Bike Stuff I Like – Fiber Fix Spoke

The one sound I absolutely hate to hear when I am riding a bike is the POP! that comes when a spoke breaks. The POP! is followed almost immediately by DAMN! From me.

When you break a spoke, your wheel goes out of true. The rim rubs against the brake pads. And the integrity of the wheel is compromised which can lead to another POP! DAMN!

I tend to carry all kinds of fix-it stuff when I ride. I have tubes and patch kits and tire levers and a pump and a multitool and tire boots and master chain links and on and on. I draw that line at carrying spare spokes and cassette tool and a wrench.

No worries. Instead of becoming Joe Mechanic on the side of the road, you can pull out a fiber fix spoke instead. No tools needed. A fiber fix spoke is a kevlar cord that comes attached to a cam – a twisty thing for increasing tension on the cord.

Just remove the broken spoke. Then follow the simple instructions to install the Fiber Fix spoke without any tools. No lie. It only takes a few minutes. Check out this video. I am a mechanical idiot and I’ve done it one tours.

And off you go. I’ve heard of people using these for hundreds of miles way out West where bike shops are few and far between. The only downside is that you can get too aggressive and pull the spoke nipple right through the rim. Then you have screwed the pooch. Don’t screw the pooch.

The picture below makes it look much bigger than it is. The entire device fits in its own little plastic tube about the size of your thumb.

A Fiber Fix spoke will set you back about $15. They are re-usable so one should last you a long time.

Bike Stuff I Like – Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tires

There are few things that suck on a bike tour more than having a flat tire on a highway in a cold rain. Okay, having a flat tire on a muddy trail when it’s sleeting is one, but you get the point.

My first truly long distance bike tour was from Indiana to DC. Prior to the trip, I realized that the back tire on my Tour Easy, the tire that would carry 75 percent of the weight, was old. So I bought a new tire. It fit my wheel and was inexpensive. Great.

I never made it to DC. In the middle of nowhere my new tire had not just a flat but a sidewall blowout. No bueno.

I was on the unpaved GAP Trail between nowhere and no place. It was after 5 on a Sunday. I had no cell signal. It was raining. I was stuck. Oh, and I was sick.

Not having brought a spare tire, I used duct tape and all my spare tubes to limp into Rockwood, PA where some kindly B&B operators took pity on me. I quit the tour the next day.

I decided from then on to get some serious rubber for my wheels. I put Schwalbe Marathon tires on my Tour Easy recumbent. They worked great. Despite the fact that they had a special belt under the tread to prevent punctures, I did get the occasional flat. Then I discovered something better: Schwable Marathon Plus tires.

These bad boys weight about 50 percent more than regular Marathons because, in addition to a belt under the tread, they have an extra hunk of rubber on top of that. The extra weight means you experience more rolling resistance. When touring this is pretty much no big deal because your plodding along at a slow speed anyway. (For non-touring purposes I use lighter Schwalbe Mondials. Not as puncture proof but they roll a lot easier.)

I have used Marathon Pluses on five tours. On road and off. For a total of about 9,500 miles. Not one flat. I still can’t believe it. They also last forever. I have put over 6,000 miles on one pair and they still have plenty of tread on them. I buy a new pair for each tour; the old ones go on my Cross Check and my Tour Easy. As it is, I have four or five old ones, lying around the house. They have plenty of life left in them.

Last year while riding around town I managed to get a few flats on old Marathon Pluses. One occurred when I rolled over a strangely shaped chunk of metal. Another happened when I ran over a long, exceptionally sharp screw. The tire went into the trash bin after that.

If you read touring journals, you’ll find that Marathon Pluses, despite being somewhat pricey, are very popular with the bike touring crowd. This year I bought Marathon Plus Tours, because the regular Pluses were sold out. Plus Tours have a slightly different tread for unpaved trails. What a coincidence. The first 300 miles of my tour will be on the unpaved Katy Trail in Missouri.

If you are going on a long tour, don’t screw around with inexpensive or old tires. You won’t regret spending the money on Marathon Pluses.

Bike Stuff I Like – Park Tool PW-4 Pedal Wrench

Putting on and taking off pedals is often difficult. The threads on the pedals go in the direction of the pedal. If you don’t grease the threads and take them off once in a while they practically fuse themselves to the crank arms. I found this out at Bike Virginia. The transport crew was loading our bikes onto a truck bound for the start of the ride in Lexington, Virginia. They tried and tried and tried to remove the pedals from my trusty old Trek 1200. Finally, they gave up.

They were probably using a pedal wrench with an opening at 3 and 6 o’clock or at 6 and 12 o’clock. When you look at these wrenches you think, “Works for me.” Well, no. If your pedals are stuck, these wrenches will only succeed in knuckle scrapes and frustration. I know. I have three different kinds of these wrenches. They suck.

Instead you need a wrench that has an opening at 10 or 2 o’clock. For some mysterious reason this gives you just the right amount of mojo to loosen even the tightest pedal. After years of hassle, I finally coughed up the dinero and bought a Park Tool PW-4 wrench. It has a long, beefy handle for leverage and the offset openings are trademarked by Hogwarts because they can do magic. You just put it on the pedal and pop! the pedal threads release. No muss. No fuss.

Park Tool sells them for $35.

Worth it.

Bike Stuff I Like – Light and Motion LED Bike Lights

When I started grad school, I was a bike rider. Then winter came. Back in the Carter Administration the only reasonably priced, lightweight bike lights were “be seen” lights. They had a tiny incandescent bulb backed with a bit of reflective metal. You could see about three feet in front of you. They were good for walking home in the dark. They were powered (using the term loosely) by AA batteries than seemed to drain with each pedal stroke.

Bike lights were so useless that I became a runner. Seriously.

Many years later halogen lights came on the market. Dang were these awesome. They were much brighter. They were powered by a battery pack, originally the size and shape of a water bottle. If memory serves, these lights faded slowly as the power ran out. I used a NiteRider halogen light for many years, going through a couple of batteries in the process. They were a vast improvement. The batteries had an annoying habit of dying if you didn’t keep them charged.

Halogen lights have been supplanted by LED lights. These are smaller, charge faster, and are lighter weight. After my last halogen light died, I bought bought a Light and Motion Stella LED light. It had a small head lamp that I put on my helmet. The battery was the size of a deck of cards and was attached via a small cable. I loved the light but finding a place for the deck of cards was sometimes a problem. When I wasn’t wearing a vest or jacket, I’d stick it down the back of my pants. Eww.

The cord eventually broke and Light and Motion discontinued the Stella so I bought the closest substitute. This was similar in design except the cable now detached from the battery instead of from the light. And the battery was now an odd lumpy shape.

The cable on that light began to fray (it still works though after about eight years) so I bought an Urban 500, a different design. The light is in a tube that contains the battery. It can mount it on handlebars or helmet. Like the Stella, this baby puts out some serious light so you need to be mindful of blinding on-coming traffic on trails. Newer models are even more powerful. The all-in-one design means you can use them in camp at night or when the power goes out at home. Your family will love it when you burn their retinas out in the living room.

One advantage to this design is that you can take it off your helmet and mount it on the handlebars. I prefer helmet mounting because the light goes where my head and eyes are pointed. When the light is on your handlebars you can miss things like critters lurking near the trail. That said, these lights tend to have a narrow beam. I realized after riding until midnight in North Dakota in 2018 that I had absolutely no idea what I was riding past.

Here’s what this design looks like. This Rando model is very similar to the Urban 500. Specs on various Light and Motion lights vary. Some are brighter, charge faster, and such.

Recently, I bought the Vis 360 Pro which is a different design, intended for mounting on a helmet. The headlamp looks like the one on the Stella. It comes with a rear light (which contains the battery). The light works fine but I prefer the simplicity of the all-in-one tubular design.

The Vis 360 is intended to be left on your helmet. The Urban/Rando style lights can be removed quickly for safe keeping.

The only downside to LED lights that I have used is the fact that they go dark without much warning, instead of fading out like the halogen lights did. In any case, to my way of thinking, bike lights are the biggest improvement in cycling equipment in the last three decades. Most of my nighttime riding is to and from DC on unlit trails. Any of these Light and Motion lights is up to the task.

I have no idea what other manufacturers lights are like these days. If you shop around and wait for sales, you can get a high-quality headlight for under $100.

Bike Stuff I Like – REI Junction Hybrid Pants

I hate tights. They never keep me warm and seem to muck up my pedaling mechanics. For cold (mid-Atlantic, that is) weather, the only alternative I’ve had was to wear my Showers Pass rain pants. These work fine but they are rather heavy and restrictive.

Last fall I stumbled upon an alternative. REI’s Junction Hybrid Pants. They look like pants but they feel like tights. They work perfectly with the bike shorts liners I normally wear with an outer shell during warm weather. They have a zipper at the bottom of each leg so they go on quickly. There is a reflective stripe along the zippers for visibility. The waist closes with a drawstring.

I found these pants great in windy conditions, much better than tights. I haven’t ridden them in a hard rain, but I imagine they’d be up to a light mist or drizzle.

I have worn these pants in temperatures from 30 degrees to 60 degrees and felt comfortable. That’s a pretty good temperature range for my neck of the woods. I didn’t wear them below 30 degrees because I retired from cold weather cycling when I quit work.

There are a couple of minor drawbacks to these pants. They they lack pockets. Since I always wear them with a jacket or vest, this isn’t much of a problem. And, there is no zipper for making water. Ay god, Woodrow. Then again, the shorts I wear underneath don’t have a pee pee hole either so no big deal.

They sell for $90 which sounds like a lot but I have worn one pair since November and they still look new. The salesperson at the REI store said she liked them so much she bought three pairs. She gets a discount so she can afford this. After a couple of months I ordered a second pair, discount be damned. These pants are good stuff.

One odd note of warning. The REI site didn’t have the men’s pants listed. I used the google to find the link on the REI site.