Thursday, June 30, 2022

A transition to 1x Drivetrains

 For a couple of years now, I've been hearing a creak and clack on my bicycle whenever I pedaled hard, but would disappear when I stood up. I replaced the chain, and the problem persisted. I looked for a crack in the chainstay, and didn't see any. Then one day at the end of January, I looked at the seat tube, and there it was, a crack around the seat tube just above the front derailleur clamp. I conferred quickly with Carl Strong, shipped the bicycle up to him, and he confirmed that yes, it was the derailleur clamp that cracked the tube, but that there was no way a clamp should have done that. He searched through his records and discovered that the seat tube and top tube were from a defective batch where heat treatment had not happened. He promised to build me a new frame, putting me near the front of the line.

I called around to see who could build me a frame. Rivendell didn't have any frames my size handy, and the closest that came was R&E cycles in Seattle, who could build me a new frame in 6-8 weeks, they thought. Grant loaned me a Charlie Gallop prototype for a week, but he wasn't going to sell me that bike, and while it was a fun enough bike, it wouldn't have been a good substitute for my custom touring bike, though I decided that I would place an order for a Roadini whenever Grant got a new batch in. Having cracked 2 titanium frames I think I can justify having a backup road bike!


Since I had the frame stripped anyway, I decided that now was a good time to try a 1x drivetrain. The problem with 1x12 was that they all needed a new wheel or a new freehub body for my white industries hub. Those xD/xDR drivers for the T11 hubs were not to be found for love or for money, so I gave up on that idea. The NX Eagle 11-50t cassette was one possibility if I wanted 12 speed, it wasn't compared favorably to the Deore groupset. The M5100, however, was available and reasonably priced, if on the heavy side. The Shimano 12-speed MTB groups all require a wider wheel spacing (135-142mm) and so weren't even under consideration. What is surprising is that the 11s MTB cassettes fit onto 10s wheels without any modification --- it turned out that the only reason Shimano introduced 11s road specific groups was because the racers would disdain running any cassette with as big a sprocket as 30t, and with smaller big sprockets the chain would rub against the spokes of a 10s wheel!

I did the analysis on the weight and to my disappointment it would come up to be a wash. Sure, I'd lose the left shifter, 2 chainrings and the front derailleur clamp and cable, but the increased weight of the m5100 11-51 over the 11-36 was 314g, and the total savings of all the other parts was only 340g. Nevertheless, after Pengtoh mentioned how much he disliked his front derailleur, I realized that there were many occasions when I would avoid shifting the front simply because I didn't want to risk dropping the chain, and the few times when I did drop the chain it was annoying.

I ordered the m5100 cassette 11-51, the m5100 SGS rear derailleur, an ultegra 11s chain, and a microshift 11-speed MTB bar-end shifter. You need the MTB specific bar-end because Shimano increased the pull ratio of the 11 speed MTB rear derailleurs, so my old 10-speed silver shifters wouldn't be able to shift the whole range of gears. I eschewed getting even a barrel adjuster because experience has taught me that the way I ride and the places I ride will simply get the indexing out of adjustment faster than I can keep it adjusted. I considered getting the DiaCompe 11-speed downtube shifter, but when I mentioned that to Carl, he thought that a braze-on on the thinnest part of the downtube wasn't a good idea, so I stuck with a bar-end shifter. I also got new bar tape. I also splurged and got the RX810 GRX crank, since I wanted to save the triple for the Roadini, which did have downtube shifter bosses for my Silver downtube shifters. In retrospect, I should have just ordered a Wolf-Tooth 38t chainring for the Ultegra triple, since after trying the 1x for a few weeks I cannot imagine going back to a triple chainring setup.


It took 2 months for Carl to deliver me a new frame, and I got very bored riding my MTB everywhere, though I did find a few interesting trails around my neighborhood to tide me over. When the frame arrived, I put it together, learning the hard way that it's easy to put together the 11s cassette's 11t sprocket in wrong. Then I learned the hard way what the B-screw was for, and how you have to adjust it carefully or the derailleur would move too close to the cassette in the middle gears and interfere with upshifts! It took a few rides to get the headset/fork all settled in, but once I got it together I quite enjoyed it. There are shifting challenges since I'd gotten used to shifting 10-speed on my triplet and on my previous singles, but a few days with the bike made me realize that I hardly ever used the 13t sprockets on my bikes with multiple chainrings, and that indeed I had frequently stood up and stomped on the pedals to get over steep sections rather than gear down because I didn't really want to bother with the shift to and from the granny --- the extra lower gears don't come into play unless you plan for it and are willing to take the hit because you know it's going to be that steep.

My initial rides with the new low gear were grindy --- in low gear the cage would rub. But after adjusting the B-screw that grind went away and now the bike is quiet in all gears. In the extreme range the chainline definitely looks funny, but so far it's been perfectly functional and quiet. And of course, the bike no longer makes that creak/clack when pedaling hard since the frame isn't cracked! I discovered that it's possible to install the Shimano Ultegra 11s chains wrong --- the logo needs to face away from the bike, and the words are supposed to read right side up on the upper side of the chain. Trust Shimano to make something that used to be idiot-proof something that's easy to get wrong. After 300 miles I fixed the reversal, and to my surprise the drivetrain became more noisy. I had it checked at a local bike shop, and the employee said I did it right. The answer is to stop buying Shimano chains and switch to non-directional chains like KMC and SRAM.

Looking at the gearing, it looked like I could get a Wolf-Tooth 36t chainring for the bike for touring, and get a 19inch gear, which was what I had back when 11-34 cassettes were the norm rather than 11-36. When touring, I'd be restricted to an 88" high gear, but when I toured with Arturo, the only time he missed a 100" high gear was one day in Austria when we had a tailwind and a downhill. I could definitely live with that.

When putting the drivetrain together, I thought the 11-51's top gear would hardly ever gets used: to get to use the 40/11, I'd have to be riding at 30mph at 100rpm. To my surprise, I found myself doing that far more often than I would back when I had a 3x setup --- I simply never thought to shift to the big chainring/small sprocket because it was too much hassle, but when it was easy to just slam the shifter to the small sprocket I'd do it all the time! 

To my surprise, I discovered that I was a little faster over the local climbs than on my triple. What happened was that on the triple, I'd get down to the 39/36 (29" gear), and not bother trying to get to the 24/28, 24/32, or 24/36 unless I was anticipating steep stuff. On the 1x drivetrain, I could go from the 40/39 (28" gear - just slightly lower than the 39/34), and if it got a little steeper I'd just shift down to the 40/45 or even 40/51 on dirt before bottoming out. I took the bike over all the steepest local hills I could find: Montebello RoadBohlman-On-Orbit Bohlman, Black Road, and Rapley trail. Sure, my low wasn't as low as the 24/36, but making the shifts convenient and not risking chain drops meant that I actually used more of those gears. As usual, the engineer in me got confounded by the human factors, which turn out to be much more important than numbers on a spreadsheet. And all this despite lots of studies showing the 1x has more drivetrain friction/drag than 2x or 3x, because of the extreme chain angles in lower gears! It turns out that running a 24t chainring is much less efficient than a 40t chainring, and I bet that means the actual frictional drag difference is a wash for someone who was running their 3x drivetrains out of spec anyway (officially, Shimano would only have supported 30/39/52 on my Ultegra SL). As usual, the default Shimano gearing works only if you're a strong 25 year old but wouldn't work at all for anyone else. This default position explains why SRAM has been steadily gaining market share --- the 1x setups are actually far better and more easily customizable for only moderately strong cyclists.

I think left to my own devices I probably wouldn't have switched to a 1x gearing, but now that I have it I can see why it's taken off --- with 11 speeds at the back and a wide enough range, there's no need to put up with the additional issues of having a front chainring or derailleur. During this testing period I did an aggressive ride with Bowen on the tandem and dropped the chain no less than 3 times despite having a chain watcher installed. The unreliability of triples definitely means that I will do my best to ride only 1x from now on. This is one of those technologies that the tourists will adopt long before the racers will do so. In fact, I think I should consider it on the triplet, where a chain drop is very disruptive (and it's hard to coordinate easing off on the pedals when shifting), and I care even less about the high end! When I build up my backup road bike this summer I anticipate going all in on 1x as well. That's how good it is! All in all, I think the 1x11 and 1x12 are good enough to justify the expenditure and hassle to switch over.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Review: The Next Great Migration

 The Next Great Migration is a book about migrations. It's written by an immigrant herself, and starts off with a great story:

My grandmother used to cry when she heard that, in America, her son washed the dishes after dinner. In the flat she’d raised him in, dishwashing was a job for the day laborers, who crouched on their haunches on the slimy tiled floors of the common washing area and slept on thin rough mats on the terrace. (kindle loc 359)

I remember my parents telling me that their family would visit the USA and then nix any thoughts of moving there when they realized that domestic help was so expensive that essentially nobody had any. 

To my surprise, the book covers animal migration as well as human migration, with large chunks of the book about the historical view of migrations as expressed by scientists. I learned that Carl Linnaeus, the inventor of the scientific naming convention of science used since the 1800s, fundamentally considered migration impossible --- he viewed that God created all species in situ, and that migration was an aberration.

As a result, scientists had a blind spot regarding long migrations, and it wasn't until the invention of radar before scientists realized that long distance migrations were a reality, and happened frequently:

Dragonflies migrated from the eastern United States to South America, flying hundreds of kilometers every day. Tiger sharks, assumed to be permanent residents of the coastal waters around Hawaii, turned out to travel thousands of kilometers out into the sea. Scientists’ assumptions about their provincialism, a shark researcher from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology said, “were completely wrong.” (kindle loc 3685)

Similarly, of course, we know a lot now about human migration and how the Polynesians colonized the islands of the pacific using skills that are pretty much lost today.

 What the book doesn't cover in detail is in its title, about how climate change will drive the next great wave of migrations. That migration is alluded to, and the author definitely is pro migration, and frequently laments that treatment of human migrants and refugees. I'm an immigrant myself, so I understand where that sympathy is coming from. On the other hand, democratic societies that ignore the desire of existing citizens to limit the influx of people can end up being unstable, and it's beyond the scope of the book to cover that, so she doesn't cover the much more important political story, except to state:

The researchers found that the antimigrant politician found his greatest support among people living in places experiencing a rapid influx of people who’d been born elsewhere. The states that Trump won were not especially diverse. The diversity indexes in those states were lower than the national average, ranking in the bottom twenty of the fifty states. But in the counties that Trump won, the low diversity index is changing rapidly, rising nearly twice as fast as the national average...In the United States, nearly a third of us are less than one generation removed from an act of international migration. Every year 14 percent of us move from one part of the country to another, crossing borders into states with different laws, different customs, and different dialects, some of them as distant from each other as New York City and Casablanca or Cartagena...Almost 25 percent of people in France, nearly 20 percent of those in Sweden, and 14 percent of people in the United States estimated that immigrants receive twice as much government support as natives—which isn’t true in any of those countries. (kindle loc 4629-4692)

All in all, I enjoyed and can recommend the book, but it left me mildly dissatisfied.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Review: How to Take Over the World

 I checked out How to Take Over the World hoping to find some true villainous schemes to take over the world that might work. To my disappointment, this book turned out to be rather pedestrian. Rather than taking over the world, most of the book seem focused on "How to Satiate Your Ego."

For instance, there's an entire chapter on shooting sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere as a counter to global warming. That doesn't seem very supervillain to me. There's another chapter on how to be remembered millions of years into the future (the author proposes effectively recreating the voyager spacecraft and putting your own dead body in it rather than instruments).

The chapters on creating your own secret base (floating geodesic domes) and creating your own country (seasteading) turn out to spend a lot of time explaining how people failed doing it instead.

If you take the attitude that the book's really using the supervillain theme as a way to get you to read about the various facts Ryan North has shoveled into the book, then it makes a lot more sense. There's lots of stuff about how the internet works, as well as anti-aging technology that's just coming down the pipe.

Overall, the book's written in a humorous, friendly style, much like What If?. I would recommend it as an ideal follow up to that book if you enjoyed it!


Monday, June 20, 2022

Kudos to Swytch Bike customer service

 We bought and installed our Swytch bike in December 2020 which meant it was well out of warranty when one day in the middle of our ride, the battery pack stopped delivering power, I didn't actually expect them to grant us a repair. Yet when I contacted their customer service, they readily provided a new Tour battery. That battery worked for exactly one ride, and then the battery stopped providing power again.

This time, they scheduled a video call to diagnose the problem. After the diagnosis of a bad controller, they declared that this was a bad battery pack, but they had no more battery packs to give us, so this time, they sent us two Pro packs, each with a range of approximately 30 miles, so together they would provide 60 miles of range, at the inconvenience of having to cycle between the batteries to charge.

To my surprise, the Pro pack actually seemed to provide the motor with more kick, and while swapping between batteries is not ideal, the lighter single pack meant that it's more practical for use around town or for commuting, etc. I installed a rack on the bike so that a second battery can be carried.

One of my biggest concerns with buying a Swytch kit was the potential lack of customer service. These folks proved my concerns unfounded. I'll heartily recommend the kit for anyone!


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Re-read: Black Orchid

 While rummaging through my collection of comics for Boen, I found Black Orchid, one of Neil Gaiman's first graphic novels. It's mostly been forgotten in recent times, and in the re-read, I found several interesting foreshadowing of what Gaiman would write.

For one thing, this was the first instance of Gaiman using his signature, "build up to a climax for you to expect a massive combat scene, and then deflate it with a whimper." He would use this repeatedly later in his career, including that infamous scene in hell where the lord of dreams goes to hell prepared for a fight and then gets handed the keys to hell instead.

There are lots of holes in the work otherwise: the characters aren't well developed, and his use of other DC universe characters are weak. We get some idea of what Black Orchid can or cannot do, but no clear understanding of where it all comes from. We get a tour of the DC universe's plant-based characters (Swamp Thing, Poison Ivy, the Flouronic man) but nothing that really ties them all together.

The art is nothing short of outstanding, with Dave McKean's paintings and mixed media work reminding me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz at his best.

Overall, it's a good book, but nothing that indicates that Gaiman would rise above all this to become one of the greats. Worth reading.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Review: Park CC-4 Chain Checker

 If you read Pardo's overview of chain checkers, you'll understand that the only accurate chain checker ever made was the Shimano TL-CN40/41/42. The two pin design measures pin-to-pin wear and doesn't over-estimate chain wear. It was also not made any more and I simply made do with CC-2s, CC-3s, etc because that's what I could find. I knew I was probably replacing chains prematurely, but it wasn't a big deal for 10-speed chains.

Well, for 11 and 12 speed chains, not only are they more expensive, you also have to replace them when the wear reaches 0.5% elongation, instead of 0.75%. My less accurate tools were going to start increasing my mainteneance costs significantly. Dan Wallach told me about the Park CC-4, and one look at the design showed me that it was a reincarnation of the TL-CN40, but with a detent, so you could use it for both 10 speed and 12 speed chains. I immediately bought one, and low and behold, a chain that the CC-2 said was at 0.5% elongation actually wasn't elongated at all!

At $15, it won't take 2 years for the cost savings in chains to pay for the cost of the tool. If you ride 11 or 12 speed chains, you need one. Even for 10 speed chains, it'll probably save you money, just not as quickly. Recommended.


Thursday, June 09, 2022

Review: The Evidence for Modern Physics

 I picked up The Evidence for Modern Physics during an audible sale, since from the title I thought it would be a description of physics experiments that verified or corroborated many modern theories. I was not disappointed. Professor Don Lincoln is a great lecturer, with a dry sense of humor that had me listening to him in the early mornings with rapt attention.

He starts with the verifiable stuff, like relativity (including an interesting experiment involving atomic clocks on planes down to a modern version that was so sensitive it could detect the slowdown of clocks that differed from each other by as little as one foot!), quantum mechanics, spectography, and the expansion of the universe.

Then he goes into cosmology, discussing the evidence for the Big Bang (the famous story of the discovery of the CBM) the expansion of the universe, and then into more speculative stuff that hasn't been proven such as dark matter, dark energy, inflation, and quantum gravity. Along with his discussions of the experiments include a bunch of history of the ideas. Lincoln points out that the difference between reading science history and science textbooks is that textbooks present a cut-and-dry view of science, while history really shows how many wrong hypothesis were raised and proven wrong before a theory was found that explained all the evidence.

This was a lot of fun, and great listening. Highly recommended.


Monday, June 06, 2022

Review: Age Later

 Age Later is a book about healthspan and the lifespan of centenarians.  It examines how long lived people run in clusters of families, and that there's actually not much you can do to join them as of today, given how much of it is genetics. There's no correlation between diet, exercise, healthy habits, and living past 100. Many of the people interviewed and studied smoked, ate badly, and/or didn't bother to exercise, so their genes basically got them through life despite any of the bad habits that they had. You can view this positively or negatively. On the one hand, if you have good genes, it almost doesn't matter what you do --- what's important is picking your parents and grandparents carefully. On the other hand, if the scientists ever figure it out, they can basically eventually give you a pill to grant you those superpowers and it won't matter what else you do --- even smoking would be OK.

The book covers current studies --- one apparently promising one is metformin, which apparently does great stuff, so much so that Singapore considered putting it in the water supply:

Singapore’s population also has a very high life expectancy, at nearly eighty-three, and that’s why I am consulting for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s office. To give you an idea how desperate the government is to head off a crisis, one of the questions that officials asked me is whether metformin should be put in the water supply. (My answer was no, of course.) (Kindle Loc 2106)

There's another fun section where he talks to Senate Appropriations Thad Cochran from Mississippi:

 A good example of the diverse challenges of raising money for a particular piece of the health care puzzle is what happened when I requested funding from the Department of Defense, which invests significant resources into disease research. During my meeting with then Senate Appropriations chairman Thad Cochran, who’s from Mississippi, I made sure to tailor my pitch to his sense of regionalism. “You know, your state is doing really poorly,” I said. “You have more strokes than anyone, you have more cardiovascular disease.” “Why is that?” he said. “Well, there are two answers. First of all, your people take less metformin than any other state. But there’s really a much more important reason—your people are victims of the good food of Mississippi, this food you can’t stop eating.” He burst out laughing. “That’s great! I’ll remember that! I’ll use it! My people are the victims of the good food of Mississippi. I love it.” (Kindle Loc 2048)

This story highlights why I will never be a good politician. No way would I have come up with that line. OK, let me walk back a bit about the part about exercise:

 Hands down, the most important intervention we have for aging is physical exercise, which has positive benefits for males and females at every stage of life...we know that physical activity is crucial to health span and will increase your chances of passing age eighty. The benefits of exercise for both the young and the old are greater than the benefits we have seen from any particular diet....The interesting thing about exercise is that, in theory, it should be bad for us. It induces oxidative stress, which appears to contribute to aging and disease, and it increases the breakdown of muscle tissue as well as causing some inflammation. And yet exercising is good for us at every age. So what’s going on? (kindle loc 2373-2411)

Clearly there's a ton of room needed to figure out why exercise actually works. There's a study on the effect of metformin on exercise, and apparently metformin's side effects include reducing the impact of exercise on muscle growth, but nevertheless, the people involved do get stronger. They just don't get more/bigger muscle for whatever reason.

There's a section dismissing HGH (human growth hormone) as a good therapy --- there are apparent side effects (like increased chance of cancer), and basically, HGH is most useful for people going through puberty and only prescribed or recommended if they have some genetic defect that prevents them from growing during puberty. What's interesting is that the longest lived people have least response to HGH, except at the megadoses present during puberty.

Another section on diet discusses fasting. Basically, he recommends skipping breakfast. Apparently, not only is it the least important meal of the day, it prolongs your fasting state which does good things for longevity.

All in all, the book doesn't provide easy answers, and does a good job explaining how the author views longevity, while providing optimistic directions. Recommended. 


Thursday, June 02, 2022

Review: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue

 Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue is a history of the English language, sort of. I've thoroughly enjoyed John McWhorter's books in the past, and this one is no exception. In fact, it might be even better than his others, as it's that rare academic argument that's written for non-specialists. McWhorter makes 2 points in the book that he claims are missing from traditional academic histories of the English language. First, that English gets a number of grammatical constructs from the Celtic languages:

German, Dutch, Swedish, and the gang are, by and large, variations on what happened to Proto-Germanic as it morphed along over three thousand years. They are ordinary rolls of the dice. English, however, is kinky. It has a predilection for dressing up like Welsh on lonely nights. Did you ever notice that when you learn a foreign language, one of the first things you have to unlearn as an English speaker is the way we use do in questions and in negative statements? (page 1)

He provides multiple examples if what he calls "the meaningless do", something that doesn't exist in other Germanic languages, but does exist in the Celtic languages. 

His second thesis is that English is comparatively easy, compared to not just the other German languages, but also the Indo-European languages:

English, as languages go, and especially Germanic ones, is kind of easy. Not child’s play, but it has fewer bells and whistles than German and Swedish and the rest. Foreigners are even given to saying English is “easy,” and they are on to something, to the extent that they mean that English has no lists of conjugational endings and doesn’t make some nouns masculine and others feminine. (pg. 89)

This, he claims, is the result of the invasions of the Vikings, who had to learn English as adults, and couldn't understand the nuances of Old English, stripping away genders and many other gramatical markers.

The Scandinavian Vikings left more than a bunch of words in English. They also made it an easier language. In this, in a sense, they clipped Anglophones’ wings. The Viking impact, stripping English of gender and freeing us of attending to so much else that other Germanic speakers genuflect to in every conversation, made it harder for us to master other European languages. To wit: so many people spoke English the way a lot of us speak French and Spanish that “off” English became the seedbed for literary English. (pg. 135)

As a bonus, McWhorter provides a 3rd argument that has only a little bit to do with English, which is that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is complete bollocks:

 Decade after decade, no one has turned up anything showing that grammar marches with culture and thought in the way that the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis claimed. At best, there are some shards of evidence that language affects thought patterns in subtle ways, which do not remotely approach the claims of Whorf. (pg. 138)

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis despite being false gets lots of popular exposure in novels, movies (think Arrival), and even many non-fiction books. McWhorter claims we like that meme and propagate it because we want it to be true, not because there's any particular reason to believe it is. Here he points to Russian:

All would agree that certain changes have occurred in prevailing beliefs in that country over the past thousand years—from brute feudalism under the tsars to Communism to glasnost to the queer blend of democracy and dictatorship of today. Yet Russian grammar during that time has always been the marvelous nightmare that it is now. Russian has changed, to be sure, but without equivalents to the Celtic adoption and the Viking disruption, and nowhere near as dramatically as English—and in no ways that could be correlated with things Peter the Great, the Romanovs, or Lenin did. (pg. 149)

 One interesting thing is that McWhorter never claims how great English is, and makes no attempt to counter-balance his description of English as an odd duck amongst languages. Perhaps at this point, with English dominating so much of the globe as the most popular second language, there's no need to defend English, but I actually think English being easier to learn and use and being relatively comprehensible even when a non-native speaker mangles it is a feature, and not a bug.

In any case, the book is full of great ideas and a lot of fun. It's also short and easily read. Try finding that combination anywhere else. Highly recommended.