Sunday, August 27, 2017

SRAM eTap, Praxis 48-32 cranks and the perfect bike —a review

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Since the 70s, when I started road biking, I wondered why I couldn’t have solenoid-activated electric shifting. I wanted to put both shifters on the right and control them with one hand as I’ve always had a hard time with the left side shifter. Getting that would be step one toward my perfect bike.

Maybe it’s because I live in a hilly area and love riding up mountains. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older. It’s probably both, but I think the gearing on most bikes is insanely high. I’ve complained about it before (Why did my triple-equipped Roubaix come with 52-39-30 and 11-27 cassette? That’s just silly.) Fixing the gearing issue would be step two toward my perfect bike.

When SRAM released their eTap Red WIFLI Electronic and wireless shifting groupset with a rear derailleur capacity of 32 teeth, I knew I was close to my dream. But even a normal compact crankset with its 50-34 tooth rings didn’t go quite as low as I wanted. My goal was a double crankset with a low end gear the same as my triple, a 1:1 ratio, a 30-30 on my Roubaix.

Fortunately, a few companies have started to make “sub-compact” cranksets aimed at the growing popularity of gravel bikes. Not Shimano. Not SRAM. Not Campy. It’s the smaller companies on the cutting edge. Unfortunately, most of the ones I found were darn near crazy- money expensive.

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Eventually I found the Praxis ZAYANTE 48/32. Not cheap, but not unreasonable. With the SRAM 32 tooth cassette-friendly eTap WIFLI I could make my 1:1 goal. I had to get their bottom bracket to fit the crankset, but they make enough types and adapters that it’s highly likely there’s one for your bike, too, no matter what weird standard it is.

I coupled the Praxis crankset with SRAM’s eTap and a SRAM “blip” remote shifter button and, shazam, the Roubaix of my dreams was born.

How does it all work? Pretty darn well. The gearing is wonderful. The 11-32 11-speed cassette has enough gears that there are no huge jumps, and the range means I can often stay in whatever chainring I’m in and find a gear I like without shifting the front.

With a triple, shifting to the lowest gears can be touchy. And it’s a decision to drop into the tiny granny chainring. With my new setup, the low gears appear more naturally and organically. They’re just there when I need them. Super pros might not like that the highest gear is 48-11, but I don’t spin out until I’m above 30 mph, and if I’m going 30 I’m going downhill and almost ready to stop cranking and enjoy coasting.

The eTap is interesting. I’ve ridden Shimano forever, so the shifting to the eTap is an adjustment. Right paddle shifts the rear to a higher gear, left to a lower gear, both at the same time change the front.

I added a “blip” button to the inside of the right brake hood that controls the left paddle shifter. It’s amazing what a little Sugru can make work. I cut a small hole in the brake hood to run the wire through, across to the left shifter port, under the bar tape. I patched the hole and stuck it on with that magic Sugru. Now I can do all my shifting right-handed.

The quality of the shifting is interesting. I paired the eTap with a SRAM chain and a Shimano Ultegra 11-32 cassette. Mostly because I was unfamiliar with SRAM component levels, and was given to believe a Shimano would be just fine. I also knew I didn’t need the SRAM Red 11-32 $260 cassette. Indeed, the Ultegra cassette works perfectly with the eTap.

I first I thought he rear shifting is slower than on my Shimano Ultegra 11-speed equipped bike. But as I got used to it I don't think so. I had planned to write about it shifting poorly under power, but today I realized that I was holding the lever (or button) too long waiting for it to shift, much like I'd do on a mechanical system. Just giving a quick click is all that's needed. Holding doens't help.

The front is interesting. The motor is loud enough that I can hear it. It’s a very electric zzzzzzz. I almost enjoy it, but I’m weird. Again, a click is better than a hold, and something I've had to work at not doing. t works just fine with the Praxis crankset. I was slightly worried that my braze-on derailleur mount wouldn’t adjust low enough for the smaller Praxis rings, but it worked fine. Another cool feature: because SRAM has what they term “Yaw Technology” there is no need to trim the front derailleur, ever. It knows where it needs to be, and adjusts accordingly. It’s rather slick. It’s even quiet. Even cross chained in either direction there’s no rub, and it doesn’t complain.

My right hand only shifting is perfect. It’s almost like they designed eTap with me in mind.

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I bought SRAM Red brakes as well. Apparently the cable pull is different for Shimano brakes. Pairing my Shimano Ultegra calipers with SRAM shifters would either, according to the internet, be fine, or would catch on fire and kill me. I went with new RED calipers just to have one less possible issue to deal with.

The bike, though not new — it’s a 2010 — is sure cleaner than it was. I rejected the idea of Shimano electronic shifting because my frame wasn’t set up for the wires and junction box Shimano uses. With the SRAM eTap there are no wires, it’s all wireless, and there’s no junction box. It just looks great.

It also pairs with my Garmin 520. I have screens that report battery charge level, and weirdly, in my mind, gear selection. Yep, like I can’t look down at the gears, but I can read the screen to see I’m in 32-16. It’s unnecessary, but still fun.

Conclusion: It’s a successful project. I’ve gone from a Shimano Ultegra triple to a SRAM eTap with Praxis double. I have one handed electronic shifting, perfect gearing for me and the bike is a pound or so lighter. 

Extra notes: I was fortunate that both my Powertap wheel and my Williams wheel offered a 11 speed hub conversion kit. Apparently my Shimano Roval Fusée SL 25 wheels, as far as I can discover, do not.

Shout outs to:
Praxis, who have real people answer their phones and are a pleasure to deal with. Plus, they ship really fast.

Ron at Schwinn City in Antioch who did most of the tricky installation.

Sugru, That stuff is as amazing as duck tape and WD-40

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Antioch, BART, and the Hillcrest station

I'm trying a bit of bicycle advocacy. I created a video that I hope points out what I see as a serious problem for cyclists riding to the new Hillcrest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in Antioch.
I plan to send it to public officials and agencies, but thought I'd try it here first.