Monday, May 11, 2009

Hey, that's my idea!

The part of being a competitive MTB rider that many people have a hard time with is sorting out which tech trends to take seriously, and which ones to let come and go. Even if you're tech savvy enough to understand what's going on in a particular product, it takes either world class detective work or a pocket full of money for testing gear to cut through the marketing BS and find what's necessary to make an informed decision. It's easier for manufacturers to hide the real info and fabricate something catchy in its place than to explain the reality in terms that regular people will get. In our throwaway, instant gratification addicted culture, marketing the magic "Black Box" element of a product seems more successful than showing off its objective merits. Rock Shox even has an aptly named "Black Box" program for its racing development--it's so cool, we can't even tell you how it works.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little skeptical of "trends" in MTB components. I stubbornly run an obsolete shock from 2004 because I think it works far better than anything current, it took me years to warm up to disc brakes, my dualie is a single-pivot and I jumped on the oversize bar bandwagon just last week, but for once I might just be ahead of the trendy curve instead of sarcastically clawing at its backside.

There's been a lot of hubbub lately about SRAM's new XX group, which includes a ten speed cassette with huge cogs (biggest is 11/36), and double ring up front with an enlarged small and middle ring but no big one. If you're gonna insist on 10-sp for road bikes this is an excellent way to let the disease infect the MTB world. The extra cog allows for a nice tractor gear that allows pushing off a ring in the front for added clearance with minimal range penalty and the added benefit that all your bikes can swap parts again. It's really smart, and I'm proud to say I was there first:


It's been two seasons since I started racing a 22/36 front + bashring and 11/32 or 11/34 rear, and for the twisty, technical mess that New England throws at us most of the time it's pure gold. No more trashed big rings, way less shifting up front, a full inch more clearance, and still enough gear to crank hard on the flats 99% of the time. To make it work the back of the 36t XT ring needed grinding down to clear the chain when cross-chaining the little ring, but otherwise it works great and only grinds the derailleur on 22/11, mostly as a reminder that I should be shifting up a ring.

Would I race a double in an ultra-endurance event like Transrockies? No, probably not, but for all those local races that are two hours in duration with few long wide-open descents, there's nothing better.

[insert catchy tag line here]

The Wrench

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yo innovator! Could you please explain a European laggard the beauty of oversized bars? What does oversized bars actually mean, +60cm? And what is it about (oversized) riser bars, which seem so popular across the pond, that makes them superior? I do not get it. It cannot be weight. It cannot be position, since one could probably get the same position with a flat bar and a different stem (at a lower weight). It cannot be aerodynamics (not that this one matters too much anyway in the forest) It must have something to do with control, but does it really make a notable difference compared to a standard 58-60cm XC bar. Please enlighten me...:)

-TMB

The Wrench said...

Oversized refers to the clamp diameter (31.8mm for oversized vs. 25.4 for "standard") At first glance you'd think that oversized bars don't make for weight savings--empirically, almost any oversized component on the market today is heavier than its standard equivalent--but when you consider the breadth of material options available for things like bars and stems these days, there are savings to be had.

Example: I'm a pretty big stickler for a stiff front end--in the steering sense--which means that a carbon bar and lightweight stem are too floppy for my tastes with a standard clamp. With an oversized clamp, however, I can move to a carbon bar that's stiffer and much lighter than my aluminum 25.4 bar and still have enough weight savings left over to use a stiffer stem as well.

IMO, the oversize clamp is a standard created specifically with composites in mind, as it decreases necessary clamping force on the bar, and evens out the stresses nicely to take advantage of carbon's strength. If you live exclusively in the alloy world I don't really see any advantage unless you're really worried about taking hits so hard that you might snap even an aluminum bar.