From D7 to T10, part 3: Bettering Bino’s brakes

Brakes are a pretty big deal to me. They’re the primary reason why I was able to post respectable lap times in an underpowered grocery getter back when I was still a privateer time attack race driver. Personally, I’m quite finicky with their feel and action, and that carried over to my two bikes.

Hyro has excellent TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes as stock equipment. Coupled with 160 mm brake rotors, metallic brake pads, compressionless brake cable housing, and Shimano’s 105 (ST-5700) STI levers, there’s very little to complain about their braking power, modulation, and feel.

This was what the Promax front V-brakes looked like when Bino was new. Note how much free space there is on the top where the cable anchor bolt is.

Bino, on the other hand, came with Promax V-brake arms and brake levers. There’s a reason why the very first mechanical work I did on a bicycle was on the brakes: I wasn’t satisfied with them. Out of the box, squeezing the levers resulted in a spongy feeling, with not much tangible braking power in the first 50% of the lever travel. My personal preference is to have the brake pads biting well at that point.

Bino’s Promax front V-brakes tuned to my liking. They’ve been cinched up so much, the rubber cable boot isn’t even doing anything and is torn at the bottom.

This would be tolerable by itself, since V-brakes can be tuned and adjusted to provide the kind of feel and power you prefer – and I did cinch up the V-brake arms to my liking. However, the brake levers themselves are also disappointing. There’s tangible side-to-side slop you can feel when you tip the brake lever up or down with your fingers curled around it. Coming from the satisfaction of a solid-feeling brake pedal in my car and STI levers on my cross bike, that’s not very reassuring.

The rear V-brake arms tuned to my liking. The right arm is the one with the bad return spring. Notice the rubber cable boot torn up at the bottom as well.

I carried on with the stock brake setup for three years, until the return spring on the rear V-brake arms decided it was time to give up. With a bad return spring, the V-brake arms don’t readily return to their starting positions when you let go of the brake lever. This causes the brake pad to drag along the braking track of your wheel, making acceleration and maintaining momentum harder than it should. In some cases it can even interfere with the wheel’s rotation badly enough to prevent you from riding. It got to the point where I had to go against the textbook method of maintaining a rim brake, and skewed the brake pads downward just so I could avoid them terminally dragging on the rim.

At that point, I decided to just upgrade the braking system with Shimano parts. Despite mountain bikes having largely migrated to disc brakes, the Osaka bicycle component juggernaut still makes V-brake hardware.

After some shopping around, I got a good deal on some second-hand Shimano Alivio Trekking BL-T4000 V-brake levers. Nothing fancy or notable about these, except that they have barely noticeable slop at their pivots and have levers with slightly more girth. They’re little things, but they add up.

These levers got paired to Shimano Alivio Trekking BR-T4000 V-brake arms. Without “cheating” or looking at model or part numbers, they don’t give away that they’re actually part of a groupset. I like the simple, workmanlike aesthetic of all the brake hardware.

You can barely see the model number. It’s hiding behind the brake shoe bolt.

I had the brake hardware installed at Tryon. Hooked up, the mechanics did a great job tuning the brakes for solid initial bite; I doubt I’d be fettling with them soon. Riding around Makati, the levers have a great feel and good action with a minimum of unwanted movement, while the brake arms themselves give nice speed retardation. There’s definitely something to be said about V-brake arms that nicely spring back to their initial position once you let go of the lever.

Taking a closer look at the Promax and Shimano V-brake arms, I can see the main difference. As you go up from the V-brake mounting posts of the frame, the Promax arms are simpler and straighter, while the Shimano arms bow outward midway.  This shaping effectively lengthens the amount of cable that the system of brake lever and V-brake arms can pull, thus increasing leverage and braking power.

Rear pair of Alivio Trekking V-brake arms. See the curves in them and on the return springs?

Granted, there are still many reasons why V-brakes are inferior to any disc brake. Their rubbery brake pads won’t offer as good a modulation as the solid material of their disc brake counterparts, and the fact that they’re still rim brakes means they’ll wear away at wheelsets and they’re always going to be at some sort of disadvantage in the wet. Next to Hyro’s TRP Spyres, V-brakes are also nowhere near as simple to tune. Even with these quirks, though, a well-tuned V-brake is just about the most powerful rim brake you can get.

Review: WTB Silverado Sport saddle

When I purchased Bino back in 2013, his stock “Dahon Comfort” saddle was great for my undercarriage. Even when my riding became much more aggressive as I became a better cyclist, the stock saddle’s shape and cushioning proved a good fit.

What was a little less impressive was the build quality. The top covering of the stock saddle was essentially stapled to its underside with lots of fasteners. With age, it had started to come off the staples and expose some of the underlying foam, which had also begun flaking off. These were essentially signs of a saddle that was ready for retirement.

Hyro’s Selle SMP Hell saddle was a pie-in-the-sky venture into the slightly exotic. By contrast, Bino has a much more upright riding position, so any replacement saddle had to fulfill that different design brief. I also wanted to see what options I could have while sticking to a more meager budget and a more conventional saddle form factor.

I ended up trying WTB’s Silverado Sport.

DESIGN AND FEATURES

  • Grippy microfiber top cover
  • 133 mm saddle width
  • 274 mm saddle length
  • Steel saddle rails
  • Flex-tuned shell
  • “Comfort Zone” center channel for soft tissue relief

IMPRESSIONS

The first thing you notice about the Silverado Sport is just how grippy its top cover is. It feels like it was built to grip shorts and not let go too easily, so I think it’s more suited to riders that don’t like to move around the saddle all that much. It can feel like the top cover actually started life as something abrasive, with WTB just polishing and polishing it until most of it wore away and it just retained its tacky friction. How you will take to this is up to your personal taste. Personally I’d prefer a slicker, less tacky top cover to accommodate weight shifts and general movement atop the saddle. That said, I do much less weight shifting when riding Bino compared to riding Hyro, so it works out well enough. The top cover does have simple white detailing in the form of the WTB logos and the Silverado logo on the nose.

The Silverado’s shape is very similar to Dahon’s Comfort saddle but a tad narrower, which improves the thighs’ range of motion for high-cadence crank spinners. This means it could also work with a road or cross bike. It improves on the Dahon saddle’s shape by offering a central depressed channel which is supposed to give relief from genital numbness…which was one of the few complaints I had with the stock saddle on rides past 40 km in length.

Whatever padding the saddle packs is pretty decent. There’s just enough squish in the foam to offer compliance. After the initial sag, the shell and bottom layer of foam are satisfyingly firm. Because of the more conventional shape and rails compared to any of Selle SMP’s perches, the Silverado Sport plays well with more accessories, such as Cat Eye’s RM-1 saddle rail mount for its rear lights.

One of the best things about the Silverado Sport is its price – proof that you don’t need a large budget for a good saddle, if you can get along with its shape. Mine cost all of PhP1,000, which is a performance saddle bargain as far as I’m concerned. The Sport is the bottom-spec model in the Silverado range; going up the ladder gets you the Pro, Team, and Carbon models, with improvements in the rails, covering, and other materials.

VERDICT

An affordable yet comfortable flat-profile saddle for aggressive pedalers, the WTB Silverado Sport could be just the ticket if you can get along with its shape and very grippy top cover.

Review: Ergon GP3-S handlebar grips

Unlike road bikes, with their drop handlebars giving their riders at least three hand positions, bikes with flat handlebars are typically restricted to just one. This can affect your comfort when your rides become ever longer. So, given the limitations of the flat handlebar, what can you do to improve your comfort while riding?

Bino came stock with a basic set of rubber grips from Biologic, the in-house folding bike accessory brand born out of Dahon and Tern. One key feature is the ergonomic wing that extended from the end and served as a cushion for the rider’s palms. This was a good idea.

However, the grips themselves weren’t so great. They developed a habit of loosening over time, losing friction and spinning on the bar, especially in wet conditions. They were also asymmetric, the right grip being some 30 mm shorter to accommodate the stock Shimano rear grip shifter. Once I had the Tiagra flat-handlebar trigger shifters installed, these grips just weren’t going to do the trick.

So I ended up swapping them out for a pair of Ergon GP3s in the “small” size, hence the “-S” suffix. The larger “-L” versions are meant for riders with larger hands.

Most of Ergon’s handlebar grips retain the ergonomic flared wing end. Here, the material of the grip is much more substantial, with a black rubber base and a textured gray forward rubber edge. The two rubber regions seem to have a slightly different density to each other.

The other main feature of the GP3-S grips are their integrated bar ends. They’re no longer in vogue now, but they were a feature of many mountain bikes in years past, and it’s a minor shame they’ve gone out of fashion.

The bar ends are around 55 mm long – just enough for my hands to fully wrap around them as “horns.” They are also textured and ribbed for good hand purchase. They’re made of a hard, tough plastic, but finished well enough to be comfortable.

Looking at them from below, these also double as the lock-on clamps for the grips themselves.

A single 5 mm hex bolt threads in from the bottom of the bar end to clamp the grip onto the handlebar. It’s important to do this bolt up to its specified torque, or just under it. I’ve heard of many people breaking this bolt due to too much tension, but so far mine has held up well.

Ergon also makes a big point of making sure the angles of the bar end and the flared wing portion of the grip are correctly set to your preference before torquing down on the bolt.

The real value of the bar ends is that they can give you a second hand position. On longer, wide-open stretches, you can wrap your hands around the bar ends to alleviate pressure on your palms. Set at the correct angle (for me it’s around 35 degrees from horizontal), holding the bar ends mimics the action of riding in the hoods on a drop-bar road bike. Sadly though, you do not have any access to braking or shifting controls in this second position.