Paul Andrews

Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Warning! Thule T2 rack failure exposed

In Equipment reviews, Mountain Biking on September 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Alert! Another report of a Thule T2 tray sliding off a rear hitch rack has been logged on the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance Yahoo! egroup list. Lots of comments have come in regarding this failure, which has been reported before.

Here’s the latest, from the list:


I was driving home from Whistler last night when my T2 rack jettisoned
the rear most carrier and the Turner bike that it was holding on the Sea
to Sky Hwy!

Now you have to know that the bolts were all as tight as they can be,
the brackets have stretched with time and use so both carriers are a
little floppy. IT all turned out ok and the cars and bikes behind were
able to see the bike in the center lane soon enough to avoid contact.
The bike sustained minor damage.

Rack and Road claimed they have never heard of such a thing happening
before. I suggested that the rack needs a “stop” that would prevent the
tray\carrier from sliding off the back even if the bolts became loose.
They installed a large carriage bolt in the hole intended for the 2 bike
extender. This should prevent it from happening again. I will calling
Thule about this matter tomorrow as they are closed on Monday.

They should issue a recall and or prescribe a fix such as the one I now
have, in addition shims could be applied to the streching brackets to
keep them tight to the rail.

I am grateful that no one was hurt. IT could have been very ugly.

Added Jennifer Lesher, president emeritus of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance in Seattle:

It happened to me in spring of 2008 – on I-5 in midday traffic. I filed a
report with the Consumer Products Safety Comission (and also posted to this
list serve).

A couple of months after I filed the report I received a call from someone
at Thule who wanted to replace the parts of my bike that had gotten damaged.
He was pretty tight-lipped about whether they were going to do anything in
response to my incident, but they did say that the new models were going to
have a stop. Maybe if enough people complain to the CPSC they will do a full
recall.

While I think the consumer/car owner bears responsibility for keeping the
bolts tight I have heard from others (Andy included) that you can have the
bolts super tight and still lose the rack. In fact, earlier this year one of
my brackets somehow got bent and was no longer able to be fully tightened
(since my incident I obsessively check my rack bolts). I tried shimming it
to no avail, so I finally went on the Thule site and ordered a new bracket.
Not sure why it bent, but it sounds like it has happened to others’ racks as
well.

When it happened to me, the bike damage was not too bad, but a few minutes
after it happened a group of motorcyclists came by in the lane I had been
driving in. I was horrified to think of what might have happened if the rack
had come off in front of one of them.

I would encourage anyone who has experienced this issue to file a report
with the CPSC: http://www.cpsc.gov/ and click “Report an unsafe product.”
It’s an easy process and might pressure Thule to do a recall. Pass it on.

I’ve used a friend’s T2 for more than a year and recently purchased a T2 for my van. What follows is a review, consistent with all reviews we post on Bike Intelligencer, of a product by someone who actually paid for one.

Thule T2 hitch-mounted bike rack

With the advent of hydrofoam and carbon fiber bike frame technology, conventional bike racks have become a bit problematic. The traditional arm-support systems that slipped under the bike’s top tube have been rendered awkward to useless by the swoopy swervy fat or monocoque bodies of contemporary frames. Even if a frame will fit on the old style, you quickly get into scraping and scratching if you mount more than one bike per rack.

A smart and sensible alternative to the straightarm system was devised by Sportworks, then purchased and propagated by Thule. It uses a swingarm and tray design. The racheted swingarm has a padded hook that secures the front wheel; the rear wheel is strapped on with a quick-release buckle. I recently purchased a Thule T2 setup fitting a 2-inch hitch receiver. I also have a Thule roof rack using the swingarm system. The roof rack has a shorter rachet, a less pronounced angle to its hook, and in my opinion secures the front wheel better than the rear hitch rack.

The T2 is a joy to use. You just lift the bike a couple of feet off the ground — a real advantage over hoisting it onto the roof, particularly if you have a freeride or downhill honker — and position the wheels into their respective slots. You clamp down the swingarm next to the fork crown, and that keeps the bike stable so you can strap the rear wheel in with the QR buckle. It all takes seconds.

Mounting two bikes is equally snappy, and you have the added benefit that the bikes do not touch one another (sometimes you have to adjust the seat height to avoid hitting the adjacent bike’s handlebars).

There are a couple of issues with mounting the bike, though. You have to be sure to snug the swingarm hook right next to the fork crown. Intuition tells you otherwise — that you should put the swingarm hook on the front (outermost) side of the wheel, providing a longer racheting angle that by the laws of physics would, if completely stable, provide better leverage. The problem is that there’s too much play between the swingarm and tire. My Ibis Mojo actually fell off a T2 on a bumpy fireroad because of this problem (lost a good set of handlebars, but lesson learned!).

In my opinion there should be a WARNING! sticker on the rachet housing itself, advising new users to be sure to mount the swingarm correctly.

There’s another issue with the swingarm. Thule sells a lock kit for the rachet body that supposedly keeps someone from releasing the swingarm and taking the bike. It’s a complete farce. With the swingarm locked down, all a thief has to do is deflate the front tire, which releases the wheel from retention.

Get a Kryptonite New York chain, the Fahgettaboudit, for use with this rack.

Then there’s the rear wheel QR buckle issue. For some reason Thule made the strap detachable from the base end. This is convenient in the sense you don’t have to slip the tongue out of the buckle every time you mount the rear wheel. But it’s also a bit of a nuisance to have to re-mount the strap in the base with each use. It also means the strap is easily stolen or lost.

Then there’s the issue of materials. You want the rack to be light, yes. (A T2 is still a heft; a T4, which uses an extension for four bikes that I definitely would not recommend for off-roading, must be a real pig.) But you want it to be strong even more. And Thule materials just feel, well, kinda cheesy. You’re paying $360 for this thing, it ought to be better made. Sportworks fans claim to this day that its racks were stronger and more reliable than Thule’s.

Which brings us to the topic of catastrophic failure.

Because the rack rails are basically clamped on the struts with a brace, they invite loosening up and slippage over time. In the case of the above episode, they slid right off the rail.

(There’s a small phillips screw at the end of the strut that apparently is a stop, meant to keep the clamp from sliding off. It’s a joke. If the clamp is loose enough to slide, it will easily slip over the screw.)

Bolting the clamps into the strut, rather than just using friction in a clamping procedure, would prevent this kind of accident. But I have a feeling that the aluminum used by Thule would fail with bolt-through implementation.

The workaround, which Rack n Road uses, is to put a retainer carriage bolt in the T2′s pre-drilled hole for adapting the rack to a T4. If you have a T4, that option isn’t available. But it seems like a workable solution as long as the carriage bolt stays in place.

At Bike Intelligencer we feel Thule should do a redesign of the T2, addressing not only the catastrophic failure but the other issues we’ve raised. In the meantime, a recall would seem to be in order. Far beyond the pain and expense of losing a high-end bike, too many liability issues surface with this kind of rack failure.

We’ll try to keep you posted.

For a promising alternative, check out Kuat’s new NV rack, scheduled for release Oct. 20. It comes at a higher price point ($495) but has built-in cables for locking the bike as well as, check it out, a built-in bike repair stand! Here’s video.

Interbike Video: Kuat Rack’s ‘NV’ from Bike Magazine on Vimeo.

Daily Roundup: More Interbike, This Day in Doping

In Daily Roundup, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 29, 2009 at 7:12 am

Interbike 2009 dribblings …

Attendance a mixed bag. Overall attendance declined, but buyer numbers were up. Exhibitors were said to be happy, so that’s good, because if the exhibitors aren’t happy, then the booth bimbos aren’t happy, and if the bbs aren’t happy, well, you know…

Great video from Mountain Bike Action with Richard Cunningham showing off Ibis’ new HD Mojo (beefy, very beefy), Magura fork/brake combo and a new rack from Kuat that, face it, puts the Thule T2 to shame.

And BikeSnob goes off on Reynolds’ $6,000 set of carbon wheels.

Finally, re our standing feature This Day in Doping, check out this video on new anti-doping controls that somehow feels like a 5th grade tutorial on urine testing for pot. No wonder Lance gets annoyed with these people. We support rigorous dope testing of cyclists (emphasis on rigorous, because so far there’s little evidence testing is inhibiting doping). We also support doing it in a professional and respectful way.

Daily Roundup: Ex-mtber wins road worlds, Cali parks stay open, Interbike leftovers and more

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Racing, Daily Roundup, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking, Obama Bikes on September 28, 2009 at 2:35 am

California’s decision not to close state parks is great news for mountain bikers. Common sense in this case was aided by the stat that for every dollar the state spends on its parks, it takes in about $3. That and the fact concessionaires were contacting their lawyers over breach of contract if the parks were to close…

A former mountain biker, Australia’s Cadel Evans, has won the world road racing championship. A former road racer has never won much of anything in mountain biking, so this proves which is the tougher sport. Moreover, Evans is a “clean” rider, so it’s an even bigger deal.

GoPro’s early stuff was junk, but credit where due, they’re keeping at it and getting it right. The Hero HD was at Interbike 2009 and I think I’ll give their line another go-around.

IMBA’s industry breakfast at Interbike 2009 packed ‘em in. We’re looking forward to the mentioned bike-umentary, “Pedal Driven.”

Alberto Contador may not have to ride for Astana next year, because Astana may not exist next year.

The Tour of California, shaping up as America’s premier contribution to the world cycling calendar, is moving to mid-May next year. Hopefully no more April showers, and it’ll be a lot warmer. We fans thank the organizers! (And thanks to Lance Armstrong for bringing out the crowds this past season, guaranteeing the event’s future.)

OK OK, what I said about Cadel Evans was just a joke, OK? Besides, Lance is NOT a former road racer who left road racing for mountain biking. And the Leadville 100 is hardly the world championships. OK???

Interbike 2009 wrap: In search of a showstopper

In Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 27, 2009 at 2:09 am

Another edition of Interbike has come and gone, and a good time was had by all. Lots of 29ers, lots of carbon, lots of improved this and streamlined that. But if there is anything that Interbike 2009 will be remembered for, it’s that there isn’t anything Interbike 2009 will be remembered for.

Unlike past Interbikes, no major breakthroughs like VPP or DW-Link or rad shocks or tubeless tires headlined 2009. In fact, nothing really headlined 2009. This year was not so much about new. It was mostly about improved.

A better drivetrain from SRAM. An HD helmet cam from Hero. New tires from WTB. Better lighting systems, lighter wheelsets, iPhone bike apps, a bladder that tells you how full it is from Camelbak.

And a great t-shirt from Thule.

myonlyrackisathule

All nice. But not earthshaking.

Much of the subdued aura at the Sands had to do with the economy, of course. The bike industry isn’t being hammered as hard as, say, the auto industry or housing sector. In fact, there are bright spots, including increasing ridership, commute penetration numbers and respectable sales of mainstream bikes. And although final numbers are not yet in, organizers who were expecting a drop in attendance feel the headcount may actually prove to be higher this year than last.

But high-end bikes are pretty much dead in the water. And they’re the ones with the fat margins that make the money to fund R&D that leads to tech advances in the marketplace. The big bike manufacturers will deny cutbacks on skunkworks and blue-sky projects, and the boutique makers will say they’re still full steam ahead. But if you talk to the suppliers and vendors and even shop rats, you hear a different story.

You didn’t see a whole lot of new models at Interbike this year. There was the downhill 29er from Lenz we discussed, and Santa Cruz’s Tallboy carbon 29er, and Ibis’ HD (longer-travel) Mojo and some random others. We expected Turner to have prototypes of the DW-Link RFX available at the Dirt Demo, but it’s another tell (as they say at the Vegas poker table) on the state of the business that Dave did not roll this baby out. Giant and Trek didn’t even show up.

The biggest Top Secret whisper-whisper hubbub had to do with battery-sensored “smart fork” suspension from Cannondale. Remember earlier this year when electronic transmission was the next big thing? Like, where did that go?

This is no slam against the bike biz. Everyone’s hurting, so it only makes sense to lower expectations. And a lower-key Interbike is in some ways a more enjoyable Interbike. You could focus on the social aspects and networking instead of running around trying to absorb tons of new goodies that manufacturers were vying for your attention span over.

So even if 2009 goes down as one of the ho-hummer Interbikes, it hardly means the show wasn’t worth it. This is bike fever at its best, even in hard times. And besides, there’s always next year.

Interbike 2009: 29er anyone?

In Bicycle Racing, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 25, 2009 at 12:17 pm

It’s hard to know what to make of the 29er explosion on display at Interbike this week. Most boutique manufacturers are coming out with 29-inch models, and Lenz even was showing a 29er downhill bike — 7 inches of long travel (really long when you consider the bigger wheels) with a 26-inch mod kit for the rear if the big wheel is just too much. Why you’d get a 29er for downhilling and then switch out to a 26-inch rear is one of those great Unsolved Mysteries that will never make the TV show, but it is what it is.

First, a reality check. When manufacturers and PR types talk about the 29er revolution, they’re mixing marginal data with speculation and hope. I have yet to see an industry figure for 29er adoption. There’s another revolution in mountain biking going on, too, having to do with tubeless tires. For loose yardstick purposes, keep the tubeless “revolution” in mind in evaluating the 29er revolution.

I can’t see most downhillers, who are compact guys and gals between 5-9 and 6-0, getting much advantage from a 29er. But someone who did come to mind is the all-time greatest, Steve Peat, a big guy with shoulders broad as Texas who tosses a conventional 26-inch downhill bike around like it was a BMX.

It’d be interesting to have a guy of Peaty’s dimensions (6-2, 200 lbs) try out the 29er DH. Or even the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 4-inch 29er for that matter (Peat rides for SC). If Peat smokes the field riding a 29er then I’d say yeah, we have a winnah!

There’s no question that a 29er is going to roll faster and cover more ground than a 26-inch bike. If downhilling were just a matter of point and rip, then yes, by all means, a 29er would belong in your quiver. But downhill courses are among the most technically demanding racing a rider can do. There’s lots of twisting and turning and braking and railing. It’s a big question-mark whether the gyroscopic advantages of going 29 translate into an arena modeled for 26-inch competition.

Here at Bike Intelligencer, we’re keeping an open mind. We’ve ridden 29ers and like them. We don’t own any. But we have friends who love the things (for awhile; after the honeymoon, most relegate their 29ers to specific trails and types of riding), and who are all over six feet tall. We may yet see the light. After all, we are just a tad over 6-0. And out of the seven bikes we own, one does actually really truly sport tubeless wheels.

Interbike 2009: Carbon copying

In Daily Roundup, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Following up on our previous post re the carbon conniptions at Interbike, some random links:

The belt drive gets a thumbs up. Some folks questioned my skepticism about the Gates carbon drive system, pointing out its proven service for motos, lawnmowers and the like. I say give me a year with this thing on a mountain bike in the rainy, the muddy, the cold and the rocky Pacific Northwest and I’ll have it cryin’ like a baby lost its mama…

Reynolds is showing off an 900-gram carbon wheelset for the princely sum of $6,000.

Lennard Zinn tried out REVL, a new brand of carbon brakeset, 115 grams, “very powerful.”

What happens when the carbon “revolution” meets the 29er “revolution”? The Ellsworth Enlightenment, for one.

Cyclelicio.us has an interesting take on magnetically cleated pedals. Yeah I’m skeptical ’bout them too ;^)

Then there’s wood, which may be the future new retro improved lighter stronger bike material we are always ready to embrace …

Interbike 2009: Carbon rising

In Bicycling, Equipment reviews, Interbike 2009, Mountain Biking on September 23, 2009 at 9:15 am

When it comes to cycling, carbon, which used to be called carbon fiber, which was actually a technical implementation of plastic, is becoming the new metal.

From the early 1990s days of carbon road frames that pioneering manufacturers like Watsonville, CA-based Kestrel and big-name companies such as Look and Trek built, carbon has made inroads into mountain biking as well (Kestrel’s seminal frames included). But frames are almost incidental to carbon innovation today.

At Interbike 2009, carbon bikes still are turning heads (the latest being Santa Cruz’s full-suspension 29-incher, the Tallboy). But carbon accessories and parts are showing up all over as well. And like frames, they’re being touted as stronger than aluminum, while also just as light and durable.

So you’ve got carbon handlebars, carbon seatposts, carbon rockers, carbon cranksets and even forks (lowers in mtb suspension forks). The least expected stunner: A carbon “chain,” actually a belt drive, that supposedly will outlast and outperform its veteran steel counterpart.

Although widely reviewed by test riders on a spot-ride basis, the Gates belt drive jury is still out, simply because so few real-life installations yet exist. The drive cannot be used with conventional derailleurs and is best suited to single-speed setups or an internal hub like the Rohloff. That said, it offers immense maintenance and performance advantages — as long as it lives up to its billing.

Similar claims are being made for other carbon parts, particularly handlebars. Once prone to chipping and breakage, bars today come with strength specs that surpass metal while soaking up hits better and transferring less shock for a smoother ride.

Carbon posts, which early on were flexy and unreliable, have made strides as well, although slippage remains a problem. And hollow carbon cranksets are turning in gram counts that put the shame to aluminum.

But is all the carbon chatter for real, or just industry hype aimed at suckering bleeding-edge types and weight weenies? We went through all this before with the first wave of carbon, which relied on pattern weaves and epoxy, and saw frames shatter, components fail and performance diminish quickly over time.

I’ve had three carbon bikes. The first, a Trek Y-33 bike, was light and stiff and compliant (it soaked up hits well). Its single-pivot design was not the greatest and it sure was noisy (the slightest sound reverberated through the hollow body) but the bike stayed in good shape as long as I had it (about a year before it was stolen). I got a Giant carbon hardtail in 2002 and loved it. It was by far the least harsh hardtail ride I’ve ever had. But the bottom bracket shell separated from the frame after about 9 months, and Giant, which had given up making the frame, replaced it with an aluminum model.

Today I have an Ibis Mojo for high-country XC epics, tipping the scales at 25.2 lbs. It seems tougher and sturdier than previous carbon, and I’ve had no issues in two years of riding. I’ve also ridden the new carbon Blur, which feels downright bulletproof. One thing about the Blur is how the one-piece molding transfers load so evenly, you don’t feel like you’re hammering the bottom bracket. The whole bike seems to soak up hard pedal action.

All that said, carbon is in many ways still too evolutionary to draw hard-and-fast conclusions. Carbon still can shatter, as evinced by Jeremy Honorez’s encounter with a traffic bollard. One doubts aluminum or steel would have survived such an impact either, but let’s remember we’re not talking infallibility here.

A lot of the carbon hype has to do as well with looks. Carbon molding, combined with its innate strength, can add some sexy curves and design innovations to a fork and frame. The press release usually banners the performance advantage, but let’s face it, a cherry design sells. And carbon is offering more design variability than aluminum or steel.

Manufacturers also seem confident about boosting carbon’s warranty claims, as Gary Fisher recently tweeted:

“I get asked ” is there a weight limit on your carbon MTBs?” No and they all have a lifetime Garantiee”

Fisher isn’t alone. Santa Cruz has replaced its aluminum Blur XC line with carbon Blurs (not everyone is pleased), and says its longer-travel Blurs will take any fork without risk of frame breakage. Other manufacturers, including Ibis, are making similar claims. Weight claims are getting downright feathery, with 22-pound builds not uncommon.

Carbon still does not seem ready for burly duty. No one yet is offering cranks for freeride or downhill action. Carbon frames are rare in those arenas as well, although they may be coming. Carbon forks, pedals and wheels also do not yet seem ready for the Big Hit crowd. Innovative Pivot went with a carbon rocker for its long-travel trail bike, the Firebird, but has since begun replacing the rockers with aluminum. The issue supposedly is to permit a coil shock, but you have to wonder whether carbon was holding up under the jumps and drops.

(Aside: I asked a recent mountain-biking acquaintance who works on parts specification for Boeing whether carbon was making any inroads into commercial airline production. He kinda laughed.)

Still, carbon’s future seems bright. While aluminum and steel are pretty much set in their ways and maxed out on specifications, carbon technology seems to improve almost annually. And let’s face it, the stuff is basically still plastic, which means costs should keep coming down with widespread adoption.

For now, carbon is cycling’s miracle drug. It’ll be fascinating to watch it evolve in the marketplace.

Links Links Links

Gates belt drive

Blur LT

MTBR.com at Interbike: Carbon, carbon, carbon!

Mayor McGinn wouldn’t ride like Nickels drives

In Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes on September 22, 2009 at 4:43 am

The Stranger: Analyzing how “Bikin’ Mike” McGinn, the mayoral candidate who actually commutes downtown by bike each day, might cope with a traditional mayoral schedule.

Interesting take, but in using existing mayor Greg Nickels’ car-biased schedule as a model, the article assumes McGinn would adopt a similar approach to his official calendar. Anyone who rides a bike for work knows and understands that cycling demands an entirely different mindset to daily travel. Not necessarily a more limited or truncated schedule, just a more efficient one.

A lot of the PR-type, ceremonial appearances Nickels makes are on his schedule simply because car transport allows them to be. Do you have to be in Georgetown and the University District over the noon hour? McGinn would choose one or the other, or neither, based on how necessary they really were. When it comes to the daily planner, the prospect of turning pedals to get places tends to focus the mind. Awards dinners? Going-away parties? Transportation seminars? Some would make the cut, others wouldn’t.

And the city would be better off for it. A mayor who acted more than he gabbed, who spent time on the job solving problems rather than running around trying to be liked, and who showed up at events based on an honest and efficient (and cheap!) transportation decision matrix, would mean a lot more to the city than a glad-hander who showed up just for show, mouthed a few platitudes and seldom delivered the goods.

Finally, what’s the big deal about 25 miles on a bike in a day? For experienced cyclists, that’s a piece o’ cake . . .

Interbike, Bikes Belong chip in $50,000 for Vegas cycling

In Bicycle advocacy, Interbike 2009, Obama Bikes on September 21, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Improving Vegas bike access? Wonderment of wonderments…

Interbike and Bikes Belong, which is a national coalition of industry retailers and suppliers, are ponying up $50,000 over the coming two years to improve bicycling conditions in Las Vegas, host of the annual Interbike trade show.

Bike lanes, trip counters and other enhancements are on the way. That amount of money won’t go far, of course, but it’s a great first step.

Covering Comdex and CES as a tech journalist during the 1990s, my typical modus was to rent a bike from Escape the City Streets and use it to get around between the Strip and the Las Vegas Convention Center (as well as, later, the Sands). While I was about the only attendee among hundreds of thousands to do so, as evinced in the blank stares I got from security when I asked where I could lock my bike up, I have to say Vegas is perfectly “bike-ready.” It’s not that big a place, and bikes can get around town during high-volume events a lot faster than cars.

Strange as it may sound, I cannot recall bad driver encounters in Vegas either. But that may well be because I took back routes that cars did not know about or want to bother with. That and the fact that I was typically moving a lot faster than the cars!

In any case, bike features in Vegas will help boost the town’s friendliness toward cycling, as well as Interbike’s putting its mouth where all its money is.

This Day in Doping is baacck! Shimano, Valverde

In Bicycle Racing, This Day In Doping on September 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Shimano says 1 strike yer out! Anyone caught doping is automatically expelled.

That’s all well and good, but again, the problem here is with the UCI governing body. If its tests selectively, and if it looks the other way when it finds irregularities, cyclists have nothing to fear from Shimano.

The Shimano policy is a step forward, but it’s mostly symbolic.

Case in point: Alejandro Valverde, who won the Tour of Spain despite being banned by Italy for doping (Valverde is disputing the allegations). Technically, Valverde is entitled. But you also have to wonder how aggressively cycling governance is going to pursue one of the sport’s top stars — especially a Spaniard in his home country’s premier event. It’s a real dilemma, because huge volumes of money are at stake.

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