19 July, 2017

The Great Brake Debate

By Scott

Brakes are something that we all have on our bikes. The kind of brake you have is something that has dramatically changed in the last decade or so. The controversy between disc and canti brakes was at it's cusp about 5 years back, but we've had a flow of emails recently asking about disc brakes due to the continued testing of the Polyvalent (with disc brakes for 2018).

A curious side note to these emails is the the preference of brakes varying by location. We've found that folks in the Pacific Northwest are asking for disc brakes and paradoxically, our Thai market reports that the majority of their customers prefer rim/cantilever brakes on their frames. I thought we might look into the world of brakes and see what the pros and con's are for the two major brake types that we at VO use on our frames - disc brakes and cantilever brakes.

To frame this comparison, I'd like to say that I have used both styles of brakes. I've used BB7s on the Polyvalent prototype and liked them. My standard ride for many years is a touring bike with the Tektro CR710 brakes installed.

One of the first things that people talk about with disc brakes is the stopping power. As disc brakes started with MTB's, it makes sense. You want to stop on a dime before you go over that cliff face. It is probably the most obvious advantage to a disc brake bike, the increase in braking performance vs a cantilever brake. It certainly inspires confidence when you are coming down a steep col/pass/gap and need to scrub off speed when sheep start to cross the road in front of you.

When I installed the CR710's on my bike, they were dead easy to set up. They are similar to the Zeste brakes in that each side has a set screw to adjust the spring tension. Tighten or loosen as needed and then tighten the set screws on the straddle hanger when the pads are even and you are good to go. Now I'm not the greatest mechanic at times (ask my wife, she'll tell you. On second thought, don't ask. It brings up old issues that I don't need to be reminded of), but setting up disc brakes was a bit of a pain in the butt. Maybe this is a case of not doing it enough, but they seemed fiddly in comparison to the cantilever brakes, which were so simple to adjust.

One edge for cantilever brakes is that they are lighter than disc brakes. If you look at the weight of two canti brakes (one wheel's worth) you are looking at about 146 gr. If we compare that to the weight of a BB7 brake set up- rotors (160 mm for reference), caliper and mounting hardware- that weighs 351 gr.  So about half the weight, even if you take into account some extra bits like cable stops and straddle hangers.

Another aspect that bears considering with disc brakes is the replacement of the braking surface. When I lived in Vancouver and commuted daily on a bike with cantilevers through out the year, I would wear out a front wheel once a year or so. The constant moisture in the air combined with the grit that the pads pick up and impart on the rim would wear down the rim faster then I have seen anywhere else. The first time I saw a disc brake randonneur set up, I asked my friend how he liked it and he said it was great. You only have to replace the rotor every year, not the whole rim. Wow, mind blown.

Is the style of brake on a bike something that is important to you? Does one or the other make you come to a screeching halt when looking at a new frame? Weigh in below with your comments.

07 July, 2017

Porteur Packing

By Scott

(All you need for a weekend away)

So, as I mentioned in my last post, I've been on more multi use trails the last while. This past long weekend, my wife and I took advantage of what looked like good weather and the extended weekend to head up to north central PA to ride the Pine Creek rail trail. It's a very scenic rail trail that runs for the majority of it's 62 mile length alongside the Pine Creek in a lovely valley. We wanted to do it in 3 days round trip - a short day on Saturday, as we had travel up from MD to the start in Jersey Shore PA, a mid length day on Sunday to Wellsboro, and then a long downhill day on Monday back to Jersey Shore. We were using motels along the route, so we cut our cycle clothing down to two shirts and two shorts each, plus one outfit - shorts and a collared shirt for me, a nice dress for my wife - for off the bike. We kept the toiletry kit down to a minimum and carried sandals for walking around.  We put our gear into an old Ortlieb rack bag (designed for motor cycles) that we bought about 20 years back for sea kayaking and I strapped it to the front porteur rack of the Polyvalent prototype I was riding. The side straps went around the side rails of the rack, like our Porteur bag does. I even stuffed a 2 litre bottle of water between the bag and the back rack rail, just so we would have extra water on hand during the ride.  A bungee over the top of it, ensured that it stayed in place on even the roughest part of the trail.

(Yep, bell attached around the quill part of the stem adapter)

One of the pluses of porteur packing is that when you are carrying so little, checking the room before you leave, to ensure you have not left anything, is easy. We put our clothes into a stuff sack each, so it was easy to keep track of whose was what (black shorts have a tendency to look very similar). But otherwise, it was dead easy to throw the chargers for the phone, sandals and the toiletry kit just loose into the bag and bring it all into the motel room.

Is porteur packing overkill? My wife asked me this last night over supper. I said no. The wide platform of the rack is great for using what ever bag you have. Due to the lack of rain over the three days, I could have gotten away with just a cheap nylon bag. But the rack works with something like the Porteur bag if you want to have a bag that fits it exactly. The handling was fine. I figure we had about 15 pounds or so in the bag plus 4 pounds of water  and the Polyvalent had neutral handling throughout the trip. 

So for trips like ours, where motels are involved (substitute hostels if you want, it's all up to individual preference and geography), I really liked using a single bag. It made moving gear from the bike to the room easier, the larger opening was great to put stuff into and the handling never felt uneasy.