18T cog I almost never went into gear 7 or 8.  So I figured I would get better use with the 20 T.  Anyways, I went to a LBS (local bike store), Bikes on the Drive.  They sold me a BMX chain which they said would work fine on the Alfine.  On the back of the packaging the chain was listed as being good for BMX and single speed, so their recommendation seemed reasonable.  After using the new chain for a week though, I noticed some pretty big problems. I don’t actually know what exactly was happening, but every 3 minutes or so the chain would feel like it was skipping or catching on something.  A couple of times it really seemed to jam.  I looked into things a bit more and measured the chain – it was a 1/8″ width chain.  A few searches on the internet suggested that 1/8″ on the Alfine is too wide.  The Alfine needs a 3/32 chain.  That matched my observations – I thought there seemed to be a lot of play with the chain.

Long story shot: put a 3/32 chain on the Alfine.  I now have a SRAM PC-830 and I hopefully it will get the job done.

Norco Fluid LT2 mini-review

This Saturday I demo’d a new mtb, Norco’s Fluid LT. Since most of the rides close to home are on the North Shore, I am interested in getting more of an All Mountain bike that works well there. My current mtb, a Rocky Mountain ETSX-30, is a nice bike but it gets kind of sketchy on steep trails. So after reading some reviews and checking out local prices, I saw that the Fluid can be bought from Different Bikes for a really good deal. They have the bike available for renting/demo’ing, so I took the opportunity to try before I buy. The bike that I would acutally buy is the LT2 model from 2009. Its original MSRP was around $3600 and DF is selling them for around $2100!

The Fluid actually climbed ok and it really helped with the 2′ drops coming down. The rear bobbed just a bit more than I’m used to but I was really impressed with the climbing. Coming down, whereas on the etsx I felt like I was really pitching forward (positioned with arms extended, way behind the seat), the Fluid took it all in stride no problems.

There were two things that I didn’t like on the Fluid, although I imagine they relate to all AM bikes. First, the Fluid was not as accurate as the etsx. Generally speaking I felt like I had more control on the etsx on the flatter sections. There’s no doubt that the etsx would be a lot better on xc trails. Mind you, the etsx isn’t as forgiving in sticky situations. Secondly, I don’t think I had nearly as much clearance with the Fluid as compared to my etsx. I’m sure bikes like the Pitch, Enduro, Slayer, etc, would all be the in the same boat, and maybe it doesn’t really matter all that much anyways.

While I felt that even though the Fluid made things easier on the NS, especially on the drops, I really think that I’m the biggest, weakest link. I guess that’s pretty obvious, as it’s the rider that matters most. But even with the Fluid I had a lot of problems going down trails like Pingu, Pangor and less so on Severed Dick. So even if the Fluid makes the ride better I’m still not sure that I can take advantage of it. The thought of wiping out on those steep rocky sections or falling off an 8″ wide log doesn’t appeal to me, I already have enough metal in my arm I don’t need any more!

I’m going to try and demo a Rocky Mountain Altitude 30. It was meant as a replacement for the ETSX, but it apparently is a lot better for descending, which is exactly what I need. It might end up costing a bit more than a Fluid but it’s more important that I get the bike that I can take the most advantage of.

Bikes at MEC, is this a Good Thing?

I was speaking with some staff at a bike shop a few days ago and noticed that there was a petition regarding a provincial sales tax that bike shops have to pay. I didn’t spend much time discussing the details. As far as I can tell, MEC in BC may have two advantages over other local bike shops. First, I was told that the bike shops in BC have to pay a sales tax, and these monies are earmarked for cycling infrastructure in the city. Since MEC is a cooperative, they supposedly do not have to pay this tax. Secondly, because MEC is a cooperative they get patronage dividends, and this supposedly helps their bottom line.

There is a real worry that the local bike shops will lose business to MEC, and that this is unfair primarily because of the provincial tax break. I can only imagine how The Bike Doctor is being affected by MEC’s new bike retailing. MEC’s bikes are directly competing with what I see as the new core business model of bike shops in the lower mainland. Their target market is the commuter and casual but interested cyclist wanting a decent bike in the $600 to $1500 range. I believe this is the strongest market group in North America now. My opinion is that MEC is not actually offering anything that is not readily available at other bike shops. I recently compared two bike models, an internal geared hub commuter and a cyclocross, with other offerings in the city. Contrary to what a person might think, I did not see any price advantage or design advantage in the MEC bikes. In fact, I identified models from local bike shops that were better deals. However, it is easy to see and understand that MEC will still retain a large portion of the market because of their size and popularity. I’ve read that MEC wants to provide bikes that aren’t readily available to the public, but this is simply not the case in the lower mainland. I’ve read A LOT on the web where people are already saying they will buy their next bike at MEC because they don’t want to overpay for something that is inferior! Call me sentimental, but I hate to think that a local bike shop will lose a sale to MEC on a bike that is 10% more expensive and slightly lower in quality.

For an idea on who might be affected by MEC’s bike sales, click this link.

There seems to be a good discussion on Cycling in Ottawa about MEC’s bike business. Much of the discussion mentions the patronage dividend, but I think the more important issue in BC is the sales tax.

Personally, I’ve been becoming more and more disillusioned with MEC in recent years. I clearly remember why I thought MEC was the cat’s meow back in 1990. Back then I could purchase a goretex jacket, a backpack and bike panniers for less than 50% of what I’d pay at other shops. The reason I could do this is because MEC was making their own stuff or getting stuff from Serratus, and the gear was cheaper than expensive brand-name boutique stuff that was available in other shops. It was a win-win. I didn’t need fancy gear and I didn’t have much money. Since then I’ve seen that MEC is carrying less and less of the no-name gear and more and more of the boutique gear (think Patagonia). I don’t think this is any real fault of MEC, it is likely a by-product of China’s dominance in manufacturing and how most gear manufacturers are getting their goods made in China. In other words, the playing field has leveled.

In terms of bikes, I don’t buy MEC’s mantra of ethical purchasing. As I understand it, there are about 4 manufacturers of bike frames in the world. Everyone gets their bikes made in one of these four factories, including MEC. If MEC really wanted to be ethical, they would get DeKerf to make frames for them! I doubt that MEC gets to survey the bike manufacturers, it’s my understanding that they are locked up tighter than Fort Knox.

Anyways, these are just some of the issues involved with MEC selling bikes, as I understand it. I welcome any corrections or comments on this topic!

Operation: Liberty

No, I’m not referring to some amazingly trumped US army attack in Iraq. What I’m talking about is much more real. This evening, armed with 100′ of extension cable and an angle grinder, I breached the depths of the Burnaby Velodrome and cut the cable lock off of my track bike. I have had my track bike at the velodrome since 2004 (or was it 2003?) which was the year in which I rode the bike once. Time and different interests prevented me from going to the track again since the inaugural ride. That, and the fact that I lost the key to the lock several years ago.

The 49cm Fuji track bike is now safely back in my garage where I’m sure it will continue to collect dust. I want to sell this stealthy stead, so if you’re interested then drop me a line and make me an offer.

First Mtn. bike ride of the year

Roger, Richard and myself went for a ride up to Burnaby mountain this morning. It was a great day for riding, it was sunny and mildly warm. All in all it went very well. I was happy with my general fitness (which can barely be called “fit”), and I rode most of the way, getting off the bike only a few times. I did notice that riding tricky stuff (tricky for me) is quite the binary thing. I was either riding everything, or if I lost my confidence for a little bit I would start walking past everything. As for wipe-outs, I managed two endos. One endo was while I was walking the bike. The other end resulting in me getting trapped under my bike and having to commando crawl out from under it, which was actually a lot worse than the crash itself.

Scooter repair, part deux

We went to Vancouver Yamaha on Saturday to see what’s what with the repair and bill to date. Things were fairly positive with shop, although I’m still going to be out a lot of money. Here’s the breakdown of the repair. They’ve charged me for a battery, coil and CID. Each of these parts are around $110. They’ve agreed to put back my old battery, as it likely is not a problem. They insist that both the coil and CID are kaput, and I’m not too surprised. They’ll return them to me and i’m going to try and double-check the coil. As well, they only charged 4 hours labour. They still insist there was bad gas in the scooter which I just don’t believe is true, although it’s possible. I do know that the gas was pretty dark, but that doesn’t mean it was a problem, may it’s just a new formulation/mix. Regardless, 4 hours of labour isn’t too bad considering some of the troubleshooting they did. $90/hr of labour gets expensive real quick. The last outstanding issue was the gearing. The slip clutch was seized and they rebuilt it in 2hrs. Again, not excessive. I guess that when I pushed the scooter 20 blocks I seized the clutch. Go figure, I thought it was a great idea to push the scooter there and save $70 in a tow. Instead I wasted $120 extra.

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