Honomanu photo:Blue Hawaii Helicopters

Terroir of the Bike

Terroir of the Bike

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This winter Shimano showed up on Maui with a flotilla of Colnago C-59s set up with disc brakes. The lucky Shimano people tested the bikes on some of the nicest routes on the island, including some descending down the Haleakala volcano. Unbelievably they didn’t invite me along (!?). If they had I would have suggested a different place to ride, one that is usually wet and full of descending corners. Any brake system and any tire works well on dry roads, maybe Shimano was here for the riding, not the testing.

Haleakala’s windward coast road is a sinuous mostly two lane magic carpet ride through rainforest. The road gains and looses elevation as it dives in to cross a river then climbs up out around the next headland, again and again. And it is often wet. If you want to find out if you trust your tires, this is the place.

I already know caliper brakes on machined aluminum rims are nearly worthless when it’s raining on this route. I have a theory that brake pads here get hardened by heat on steep dry descents and then they become hard grit holders, not good for braking when wet. Shimano should have done this ride in the rain.

There is a 10km section of this route that is mostly all down, 3-4% grade and there are many corners, a few a little off-camber. Two of us have lost it in different corners here. Both were the result of wet brakes, too much speed and a little inattention. The point is, caliper brakes suck in wet twisting descents.

To remedy this, the grand master of this ride, @mauibike, put on an ENVE road disc front fork on his Madone. His bike deserves its own article but suffice it to say his bike has some north shore Maui terroir. He is the only old school racer I know who never switched to clincher tires after his racing license expired. He is also now all carbone wheels, all the time. He has a bike that has been adapted to the terrain and it’s very cool.

I’m thinking about this because I would like to go all carbone wheel, all the time too. If Cancellara can race Milan-Sanremo, the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix all on the same carbon wheelset, I’m already persuaded. But carbon clinchers on Maui seem like a bad idea. There are a few steep descents with ninety-degree corners where one can’t help but get on the brakes long and hard. I foresee bad things happening to my front wheel and my beautiful face. I’ve used sew-up tires for years so I don’t fear them but I do like the simplicity of tire patching not involving sutures and a field operating theater. I think carbon tubulars are better for Maui but road disc seem much smarter. Why involve the carbon fiber rim in the braking at all? Steel seems like the material we want, it won’t wear and it conducts heat beautifully. Rain would only cool it down and improve its braking.

As a rider of SMP saddles and now Bont shoes, I’m clearly going for function over form and I don’t think I have large aesthetic issues with disc brakes. I do have a problem if they violate any principles of silence. No one needs to hear that screech on a road ride.

In my continuing series of “endorsing things I’ve haven’t used yet” (see tubeless tires). I’m liking the idea of a terroir bike, a bike that speaks to the roads it rolls on, and for Maui, that could include a front disc brake.

// The Bikes

  1. @The Grande Fondue

    I don’t get why people think disk road bikes are ugly.

    They are’t traditional, but nor are carbon aero wheels.

    I could work with that!

  2. This is the first time that anyone has made an argument for disc brakes that is actually logic and not full of marketing speak and fanboy-ism.

  3. @Gianni

    @The Grande Fondue

    I don’t get why people think disk road bikes are ugly.

    They are’t traditional, but nor are carbon aero wheels.

    I could work with that!

    At the very least you could sell it for a real bike.

  4. @DerHoggz plus fucking one!

  5. From the photo the riding looks magical! Jealous

  6. @Stephen

    This is the first time that anyone has made an argument for disc brakes that is actually logic and not full of marketing speak and fanboy-ism.

    And for that I apologize on everyone’s behalf.

    @DerHoggz

    At the very least you could sell it for a real bike.

    Wise ass.

  7. @Gianni , here’s your answer, get a lighter bike and it will be easier to stop!  Can’t be that expensive can it !?!? (Refer : tongue in cheek)

  8. @tessar

    @antihero

    Why is it then that the pro peloton eschews clinchers? If they offered an actual speed advantage, the kings of marginal gains would be all over them, and yet they are still rolling tubs. There is also the issue of high speed cornering: a tub is going to corner better and more safely than a clincher every single time.

    Besides, with those gossamer clinchers, the chances of a flat on anything but a manicured course approaches 100%. So much for any advantage they might provide when a teensy shard of some asshole’s beer bottle takes you out. I’ve rolled my Pavés over entire liquor bottles’ worth of smashed glass, picked the big bits out of the rubber, and kept rolling. Try that on a TT clincher.

    Well, point by point from the last to the first:

    1) The Supersonic TT is available in tubular as well, and the Pave as clincher. So you can opt for fragility or sturdiness regardless of mounting mechanism. You can TT with a ThickSlick as far as I’m concerned. I’ve ridden the Corsa Evo for nearly two years now on my race wheels – that’s a solid 2000km of racing and about half that for a few key training sessions – and am yet to puncture.

    2) ProTour TTs are held on swept roads, and yes, the pros still puncture. To them, the trade-off is worth it since it’s the absolute fastest setup there is. And no, I wouldn’t ride around every day on a special purpose tyre. I train on Conti 4Seasons or Schwalbe Duranos.

    3) High-speed cornering on a properly-glued tub and a properly-mounted clincher is 100% on both wheels, and any perceived advantage is a placebo. Friction is a pretty simple mechanical quantity, and I suggest trying a double-blind test of a Corsa Evo Open and a Corsa Evo tub before you say they corner “better”. FWIW, I’ve seen more tubulars rolled than I’ve ever seen a clincher dislodge.

    4) The pro peloton has this issue of puncturing in the midst of 200 other guys going +50km/h. That means rolling out of the peloton safely on a tubular is important, and I give you that, that’s the tubular tyre’s advantage. However, since the three-time world TT champion rode clinchers for the past three years (as did some of his teammates), I wouldn’t exactly say they’ve ignored the facts.

    5) Pros also don’t pay for tyres and don’t have to glue the fuckers, which is why you’ll find Ted King riding tubulars in Europe, but not when he’s training at home.

    At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the pros think. They have all sorts of superstitions, habits and traditions that slow them down. Try finding a faster road setup than a Zipp Super9/808 or HED Jet Disc/9 combo with latex tubes and a GP4000s.

    Dammit @tessar!  How dare you use facts and logic to justify your opinions!   Unacceptable.

    I do take issue with #3:  a tub is always going to corner better than a clincher at the same pressure.  I know without doubt that I can hit a nasty switchback harder on my tubs than I ever would on clinchers.  If people are rolling their tubs, they’re not gluing them properly.

    #4 is the tub’s greatest, and most often ignored benefit. When glued properly, they’re inherently safer than any other form-factor available.

  9. @frank

    @EricW

    EricW: “Why cork?”

    Bontrager Rep: “It doesn’t have as much friction so it doesn’t get as hot.”

    E: “…sooooo your solution to keeping the wheels cooler is to…brake less…?”

    (pause)

    B: “There is less friction between the pad and wheel”

    If he was a Velominatus, his answer would be, “Yes, Isn’t yours? Why brake more?

    I will look up the name of my pads – they are great and stop the bike very well and I’ve had no issue with the rims heating up too much (i.e. to where the tire might roll) but like I said above they do wear quickly.

    Thanks, although I’m not certain I want to switch away from cork as thorough online research (20 minutes or so) seems to suggest that using anything other than cork on Bontragers will cause them to spontaneously combust, the undead to rise from the ground, and the universe to implode.

    The upshot to this is that I’ve learned how much grip a 23c tire has (a lot) and how far you can lean the bike over (very) without sliding.  Definitely helps your sharpen descending skills when slamming on the anchors isn’t an option.  Trail braking all the way to the apex is definitely your friend here.

  10. Saw this from somewhere, somewhile ago;


    me thinks they’ll be like Spinergy wheels, after some meat is cut off someone in a mass pile up – that’s road racing. (Michele Bartoli – Tour of Germany?) As for MTB/gravel, it’s mainly single file.

  11. @frank

    @EricW

    EricW: “Why cork?”

    Bontrager Rep: “It doesn’t have as much friction so it doesn’t get as hot.”

    E: “…sooooo your solution to keeping the wheels cooler is to…brake less…?”

    (pause)

    B: “There is less friction between the pad and wheel”

    If he was a Velominatus, his answer would be, “Yes, Isn’t yours? Why brake more?

    I will look up the name of my pads – they are great and stop the bike very well and I’ve had no issue with the rims heating up too much (i.e. to where the tire might roll) but like I said above they do wear quickly.

    Williams make a great pad (spec’ed to their wheels). They stop well, aren’t fugly (re: cork), and don’t wear that quick…

    Of course, I don’t brake that much, so maybe I’m not the best source on this.

  12. Hmm, a lot to think about here. Very happy to be all set in the wheels department. I’m happily rolling on alloy clinchers on my road bikes, but I don’t have a terroir problem either. These days I just wish I had more time to ride, so instead of mulling over changes or upgrades, I’m just trying to fit in more saddle time.

    The brakes look fine on that Parlee; it’s the bars that look odd.

  13. @Ron

    Hmm, a lot to think about here. Very happy to be all set in the wheels department. I’m happily rolling on alloy clinchers on my road bikes, but I don’t have a terroir problem either.

    Open Bros: fellow (box-aero) alloy clincher zealots for life.

  14. @unversio

    @Ron

    Hmm, a lot to think about here. Very happy to be all set in the wheels department. I’m happily rolling on alloy clinchers on my road bikes, but I don’t have a terroir problem either.

    Open Bros: fellow (box-aero) alloy clincher zealots for life.

    Ha, yes we are indeed. My steel Casati is set up with Record hubs/Open Pro rims with Veloflex tires and latex tubes. An excellent ride.

    I have Ksyrium SLs on my LOOK, only had those 2nd hand for a year or so. Slick looking and a great all around wheel. Also Veloflex with latex tubes. My cross bike is set up tubeless on Ksyrium ESs and Vittoria tires. A nice route for someone (me) who had yet to get involved in tubular gluing.

    I’m not knocking Carbone wheels at all, nor disc brakes. Was just saying that I’m currently happy with what I’m riding, which can be a tough equilibrium to reach, especially when I just was at the NAHBS two weeks ago…

    Pegoretti had a few frames set up with the low profile Campa Hyperion Ultra wheels. The sexiness of low profile with the exoticism of Carbone. My gosh, those were slick looking!

  15. Carbon? Shimano? Disk brakes? 100% the folly of ignorant nouveau dweebs (no doubt Obamatrons) which also includes non traditional geometry – dimension(e.g. ridiculous compact frames), as well anything other than lugged steel and alloy gruppo, white socks, white handlebar tape, black saddles, black shorts, black shoes, facial hair of any kind.  And this website supposedly honors aesthetic and the rest. Ya, right………….. How utterly “now”.  Take up hacky sack you pathetic spinning poseurs…………..

  16. @jon jon Cocaine is no way to live.

  17. Writing nonsense has the important advantage of ensuring that you can’t be wrong. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of the Commuter Grand Prix.

  18. @jon jon Easy dude! most of folks on this site are anything but poseurs, and what does Obama have do with it. This is awesomely weird, universe is right, I suggest to  drink a six pack and relax and don’t call you drug dealer.

  19. @unversio ,Sorry spell check auto corrected you handle

  20. @jon jon

    Why do you even bother to register on the site then? And you are not making any sense.

  21. @jon jon

    I don’t know what to do with that many conjoined ellipses.

  22. @jon jon Wow, how did you know Hacky Sack was my second sport? And I have a black saddle, facial hair and a carbone frame! Do you work for the NSA?

  23. Disk brakes on a road bike. What? Brakes on a road bike are overwhelmingly for checking speed not stopping. Get me off this planet.

  24. @jon jon Wait, what?

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