Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tubeless lessons learned so far

                                      At the food stop on the Ellensburg Fondo
Cycling is steeped in both tradition and mystery.  We love innovation yet we resist change. We signal other riders with an elbow flick. What is an elbow flick you ask?  I won’t tell you.  Such is cycling.

Into this world that operates on tribal knowledge and secret handshakes enters the tubeless tire. It is an awesome technology that is great as is with even more future potential.  Good luck finding any significant collection of wisdom on the subject.  Discussion threads must be taken with a degree of caution.  Reviewers can be aloof either because they want to keep some secrets to themselves or because they don’t want to expose their lack of knowledge. 

Several of our band of merry men have become early adopters of the technology.  Perhaps in violation of a secret code we have shared our successes and failures with each other.  Thus amongst ourselves we have amassed a bit of collective knowledge.  

Our body of experience includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • I’ve seen McWoodie pry a chunk of glass out of his tire with a 3mm Allen wrench then spin the tire to get it to seal and ride away.
  • I pulled a roofing staple out of my tire and rode off with almost no loss of pressure.
  • I’ve pulled off a tubeless tire (to refresh sealant) and noticed several tiny cuts that had sealed without me even knowing. 
  • An unnamed brother had a tire (that turned out not to be a tubeless tire) blow off the rim when he was inflating it showering both he and his garage with sealant.
  • El Chefe’ spent a weekend riding harsh gravel on tubeless 28mm wide Sectours when 35mm Ravens or 38mm Triggers or even 40mm Nano’s were far more appropriate.  Mr. T and I kept waiting for the attack of the flats.   It was as if he had a guardian angel.
  • Feral Dave has pulled a nail out of his tire rotated it so the leak was at the bottom, held it for thirty seconds and then rode on without any further thought. 
  • I have run my gravel bike tubeless from the start and have had only one flat in over a year of hard riding.  Pretty much too good to be true but also not that unusual for Tubeless.

We have eight or so guys riding Tubeless on multiple bikes for the past one to four years.  Let’s go out on a mathematical limb and call it about twenty years of combined Tubeless experience.

In no particular order here are the tips, tricks and lessons we have learned:

  1. Make sure you replace the sealant every four to six months.    This advice isn’t new but unlike “Wash, rinse and repeat” you should follow this suggestion.  
  2. There are two main schools of thought on sealant replacement:   The first is to not break the bead seal.   Remove the valve core and get out what you can (or not – using any method you care to try) and just add more sealant.  The second method is to remove the tire and clean the rim bead and clean the bead of the tire BUT NOT THE INSIDE OF THE TIRE WHERE THE SEALANT HAS SEALED HOLES.  Then remount like it is a new tire. Finally the hybrid is to remove only one side leaving the other bead sealed.  Clean the exposed bead and rim and pour the sealant right into the tire and put the bead back in place and re-inflate.
  3. Any time you have the inside of the rim and valve exposed clean out the inside of the valve to get out any accumulated sealant.   I suggest leaving the valve in the rim and removing the core and using a paper clip to fish out any sealant from the rim side.
  4. Sidewalls are the Achilles heel of tubeless.  A gash in the sidewall is the end of a tubeless tire.  You may be able to use the tire later with a tube but sidewall cuts are never going to seal.  If you want to avoid this then run higher pressure.  If the ride de jour will be on some rough terrain go ahead and increase your pressure.  
  5. CO2 is an expensive way to mount a tubeless tire.  Think of it as a last resort.  "I'm miles from an air compressor and if this doesn't work I'm taking up jogging." Often it doesn't have enough volume to seat the bead. Also the CO2 inhibits the sealant from doing its job. Adjust your plans accordingly.
  6. I’ve become a fan of the hack inflator.   Here is the link.   In the next couple years I am sure there will be retail products that are reasonably priced that don’t inspire you to don bomb squad attire prior to use.  Until then I’ll just keep wrapping my inflator with more duct tape and wearing my ski goggles.
  7. If ever you can’t get the tire bead to seal try removing the valve core so you can get more air in faster.  This is especially true of valves that may have accumulated some sealant in them thus restricting the airflow.
  8. Carry a boot along with your spare tube (or two) in case you get a sidewall cut.   If you don’t know what a boot is then ask someone you trust.
  9. If a new tire is proving difficult to mount the soapy water thing works. 
  10. Some rim and tire combinations work better than others.  Before you assume you are a stud consider that you may have just been lucky.   The inverse is also true.
  11. Several rims have a deeper channel in the middle. This is the lifesaver because it gives the bead a place to go so when you are prying off the bead on the opposite side you can actually do it.  One of our brothers has a mason jar full of busted tire levers from trying to pry off a tire without pinching the bead down into the channel when fixing a flat. 
  12. Since Fat Tire bikes have come into existence after the popularization of tubeless most of the rims and tires have been designed with tubeless in mind.   My limited experience has been that getting those to seal is stupid easy.  
  13. The weak link in the fat bike tubeless chain sidewall seal when riding on dirt.  All that rubber and good disc brakes can bring a lot of mass to a rapid stop.  With such low pressure the strain of that hard stop stresses the bead and rim seal because the tire (in contact with the ground) wants to keep going and the rim (in contact with the disc brake) wants to stop.  If the seal breaks free you will lose a bit of air but it will generally re-seal.  Adding a bit more air in these situations is prudent. 
  14. Folks who are much smarter than me tell me they can patch a sidewall and reuse the tire tubeless.  I'm not sure if I believe them........
  15. Tubeless tires are great until they aren’t.  If you can’t get a leak to reseal right away, just accept it and put in a tube. Resign yourself to the fact that the tire change isn’t going to be quick, clean or easy. 
  16. Limping home is more of an option.  Sometimes you can’t get a hole to seal and hold the pressure you want to ride.  You may find you can’t get your tire to seal and hold thirty psi (or eighty five psi on  road tire) but it will hold twenty (or forty on a road tire) letting you ride home and avoid the hassle of putting in a tube.The good news is often at home you can let the sealant cure and the next day you can ride at full pressure. 
  17. Remember the way to get a hole to seal is to find the hole, clear out anything that is sticking in it like a thorn or nail or glass or stale.  Then rotate the hole to the bottom and let the sealant accumulate over the hole and seal it.  Pause for a minute in this mode.  That minute may seem like a long time, since you are kind of doing nothing but it goes by much faster than the ten minutes to put in a tube.  If you need more air keep the hole at the bottom and put in more air.
  18. How do you know you have a flat ?  Aside from the tire going flat you may see or hear something slapping the frame or fork or see or feel sealant spewing out of a hole. 
  19. When repairing a flat during a ride just break one bead's seal. Leave the other in place, don't mess around with the sealant. Just take out the valve, put in the tube, place the boot if necessary, reinstall the bead and inflate the tire. Your hands will not get too dirty and most of the sealant will stay in the tire.
  20. Using tape to cover (aluminum) rims even if they have no spoke holes as a protection against corrosion. Some sealants let some aluminum rim alloys corrode. I have already seen many destroyed rims. So make sure the tape covers every part of the rim where sealant might otherwise touch the rim during use. 
  21. Nothing else is an air compressor.  Air compressors are awesome.  
  22. The Bontrager Flash isn't an air compressor, but it is pretty handy
  23. Because of tolerance issues some manufacturers (and I’m making eye contact with Hutchinson as I say this) have purposely designed their products on the extreme end of the tolerances.  Stan’s seems to make their rims a tad bigger and Hutchinson seems to make their tire beads a bit tighter.  The resulting wresting match is predictable.  Hard to install and remove, but solid once in place.  Schwalbe, Kenda and Clement (who doesn’t really claim tubeless compatibility) fit looser. 
  24. Converting a clincher rim to tubeless is okay if it is the right rim.  DT Swiss rims work well as tubeless rims.  Mavic Open Pros do not make good tubeless rims.  A rim designed to be tubeless is superior.
  25. More air works better.   A tubeless road tire (25-28mm) has a small volume but the pressure is high at 65-95 psi.  A tubeless mountain bike tire (2.0”+) has more volume so you run it at 20-30 psi.   A fat bike tire has huge volume thus it can be run at comically low pressure (3-9 psi) with great results.  A gravel or cross tire features the dangerous combination of small volume (32-38mm) and low pressure.    More volume = better tubeless performance and for 700c rims that mean wider tires. 
  26. Get a handheld pressure gauge and use it.  Other people's pumps read very different from your regular pump and even 5 psi can make huge difference on a mountain bike or gravel bike. 
  27. Everyone I know that is riding gravel keeps going wider and wider each time they replace their tires.   As a group we’ve gone from 32 to 34/35 to 38 and some of us are even running 40’s.  Lower pressure, more traction and fewer flats all sound good to me.
  28. Stan’s sealant works.  Orange Seal works too.  Until I hear of something that is better these I have no reason to look any further.  Orange Seal is orange so it gets my nod.
  29. You have a lot of options when it comes to rim tape.  Stan’s rim tape is actually a commercially available packing tape that you can find on eBay and Amazon but you need to buy a dozen rolls. For my fat bike tubeless conversion I used 75mm wide Gorilla Tape and it worked just fine.  El Chefe’ likes Orange Seal tape.  It all seems to work.
  30. Everything I’ve read says the Stan’s valves are the best.  I have used them exclusively and have never had a valve problem. You may need to get creative when you install a tubeless valve on a single wall fat bike rim but it seems that any of an assortment of creative options works. 
  31. Narrow road rims may present a challenge with valve stem taking up too much real estate inside preventing the tire bead from seating on the rim.  You can file down what will be the outside of the valve stem rubber before inserting it making the rubber more of a rectangle as opposed to a circle. 
  32. When dismounting a tire from the rim always put in the (two) tire levers next to the valve. After you have put the whole bead into the center of the rim. NEVER put a tire lever close to a spoke hole but always in between spoke holes as you might otherwise damage the tubeless tape.
  33. ADVANCED CLASS - RARELY something is defective.  A rim can be defective as can a particular tire. If a tire comes off the rim either in the garage or when riding here is the course of action from the Grand Dragon of Bicycle Maintenance:
    -For a thorough safety check, don proper safety attire (goggles, earplugs) and over inflate your tire.  If your system (wheel plus tire) cannot handle an extra 25-50% load, it’s probably not safe enough to ride.  And if your sidewalls may be worn and weak, this is a good way to find out

    -To confirm the tire is truly mounted and sealed well, whenever possible let your newly installed tire sit overnight.  Check for any loss of air pressure before going for the first ride.

If I have scared you off then I have failed.  My objective was to capture and share our combined learning for your benefit.   If you have been on the fence about going Tubeless I would encourage you to do it.  It is a bit of a leap of faith because you will never know how many flats you don’t get. 

In my experience I have never had a road flat when riding tubeless tires.  That says something doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back on the chain gang

In 2015 my focus was Gravel Fondos and the Winthrop Fondo was the Hors Categorie of Gravel Fondos.  It was a great ride and I am so glad I was able to share it with my badass brothers. 

With that now in my rearview mirror my attention has turned once again to Cyclocross.  Having completed two races of absolute non-distinction my long-dormant competitive drive has once again asserted itself.

Not being a slave to the call up this year I can pick and choose my races and thus I have carved out a short block of time to get in some hard training in hopes of improving upon my heretofore mediocre placing.  This scoop of motivation helps me carry some momentum and energy into my training regime.  

My commute miles all too often drift into the no-man’s land of wandering between zone two and three.  Your clothes get dirty and you burn calories but you don’t get any faster.  Although it is too late in the season for my efforts to really move the needle; I am taking advantage of this short term objective to get in some hard workouts that I do believe will benefit me in the long run. 
My build up for the final Fondo involved saddle time, big hills and losing weight. Aside from a smattering of ten to twenty minute intervals at threshold I was intensity free.  Thus when I asked my legs for some explosive power in my first cross race I got nothing but a blank stare.

My ability to throw in some bursts of speed during my race improved this week but my sustained power is far from where I would like it.  Like so many things the answer is not complex, it just isn’t easy.

The mornings now are dark from my garage door to the parking garage at work.  Thankfully the morning temperatures are still very mild. From a training perspective, weather is not a limiting factor. 

My Commutervals started off with a proper high cadence/low power warm up.   Then 40 minutes of tempo work targeting a heart rate in zone four.  The result of this is a faster than usual commute.  You aren’t blown but you are working. Then I did a block and three all out intervals with recovery spinning in between. After the final interval instead of dropping back to recovery spinning you only drop from zone five to zone four and you hold that. If you guessed that this hurts you would be correct.  After ten minutes of this I finish with ten minutes of cool down spinning as I arrive at my workplace. 

After a shower and coffee I look pretty normal to the untrained eye.  I have a meeting that requires a jaunt up two flights of stairs. My legs complain a bit confirming my workout has done its requisite damage.  I smile when I sit down.  Mission accomplished; at least for today.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No Coffee, few Lies #146 Race Report Magnuson and Sprinker CX

                   My cornering is so clean I give it the white glove treatment....

After channeling my inner Kam Chancellor I held out on the early season races.  After my disappointing cross season in 2014 I wasn’t sure I would even race this year. I wasn’t sure I would race ever. Sometimes I surprise myself.

My plan had been to leverage my Fondo training base with some sharpening intervals starting in August and enter the Cyclocross season at full speed.  As often happens; distractions increased and motivation waivered with the result being an ill prepared Davo.  I missed a couple races and was wondering if I would partake or even spectate.

While our cycling team blurs the line between a team of bike racers and a gentleman’s club, our history is rooted in the soggy early morning Cyclocross races.  Thus I felt a hint of nostalgia when I signed up for my first race of the season.  The wizard of Coz and The Aussie Dog were racing as well and I enjoyed the comradery as we warmed up for the race.

I’ve had call ups for the last several years so starting at the back afforded me a rare opportunity to skip out on any pressure to start fast.  When the whistle blew we got rolling and it was almost like I was sucked along by a vacuum.  I moved up into the middle of the pack and settled in. 

Despite overnight rain the course was tacky and the fall weather had not taken hold.   A warm and dry race felt okay for the first foray of the season.

My HR quickly climbed to zone five and stayed there the entire race.  It felt good to be racing again. My training base was revealed by my lap times varying less than twelve seconds for each of the five laps.  My lack of intervals was revealed as well when I was passed on the last lap and was unable to respond.

I was beaten by a guy who has never beaten me before unless he was aided by a mechanical.   Hello motivation.

After the race I congratulated my teammates and cooled down.  I changed and made the long drive home.  I had not done well but I had raced.  I had pinned on a number and fought the battle. Good enough.

Upon reflection I was glad I raced.  My team brothers may (or may not) be gentlemen but first and foremost we are racers.  Some are retired from racing but we are all racers at heart and that is our identity.  

A week later a Methow visit fell through so I signed up for another hour of suffering. 

On race day the promised rain came early and often and I was excited to slip and slide around.   I arrived and was proud to see Rich had the tent up with a wind trainer in place for his warm up.  What a stud. 

                                                      Racer Rich
After a couple years of leading the tent brigade I have totally shirked this year and kudos to Rich who jumped in without missing a beat.  I have really enjoyed seeing his cycling progress over the past few seasons. 

The silver bullet was racing as well.
                                  And then it happened..................
                                           Roundness is overrated..
El Chefe had a spectacular crash in the race that preceded mine.  His wheel was taco shaped and he had ghastly scrapes accompanied by bruises that would fully blossom overnight.  It was clear he had battled the laws of physics and lost.  He passed our team’s concussion protocol but only because the questions are multiple choice and Big John was prompting him with the correct answers.

  On a rainy day, Aaron couldn't resist the allure of the mud...........
After seeing the carnage from his crash I reaffirmed by goal for the day of keeping the rubber side down. That was a good goal and would remain my sole objective until the racing got going.
                            The Wizard of Coz doing his magic
The rain volume went up and down and up again as race time approached.  The course included some slight variations on years past. The course was a series of intervals with much less flow than other venues.  With only two exceptions, you were either braking going into a corner or accelerating out of a corner for the entire course. 

                                                       Exiting Randy's Crack....
Despite a week of business travel- my legs did have more punch than last week.  Though my performance was far from stellar, I beat some guys who beat me last week.  “Get back behind me where you belong.”

                                          Those black jerseys are FAST !
                                                     Whiplaesch blowing past
When I crossed the line I was baked. Running with the metaphor I was soaked by the rain, breaded with mud and deep fried by a hundred accelerations.   I was tired. It was a small consolation to know my maximum heart rate is still what it was a dozen years ago.

The race following mine featured teammates, friends and former rivals.  I cheered them all as my body returned to room temperature.. 

                                   The brown still demands respect as well
It has been over a year since I finished on the podium.  I’m not that fast this year.  I am, however, still a racer.