19 January, 2010

Retrospective grouchiness... yes I'm being "that" cyclist

Well I must put a stake in the ground for this post. I love talking about bicycle equipment, I love complaining about my equipment that I feel is severely sub-par.

What motivates me is the misaligned incentives most companies have. A company may make very inexpensive products, but I am unlikely to support them lest they display responsibility. Responsibility to the consumer in the form of customer service; responsibility to their products by having redundant quality controls; and not insignificantly, responsibilities to manufacturing by using materials that are replaceable/reusable/recyclable.

My most significant grief in this respect will undoubtedly label me as a retro-grouch. I love wool garments and leather saddles. Wool is a tough, scratchy, and terrifically hot fabric; merino wool on the other hand is soft, smooth, and can be made very thin to regulate it's insulation capacity. Merino wool is arguable the best fabric for garments from socks, base-layers, shirts, jerseys, hats, and occasionally shorts, tights, and jackets.

It possesses none of the static that makes synthetics as clingy as your crazy ex. While it will get just as stinky as a synthetic if you don't wash either, wool will not grow mold. The stench is from your body odor that has permeated the garment. Typical synthetics will grow mold from this sweat mixture, that's why most companies are making anti-bacterial fabrics. But merino wool is inherently antibacterial. If not, sheep would be walking cesspools of death-bringing diseases... you get the idea.

The coolest thing though is the chemical structure of wool, it's naturally hydrophobic. Meaning: water particles bead up while in contact with the fabric. Effectively, merino wool retains its insulating properties when wet, and is reliably water resistant, not water-proof.

For all it's fine merits, I often wonder why it isn't more present commercially.

Profitability. It is monumentally easier for a company to manufacture and produce synthetics, because the entire process can be automated. Because wool is an animal product, automated harvesting would easily kill the sheep. Thus it needs to be done by hand, blowing the price of the wonderful fabric through the roof.

But cost and profit should not be the incentive for companies, their incentives should be value and product performance. And consumers have the capacity to influence companies incentives.

I'm done whining, but I suspect I will always be grouchy... let's say I'm a retro/contemporary grouch.

Bah humbug...

12 January, 2010

This one should be obvious

In the wild of bike touring, there are too many freaking options for bags to make a choice easily.

Most people settle with Ortlieb because they are so visible to the consumer. But I would dare to propose, that Ortliebs are wholly inferior to another brand of bicycle bags.

Ortliebs have a lot of plastic hardware, that will break at a much lower stress than aluminum. And you can bend aluminum back into shape, Plastic will just deform... plastically.

Ortliebs are essentially dry-bags for bikes. They create an airtight container in which bacteria will grow mold, and now you've got a soup container instead of a bag.

The attachment system for Ortliebs is clever, but does not isolate vibration. Because there is no tension in the attachment system, they are free to bounce and giggle and vibrate on the rails. Now, the clamps themselves are very intelligently designed, Just lift up on this central strap, and the claws are disengaged from the rack rails. But the bottom mechanism is supremely asinine. There is a hook of plastic that keeps the bag from swinging way out from the rack. No tension cord. No spring loaded finger. Just a dummy hinge that keeps the bag from swinging too far. But it offers no vibration isolation.

Alternatively there is a Canadian company that is immensely popular with its customers. For it's value of an unequivocal, transferable, lifetime of the bag, unconditional repair/replacement warranty. But frankly, the bags are so damn tough, the warranty is really saying, "If the bag breaks after 20,000 km, well get you a new one."

They make all of their bags with non-waterproof Cordura; Now they do have a waterproof set of bags, but it's only a set of bags for those of us who bike in severely rainy conditions.

The Cordura they use is the same Denier (durability rating, the higher the tougher) as Ortlieb, but it's not waterproofed, so you won't start growing junk in your trunk. The Cordura itself is very water-resistant, but they also offer water-proof covers for every bag. Because a proof cover, is more versatile than a proof bag.

The attachment mechanism is just as clever as Ortliebs, but is more durable and isolates vibration at each point of attachment. The hardware is all high-grade aluminum with poly-something coatings at the clamps and a spring-loaded cam, that grips the rails of the rack. The bottom attachment is a simple hook suspended with shock cord to tension the bag to the rack. Again, it isolates movement of the bag. Something you'll be very grateful for on gravel roads.

I could spend hours talking about this company, but take a look for yourself, at Arkel Over-Designs.
The thing that makes them a better solution is their versatility, but most importantly their repair ability. Every bit, bolt, and structural component, in nearly every bag is removable and replaceable. This makes them very easy to repair when your in the middle of some town, with no bike shop in sight, halfway through your tour with no signal on you cellphone and some busted hooks on your bags. Because shit happens, and you need the ability to fix your equipment while bike touring.

I do not dislike Ortlieb, but I like Arkel's designs more. If the two wanted to collaborate, I would be Immensely excited to see what they could create.

09 January, 2010

Greetings, I suspect I am the most unpleasant person for a salesman to deal with.

I am completely inconsolable when it comes to crappy products, and am completely willing to abuse them into a pile of useless trash. But there have been products that survive my ridiculous treatment, and they are usually made by the best companies with the best customer service records.

It is my objective to bring these companies great praise, and to ignore those who ignore their customer's demands.

I will start with a preface, I am firstly a commuter. to commute I ride on the road.

Then I venture to the open country, bike touring. Which is why I love my Surly LHT so damn much.

The touring bike is the most useful bike that exists, it functionally balances comfort and durability without compromising toughness. A touring bike can do everything, but is a master of none. They are the most useful style of bike, and I suspect the Surly Long Haul Trucker is the most valuable touring bike based on it's popularity.

I am not exclusively a road cyclist though, I suspect I would enjoy cyclo-cross, and mountain biking. If it were more places to go biking. To be a cyclist, most of us are road riders, not off-road riders. There are not enough trails to support mountain biking everywhere. And I don't know why.

If we want trails we should demand them from our community, help build them, and maintain them.

We cannot make rational demands unless we can prove that we ourselves are rational.

Expect more posts, inconsistently, in the future.