Topeak SmartGauge D2

Unlike my on-going saga with destroyed floor pumps, I’ve actually had much better luck with hand held bicycle pressure gauges.  But nonetheless, I’ve had three gripes: (1) how the hell do you know if it’s still accurate after years of service, (2) unlike pumps, bike pressure gauges are generally presta- or Schrader-only, and (3) the “reading lock” feature often times fails after a few months or years, making it impossible to easily get a pressure reading after removing the gauge from the tire.  The first issue had been in the back of my mind for the past decade as I continued to use a seemingly indestructible plastic Zefal gauge from the 90’s – the problem was, it never seemed to match any of the gauges on my floor pumps, which themselves seemed more like random number generators than actual pressure indicators.

Not too long ago, digital pressure gauges were notoriously inaccurate and poorly calibrated from the factory.  While I still wouldn’t trust most of the dollar-store digital gauges you see everywhere, digital pressure transducer technology has improved a lot, so now $15 or so will get you a quality digital gauge that will not only read accurately new out-of-the-box, but also five or so years down the road.

But it was the 2nd issue above that led me in search of a gauge capable of using on both presta and Schrader valves.  Somehow I ended up settling on the Topeak SmartGauge D2 after a fairly limited search.  


After several months of use on both types of valves, as well as benchmarking the reading against other gauges, I’ve decided the Topeak is a winner.  Cool features:

  • Rotating head lets you fit the gauge into tight or awkward situations
  • Pressure release but to let’s you bleed out pressure to hit a precise target
  • Switches between presta and Schrader by moving a little lever
  • Digital pressure reading is maintained on the display after you remove it from the valve
  • Big LCD display is easy to read
  • Press a button to switch units
  • Battery-saving auto-off
  • 250 psi max pressure for applications like shocks

Lezyne Classic Floor Drive Pump

I can name off a long list of floor pumps that I’ve had love-hate relationships with – Scott, SKS, Silca, Topeak, yadda, yadda.  When they are brand new, everything is wonderful, but within a matter of weeks or months things start heading south until you spend as much time trying to get the pump to work as you do actually pumping air into your tires.

I’ve bought replacement heads, rebuild kits, new hoses and even made my own gaskets trying to keep my floor pumps alive, but to no avail.  The three figure Silca was probably the most disappointing, as it never seemed to work great and probably cost more than the other combined.

I’ll admit that it’s still early in the game, as I’ve only been using this Lezyne Classic Floor Drive pump for a few months, but I’m smitten.  But the big difference with this pump is that there are many small indications that this one is finally going to last: extremely high quality constructin and materials, awesome gauge, super smooth head engagement, fast disengagement and accurate pressure measurement.  

The Lezyne Classic Floor Drive pump in black


The head operating is not intuitive, so you’ll have to read the instructions the first time.  No funky levers or switches that push down against a rubber gasket when switch from Schrader to Presta, just a different sequence with the awesome CNC collar.  It’s no surprise that the ABS2 pump head is available separately as a way to bring other brands or pumps back to life.

Lezyne’s ABS2 head is available separately


I’ve used the Lezyne for the presta tubes on our bikes and for the Schrader tubes on our Burley and my daughters Linus bike, and I can honestly say that the pump works equally well for either, which is a big deal for some folks.  At the same time, the dual-functioning head is – maybe for the first time in floor pump history – not a detriment to using it for just one valve type.  A roadie could use this for his or her presta valves for years without even knowing that it works on Schrader valves as well, and the same goes for someone who has never even seen a presta valve.  Heck, I even used it with a needle adapter to pump up a soccer ball.

Finally, I love love love the huge 3 1/2 inch gauge on this pump – so squinting or bending over to distinguish between psi and bar!

Soma Porteur Rack (stainless)

Soma Porteur Rack (stainless)

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I previously discussed my search for a porteur-style rack for my Ibis Sonoma rebuild project, where I decided to go with Soma Fabrication’s stainless porteur rack. The rack arrived and is tentatively installed with great results.

The first thing I noticed when I opened up the box was how hefty the tubing was that Soma uses for this rack. It’s quite big larger than I expected and that I’d seen on typical rear racks, like those gathering dust in my basement. The beefiness was present throughout, not only in the tubing, but also the overall design, welds, mounting eyelets and plates. See some of the pics below.

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The second thing that struck me was the overall quality and finish. Being quote a bit cheaper than similar racks from the likes of Velo Orange, I was worried about (and prepared for) a slightly mediocre product. While the welds are not exactly elegant, they’re also not at all sloppy or poorly done. The eyelet surfaces were well ground and lined up perfectly square. The optional fence was equally well done and it features really nicely done end caps. The Soma logo sticker is very well executed – understated and modern. Normally I’d remove decals like this (I’ve even buffed off screened printing), but I have no problem leaving this one in place.

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One thing that is really well done are the mounting plates, including the optional axel mounting plates. The stainless plate material is, again, thicker than I would’ve guessed it would be at this price. A big bonus is all the nice stainless hardware – bolt, washers and lock nuts. I don’t know if you’ve been to a hardware store lately for stainless bolts and such, but there is easily $10-20 worth of hardware included with this rack. Two fork crown mounting adapters are provided – presumably for bikes with and without brakes on the fork crown; more on this below.

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This is not-picky, but he only detail that I can complain about is that the ends of the rail tubing of the fence don’t line up perfectly with the tubing on the rack, once you’ve attached the fence. While the side tubing below the fence seems parallel with the rest of the rack tubes, those on the fence appear to flair out slightly when viewed from above. This may be an illusion though, and the rack rails may actually be curving back inward as they approach the 90 degree corner bends. Most people will never notice this, and if I were Soma, I wouldn’t worry about it!

I had two challenges when I went to mount the rack on my Ibis, which (somewhat ironically) has a Soma-Tange “classic curve” road fork on it. First, the mounting adapter for use with a front brake, though nicely and carefully bent/formed in order to avoid interference, did, in fact, strike the Campagnolo Chorus headset when attached between the brakes (Campy Athena) and frame, as shown below. In the pic below, the brake bolt isn’t even fully tightened yet – so this was a no-go. In the pics below, there are tow back-to-back serrated washers closest to the frame, with the adapter plate between these and the brakes; the cylindrical piece next to the plate is not a washer – it’s part of the brake (with flats for center adjustment).

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above: the mounting adapter here strikes the Campagnolo headset

The adapter plate is already bent as tightly as possible to avoid the headset, so there was no way I could bend it more. My only option was to try to insert a spacer between the frame and the mount (and brake) to move everything away from the frame. I went to my parts bins and found some MKS fender hardware that looked like it would work, along with some generic stainless washers and lock-washers. I wanted to add as little thickness as possible so that the brake bolt still had enough threads to grab the crown nut on the backside. As it turned out, all it took was a thin washer and another thin lock-washer. Once I put these on, I was good-to-go. The clearance between the adapter/mounting plate and the headset and brake arm are very tight, but everything is snug and OK with a mm or two of extra clearance.

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above: adding two thin washers gives just enough clearance

So the big issue, as with lots of bikes, forks and racks, is the dropout mounting. As I described in my previous rack post, the Soma-Tange fork has lower fender eyelets on the dropouts, but no upper eyelets for a rack. There is always the chance that a rack can be mounted to the lower eyelets with some big spacers to clear the fork and skewers, but this is pretty iffy and often not pretty.

The other option, and apparently an option that is unique to this rack, is to use the included (heafty) axle mounts. However, it’s immediately clear to anyone who wrenches on bikes that these mounts cannot be easily used with a quick-release axle. This is because the width (or length, I guess) of an Q/R axel has to be just slightly longer than the fork dropout spacing (100 mm on road forks), with just a few mm extra on each side for the fork dropouts to rest on, without extending beyond the outer edges of the dropouts, so that the Q/R can tighten flush against the dropouts. In contrast, “nutted” non-skewer, bolt-on axles are much longer – they must extend out beyond the dropouts so that there is room for the nuts to attach to the axle. But even in this case, there may not be enough extra axle length to accommodate the (heafty, thick) axle mounts.

So, Q/R or not, it’s likely that you’ll need a longer axle. For traditional cup-and-cone, loose bearing hubs – this is no big deal at all. If you’re a wrench, the new axle will be maybe $10-15 and a half hour of your time. Just remove the axle and bring it to your LBS along with both mounting plates so you can get the right length axle. If you’re not a wrench, bring your front wheel it in to your LBS along with the two axle mount plates – they’ll get it working for $25-30.

But one question remains: do the axle mounts go inside or outside the fork dropouts?

So I dropped an e-mail to Soma about proper use of these mounts. For the record, here is what Soma says:

“Are you using a nutted front axle? If so then you can mount them on top of the dropout, under the axle nut. If not, I would recommend mounting it directly to the fork’s threaded eyelets. You’ll probably need a spacer to make it clear. The adjustable tabs can be inverted for direct mounting. If you have ample clearance you can omit the tabs and mount directly to the lower tangs. Don’t mount the tabs to the axle if you’re using a quick release.”

So the axle mounts have to go outside (“on top of”) the dropouts. This makes sense: the fork dropouts are aligned so that they are parallel when spread to 100 mm hub spacing. If you squeeze the mounting plates inside the dropouts (against the hub), then you’ll mess up this alignment of the dropouts.

So why can’t you use a Q/R axel and skewer (including non-Q/R bolt-on skewers) so long as you buy a longer axle? Well, I didn’t push Soma on this point. There is probably some liability concerns, so I can’t blame them. But to me, as long as (1) you’re careful about getting the right-sized, longer axle, (2) use a non-Q/R (bolt on) skewer and (3) don’t haul huge loads, you should be OK. The problem is that you have to be very exact in your measurements and re-assembly. Since the rack axel mount plates are only 3 mm thick, adding enough length to give you 2 mm of axle for each mount to rest on (which is the minimum amount generally recommended – road forks usually rest on about 4 mm of axel, so axels are about 8 mm longer than dropout spacing) only leaves a 1 mm gap between the end of the axle and the outside edge of the plate where the Q/R rests. But this also requires the axel to be exactly centered in the hub; otherwise, one end of the axle will likely extend to the outer surface of the mounting plate, which would render the Q/R non-functional.

Another slight problem with using the axle mounts is that the “lawyer tabs” on fork dropouts (the little tabs that are allegedly a safety feature) are covered by the mounts. This would be the case regardless of a nutted/bolt-on axle or a Q/R axle. But really, many people say these tabs serve no real safety benefit, as bike forks didn’t have them for decades.

Nonetheless, I can’t recommend doing this – follow Soma’s recommendations and/or consult carefully with your local shop mechanic.

In the end, the cartridge bearing design of the Velo Orange hubs on my Ibis meant that I couldn’t find a longer replacement axel. I therefore, begrudgedly, resorted to using stainless p-clamps.

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Next project: making and mounting wood slats to the rack deck!

Cloth Handlebar Tape Shellac

It’s official: I’m what some cyclists in the U.S. call a retro-grouch. The condition is characterized by a penchant for steel frames, wool, non-ergo anything and obsolete pedal systems. Shellacking cloth handlebar tape is a dead give-away. Despite being born during the cycling renaissance of the 70’s, I unfortunately spent all my time in the 80’s listening to pop bands instead of stockpiling lugged steel frames like I should have.

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Anyway, after reading up on shellac and cloth bar wrap at Velo Orange, Bespoke & Wheel and Lovely Bicycle!, I decided to ignore all their advice and jump right in. No, I’m just kidding – I pretty much took most of their advice.

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Above: before shellac, the brown cotton tape securing the inverse brake cable housings on my Ibis

Firstly, I’m not shellacking an entire bar, just some pieces of Tressostar cotton bar tape on my Ibis that I used to tie off the brake cables and wrap the kickstand. But I think the same principles apply, except that my shellac should last a lot longer than it would on a bar where it sees much heavier use.

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Above: after shellacking three coats (shellac is dry in this photo)

Next, I wasn’t about to dissolve solid shellac flakes. In fact, I wanted to even skip the brush and try shellac spray (which they do sell at hardware stores); luckily, I decided against that due to my problems with overspray and hatred of prep work. Then I realized that it’s impossible to find shellac in anything less than quart quantities. I tried three different places before I have up and ordered a 1/2 pint of amber Zinsser shellac from Amazon. I also opted to use disposable foam brushes, which I think worked out really well and allowed for better control.

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Above: wrapped kickstand before shellac

I applied three coats several hours apart. The shellac dried pretty quickly. The first coat really sucked up the shellac, but so did the second. Only the third coat really seemed like it was staying on the surface. I suppose that also depends on how thickly you wrap the tape. I used amber shellac to add some color, although the Velo Orange link above shows that sometimes the final color is more dependent on the tape color than anything. Three coats darkened up my brown tape nicely, though the first coat made the largest difference.

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Above: kickstand with three coats of shellac (note the excess on the bottom of the kickstand – not yet cleaned up)

Greenfield KS2 Aluminum Kickstand

I went in search of a lightweight (aluminum) kickstand for my recent Ibis Sonoma porteur rebuild project, assuming I’d end up with a Pletscher of some sort. Instead, I ended up going with the cool Greenfield KS2 which I picked on Amazon after two failed attempts and waaaay too much diesel to buy one locally.
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While a two-leg Pletscher-style kickstand would’ve been cool and appropriate for a porteur, I didn’t think it would go well with the theme of the Ibis rebuild, which was a racey, porteur-like city bike. Without a big front rack, a dual leg kickstand just didn’t make sense, and the bulkiness would’ve looked out of place.

In retrospect, I think was a great decision because, being a road frame, the Sonoma probably would not have accommodated a larger kickstand. This Greenfield barely fit.

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The KS2 feels surprisingly lightweight for such a large piece of metal (Greenfield claims 266 g). Obviously, most if not all of the kickstand is made from an aluminum alloy, in a burnished finish. Alas, polished would be nicer, but would also probably double or triple the low price of this stand (still, I think many people would be more than willing to pay extra for this).

Before you run out and buy a kickstand, though, a little research is in order. First, go to Greenfield’s website and read up on the various length options. Secondly, head over to Rivendell and read how to measure for a kickstand. Lastly, understand that there can be some clearance issues; I would Google some search terms to see if your particular frame has any problems. Things are very tight on my Ibis, and road frames in general are not intended for kickstands. When I first installed the K2, the inside of the crank arm struck the kickstand, so I had to move the whole assembly towards the drive side. Having radically ovalized chain stays on the Sonoma, I could only move over a few mm. Drive side component clearance can then be a problem for the clamps; my rear dérailleur cable actually rubs slightly. Front dérailleur cable routing may also be an issue on bike with bottom-pull front derailleurs. In fact, Greenfield makes a RetroKit for this very issue.

But as you can see in the photos, I managed to install the KS2 eventually. Cutting the length as directed made for a nice, very slight tilt – not a steep angle at all. The bike looks really cool standing line that, almost vertical, and the front wheel doesn’t move.