31 August, 2020

Trekking Bars - The Original Alt-Bar

*this is a re-publishing of a post from November, 2017. We have updated some links, photos, and dates.

By Scott

It's hard to believe that it has been nearly 7 years since we launched the Crazy Bar. In a world of drop bars and flat bars, the Crazy Bar was polarizing. But, we'd be remiss if we didn't dig back further into the realm of alternative bars to an original one - the Daija Trekking Bar.

Sometimes referred to as Trekking Bars, Butterfly Bars, or Pretzel Bars, I remember seeing these bars on bikes ridden by an older Austrian couple in New Zealand back in 2001. The bars fit well with the front and rear panniers, rack top bags, and trailer they were each pulling around the south island of New Zealand.

Compared to flat bars, Trekking Bars offer more hand positions. You can use the sides to rock up a hill, you can stretch out forwards in a headwind, or keep your hands close to the brakes and shifters.

In terms of set up, there seem to be two camps. You either have the open end of the bars face towards you or away from you. A search of photos on the net shows more people run them with the opening towards the rider, thus keeping the brake levers and shifters close to you. Go ahead, do the Google search, we can wait.

OK, so now that you have seen the myriad of cockpits out there, you can see how this bar is the ultimate in individualizing a handle bar. I've never seen flat bars or drop bars get built up with such a personalized feeling about them. In the photo above, we put tape along the sides, but you could easily use another set of grips there as well for more cushioning.

For those of you who are now intrigued by these, some basic spec's. The clamp area is a 25.4 mm, standard for flat bars. The straight section where your main grips, shifters and brake levers would fit is a 22.2 mm clamp area and is 15 cm long. They work best with a 25.4 mm threadless stem, as trying to get a quill stem around all those curves could prove to be a nightmare. If you had a quill stem with a removable faceplate, that would work as well (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

( Photo taken by Endlessvelolove )

So how many folks out there are fans of alt bars and how many just want a flat bar with a bit of curve/bend to it?

27 August, 2020

Triples are Great, Change My Mind

By Scott

Recently, I've seen an upward trend in sales of Triple Cranksets here at VO. I've talked to more than a few folks on the phone and online about getting their bike set up with a triple system. It's an interesting trend considering that the wider bike world seems to be moving folks onto 1x systems for road and touring bikes.

Three rings, no waiting

I've been a touring cyclist for all my life (OK, I had one summer when I was a teenager when I tried racing, but we all have that one-time deviation from our true love) and for all of it, I've used a triple. Part of it is related to the fact that I started touring by modifying a mountain bike. I took off the heavy mtb knobby tires and put on slicks or semi slick tires. Threw on a rack or used our early 90's versions of frame bags and seat bags to carry stuff along the Oregon coast, around Tasmania or through the wilds of Sweden. I rode primarily in the middle ring (usually a 34-36 tooth ring) and then when the hills went up, you dropped it down into the inner ring (a tried and true 24 tooth, sometimes made of exotic stainless steel) and when the hill went down, you moved the chain up to the 48 tooth outer ring. You pedaled as long as you could and then you coasted/tucked into an aero position. Simple right?

1x systems came into being in the MTB world - Simplicity they said! No more dropped chains or busted chains from shifting under huge strains! Lighter overall weight! I just don't see it being useful in a touring/city world, in spite of the efforts of the big component companies to promote 1x systems for road/touring use. When it comes to 1x systems, I just see a system that replaces weight on one end - the crank, with more weight in the rear - a huge cassette.

For reference, those huge 12-46 T cassettes weigh 498 gr on my scale. A 12-36 cassette I would run - 408 gr. My triple set up here is 90 grams lighter.

For crank weight, I've grabbed a SRAM 1x drive side arm (with axle attached) which weighs 544 gr. Add on external BB cups at 110 gr for a total of 654 gr.  A VO triple crank (drive side) is 544 gr. Add on a BB to ours and that is an extra 226 gr for a total of 770 gr. The 1x system gets the win here being 116 gr lighter.

If you add on the weight of a left shifter and some cables and housing, yes, my triple set up comes out heavier, but by probably less than 200 gr overall. In a touring or commuting set up, I don't see this as something that would push me one way or the other.

I see 1x systems lacking in the gear range they offer. If we use my VO triple with a 24T inner and a 36T rear cassette cog as my example, it gets me a low gear of 18.2 inches. On the 1x system, the front 42T ring combined with a 46T rear cassette results in a low gear of 24.9 inches. So the old school triple gets you a lower gear, which for most of us, is the number we are truly concerned about while riding. Plus on a more traditional cassette, the gaps between cogs are smaller which makes adjusting for my cadence more natural, rather than the huge gaps in 1x systems.

As to simplicity, I think the product designers/marketing types are over emphasizing how much people shift. I always left the chain in the middle ring, unless I hit a steep uphill or downhill. I was essentially in a 1x system 90% of the time, but with the option to get a bail out at any time. A properly set up front derailleur should be fine in 99% of the situations most of us see ourselves in.

So, chime in. Tell me if I'm a stick in the mud or if you agree that triples (along with 26" wheels, but that is a different blog post) aren't dead yet!

13 August, 2020

Lubricant to Live By

 By Scott

NFS NixFrixShun Chain lube being applied

For years, my regular Sunday afternoon chore/regular maintenance list item was to clean and re-lube the chains of our home's fleet of bikes. We were daily commuters in addition to riding brevets, so I tried to be very diligent about prolonging the life of our chains. I'd take the bikes from our apartment down to the garage area with my little kit of degreaser, rags, and lube. Riding year around, through Vancouver's wet winters, meant I had to keep on top of the chains to avoid them getting too gunked up from all the debris on the roads we rode on.

So, while I'm not a chemist (my wife has a BSC in chemistry, so that sort of counts right?) chain lube is something that I've paid attention to over the years. I'm not as fastidious as some people I've known over the years (one guy I worked with in Vancouver took the chain off the bike, soaked it in degreaser, cleaned each link and reinstalled it EVERY weekend), I'm very much the "clean off the previous application of oil and everything it's picked up over the past XX period of time and apply new oil" kinda of person. 

As a randonneur and cycle-tourist, the key point about chain lube for me is longevity of an oil. There is nothing worse then having a chain go all squeaky and crunchy part way through a long brevet or having to try to find some oil tins (do they still make tins or is it all plastic now?) in the garbage at a service station to try and lube a chain while on tour. So over the years, I've tried a lot of chain lubes. Some are too thick and tend to pick up a lot of dirt and such over time and are a bit tough to try and clean off, especially by the degreaser and rag method I use. Some other lubes, so called "dry lubes" which promised less pick up of dirt, tended to get washed off, especially when I relocated to DC and biked in our summer monsoons.

All this brings me around to the latest addition to VO's catalog - NixFrixShun Chain Lube. Josh who makes this (a local MD fellow) is a long time rider and he gets what a chain lube needs to be - particularly for those who go long. His product got great reviews a few years back in Cycling Tips deep dive into chain lubes. We got some samples at the Philly Bike Expo and we really loved this stuff. It holds held up really well to all sorts of riding and we're pleased to have them in stock.

It comes in a 2 oz bottle with a little nozzle for dispensing. Instructions for application are pretty easy: Wipe off the chain of existing oil, put the chain in the large outer ring and the smallest cog. Randomly drop 12 drops of oil along the chain, rotate the chain 12 times, and then clean the excess off for 12 seconds. So a little goes a long way.

The other product from NFS we've brought in is their Race Grease. We first got some of this from our good friend Tommy at Cutlass Velo. This grease is apparently Tommy's choice for bike builds. When I first saw it, it reminded me of the Bullshot BMX grease from the 80's. We've started using this grease for all our headset and bottom bracket installations, as well as on any complete assemblies that are going out the door. It's easy to apply, sticks well, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. It comes in a 4 oz jar and we've found that using a small brush to apply it to bottom bracket threads, head tubes, and screws to be ideal and VERY pro.

Does anyone have some tips on chain cleaning they'd like to share with the world? Let us know in the comments.

06 August, 2020

Out of the Shed and Onto the Road - Assessing Your Bike's Needs

by Igor

There's no doubt we're in the midst of a bike boom. Hopefully the increase in ridership and interest in the sport will help move a lot more money and infrastructure designs towards sustainable and safe riding around the US. And while new bikes are harder to find because they've simply been bought up, the used bike market is very healthy. And with that, we've seen maintenance and repair items absolutely flying off the shelves at VO HQ. So whether you're pulling your bike out of the shed, refurbishing a friend's bike, or just picking up a used ride, here's a guide you can refer to when evaluating what it needs.

Ocular pat-down of the bike

Is it covered in spider webs, is the the chain rusted, are the tires flat, are there any obviously missing parts? These are basic things you want to be looking for as the bike sits in front of you.

Look over the frame for any dings, dents, scratches, cracks, or bends. Look at the fork from the side and make sure it isn't bent from an impact or crash. Tubes very rarely break in the middle, so wipe off dust or grime at junction points to get a good view.

The wheels should be straight in the dropouts and inline with the middle of the frame and fork. If the wheel isn't straight relative to the frame, make sure it is straight in the dropouts and re-check. If it still isn't straight, either the frame or fork is bent or mis-aligned.

Condition of wheels

Pull the rim/tire lightly from side to side. You're looking for any play in the hub bearings. If the hub bearings are within tolerance, they shouldn't move. If you feel a click or klunk, the hubs need to be adjusted or re-built.

Spin the wheels and look at the rim in relation to the brake pads (for rim brakes) or fork blades/chainstay blades for disc brakes. The rims should be true without wobbles or bulges in the rim surface.

For rim brake bikes, look at the rim surface. The braking surface should be smooth and not overly concave. There is some tolerance, so consult the rim manufacturer for wear tolerance information. It is important to monitor your rim's wear because the rim bead could let go, causing a very dangerous situation. You'll need to rebuild the wheel with new rims if the rim surface is too concave. You can check by putting a straight edge against the rim and seeing how worn it is.

photo from https://www.cyclingabout.com/


Are the tires flat? Could need new tubes or rim tape - you won't know until un-mounting the tire and doing an inspection. Try inflating the tubes and seeing if they hold air. Tubes can lose air over time, so a flat tire can be due to a puncture or it could just be due to time.

Check the overall condition of the tires. Check for abrasions, dry rot, lumps, and debris. Be careful spinning the tires and placing your hand on it. I've gotten cut by an errant staple in the tread, when spinning a tire to inspect it.


For rim brakes, check to see if the pads have equal distance to the rim. Squeeze the respective brake lever a couple times to make sure they haven't been knocked about and re-evaluate.

Here's a neat trick that our friend Tommy of Cutlass Velo sent over for aligning disc brake pads. Open up an image of a white screen on your cell phone, place it on the ground, and look at the pads in relation to the rotor. Refer to your brake's manufacturer recommendations regarding pad distance from rotor.

See how worn the brake pads are. That is, how much life in left in them. Pads that haven't been adjusted for wear often create a little ledge and will need to be replaced.

Dig your fingernail into the pad and to see what condition the pads are in. If it feels fairly pliable and soft they are good to be adjusted and re-used. If they feel rock hard, replace them. When in doubt, replace your brake pads.

Disc brakes are a bit harder to diagnose as they are harder to see within. A flashlight would be helpful to see within the caliper. If the bike has hydraulic brakes, check the junction points at the lever and brake caliper for any leaks. Here's a picture of a fresh vs worn disc brake pad.

photo from www.totalwomenscycling.com

Now give each brake lever a squeeze and try pushing the bike forward. Obviously if the brake works, it will be difficult to push the bike forward. If the bike has disc brakes and can be moved easily, then something is very wrong. The pads and rotors could be contaminated with grease or oil, or there is a leak in the hydraulic hosing, the cable/housing needs to be replaced, or the caliper needs to be re-built or replaced. Either way, it will need to be diagnosed when it's in the stand and disassembled.

While you're grabbing the brake levers, let's check the.......


Grab the front brake lever and rock the bike forwards and back. If the headset moves, it will need to be adjusted or rebuilt (depending on how it is made). Some disc brake pads move within the caliper (which is normal). You might need to turn the handlebars 90 degrees (wheel to the side) to isolate the headset from the brakes.


First, check the chain for rust, stiff links, gunk, and correct length. You probably don't have a chain measuring tool at home, but if the rest of the drivetrain looks to be in decent shape, you can probably roll with it.

Inspect the crankset for shark-tooth teeth, missing or damaged teeth, and general condition of the crankarms. Scuffs from shoe rub are pretty normal, but wear shouldn't go beyond cosmetic. 

Grasp the crankarm and pull it back and forth to check for bottom bracket play. If you feel any knocking or looseness, the bottom bracket will likely need to be rebuilt or replaced. Depending on your mechanical comfort level, you can also spin the crankset backwards to confirm the spindle is straight and the spider is true. Spin the pedals, too to see their condition.

Let's look at the derailleurs. Check the front to make sure it isn't bent, worn through, or rusted. Push the cage in and out to make sure it moves.
For the rear derailleur, look at it from the back of the bike. It should be straight and not bent in either direction. If it is bent, the frame's hanger or the cage could be bent from an impact. Check the derailleur for scuffs, scratches, or damage. How are the jockey wheels? Gross? Shark-toothed?

Check both the front and rear derailleur for smooth operation. This is best done in a bike stand, but in a pinch you can hang the bike from a tree branch, a broomstick between two chairs, or some other creative perch. Turn the crank as you shift through the gears. The chain should move freely from one gear to the next. You'll also want to make sure the chain does not drop off the cassette or chainrings at the highest and lowest gears. 

Lastly, let's check the cassette or freewheel. Grab a rag or glove for this one. Grab the lowest gear with your index finger and thumb and move it towards and way from you. It's shouldn't move. If it moves, the cassette either needs to be tightened or the freehub body needs to be replaced or re-built.

Cables or housing

Housing should be in tact without corrosion or cracks. Check the cable ends for fraying or damaged strands. 

For hydraulic disc brakes, check the ends of the hydraulic hosing for leaks or kinks.


Check the handlebar tape and grips for any signs of impacts or scuffs that may signify a crash. Very old aluminum alloy bars should be replaced. Carbon bars that have been crashed should be replaced. 

Make sure they generally aren't bent and/or corroded.

For drop bars, peel back the hood covers a bit. If there is a lot of chalky powder, it is corrosion. Someone likely sweat a lot and the bars could be in really bad shape under the wrap. Bikes that live on the trainer generally fall prey to corrosion around the handlebars, headset, and fork due to perspiration and lack of fresh air. If I buy a used bike, I'm going to replace the handlebar tape/grips no matter what because people are gross. When you pull back the bar tape, you'll see what needs to be replaced.


What accessories are mounted to the bike? Kickstands should deploy and retract with relative ease, and should not interfere with the operation of cranks. Fenders should be tight and free of debris. Bottle cages should be tight and not bent up (I've seen bottle cages get mangled because someone's pant leg got caught on it during riding). Bags should be secure and not hanging in the wheel.

While this list is by no-means complete, we hope this helps in a preliminary check of a bike you currently have or are looking to acquire. A well maintained bicycle is a good bicycle, no matter the brand or age.