What's Cool In Road Cycling

Autumn CheapOh!

As long as this economic malaise hangs around, PEZ will continue to humor Mr. CheapOh’s populist quest to save cyclists some money. In this latest episode, he gives dodgy tire advice, proposes dressing like a geezer and hanging out with home decorators. Viva frugality!

Artist and friend, Urban Gruenfelder, creates disturbingly comic sculptures that illustrate this piece quite well (i.e.- I don’t have to pay him).

Tires 1: Outdated Models
Tires are crucial, yet they never seem to last that long. Though I am CheapOh by name and in deed, skimping on tires isn’t prudent, not to mention the performance hit. Supple, quality clinchers that make you as fast as you’re going to be, run about 45 euros here in Italy. For one tire. Ouch, so what can a frugal cyclist do?

290TPI with 2 stipes is out, 320TPI is with one colored stripe is in.

Like a good trader, exploit inefficiencies in the market and if it doesn’t work, get the taxpayers to cover the losses, suckers! But back to bikes… it would seem that we desire constant change, forcing manufacturers and their marketing departments to “innovate” every year with new colors and packaging and technical acronyms. The old stuff (that was pretty good in the first place) gets severely discounted and that’s to our advantage. Vittoria 290 TPI Open Corsa’s, Schwalbe Ultremo’s, Michelin Pro 2 Race’s and so on, are all very good tires and are now a lot easier on the wallet. This is an elementary CheapOh Law: old models, gruppo’s, components and so on get discounted (ironically, in some cases the old, proven stuff works better than the new). The longer it stays on retailers’ shelves, the deeper the discount.

Tires 2: Half Used Fronts
Another market inefficiency is that most cyclists don’t rotate their tires (good CheapOh’s do) and when the rear is used up, these cyclists want matching tires – fancy new ones, see above. Also, many of these taste-makers don’t change their own tires and leave the old ones at the bike shop. A good relationship with your neighborhood store will let the good CheapOh buy an outdated rear tire and have them throw in a half used front for free. And then you won’t even have to rotate them. Though internet retailing is often cheaper, having a good rapport with a local, competent shop has its own financial benefits.

This Continental has a handy wear indicator, make sure there’s some left before riding it, though this one is starting to look a bit ratty.

Addendum: in my experience, it seems that the rear tire is much more important and prone to flatting than the front and should be new. Second, try to pick out the best of the used bunch, looking for plenty of tread. And lastly, don’t sue me if this has disastrous consequences for you – knock on wood, it’s always worked for me.

Tires 3: Being Un-stylish
Another bonanza for the stylishly-unconscious is going for the odd colors. My daughter proudly rides on purple Michelin’s that were practically given to me. Beige, lime green and other dandy colors that seemed like a good idea at one time tend to linger for years at retailers now that everyone wants only red, black and white. A casually asked, “whaddya want for these things?” will get most shop owners begging you to take them away.

The same rule goes for bar tape in kitschy colors. Note: though proper Style dictates that bar tape be strictly white or black, sometimes being cheap-oh can overrule dogma.

A litmus test for good a CheapOh is the un-importance of matching kit. Not too long ago, I was in a bike shop and witnessed the following scene: a customer was irate that a certain French manufacturer had sent a newer, more expensive blue and black frame to replace some problem with his discontinued model, which was red and black. He yelled, cursed that now he would have to buy all new clothes to match this bike. Instead, this customer foolishly swapped the blue frame for a cheaper, off-the-rack one in red and black, to the great relief of the retailer. Even though cologne and hair gel constitute cycling apparel in Italy, I was taken aback that “style” was so much more important than good sense.

Solid Chains
A somewhat dedicated cyclist will run through about two chains a year. A Campagnolo Record chain sets you back about 60 euros. The mid-range, Veloce costs less than half [10 speed]. Now here’s the kicker, the Veloce chain works better, in my unscientific opinion. It feels stronger, pulls and rolls smoother and it’s quieter. I’d hypothesize that this is the result of not having a bunch of holes poked in it like the Record one.

A nice solid, Veloce chain, please.

How is it that worse performing products cost more than better ones, you ask? Easy: they’re lighter and weight is another one of those market inefficiencies. In fact, it’s the biggest one. It is surprising to realize that according to the Campy catalogue, a Super Record chain weighs 229 grams (108 link, 5.5mm width), while the same length (yet wider 5.9 mm, 10 speed) Veloce tips the scales at 258 grams. Just a 29 gram difference! Choosing to ride with a few grams more often means saving hundreds of dollars when considering components. Although lighter plus more expensive can yield stronger/better equipment, this lofty territory usually isn’t for the thrifty.

Gruenfelder’s life-sized, ceramic sculptures are finished in automotive paints and clear coats.

Old Jerseys, New Style
I’ll probably regret giving this one away, but there is a certain online auction web site where one can find great, classic jerseys – usually well under $20. Whereas one can easily spend $80 for new shirts. There’s a full range of stuff, from wool to contemporary. My preference is for the great cycling teams of yesteryear like La Vie Claire, PDM or Mapei. I guess the only downside is that they’re used, why else would they be so cheap? Though I can’t bring myself to purchase bib shorts sweated in by someone else, they can also be had just as reasonably as the jerseys. Skittishness has its price.

Legends found online and cheap.

Careful Consumption
Tires, chains, cassettes are consumables. However, the most important aspect of consumption is ones’ pedaling. A nice, smooth round stroke makes all of these things last longer. Violently mashing the pedals is not CheapOh (unless you’ve got the team car behind you with a fresh bike or two perched on the rack, but then again you’d be expected to win, not be cheap).

The second most important aid to making equipment last longer is losing weight. Though this is much easier said than done, as I look down on my +3 kilo winter weight belly (that’s still here at the end of Summer). Spending thousands of euros to make a bike weigh a few hundred grams less will barely effect your speed/results. However, losing a few pounds will. Also not eating tends to save money. A double whammy!

A Trip to Home Depot
Though I believe that quality service provided by (some) Local Bike Shops is worth paying extra for, it is usually unadvisable to purchase the little things there. Stuff marketed and sold specifically to bikers is pricey because the volume is so low. However, the normal Do-It-Yourself, home builder store yields a lot of useful stuff at great prices. Next time you’re there, pick up:

1. Clear Wrap (or Drawer Liners)
Rolls of transparent wrap or adhesive drawer liners work great as chain guards. They can also be used in strategic / scratch prone places, like seat stays. Tip: use a hair dryer while applying to make the film form around tubes and other complex shapes on bikes. Also, one can get creative with funky liner patterns like wood or floral… or stay conservative with even faux carbon weave patterns. Rolls that contain enough for a lifetime cost about $10, the last time I checked. Or an even cheaper alternative: you can get scraps of Clear Bra film from most car detailing shops for free.

Be conservative…

Or get funky.

2. Rubber Bumpers
Scuffed paint or scratched up clear coats on head tubes due to rubbing cables are a thing of the past thanks to furniture rubber bumpers. While Jagwire and others offer some fancier solutions, these bumpers work just as well protecting the headtube, come in a few colors (also transparent) and a pack goes for about $1.99. I use them on the ends of my frame pump to protect the paint and get better purchase. Style note: frame pumps are so OUT (mine states that it was Made in W. Germany) that they’re actually IN – not to mention their usefulness in inflating tires.

3. Bike Hooks
Make your spouse or flat mate happy and hang up that bike. But don’t do this part of the equation cheap: get some concession out of them first. While I’ve seen bike shops charge up to $6 for one hook, these same dudes at the DIY store sell for 99 cents.

4. Cleaning Stuff
Now head to automotive section, or maybe it’s time to go to a dedicated store, for all your cleaning needs. A nice set of detailing brushes that cost substantially less than “dedicated cycling ones” (used toothbrushes are also handy), soft applicator pads and car wax/polishes should be on the list. Just make sure that the stuff is friendly to the particular bike material that you own. I am a big fan of Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax. It seems to get rid of the minor surface scratches and leaves a nice protective coat on the frame.

This stuff works pretty well.

Neuvation Wheels
This summer, I logged a bunch of miles on a Neuvation M28 SLX rear wheel – a good CheapOh swaps around a classic, bullet-proof front wheel from bike to bike. Since their products have been reviewed before on Pez, I’ll merely confirm that you get a lot of wheel for $199. Smooth rolling, true, quiet, reasonably light, solid and smartly constructed.

Pro Garage Sales
That rear wheel from Neuvation was part of this summer’s CheapOh build: The ProTeam Garage Sale Bike. A great place to find good kit is from professional cycling teams that fold or merely get rid of old stuff. Some use that online auction site, others go at it through their own web sites. I have found that the teams/managers are quite open and honest as to the condition of their wares. While some of it is New Old Stock, a lot of it is well used, BUT also well maintained. My summer build was a Klein Pro Q frame, saddle, post, stem and bar from the Jittery Joe’s team and a mostly new SRAM gruppo from the Kodak Sierra Nevada team. I was planning on getting some wheels from Gerolsteiner, but that sale fell through. With a budget under $800 (a quarter of it spent on the rear wheel), it would be hard to find a better ride than this one, in addition to the craftsmanship, history and exclusivity of this Klein.

The ProTeam Garage Sale Bike.

Addendum: aluminum is unduly undervalued in today’s market. Excellent used bikes can be had at very reasonable prices, like a Cannondale (my favorite is the Simoni CAAD5) or an older Prince from Pinarello or a Dual from DeRosa and so on. These were top of the line, Pro Tour bikes that sold for well over $5000. Five years later, they’ve lost about 80% of their value. Mr. CheapOh firmly believes that aluminum is still a valid frame material. However, beware of the early Italian efforts, some tended to crack after a season or two. The Americans did a better job of figuring out how to deal with welding/fatigue. While some bikes are stiffer or buzzier than others, a good saddle, bartape and generously spoked wheels damper most of these slights.

Another market inefficiency: most cyclists buy more bike than they need. I’m guilty here too, and readily admit that a CAAD5 with a 105 gruppo would be more than enough to handle all my cycling needs. CheapOh Corollary: dropping guys (or gals) riding $10,000 bikes is immensely satisfying from the perch of an $800 rig.

Instant Speed… Free!
I think I’ve mentioned this one a few times, but riding in the drops will make you faster. Instantly. And it costs nothing. However, the great majority of enthusiast cyclists ride on the tops of their handlebars. Why? I assume because it’s more comfortable. Through a combination of adjusting (or swapping) the saddle, stem, bar and other “fit issues”, one can ride in the drops just as comfortably as on the tops. Bam instant speed! That’s why we have those curvy bars in the first place, right?

Sometimes a nice comfy curve in your bar helps, like this Ergosum from 3T.

Finally, Something Sweet
Cyclists coming to Italy usually ask about the availability of power bars and I usually answer: they’re not very good, nor very cheap, but Panforte (as mentioned in a previous CheapOh) a Christmas-time treat, is an excellent calorie bomb made of dried fruit and nuts. If you can’t find it in the supermarkets, the cheapest and easiest substitute for power bars is Nutella on sandwich bread wrapped in foil like a pro. Personal choice: Nutella and peanut butter on whole wheat; sweet, filling and oh so cheap! On my last trip to the US, I noticed that Nutella is readily available, while a powerbar is closing in on $1.50, so maybe it’s time to give these a try Stateside.


Disclaimer: by now, most regular Pez readers have reached the obvious conclusion that Mr. CheapOh is daft and his “insights” should be taken with several grains of salt. However, for the uninitiated, have fun with these helpful tips to enjoy cycling while saving money!

A special thanks to Urban Gruenfelder for illustrating the Autumn issue of CheapOh.
See him online at Gruenfelder.at

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