Bike Parts and Accessories that I Love (or Hate)by Sebastian Wren
Here are the rules for this site. I'm mostly a road cyclist, but I do a little mountain biking, too. I'm a big guy -- 220 pounds, 6'2" -- and some of my reviews are written from that perspective. I have big hands. I have broad shoulders. I have wide feet. I am, in other words, unlike most cyclists. Sometimes my bulk is irrelevant -- sometimes it is not. Keep that in mind as you read my reviews.
There is little in life that makes me angrier than having my chain skip off. This really makes me nuts. I hate it when I'm building up speed, attacking in a sprint, and I try to shift up onto the large chainring to really attack hard, and *BAM* the chain falls off. Most of the time, when the chain falls off to the outside, I can get it back on without stopping the bike.
But not when it falls off to the inside, between the chainring and the frame.
When I'm shifting up to the large chainring, the bike is going fast, so I have time to coast and tease the chain back onto the ring. But when it falls off to the inside, I'm going slow -- usually uphill. Sometimes, I'm out of the saddle.
Not only does it frustrate me to have the chain fall off the small chainring, not only do I stand a chance of crunching my private bits on my stem, but it also damages my very expensive frame. The chain slips off the small chainring, I hammer down hard, and the chain scratches up the area around my bottom bracket. And there is no warranty for this type of damage.
Fortunately, there are a couple of very inexpensive devices available for stopping this from happening. UNfortunately, most of them don't work. The worst example is the Third-Eye Chain Watcher. This flimsy cheap piece of plastic lets the chain slip by down to the bottom bracket area, but then IT PREVENTS YOU FROM GETTING THE CHAIN BACK ON THE CHAINRING!!!!! I hate this thing. It takes a bad situation and makes it much, much worse.
I know of only one device that does work remarkably well: The N-Gear Jump Stop. It is very inexpensive (about $10) lightweight, stiff, easy to install, adjustable -- you just put it on and forget it. I've had one on every bike I've owned for the past 8 years, and I have never had the chain slip off to the inside. You can get them from Nashbar, or you can directly order them from N-Gear. N-Gear really stands behind this product, too -- I like that. If one ever fails, for any reason, they will replace it or refund the purchase price.
The Third-Eye Chain Watcher Sucks.
Get the N-Gear Jump Stop instead
I love Campagnolo Wheels, but I would rather not have to have a full Campagnolo grouppo. A very cheap and cool shifting adaptor from J-Tech Engineering lets me have choices. This little adaptor fits in the cable route near the rear derailleur, and allows you to adapt Campy and Shimano parts to fit each other. It also allows you to adapt your 9-speed shifters to work with a 10-speed cassette and vice versa. For about $35, you can have the freedom to mix and match your shifters and cassettes.
The same company also makes 2-into-1 adaptors that allow you to have multiple shifters and multiple brake levers (for aero bars).
Check out J-Tech Engineering
They have several cool specialty parts
Being a big guy with big hands, I have always had problems with pain in my hands, shoulders, and neck. After 5 or 6 hours in the saddle, my hands usually hurt so much, I can barely stop myself from sobbing openly. I have tried gel gloves, shorter stems, thick padding on the bars -- nothing.
A few years ago, I started checking out ergo bars, and I discovered something very important -- most ergo bars are unbelievably stupid. They were clearly designed to LOOK cool, but they were not designed to be functional.
If you look at real cyclists riding, you see they spend 90% of their time in one of three positions: 1. up on the brake hoods, 2. down on the drop bars, and 3. up on the flat bar next to the stem clamp. Most ergo bars do nothing to make 1 and 3 more comfortable, and they actually make 2 worse. The most comfortable place to be on the drop bars is on the horizontal part of the bars, and most ergo bars are chopped off short so there is very little in the way of a drop-bar to hold on to. It's usually just a little nub of bar (see image to left). That's stupid.
A few companies are starting to figure out how to make ergo bars that actually fit your hand, but after searching the world, I have only found ONE company that does it right -- 3TTT.
A year ago, I bought a 3TTT Bio Morphe XL, and my world has been utterly changed. I ordered the bars sight-unseen from a company in England. I had only seen pictures, and I could not find a review. But the pictures looked really promising, so I took a chance. They arrived, and man, they were ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. Lumpy, weird looking things (see picture below). But they are very comfortable. I have NO pain in my hands, and very little pain in my neck and shoulders. I spent $260.00 including shipping, and it was better than buying a new bike. It changed everything about my riding. I spend more time comfortably in the drops, so I'm more aerodynamic and faster. My hands hurt less, so I ride longer. And my sprints are inspired now. I LOVE these bars.
There are a few catches, though. First, Shimano levers do not fit as well as Campy levers. These bars are Italian, and they are designed to fit with Italian parts. Shimano works okay, but Campagnolo fits like a glove. Second, I had a lot of trouble wrapping the bars -- they are so lumpy and weird, regular bar wrap did not work well. However, I experimented with old-fashioned cloth tape, and I have been VERY pleased with the results. I double-wrap the bars with the cloth tape to get a little extra padding -- it looks good, and the cloth tape is a lot cheaper than cork or immitation cork. Third, I have very big hands, so I found the arched curve on the drop bar did not fit my palm perfectly. I just added a little padding under the tape, though, and that problem was solved.
Don't get a new bike,
Get the 3TTT Bio Morphe Bars
Strong, light wheels
Being a big sprinter, I have always destroyed wheels. I have legs like tree trunks, and a gut like a bean-bag chair. I'm a big man who can crush a wheel by sprinting on an uphill. Many a day, I have ridden home with my rear brakes open wide and my rear wheel wobbling out of true, the sound of a broken spoke slapping against my frame with every wheel revolution.
It's my own fault -- for some reason, I'm attracted to those nimble, light-weight wheels that the little cyclists get to ride on. They look so elegant and cool -- wheels that can take my weight and strength always look so leaden and thick. I admit it, it's an aesthetics thing.
About a year ago, I made some upgrades to my wonderful Merlin titanium. I decided to try the new Campagnolo parts, and in that group, I decided to give their G3 Scirocco wheels a try. Elegant, pretty wheels -- I expected to crush them like a tin can under a truck.
One year later -- probably about 7,000 miles on rough Texas roads -- and they are still laser true. No hops, no wobbles, no creaks or groans. I can stomp as hard as I want to when I sprint, and they don't complain at all. I've hit a few serious bumps along the way, too, and they've handled the abuse quite well. They are simply straight, strong, and true. And remarkably, they were cheap, too. I got my set for $280.00, and I immediately sold the wheel bags they came with on Ebay for $50.00. Which means that for slightly more than $100.00 per wheel, I have light, strong entry-level racing wheels. That's really hard to argue with.
Campagnolo G3 Scirocco wheels are
strong, light, and inexpensive.