One thing that has always fascinated me about BMX or more specifically; the economy of BMX- is the current lack and decreasing amount of what is commonly known in ‘the real world’ as planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is the reason you buy a new phone every year, a new games console every 2 years, a new TV every 3 years, a new fridge every 4 years, etc; instead of every 10 years- for ALL of them. It’s not that companies can’t produce a games console that wouldn’t overheat and melt the solder, or a phone that doesn’t bend in your pocket or smash when you drop it, it’s that it doesn’t make them anywhere near as much money if they make a product that lasts a decade rather than last two years- even if they charged double for it. 800 quid per person every ten years? Or 400 quid every two years? (equating to 2000 per person every decade) It’s a very easy business decision. The downside is that we are polluting the very planet we are stuck on with our broken junk, merely in the quest for profit. Thanks to everyone who participates in making BMX what it is, we truely have something we can be proud of; our own little world where planned obsolescence is kept to a bare minimum. Continue reading
I’ve been holding off writing anything about Skapegoat’s Bob Scerbo bars for a little while, not least for their rich yet turbulent history that has already been well documented (let’s break it down briefly for anyone who’s not up to speed; GT made them originally, Bob had his Animal signature bars made in their image, Animal made them bigger for the masses, Bob didn’t like that, 7.8″ versions stopped being made, everyone missed them, a few imitations and variations got made, Bob didn’t like that either so he had some made by S&M under his Skapegoat brand) but because I knew a follow up to the original DIG Bob bar article would surely surface sooner or later. In said ‘Opinionated‘ article, Brian Tunney brings up some interesting points about bar sizes and angles and speculates as to why some people may or may not still be into these iconic street-specific bars. While there are things in his article I may disagree with to a small degree, the discussion about bar sizes and angles is a subject often avoided that I and many others take a great amount of interest in. Continue reading
Chromium plating (usually known simply as ‘chrome’) has been a staple finish for BMX bikes and parts pretty much since the sport’s inception when I was little more than a glint in the milkman’s eye. Everybody from yours truly to your little brother has run chrome plated parts; rims being the steady favourite for generations (you can’t deny that it’s a classic look) partly due to being a harder wearing brake surface than anodizing. While it’s nice to have nice things, the horrible truth is that although chrome plating has aesthetic advantages, it has a far darker side behind the scenes.
The biggest structural flaw with chrome plated parts is in the structural steel components like frames, bars, and cranks and is caused by something called ‘sacrificial metals’. When electroplating a steel component, it is first negatively charged by an electrical source before being immersed in a chromic acid bath with a sacrificial zinc or carbon anode; of which is positively charged. The anode is (in layman’s terms) used to prevent the iron in your part from losing it’s electrons thus attracting oxygen molecules and turning into a lump of rust in the acid/electrolyte bath. The anode loses the electrons instead and it oxidises in place of the iron; this is a good example of a ‘sacrificial metal’. This technique is also used on cheap zinc-covered town-bike spokes, roofing and even for ship hulls.
Unfortunately there is a bad example too. If the necessary pre-treatments of stripping, cleaning, sanding, polishing, multiple layers of copper and nickel plating etc, etc aren’t done properly then there will be flaws in the chrome when it comes to chrome plating eg. porous texture, poor adhesion, perforations etc. While I use the word ‘flaws’, don’t think of them as cute, minor little flaws like a bubble in your grips or a small buckle in your rim; these are disastrous flaws that, if unchecked over long periods, can and may well maim you. Chrome plating keeps water away from the iron contained in the tubes of (let’s say for argument’s sake) your bars and preventing them from rusting as a barrier layer but the problem is that iron is anodic to the nickel in the same way that zinc is anodic to iron. The slightest perforation in the plating (of which can easily be caused by manufacturing or rider error; defective chrome plating, grinding, crashing, even simple installation can damage the plating if you’re not careful- chromium is plated by the millionth of an inch) not only makes the tubing vulnerable to rust but because iron is anodic to the plating itself, the rusting is actually accelerated by the chrome plating that’s supposed to be protecting it- the steel literally sacrifices itself for the chrome. This is why you’ll see old American cars with rusted out bumpers with the chrome peeling away where the steel has corroded underneath to the point where it’s barely there any more. This site is a good place for more information about chrome plating as a finish.
It doesn’t end there though, while searching for distribution info on the FlyBikes website last week, I stumbled across an interesting section on their frequently-asked-questions portion of the page;
While the structural (and weight) disadvantages of chrome has been more or less clear to me for years and usually steered me away from actually spending money on it, I had no clue of the environmental or the human cost of a mere finish.
Spotting that Flybikes FAQ explaining their wholly righteous reason for not offering chrome colour options prompted me to do some good old Google trawling on the negative health affects of chromium plating; there was a lot of material. This report by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention was the most reliable literature I could find on the subject; being the CDCP is a government agency and the fact that the US chrome plating industry is pretty damn big so they probably know what they are talking about.
There are two different types of decorative chrome plating, trivalent and hexavalent; the stuff that made Erin Brockovich a household name. Unfortunately I can’t tell the difference scientifically because I only have a very limited understanding of these things but trivalent is basically ‘modern’ chrome, it has more of a nickel tint whereas hexavalent is the classic ‘old school’ stuff; harder wearing, blue-r tint but heavily regulated by the state and for good reason, hexavalent chromium is hugely toxic. It’s trivalent counter part is not quite as harmful, has less stringent exhaust regulations and is easier to waste treat; spilling a small beaker of it’s hexavalent counterpart on your garage floor has the potential to poison any nearby wells and land you in some deep trouble.
The gases emitted by the chromic acid are the super dangerous part about hexavalent chromium, without adequate fume-extraction or personal protective equipment, a chrome worker is subject to some horrific illnesses including but probably not limited to; cancers of the lung, trachea, and bronchus, contact dermatitis, skin ulcers, irritation and ulceration of the inner nasal lining (nasal mucosa) as well as perforation of the nasal septum- a symptom commonly associated with prolonged cocaine abuse. The CDCP findings also report of kidney damage, liver damage, pulmonary congestion and edema, epigastric pain, erosion and discolouration of teeth, and even perforated ear drums. In the case of the nasal ailments, on average the symptoms start manifesting within the first month of employment with a chrome plating shop.
This passage from the CDCP report was stood out to me as the most troubling though;
..11 male employees in an Ohio electroplating facility reported that most men had worked in the “hard-chrome” area* for the majority of their employment (average duration: 7.5 years; range: 3–16 years). Four of the 11 workers had a perforated nasal septum. Nine of the 11 men had hand scars resulting from past chrome ulcerations. Other effects found during the investigation included nose bleeds, “runny nose,” and nasal ulcerations..
*Hard-chrome is often known as ‘engineering chrome’ and is used for lubricity or oil retention in things like car engine parts and gun barrels. Although essentially the same as it’s decorative counterpart, it’s applied in thousandths of an inch rather than millionths like decorative chrome.
So what can be done? It depends on how much you like your chrome bike I guess, you could hassle your favourite companies via social media into telling you whether they’re using hexavalent or trivalent chrome (to the untrained eye it’s hard to tell the difference) and only buy trivalent if like me, your conscience is getting the better of you. You could even boycott using chrome parts altogether until there’s better identification of whether they’re using trivalent or not, there are plenty of adequate alternatives including fine polishing, anodising and even certain types of chrome-look paint that look great, come in more colour options, weigh less, are less harmful to the environment and are better suited to people who live in wetter climates. If you already have chrome parts, you can take better care of them by spraying something like J P Weigle’s Frame Saver into the inside of the tubes and generally keeping the outside of them clean with soapy water… and by not grinding. The choice is yours at the end of the day; vote with your wallet.
Occasionally with a ‘job’ like this, I’ll be lucky enough to be sent parts to test by companies going through research and development stages of making new BMX components, my main qualification to do so is being able to throw a bike around while still being able to analyse a broken one better than simply saying ‘I fell and it broked!’
Then one day someone will pull a cruel joke and send you not one, but two types of freecoaster to test knowing full well how you feel about that kind of heresy and witchcraft… but with me being ever curious about new technologies emerging and not wanting to be left behind, I gladly accepted the task.
Trying out both clutch and pawl type freecoasters, I figured out that while the pawl type was the easiest to use, the clutch type was best for adjustability and thus, reliability (in the respect it won’t engage and throw you on your arse as easily when rolling backwards) due to being able to remove/ add slack spacers at will. This is something that can’t be done with a pawl type coaster without using a different clutch-disk or slack cam ring- depending on which brand you ride. This is not to say that you are completely out of options when it comes to slack adjustability though; the following factors can also play a part in the time it takes your hub to engage;
A higher gear ratio where a larger sprocket, or a smaller driver, is used so higher top speeds can be reached does so because a larger sprocket like a 27T-9T ratio for example, pulls more chain links over the driver with each pedal stroke than a smaller 25T sprocket pulls over a 9T driver; it works the same way that a single point on the outer edge of a vinyl record will move faster than a point in the middle despite it having the same number of revolutions per minute- except there’s a chain wrapped around it. What this also does is reduce the time it takes for your rear hub to engage as chain gets pulled over your driver at a faster rate when your gear ratio is higher. In the days of cassette hubs and freewheels (if you’ve been riding as long as some) this wasn’t so much of an issue but with freecoasters and fakie tricks coming back into popularity, it’s something that is of much greater importance. If you’ve got steady legs and a desire to bomb it around at mach 10 then you could probably get away with something like 27 or 26T-9t but if you like a bit of room for error when moving your feet around while coasting backwards then maybe stick to a lower 25T-9T, no one likes a bruised arse.
Crank Arm Length.
While 175mm tends to be the standard go-to length for BMX cranks they can usually range from around 165mm to 180mm depending on your height, riding style or personal preference so for arguments sake we’re just going to talk about the two extremes of long (eg. 180mm) and short (165mm). If you imagine the crank in it’s engaged and disengaged position as well as the distance between the pedal spindles as a kind of triangle (as illustrated in the shoddy MSpaint diagram above) you can see that the red lines represent the set freecoaster slack angle but you can see that the slack effectively widens as the cranks get longer. It’s worth noting that the difference is negligible but noticeable if you go between 165mm and 180mm cranks although virtually non-existent if you were running 175mm cranks to begin with, but you know, every little counts sometimes…
It’s pretty much common knowledge that freecoaster driver bearings really do not like tight chains but a loose chain can also artificially increase your freecoaster slack angle as well as help your bearings last longer. Before your hub even starts to engage your legs have to make the chain tension enough to pull the chain over the driver to begin with so the slacker the chain; the slacker the angle, obvious enough. But that also increases the likelihood of your bike sounding like a rusty bag of nails inside a biscuit tin so exercise restraint with that one kids.
While I’m sure all of the above is quite obvious to some older riders including the Bikeguide police, and I’m sure it’ll get picked apart in some way or another but the main point I want to make is that it’s not something that gets talked about a whole lot, especially to younger riders, despite being a big issue in BMX today. That said, if there are any points I’ve missed feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Complete bikes have really changed since I started riding. You can now go out and find a bike specialized to what you want to ride, in the size you want, that comes with the parts you need. That is exactly what Division did, and they brought out 3 models built to take on a handrail straight out of a box. Besides that, they’re some of the best looking bikes I’ve seen in the last few years. I’ll let the photos and specs speak for themselves.
I’ve seen some wild set-ups in my time, for years people have been bolting wooden blocks to their BB’s, rigging two levers up to a single brake, blowing their tyres up with helium, using a shoelace as a straddle cable, grinding teeth off an old sprocket to make a bash guard… the list is endless and I’m missing plenty. Modifications have always been part of BMX and solving the problems associated with the kind of abuse bikes like ours have to endure.
…And then someone has to go and take it too far. Often you’ll get an over enthusiastic designer (some even go as far to call themselves ‘inventors’ like it’s the 19th century…) who’s looking to solve problems that can’t be solved efficiently, if at all. Some even look to solve problems that don’t even exist. Today we’re going to look at some of those bad designs that get churned out and discuss why they’re not the kind of thing you should/would put on your bike.
It is probably worth noting that although I have a broad experience of the BMX and general cycle trade I do not have a back ground in engineering, nor am I a product designer so this article is purely opinion, essentially I’m just an extremely picky BMX rider of 15 years. In other words; I’m broke, don’t sue me.
This one tickles me every time, the Curbrider pedals are a ‘pedal’ that bolt directly onto your 19mm spindle in place of your cranks. This way you can get rid of that oppressive drivetrain that was holding you back for all those years and join your scooter comrades on your new balance bike and feel more connected to the earth… because you kick-push now. Jesus..
Admittedly we appeared enthusiastic about Affix gyro when we posted the exclusive but I think this one will be tucked away, along with the UFO and the ‘beancan’ gyros, to the constraints of history. While aesthetically the Affix gyro is a ton tidier and a load lighter than the traditional Brian Scura design, it just didn’t cut it with the public, probably because of the fact you need a ruddy great hole in the side of your headtube to accommodate it. The way the entire load was put on a single cable rather than two thus decreasing its longevity probably didn’t help either.
Nope. Roller pegs are nothing new but pegs with bearings is a recipe for some expensive grinds. Even IF the bearings lasted long enough to do a feeble/ loop out on an icepick, the moment you drop your bike on your side the bearings are gonna start dying, quick. That’s only if the dropouts on Ed Miliband’s aluminium GT Power Series don’t kick the bucket first though.
At what point during the late 90’s/ early 00’s did people start thinking; ‘What I really need is a hunchback’ ? Like the S&M Elevenz bars are to big handlebars, the Snafu Sushi bars were to small bars; at 6″ tall and 23″ wide these were the smallest available. It wasn’t uncommon to see fully grown Quasimodo men running these bars with a brake lever clamped under the crossbar.
The above photo popped up on my Facebook feed under ‘suggested post’ a few days ago and later Kurt posted it to The Union, it’s a bolt on ‘frame guard’ that bolts through the chainstay bridge (like a kick-stand) and clamps onto the downtube in the same style as GT and Kore did back in the day. While it might initially give the impression that it will protect your frame or provide a great grinding surface, the clamp will more than likely put high amounts of stress on a part of your frame that simply is not designed to take that type of clamping load. Even more so if you have thinner gauge or butted tubing typical of today’s frames.
While we’re here, does anyone else find the company’s URL etched into the side a little fishy and non-bmx-y? A brief dig around reveals the company’s ‘C.E.O’ is a real estate broker and the bash guard itself was developed by a registered defence contractor. Do with that information what you will.
Last week in our Tooling Up article we briefly touched upon the subject of how very little there is in the way of BMX specific/marketed pumps, then Dave at WeMakeThings hit us up to prove us wrong and show off Saltplus‘ new addition to their expanding tool line, the Mini foldable track pump;
“Flats suck. What sucks even more is having a flat and not having a pump with you to fix it. Well now you wont have an excuse not to have a pump with you next time you head out riding. The Saltplus Mini Pump is a micro sized version of a traditional track pump, but folds up to almost 1/4 of the size and will fit in your backpack with ease. Despite its small size, the Mini Pump packs a punch and will inflate your tires up to 110psi much quicker than you would think. With durable internals and designed to work with both Shrader and Presta Valves, this little guy will save your bacon next time you’re in a tight spot. Available October at Saltplus dealers worldwide.”
Material: high strength nylon and alloy internals
Features: super small foldable design, can work with Shrader or Presta valves
Inflates up to 110 psi
Go follow Saltplus on Instagram, there’s a good lad.
Its been said before and I’ll say it again, bikes are getting easier and easier to maintain, repair, dis-and re-assemble at a moments notice. Most bikes can be chucked into a golf flight bag in ten minutes with little more than a six millimetre allen key and a 17 mm socket if pegs are your bag. Bikes are nigh on perfect now but what about the tools you use to work on them? Are you still riding around with several pounds of ring spanners, a rubber mallet and your granddad’s old cross wrench in a military grade canvas rucksack or are you carrying something a little more subtle in your back pocket?
In my mind there are two types or riding; sessioning and cruising. With sessioning you find something good to ride (whatever that is in your mind, in mine it’s a wall ride…) put down your bag and jacket and you tend to stay in one area. With cruising you’re just rolling down the street, hopping curbs and generally not stopping too much; a bag isn’t really something you want here. Both of these situations influence your decision on what tools you carry on your person but unfortunately your bike usually has other plans…
Being caught short can rue the day and there’s nothing worse than slipping your bars and having to ride home with your chin on your stem. Or walking. Especially if all you need is a spoke key.
So what is the least you can get away with carrying? While I personally carry a yellow spokey, a six millimetre allen key and a puncture kit and pray I can find a shop or petrol station with a pump if the worst happens, this is probably not the most sensible option.
Lets start with the obvious; the ‘multitool-with-everything-you-could-ever-want-on-it’, namely the Shadow Conspiracy multitool, DK Random Wrench, Animal Kotulak, Eclat E-Tools and Salt Plus Tool Tube. While they vary from the all-bells-and-whistles of the Animal and Shadow tools with built-in chain splitters, and imperial allen keys to simpler offerings like from Eclat which could definitely tuck away in a winter coat. The main drawback is that you need something to carry it in as you generally wont fit it into your jeans pocket without looking like the bassist from This Is Spinal Tap.
The next kind of tool to consider is a pocket tool, Alfaro or Stolen’s Piece tool is a good start if you’re pegless, with a five (or 1/4″ in Alfaro’s case) and a six millimetre, tyre lever and a spoke key it’s got the bare bones of what you need to get going again and you never notice it in our pocket. Salt Plus’s Flip tool is another good example, with a chain splitter and multiple allen keys you could strip a pegless bike to the bare bones. If you ride pegs, Merritt’s Trifecta tool is a handy little telescopic 17mm socket with a 6 and an 8mm allen key attachment, it folds away to a mere 5 inches and even comes with hook and loop straps to carry it on your frame. The cons of such tools is that there’s always a chance you wont have the particular tool you need on you at the time.
That’s most people catered for but there are still some people out there who just can’t deal with a pocket full of stuff ruining the cut of their jeans or wearing the same backpack they used at school to carry tools you MIGHT need to fix your bike later. I know, it’s hard. Thankfully BMX has your back, companies like Kis and Wethepeople are turning the very same seatposts we sit above into 17mm sockets, so all you need to carry is a six to get that sucker out…. And you don’t even need to carry THAT if you have a Wethepeople Smuggler seat, well, if you can fit an allen key in beside all the weed you probably keep in there. If aesthetics are your thing then you should watch out that your post doesn’t get too scratched up by reinserting the post into the frame.
Other than the subject of pumps (of which this offering from Vocal was the only thing I could find worth half-mentioning) that’s about the long and short of it, there are plenty of BMX tool solutions out there to suit everyone so get tooled up, get out there and ride untill the wheels fall off. Then screw them back on again.
We’ve had a few US-based guys talk to us about the custom frames they put out, and so far we’ve loved what we’v seen. Hopefully it’s inspired some of you to go and purchase some of these frames yourselves and support the rider-owned and operated scene that these guys have created for the custom frame market. For this week’s interview, we go across the Atlantic to Patrick Banks, one of the UK’s finest custom frame builder. We hope this helps to cater to our audience from around the world, while showcasing another frame building legend. Click through to peep the full interview and some photos of the frames.
Over the next weeks we’ll be interviewing some of the guys behind the brands that are putting out custom frames. With all the available options out there for frames, it seems like there should be something out there for everyone, yet these guys say otherwise. So we shot out some emails, asked a few questions, and gave these guys a chance to explain things like what caused them to start doing custom frames, and why their frames are better than anything else on the market. Without any more of my rambling, first on the list is FBM Bike Co, with Steve Crandall giving us an insight to what goes on in their shops. Click through for the full interview…