Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snow and Rim Brakes, Derailleurs, Etc.

Snowy Streets, Cambridge MA
There are good reasons to recommend snow-proof bikes for winter cycling: powdercoat, hub brakes, internal gearing, single speed fixed. However, some prefer to stick with a regular bike through the winter, either for speed, economy or other reasons. That is my situation right now, and so far even limited riding in the snow has given me a pretty good showcase of things to watch out for. Here are some of them:

Snow and rim brakes:
This is an important one for safety. If you ride through snow and it builds up on your wheel rim, you can lose braking power on a bike with rim brakes. After riding through snow, I try to remove it from the front rim as soon as I notice any build-up, before it has a chance to freeze. This can be done fairly quickly: First I bounce the front wheel forcefully, then spin it as I wipe the snow off with a gloved hand.

Snow and the derailleur:
If your bike has derailleur gearing and you get the derailleur covered in snow, it can solidify and impair shifting. I was surprised to see how quickly snow can build up and freeze around that area; I guess there are a lot of convenient nooks and crannies for it to get into. To remove it, I shake off the rear wheel and free the derailleur from buildup with gloved fingers. I also try to stay in a low-ish gear in case the shifting goes. I would be reluctant to leave a derailleur-geared bike locked up outdoors in the snow for any length of time without some sort of cover.

Fender clearance:
This is not a popular opinion to have in transportation cycling circles, but fenders can be a pain. Unless there is a generous (as in vintage 3-speed/ Dutch bike type of generous) amount of clearance between the fender and tire, snow can get in there and does not always want to come out. If enough snow builds up, it can slow down the wheel's rotation or even bring it to a halt. I have experienced this on a couple of bikes now (granted, after intentionally riding them through snow for fun), bikes with what is considered good fender clearance for paved and dirt road riding in normal weather. Once snow gets between the tire and fender, it can be fairly difficult to remove on the road in cold temperatures; it doesn't want to be coaxed out. Better to avoid riding through soft snow in the first place.

Salt and rust:
Bicycles that are finished with anything but the hardiest powdercoat are susceptible to rust from the salted winter streets. The damage starts out as cosmetic - which is in itself sad if you have a nice bike -and can grow to become structural over time. I wipe my bike down after every ride on salted roads to avoid this. I would not leave a delicately finished bike outdoors in the winter for any significant length of time.

While not ideal, it is not impossible to ride a liquid painted, derailleur-geared bike with rim brakes and less than generous fender clearances in the snow, if you take care to watch for build-up en route and if you maintain the bike afterward. Storing such a bike outdoors in the snow is more problematic. Your bike parking situation at home and work could be the determining factor in whether going without a winter-proof bike is doable. 

73 comments:

  1. On salt, what about unpainted titanium frames? I've not noticed any problems with mine, and don't expect any -- titanium is pretty much a noble metal -- but wonder if others have more experience.
    BTW I guess this means those snow tires have come in handy.

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    1. Find out how titanium copes with magnesium chloride which is what is being sprayed on roads more and more. It's nasty.

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    2. The makers of the titanium Van Nicholas state that their city bikes can be happily ridden in the winter, in snow and salt. Alas when I had the demo bike last winter, it never snowed while it was in my possession.

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    3. Titanium is really durable in winter conditions, with one caveat. Where aluminum and titanium touch, add moisture and salt, and you can astonishing amounts of dissimilar metal corrosion. It attacks the aluminum, not the titatnium. I ride a Seven much of the year (New Hampshire), and the aluminum bottom bracket cups will corrode into little crumbly chunks in less than a year. For me, it's a regular maintenance item, easily replaced each spring. Other aluminum bits on the bike don't seem as prone, probably because moisture tends to accumulate in the bottom bracket.

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  2. You missed "brake and derailer cables with ice frozen inside". I do the best I can (continuous cable runs, attempt to seal/shield the ends, a little grease right at the ends and a dab of very light oil inside) but my brakes both need a hard squeeze to crack them loose in the morning. They can freeze too hard to activate, or too hard to release.

    Indoor/outdoor transitions are not necessarily good, since that melts snow and may lead to inhaling crud into either an IGH or magneto hub when you go from indoors to out and the hub shell cools quickly.

    I've never had the fender problem, not sure why. One possibility is that I try to angle the fender entry so that it is the tightest point -- I don't want to catch a rock, stick or acorn and then have it jam. Another is that I use studded tires, which seem to make short work of anything that gets in their way (I have scratched grooves in concrete, two heavy kids on my snapdeck resulted in rapid machining of a layer of plywood).

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    1. Yup. The cable issue is the biggest one I've encountered so far - although I'm riding a bike with disc brakes so rim ice/snow isn't a problem. The cables were only a problem at single digit temperatures.

      There's a lot of cold where I am (N. Minnesota), so snow buildup on tires/fenders/derailleurs hasn't been much of an issue. My kids, who have grown up here, define spring as "the time of year when the snow is wet enough to build stuff with". Hadn't thought about the studded tires "eating" snow buildup, but it makes sense. Yet another reason to spring for them.

      Agree on the indoor/outdoor transition; my bike lives in an outside shed at home, so it seems a bit less urgent to clean it up nightly.

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    2. What are "continuous cable runs"? I think short cable housings are best in winter because they don't hold as much water and ice.

      I once saw a mechanic fill the entire cable housing with a grease gun, untill it started coming out the other end. Clever all year round, but especially in winter.

      Locks also freeze and I find lubrication helps a lot with that too. My feeling is that the lube seems to prevent the ice from sticking to the metal. It sort of feels that way, because the lock still freezes, but it gradually relents after a bit of wiggling and coaxing.

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    3. Continuous cable run means the cable starts at the lever and ends at the brake (or derailer, or IGH), and you take care to be sure that water doesn't get in to the top end.

      If your cables are split into sections, you have to be careful that none of the splits are facing up, else you'll get water in. Or, you have more places to be sure that water doesn't get in.

      I've tried grease, but I must have made a wrong choice, because it got too darn viscous in the really cold.

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    4. dr2chase: Oh right. My cable housings go sideways and then down. Maybe that's why I haven't had any problems. But I do seem to recall a similar setup and it froze. Maybe they were rusty and dirty too.

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  3. Yes, not impossible but a problem if one is constantly in the snow. One of life's inconveniences. At least most bikes these days have sealed bearing surfaces and better quality rims and brakes which is a big improvement over what was available in the 70's, 80's...Hopefully most transportation systems do a reasonable job of making bike riding possible after snow storms. Btw, I've never understood why your fenders are set with so little clearance. It seems that even leaves and other debris can get stuck in such a little space.

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  4. Salt is awful stuff. After a decade chasing corrosion in Naval aircraft I've grown to hate it.

    Fresh water is your best friend. When you arrive home liberally rinse off your bicycle with all the fresh water you can find - forcefully if able. If everything is frozen this can be tough. But, in the long term, it's very, very worth it.

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    1. I put hot water in a pump-up garden sprayer to get the salt off. It is has enough force to rinse but not enough to put water deep into the bearings. The hot water evaporates fairly well in the garage and there isn't much of a puddle. I've been using Fluid-Film, a lanolin based lubricant/rust-inhibitor, on the drive train and cables. You can get it in an aerosol can at power equipment dealers that sell snowblowers. It was developed for the Navy In WWII to use in the Arctic.

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    2. So I did a 20 mile (round trip) commute today on my Brompton. We had some snow overnight last night, but the roads were so aggressively salted that I could taste it (not a good thing, I imagine) as I cycled. My Brompton has a Ti rear triangle and fork, but the main part of the frame is vulnerable, as it's clear powdercoated. So when I got home in the evening I manically cleaned the bike.

      Interestingly, most of the salt had gathered underneath the front mudflap, which is huge. There was a good 1cm layer of salt there. The rest of the bike was fairly clean, except for the tires, rims and derailleur. I went over it twice with some veg-based kitchen cleaning solution and then water. Should be fine.

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    3. Aggressive is too polite for Chicago salting. More like mania.

      Finally have some cold weather (although even this is forecast to give way to 50s next week). The snow drought, however, continues. One would think no snow means no salt. Unfortunately, one would be wrong. Salt everywhere. I spend 15 minutes after every commute cleaning the bike.

      The bare stainless Clockwork seems to tolerate the salt well enough anyway. Forecast is for rain next Tuesday. Hope it is a driving one to clear up the mess.

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  5. I found out the hard way that the Alfine 8 internal gear hub system can also suffer from failure in the winter. Like a derailleur, snow and then ice can build up around the cog and freeze. If this happens it can force the snap ring out of place, causing the cog to spin freely.

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    1. This is interesting. It's my first winter with a Rolhoff hub and I'm wondering if I'll encounter unanticipated problems. Currently 17 degrees and snowing which means things sticks and freeze quickly.

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  6. I have found some of the glides for no-wax X-C skis to help with snow buildup under fenders and on the frame......to a degree. Also, if storing the bike in warmer indoor temps, letting it get cold before riding in snow is helpful in avoiding icing, but that requires extra time and I'm sure everyone has figured that one out after picking up pounds of snow in a few minutes. Coating derailleurs with extra lube helps too, but after a while it all builds up anyway, if you are out for a long time. Rim Brakes......no brakes.....have not found an answer for that yet. I dream of summer.....hot, summer sun.......

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  7. I had that experience last evening when the snow started earlier, catching me out and about running errands. I 'm not a big fan of riding when it's snowing, too slippery and potentially dangerous if a motorist loses control of their vehicle.

    I also was riding my road bike with tighter fender clearances than the old mtb I would ride in such conditions. Early on my braking power was seriously prolonged when going down a hill with a light load in a front basket. From that point on I applied my brakes regularly in an attempt to clean of the rims.

    Later I kept hearing a strange noise but couldn't see any problems (it was dark at that point), when I got home I discovered my fenders were packed with snow and ice, and it was the rubbing of the tire that I had been hearing. I removed as much of the snow and ice as I could in the cold dark garage. This morning I could see that their was some snow still frozen to the outer sprockets.

    I had purchased an entry level mtb with disc brakes at the beginning of winter, but those 2.2 inch tires are so slow and I really don't like the high bb of 12 inches. If I'm going to slip and possibly fall I'd rather be lower. I'm thinking about trading it in for more of an urban bike. One thing I find interesting and a bit puzzling is that many who ride fat bikes in the snow do so with derailleurs.

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  8. The bump'n glove wipe/spin method works well getting the snow off, but there always seems to be some grit'n grime left after drying. Using Scotch-Brite, very gently, while spinning the rim removes the grit'n grime. Then a dry wipe w/ a towel finishes the clean-up. I've seen a rim or two be worn down from the abrasives as they get captured under the brake pads.

    Any of the frame savers helps w/ rust on steel frames. After 3 winters of Maine snow/salt/rain (in any combo) I cleaned out the BB and there was absolutely no signs of rust :)

    I'll second the fender clearance and add angular coverage as well; the more the better. Low coverage on the front keeps the BB from getting crud. Mount the fender on the rear of the front fork adds a couple of extra degrees.

    As for tires, won't get into studs here, too tight of knobby spacing allows snow build up as well. Heavy, wet snow will clog up anything anyhow :(

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  9. Steel fenders and plastic fenders are much more functional than aluminum fenders in these conditions. Clearance is nice. Just pedalling and bashing through works better than fussing with trying to clear snow from a fender.

    I'm waiting for the photos where the snow piles up on the rim and climbs the spokes halfway to the hub. Where the pile of snow and black oily ice around the bottom bracket weighs ten pounds.

    I've never had a derailleur that wouldn't move. Cables that won' t move are kinda normal. Freewheels and cassettes so iced the chain will only ride on the cog you're in are kinda normal. Derailleurs keep going. Yes, you want friction shifting.

    Anything like an IGH hub needs liquid oil in it. When it's cold that oil isn't liquid. If it functions at all it will function differently.

    Warm water and lots of it is the practical way to get your bike clean. You'll need a basement or heated garage with a floor drain and lots of space where no one cares about the mess. If that is not possible to arrange just get ye venerable Schwinn Breeze to use the 5 days a year when this matters. If your winter includes 10 or 20 days of hard snow do some work making that Breeze ride nice.

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  10. With regard to your photo....Is that staged?

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    1. No, but it doesn't represent the riding I'd normally do. I rode through some soft snow for fun and that was the result. Then I stupidly waited too long to get it off there and the snow hardened, so I was only able to clean it once I got home.

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  11. For fenders, making sure that the rear of the fender is closer to the tire than the rest of the fender will allow for the wheel to still rotate. It's not perfect, You will still have some resistance with a lot of snow build up and you fender line will of course suffer until spring.
    As far as finish on steel bikes go, I'll take a proper 3 coat wet paint over powder coating for resistance to rust any day. I'm just no convinced that the powder coat finish creates a true barrier, even with two coats. The downside, of course, is that it will chip much easier than a powder coat.

    Mark

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    1. What are your reasons for doubting powdercoat over liquid?

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    2. Coaters don't seem to recommend clear powdercoat over bare steel due to rust showing through the clear coat.
      That being said, I haven't actually seen this failure in person or even in photos.


      Mark

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    3. My powder has no primer. When chipped it's raw metal.

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  12. I rarely encounter snow anymore, but would find it preferable to the months of rain, grit and muck. After years of dealing with ice, snow, or grit compromised rim brakes and derailleurs, I built up a winter bike-good for rain and snow if need be. I love the drum brakes so much, and my internal geared hub works when my husband's derailleur freezes up in cold. I see the attraction to single speed winter bikes.
    Salt and de-icer. Don't be fooled into thinking powder coating is going to be immune. Two bicycle paint shops in Vancouver refuse to powder coat because of this. Powder coating does not involved layers of underpainting, so if you scratch the powder coat, the metal rusts pretty much instantly. I had rust forming in spots where the cable housing rubs on the frame. I even found rust in places where the derailleurs were clamped etc.
    More and more magnesium chloride is being used for icy roads and it eats EVERYTHING, chrome aluminium, weakens stainless steel... do find out what your area is using.

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  13. I don't worry much about salt on a painted (or powder coated) frame, but I do worry about salt on all the mechanical parts and hardware holding the bike together. Steel nut, bolts and washers all seem to rust very quickly when caked with salt, and the nooks and crannies defy removal of salt by wiping. The suggestion above of clean rinse water is a good one. That's the best way to flush out salt from nooks and crannies.

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  14. V, Today I headed out on my winter fixie, with ESGE plastic fenders and winter tires. I was surprised to find some unplowed roads on the route. Obviously no issues with frozen derailleurs and shifters/cables. With a frozen geared bike, you are stuck with one gear, but with a fixie, at least you get to pick which gear you are stuck in :-) Braking also not an issue - it's hard work pushing those winter tires through the snow! Fenders didn't get clogged either - maybe the plastic helps. This bike could be yours, ya know :-)

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    1. Temptress!

      Also, a talented route-designer. I could not find an unplowed road today. Even the Charles River Trail was heavily salted.

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  15. Old MTB, clip on fenders = clearance galore.

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    1. Maybe it's time for my jr. high school sweetheart to come out of the basement.

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  16. The first immediate thing that caught my eye is you just called a bike with derailleurs and rim brakes a 'normal' bike as opposed to one with hub brakes and internal gears or a single-speed :D

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    1. I wrote "regular bike" : ) And I do think it more likely that a randomly sampled reader's bike is equipped with rim brakes rather than hub/roller brakes; possibly the same is true re derailleur vs IGH/SS.

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    2. I just found it interesting/amusing as a contrast since, at the beginning, you were very focused on the drum-brake, internal gears type. Not really any point to make there other than that I just smiled seeing it.

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    3. I know, I know. The change for me is mainly the result of my expanding travel radius. I would love to do a long distance, hilly commute on an upright, step-through IGH bike with drum brakes, but I have yet to find one that I would actually enjoy doing that on. I am going to experiment with the frame(s) I make myself though.

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    4. Yeah, it's a completely normal and natural change for you, and certainly not bad. It just made me smile, that's all :)

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  17. You're right about the fenders - on the very few occasions I've had to ride in the snow, my Raleigh Sports built up quite a mass of snow between the tires and the fenders. Not enough to keep me from riding, but enough to make a huge mess when I took the bike inside afterwards :)

    I have a feeling that the same would happen on my DL-1, because though it has enormous fenders, it also has enormous(ish) tires, so there isn't actually much clearance.

    My Raleigh Sports, at the time I was riding it in the snow, had rim brakes. Even though I had new brake pads, and new alloy rims (not the original steel ones), I had basically no brakes at all after about 5 minutes riding in the snow. It didn't matter much, as most of my ride home where I was going was uphill, so I didn't really need them, but that could be extremely problematic otherwise. I only have one bike now, and it has drum brakes, but I would definitely take more care with the brakes if I were ever riding a bike with rim brakes in the snow again.

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  18. I just don't worry about it much now that I have a mtn bike commuter. I swapped to a rigid fork, and run Schwalbe Ice Spiker studded tires. I have gobs of fender clearance. To keep things moving, I use Phil's Tenacious Lube on the chain, and Rust Check or Liquid Wrench on the pivots etc.

    The bike has disk brakes which still can slick up if deep powder is being ridden through - I have had rims, sidewalls, and hubs vanish in thick layers of powder once it starts kicking up. Just use the brakes a bunch and they clear off. I can say that disks are better than rim brakes in the snow. Part of what motivated me to swap to the disk bike is a few "HOLY CRAP!!!" no brakes moments on the old commuter.

    As far as rust goes, I just lube the daylights out of it and don't worry about it. I wash it when I get to it, and keep it reasonably clean. What I do do though is make sure the paint is in good shape - any nick gets painted over immediately with whatever paint is sticking around - usually a black touch up paint thing that I have for my car.

    I have had no real issue with ice and snow building up enough to actually impede anything with the bike's shifting. I have had the entire derailleur slush up pretty good - so that it virtually vanishes - and the cassette pack up with slush and sometimes ice, but I just shift anyways and keep pedalling. Clunk goes the back end and the things shifts, blowing ice and stuff everywhere. The trick is to keep the thing coated in a rust proofing oil of some sort and use a thick sticky lube on the chain. Clean the drive train thoroughly at least once a week.

    I do not treat my commuter bike as a rolling work of art. I could care less if it looks a bit trashy (I prefer it as it gets locked up outside sometimes). I treat it as a tool which is meant to be used and used up :) I assume I will be eating an entire drive train per year minimum, and at least one set of three season tires - this year, it might be two as I might end up with 7000 plus km on it by next Christmas at the rate I am going. I at least count on a set of chain rings, a chain, and a cassette after each winter. Every two winters I will burn out a set of studded tires. Likely, the OEM rear derailleur will be smoked by spring as it is not a good one really and I got the bike last fall. When I replace bits and pieces, I upgrade the quality though so that the parts last longer.

    Someone mentioned what the build up looks like on a winter bike in snow. Check these out for some samples from my bike if you are interested:
    Last year's commuter, a Kona Dew City, in full snowy regalia (it still shifted fine and had no issues with snow build up) -
    http://www.pbase.com/christopheru/image/141740437/original.jpg

    And a blog entry with some picks of this year's bike and set up (fenders again mostly - and again, zero issues with snow performance.)
    http://lightandwheels.blogspot.ca/2012/12/frankenfenders-two-five-minute-fix.html

    Cheers and good riding in the fun stuff everyone!

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    1. Nice photo. Wish we were having that winter here in Chicago. We're bone dry.

      For derailleurs, assuming you aren't hoping for indexing and instamagic shifts in the snow, just fit an old SunTour VGT or any of it's descendants. Durable, reliable and maybe $1 each if you can't scrounge your own. If you are looking for instamagic shifting slightly older but perfectly capable 8 & 9 speed derailleurs from old stock should be around $10. I'm starting to see 10 speed era derailleurs a few years out of date for believable prices. Return to good derailleurs in the spring.

      Chainrings and cassettes are a staple of swap meets everywhere. Current fashion simply doesn't matter as long as the parts fit. The latest and greatest pins and ramps and cutouts mean zip in snow. Get something that works at a discount and put the good stuff on the bike in the spring.

      Chain-L, also labelled as Chain-L #5 holds up in the wet and even has some salt resistance. Follow the directions, initial application to cleaned and dry chain. Maybe you use it already, thick and sticky is a good description.

      As hard as you use the bike I suspect your brakes will keep working like they've been working. That said disc brakes can also be no-brakes. Very visibly a week ago Friday at cyclocross nationals in Verona Wisconsin everyone using discs had no brakes. They're still basically beta test products you get to pay for. I use Campagnolo cantis which are thankfully available again and have never met a situation that bothered them.

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    2. Chris Underwood - Thanks for the pictures, that's great!

      Anonymous January 22, 2013 at 11:19 PM wrote:

      "That said disc brakes can also be no-brakes. Very visibly a week ago Friday at cyclocross nationals in Verona Wisconsin everyone using discs had no brakes."


      I was just about to write that. I was watching the race and the announcer kept saying how the riders with discs had no braking power, and I didn't understand since people seem to go out of their way to get bikes set up with disc brakes for similar conditions. Could someone explain why disc brakes would stop working under those conditions? Freezing temps at the race with some thawing mid day; frozen-soft-frozen ground.

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    3. The proper question is why do people continue to believe in discs. This sort of problem is not new. Everybody knows about it. It's just now that it's not possible to sweep it under the rug after Verona.

      I entirely believe Chris Underwood gets good service from his brakes. American CX racers can apparently go multiple seasons w/o encountering much variety in courses. Euro CX racers will not use discs.

      I didn't watch the Verona vids. I did talk to guys who raced it. It was not limits on power., It was no brakes. As in flying off the course, hitting the fence, hitting spectators.

      A brake is not a brake if it only works in optimal conditions.

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    4. Just want to say, my question is innocent and I do not intend to start a "discs suck/rule" war. Every type of brake has its benefits and drawbacks. What I wonder is, what was it about the CX Nationals Wisc course that made them fail - I either never heard an explanation, or did not understand it. It couldn't be just the temperature, could it? Did water/ wet mud get into them somehow and then freeze? Obviously disc brakes work for many people in many conditions, but it would be helpful to know in which conditions they don't.

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    5. "Could someone explain why disc brakes would stop working under those conditions?" - Here is a very detailed explanation: http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/01/news/bright-future-for-disc-brakes-fades-briefly-under-a-coating-of-verona-mud_271112 .
      BikeSnob NYC posted this link some days ago in: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.de/2013/01/this-weeks-going-to-be-fantastic-i-can.html .

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    6. "Obviously disc brakes work for many people in many conditions, but it would be helpful to know in which conditions they don't."

      this is a question that was definitely answered a decade ago in the mtb world. mechanicals are walmart-level rubbish (e.g. parts bin at co-op). the fact that psychlo-Xers actually *race* bb7s and mxs makes me guffaw.

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    7. This might take a bit to sink in, so please bear with me. So I'd read the velonews article and it explains in detail how the disc brakes failed, but not *what* made them fail - ie why the pads wore through so quickly. The course was muddy and snowy, and the temperatures cold. Did this result in a special kind of grit that wore the pads away? This part confuses me, because I know cyclists who tour, commute and do dirt road brevets with mechanical disc brakes, and they do not report problems in similar conditions. In fact they recommend disc brakes for such conditions. So in Wisconsin it must have been not just the conditions but also the racing, meaning the fact that CX riders were using those brakes a lot in a short period of time?.. I am just trying to understand the context of the situation I guess. But it looks like maybe I really need to try these things myself to get it.

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    8. "So in Wisconsin it must have been not just the conditions but also the racing, meaning the fact that CX riders were using those brakes a lot in a short period of time?" - One of the participants in the Verona race, David Weber, explains it in the comment section: "The pads wear enough, and it doesn't take that much, for the brake levers to hit the bar. It takes two seconds to dial in the pad adjusters and then the brake works again as good as new. The issue is not the pads wearing away, but rather the pads don't self adjust to account for the pad wear. I still have plenty of pads left after the race but needed the adjustment dialed in each and every lap (I pitted each lap)."
      So the problem seems mainly to be related to a) mechanical disc brakes, and b) brake levers on road bars with their limited amount of travel.

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    9. I have read both this description, and a description (elsewhere) of the pads wearing away.

      But let's go with this one. Scenario: I'm doing a dirt road ride with David Weber's disc brakes. Gritty surface conditions. Long, tricky descent that requires (of me at least) liberal use of brakes. Do I need to get off the bike half way down to adjust the brakes to avoid losing braking power? I have not heard anyone who rides with discs describe such a thing, unless they are intentionally keeping quiet about it.

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    10. It takes two seconds to adjust if you have a Torx T25 handy and the tiny screw is accessible through the grit and is willing to turn in the cold and you know what you're doing. And in any case you make the adjustment sometime after the brakes fail.

      Frankly few cyclists know what they're doing. Hub brakes are essentially black boxes even to most bike mechanics. Bikes are about 2-second visual inspections that reliably inform anyone with slight mechanical knowledge that this one is ready to ride.

      The comment above about hydraulics vs. mechanicals is correct. I know mountain bikers who are very comfortable and competent as they bleed their hydraulic lines. Most cyclists are not ever going to do that. Or if they do they will make a mess. Discs are not for them.

      Since Velonews has been mentioned there's a followup article. First comment is from a motorcycle wrench who asks the obvious question what are you guys thinking filling your rotors with slots and waves? Well, they're thinking saving weight and making pretty patterns and displaying brand identity. Thought has not been given to making the bike stop.

      Verona was sloppy mud but basically a fairly tame course. There were no drastic downhills where brake failure would've caused unfortunate outcomes. We all ride our bikes in places where brake failure would be a bigger issue than on a slow closed CX course.

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    11. Looking at Leonard's pictures from the Verona event I would say that you rarely will encounter road conditions like these in 'real life', and if so, you may consider to rather walk your bike through it (without much braking) ...

      I'm not a CX guy, so I do not feel entitled to judge if the conditions in Verona were somehow special on that single day, or if the mud there has some especially abrasive power (something that might at least be possible, depending on the predominant rock material in that area) or under certain conditions (the stuff at least looks like the residuents of a wet sanding process ...), but it is mentioned that CX riders in Europe have in fact encountered such problems before, so maybe mechanical disc brakes simply meet their technological limits under such extreme conditions - conditions that you will hardly ever encounter, not even while riding on dirt roads.

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    12. Conditions at Verona required brake adjustments every lap. Failure occurred in much less than one lap. Slow course, little elevation change, no special load on the brakes.

      Will this ever happen on a paved road? Vanishingly unlikely. Could it happen on a wet dirt road? Of course it could. Will you have much time to take appropriate action when it happens? No.

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    13. "Most cyclists are not ever going to do that. Or if they do they will make a mess. Discs are not for them."

      Adjustment of hydraulic: slot in pad and squeeze brake lever. Done. And if you are running Shimano or Magura you bleed only when the system is compromised (e.g. almost never).





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    14. V you are over thinking this again.

      I've had this happen with normal pads as well. You won't get an answer off the internet.

      Grit has many variations, as you know from your time building. All one world Ohm.

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    15. Some things to consider about discs in snowy/icy conditions:
      -that cross race apparently had racers with brand new pads, and their systems needed readjusting before the race was out. I'm surprised that it was that dramatic in the same day, but I do recall (from BITD, in my bb7 days) that new pads needing a lot of initial tweaking after the first hand full of rides.
      -hydro brakes with mineral oil (Shimano, Magura) aren't worth running in freezing weather. You'd be better off with just about any other braking system in sub-freezing temperatures.
      -hydro brakes with DOT fluid work well in sub-freezing conditions, but DOT fluid is nasty, corrosive, vile stuff that is totally incongruent with any environmentalist aspirations that are frequently held by transportation cyclists. This may not matter to some ppl, but I'd want those who *do* care about ecological impact to know.
      -Discs work well in most weather conditions; good hydros are stronger and modulate better than good mechs. (Bad examples of either variety are absolutely dreadful in all conditions!) But, discs are high-maintenance critters. To me, "high maintenance" and "winter riding" are two concepts that seldom intersect.

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    16. GRJ I know, these questions are not going to lead anywhere. I need to long-tern ride a bike with disc brakes finally.

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    17. Interestingly enough, in my own non-cylcocross riding during winter months, I have had little issue with the disk brakes. I killed the back one (it jammed up and could not be adjusted - I was expecting this as the OEM brakes that came with my inexpensive bike were, ummm junk, and I am sure that there was some operator error *looks all sheepish*) and had it replaced with an avid of some shape or description. That works much much better and the OEM front one will get replaced come spring with one that matches. It is also easier to adjust than the OEM no name one.

      On the older commuter, using techtro v-brakes, I had one icy stop that literally ground the front brakes to powder. The snow around the front brake was filled with powdered brake shoes and residue. I was going through a set of pads every five weeks in the snow on that bike.

      This winter on disks? All is good so far except for that stuck rear caliper. Deep snow can cause some brake issues if enough powder builds up, but so far, the disks have not been any worse and have been actually a bit better than rim brakes.

      Time will tell if long haul disks make sense for what I use the bike for.

      I did notice a rather alarming thing though in gritty soupy conditions that we had the other day on a lime chip dust trail - the brakes, front and back, got covered in a slurry of crud. The brakes worked ok, but made serious grinding noises as the crud wore off. It reminded me of what happens to car brakes when driving on gravel roads - grit, stones, etc, can get lodged in the system and make a heck of a racket before they work their way out. Same problem I suspect.

      I don't, however, see it as being worse than the noises and diminished brake performance which happens when the canties on my cross bike or the v-brakes on my mtn bike get a serious layer of grit and mud on them - in both cases, there is diminished braking control and grinding until the braking surface clears itself.

      My guess, and it is only a guess right now, is that because the tolleraces for disk brakes are much tighter that there is much less room for grit to work itself out, so lesser amounts of grit can cause problems.

      What have the rest of you noticed here regarding this?

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    18. Chris I have noticed all of this and discs CX apps are nascent.

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    19. Screech

      Antique cars with mineral oil systems use Castrol GT LMA6. It's mostly mineral oil. I've no idea how environmentally friendly the additives are. I've used it on 2 bikes, a huge sample, but the results were very good.

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    20. On the race in question, mud on the rotors caused very rapid wear of the brake pads, to the point that they no longer did a good job of braking. Hydraulic disk brakes work better (as they do in cars) because they are self adjusting; as the pads wear, they retract less.

      I use disk brakes, have for years, but not in awesomely muddy conditions, and don't see the problems that they describe. In good conditions there's not much difference, in bad conditions (within the range of "bad" that I experience) disk is better. Disk also doesn't wear down the rim, and also doesn't require me to worry quite so much about a wheel that is 1/4 inch out of true, and doesn't require me to worry about overheating the rim.

      Adjustment is not hard, but I am more mechanically inclined than the average. I've also found that it is possible to adjust the front disk outside caliper merely by leaning (very) far forward and twiddling the dial.

      I have a drum brake on the front of my trash-rescue 3-speed, but unfortunately the cable is iced, so today it is not working so well.

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  19. When I rode more in snow, I essentially used a modern, average sort of mountain bike with big, knobby tires. Salt and snow cause havoc in terms of rust on steel parts. I just can't bring myself to use any of my good, vintage bikes in those conditions. The past few years, I just don't ride in the snow anymore. I've since given the bike to my nephew who goes mud riding with it in the woods.

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  20. "Snow and rim brakes"
    Disc brakes are the future.

    "Snow and the derailleur"
    Short cage = better.

    "Fender clearance"
    Remove fenders (~5 mins).

    "Salt and rust"
    Alu or carbon are better.

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    1. "Disc brakes are the future."
      Goodness! I hope not. Discs are heavy, problematic with horizontal drop-outs, kinda diva, expensive, etc. They're the best thing going for muddy trail riding on steep courses, but on commuter bikes? No.

      "Short cage = better."
      I agree, if the bike's gear range will allow for it. A lot of ppl who visit LB are committed mid- to long-cage folk. I agree with dude above that shifter cables cause more trouble than the derailer itself. Singlespeed is better than shortcage, but is admittedly not for everyone, either.

      "Remove fenders (~5 mins)."
      Perish the thought. Nothing is more deadly to the winter rider than salty, slushy buttcrack. Maybe set up the right fenders, the right way, on the right bike? I've never had the problem on anything with decent clearance.

      "Alu or carbon are better."
      In terms of avoiding rust, absolutely. But aluminum corrodes very quickly, in other ways. And some carbon lay-ups don't fare well in salty conditions, either. I ride year-round, almost exclusively on steel bikes, and none has rusted apart. A bit of post-ride cleaning and covering up paint chips does wonders.

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  21. One tip that i have been told, is that you never want to keep bringing your bike indoors, because that will cause rust to form a lot faster. 2 of my bikes have derailleurs and i usually keep them in the middle gear on the rear cassette so that when i start out in the morning, i can shift it into low gears and unfreeze it without having to bang on it to get it to budge. My other bike if an antique "Abbey" women's 3-speed and i love it for the internal shifting, no derailleur to deal with.

    Keep on Biking...

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  22. The issue with mechanical discs at Verona is not a new one for cyclocross racers, or anybody else. Its why I don't bother with mechanical disc brakes. A properly set up cantilever with salmon pads is just as powerful but has much better mud clearance and doesn't require constant adjusting. Hydraulic discs do offer superior braking and if someone gets the kinks ironed out of a drop bar hydraulic brake I might buy it.

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    1. I have had serious difficulty stopping with every canti brake I've tried so far other than Bruce Gordon's "dangerous pointy brakes" and Paul's. I have not tried discs yet, being weary of them for precisely all the reasons mentioned here. But in a couple of days I am getting a cross bike with v-brakes to demo, so that will be exciting to try.

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    2. Low or narrow profile cantilevers need a low straddle cable which sometimes means swapping out the stock pre-set straddle wire. Also pads are crucial- the stock black pads are almost always worthless in wet conditions, while Kool stop salmon pads will transform the brake.
      V brakes are nice though. Generally more powerful and better modulation than cantilevers but less mud clearance at the rim. They do not create shudder in the fork like cantilevers can. I have tried the TRP CX-9 and it is really nice. I see that Cane Creek now makes a drop bar lever with the right cable pull to work with standard V brakes- I'll bet this is a good set up too.

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    3. Katie Compton won her race again on Avid Ultimate Shortys. Nice, but nothing special. Jonathan Page won again on Shimano CX70 which is as plebeian as it gets.

      Stopping the bike is as much about the rider as the equipment. Constant churning of ever more marvelous components will not solve basic problems with the rider.

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    4. with regard to discs, perhaps you should ask the folks at path less pedaled since they've been riding discs in situations very similar to yours....not sure what they think, but they're always smiling :)

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  23. Something that may be not considered an absolute 'must' to keep a winter bike going, but comes in handy, is a sheepskin saddle cover (vegans may want to look for alternative solutions). Especially leather saddles tend to be very chilly and never get really warm in low temperatures, so riding with a sheepskin cover positively changes your ride experience, because you don't loose body warmth (and energy) through the saddle. As for the looks of the covered saddle - well, serious winter cycling is not for the aesthetically faint at heart anyway ...

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  24. BTW this entire convo reminds me of a current analytic problem with big data assumptions.

    Aside from other factors often times the first guy across the line has taken a conservative equipment choice.

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  25. "Aside from other factors often times the first guy across the line has taken a conservative equipment choice." - I don't know if I will be the first to cross the line when my special ice-/winter-bike will be ready (I guess it will be spring by then ...), but I decided to use late 80s technology throughout (with exception of the lighting), a 1989 Raleigh MTB frame (powdercoated in white ...), stainless steel rims and fenders, drum brakes (a Sachs Pentasport (5spd) and a Sturmey Archer FDD combined drum brake and generator hub) - all heavy stuff of course, no problem on a mainly flat commute to work.

    And the bike gets a generous amount of mudflaps (made to measure from artificial leather (... choose any colour !) glued together back-to-back) - something I found to be very important to avoid the accumulation of snow and slush under the bottom bracket and on the front part of the chain stays.

    The steel frame got a wax treatment on the inside (after powdercoating of course - I hear that waxed frames can't be powdercoated again...) and I mounted a small tube to secure easy air exchange and internal drying of the frame in the hole under the bottom bracket that used to host the screw that held the plastic shifting cable guide.

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  26. I ride a single speed bike with coaster brakes for my "bad weather" bike. Everybody needs a "beater" (inexpensive bad weather bike). I'm not having any problems with cables, shifters, frozen parts or dirty rims. I just get on the damn thing and ride it. My approach might be too simple, but oftentimes.....less is more.

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