Frayed, again

Seven months after I last replaced my frayed rear shift cable, it’s happened again: that old familiar feeling of just nothing happening as I summoned an upshift. In such conditions, I’m effectively riding on just half my cassette, the smaller cogs sealed away until the shift cable finally snaps in two and dumps me on top gear.

Just a fact of life for me, I’m afraid

Fresh rear shift cable getting inserted into a Shimano 105 5700 STI lever

Shimano’s 105 5700 STI levers are infamous for fraying their shift cables around the head area, which I can confirm with my own experience. I’ve already written about the challenge of replacing shift cable on Hyro, which usually results in me lying on the floor, looking at the bike up its bottom bracket shell, while trying to coax rear shift cable correctly into its routing hole in the drive-side chainstay. Ah well, such is the reality of wrenching on a TCX.

Not too long ago, “AngryAsian” James Huang wrote about his appreciation of good old mechanical shifting with cables in an age where electronic shifting is the bee’s knees. For those like me, who ride on frames that have challenging internal cable routing, something electronic like Shimano’s Di2 would be perfect – install the battery, E-tube cables and junction boxes one time, and in theory, you should never have to maintain or replace them. Shifts will always be perfectly indexed once set, and Shimano have even thrown in automatic trimming and Synchro Shift of the front derailleur. Indeed, Di2 has found fans in cyclocross competition, where the maintenance-free nature of the E-tube cables and the increase in frames with internal routing make for a minimum of fuss compared to the punishment the rest of the bike suffers from.

Even simpler still would be SRAM Red eTap HRD, where the control levers and derailleurs talk to each other purely through wireless communication. Sure, you have more batteries with smaller capacity to deal with compared to Di2, but all you’d have to worry about afterward are the hydraulic brake hoses.

The main barrier to entry for electronic shifting, despite all its merits, is cost. Unless you’re looking at the top tier of groupsets and components, electronic shifting is usually not an option. If you were to go with the most affordable route, Shimano Ultegra Di2, you’re still looking at roughly the same cost of mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace, the Japanese juggernaut’s top-tier road bike groupset. This is why many believe that Di2 should be made available at more affordable third-tier Shimano 105 for proper mass-market adoption to increase.

Until then, dealing with replacing cables and fishing them through the frame roughly twice a year is a reality of maintenance. At least I have no battery to deal with, though.

Reprise: Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires, 20″ x 1.5″

After four years, Bino was due for a change of footwear. Part of the reason why I stuck him on the turbo trainer at home was simply in anticipation of this fact.

The smaller 406 mm wheel size means greater rolling resistance and a faster overall wear rate, since the tires’ tread circumference makes more revolutions to cover a given distance compared to, say, Hyro‘s 622 mm. This was demonstrated in dramatic fashion by the sheer amount of rubber dust generated by my rear wheel whenever I used Bino on the turbo trainer.

Soon enough, it was also made crystal clear to me by how badly worn the rear tire got. At first the tread’s profile got flatter, with more of a pronounced step between the center and the shoulders. Later, the biased threads of the tire carcass were beginning to peek through, some of its carbon black oozing out and slipping on the turbo trainer. At this point, Bino sorely needed new rubber on his wheels and was definitely unsafe to ride on the road.

The outgoing Impac Streetpac 20″ x 1.75″ rear tire. You can see how much it’s flattened on its center tread.

The threads on the casing are starting to show due to the impregnated rubber having worn away. These aren’t roadworthy any more.

I paid a visit to Tryon in Makati and bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Racer tires. Bino’s outgoing front tire was also a Marathon Racer, but of a previous generation. The appearance of the sidewall logos, tread pattern, and other features were quite different between them, but they do share the Marathon series’ signature puncture protection.

FEATURES

  • 20″ x 1.5″ (ISO 40-406 mm); also available in 16″, 18″, 26″, and 700C wheel fitments
  • “Level 4 Raceguard” double-layer nylon puncture protection belt
  • “SpeedGrip” rubber compound for good handling
  • “LiteSkin” full-length reflective sidewall
  • Wire bead
  • 67 TPI casing
  • Maximum load rating: 75 kg per tire
  • Claimed weight: 340 g per tire
  • Pressure range: 55-85 psi

IMPRESSIONS

According to the marketing spiel, Schwalbe’s Marathon tires were specifically built for toughness and long service life, for applications ranging from touring to commuting. The “Racer” is so-called because it is the lightest model of the Marathon range – not really for its competition chops. Reinforcing the commuting bent, this was the first tire I heard of that had reflective sidewalls, although my original outgoing pair didn’t as they were of an older vintage.

The new Marathon Racers I got had beads that were ridiculously tight. This particular set was perhaps the toughest pair of tires I’d ever fitted onto my custom LitePro x Newson Sportec wheelset with 14 mm internal width, especially the one I mounted on the front wheel. Every time I used my bead jack to wrestle the tire up and over the rim, the wire bead would just walk itself right out of the bead hooks somewhere else. It was a frustrating ordeal that resulted in at least one tire lever getting sacrificed to the tire mounting gods. Eventually I ditched the bead jack and used every other trick in the book to finally seat this tire on Bino’s front wheel, after much cursing, the process leaving me a sweaty mess.

The “arrowhead” tread pattern on the current generation of Marathon Racer tires. Some people have already tried these tires on a turbo trainer and were put off by the noise due to the broken center tread.

Despite the deeply cut directional blocks on the tread, the Marathon Racer is strictly an on-road tire. Not that you’d want to take a folding bike like Bino to the trails anyway; it’s just not made to withstand that sort of riding. At 60 psi front and 70 psi rear, grip is fairly good, even in the wet. They lend themselves well to the deep lean angles that small-wheeled folding bikes excel in when cornering at speed, even on shiny concrete parking floors where traction isn’t so great compared to paved asphalt or concrete roads. They will relinquish grip quite quickly when cornering or braking on wet steel surfaces or wet leaves, though.

Normally I’d go into more of the minutiae of tires, but any discussion about the rolling resistance these tires offer is moot, at best. Neither is any discussion on ride comfort much of one. The 20″ wheel and tire combo is never really going to roll or cushion road acne as well as a 700C combo, and I don’t think this will change much with the kind of tire you mount. That said, since starting my indoor training in January, it’s no hardship for me to maintain an average pace of 17-20 km/h around my usual commute loop, so the Marathon Racers do seem pretty efficient.

These tires sure look good in profile. Most of it is down to the reflective stripe aping a gum sidewall.

Given how much swearing it took to fit these tires onto Bino’s wheels, the Marathon Racers should make up for all that gruntwork with their puncture resistance. For the most part, they do. Even on my old set, I had only ever one puncture.  Best to carry a beefy set of tire levers with you if you run these on your folding bike, not the ones that come with your multi-tool…and make sure your rim strips or rim tape is up to snuff to avoid punctures from inside.

With the air volume of an inner tube under it, like most other tires, it should stretch out and loosen up a bit over time, allowing for easier dismounting and remounting…I hope. Fingers crossed.

With my camera’s flash fired, the reflective sidewalls really pop as a couple of rings.

Finally we come to the reflective sidewalls. I think they’re nice, and any feature that boosts visibility to other road users, especially at night, is worth considering. They’re not perfect, however. The reflective stripe on mine doesn’t follow the circumference of the tire so well – it has a few wiggles along its length. I’d also prefer that Schwalbe broke these down into four long segments instead of making the tire one reflective hoop, because when the tires are in motion, the reflective segments are more eye-catching and convey a sense of the bike moving much better.

The outgoing Schwalbe Marathon Racer bought back in 2013 that served as Bino’s front tire. It’s worn, but the difference in tread pattern is still notable compared to the newer pair.

VERDICT

Schwalbe’s Marathon Racer tires, in a sense, are ideal for small-wheeled folding bikes such as Bromptons or Dahons, where wheel removal, tire dismounting, puncture repair, and tire remounting can be such bothersome procedures that any measures taken to avoid all that faff are worth your money. Virtually unknown in mid-2013, my old pair went for PhP1,300 apiece; with their popularity rising in the past few years and manufacture moving to Indonesia, they can now be found for PhP1,000 each.

Despite the “Racer” name, I don’t really consider these ideal for competitive use. They’re jack-of-all-trades tires; durable, grippy enough, resistant to punctures, and mid-pack in width. For really fast folding bike riders, Schwalbe’s diamond-patterned Durano or full-slick Kojak might be better options, while comfort seekers might be better served by their balloon-like two-inch-wide Big Apples. For ultimate puncture protection, everything else be damned, Schwalbe can sell you a Marathon Plus.

This is why you should regularly inspect your chain

Not too long ago, my chain broke just as I was beginning my ride. The outer plates on one of the links had given up, bending outward in dramatic fashion.

This was a first for me.

Driving a joining pin into a Shimano CN-HG54 10-speed chain using a multi-tool’s chain breaker.

These days, there are many, many resources online that can help you with chain repair and get you going, assuming you have the right tools and supplies on hand. Specifically, you’ll need a multi-tool with a chain breaker, plus either a spare joining pin (for Shimano or Campagnolo chains) or a master link (for SRAM, KMC, Taya and Wippermann chains).

I carry these in my saddlebag, and I know how to use them, so the only inconvenience for me was leaving about ten minutes later than planned…plus dirty, greasy fingers from handling the chain. My KMC 10-speed master links had some rust on them, but were still very usable, and so I replaced the busted outer plates with one of the master links and made it to my destination safely.

That should have been the end of it. Or was it?

My trusty Park Tool CC-3.2 chain checker, here indicating that the chain has not yet worn down 0.75%. A cheap, must-have tool.

A few days later, I took out my Park Tool CC-3.2 chain checker and used it on the chain. The 0.5% end fell straight through the links, indicating 0.5% wear. The 0.75% end didn’t, though. Okay, I told myself, I should stay on the conservative side and look for a replacement chain, but no hurries.

I took a closer look at the chain though and found this.

Apparently there were more links on my chain with broken outer plates. These were ticking time bombs. There’s no way of telling when these outer plates would finally let go and lead to another chain failure event.

I replaced the chain straight away.

A pair of outer plates and chain rivets from my KMC X10EL chain. Note the broken outer plate. There were more of these.

Park Tool recently released a few videos on its YouTube channel on chains, sizing, repair, and replacement procedures. It stressed that in case of chain breakage, you could always repair it the same way I did. However, that broken chain must be replaced as soon as possible.

Well, the broken outer plates all over my repaired chain are one possible reason why. Even at 0.5% wear, which for 10-speed chains indicates a bit of life left, my chain clearly shouldn’t be ridden any longer. These broken links are what you should take particular notice of on your chain – we all know what they say about it only being as strong as its weakest link.

Always keep a spare chain at home to match your drivetrain, at least as long as your current chain’s length. As long as the packaging is unopened, you won’t need to worry about it rusting or corroding, as it comes coated from the factory in a grease-like lubricant for storage.