Tag Archives: flare

Beware the Drop Bar Mafia

I tried.  I really tried.

First, I tried to find a level of comfort or rather less discomfort with the compact bend drop bar that came stock on my cyclocross bike many years ago.  Ugh.  It was nothing less than an exercise in shifting my hands constantly to find a position where something did not ache.

Next, following the advice of many fellow riders in the area I went with a Salsa Cowchipper.  The flared drops and increased width seemed to do the trick along with some generous bar tape and gel padding underneath that bar tape.

I thought this was the ticket.  Riding in the drops was much more comfortable with the flare and the extra cushy bar tape/gel padding combo seemed to dull the pain of long rides on the tops.  Over time—as in thousands of miles the past couple of summers—several problems reared their ugly heads.

I was never comfortable in the drops for anything other than a moment or two.  I was never comfortable with the drops or hoods being the only place to grab a handful of lever.  This is not a big deal on wide open country roads or trails, but in town surprises are many and if you are not in the drops you might not be able to brake in time.  At least that was the problem for me.

Riding on the tops was okay, never truly comfortable but better than being in the drops.  However, with no accessible brake levers I always felt like was riding somewhere between secure and without hands.  Call it the mountain biker in me.

With a handful of scavenged parts from my garage and those of a friend I went all-in on a flat bar conversion:

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The Answer Protaper Expert bar is 685mm in width and has a nice brown finish.  Does anyone else remember when bars came in black or silver only?  Maybe that is just me.  The bar has an eight degree sweep to the back.  The bar ends are some cheap Titecs that would have cost an arm and a leg in the 1990s because of the carbon fiber construction.  Grips are repurposed Ergons from another mountain bike build that has been languishing in my garage for the better part of two years.

The result looks a little odd.  It is almost like the gawky half-brother of a NORBA cross country rig from the early days of mountain bike racing.

The drop bar mafia is coming for me.  I can feel it.  Around here fellow riders have already looked somewhat askew at my dirt wagon—the half-kidding nickname given to me well-loved and well-worn bike—as if it were some unwelcome chimera among the carbon fiber matchy matchy set that seems to dominate the weekend population.  The best part is that I just do not give a flying f*ck.  For the first time in at least three years I am comfortable in the saddle.  That is all that matters.

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Building a Better Gravel Grinder Part II

I addressed the drivetrain issues I was having in Part I of this process. Now I am moving on to the cockpit of my gravel grinder.

Since I was going to be removing the shift wire for the front derailleur I took the opportunity to change out my OE drop bar for something different. Depending on who you ask around here the most popular drop style handlebars come from Salsa. Almost to a person they recommend the Cowbell or the Woodchipper.

What makes these bars special? It has to do with flare. Unlike traditional drop bars, which have zero flare on the drops, the Cowbell and Woodchipper flare 12 degrees and 26 degrees respectively. The Woodchipper takes things a measure further by canting the flat part of the drops out to the sides. How to decide? Thankfully the good folks at World of Bikes in Iowa City, which is a designated Salsa Adventure Center, had these bars and the newest entry from Salsa, the Cowchipper, in stock for me to take a look at.

Like Goldilocks I found the Cowbell and Woodchipper to be off just slightly from what I wanted, but the handlebar positioned in the middle of the lineup—the Cowchipper—was just right. It has a more traditional drop shape, but the flare is 24 degrees. I also upsized my handlebar from the stock 42cm to a 44cm bar in order to “open up” my shoulders and hopefully reduce some of the back fatigue I was experiencing on longer rides.

Below you can see what my stock handlebar:

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Notice the awesome bar wrapping that is coming undone? Yeah, I suck. Below is what the cockpit looks like with the Cowchipper installed:

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Normally, I could care less about the difference in weight between two components given that I am carrying approximately 20 extra pounds myself. However, I was kind of surprised that the stock compact road bar weighed in at 430 grams and the Salsa Cowchipper weighed in at 290 grams. Remember, the Cowchipper was a 44cm versus the stock bar’s 42 cm size. Sometimes OE stuff is really heavy junk.

Yeah, the orange tape on a red bike is butt ugly. But I always know where my bike is and no one can forget that it is mine. Okay, the color is not what I was expecting. Considering that I suck at bar wrapping it will not last overly long and can be replaced with something less garish.

But how does it ride? Like the 1x drivetrain I do not have a lot of miles, but in a couple of rides I notice that my hands and back are less fatigued. The flare in the drops puts my wrists in a very neutral position when I am riding on the brake hoods and I actually spend some more time in the drops than before when trying to cheat the wind. I am sure that I am sacrificing some top end aerodynamics by going with the flared bar, but comfort over the long haul seems to be worth the price of admission. For anyone who spends a lot of time on gravel the Cowchipper might be the answer to your handlebar prayers.

Note: I paid retail for everything in this post. That means I spent ~$75 on the bar at my LBS and do not need to send kind words to anyone regarding their product.

Friday Linkage 9/30/2011

September has come and gone, football season is in full swing, the leaves are turning all sorts of colors, and I am sitting back enjoying the fruits of my homebrew labor.  With the temperatures dropping into the 30s at night the Patagonia Synchilla fleece has been broken out and my daughter is already sipping hot cocoa.  I love the change of seasons.

In North Dakota, Wasted Gas Flares in the Night Sky—The concept seems insane: burn a commodity for which there is a market.  In a world that is increasingly energy constrained, it is crazy to think that in the U.S. we just flare natural gas instead of collecting it for use heating homes, making fertilizer, etc.  Think about this the next time natural gas prices spike in the winter.

U.S. Gasoline Demand Hits 10-Year August Low—Maybe we do not need as much liquid fuel as we thought.  The combination of recession, high prices, and awareness has led to a drop in the demand for oil that is completely discretionary.  It goes to show how much savings potential exists in the system if people really make an attempt.

The Technology to Cut Greenhouse Gasses by 85% by 2050 Already Exists—Not only is it possible to reduce our demand with cuts in our discretionary energy use, but the technology exists today to effectively cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050?  So, what’s the problem?  Oh wait…Republicans…oil companies…grumpy people…NIMBY…

Want to Make Fuel?  Just Add Water—Maybe there is a future for biofuels if we can get past the current and problematic first generation fuels that divert foodstuffs to fuel.  The world has too many hungry mouths to feed for us to justify filling up SUVs with ethanol made from corn or biodiesel made from soybeans.

The Future of Urban Agriculture—In this video, Will Allen—he of the Macarthur Genius award—shows us what his vision of the future of urban agriculture looks like.  In a world where the resiliency of our food system will be paramount this is interesting viewing.

Eco-Living in Gary—For anyone familiar with Gary, Indiana this is a hard concept to wrap your head around.  Eco-living in Gary?  It just goes to show you that anything is possible.

How to Build a Rocket Stove Water Heater—If you thought building tunnels to let chickens do the garden work was ingenious, you are going to love this how-to on building a rocket stove water heater.  If I were building an off-grid home I would be all over rocket stoves and rocket mass stoves.

The Case for Downsizing Your Home—The article is obviously aimed at people considering retirement, but the same arguments that hold true for people living on a “fixed” income hold true for the rest of us because there is no magic money fairy that raises my income whenever I desire.  In a way, we are all on fixed incomes.