Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

May 2024

The new Red

How long is too long to go without updating a bike part?
Traditionally most updates come with an extra sprocket. I really strongly believe that 12 sprockets is too many. On the MTB side it does permit decent gaps and 1x drivetrains, which is good. But it came at the expense of wheel dish and axle length; both of which make the rear end of the bike more vulnerable to damage. As much as I'm happy to lose the front derailleur from the mountain bike (frame designs quickly occupied the space where the front derailleur once lived meaning returning to a 2x or 3x system would be impossible) I dislike the compromises made at the rear end to achieve it. Perhaps the gearbox bike will remedy this?
On the road side it is possible to go 1x, but it does limit the absolute range of gears on the bike and that is a handicap for racing. Back in the days I started cycling people used freewheels with 6 or 7 sprockets. On flat races many would run a straight block (a corncob was my favourite term for this) such as a 13-19. And on a hilly race might go to something like a 14-24. Freewheels didn't have 12T high gears nor more than 7 sprockets (I think I read about 8-spd freewheels but don't know if I ever actually saw one). My front derailleurs work very well across my various road bikes. And they greatly expand the range of gearing on the bike at one time. To the point that it isn't necessary to swap cassettes between races.
As well as 12-spd works and lasts, if the same technology was put into an 8-spd drivetrain it could last MUCH longer.
But I digress...
The first indexed Dura Ace was 7-spd. STI came out in 1991 for Dura Ace with a move to 8-spd. Some parts were carry-over. Others were obviously new. In 1992 the Ultegra STI was released, replacing the 7-spd version of that. That carried on unchanged until 9-spd was released. When 10-spd Dura Ace came out it involved a new freehub body design and this decision proved unpopular. A revised 10-spd Dura Ace replaced it and returned to the older HG freehub body. Then came 11-spd. And so on. Most updates involved an additional sprocket at the back and refinement of things like brakes and derailleurs.
As an aside, Shimano's habit of releasing Dura Ace a year prior to Ultegra means that the Ultegra is always a more mature product. Those extra 12 months allow them to work some bugs out of the design before Ultegra is locked in. Those first Dura Ace STI levers looked unfinished compared to the Ultegra units, as an example.
SRAM and Campagnolo were much the same. Campag 11-spd groups were updated when disc brakes were released (new cranks, levers and brake-related parts only) and shortly thereafter all-new 12-spd products came out. SRAM updated Force last year with new components, but not an all-new group, and it remained 12-spd. New Red was leaked in January, seen on pro bikes increasingly as the season went on, and stopped being a hidden thing during the Giro - just ahead of official launch on May 15. Like Force update, it seems to be a revision rather than another sprocket.
Now I've had the now old Red for almost a year. It is brilliant. I like the hood shape (a common complaint apparently). I like the aesthetics. The new Red chain has holes in the sideplates (a few grams weight reduction), bigger holes in the bigger jockey wheels (less weight, lower drag) and revised ergonomics on the levers. Not much else looks changed aside from minor things like less metal in the rear derailleur (another few grams lost). As I'm writing this ahead of the release I don't know all the details. But it looks like a pretty minor update to me.
I assume the tooling to make the pieces is either essential to change every so often - things wear out - or easy to change. So after 5 years maybe it was time? But I think SRAM could have continued on unchanged.
Campagnolo released a new wireless EPS Super Record last year. It moved to the new freehub body introduced for 13-spd Ekar. But it did not move to 13-spd itself. Like Red it now uses a 10T high gear on every cassette. To fit the 10T on required using the new freehub. Thankfully they designed it so it was backwards compatible with the old 11T high gear cassettes. Many changes were made to go with the wireless move (from wired) but choices like changing the shifting button locations from traditional Campag Ergo to more like Dura Ace didn't have to be made and weren't universally well received.
 
I think the answer is probably "it depends on what your competition has done" and only the new and very expensive Campagnolo EPS is really new, but Dura Ace Di2 12-spd is newer than the RED AXS by a short period of time. Unless Red is hiding some new functionality, and it is really just a rolling update of the 12-spd stuff, it didn't seem necessary. Given how much riders like "new & shiny" I will accept that new for the sake of new is going to happen.

Digital shifting modes

When your shifting is mechanical and actuated by Bowden cables, no matter how good it is it can only take the rider's movement of a lever at the bars and turns that into a movement of the chain at the drivetrain. One click equals one shift. And downshifting usually permits multiple clicks for multiple shifts although upshifting is usually one at a time.
Once you make the derailleur digital the relationship between the lever on the bars and the behaviour at the drivetrain can be modified in many ways. The first one I was familiar with was the multi-shift in AXS because that is applicable regardless of having a front derailleur or not. I tried briefly the multi-mode and returned to one click for one gear because the multi-mode is time dependent and if you leave your finger on the button for a fraction too long, you get an extra unwanted shift. Plus I like the one to one ratio of clicks to shifts.
The second one is sequential shift. Which only makes sense if you have a front derailleur. In this mode, shifting is accomplished as if you only had a 1x system - shifting at the rear derailleur only. But the computer decides when to shift the front derailleur. This is neither random nor computed. It is set by SRAM for each cassette type. On my 10-28T if you begin in highest gear (50/10) and ride along shifting into ever lower gears, when it reaches the 50T/24T ratio (the second largest/lowest sprocket) it changes pattern. Instead of going to 50T/28T (big:big) it drops the chain onto the smaller chainring (37T) and double upshifts at the rear (19T). In three more shifts, the lowest gear is reached (37T/28T). On the way back it doesn't reverse course but instead plots a slightly different pathway. Remaining in the small chainring (37T) until the eighth ratio is reached (14T), and only on the next shift does it move up to the big ring (50T) and double downshifts at the rear (16T). There are five more higher gears remaining until the highest gear ratio (where we started) is reached.
I think if it changed to and from the big ring with the 24T and 19T sprockets used then I'd be happy with it (if the small ring returned to the big ring at 19T on the upshifts and from the big ring at the 24T. I try to remain on the big chainring as much as possible. If there is a big ring option that's the same as the small ring option, then I choose the big ring option. Every time.
The final option I tried is what SRAM calls compensating mode. It compensates for the front derailleur shift by also shifting the rear derailleur. SRAM gives the rider the choice of 1 or 2 sprockets compensation. I chose 1 sprocket and I think it's great. Shift up onto the big ring and the rear derailleur also shifts one down onto the next biggest sprocket. Shift down onto the small ring and the rear derailleur also shifts one up to the next smaller sprocket. It means that the change is not so big. Rarely the big change is welcome, but that only works if you take the bike too far up/down the next gradient change. Shift early and it is too hard or too easy for a minute. Compensating by one sprocket diminishes the size of the change to the better.
 
I'm not 100% sure I'd use this racing as I do worry about losing the chain in a race (happened so many times with mechanical shifting - I'm paranoid). Since it is my commuting bike, racing is not an issue.
 
Shimano got to digital shifting first and they have a similar, but even larger, suite of features to delve into in Di2. As I haven't much ride time at all on a Di2 bike, I won't bother to comment as it would be wrong. I seem to recall that Campagnolo EPS also offers some digital features. I mean, why wouldn't you? 

Easy waxing

A few months ago I got a Silca "spa" package in the post for a review of their bike care fluids. In case you haven't paid attention, Silca was the Italian producer of the best long-lasting floor pump in cycling history - everything was replaceable and so the same basic pump platform could last forever. They went out of business. An American guy, formerly of Zipp, bought the remnants and set up a new Silca in Indiana where Zipp is headquartered and he lives.
 
I got to chat with Josh, Silca owner, via an online connection as part of my review. That was fun because we have a similar long history in cycling. And we both get pretty enthusiastic about anything bike.
 
Silca has a YouTube channel that mostly demonstrates best practice with their various products. I've picked up two habits that work extremely well from Josh, via YouTube and I plan to discuss one today.
Wax is very popular for bike chains. I remember when I was a teen my riding friends and I discussed the idea of immersion waxing our chains with plain parafin wax. I think it lasts about 100 km or so before you need to re-do it. Modern chemistry has stretched that interval out around 4x, but the basics remain. I have never been a proponent of immersion waxing. I don't like removing the chain from the bike for routine maintenance.
My spa kit from Silca included a bottle of Super Secret drip wax. This stuff is exactly the same as the solid wax they sell for immersion, but emulsified in water at around 70% wax: 30% water. Immersion types can use this to top-up the chain in between immersions to extend their mileage. Or, like me, one can use the drip wax on its own. The Silca team found that the water evaporates and leaves the wax behind directly related to the emulsion ratio. The water will fill the chain's inner voids and on evaporation, 70% of those voids remains filled with wax. A second application can fill those smaller voids again at the 70% level (= 91% filled after 2 goes). And a third will fill 70% of the remaining 9% (= 97% filled after 3 goes). As far as I can tell, the third go is pretty much optional as it doesn't seem to effect the behaviour of the chain.
The Silca team investigated the best way to get drip wax into a chain. Into, not onto! The wax on the outside is simply messy. Wax (or any lubricant) needs to be inside the chain where the action is happening. Big ring and second largest sprocket is the recommendation. Why? Because the cross-chaining position articulates the chain as it leaves the chainring into the span above the chainstay (assume pedalling backwards for lubrication and not pedalling for motion) and again the opposite way as it lines up with the cassette sprocket. Drip immediately prior to the cassette sprocket take-up of that chain link and you get maximal penetration.
Josh demonstrated how placing a clean chain on top of a single drop of chain lube and articulating the chain side to side would pump the lube up through the chain and out the top. Same thing happens during the lubrication dripping. Each motion of the chain pulls the lube inside where it can actually lubricate.
I drip left handed while I pedal backwards with the right hand, placing one smallish drop of well-shaken wax onto the roller of the chain just prior to touching the cassette teeth. Once I've gone around the entire chain once, I back pedal for numerous revolutions to run the chain around a dozen or so times.
Top chains are hydrophobically coated, so the emulsion wants to run off the chain. The proximity of the cassette teeth apparently help with this too. Once the water evaporates, the remaining wax is attracted to the hydrophobic coating.
At the second application, another tip from Josh is to quickly pedal forwards and shift across the cassette. This leaves a thin wax layer on each sprocket which will make the bike a little quieter during the first 100 or so km of riding.
 
None of this is actually what I wanted to write about. It does lead up to it, however. At the end of an interval, how should we be cleaning our waxy chains off? I used to use a full bike wash with MucOff bike shampoo and get the chain all sudsy before scrubbing with a brush. There is a much better way! A kettle of boiling water. The boiling water is plenty hot enough to melt the wax off the chain and leave you with a fresh, clean but wet chain. On a MTB you can start with a really dirty looking chain and end up with one looking really fresh just by slowly pedalling backwards and pouring the boiling water over the chainring at the front where the chain is on it. No scrubbing. No waiting. Just clean.
And then the wax can be dripped straight onto the wet chain for application number 1. They hydrophobic chain holds the wax better than the water so the damp chain is not a problem.
 
All these years of using various waxy chain treatments and it never occurred to me to use boiling water to clean them. So easy. So effective.

Fork seal replacement time

Just before Covid changed 2020 so dramatically, as in about 2 weeks prior, I got my Ibis Ripley. As I wanted this to be my "Stromlo" bike and also my replacement XC race bike (the proper race bike was going up for sale) I specified the 120 mm Fox 34 SC fork rather than the more usually installed Fox 34 with 130/140 mm travel.
Meanwhile I had reached the end of the road with my hardtail's fork. A Fox 32 with a straight steerer, Fox hasn't supported these forks in years. The bushings were quite worn, the stanchions had bushing marks on them - it was past its best. Virtually nothing decent was available with the necessary straight steerer tube. And the Ibis convinced me that I needed updated geometry - a much longer reach being way more suitable for this tall and long-armed rider. I bought a Spot Rocker which came with the same Fox 34 SC 120 mm fork as the Ibis. The Spot was almost exactly 12 months behind the Ibis into my life, coming in March 2021. Yet the fork was the same on each bike (Fox usually changes stickers each year or so and they have the same stickers).
As mentioned in a prior entry, I swapped from Feedback Sports app to ProBikeGarage app to keep track of my maintenance. PBG told me instantly that my Fox 34s were past-due for seal replacements.
I picked up the two seal kits with one for the Ibis shock and used a recent weekend to attend to the two. My first problem was that the bolts holding the sliders onto the stanchions are highly recessed in the SC forks. And with the step casting (what SC stands for) the bolts are off-centre in the bottom of the leg even though they are dead centre to the stanchion's circle. I really needed a 10 mm thin-wall deep socket to get on the nut. Luckily, my 12-point shallow socket was just thin enough to sit on the nut.
The Ibis fork had lots of oil inside it, but it was moderately dirty looking. Not the golden syrup colour of new oil, but more like burnt butter. Still quite clear, but also rather dark. It was past time to replace these seals and given that PBG was telling me I'd almost hit 150 hours of riding, it really WAS by all accounts. The Spot fork was quite different. This exemplifies why some Fox forks work really well and others don't - the builds are not identical despite mass production. There was hardly any volume of liquid in this one in either fork leg, but it looked absolutely brand new.
Using a trick taught to me by a former sponsored-by-Fox racer (thanks Brent!); with the trick being to use a little Fox Float Fluid in each leg to increase the slipperiness of the splash oil and make the fork that bit smoother for longer. I don't use Fox Fluid. It is a viscous but fully soluble in fork oil liquid that is used primarily inside the shock bodies. Maxima has a great reputation for fork oil as a probable supplier of Fox fluids (which are reportedly made by a local-to-Fox company, which would be Maxima) and the definite supplier of Rock Shox's Maxima Plush used in current forks - so I use Maxima 10 wt and Maxima Assembly Lube (both more readily available and about 1/2 the price from MX shops than from bike shops).
To refill the splash lube I squirt about 1-2 ml of the red Assembly Lube into the syringe through the plunger side, insert the plunger, and then slurp up the correct amount of 10 wt (10 and 15 ml total for the 34 SC's two legs) and squirt it down the hose and through the bolt hole in the slider. Then push the sliders so the threads protrude, and tighten the nuts to 5.7 Nm and done!
One wrinkle in this whole process was I haven't used the seal press I bought for my 34 forks before. This one is from Unior. It was available locally, but it isn't as nice as the Real World Cycling presses I have in sizes 32 and 36 mm. They fit snugly in the bushing forcing the seal to go in straight. There is a long nose on the Unior tool, but it doesn't fit very snugly in the bushing and it requires operator diligence to get the seal in squarely. Also, the outer lip on the RWC tools give a strong indication (if not a positive stop) that the seal is pushed in the correct amount. I note that the new Unior seal presses proclaim a new design that bottoms out positively on the fork to prevent overdriving the seals.
The first seal I did with the Unior ended up too far in, by 2-3 mm, because there is no indication and I pushed too far. Knowing that, the other 3 went in the correct distance. I had to squeeze the foam ring in between the seal and the bushing because the gap wasn't quite the width of the ring. Hopefully everything will function fine for the next 100ish hours.