By age alone, I’m arguably too young to have an excuse for being a grouchy, know-it-all jerk. Thirty-seven isn’t young, but it’s also definitely not old enough to get the grumpy-old-man pass. But, I’ve been in the mountain bike game for going on 25 years now. I got my first bike shop job when I was 13, and aside from a few months as a barista in college, my entire working life has revolved around dirt. Mountain biking has been in my blood, and under my fingernails for almost a quarter-century, and I’ve seen plenty of trends come and go. Whether or not that qualifies me to be an opinionated jackass is irrelevant—I’m going to be anyway. Welcome to Palmer's Peeves.
It’s the peak of autumn, so we might as well kick this edition of Peeves off with a seasonal sore spot of mine: The moronic activity of leaf-blowing the forest. I could dedicate an entire post to this one topic, but I may never master language enough to be able to fully describe how insulting this activity is to me, so I’ll try to keep it short:
There I was, proud to call myself a mountain biker. Proud to be among a small segment of the population that’s a bit tougher, more independent and resilient than the average member of society. Nerdy, yes. But also tough. I’ve called this kooky sector of humanity my home for essentially my entire life. Mountain bikers are my people. Or so I thought.
Then one day while in Marquette, Michigan, in the fall of 2017, someone asked if we’d like the trails leaf-blown. I belted out a big laugh and was like, “Wouldn’t that be hilarious if that was an actual thing?”
The dude looked back at me with a half-confused look on his face and replied, “Yeah, no, uh—I was being serious. It’s definitely a thing around here.”
“Wait, what? What on earth for? Y’all are scared of leaves?”
Leaf season is my favorite. The now-boring, same old trails you’ve spent the entire summer learning like the back of your hand become unrecognizable and half-speed feels crazy fast. You get to explore your backyard in a fresh new way for a few weeks every year. Why would anyone want to take that away? I thought part of the thrill of mountain biking was the sense of satisfaction you get when overcoming natural, technical terrain. Leaves add a challenge and they make the same old trails seem fresh again. Not to mention the insanely fun guilt-free drifting conditions they provide.
Whether someone is an XC pinner, singlespeeder or DH-shuttler, I always thought that familiar nod of solidarity we mountain bikers share—sort of like that down-low wave Harley-Davidson riders give each other—basically said this: “We might have different priorities, but at least none of us would ever bring a leaf blower into the forest.” I mean, I thought that was a given.
So, this small sector of weirdos way up in a part of Michigan that should be Wisconsin who should be tough but are actually babies, do this dumb thing. This type of nonsense for sure doesn’t happen on the east coast. When I was growing up there, you’d get accosted if another rider saw you removing a downed tree from across the trail. You don’t cut that away, we just got a new trail obstacle! If anything, you’d just pile logs on either side of it to make a sort of ExciteBike hurdle.
Surely none of my East Coast friends were on board with this ridiculous thinking.
Then I learned that it happens in the town of Bellingham, Washington, where I live now. So needless to say, I’m looking for a new place to live, some new friends … oh, and a new sport where people aren’t babies afraid of sliding out onto their little tushies.
Want to have a conversation about it? Let’s! But before we do, allow me to clarify something. I’m talking about singletrack here, not jump trails. The entire point of singletrack is to cut as narrow a swath as possible, to you know, keep it as natural as it can be. The point of jump trails is different. They’re supposed to be manicured. You’d be crazy not to leaf-blow a jump line.
Okay, so that wasn’t very short. On to the next:
The word ‘clipless’ has become sort of confusing, especially for new riders. It was formed during a time when toe clips were what kept people’s feet on—or in–pedals. Clipless pedals did so without clips—hence the name. But it’s been a long time since toe clips. Some people have no idea they were ever a thing, so the term feels weird now. Additionally, the word ‘clip’ also happens to be an onomatopoeia for the sound of a cleat attaching to a pedal. For these reasons, we now often refer to these types of pedals as ‘clips.’ The fact that you clip into a ‘clipless’ pedal is weird, I know.
What shouldn’t be confusing though, is the fact that a clipless—or clip, or clip-in, or whatever we’re calling it—pedal is not a flat pedal. But for some reason, there are tons of these stupid hybrid pedals out there with cages surrounding the attachment mechanism.
You know what we get when we try to make two things into one? We get Chevy El Caminos and Subaru Bajas, that’s what.
Adding a platform to a clipless (I still say clipless—because I actually rode toe clips) pedal is ridiculous, and here’s why:
There’s not a single clipless pedal that’s also a good flat pedal. At best, it’s a makeshift flat. Plus, adding a cage makes a clipless pedal unnecessarily larger, making it more prone to pedal strikes. You connect to the pedal mechanically, you don’t also need a platform.
Not only does the platform cause more pedal strikes, it also makes pedal-to-shoe compatibility tougher. Shoes have different sole heights that interface pedals differently. The more platform you have, the more chance there is for the shoe lugs to contact the platform before the cleat can clip into the pedal. Then, it’s tougher to get in, it’s tougher to get out, and you lose whatever float is built into the interface, which can jack your knees up.
I understand the argument that a hybrid pedal has more surface for lateral support, but I think that there are shoe/pedal interfaces out there that have plenty of support without needing a large platform. It’s like the whole lace-up, skate-style shoe infiltration. We’ve invented our way around it being necessary, so it now exists for the sole purpose of style—often times at the cost of performance. And as long as lace-up clipless shoes exist, so will platform-clip pedals.
The other day, a friend of mine asked to borrow a set of pedals. The first thing he said when I showed up with a pair of non-caged Shimano XT pedals, was, “Look at these puny little things,” as if they looked like they ought to be on an XC bike or something.
Actually, I can relate to that. There’s no reason for 35-millimeter-diameter handlebars, but they look cooler so I run them. Often at the cost of performance. But hey, at least I’ll look cool until my bars rattle my hands off the controls.
The high price us modern mountain bikers pay for vanity.
Dry lube is the lazy person’s chain lube. People use it because they think it’s cleaner than, or attracts less dust than, a wet lube. But it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of whoever invented the idea of ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ lube in the first place. This should never have been done.
I call it the lazy person’s lube because there’s an assumption that what we call wet lube is messy. But it’s only messy when you apply too much of it or when you re-lube your chain without cleaning it beforehand. You know what’s cool about wet lubes? You don’t have to apply them as often. Wet lubes are the real lazy person’s lube. I use a proper ‘wet’ lube because I’m too lazy to re-lube my chain mid-ride like you need to do with these bullcrap dry lubes.
Also, bikes require maintenance. There’s no shortcut around that. The cleaner your bike is, the better it will perform, so if you value quality shifting, the laziness of not cleaning your drivetrain isn’t really an option anyway. If you take time before or after each ride to clean and re-lube your chain, it only takes a few minutes, whereas it takes far longer if you wait until the gunk piles up. You just got back from a ride where you climbed 3,000 vertical feet. You’re anything but lazy. Before you take a shower and down that protein shake, spend a few minutes treating your bike a shower and recovery fluids.
It’s really about what type of lubricant does a more effective job of lubricating from the start, and a viscous lube does a better job at protecting your parts from wear than a watery one.
I’ve been doing this for far too long, so take my advice. Don’t mess around with dry lubes or wax-based garbage in search of a ‘cleaner drivetrain.’ Run a nice synthetic wet lube like Finish Line, Muck Off, Maxima—or even a full synthetic 10W-30 motor oil—in any climate, all year round. Carefully apply no more than one drop per link before every ride, and clean the gunk off after each ride, and you’ll be in tip-top shape.
In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I’d like to add this non-bike related peeve to the list. How is white chocolate even a thing? It’s not chocolate, it’s the absence of chocolate. How has white chocolate outlasted Clear Pepsi?
For the better part of 20 years—that’s right, two decades—SRAM derailleurs have had a major flaw. It hasn’t always been exactly the same, and it’s certainly not the only issue that has plagued SRAM derailleurs over the years, but the company has never quite seemed to figure out the interface between the rear derailleur and the bike. This area, known as the b-bolt or b-knuckle, seems to have stumped one of the industry’s most innovative companies, and I have no idea why.
The first SRAM X.0 derailleur, introduced in 2001, had this awesome CNC’d look and feel, like a Paul Components derailleur that actually shifted. It was amazing, and an instant hit. When SRAM developed its first trigger shifters a couple years later, sales went through the roof. Those successes eventually led to what can only be described as total dominance in the high-end mountain bike space. But this entire time, SRAM derailleurs have been garbage in the place that actually holds them to a bicycle.
That first X.0 derailleur’s b-bolt was made out of aluminum, as they are to this day. For the first decade or so, the main problem with SRAM b-bolts was that they’d seize up. Once that would happen, it was inevitable that the aluminum 5-millimeter hex fitting would strip out as well. Luckily, SRAM made b-bolt kits readily available. What they didn’t do was fix the actual problem. To combat the seizing issue, we’d take the b-knuckle assembly apart and slather interfacing parts with anti-seize. It worked half the time.
Galling and seizing was still an issue when the first Type-2 derailleurs came out—the ones with a clutch mechanism to reduce chain slap. Then a whole new problem arose. Derailleurs started backing themselves out of frames. Even with that, galling was still an issue, so we’d lather the shaft of the b-bolt with anti-seize to keep the b-knuckle moving, and drip Locktite on the threads to prevent the derailleur from backing out of the hanger. If that wasn’t enough, aggressive riders would commonly snap b-plates, the metal plate with the tab on it that interfaces with the tab on the derailleur hanger on the frame.
Those issues are mostly fixed, but modern SRAM b-bolts are still crap. The newest assemblies on XX1 and X01 still require thread-locking compound to keep them on the bike, but it’s applied from the factory. The real problem is that the assembly is held together by an O-ring. So when you take the derailleur off the bike, the b-bolt assembly often comes apart too. Which wouldn’t be that big of a deal if people expected it. I’ve had countless test bikes show up with the b-bolt assembly missing because the derailleur was removed for shipping. Those people who packed those bikes sure were stupid for not knowing the derailleur would self-destruct when not attached to a bicycle.
The lower-priced SRAM derailleurs are better. The b-bolts are steel and held in with a retaining clip. Somehow though, it’s not uncommon for that clip to become dislodged and pop off while you’re removing a derailleur from a bike.
It’s sort of ironic that Shimano, which doesn’t have these issues, was the company that invented a better way to attach derailleurs to bikes. Direct mount didn’t take off, but that’s a whole other story.