I’ve got a friend—a bigwig with an eyewear company—who crashed recently. Somehow, despite 20+ years of competent use of quick releases, the skewer on the front wheel came loose. He was on a top-of-the-line carbon bike, so no biggie, right? Well, as it happens the fork had no lawyer tabs. But this was a road bike, so he’s not doing jumps and wheelies, so no great whoop, right? Well, he popped the front wheel just a bit for a storm drain.
This would be where the front wheel flew out like a cat from a closet.
His injuries read like an inventory of the human body. They aren’t nearly as bad as what his wife threatened to do should he crash again.
I’m not naming names because it’s not my story and I suspect there may yet be some litigation. The unfortunate thing here is that what was arguably a lousy quick release have given the lawyers ammo for crap like lawyer lips. Ugh. Because to many people those damn tabs would have solved this problem.
No, those tabs aren’t the solution. Better quick release skewers are.
Which brings me to an item I’ve been meaning to review since before we switched presidents. These Ritchey WCS titanium quick release skewers. It just took someone else’s pain to make me act. I don’t use them as often as I’d like because so often I’m sent wheels with skewers. And most of the time, I hate those skewers. The problems range from the movement not being smooth enough to having levers that feature a little outward curve that comes to a point right where I want to use my palm to push the lever closed.
Who dreams this stuff up?
I have previously not been a fan of ti skewers because they stretched just enough to prevent the wheel from being locked in place with the same security I found in steel skewers. That’s not a problem with these. They feature levers that are a whopping 8cm long, longer than any other levers I possess, though longer may be out there somewhere. The advantage of the longer lever, as we all know, is Archimedean. And because the levers feature a gentle curve, they fit nicely in your hand and look dashing as they curl around a fork blade or dropout and chainstay.
I weighed them at 82g, exactly what Ritchey claims. How’s that for refreshing?
They retail for $69.95. That may seem a lot until you ask yourself about the price of safety.
When we left off yesterday, our hero was waxing less than poetic about the Vamoots handling. If you’d like to see what he was on about, go here.
With a trail of 6.37cm, the Vamoots has roughly a centimeter more trail than many race-oriented bikes for this size. It’s also got a longish wheelbase, but I didn’t have trouble getting the bike to turn thanks to that lower bottom bracket. Compared to a Specialized Tarmac, the BB is 5mm lower. On descents, at speeds between 30 and 40 mph, the bike was calm as a United Nations diplomat. My concern with bikes with this much trail is that while they can be ultra-stable at 12 mph, they can get loose when you get up to 50 mph. I suspect—though I didn’t have the opportunity to try—that would not have been a problem because of the short-ish 57cm top tube, which keeps plenty of weight on the front wheel.
My one issue with the Vamoots had to do with the bike’s trail. Across nine sizes, five different head-tube angles are spec’d, ranging from 72 degrees in the 48cm frame to 73 degrees in the 60cm frame. The increase in angle is only a quarter of a degree at a time. To their credit, they spec three different fork rakes, 40mm, 45mm and 50mm. The issue is that a 5mm increase in fork rake is almost equal to 1-degree increase in head tube angle. The upshot is that trail on the nine sizes jumps around a bit—the 56cm frame with the same head angle but 5mm more fork rake is going to be a sharper handling bike, noticeably so. To offset a quarter-degree increase in head tube angle you only need increase fork rake by 1mm. I’m being picky here, I admit. While the choice of forks isn’t ideal, they get credit for taking a much better approach than some companies that use a single fork rake across six or seven sizes. It’s good, better than some, but not ideal.
It’s a bike, so the issue of weight invariably must come up. I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to weigh the frame alone on this bike. They claim a 56cm frame weighs 3 lbs. Given the bike’s stiffness, that number is unsurprising. I’ve yet to ride a steel bike with that combination of weight and stiffness.
I’ve ridden more than a dozen different ti bikes over the years. I’ve ridden a half-dozen or more Litespeeds alone. The first thing I noticed about the Moots as I rolled from my driveway was how surprisingly stiff the bike was at the bottom bracket. It was stiffer than most steel bikes I’ve ever ridden, most ti bikes, too. Certainly it wasn’t as stiff as the current crop of carbon creations, but this ride is more 7-series than M-series to use a BMW analogy; it’s meant to be comfortable.
Out on the road one of the bike’s most distinctive features was its muted road feel. While some ti bikes allow a fair amount of high-frequency road vibration to reach the rider, the Vamoots was plenty sensitive but turned the treble down on the highest stuff. It’s an understandable approach if you’re going to be on the road for hours riding centuries and gran fondos. Honestly, this bike is perfect for a long day in the Alps.
The Vamoots is the sort of bike that will build a rider’s confidence. It’s stable, yet responsive and stiff without being jarring. There’s going to come a day when my agility has gone brittle, my confidence cheap. I hope to age with some grace, which to me means staying on the bike but dialing back my ambition. While I love this bike today, its relevance as the correct answer to my life will sharpen in 15 years.
What I most wanted to do while this bike was in my possession was to roll from my front door with no agenda. Simply head out one morning with three pockets stuffed with food. No worries about pace or destination, maybe spin through downtown, hit the Mulholland rollers, maybe head up the recently reopened Angeles Crest Highway, the Vamoots would have been perfect on its sweeping bends. Alas, my review bike is a demo that needs to circulate … and can’t spend months in my garage. In their wisdom, they will rely less on my word than your experience. Good plan.
OK, we asked what your everyday ride was made from and here were the answers:
As many of you pointed out, it’s all about conditions and distances. Some live where the weather is sunny and roads are smooth. Others of us (like me) live where the weather is a cruel joke and the roads are more suitable for adventure racing than transportation.
It’s hard to know how scientific we’ve been. In general, if you named an aluminum bike with carbon stays, I counted it as aluminum. If you said you train on steel, but race on carbon, I counted you as a steel. Remember, we were looking for your everyday ride.
So from the thousands of readers who stop by RKP everyday, if we extrapolate out from our small sample, a little over a third are either still riding steel bikes from back when that was the best a (wo)man could get, or have stayed true to their steel feelings. In my case, it’s both. A new-ish Surly Cross Check and a vintage Moser 51.151.
After steel came carbon, though there seemed to be some overlap with the aluminum people. You all seem to like it stiff and fast, and really, given the right conditions, who doesn’t?
I’m not even sure what to say about the titanium crew, not because I have strong positive or negative feelings about titanium. My wedding ring is made of the stuff. Titanium obviously affords its own advantages, chiefly lightness, but also stiffness and repairability.
If you’re like me, you’re loyal to the bikes you’ve got, but always, always, always curious about what other people are riding. Is it better? Is it worse? Are they faster because they’re bike is lighter, or are they faster because they train properly? No. It must be the bike.
Let’s take a break from the race-oriented blather and talk about our bikes some more, shall we? Some of us watch the Euro races avidly, but probably all of us pedal circles or squares or rhombi with greater regularity, nes pas?
This week’s ride focuses on that age old question: What material to ride?
Are you a “steel is real” rider? An aluminum stalwart? A titanium beast? A carbon-fiber, um, person? Or, maybe, just possibly, a bamboo bandit?
This isn’t a theoretical question either. When we ask what your material of choice is, we don’t mean, “What would you ride if you had a better job and double the free time?” We mean, “What do you ride every day?”
Speaking for myself, I ride steel. This is a function of some vague notion I have that steel was good enough for riders of my ilk (i.e. slow) twenty years ago, and it’s good enough now. Further, it reflects my socio-economic situation. As the father of two and a mortgagee, I don’t feel I have the liquid assets to devote to a more modern material, not that aluminum is very modern. Finally, steel is, I believe, still thought to be the most forgiving of the frame materials in current use, and I can use all the forgiveness I can get. Sure, I dream of a carbon rocket, but I ride steel. Every. Damn. Day.
And so, Group Ride #13 rolls out of the lot.