Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Plastic Fantastic Magical Tire Musings

The Raleigh Roker LTD
Okay, so usually I don't get to check out the top-flight groups or frames in my years gigging as a reviewer of stuff. That's okay with me, as those "halo bikes" and bits of jewelry typically don't find their way into too many people's hands anyway. I'd rather chat and blather on about stuff that does make a dint in the "real lives" of the "average cyclist", however that might be defined.

Well, sometimes I have gotten a chance at a sweet, top-o-the range rig to test out, and oddly enough, the other one that comes immediately to mind is a Raleigh as well. Anyway, this Roker LTD has that carbon fiber thing going on, but that isn't a really earth shattering idea anymore these days. What is still fairly odd-ball about this bike is the electronic shifting, and that engenders far more conversation about this bike than anything else. So, how is that electronic shifting?

Well, I will say that it took some getting used to. Buttons are not like levers and the tactile feel of the buttons and the tactile feel of the pushing of them is somewhat ambiguous. Did I shift? Whoops! Wrong button! Those were two common thoughts during the first few rides. However; I started to come around. The fact that you can hold the button down to get several shifts was fun a couple of times. That isn't really going to be that big of a deal on most rides. The one thing I think was a big deal was that I could shift under power, whenever I wanted.

A champ a shifting......whenever you want to.
This is an important thing to stop and consider, because if you haven't used electronic shifting, your ingrained, habitual let ups and work-arounds to make your drive train work are something that is not noticed. You just have learned to shift this way. It's what you do before a hill, during a long climb, or coming out of a corner, that you just have lived with, but with electronic shifting, you don't have to anymore.

I found this to be a "light bulb" moment when I swung around a right hander into a climb, chose a gear, and stomped on the pedals. Whoops! Too high of a gear choice there, but- ya know- you just got to gut it out, because with this much pressure on the pedals, you probably won't get the shift. Unless.......zing! You have electronic shifting, which seems to be impervious to how hard you are cranking out the power. My shift made the climb more bearable. Interestingly, the chain actually did make a zing sound and the resulting vibrations could be felt through the carbon frame, the chain was so taught. I also was able to shift the front rings under power, standing up. It just doesn't seem to matter. All your preconceived notions, all your habitual shifting patterns and strategies are now completely useless with Di2. Those servos don't care. They shift no matter. It really makes things easier and.....better. 

I think electronic shifting bits are okay at this point, but I have to wonder how slippery a slope we are on. How, or even if, electronic shifting might take things out of our hands and start making decisions for us. Sound far fetched? I don't think so when you consider ANT+, Bluetooth, power meters, and electronic shifting and how that could all be integrated into an "automatic" shifting drive train.

It's an "official tire" for a certain event, but is it for you?
Then there are these tubeless tires from QBP's new brand, Teravail. They have poured a dump truck load of R&D, marketing, and promotion into this brand and in particular, the Cannonball 40mm tire. It's a tire that they have pinned a lot of hopes on, and it is the official tire of the Dirty Kanza 200, dontcha know. There is even a tire release party at Emporia this weekend. So.....yeah. It's a big deal.

Are these tires all that and a bag of chips? Well, there are over a 100 miles on the set I have here, and I can say that they are decent tires. I'm not all blown away by them, or at least, not yet. They may break in and ride better than they do now. Many gravel tires seem to be this way. Stiff, wooden feeling casings get more lively and cushy as the miles pile on. I was texting back and forth with my good friend, MG about this last night, and we recounted several tires we have both used that acted in this manner. That said, I'm not going to tell you these tires are so amazing they should have their own release party, because, well, that's just silly.  They do well tubeless though, and for that, I think they are definitely worth considering. I'll have more to say about these in the future.....

So, this bike as a whole, it is definitely interesting. It has a very unique ride quality that I have found that another guy at the shop, who I let ride it the other day, confirmed for me. In some ways it isn't very surprising, and in some ways the ride of the Roker is doing two things at once which is very unlike my steel bikes. Is it "bad" or is it "good"? I just don't quite know the answer to that just yet. I'll be moving the tires off this and slapping something I'm more attuned to to help me dissect this beast.

Until then, I'll be riding this plastic fantastic rig some more to get to the bottom of it all.

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