Showing some skin(wall): Clement Strada LGG 700C x 32 mm

Road cycling is slowly learning a lesson that cyclocross racers, gravel riders, and mountain bikers have known for years: wider tires are better. The past few years have seen road cycling pros give up their 23 mm tires for a defacto standard 25 mm. In the Spring Classics races, such as Paris-Roubaix, the Strade Bianche, and the Ronde van Vlandeeren, pros will even swap in 27, 28 or 30 mm tires to deal with the gravel and cobblestones of these unique events.

In the past, I’ve pressed 28 mm slick road tires into duty for the majority of my riding, as Hyro came stock with 35 mm knobby mud tires that were just a little too ponderous for cornering on asphalt. I was generally fine with running my 28 mm tires at 80-90 psi, although one road ride back on the 35 mm knobbies did make the case for even wider rubber.

Here in the Philippines, 28 mm tires have been rather hard to come by. It wasn’t until recently that the gamut of choice for this width has widened. When the time came for my worn Continental Ultra Sport IIs to perhaps be relegated to turbo trainer duty, I wondered about my options.

It was then that I saw Clement Cycling offer its Strada LGG line locally in a huge width range – from 23 mm to 28 and even a whopping 32 mm. Even better, they offered almost all these in either traditional black sidewall, or a hipsterrific skinwall treatment. I don’t know about you, but the last time I saw skinwall tires in person was on my dad’s 1981 Peugeot ten-speed which I used to ride in high school.

I got these from Raven Cycles for PhP1200 apiece.

FEATURES

  • 60 or 120 TPI casing
  • Skinwall treatment available for 60 TPI versions
  • Chevron/herringbone tread pattern
  • 60 TPI version: 70A durometer single compound
  • Puncture protection belt on tread
  • Folding bead
  • Claimed weight: 335 g
  • Pressure range: 40-80 psi for 32 mm

IMPRESSIONS

One of Clement’s quirks is to name its tires after the airport codes of cities. “LGG” is the code for Liege in Belgium, home to the annual Liege-Bastogne-Liege bicycle race – another of the Spring Classics.

Having had sketchy moments on the all-slick Ultra Sport IIs when I rode over dusty roads, I began to get curious about how even a light tread pattern would help increase mechanical grip.

Well, one thing in favor of the Ultra Sport IIs, or indeed most road tires by Continental, is their on-road grip is pretty damn good despite the near-absence of tread. Their black art of effective tire compound is most evident when leaned over and turning. For pure road riding, it’s fair to say that Continental’s tires are hard to beat.

By comparison, the Strada LGGs…aren’t as straightforward.

Mounting them to my wheels was very easy and required zero tools, in contrast to the tire lever breakage I got when mounting the Ultra Sport IIs for the very first time. Do note that because of the width, these have much more air volume, and so need a bit more pumping to get up to pressure.

The skinwall treatment does make them look a little chunky on Hyro, but he is a cyclocross bike after all. Knobby skinwall tubular tires are a staple of European cyclocross, so there’s that. They do fill out the SKS P45 Longboard fenders very nicely!

Mounted to a 19 mm internal width rim and inflated to 60 psi, they’re true to size at 32 mm. The photo above doesn’t show it too well as I had to hold too many things to take this photo and the tape measure isn’t straight. I thought the herringbone tread would make a racket when used on a turbo trainer, but that wasn’t the case. There’s enough continuous slick center tread for the trainer’s resistance unit to silently work on, and the tread is on the shoulders for better cornering bite.

So…out on the road, how do they fare? Fundamentally, I was curious about how much comfort gains can be had moving to a wide 28 mm road tire to an even wider 32 mm road tire, and what compromises I should expect. At which point on the tire width scale does diminishing returns set in?

“Honey, does this make me look fat?”

It turns out that was only part of the question. In my first month riding these, I saw that the 32 mm Strada LGGs live and die by the air pressure you put into them. When you get to tires this wide, there’s not much to prepare you for the complex relationship between them and air pressure if, like me, you’re coming from narrower widths. These tires’ characteristics tend to vary wildly and drastically with small changes in pressure. Who knew that just 4 mm of width could give such a massive difference?

One night, I was riding around with these tires softer than normal. I could feel them holding me back and soaking up the watts I was pushing through my legs. It wasn’t until I got home that I found I had just 30 psi in my rear tire. Fair enough.

Toward the other extreme, plumped to 70 psi, the LGGs remained comfortable, rolled much better, and carried a surprising amount of speed when spun up. However, they were not happy at all with anything more than light turn-in. Along a left-right flik-flak along my usual long ride route, I had a sketchy moment as the front wheel lost grip shortly after light rainfall. An hour later, I could still feel the LGGs squirm a bit when making tight U-turns in the dry.

In subsequent rides, I detected the same peculiar slippage on wet patches, even after slight deflation to 65 psi. Clearly, there was still too much air, and the tire wasn’t deforming enough to grip wet asphalt properly.

After some more experimentation, and following Frank Berto’s 15% of sidewall height rule, I felt the LGGs hit their stride at 45 psi front, 50 psi rear. That was a total surprise, counter-intuitive even, given that my body weight doesn’t lend itself to these low pressures, and it’s close to the bottom of Clement’s recommended range. They still rolled well, yet behaved better with cornering forces going through their contact patches, retaining good firmness in the carcass with barely any squirm. Zero punctures, too.

Easing off on the pressure also alleviates their tendency to sniff out little ruts and longitudinal irregularities on the road.

At 50 psi, the Strada LGGs are proving to be happy campers, as grippy as they’re going to get. For people who want to spend long days on the saddle and explore, and are willing to experiment with air pressures, these are just the ticket.

And, to be honest, those fat skinwalls just look really good.

Pie-in-the-sky: Dream bike components

In the three years since I’ve taken up cycling, I’ve modified my bikes to better fit my demands as a cyclist and bike commuter. While they are great bikes now, there’s always scope for things to get better. Below is my list of dream bike components.

TUBELESS WHEELSET FOR DISC BRAKES + TUBELESS ROAD BIKE TIRES

On paper, Hyro’s stock Giant S-X2 wheelset is tubeless-ready, but in practice it needs tubeless rim tape and valves – not to mention the sealant and the tires themselves. As it’s essentially made for cross-country mountain bikes, it’s also rather heavy, despite having only 28 spokes. Since disc brakes have gotten a larger presence in road and cyclocross bikes, wheelset options have also increased – many of them lighter than the S-X2 yet just as strong.

The Aero Light Disc wheelset by Hunt Bike Wheels of the UK: strong, light, tubeless-ready, and built to accept CenterLock brake rotors.

Schwalbe’s Pro One tubeless slick clincher tire is state-of-the-art as of 2016.

As for road tubeless – I’m all for any tech that improves ride quality. Tubeless tires promise the same performance as clinchers, but at a lower air pressure. Couple that with the puncture protection of the liquid sealant inside the tire, and you have a compelling combination – one that’s worth the replacement of sealant every few months. Even that task has innovations coming its way too.

The only real downside is the availability of tires. Any 700C-sized tubeless rubber available in the Philippines tends to be made for cyclocross, with tread knobs or file tread and at least a 32 mm width. If there were slick or lightly treaded options in similar widths that would be great.

FRONT DYNAMO HUB AND LIGHTING SYSTEM

I’ve waxed poetic about the sheer endurance of my Cat Eye Volt 1200’s battery. However, it’s still running off a battery – it always stands the chance of running out of juice and failing mid-ride. Early on, I had dreams of a bike lighting setup that could be left permanently on. The best way to make that possible is to build a front wheel around a dynamo hub.

A PD-8 dynamo front hub, made by Taiwanese firm Shutter Precision (SP). It accepts six-bolt disc brake rotors. The two plastic pieces on the right sandwich into each other as wire connectors.

Dynamo hubs nowadays are incredibly efficient, generating electricity from the rotational energy of the front wheel that would otherwise be wasted. They are very hard to find locally though, as are lights that are built to run off them. A Taiwanese firm called Shutter Precision makes some of the best dynamo hubs out there, supposedly even better than German stalwards Schmidt and their famous SON (Schmidt Original Nabendynamo) units.

Heck, if you had Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting, you could recharge its battery off the electricity from your dynamo hub, and never worry about losing the ability to shift gears. That’s exactly what Mark Beaumont did when he rode a Koga Solacio so equipped from Cairo to Cape Town in April 2015.

An Exposure Lights Revo Dynamo. One of the few dynamo-powered front lights advertising its output in lumens – in this case, 800 of them. (Photo credit: jamiecjordan.)

The only real question mark I have is the power output of a dynamo-powered front light. Unlike their battery brethren, dynamo-powered lights tend to have their brightness measured in lux instead of lumens. This makes meaningful comparisons of illumination difficult. Even then, I have yet to see a dynamo front light that pumps out the 1200 lumens my Volt 1200 does.

HYDRAULIC DISC BRAKES

I’m very happy with my TRP Spyre mechanical disc brakes. Any upgrade to braking capability is always welcome, however. For all the Spyres’ reliability, simplicity and decelerative ability, they will never offer single-finger braking from the hoods.

Shimano BR-RS505 hydraulic road disc brake caliper and SM-RT99 “Freeza” brake rotor.

Shimano now has hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes, incorporating spiffy technology such as Ice Tech from its mountain bikes. A few things hold me back from upgrading Hyro with them, though.

  • Caliper options for road and cross bike frames with Post Mount hardpoints are artificially limited. Fortunately, it looks like any of Shimano’s mountain bike brake calipers will work – no more mismatch issues between caliper and lever!
  • Shimano’s road hydraulic disc brakes are available in 10-speed (Tiagra) and 11-speed (105, Ultegra, Dura-Ace) flavors. Hyro runs the older 105 5700-series 10-speed groupset. Even then, I would still have to replace my derailleurs with new units, as Shimano’s Tiagra 4700-series 10-speed groupset uses different cable pull for shifting.
  • Finally there’s the price. Despite the tech trickling down to lower tiers, none of these parts is what I’d call cheap. Most expense goes into the STI levers, which are traditionally the priciest items on a groupset, but that cost jumps even more with hydraulic braking.

A CUSTOM TITANIUM FRAME

In terms of geometry, Hyro is spot-on for my physique. However, there’s no denying that he is still an aluminum bike, and deserved or not, the material still has a stigma for a stiff, crashy ride.

What about other materials, then? I have almost zero interest in carbon fiber as a bike frame material; unless it’s for a fork, it just isn’t the right material for the riding I like to do. Chromoly steel is currently the darling of custom frame builders, and is fabled for its legendarily springy, lively ride quality, but its susceptibility to rust puts holes in its reputation for longevity.

A custom titanium cyclocross bike frame from Russian builder Triton Bikes, kitted out with most of the things I’ve already mentioned in this post.

That leaves titanium. With the ride of steel and the corrosion resistance of aluminum, on paper it seems the perfect material to build a bicycle frame out of – one that could outlive you. Combined with a carbon fork, a titanium bike feels like a winner. The main concern is price. Tooling and methods for working titanium are expensive, the cost passing on to the end customer. I’m also not a fan of the bare titanium finish, as it attracts more attention than I would like; unfortunately paint isn’t known to adhere well to titanium tubing.

If there was some way to translate the TCX’s geometry and tire clearances into titanium form, then add all my desired rack and fender hardpoints…that might well be the last bike I buy.

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What’s your dream bike made out of? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Anatomy of a square-taper bottom bracket

Remember that Bino, my folding bike, had a three-piece crank as stock. I’ve since swapped it out for a Shimano FC-R565 two-piece unit and an SM-BBR60 Hollowtech II bottom bracket. Ever wonder what happened to the stock square-taper bottom bracket?

Here it is in all its greasy glory.

Mushrooming out of each side are the crank bolts, which I screwed into the ends of the spindles just so they won’t get lost. Otherwise, that’s how the bottom bracket would look like had it still remained inside the Dahon Vitesse frame’s bottom bracket shell, with the two bearing cups screwed in. One of the cups is fixed, on the drive side, while the other non-drive side cup is adjustable.

I’m holding the bottom bracket here by the cups. You’ll notice it’s actually pretty slender in the middle.

Moving the adjustable bearing cup outward reveals the actual ball bearings themselves, contained in a cage. They work with the spindle by suspending it by its raised flange in the middle, acting as a bearing race, with the rest of the support handled by the bearing cups. As you can see, this is pretty much the guts of any bottom bracket – the ball bearings that let the spindle rotate freely.

Over on the drive side, it’s a similar affair, except that the fixed bearing cup itself also acts as the cage for the ball bearings. The whole point of having an adjustable cup is to be able to tighten the entire bottom bracket and add pre-tension to the bearings so that they can still spin freely, but with zero play or looseness at the spindle.

As far as square-taper bottom brackets go, this CH unit is about as simple as it gets. It’s much simpler than, say, a Shimano BB-UN55 sealed cartridge unit.

Even with the relatively unsophisticated construction, however, this bottom bracket still does its job and spins smoothly. It’s easy to knock square-taper bottom brackets, but their design is sound, and thousands of bikes around the world still pedal on with this humble bottom bracket providing kilometer upon kilometer of reliable service.

I hope you found this interesting.