Things I Like: Thomson Stems & Seatposts

While it may sound like a cliche, the best components are the ones that you don’t notice. These components are not unremarkable because they don’t meet our expectations, but rather, they excel because they outperform lesser parts that require frequent adjustment and maintenance. For me, nothing epitomizes set-and-forget status like Thomson‘s stems and seatposts.

Stems and seatposts may lack the sex appeal of 11-speed drivetrains or aero wheels, but they’re essential pieces of the bike-fitting puzzle. Many of Thomson’s competitors offer only a handful of sizes. Not Thomson, though. Need a 25.4mm seatpost? They’ve got you covered. With stems that range from 50mm to 130mm in length, chances are there’s one that’s right for your particular setup.

Other companies may offer a similar range of stem lengths and seatpost sizes, but few–if any–can match the reliability and performance of the Georgia-based company’s products. Thomson’s stems and seatposts don’t slip, are easy to adjust, and remain silent without the aid of anti-slip goop or cheater bars. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, Thomson has elevated the industrial aesthetic to high art. If the monochromatic thing isn’t your style, you can add some bling to your X4 stem with the company’s Dress Up Kit.

Because I spend a significant amount of time evaluating and reviewing components, I place a very high value on parts that don’t require any additional babysitting. Thomson’s stems and seatposts are two items that I can count on to be trouble-free, freeing up more time for enjoying the ride.

Things I Like: Lezyne Mini-Pumps

Back in the days of wool shorts and Peugeot PX-10s, there were basically two choices for frame-mounted pumps: the Italian Silca Impero (preferably with a steel Campagnolo head), and the French Zefal HP. With the advent of mountain bikes and compact-style frames, the full-sized frame pump fell out of favor, and was eventually replaced by the mini-pump. Whether attached to the bike, or stowed in a jersey pocket or hydration pack, the mini-pump has become the preferred inflation device for most riders. Not all mini-pumps are created equally, though. After trying at least a dozen different makes and models, I’ve come to favor Lezyne’s family of hand pumps.

Lezyne makes selecting the right pump–mini or otherwise–a no-brainer. Their pumps are broken down into two flavors–high pressure (HP) and high volume (HV). My skinny-tire bike is fitted with their Road Drive (HP) pump, and I use the company’s Alloy Drive (HV) on my fat-tired 29er. For the in-between 700×32 (60-80psi) tires on my commuter-slash-gravel bike, I carry Lezyne’s Pressure Drive (HP) model.

What is it that makes the Lezyne pumps so good? Construction, for one. The aforementioned Lezyne pumps are constructed from CNC-machined aluminum, which produces better tolerances, and a stiff, lightweight design. If you extend the pump’s handle, you immediately notice the smooth action and lack play between the components. When combined with the pump’s oversized shaft and piston, the end result is a design that all but eliminates wasted effort due to flex. Less wasted energy means fewer strokes, which means more time riding.

Although hoses have been used on hand pumps for many years, Lezyne’s ABS Flex Hose is in another league compared to the competition. The Flex Hose has threaded fittings for Schraeder and Presta valves (a slip-fit version is also available), with the latter featuring the company’s patent-pending ABS pressure-release button. That combination yields a connection that’s secure, and far less likely to damage or unscrew Presta valve cores. When not in use, the hose is kept clean and safe inside the pump’s handle, but can be quickly and easily installed when needed.

Lezyne pumps (and other hardgoods such as multi-tools and racks) carry a two-year warranty against manufacturer defects. Should you need to repair your Lezyne hand pump, the company offers replacement parts including mounting brackets, hoses, and seals.


Updates & Follow-Ups

Campagnolo Drivetrain Conversion
The Campagnolo Centaur Ergopower shifters have broken in nicely. Shifting is even smoother, but the reassuring tactile feedback definitely remains. Maintenance has consisted of occasionally lubing the cables and (derailleur) pivots, and rotating in another KMC X10.93 chain to minimize overall drivetrain wear. I did replace the 46t Real outer chainring with a 48t Specialites T.A. Zephyr ‘ring. The latter shifts quicker, and is a better match for the 13-29t Veloce cassette.

Pacenti SL23 Rims
These wheels are still as true as the day I received them. The White Industries T11 hubs haven’t required any adjustment or lubrication, and the freehub has quieted down slightly (but it’s still louder than, say, a Shimano unit). Brake track wear appears minimal despite testing half-a-dozen different brake pad compounds. I’ve read reports that some people have difficulty mounting tires on the SL23 rims, but switching to thinner rim strip (e.g. Stan’s yellow tape) usually eases installation.

Carradice SQR Saddlebags
Since posting my original review, I’ve put another 600 miles on the SQR Slim saddlebag. With its spacious capacity and easy on/off mounting system, it’s become my favorite bag in the Carradice family. Traversing dirt roads and trails on over-inflated 28mm tires hasn’t loosened the mounting hardware, and the waxed cotton fabric has done a great job of fending off late-afternoon thundershowers. I continue to notice the bag brushing the backs of my thighs, but it’s usually restricted to when I remain in the saddle when stopped.

Things I Like: Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

My first exposure to Skratch Labs’ Exercise Hydration Mix was a trial-by-fire affair. The temperature was 95 degrees, and I was about to begin my 12-mile evening commute. Perfect conditions to test a new hydration product, right? As it turned out, the Skratch Labs mix worked beautifully, and it quickly earned a place on my things-I-like list. Skratch Labs exercise hydration mix

Skratch Lab’s Exercise Hydration Mix has its roots in competitive cycling. Known previously as Secret Drink Mix, it was developed for professional racers who were tired of the bloating and stomach issues caused by regular sports drinks. The unique moniker came about because racers would secretly dump their sponsors’ drink mixes, and replace it with the Skratch Labs powder.

What makes the Exercise Hydration Mix different from other sports or electrolyte drinks? Fewer calories and more electrolytes, for one. The mix doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients, and Skratch Labs uses only real fruit–not funky chemicals–for flavoring. The end result is a mix that tastes lighter and cleaner, and is less likely to induce bloating or other GI problems. While Exercise Hydration Mix does contain sugar (9g in an 8-ounce serving), it’s approximately 35% less than regular sports drinks. Skratch Labs exercise hydration mix

If you find yourself diluting sports drinks because the taste is too sweet, then you’ll be right at home with the refreshing, subtle flavor of Exercise Hydration Mix. With previous drink mixes, I found that I would tire of the flavor (and sweetness) as the miles stacked up. Eventually, my liquid intake would drop due to my taste buds’ protest, and I’d begin to suffer the nasty effects of insufficient hydration and electrolyte loss. After switching to Skratch Labs’ mix, however, that’s a thing of the past.

Exercise Hydration Mix gets props because it does exactly what it claims to do. When I drink Skratch Labs, I feel better during and after my rides. My mind is sharper, and at the same time, I’m more relaxed on the bike. Best of all, though, is that I can ride longer and farther when I use Exercise Hydration Mix. Anything that can do that definitely deserves a spot on my things-I-like list.

Skratch Labs’ products are available from select retailers, or directly from the company.

Things I Like: Ritchey Logic Curve Handlebars

I am a creature of habit.  When I find something I like, I tend to stick with it.  It’s that way with saddles, pedals, and drop-style handlebars.  When it comes to the latter, my bar-of-choice is the Ritchey Logic Curve model. gravel grinder Ritchey Logic Classic Curve Campagnolo Ergopower Centaur Salsa Vaya Jagwire

Ritchey’s Logic Curve bars feature a short reach (73mm) and shallow drop (128mm).  I’ve used 2nd- and 3rd-generation Campagnolo Ergopower levers with the Logic Curve bars, and when set up with the ramps flat, the transition to and from the hoods is pretty much seamless.  Moving to the drops is easy thanks to the double-radius profile. gravel grinder Ritchey Logic Comp Curve Campagnolo Ergopower Centaur Black Mountain Cycles Jagwire

Ritchey offers the Logic Curve in several models and finishes.  All feature a 31.8mm center section, and no-slip grit at the stem and brake lever mounting surfaces.  Widths range from 38cm to 44cm (measured center/center at the levers).  While some riders may bemoan the lack of cable grooves, I find that it allows for more freedom when positioning the levers and routing the cables.

My Classic Logic Curve bars have been in service for three years, and not once have they slipped or creaked.  Despite swapping my Comp Logic Curve bars between between several bikes and stems, they’re as secure and silent as the first time I installed them.  Both pairs bars have seen lots of bumpy, off-road miles, and I’ve been unable to detect any unwanted flex.

If you’re looking for a versatile, short-and-shallow drop bar that’s also comfortable in the drops, do yourself a favor and check out Ritchey Logic Curve line of handlebars.