Category Archives: Exercise

Maxxix Rambler Review & Road Test

Read here for background. I love my MTB, it is a fantastic bike with great knobby tires for rough technical riding. But for long gravel rides I needed a tire that is lighter with less rolling resistance. The Schwalbe G-One allrounds did not work, having multiple failures that made me walk back from rides. So I tried the Maxxis Rambler.

It comes in 2 styles: EXO/TR with 120 TPI, and Silkshield with 60 TPI. The latter is a bit heavier and more rugged. I opted for the former. They are size 650-47, which fits 27.5″ wheels. They have a directional tread pattern, but the directional arrows on the sidewalls are subtle and could be easily overlooked. They weigh 550 and 551 grams on my scale, which is a bit heavier than their specification. By comparison, the DHR/DHR weigh 900 / 820 grams respectively, and the G-One allrounds weighed 626 grams each. The 47mm width means you’ll probably have the widest tires of anyone showing up for that gravel ride. But it’s perfect for typical MTB rims; any narrower may cause problems with fit or tire shape. And for light weight and minimum rolling resistance, you don’t need it any wider.

They mounted easily on my Reynolds AR carbon wheels. I used 2.5 oz of Stan’s in each tire, and I also apply the sealant between the tire bead & rim. But they didn’t want to seat, not only requiring a compressor, but also removing the valve stem core to increase airflow volume. Once seated, fit & seal were perfect.

I rode them a couple of hundred miles, a mix of pavement & gravel. No flats or other problems, and I could feel that they were a bit lighter and faster than the knobby tires. I tried a few different pressures and ended up with 37 rear, 30 front being about ideal. After this initial success, due to their generous 47mm width, I wanted to test them on more rugged terrain, so I rode them on Tiger Mountain. That turned out to be a mistake!

Tiger is a steep, rugged, network of trails for intermediate & advanced riders. My route is only 13.5 miles, but it’s over 2,000′ of climbing. For the first half, things were going well. The Ramblers did great on the uphill, including 25%+ grades where lesser tires might have slipped. They lost traction a few times in downhill turns and obstacles where the knobbies would have gripped. But they were predictable and controllable, no crashes. About 9 miles into the ride, I heard the dreaded shwoosh of a tubeless tire going flat.

I stopped and inspected the rear tire. It had a gash over an inch long, on the sidewall running radially from the bead to the tread. The sealant spewed out within seconds. The tire was too damaged to remove the valve core and put a tube inside. It was destroyed. So I walked the last 4.5 miles, pushing my bike.

Lesson learned: Maxxis Ramblers are good for converting your MTB into a gravel bike. But don’t let their width & tread fool you into thinking they can be used on rugged MTB terrain. OTOH, perhaps the heavier Silkshield version would have held up.

Schwalbe G-One Allround Tire Review & Road Test (Garbage!)

In early 2020 I was preparing to ride the Oregon Trail Gravel Grinder, a 5-day stage ride based in Sisters, OR. My road bike won’t make that gravel ride, and with 7 bikes in the garage I did not want yet another bike. So I decided to ride it on my mountain bike. However, the heavy knobby tires that work so well on rough terrain are not optimal for gravel. They are just not efficient enough, especially for doing 350 miles in 5 days.

Note: these are tubeless wheels, Reynolds Carbon AR, size 27.5″ / 650 / 584.

Gravel rides are a “thing” now, so there are lots of tire options. After reading a bunch of reviews I opted for Schwalbe G-One Allround tires. They make 2 sizes for my bike: 40-584 and 57-584 (note: 584, 650 and 27.5″ are all the same wheel size, just different ways of measuring it). One seemed a bit too skinny (40mm = 1.6″), the other a bit too fat (57mm = 2.24″). I wasn’t sure which would be best so I ordered a set of each.

First, I installed the wide ones. They installed and sealed neatly without the need for my compressor. Rode them around the block, pumped them up to 5 PSI below max. They held pressure overnight and I rode them the next day on a gravel road (John Wayne Trail from Rattlesnake Lake toward Snoqualmie Tunnel). Ran about 35 PSI rear, 30 PSI front. They did fine and I could feel how much lighter and faster they were.

Failure the First

Next ride, I hit the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. About 40 miles in, I could hear the rear wheel losing air. It had a puncture with sealant spraying out. The sealant eventually did its job and I finished the ride (10 more miles) and made it home. I inspected the tire from the outside, there was no obvious damage, so I removed the valve stem and added another ounce of sealant to replace what it had lost.

Failure the Second

The OTGG was cancelled due to COVID, so I flew out to Moab to meet Stefan for some biking. On day 1, riding the easy Bar M Loop Trail, the front tire flatted. Sealant spewed out, then after a long moment it did its job. I used my hand pump to replace some of the lost pressure and we finished the ride.

Failure the Third

Now it was 2021 and I was preparing to ride the Cascade Gorge Grinder that had been cancelled the prior year. So I installed the skinny G-One Allround tires. At least, I tried to. After completing the first and inflating it to 5 PSI below max pressure, I set it aside to work do the second. About 10 minutes later, BANG! The tire I had set aside blew off the rim. Upon inspection, the bead had ruptured internally without any exterior evidence of cuts or damage. I use only smooth plastic tire “irons”. Chalk it up to manufacturing defect.

So I reinstalled the fat ones.

Failure the Fourth

Next ride, I went out on the same pavement that I ride my road bike. After a few miles I heard the familiar dreaded sound of the rear tire losing pressure and spewing sealant. This time, it never sealed. I stopped and rotated the rear wheel so the puncture was at the bottom so the sealant could gather there. All the sealant (I use 2 full ounces) spewed out and it went completely flat. I had to walk home.

Conclusion

Schwalbe’s G-One Allround tires are so fragile they repeatedly puncture, even on paved roads that my road bike can handle with 700×23 tires. They seem to impair sealant from doing its job, and I also encountered a manufacturing defect that caused one to blow off the rim even when seated and sealed, and below its max recommended pressure.

Needless to say, I’m never buying Schwalbe tires again. I’ve never had these problems with Maxxis tires (knock on wood!).

Note: I’m now using Maxxis Ramblers size 47-584 on this bike, for gravel rides. Fingers crossed!

For knobbies I’ve used Maxxis Ardents, and now use the DHF / DHR combo. Both have been great; good traction, easy installation and no flats. Of course, they’re heavy with higher rolling resistance. But when you need rugged knobbies, those aspects are less important and these are great tires.

MTB / Mountain Bike: Fezzari Timp Peak

I’ve been riding bikes of all kinds since the 1980s and done some big rides. But the Fezzari Timp Peak I bought in late 2014 was the first really good mountain bike I owned. I got this bike to ride Kokopelli’s Trail with Bikerpelli in 2015. Great ride!

Carbon frame, carbon wheels, SRAM XX1, dual suspension, dropper seat, weighing 25-26 lbs. ready to ride. It’s been a great bike but it’s not perfect. Here are some of of the problems I’ve encountered and how I solved them.

SRAM Sticky Brakes

The first problem was the dreaded SRAM sticky brakes. The brake lever pistons gradually grow (yes they physically get larger!) and get stuck in the cylinder. In my case it took a few years to happen. Here is my fix. That worked for a year or so, then they got sticky again. At that point instead of sanding down the pistons again, I replaced them with aftermarket metal pistons. These have perfect fit & function, came with the o-rings, and fix the problem permanently.

Frame Suspension Pivot Bushing

After a few years, the frame developed a bit of play. Most of the frame suspension pivots use bearings, which I serviced (cleaned, re-greased). But one of them uses a bushing, and that’s where the play developed. Over time the bushing wears and needs replacing. I contacted Fezzari and they told me:

The bushings at the main rocker pivot are IGUS L289 sleeve bushings. The part number for them is LFM-1012-06. The “-06” part of this part number is in reference to the bushing length which is 6mm.

However, what I would recommend trying is a bushing with a 10mm or 12mm bushing length (part no. LFM-1012-10 & LFM-1012-12, https://www.igus.com/product/?artnr=LFM-1012-10). It will allow for a bit more overlap with the frame and should help reduce the play.

I ordered that part, 10mm size. It fit perfectly and the frame is like new again. Actually, better than new!

Rear Hub Failure

The last problem I encountered was the most severe. It stranded me out in the desert near Moab and I had to walk my bike out. Going up a hill, the bike suddenly made a horrible clacking sound and the pedals were free-spinning. The chain was completely intact. I took apart the rear hub by the side of the road to discover that pawls that engage the freehub ratchet had worn down and were slipping. No way to fix that by the side of the road. And after I hiked back to the car and drove to town, none of the bike shops in Moab could fix it either.

Fezzari connected me to Hayes/Reynolds where I contacted a guy named Dan and ordered the parts:

Part 21290 "Reynolds XD Driver Body" replaces the cassette ratchet gear.

Part 20702 "2015-2016 Attack Assault Strike Hub Rebuild Kit" replaces the hub pawls (and other things).

When I told Reynolds this unusual and catastrophic failure happened to a bike that was only a few years old, equipped with some of their best carbon wheels, and left me stranded having to hike out of the desert pushing my bike, they gave me a 25% discount.

The above parts fixed it. The pawls were the essential part; they were visibly and obviously worn down and rounded off. The freehub ratchet wasn’t obviously worn, but I replaced it anyway since it could have had non-visible damage from the damaged pawls slipping over it.

Bottom Bracket Crank Arm Spindle Bolt

After servicing the bottom bracket (cleaning & re-greasing bearings) I was re-assembling it. These SRAM cranks have a single bolt on the left (non-drive) side that holds everything together. The spec says tighten to about 52 Nm, or 38 ft.lbs. As I was tightening it, well before it got that tight, I felt it give. I removed it and discovered 2 things:

  1. The head had sheared off the bolt
  2. The bolt was made of aluminum (or alloy) — not steel ?!

This is a high torque, high stress bolt. It should be made from steel! Making it from a softer, weaker aluminum alloy is a total fail in design. I’ll gladly pay a weight penalty of a measly 12 grams for the confidence of knowing my cranks won’t fall off the bike. Apparently I’m not the only person who thinks so. Shout-out to one of my LBS, Gregg’s Cycles, who had a replacement bolt in stock. I bet I know why they keep these bolts in stock… <groan>

Details:

  • Truativ GXP M15 Crank Bolt
  • CR2193
  • 11.6900.002.140
  • M15/M26

Sadly, it is alloy like the broken one. So it is probably “single-use”. I’m still looking for a steel one, but this one will serve until I find it.

Road Biking: Vashon Island

Vashon Island is a fun road bike ride. It’s rural and scenic, and hilly making a great workout. Here you will find suggestions to make this ride a smooth experience.

Ride Overview

The full ride is about 42 miles with 3900′ of climbing. The hills are steep and there’s lots of them, making it feel more like a 50-60 mile ride. Here is a GPX of the full route. Here is a picture:

On the route you can see 2 black dots. These are decision points to change the ride.

Decision point 1: about mile 13; whether to ride down to the Tahlequah ferry terminal at the S tip of Vashon Island. This is an out-and-back 3.7 mile round trip descending 350′ then back up.

Decision point 2: about mile 22; whether to ride the Maury Island loop. This is 11 miles with about 1100′ of climb. It has scenic sections, and the toughest climbs on the route.

Here are some photos from a ride in Oct 2020.

Getting There (and Back!)

From Seattle, the easiest way to get to Vashon is the WA state ferry. Here’s the schedule. It’s different on weekends & weekdays. You’ll depart from and return to Fauntleroy. As of Oct 2020, the fare is $7 for a walk-on with a bike and is paid only westbound. Masks are required due to COVID. As you approach the Fauntleroy ferry terminal, if you are on the walkway, then walk (don’t ride) your bike. If you want to ride your bike, take the car lanes. If your forget this, the ferry workers will chide you when you arrive.

Parking: you can park a car at Lincoln Park parking lot 1. This is about 1/4 mile up the street from the ferry terminal. There are no fees for parking. From there, ride down to the ferry terminal to walk onto the ferry.

Ride Notes

Vashon’s pavement is often rough. Autumn leaves fall onto the road, get rained on and decompose, making the corners slippery. And some of the downhills are steep. So take extra care!

Most Vashon roads don’t have bike lanes, but most cars drive slow. It’s similar to biking the San Juan Islands.

For typical riders in decent physical condition, due to road conditions & hills, plan on lowish average speeds around 14 mph which makes 3 hours of riding. Bring food & water accordingly. About halfway through the ride there’s a little town with a coffee shop, hotel, and a deli called Harbor Mercantile, where you can get food & water.

Ride Scenario

Here’s a typical scenario for a Vashon ride in Autumn 2020:

  • Meet @ 7:40am @ Lincoln Park
  • Park, prep, ride to Ferry
  • Pay fare & walk onto 8:15am ferry
  • Disembark on  Vashon around 8:45am
  • Bike: 4 hours (full route, with extra time to eat or fix a flat)
  • Walk onto return ferry: 12:40 or 13:30
  • Ride back to Lincoln Park

SRAM Bike Brake Stiff Lever

Update: 1 year later

The levers got slow again. Not as stiff as before, just slow to return. On disassembly, the problem wasn’t the pistons, but the seals, which had swelled. Maybe because I put a drop of oil on them when I reassembled them, and oil can have seal swelling additives.

Anyway, all I needed was new seals. But new seals alone are not available, as far as I can tell. You have to buy an entire brake lever rebuild kit! However, I did find replacement pistons that come with new seals, and the pistons are machined aluminum, and they only cost $5-$10 each. Better than OEM quality, and perfect fit.

The brake levers on my MTB have been gradually getting stiffer to operate, more friction in the brake pull with a weaker return upon release. I bought this bike in late 2014 and have bled the brakes and replaced the pads. The lever stiffness has been gradually increasing. On my most recent ride on Tiger Mtn, the brakes were dragging pretty hard because the levers wouldn’t return. This was an incredible PITA on the steep uphills, and risks overheating the brake pads & rotors.

At Tiger summit, one of the other riders mentioned this was a known problem with SRAM hydraulic brake levers. When I got home I checked it out and found that was indeed true. Some people had returned their levers to have SRAM replace under warranty. But they said it was a PITA and took a long time because SRAM support dragged their heels not wanting to admit there was a problem. So I figured it was worth at least trying to fix it myself.

There are several YouTube videos about this. Here is one I found useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ex882BIH-Fo

Here’s a summary of the problem and fix. Each brake lever has a small master cylinder inside, a piston with rubber seals. The piston is made of plastic and the cylinder is metal. Inside the master cylinder there is also a spring that pushes back against the piston to help it return to the neutral position. When the entire assembly gets warm/hot, the piston expands more than the cylinder, scuffing against the inside of the cylinder, increasing friction and getting stuck. It gets stuck so hard that the spring can’t push it back.

The solution is to remove the master cylinder piston and use fine (600#) emery paper to scrub off edge material (gently, smoothly, evenly), making it slightly smaller in diameter. To do this you must remove the brake lever from the hose, drain the brake fluid from the lever, disassemble the lever, remove the piston and its rubber seals, sand it down until it freely slides back & forth in the cylinder, clean everything up, reassemble it, then re-bleed the brakes. The procedure is tedious manipulating some tiny parts, and requires an experienced touch sanding down the pistons. But it doesn’t require any special tools, just the usual stuff: torx wrenches, brake bleed syringes, fresh DOT 4 or 5.1 fluid, etc.

The procedure was successful; my brakes are like new again. This took me almost all day, but I hadn’t done it before. I could do it again in less than half a day.

The problem is definitely not about the piston’s rubber seals. I removed those before sanding it, and the piston was super-tight in the cylinder even with the rubber seals removed and the cylinder cleaned. I sanded the piston until it was loose in the cylinder, easily sliding back & forth from gravity just tilting the assembly up and down.

The piston’s rubber seals are tight and one-directionally facing. Remove with care, ensuring you don’t scratch or score them, and ensure they’re facing the right direction when you reinstall. Before reassembling, make sure everything is scrupulously clean. You don’t want sanding dust from the piston or other crud inside your brakes!

I can’t figure out how or why this problem took 4-5 years to manifest. The piston was not deformed in any obviously visible way. Why didn’t this happen during the first year of ownership?

I Broke My Arm!

Riding Tiger Mtn on Sat 5/12 with a friend, a wet slimy tree root suddenly torqued my front wheel around and I hit the ground hard, banged up but all body parts still firmly attached. I continued riding, but every bump triggered extreme pain in my left shoulder, so we got off the trail and rode out along the (less bumpy) gravel fire road. That meant climbing back up to the summit again before we could go back down. The good news: we got a tough cardio workout with 4,000′ of climbing in 15 miles. The bad news: got some x-rays on Mon 5/14 and found out my left humerus is fractured. I can still ride but will stick to the machines in the gym for a few weeks.

The break is a crack at the upper end of the humerus where the ball-shaped top end tapers to the straight part of the bone. The doc says it will probably heal on its own, but there’s some chance the shoulder muscles might pull it out of alignment, in which case it will require surgery to realign the bone.

I’m getting another x-ray soon to see which way this is going.

Seattle Lime Bike: Test Ride

Seeing their bikes all over the place got me curious about Seattle’s bike services, Spin and Lime bike. I installed both apps on my phone and they both worked just fine, popping up a map showing where the bikes are. In both apps, the first ride is free. Neither app asked me for credit card info, though presumably they would later if I continued riding. They both have plenty of bikes downtown, though Lime seems to have more bikes in outer areas like Magnolia and Ballard.

Walking home from the Magnolia center district today, Lime said there was a bike nearby. I followed the map a couple of blocks and the bike was exactly where the app said it would be. I used the app to scan the QR code, a few seconds later it unlocked. The bike was mine!

I rode it a few blocks home. My impressions:

  • It’s a tank – weighs 49 lbs!
  • Has a basket in front, whose bottom is a solar cell.
  • The front wheel has a built-in generator that powers a front & rear light that are always on when the wheels spin.
  • It has fenders and a full chain guard.
  • It has an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internally geared hub. It works smoothly, though it was slightly out of adjustment due to a bit of cable stretch, skipping some gears (like 3rd). A couple of cable adjuster twists fixed that, then it shifted perfectly.
  • It’s geared low, which is a nice touch you really want around hilly Seattle, especially for this 49 lb. tank of a bike.
  • The brakes are Shimano drums.
  • The tires are not pneumatic and can’t flat. But they’re not rock-hard either. Seem to be foam-filled.
  • The seat is easily adjustable with a hand quick release. But it doesn’t go quite high enough for my average length legs (32″ inseam).

Overall, it’s a comfy bike to ride around town. At $1 per 30 mins it’s cheap too, with bulk monthly rates for unlimited rides.

Next, I want to try a Spin bike.

Sturmey Archer S2 Hub

A few years ago I resurrected my brother’s old bike into a commuter. It’s still running great and I enjoy riding this unique old bike to work. It weighs 24 lbs, perhaps 1-2 lbs lighter than what it weighed new from Trek back in the 1980s when it was made, due to removing the derailleurs, rear cog, now with single front chainring, etc. I’ve put a couple thousand miles on this bike since resurrecting it. I wish the S2 hub ratios were further apart so the low was lower, but it’s proven solid and reliable.

Nordic Track 2450 Treadmill

We recently got a Nordic Track 2450 treadmill to help us stay fit through the long, dark, cold, wet Seattle winters. I have been running on the commercial treadmills (Precor 932i) at the gym for the past few years, so that’s my point of comparison.

Good Stuff

We ordered it online because none of the local shops could come close to the price. It has a good warranty, 30 day no hassle return, shipping delivered to the room of our choice (which is important as it weighs over 300 lbs.), shipped promptly and arrived in perfect condition. Unpacking and assembly took nearly 2 hours but was simple.

The Nordic Track feels as solid and smooth as the more expensive Precor, has a more powerful motor, a slightly bigger running deck (60″ x 22″), elevation from -3* to +15*, adjustable deck firmness, and far more features. The iFit capabilities are super-cool and work well, even supporting multiple users under the same account.

It has 3 fans to blow air on you, cooling and reducing the amount of raw sweat dripping off your body onto the machine. The fans work well enough and aren’t too loud. They can be set manually or automatically, where they blow harder when you run faster. I find the auto mode doesn’t blow hard enough – during a tough workout when my heart rate is the in 160-170 range, I need those fans on full bore.

It includes a wireless heart rate chest strap that works well. The system is polar compatible. It also has handles you can grab that read your heart rate. When first grabbing the handles, I get crazy readings, often half or twice my actual heart rate, for the first minute or so, before it stabilizes on the correct reading. The chest strap doesn’t do this – it reads accurately from the start.

If none of the 40 built-in workouts float your boat, you can create your own – any number of your own – customizing elevation, speed, etc. You can also schedule them, set goals and track progress toward goals, if you want. However, all this requires iFit.

iFit adds a lot of capability and fun to this treadmill. You can download any number of workouts of all types and difficulty levels, many with Google street view maps across the world, including some exotic locations, and you can design your own too. When you run these, you see the actual street view and the elevation changes to match the terrain. It moves along slowly, more like a slide show than a video, but it’s still neat. I was a bit concerned about iFit since my research showed it had a rocky launch with lots of bugs a couple of years ago. They’ve fixed most of that, it works pretty well but still has the occasional crash – more on that below.

The control console response is not instantaneous, but reasonably quick, the touch screen responds to light touch and doesn’t miss gestures like swipes. The screens are well organized intuitively, easy to navigate.

Bad Stuff

iFit is marked as optional, yet it’s required to get the most of this machine. And it costs $100 / year. Without iFit, you can run the machine manually and it has 40 different built-in workouts. But I couldn’t find the simple workout I wanted: intervals with 2 minutes slow and 1 minute fast. I call this a simple 2-1 interval. In fact, among all 40 workouts there were no simple intervals at all! Not 1-1, 2-1, 3-1 or anything close to that. So the “40 built-in workouts” is just a marketing ploy – it’s true, but misleading and not useful. As mentioned above, you can build your own workouts, but only with iFit.

The console runs Android and I can tell from the boot screen it’s some ancient 2.X version. It has a built-in browser that is so terrible as to be unusable. On some sites (including, inexplicably, iFit itself), no text appears, making it unusable. Perhaps it’s a character set or font issue? I don’t know, but you might as well disable the browser in the machine settings because it’s totally unusable. Other than this, the console works just fine.

The heart rate monitor bar is effectively unusable. It’s wildly inaccurate (at least for me) and using it can crash the console under certain conditions (see below). If you want heart rate, use the wireless chest strap – it’s more accurate and it doesn’t crash the console.

The most annoying problem with the 2450 is the console occasionally crashes, sometimes while in the middle of a workout. Here are some conditions that trigger this:

  • Using the heart rate monitor bar while running a Geo workout in street view. This will usually crash the console, though it doesn’t happen immediately.
    • Workaround: don’t do this. If you want heart rate, use the wireless chest strap – it’s more accurate anyway. Or, if you’re running a Geo workout, switch to map or satellite view before using the heart rate monitor bar.
  • If you have an un-named workout in your history, the 2450 console will crash when you touch the yellow “log-history” button.
    • Workaround: use the iFit website to rename or remove the offending workout.

Conclusion

I think the 2450 is a good value. It has some quirks but they have workarounds. I was pleasantly surprised to find it as solid, smooth and quiet as more expensive commercial treadmills, and total cost shipped to my door was about $2,100. The iFit subscription is required for all practical purposes, though at $100 / year, supporting up to 4 individuals, each with their own history, workouts, etc. the cost of an iFit subscription is small in comparison.