The headset pictured above was manufactured the year Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States. The year the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial. The year Frampton Comes Alive! was released. The year Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Rocky hit the theaters.
I was riding a kid’s bike. Because I was still a kid.
I didn’t know who Chris King was or even what a sealed-bearing headset was until I moved to Massachusetts shortly after Greg LeMond’s second Tour victory. It was while working in one of the bike shops that served the huge college population that the shop manager educated me about the wonder of Chris King headsets. He showed me how well they were made, convinced me how little service they needed, demonstrated how they were impervious to nearly everything—including ham-fisted wrenches inclined to over-tighten a headset.
I’d long-since learned how a headset adjusted too tight would pit. The technical term is brinell. Whatever, we all called a headset ruined by over-tightening “indexed.” It was one of my favorite shop jokes.
King headsets were the most unlikely of devices. I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that some little company in Santa Barbara, Calif., had come up with an answer to the headset that had no flaws, at least, none that I could find. Sure it was expensive, but if you never had to replace it and knew it would survive almost any event, then wasn’t it easily worth the price? Sure, the Campagnolo headsets were wonderful, but I’d had the fear of God instilled in me by another mechanic who taught me that if you over-tighten a headset—no matter how briefly—you’ve already started the brinelling. It’s bearing cancer. The headset is dead, but no one knows just yet. To this day, I’ve never run across an indexed King headset. I’m sure it has happened, but not often enough for me to encounter it.
So I began purchasing Chris King headsets. Every time I overhauled a bike I owned, I’d replace the headset in it with a King unit. I even figured out how to overhaul the headset that was in my Merlin mountain bike. I had some dental tools that would allow me to remove the C-clips so I could clean out the bearings and races and then squirt fresh grease back in. When I sold that bike 11 years after first building it up the headset was as smooth as it was the day I installed it, and that was no small feat given that the first five years I had that mountain bike I rode it with a Ritchey fork. Put another way, it was rigid, and that means that headset took a beating.
Ultimately I sold each of those bikes and I suspect that no matter how many parts have been replaced on them, the headsets are still going.
King came on as an advertiser last week. Enthusiast media and advertisers have a curious, symbiotic and sometimes grossly incestuous relationship. Readers often wonder (understandably, if we’re honest) just how much of that love was earned rather than purchased. I count Chris King himself an acquaintance. Two of his employees are friends. We’ve been circling around one another, professing our attraction, flirting a bit, but never heading out for the date.
So last week, they finally asked me out. It means a lot to me both personally and professionally. I always wanted our advertisers to be a collection of companies that I believed it, that in aggregate it would be an implicit statement about not just who believes in RKP‘s content, but also an indication of what we respect.
I plain, flat-out, like these guys and this company. At this point it would be easy to request a Cielo bike, a set of wheels, just a set of hubs, or yet another headset. I’ll probably review something of theirs in the not-too-distant future. Why? Like I said, I like the stuff and it would be fun to try something of theirs I haven’t had the chance to ride much, if at all.
That said, I’ve wanted this blog to be transparent in how it works, what the relationships are, and it occurred to me when I received the new ad from King that what I really wanted to talk about were those headsets I no longer own. It’s funny, but once a company starts advertising, getting product to review usually becomes exponentially easier. It’s an odd phenomenon.
Because RKP started so small, we weren’t on everyone’s radar. And despite amazing readership growth, there are still companies that don’t return my phone calls. This, despite my 20+ years in the industry. So there are times when the publication of content about a company and the arrival of a company’s ad can seem oddly coincidental. In our case, it’s just taken some time to get some of these relationships going. Because what we are doing isn’t published by one of the traditional, mainstream publishers, there are loads of companies who have taken a wait-and-see attitude.
We’re talking to a bunch of companies about advertising with us. We’ve also got a fun announcement looming. These changes, these additions are part of a larger plan. I want to offer more of the kinds of content that RKP provides. I’d like to bring in a few new voices, people I think would fit with what you’ve come to enjoy here. Advertising is the engine that will drive that. And to the degree that we end up writing about those advertisers, it’s because we liked what they were doing long before they requested our media kit.
Day one of Interbike was a flurry of missed connections, reunions with old friends and, yes, introductions to new must-have bikes and parts. Somehow the day was over before I felt I had done enough; so it goes.
One of my more interesting stops was at Ritchey. Their components have fascinated me for their simple form and function ever since I bought my first Ritchey stem in 1990. More recently, the company has begun to make a firmer style statement. This has really come through on their wet white and wet black components. Yesterday they introduced wet red and this photo doesn’t do it justice; think lipstick red. As cool as I thought the black and white were, the red was a real stunner. I’d love to see a full pro team on them; that would look PRO.
This may have been the best looking ‘cross bike I saw yesterday. The matching fork is a new graphic touch for Ritchey and really ties the bike together nicely. And though not immediately apparent, this is a Break-Away.
Ritchey worked with Reynolds on this carbon clincher rim. They say that with Reynolds blue pads stopping is much better than with some other wheels and heat dissipates better than with Swisstop pads. Weight for the set is 1410g.
I’ve been digging Twin Six stuff for a few years now and as much as like some of their jerseys, I saw some T-shirts yesterday that really caught my eye. This ‘cross design is from a watercolor one of the owner/designers did at home one night.
I don’t know how many non-Bostonians will get the Southie reference, but having spent time in Revere, this shirt may have been my favorite inside nod/joke I caught yesterday.
Larceny entered my head when I saw this $2499 as-equipped carbon fiber ‘cross bike from Bianchi. I think they are under-appreciated for their ability to deliver great-spec’d bikes for terrific value.
Hincapie showed some great new clothes and the new George Signature line caught my eye. It’s a more form-fitting Euro-style cut, meaning the jerseys and bibs don’t run so long and the seams are welded rather than sewn. If you dig the Giordana Formula Red Carbon, then you’ll love this stuff … and you’ll like the pricing as well.
Colnago introduced its new C59 frame. In it there are some surprising nods to the modern world, such as the slightly sloping top tube (not the first for them, but one gets the sense that each new bike could just as easily have been designed around a horizontal top tube). This bike is available either with cable guides or Di2 guides, but you have to order ahead.
I don’t ride Brooks saddles. I won’t criticize anyone else for doing it, but I’m just not built for them. I do, however, have great respect for their ability to work with leather. The bags I saw yesterday were the ultimate lifestyle pieces for the cyclist who wants to keep cycling clothing even when in street clothes.
Not only were these bags elegant and well-made, they were surprisingly functional. Once again, larceny was on my mind. And I don’t mind saying it.
Fi’zi:k introduced a seatpost last year to work with their saddles with carbon fiber rails. Yesterday I saw a new carbon fiber post. Being the geek that I am, what really caught my eye was that thing at the bottom.
Should you have an occasion to slip the seatpost out of the frame, say for travel, the ring serves as a much better way to remember your exact saddle height than electrical tape. I used a glider board in the back of my wagon for years and every time I headed off to a race, the seatpost came out. I took an unnatural delight in this little gizmo.
By now you’ve heard that Fi’zi:k is introducing a shoe line. The sail-cloth straps look stiff but were surprisingly flexible. What I most liked about what I saw was just how Italian the shoes look. The cut of the leather and more understated accents made them surprisingly gorgeous in person.
There are lots of designs out there that claim to offer compliance. You’ve done some research on the subject, haven’t you? Do any of those swept seatstay designs really off any sort of suspension effect?
I may be one of the only people on the planet that feels this way but I think road bike suspension is the Holy Grail of road bike design. I’ve done years of work on this and was awarded a patent for the Serotta DKS design. It’s patent number 6,109,637 and was awarded on August 29, 2000. It’s fun to look up and you can easily Google it.
Road bicycles are the only high-speed device raced in the world that I can think of that doesn’t employ some sort of device to improve traction. Everything from skis to cars to skateboards all employ suspension to great effect. Please note that I didn’t list comfort as being the primary reason for suspension even though one could make a very good argument for how added comfort will reduce rider fatigue and make them more competitive in longer events. I see road bike suspension as being a means to keep the rear tire pressed against the road with the most constant force possible, full stop. I think the rear wheel travel need be no more than 10mm max and that as little as 5mm can be extremely effective.
A traditional road bike has near perfect front suspension in the form of a cantilevered beam. The fork is allowed to flex a lot. Just clamp your front brake on firmly and rock the bike back and forth and watch how much the fork moves. Even super stiff forks move a good bit and this acts as a form of trailing arm suspension. The front wheel encounters a bump and slows as it tries to go over the bump yet the rider’s mass keeps the whole thing moving. The fork flexes rearward (and in the case of a properly designed curved blade fork compresses vertically) and then it rolls over the bump with very little interruption of the rider’s momentum or with the tire’s contact with the road.
The rear wheel is another matter entirely. With a traditional double diamond road frame the rear end of the frame forms a triangle and this triangle cannot move or at least cannot move in any meaningful way. So when the rear wheel encounters the same bump that the front wheel just sailed over it loads up the frame and that in turn loads up the rider and the rider then bounces off the saddle. This little bump redirected the entire mass and momentum of the bike and rider upward for just a moment and that has two effects. The first one is that there is a loss of forward momentum or speed and this obviously slows the rider down. Not a lot but we are constantly hitting small bumps in the road that do this and the cumulative effect is large. The second thing it does is lessen the pressure of the rear tire on the road. In many cases it loses contact altogether. Either way traction is compromised. If you are just rolling straight down the road without a need to turn or brake or accelerate traction is not a real issue. The rider doesn’t need the to use the full limit of the traction of the tire. But if the rider is cornering, braking, or accelerating then it’s a different matter. We’ve all gone around a fast downhill corner and had the bike all loaded up with the force of the turn and then hit a bump mid-turn and had to do some serious correcting to keep it all in line and on the road. Similarly we’ve all been sprinting at our limit for a townline sign at our local Tuesday night World Championships and had the rear wheel skip and bounce causing us to back off and/or correct to hold our line.
Well it takes very little rear wheel suspension travel to minimize or even completely eliminate the issue and I’ve spent more time working on this issue than I care to admit. The amount of time I’ve spent lying on the road with my face pressed against the cold hard ground so that I could see the rear wheel of the racers going by bounce is embarrassing. But that said it’s a real eye opener when you do this. There is daylight under the rear wheel all the time. The front is stuck like glue and the rear spends a surprising amount of time skipping and bouncing along.
Tell us about your involvement in the Serotta DKS suspension system.
Way back in the day when I was the R&D department at Serotta, Ben was very cool and gave me lots of leeway to work on what I wanted to work on. I’d seen some of the bikes like Ritcheys and Litespeeds with a long graceful bend in the seat stays and wondered if it could be a benefit. Ben and I were walking around the Interbike show one year and every other bike had this same curved stay and they all claimed it made the bike more comfortable. I didn’t give a damn about the comfort thing at all but I did care about the traction issue. Standing outside the hotel that night I suddenly had an idea of how to do it better.
So we went back to New York and I was excited to work on the idea. It turns out I was the only one that was excited but Ben let me do my thing as long as other stuff didn’t slide too much. So the first thing I did was to make a frame like everyone else was doing (simple long radius curve from end to end) and put it on my testing table and load it up (like the rider was hitting a bump) to see where and how much it moved. Most of the current designs had no more wheel movement than a traditional straight stayed frame, or less than 1 mm. So I started playing with different radii and duration of bends and while I could do better than what was being offered it still wasn’t worth the trouble in my opinion. I knew something else needed to be done to free up some movement. At the same time I was worried about fatigue issues where the stay attached to the seat tube and the dropouts. It was then that I flashed on the idea of putting a pivot at the bottom of the stay where is attaches to the dropout and then have most of the bend of the stay low so that most of the flex would take place there and not where the stay was welded to the seat tube. This not only took care of the fatigue issue but also allowed the stay to compress more allowing more rear wheel travel.
A this point I built a frame that had bolt on seat stays so I could make any configuration of stay I wanted and lab and road test them. Some stuff worked pretty well and some stuff really sucked. I ended up with the “J” curve design and it worked very well but I was concerned with it having too much travel and with it being bouncy. The stay was now acting as a spring but it had no damper to control its movement.
The next task was to figure out a way to damp the movement. What I originally wanted was rebound damping only and it proved very difficult to do in a simple and super light way. I then realized that if I gave it compression damping that it would have nearly the same effect because it would just interrupt the bouncing cycle. It was at this point that I developed the “strap on” which was a stainless steel strap with some special silicone made by GE to be an ‘ultra damper’, bonded to it. It was then bolted to the stay and acted as both a travel limiter and a damper. I ended up picking three different hardness’s to give more or less travel based on rider preference and/or weight. The funny thing was that I gave this damper part the nickname “strap-on” knowing it’s other meaning and we used the term inhouse and snickered about it the way boys do…… especially when one of the girls from the office would come out and ask if we had a strap-on or how a strap-on worked. Good fun. At some point the product was released and I couldn’t believe that the Serotta catalog listed that part as a “strap-on.” Somehow it got through editing.
In the end I think the design was successful. I wanted to continue to develop and refine it but at some point one needs to draw a line in the sand and call it good and sell some of the things. The design allowed for about 12mm of rear wheel travel for most riders, which I now think, was more than we needed. But it was a good first step and I would have liked to make the design more race oriented, more aero and lighter. But I had worked on the design for about 14 months and other stuff needed to be done so I moved on. I left Serotta shortly thereafter to move to Montana and to be in the big mountains and in the snow.
Serotta continued to produce and sell the bike for a few years after I left but it was never a big seller. I think that the sales and marketing folks there didn’t like the time it took to explain what it did and how it did it when they could just push the normal offerings and make the same money. The DKS (Dave Kirk Suspension) now has a cult following of sorts and I get a few emails a week about it with questions about how it works and about finding a used one somewhere. They seem to command a hefty price on eBay at this point. I think over the years I’ve had all of the big three bike companies contact me as ask about the design. One engineer even pretended to be a customer interested in buying one when in reality they were looking for a way around the patent. I think the Specialized Zerts inserts deal is a good example of the design being tweaked and using different materials to get around the patent. I’ve never ridden one but hear some folks like them.
Do you ever build with it today?
No I don’t. Even though I am listed as the inventor on the patent Serotta is the holder of the patent and it is their design. Some have told me they think this is unfair and I firmly disagree. Ben Serotta gave me a place to work and paid me well to develop the idea in the first place and without his backing it would have never been more than a napkin sketch in a bar at a tradeshow. He paid for it and he owns it. It was Ben that decided it should be called the DKS. I only found out it was named after me when the decals showed up and I was given one. I was honored then as I still am. Ben is a good man and treated me very well.
When I started my company I knew I’d revisit the idea at some point but also knew that there were changes I wanted to make if I could. The fact that I chose to work only in steel also required a major design change since the original DKS was titanium. I knew I wanted it to be firmer and to have less travel. I knew I wanted it to be less complex and cheaper to make and I knew I wanted it to look cooler. It was then that I developed the “Terraplane” design (Terraplane meaning “flies over the land”). I experimented with different tubing, bend radii as well and bend duration and then did a lot of road miles on prototypes to get the final design nailed down. Most riders will see 5mm or less of wheel movement with a Terraplane and one can’t not feel the difference from a straight stayed bike while climbing or sprinting. It takes a sudden and large load to get the wheel to move and the rider cannot move that fast so it will not react to rider movement. So there is no mushy or ‘MTB on the road’ feeling that some expect. The Terraplane just gives a more hunkered down and calm feeling than a traditional bike. Some folks will get their new Terraplane and ride it for a few weeks and then get back on the bike they rode before and only then feel the marked difference in cornering and descending. It can be a real eye opener for some.
I’ve extremely proud of the Terraplane and how it performs. Some love the look of it and some hate it and I know I can’t please everyone that way but I’ve never put someone on a Terraplane and had them not like the performance.
In your view, what are the pros, cons and challenges with regard to the development of suspension for road bikes? Do you think it would help that much?
I think that there are large gains to be had with a proper road bike suspension for the reasons I’ve listed above. I think the down side could be complexity and cost if the design isn’t properly elegant. There were some suspension road bikes years ago that were really short travel versions of MTB designs and they sucked for road racing use. It has just too much travel, weight and complexity to work as it should for the road.
I think the big thing that will prevent a good design from being adopted by the masses, and therefore be used in the pro race ranks, is that the marketplace is just too traditional. I think the marketplace pats itself on the back a bit too much for how innovative and forward thinking it is when in reality it hates anything truly new. A change in material from steel to aluminum to titanium to carbon to whatever is just fine but to do something truly different and better has historically not been rewarded in the performance road bike market. Look at all the crap being thrown at the new Shimano electric stuff. It work and works well and my hat is off to them for even going there but it’s not like it’s gotten a very warm reception. I’ll bet if they stick by their guns the marketplace will adapt and we will see the other two major players scrambling to catch up and we’ll see little kids riding around our neighborhoods pushing buttons to shift.
It’s going to take a bit of letting go of the traditional fashion of this industry to allow it to make any real jumps forward. Hell there are still interweb forums full of people arguing about which is better – sloping top tubes vs, horizontal tube tubes. It’s all fashion and that is just the way it works. I am for the most part OK with that but it can be frustrating at times. What did that Billy Crystal character on SNL say years ago? “It’s better to look good than it is to feel good”?
Thanks for the opportunity to address some of this stuff and thanks for reading.
One of these days, I’m going to interview Tom Ritchey. When I do, I intend to ask him where he gets his ideas for new products. I don’t know that I’ll get an answer—I might as well ask Dave Matthews where he gets his song ideas—but I intend to ask him nonetheless.
For me, Ritchey Logic products have been shorthand for strong, lightweight and well-engineered solutions to essential parts and problems since before I became a cyclist. Over the years I’ve owned stems, seatposts, pedals and mini tools. I’ve reviewed probably a dozen bikes that spec’d Richey products for OEM sales. I can’t count the number of times that a Ritchey product at the time of its release was the lightest on the market.
That said, I purchased a WCS Carbon Post 18 months ago or so. While it has performed admirably, I don’t care for the two-bolt design. It is a frustration to adjust and changing saddles—which I do from time to time for the purpose of reviews—is a slow and time-consuming process.
Which brings me to the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post. The last time a seatpost impressed me was the Specialized Pavé seatpost and that was in 2003. There are plenty of 1-bolt posts out there. What makes the WCS Carbon 1-Bolt Post different is the nature of the clamp. Most of you won’t change saddles very often, so ease-of-installation probably won’t impress you much. Regardless, I’ve never experienced a seatpost on which saddle installation was quicker. But here’s a real selling point: As you tighten the seat clamp, there is no drift; wherever you place the saddle is where it stays. For purposes of fitting, I found this to be a notable benefit. Admittedly, once the saddle position is established, this stops being a selling point, but it impressed me for its ease.
My favorite feature of the seatpost isn’t specific to this one post, but rather Ritchey’s line of posts. Between the different iterations, Ritchey seatposts come in four diameters (27.0, 27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), four lengths (280, 300, 350 and 400mm) and four setbacks (0, 20, 30 and a whopping 45mm). The 1-Bolt post is available in three of those diameters (27.2, 30.9 and 31.6mm), two lengths (300 and 350mm) and two setbacks (0 and 30mm). The proliferation of production-sized carbon fiber frames shouldn’t mean a reduction in the ability to fit and its nice to see a company so dedicated to offering a wide variety in seatposts without resorting to a wonky solution—shims anyone?
It’s also lightweight. The post I reviewed weighed a bantam 172 grams. Naturally, the next question is what this lightweight post retails for either $214.95 or $224.95, depending on the seatposts diameter. Those who think it unreasonable to spend that much on a seatpost can save more than $125 and pick up the alloy version (which comes in all the same diameters and lengths as the carbon version
The clamp kit is available after market for $16.95 and comes in several different versions: 8 x 8.5mm (for Ritchey and Selle Italia carbon rail saddles) and 7 x 9.6mm (for Fi:zi’k carbon rail saddles). Different clamp kits exist for the carbon and alloy versions of the 1-bolt seatpost.
Waxing rhapsodic about a seatpost is about as silly as analyzing the stylistic underpinnings of Kelly Clarkson. That said, as a matter of minimalist industrial design, the 1-Bolt seatpost is elegant in its simplicity, both in ease of use and svelte appearance. Torque spec for either clamp is 12 Newton/meters, something I would encourage Ritchey to print on the packaging for the seatpost and the seat clamp; laser-etched on the clamp itself or printed on the seatpost wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Streem saddle is Ritchey’s answer to the traditional saddle for those who would prefer their saddles not resemble toilet seats. The folks at Ritchey say it resembles an SLR, and while the bird’s-eye view sees the logic in this comparison, my last experience with the SLR was unpleasant enough (the saddle was upper-lip stiff) that I wouldn’t be eager to try one again.
The key to the saddle might be its patented “wing” design that suspends the shell of the saddle above the rails in order to cushion the rider from road vibration and shock. Or it may be that they are simply using a thinner shell, resulting in a more flexible base.
I’ve got fairly broad hips; in the Specialized Toupé I ride the 143mm-wide edition. I suspect that riders with narrower hips than I will find this saddle especially to their liking. For me it was rather minimal, but still worked. Anyone with hips wider than mine might find it akin to sitting on the top tube due to their sit bones falling at the edges of the saddle shell.
Amazingly, the saddle is available in four different configurations. Each shares the same shape and debossed leather look; what changes is the type of leather and the rail material.
The Aston Martin of the bunch is the 144g, real leather-covered, carbon railed Streem, available in Model T black or PRO white. It retails for $179.95. The Lexus features real leather, CrN/Ti rails (which are essentially Ti rails with a chromium-nitride coating which, from what I’ve read, helps when shaping the rails, making them less brittle) and available in black or white as well. Mine weighed 200g. Retail is a less-stratospheric $99.95.
Anyone offended by the high-end offerings can choose from Chrome-Moly rail, synthetic leather edition for $61.95 (said to weigh only 210g) or a steel rail, vinyl-covered version (250g claimed) for only $36.95. It’s refreshing to see a company meet consumers at such a variety of price points.
In riding both the carbon and Ti rail versions of this saddle, I had the impression that the carbon version did cut road vibration perceptibly, though slightly. Bump impact wasn’t cut at all, but then I wasn’t expecting a suspension post effect.
I’m not here to pass judgment on whether someone wants to build up a 13-pound bike. I can understand the desire to have an unsurpassably cool bike. I can also understand the urge to say, “Enough is enough.” That said, if you covet the carbon saddle (and believe me, I can understand why you might), make sure you purchase the 1-Bolt Clamp Kit, otherwise the 12Nm torque applied to too-small clamps will crush the carbon rails like teeth in celery.
Great saddles can be argued about ad nauseum; there’s no right answer. But this 1-Bolt seatpost is a thing of beauty; it truly epitomizes what Ritchey has always stood for in my mind—simple, lightweight and easy-to-adjust designs, the very meaning of elegant.