Monday, February 6, 2017

PRODUCT REVIEW - Wheel Fanatyk Mitutoyo Digital Spoke Tensiometer

Wheel Fanatyk Tensiometer Sets a New Gold Standard

A few months back, in my Tech Talk column, about fixing wheels on which all the spokes loosened, I mentioned I would look at some of the new cutting edge tools today’s wheel builders and wheel companies are using to make better wheels than ever.

Wheel Fanatyk’s Mitutoyo Digital Tensiometer, that I review here, is one of these tools.

I needed an accurate spoke tensiometer because I’m now building carbon and aluminum wheels for a local components company (over 60 pairs to date). One of the requirements is hitting the tensions specified by the engineers designing each wheel model.

I’ve used a Wheelsmith Tensiometer since 1988. It’s a nice tool, but has never been recalibrated. And, I’m not sure how accurate its readings are any more. Note that Wheel Fanatyk recalibrates Wheelsmith tensiometers.

Comparing the Wheel Fanatyk gauge to my trusty Wheelsmith's (photo below), you can see that the Wheel Fanatyk provides a digital readout in hundredths of a mm, while the Wheelsmith shows spoke deflection on a vernier gauge.

In the example shown, the two lines closest to lining up are almost at the 50 mark, which means the deflection of the spoke is somewhere past 45.

If you compare readings on both tools on the same spoke on a wheel (note that the photos above and below are on different wheels), you appreciate right away having an exact number to 1/100th of a mm, and not having to estimate spoke deflection by estimating where the lines align on a vernier gauge.

The right tension makes a good wheel
Nothing is more important for the integrity of bicycle wheels than spoke tension. Too loose or tight and wheels are unstable, or worse, they may fail. In an extreme example, a pair of classic Ghisallo wood-rim wheels I over-tensioned as a wood-rim newbie in the 80s - before owning a tensiometer - rode fine for a couple of weeks and then imploded when both rims broke to pieces.

It's not easy feeling for correct tension with your hands. Spokes can feel very tight and still not be anywhere near tight enough for a wheel to remain tight and true over the long haul. And since rear wheels and now front wheels with disc brakes are built with uneven spoke tension on the left and right, it's more important than ever to ensure the spokes are tight enough to make a great wheel.

To explain, if you have no way to measure the spoke tension accurately, you could be fooled into thinking the spokes are tight enough because the dished spokes feel tight when squeezed (the "dished" spokes are on the right side for rear wheels and on the left side for disc front wheels). However, if the dished spokes actually aren't tight enough, the non-dished side spokes will be too loose. And those are the ones that usually loosen when ridden causing the wheel to lose tension and go out of true on the road/trail.

Because Ric Hjertberg is a longtime friend, who owned Wheelsmith and now owns Wheel Fanatyk, I decided to look into his newer and superior tensiometer. Ric sent me the Mitutoyo Digital along with the optional Foot Pedal Data Output System to try out. Let’s look at the Tensiometer first.

A Jobst Brandt design
The Wheel Fanatyk Tensiometer was designed by the late Jobst Brandt, a bicycle God and engineer who worked for Porsche, Hewlett-Packard and Avocet during his career (Brandt was the genius who designed the first cyclometer that accurately measured cumulative elevation gain in the Avocet 50). Brandt also wrote the best book on wheelbuilding, The Bicycle Wheel.

What makes the Wheel Fanatyk Tensiometer so accurate is that Brandt’s design is barely affected by spoke thickness variance. Spokes vary due to material, how they’re manufactured, and plating and painting can affect them, too. Ric explained, “The Wheel Fanatyk is unique among commercial spoke tools because it does not measure across the spoke thickness, it only detects deflection.”

Jobst Brandt in 2005 (Bill Bushnell photo)
Brandt’s tool bends the spoke between three points with a constant low spring force. Bearings on either end of the tool minimize friction where they rest on the spoke. A Delrin (a hard nylon) “anvil” pushes the spoke against the gauge’s probe for tension readings. There’s a button on the gauge to zero it if needed before taking a reading on the next spoke.

Holding the tensiometer is impressive. It’s a weighty 311 grams (11 ounces) and obviously built of quality materials throughout (Ric hand assembles each one). There are laser-etched nameplates; one with the serial number. The jewel is the Mitutoyo gauge from one of leaders in measuring instruments since 1934. It sits protected inside the tool’s triangular profile and displays reading in 10mm tall numbers on the large LCD screen.

Using the Tensiometer
SpokeService tension charts
It took a little practice to get the knack of holding the Tensiometer on the spoke just right to not get incorrect readings on the gauge. If I put any hand pressure on the tool, it flexed the spoke and messed up the reading. With more use, I learned to just rest the tool on the spoke and completely relax the hand for accurate readings every time.

Once I got the technique down to gently rest the meter on spokes, it was simple and fast to go around wheels taking readings. You measure the right and left spokes from the same side of the wheel. There’s no need to switch the tool to the other hand or reverse the wheel.

While you can zero the reading for each spoke, most of the time the gauge reads zero once in position on the spoke. And, I realized that even if it starts with a reading, that number is so low that if you don’t want to zero the gauge before taking the reading, it’s not a significant discrepancy and easy to subtract in your head.

Watch this video of the Tensiometer in action.

Converting deflection to tension
Tension chart
Once you have a few readings there is one last step because the gauge shows the distance the spoke deflects in tenths of a mm. Wheel designers and engineers, however, specify tension with kgf (kilogram-force), so that’s the number needed to be sure wheels are tight enough.

In order to “translate” the deflection to a tension reading, you refer to a chart that comes with the Tensiometer (photo). By looking at the column showing the type of spoke on the wheel you’re measuring you can find the reading shown for the spoke and see on the chart what the kgf reading is.

For example, if the gauge reads .30 (the spoke deflects .30 of a mm), the chart shows a kgf of 119 on a spoke with 1.8mm thickness.

Using the Foot Pedal Data Output System
The way the Foot Pedal Data Output System works is by plugging into the Tensiometer and a computer so that you can easily record the tension of each spoke in a spreadsheet. The free online place to do this recommended by Ric is SpokeService

As you take each tension reading with the gauge, you step on the foot pedal and the tension number magically appears in the chart plus the cursor moves to the next cell. Once you’ve measured all the spokes on both sides you can view a wheel map showing the tension highs and lows around the rim. You can save and/or print the wheel’s specs to put with the finished wheel, too.

If you don’t have the Foot Pedal system, you can still enter reading by hand into the online utility. A screenshot of the SpokeService charts is above.

While most cyclists may never need a spoke tensiometer as accurate as Wheel Fanatyk’s, it does set the gold standard for wheelbuilders. If you’re a hobby wheelman or want to learn, this tool is the ultimate for getting tensions right. It’s also the best tool for checking new wheels you’re considering buying, which is why it’s used by major wheel makers. This helps ensure the highest quality builds, which is a great thing with all the new wheel components and new wheel specifications coming out all the time.

Price: $348 for Mitutoyo Digital Tensiometer. $98 for optional Foot Pedal Data Output System (There is also a Mitutoyo Dial Tensiometer: $280).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bike Video: Bicycle Culture by Design

Recently, I've been listening to and enjoying TED Talks podcasts. So far, I haven't heard one about bikes or cycling, so I had the idea to search for them on YouTube and found what I think is an excellent talk.

It's presented by "urban mobility expert" Mikael Colville-Andersen. It's only 15 minutes long and I think you'll enjoy what he has to say...

If you're reading this post in an email (rather than on the blog) you'll probably need to click this link to watch the video

To better road designs for cycling everywhere,


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays cycling friends!
In celebration of this joyous time of year, here's some Christmas-themed vintage art to inspire you. With a little creativity, you can use it to make your favorite into a printed or digital card to send.

My favorite here is either the December 12, 1942 The New Yorker cover from my collection (think you could bring home the tree on your handlebars - I doubt I could?), or the Western Auto window shoppers reacting to the Western Flyer ("the most beautiful bike in town").

If you're shopping for cycling gifts, don't forget to visit your local bicycle shop in person and/or online. Be sure to ask them for suggestions, too. They'll know what's popular right now and what others are buying for gifts, too.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and New Year,

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Be a Bicycle Vampire Hunter this Halloween

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of the season, and with all due respect to Roman Polanski’s classic 1967 spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers, I'm sharing some simple tips to help you hunt for, find and terminate your bicycle vampires.


Unlike the fanged variety, two-wheel ghouls constantly suck your energy by making your bicycle harder to pedal. And like Dracula, they’re apt to appear at any time and can be hard to find. In fact, it’s rare that cyclists ever notice a vampire while riding or even rolling their bike.

To help, here’s an easy and fun 4-step check to perform about every 90 days during riding season (or a few days before any major ride or event; which gives you time to mend problems). Finding and fixing a vampire is one of the most satisfying repairs you can make. Start with the drivetrain since that’s bicycle vampires' favorite hiding place.

Note: I’m assuming your bicycle and components aren’t abused or worn out. If so, more inspection and repairs will likely be needed than covered here.

1. Chain check
Perhaps the most common energy-sucker is a dry chain. Few lubes last long if you ride regularly and in all weather conditions. And many roadies end up with not enough lube and a chain that’s stiff and dragging. 

You can identify a dry chain by its shiny rollers and metallic sound when turning the pedals. Don’t let the chain ever get like this. Keep it adequately lubed for how and where you ride. I'm partial to Pro Gold Pro Link chain lube. Another favorite chain lube is Boeshield T-9.

Park Tool's article on derailleur pulleys
2. Pulleys check
The two pulleys on the rear derailleur are the second hardest working wheels on your bike. Even if you keep your chain nicely lubed and apply a little to the pulleys, too, moisture can make its way inside and bind or even freeze one or both pulleys. 

Check for this by lifting the chain away from each pulley and flicking them with your finger to see if they spin freely and smoothly. If not, you can usually restore them by simply disassembling, cleaning and lubing all the parts.

Bottom brackets require special tools
3. Bottom bracket check
The bottom bracket (BB) is the bearing mechanism that the crankset spins on so it influences every pedal stroke. To check yours, shift onto your smallest chainring and then lift the chain off the ring and rest it on the frame. 

Now, hold one crankarm (not a pedal) and gently and slowly turn the crankarm feeling for tightness, roughness and smoothness in the BB. It should turn freely with a slight hydraulic resistance from the grease inside. If it’s tight, dry or rough, you probably need a new bottom bracket (or a bottom bracket overhaul if yours can be serviced). Follow this link and first figure out what type of BB you have and then look up the service procedure.

A cartridge bearing hub
4. Wheels check
Like the bottom bracket, the wheels spin on bearings, which when bad become vampires. It’s almost impossible to feel bearing issues with the wheels in place on the bicycle. So, to check if yours are failing, remove both wheels. 

Then hold each wheel’s axle (not the quick release - wheel clamping mechanism) between your fingers and turn it. Like the BB check, the wheel axles should turn freely and smoothly with a slight resistance from the grease inside the bearings. If the bearings feel tight, rough or dry, you need the hub bearings serviced. Follow this link and first determine which type of hubs you have and then look up the service procedure.

Here's hoping these tips are like garlic for your bike - and they keep those vampires away. Trick or treat!
All photos courtesy of Park Tool.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

PRODUCT REVIEW: Pedro's Super Prestige Professional floor pump

Pedro’s Professional Pump performs up to its name

I like Pedro’s Super Prestige Professional Floor Pump (about $65) so much I bought two of them. One is in my home bike shop and the other lives in our new Lazy Daze RV. I’ve been using these pumps for a couple of years now and they still perform like new. I actually have a compressor in the shop, but these pumps work so well, I usually reach for them.

I like to point out good floor pumps because the most common maintenance task is topping off your tire pressure. And, unfortunately even many so-called “shop-quality” and expensive models perform sub-par and wear out surprisingly soon.

Common problems include difficulty achieving a leak-free fit between the pump head and valve - or having to change or adapt the head to fit a different valve; needing to push excessively hard to pump your tires fully; and ‘blow-back’ - which is when you push the pump handle down and it pops right back up with enough force and speed to explode out of the pump - in a worst-case scenario.

Nearly effortless pumping
There are no such issues with the Super Prestige. It features a heavy-duty steel base for stability, a wide ergonomic soft-grip handle and a small diameter, long steel barrel, which all make for nearly effortless pumping up road and mountain bike tires of all types and pressures.

Ultimate pump head
Instant airtight seal on all valves
The Super Prestige's best feature is the automatic pump head that you simply press on whatever type valve you have and then flip up the thumblock lever to lock the head on with an airtight seal. Pump heads are a common point of failure. 

I’ve never had the Pedro’s let me down and I’ve used it on dozens of different valves and valve extenders and adapters (for example, an adapter is required to inflate disc wheels - my favorite disc wheel valve adapter is Silca's Hiro). 

Presta or Schrader valve, you attach Pedro’s pump head and it holds fast and doesn’t leak.

Convenient long hose
Another sweet detail is the 39-inch (99cm) long hose. This comes in handy if you’re working on a bicycle in a repair stand and if you’re trying to inflate tires while bikes are up high on a rear vehicle rack, etc. The hose actually attaches to the pump beneath the top-mounted gauge rather than at the bottom where most other pumps attach them. That adds to the hose reach.

Pedro’s also includes a built-in hose holder to their pump that really works. Lesser pumps have holders that let the hose fall to the ground, which can lead to failure.

Super visible top-mounted gauge
The top-mounted gauge is close to you to read it more easily and has a knurled ring with a pointer that you turn and place on your target psi. Also, this stellar pump has a small button on the head that lets you bleed air to get the pressure just right.

All in all, if you’re looking for a great inflator, you’ll find it in Pedro’s Super Prestige. Here it is on Amazon though they have the wrong photo - it shows an older model.

Happy pumping!


Monday, September 5, 2016

Q&A: Saddle positioning when your seatpost won't cooperate, and a wheel from my past surfaces

Greetings from Santa Cruz, California where we just updated our always popular county Bikeways Map. Click the link to download and print a copy if you're headed here with your bikes, and you'll get around our busy beach town much more easily.

Here are some of the interesting bicycle technical questions that have come in since last we met, with my replies.

Q: "I just bought a Trek Madone 5.2 from a bike shop in California. I live in Florida. It was to replace my Madone 4.3 that got stolen last year. Long story short, without having the old bike to take measurement from for seat height, I figured them both being 47cm would make it the right size for me.

Well that was mostly true except the 5.2 has a seatmast not a seatpost that limits the height the seat can be lowered.

I need to drop the seat about 3cm to get comfortable in the saddle. I already have a low-profile seat with little room for lowering there without compromising comfort. I could do smaller cranks, I guess, but that would only drop me .5cm and that still leaves 2.5cm to go.

Trek said that I already have the shortest mast available. Any suggestions to get those last 2.5cm? Surely I can't be the first person to have this problem."


A: Thanks for sending the photos of your Trek and its seatmast showing the design, and your saddle and how it's attached (above).

You're right that there's no easy way to lower the seatmast and since this is the shortest one Trek offers, you can't replace it either (I suppose you could have a custom one made but it would probably cost a small fortune and end up not matching the finish of the bicycle, either).

Another option might be to modify the seatmast in some way, such as cutting out a section, but that would be a job for a carbon repair company, such as Calfee Design - and might cost a fair amount, too.

But, luckily, there's another way to lower your seat. It's an old 'trick' mechanics have used forever. It works on almost all types of saddles that fit on seatposts via a certain type of clamp. That type of clamp has to be capable of being mounted upside/down.

Not all clamps will do this, but many will, including yours, as your before and after photos, show. Thanks for sending the photos after following my advice, so I can share them!

The key thing to look out for if you're inverting your seatpost clamp to lower a seat, is to check that when a person's weight is fully on the saddle, that the seat doesn't compress so far that it bottoms out on the clamp or seatpost. This can happen in some cases and you never want to have your seat bottoming out when you hit bumps because coming down against a solid piece of metal like that could hurt or even injure you. The saddle is designed to suspend you from impacts for comfort and protection.

Note that one of the most common uses of inverting seatpost/saddle clamps is on children's bicycles. Sometimes a child is too big/tall for one size bicycle but when you look at the next size, it's a touch too large. If that's the case and you can make the too-large bike fit by inverting the seat clamp, they'll be able to ride the bike safely and grow into it, too.

Keep reading for another seating issue you might run into...

Q: The following is an email back-and-forth between a roadie named Phil and myself. Phil started the thread with this question: "After three years on my wonderful Lynskey R230, I have finally decided the seat (Brooks B17) should be further back. I switched to a 25mm setback seatpost (I used to have a zero setback Lynskey seatpost) but I still want to push the saddle back a bit more.

At this point I’m sure you are saying, “Phil, you should have bought a Large instead of a M/L Lynskey frame.” Yes, probably -  but I did not, so here I am.

The problem, of course, is that the rails – like most rails – on my Brooks saddle narrow as they approach the saddle nose. The bracket (i.e., the platform which grips the rails) is wider than the rails (note – this is Lynskey seatpost does not use the Enve inserts).

Solution? Or out of luck?

A: I replied: "Usually there’s a way to increase the setback but it often involves compromise. By compromise, I mean that you may need to change to a seatpost with more setback and you probably won’t find a seatpost with more setback that’s a nice as the seatpost you have.

You also might need to shim the seatpost to get it to fit in your frame. Here are Cane Creek's seatpost shims, for example.

With a really quick search I found an example of a seatpost with more setback just to show you, the Nitto Lugged seatpost, which has a 40mm setback (photo).

Yes, this is a very old-school seatpost, but if it proved a huge improvement, you would at least know what setback works best for you and you could go in quest of a seatpost that provides it.

I haven’t done an exhaustive search for seatposts with extra setback, but there should be a few others out there with any luck. You might also ask Lynskey if they’d make you one with the setback you need – though I don’t know if they make custom components like that. Some framebuilders might.

Another option, though it means switching saddles, is trying to find a seat that’s longer or has longer rails or rails that allow putting the seat in the right position to provide the additional setback you require. So, for example, if you found a saddle that was an inch longer in the back, that might solve the problem, assuming you could sit on that seat of course. An example is Fizik's Arione.

Since bicycle shops that specialize in fitting people often run into this issue, they can be a good resource for the seatposts and saddles like this. However, it would need to be a large shop that carries a good inventory and fits lots of people. (The photo shows an SR "super-setback" seatpost that was around in the 1980s, and which you might find today on

Hope this is helpful and you find a good solution.

To which, Phil answered, "Thanks.  Hate to get rid of my Brooks saddle but that may be the best solution. That Nitto seatpost looks really weird.

Wonder if there is a way to adapt the front half of the seatpost platform to the narrow portion of the rails on the Brooks saddle. Don’t want to go much further as I worry about the stability of the saddle."

And, I wrote back: "Yes, definitely weird. I have never seen an adapter like what you describe, however, I think one could be made with a little ingenuity. Today it’s much easier to design things like that with 3D printing.

If I was doing it, I’d look for a machinist that has the technology and likes to solve problems and has worked on bicycle components. Machinists will usually discuss projects for free so you know what you’re going to have to spend up front.

I would think, though, that it wouldn’t be too difficult or too expensive a part to design and make."

And, Phil then said, "Yes. Plus, although I have never looked at rails on saddles very closely, I just don’t recall seeing a saddle with “straight” rails – i.e., that don’t curve inward as they culminate in the nose of the saddle."

Summing up, I replied, There have been all kinds of bizarre saddle shapes and designs going back to the dawn of cycling, Phil. But, the traditional road saddle has the narrow nose and the rails that follow its shape.

There's at least one reasonably new saddles that has an I-beam running down the middle that requires a seatpost of the same design - both made by SDG (if you look closely at the photo, you'll see there are no rails, instead an I-beam runs down the center of the saddle). On these you can move it forward and back more, so it might be worth a look.

Hope you find the fit you're looking for,

Q: I'm sure you get this all the time, Jim, but today while volunteering at the Bellows Falls, Vermont bike project I came across a wheel I'd been looking for, a Weinmann 129A 27-inch rear wheel.

Even better, it was equipped with a SunTour Pro Compe 6-speed 14-34 freewheel, which is about perfect. By itself this made me happy.

But after clearing off the years of grime I found this little sticker which made it even more exciting. Any idea when you were using these stickers as I doubt you would remember when/who it was built for?!

Thanks for your time,
Christopher C. Purvis

A: Thanks for making my day, Christopher! In 1978 I left the famous Andy’s Cycle Shop in Keene, New Hampshire and went to work for West Hill Shop, now in Putney, Vermont. At that time Neil Quinn the owner (retired now) had opened a second store in Brattleboro, Vermont.

I was managing that shop and working sometimes in Putney, too. Later, we closed the shop in Brattleboro to focus on our busier Putney location. I missed the wonderful cheese danishes I used to have every morning from the bakery next door to the Brattleboro store.

That’s my long way of saying that I probably built that wheel you found in one of those stores – and it would have been before 1982 when I left for California where I’ve been ever since. [Bonus: if you're hankering to build some wheels, click on the vintage Raleigh photo for my bicycle wheelbuilding step-by-step.]

Unfortunately, while I had the good idea to have stickers made for my wheels, I was not smart enough to record my wheelbuilds in a notebook, or use serial numbers, so I can’t tell you who I built those for. And, I’m still using the same stickers on my wheels because I bought way more than I should have when I ordered them from the printer back then. So I'm still using them on new wheels I build.

It’s very nice of you to send me the photo of that long lost wheel. I hope it’s still reasonably true and rideable! Just for laughs, here’s one of my favorite photos of back then. In case you don't recognize it, I'm in my Tour-yellow Richard Sachs T-shirt, back at West Hill in Putney building a wheel on the classic Var Atomic jig.

Enjoy that vintage Jim Langley-built wheel!

Be sure to also read my weekly column Jim's Tech Talk on RoadBikeRider.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Bicycling Across and Around the USA plus Around the World

Happy 40th Birthday Bikecentennial!

Here are a couple of informative and entertaining videos you'll enjoy if you are thinking about packing your bike with all your possessions and hitting the road for life-changing adventures. The first film is about the great cross-America ride to commemorate the USA's bicentennial in 1976, called Bikecentennial, which saw 4,000 people pedal across the nation. There are some fun events planned to celebrate their 40th birthday this summer.

And, here's a helpful Adventure Cycling Association primer on how to get started with bicycle touring. Anyone can do it on any working bicycle. Like the amazing Lloyd Sumner who pedaled over the horizon with $5 in his pocket, stopped and worked to earn money as needed, and ended up circling the globe. Adventure Cycling also has route maps that make touring a lot easier than guessing how to get from point A to B (which is how I did it).

Free 115-page photo eBook!
Speaking of around-the-world cycling and bicycling around the world (as in how people of different lands use their bikes and cycling), I just learned of the beautiful free photo eBook 'Bicycling Around The World'

Quoting the photographer, Paul Jeurissen (the writer is Grace Johnson),

"‘Bicycling Around The World’ celebrates bike travel and culture around the globe.

In 2010, Grace and I set off on a multi-year bicycle tour covering four continents. Wherever we go, we search out bike culture, dramatic landscapes and remote places.

So come pedal with us through the icy Himalayas, the barren Pamir highway, tropical East Africa and the chaos of Dhaka in search of unique cycling images.

We also show you glimpses of bicycle culture via painted rickshaws, overloaded cargo bikes and even two wheelers piled high with cotton candy.

By the end of this book, we hope you’ll agree that the world is best viewed from a bike saddle." Get the eBook here!"

Note that the link takes you to Paul and Grace's Bicycle Traveler International Magazine on Bicycle Touring, which has other free eBooks about bicycle touring subjects; a great resource.

Thanks, Paul!