Yeah, I’m biased.

The past two or three years have seen the rise of a movement that has gotten impossible to ignore.

I am talking about the rise of Chinese companies in the bicycle industry.

If reviewers and YouTube punters are to be believed, Chinese-made cycling products have matured – in varying degrees – and they now offer a compelling option for today’s cyclist possessing more enthusiasm than cash.

Nowhere is this more obvious than with carbon wheelsets and rims. For years, Farsports was a budget rim option for people keen on building up their own custom wheels, with a price point low enough to offset any perceptions of dubious quality or other such product-related risk. That seems to have paid off, and now we have quite a few players in the field, including Winspace.

This segues nicely into carbon bike frames, both for road and gravel. While Yeoleo and Hongfu/Dengfu have been quietly making their own framesets, Winspace is arguably the company that’s made the biggest splash, notably with the T1500 for the road and the G2 for gravel. It’s largely the same formula employed here, too: premium carbon frames for the price of a built-up aluminum bike from an established manufacturer.

The final prong in this onslaught into the bicycle industry is with groupsets. With SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo now committing into the premium space at the expense of the average Joe, as evidenced by the ridiculous price jump of Shimano 105 Di2 R7100, Chinese firms have dived into the market vacuum the big three left behind – with surprisingly quick development pace. It wasn’t very long ago at all that a Chinese-made LTWOO drivetrain was obviously just a cheap knock-off of the real thing. Nowadays, though, they’ve taken the fight to the big boys, first with hydraulic braking, and now with electronic shifting capabilities of their own – product patents be damned, I imagine.

So, where exactly do I stand in all of this? Should I not be celebrating this development, because it upsets the established pecking order, improves competition, and enables the poor cycling enthusiast another way of indulging his/her enthusiasm?

As I said, I am biased. In particular, I am quite heavily biased against Chinese products.


I live in the Philippines. That’s no secret. What also isn’t a secret – but perhaps is less known to any international audience reading this blog – is how China has openly antagonized and bullied my country several times since 2016. This is chiefly done by its insistence on an absurd “nine-dash line” marking its territory within the South China Sea which makes a mockery of the territorial claims of at least five other nation-states.

It is very tempting to give in to the allure of cheap Chinese cycling componentry. Honestly, I am impressed how far they’ve gotten in a very short span of time. I remain biased against them, however, because I believe any purchase of a Winspace frame or LTWOO drivetrain goes almost directly into the Chinese military’s efforts of intimidating and bullying much more helpless nations like my own – seeing as no company in China is truly private and the Chinese Communist Party always has a say whether your company lives or dies. As such, buying Chinese is akin to me buying a gun and shooting myself in the foot with it.

Perhaps this is a futile effort, since China has successfully positioned itself as the world’s leading manufacturer of anything and everything under the sun. If I buy anything else that isn’t expressly meant for cycling use, chances are it came from China, too. At least for cycling and motoring, however, I will stand by this principle.

How sustainable this is, I don’t know. It certainly isn’t looking very good. With Shimano’s consolidation of its lower-tier groupsets into one monolith called “CUES,” its seeming abandonment of competition mechanical groupsets, and cycling industry titan Taiwan’s (understandable) desire to steadily push for higher wages, China is poised to win any race to the bottom.

I can’t control how other folks spend their cash, but I can control how I spend my own. So yeah, I’m biased. If this means losing my audience, then I am sorry to see you go.

First impressions: Panaracer Gravel King SK tires, 700C x 38 mm

After having ridden at my familiar southern stomping grounds for years, it’s funny that I had never properly discovered the hidden trail network that ran through it and clandestinely intersected the roads I’d spent so much time on. An opportunity to ride with folks who knew about these ribbons of singletrack finally popped up, and so I felt I needed to prepare for it.

That preparation means more suitable rubber. As good as my American Classic Timekeepers are, they simply aren’t cut out for taking on trails. With my last set of knobby tires long since disintegrated, and with so many more options available in light of the gravel cycling boom, I thought I should sample one of them to get my trail-riding feet wet again.

With my budget a little tight and me unwilling to spend obscene amounts on tires I might not end up using frequently, I went with Panaracer’s long-running Gravel King SKs. I got my pair from online seller/importer Cycle Meeting for PhP3,800, or about PhP1,900 (~US$35) apiece, which is not too shabby considering many other gravel tire options go for PhP4,000 on their own. The 700C x 38 mm advertised size (which, strangely, differs from the ISO/ETRTO listed size of “40-622”) should fit into Hyro’s frame and fork. These newer gravel tires seem to have better reconciled the differing demands of riding on the road and grip on the rough stuff, although due to the word “gravel” really meaning different surfaces to different people and locations, no single tire will work for everyone’s riding as it’s all points on a fairly wide spectrum.

This is not my first dance with Panaracer rubber. Previously I had a pair of Fairweather For Traveller tires, which they produced in collaboration with Tokyo bike shop Blue Lug, and are basically the herringbone-tread Gravel King slick tires in disguise. These, however, are tubeless compatible, and have a tread pattern made up of square knobs and ridges – hence the “SK” designation, to differentiate them from the four other tread patterns in the Gravel King lineup.

True to Panaracer’s reputation and my previous experience, these tires were a pain to mount to my wheels and set up tubeless. Like the Fairweather tires before them, the SKs had tough, stubborn beads that made hoiking them over my rims a chore – slightly less so than the Fairweathers, but nowhere near as easy as with the Timekeepers. Worse, when they were finally inside the rim bed, they were a baggy fit, which undermined their tubeless set-up capability. I charged up my Bontrager Flash Charger pump to 160 psi about four or five times to seat them, only to be greeted with just a hiss of leaking air. When the sweet pops of success came, it was only after I had laid down five or six layers of tubeless rim tape, as opposed to the two or three the Timekeepers needed. As this is only my second rodeo with tubeless bike tires, this added setup length may have been due to the much larger volume on these 38 mm rubbers.

Fresh Orange Seal Endurance sealant injected and 42 psi of air pumped in, I rode them around the village for two laps to saturate the SKs’ tire carcasses with sealant, and to get a few ride impressions on pavement.

Hyro’s original footwear: Schwalbe Super Swan 700C x 35 mm mud knobbies. Photo circa 2016

For my ride impressions to have sufficient context, I feel like I have to make comparisons with Hyro’s original tires. They were Schwalbe Super Swan 700C x 35 mm knobbies meant for use in the mud – and they themselves are simply a narrow-carcass variant of the Rocket Ron mountain bike tire. Hyro is a cyclocross bike, after all – essentially the prototypical gravel bike when the gravel bike category was just a pipe dream.

In the few times I rode them on pavement and asphalt, they were not my favorite. The steam-roller effect of the larger tire size was an interesting novelty compared to the 28 mm slicks I usually ride, simply rolling over ruts and road acne, but everything else about the Super Swans was terrible away from the trails. Steering response felt sluggish and ponderous, and the wide voids in between tread blocks meant I couldn’t really lean into turns and shift my weight very well. Inertia from a standing start was rather bad, too. Away from the mud, the Super Swans gave Hyro a distinctly “straight and upright is best” riding style that felt very alien to me and my roadie predilections.

By comparison, the SKs benefit from almost ten years of gravel tire refinement over the Super Swans, and they feel like a much better dual-purpose tire. The design trend towards a dense center tread, combined with more aggressive lugs toward the tread shoulders, makes for much better steering response on the street. Tubeless tire technology finally delivers on the promises the Super Swan’s 35 mm width simply hinted at; where those tires couldn’t be run below 60 psi, at 42 psi the SKs deliver a distinctly more balloon-like cushiony ride quality.

The jury’s out on how much heavier these will be to spin up, as the SK’s much larger carcass compared to a 28 mm slick also means the whole bike has larger tire circumference and is effectively geared harder like-for-like. It also remains to be seen how well these tires will behave on that long-hidden singletrack. I’ll have two upcoming rides to see for myself. In the meantime, I am mildly impressed so far.

The tubeless transition: Some months after

About five months after committing to tubeless tire tech and making the conversion, I decided to top up the sealant in the American Classic Timekeeper tires. It was also a good time to address the little annoyances I had with the entire tubeless setup thus far, and evaluate the technology as a whole.

As far as tire pressures go, I started with the ETRTO’s 73 psi maximum prescribed for tubeless wheels without rim hooks, even though my H Plus Son The Hydra rims come with them. I simply figured it would be a good start point. With more rides under my belt, I’ve brought my tire pressures down to the 60-65 psi level, which introduces more ride comfort without any other vices. I might still experiment with lower pressures, but this is good for me.

In the interim, I grabbed a pair of longer 45 mm tubeless valves from WTB, and swapped out the old Stan’s 35 mm units. Removing the old valves and getting them unseated from their holes was a slight chore, but it also meant that they were as airtight as could be.

With the tire bead popped off the wheels to swap valves, I took a cursory glance at the inside of the tires. They were lined with sticky, dried-up Orange Seal Endurance sealant. I didn’t do any cleanup of old sealant; I peeled off only a little from the tire just to see how sticky it was. There was none of the problems Shane Miller had with the tire beads sticking to themselves due to the sealant. I injected another 40 mL of Orange Seal Endurance per tire, charged up my Bontrager TLR Flash Charger 2.0 pump to 160 psi, then let rip.

The added 10 mm of Presta valve length meant the pump had much better purchase on it for inflation, lessening the chances of its valve chuck spontaneously blowing itself off the valve. The front tire seated and successfully held air the first time. The rear, I had to seat twice after a slow leak, but otherwise went just as well.

All this is to say – I’m now a firm believer in tubeless tires for road bicycles. A lot of it is investing in the right tools and supplies, and part of it is also how well your tires and wheels play with each other. I have not yet suffered a puncture on this setup (touch wood), and the sealant maintenance aspect is a bit of a downer, but I suppose that’s also going to encourage me to ride outdoors more often.