Coolness from Chico

Coolness from Chico

I’ve been eyeing components made by Chico-based Paul Components since even before I went to NAHBS the first time. At this point, I’ve been seeing proprietor Paul Rice’s designs for so long I don’t even recall where I first saw them. Unlike many of the CNC-machined parts I saw in the early 1990s, parts from Paul have always had a cleaner, more finished look to them, at least to my eye. And unlike the myriad stories I heard of crank arms, BB spindles, brake levers and more breaking 20 miles from home, I’ve yet to hear a long-walk-home story, thanks to a Paul product.

I finally decided to take the plunge recently with a set of quick release skewers and a pair of the MiniMoto linear-pull brakes. While I can’t say that I’ve ever had any problems with wheels shifting in the dropouts, on this bike, getting the quick releases tight enough to prevent that from happening took a great deal of hand strength. What I noticed with the Paul Quick Releases was that thanks to the internal cam design, the operation was smoother than a radio announcer’s voice and required much less hand force to tighten. I shouldn’t have been surprised; Paul first did a QR 25 years ago.

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The 100mm front skewer weighs in at 50 grams while the 135mm tips the scale at 63g, exactly as advertised on the Paul web site. It’s refreshing to see such accuracy. There may be lighter skewers on the market, but I’ve yet to see any with an internal cam to keep them working smoothly. I also like that the nut on the 135mm skewer is long enough that in a 130mm-spaced rear end you don’t end up with a bunch of threads sticking out of the nut, ready to gouge an ankle.

The MiniMoto linear-pull brakes are rapidly becoming the go-to solution for ‘cross bikes when a rider wants brakes that will stop better than cantilevers. One of the funny things about the advent of disc brakes in ‘cross is that substandard braking in wet conditions has become less acceptable as the threat of running into a rider with disc brakes has emerged. Compared to the canti’s that used to be on my bike, brake response is vastly improved.

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I run inline bar-top brake levers on my ‘cross bike, popularized by the Swiss rider Dieter Runkel, which is why many riders still just refer to them as “Runkels.” While you wouldn’t think it would make a difference, the passage of the cable through the stop and perhaps the extra housing bends and ferrules require a bit more spring strength to make sure the cable returns fully. The springs in the MiniMotos are stronger than some French cheeses.

Because of the wide range in just how and where the canti’ posts are placed on seatstays—there’s a lot more variation here than there is even in BB standards—the MiniMotos comes with a host of washers and spacers to allow you to make sure the pads contact the rim at the right angle and with proper toe-in, which turns out to be completely unnecessary. Lucky thing because if the Kool-Stop pads were any longer, they’d need to curve to follow the rim.

I had to take my time with setup. While I used to set up Shimano cantilevers in minutes, I fussed and futzed with the MiniMotos for the better part of two hours as I made sure that the spring return strength was high enough and the brakes were centered. I had also hoped to figure out a way to eek out every last millimeter of free stroke possible before the pads touched the rim; alas, the short pull of road levers simply don’t permit much.

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In the stand, I thought the brakes felt rather mushy; I’d expected a firmer sense of pad contact. I bumped into builder Steve Rex at Grinduro and he told me not to worry, that the feel would fool me; the brakes would lock up if I pulled hard enough. He was right. It turns out that spongy feel is the result of a feature generally lost on linear pulls—modulation.

At 149g per set (again, just as advertised), they are no heavier than most sets of canti’s, so you’re not paying a weight penalty to get more brake power.

Bike Monkey’s Santa Rosa Cup, a three-day cyclocross extravaganza took place this past weekend. Sunday’s race came on the heels of overnight rain—just the sort of circumstance to find out whether or not your bike actually stops. There were two short singletrack descents, one followed by a short but steep ramp down to a bike path that required you to make a 100-degree right-hand turn, or risk running off into the blackberry bushes and all the thorns inventoried therein. While control on that slippery trail was mostly illusory, I managed to avoid each of the big rocks and negotiate all the turns that allowed me to stay the course. This would be where I admit that because I haven’t raced ‘cross with any regularity in ages, I was more than pleased with my technical skill, if not my aerobic fitness. That was a racer’s course, not a spectator’s course, which is a nice lead-in to saying that it was technically the toughest ‘cross course I’ve ever raced.

I’m not someone who believes in buying American out of blind patriotism, just as I won’t buy Italian just for coolness. That said, the simplicity of these quick releases and the MiniMoto brakes, combined with their flawless function, is all the reason you need to buy them. If you care about buying American, so much the better. The QRs go for $50 a lever in black or silver, while the MiniMotos are $129 in black or silver, and $141 if you want them in the polished finish, perfect for a chromed-out rando bike.

Final thought: This is what happens when design trumps style.

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4 comments

  1. Jeff

    Padraig, quick edit: It’s Paul Price, not Rice. I’ve been running Paul brakes on the different CX bikes over the years. So much better than any other cantis out there. If you ever come over to Chico, Paul is pretty open to showing folks around the shop. And I promise I’ll meet you at Sierra Nevada for a pint or two.

  2. Bramhall

    My favorite addition to a set of Paul brakes is a set of cartridge pads. When I was racing cross and replacing brake pads a couple times a season, these made a huge difference in my inter-weekend happiness. And to top it off, if you’re a part-time carbon wheeler, it’s the only way to go.

    They come in Salmon as well!
    http://www.koolstop.com/english/crosspad.html

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