If any cantilever brake could bring me back, it was gonna be this one

Paul Touring Cantilever brake. Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday – the screeching yowl of my seemingly powerless cantilever brakes, my hands gripping the levers with such force that I was sure I would snap a cable or a finger as my loaded touring bike crept slowly, helplessly, down that steep hill and into racing Seattle traffic. This was Day 1 of my Pacific Coast bike tour, and I faced the dreaded question many in mortal danger have asked themselves: did I just eat my last Chipotle burrito?

Thankfully the answer to that question was “no.” Yet this harrowing experience vaulted me into a crowded cadre of cyclists who have experimented with any and all ideas possible in the space/time continuum to boost the performance of a cantilever brake system. Since I am lazy and unintelligent, I was also quite willing to abandon my experiments as soon as road-compatible V-brakes became readily available at the local shop.

I had sworn off cantilevers for good. Which is why I was stoked to review the Paul Component Engineering Touring Cantilever. If any cantilever brake could bring me back, it was gonna be this one. So did it?

Starting with the basics, Paul says each touring canti weighs in at 99 grams. The brakes ship with salmon-compound Kool Stop Thinline pads, as well as a straddle wire (with a nifty “Paul” stamp), a basic cable carrier, a cable end to finish things off and a coveted “Paul” sticker for your 1995 Toyota 4Runner. Or your 2013 Prius, whatever floats your boat. Brakes are sold as singles, and listed at $123 retail.

When you pull these things out of the bag, you will see, right off the bat, that you are holding something kickass. These are CNC-machined beauties. Each edge is crisp and consistent. The bracing behind the arms to resist flex looks great.  The coiled springs are like earrings for a back hoe. These things are svelte, yet beefy. Business, yet fun. Curvy, yet angular. Like a 1995 4Runner.

Somewhere. Sometime. Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

So then you do the install, and you get stoked! The pivot on this brake, and others in the Paul lineup, is an awesome and easy-to-service design. Each arm is sealed with a couple of O-rings (think mud and wet) and comes pre-greased. The mechanism rotates on its own sleeve, limiting friction. You set the spring tension to the desired feel with a 15-millimeter wrench, bolt on those Kool-Stops and hit the road for a very exciting session of slowing down!

After riding road-compatible V-brakes for around five years, I realized they came at the price of modulation. Because it takes more cable pull to actuate a high-leverage V-brake, you end up pulling your road lever nearly to the bar aaaaaaaaand WHAM! Braking engage! If you ride in a tight paceline with such a brake, you better pay attention when you try to feather that thing.

This lovely brakeset from Paul turns that modulation knob way, way up. The brake pads move more per displacement of the brake lever, meaning that you get more control when the pads start to bite the brake surface. You can drag the rear brake to bleed a little speed without risk of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. And you don’t need to run the pads as close to the rim, so if you are a horrible person like me, you can get away with a little more “creativity” in the shape of your rim (or mud clearance). Very important disclaimer here: you MUST toe in the pads, particularly on the front! The banshee screamers will find you if you neglect to do this, and you will fail to realize the best performance of this brake. No excuses!

Now, do you sacrifice some power compared to a V-brake? Yes, you simply do. Yet rest assured, this is the bee’s knees cantilever brake that you stare at on your buddy’s custom steel cross bike for a reason. This is THE ONE. I can’t speak for Paul’s Neo-Retro Cantilever, which is a wide-stance stopper that the company claims will bend your chainstays. But I can speak for the touring canti, and this brake will serve you well.

I can’t believe it, but like the sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives. I’m totally sold. The Paul Touring Cantilever is a high-performance brake with excellent modulation. This brake has plenty of stopping power for road and cross. The machining is cosmic, and the design itself is burly and beautiful. When you consider the included pads and other items, and many years of expected service, it’s actually a pretty good value.

I suspect that these brakes would have inspired much more confidence on that fateful day in Seattle, especially compared to the pig iron, gumball-machine cantilevers I was running on that day. It’s hard to say, since I was carrying, like, the weight of at least four boxes of wine on top of my gear, so…that’s a big ask of a rim brake under any circumstances.

Paul Touring Cantilever brake, rolling deep in Portland. Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

From petroleum to bikes, I think that’s good karma there

Paul Component Engineering. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

When I was racing in the 2nd NorCal High School MTB League (yup, just dated myself) there was a kid in the expert class with a baby blue Soulcraft.

I remember him well. Not only because he was insanely fast and his dad carried the bike for him to the start line like a boss at the 2003 state championship to avoid the thick sticky mud in Nevada City, but he had some v-brakes I have never seen before.

Various types of brakes Paul made over the years. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

In the times where XTR M-950 and Avid Arch Ultimate were rampant, this kid had Paul Motolites. Cool like that one Macintosh user when everyone was about having an Intel Inside machine.

That was my first encounter of Paul Components. And now I finally got a chance to peek inside Paul’s shop, as well as the Paul behind the company, Paul Price.

Paul Price. The man behind Paul Component Engineering. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

After starting from his home garage in 1989, the company is now situated at a former Texaco petroleum distribution facility next to a bike path that was once a railroad track.

“From petroleum to bikes, I think that’s good karma there.” said Price as he led a dozen journalists around his shop.

Found at a metal scrap yard and now a prominent piece within the employee bike shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

To the uninitiated, it’s merely a nondescript warehouse with a bunch of machines running. Looking deeper, however, it’s evident that it’s more than your average machine shop. It’s a testament to Paul’s deep passion for cycling: From the giant CNC machine humming away in the distance,  the freshly machined cable barrel adjuster, the collection of vintage bikes high up on the wall, and to the manual machine in Paul’s R&D shop where he paid $500 for from a high school, they all speak volumes on the journey and dedication behind the brand.

Some might say the dude’s goofy, but I think Paul’s a total badass and knows exactly what he’s doing. So here’s an inside look of what goes on inside Paul Component Engineering.

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Office bulletin board at Paul. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Metal stock was once cut by hand but it's now automated. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Here comes a freshly cut block of 2024 aluminum to be turned into a stem. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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All the metal from manufacturing is collected and recycled. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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precursor to the cable adjuster. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul likes his shop to be tidy so they machined a few of these tool holders for a few stations at the shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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This machine was making Cross Levers when I was there. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Inspection. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul stopped one of the CNC machines for us to take a peek. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Raw aluminum bar (top) to finished quick release levers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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A painting of Mt. Diablo by Paul's mom who is an artist. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Some of the tools at the machine shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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A batch of hubs waiting to be drilled for spoke holes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Few of the vintage frames on the wall. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul fabricated this fixture on the left to prevent dings while polishing their Boxcar stems. Over at the right is a smaller polisher for smaller parts. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Walnut shells and corn cobb are used as polish media in this vibratory polishing machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul showing off his personal machine shop full of old manual machines where he tinkers and makes prototypes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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A $500 manual machine Paul bought from a high school shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul dabbled into framebuilding at one point and this was one of his creations. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Parts ready to be assembled. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Long-time tooling engineer Jim at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Memorabilia and old parts next to Paul's desk. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul's desk... where the magic happens. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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The 2017 limited edition blue in all its livery. Available in 6-8 weeks. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly


Cleaning the Steed gets friendlier with the Wash Buddy

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I love washing bikes.

For me, there’s something to be said about getting your hands dirty only to get the bike looking new, all lubed up and ready to rock.

I would never win a timed bike washing contest but I really don’t mind taking my time scrubbing and tweaking, granted made more enjoyable with some wine and music thrown in. Maybe it’s my personal woosah from the never-ending daddy/husband duty, including the realization I washed my bikes far more often than I washed my car last year.

We can talk about this love for bike washing all day, but you’re not here for that. And honestly, I am not going to write it either since what I’m supposed to tell you about is this Team Issue Washer Buddy from Abbey Bike Tools.

Amongst the unsung heroes in my cleaning kit has been the Morgan Blue Chain Keeper that I reviewed a few years ago. In fact, I loved it so much I bought a second one for traveling and washing multiple bikes. It is a bargain for $7. But as much as it was stupidly affordable and extremely durable, it had its limits, namely the inabilty to shift the rear derailleur, and lately, its incompatibility with thru axles.

There are products from other brands made specifically for thru axles, but I wanted a chain keeper that could do it all.

It seems I’ve finally found the perfect buddy.

Designed by Jason Quade who bought us the ingenious Crombie tool, the Team Issue Wash Buddy is hands down one of the most well-made chain keeper I’ve ever had my hands on. So good it should be on everyone’s holiday stuffers list this year.

At its core is a pulley made with DuPont Delrin for low friction and chemical resistance to solvents. Coupled with the stainless steel spindle where the pulley spins on, the Wash Buddy is made to last. And instead of a set stationary location where the pulley stays during use, the Pulley on the Wash Buddy is designed to glide along the spindle to allow shifting of the rear derailleur.

Plenty of room for the delrin pulley to move as you shift. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

On my 11-speed bike, I was able to shift to all but the 2 smallest cogs without the chain popping out of the pulley’s deep channels. It’s a small but welcoming design detail I found to be super helpful whenever I need to rid the gunk trapped between the derailleur body.

To top it off, Abbey uses a gorgeous custom skewer from Chico’s Paul Component for its quick release. It’s the same proven design off Paul’s wheel/seatpost skewer, and the lever action has stayed buttery smooth even after repetitive pressure washer treatment.

Smooth curves and small details. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

So what about bikes with thru-axles? Well, the easiest way, as Quade personally showed yours truly at Sea Otter, is to insert only the pulley onto your bike’s axle. While it is entirely possible to use the entire Wash Buddy with the included Paul Skewer by unscrewing and reconnecting the quick release as I did on my very first try, I wouldn’t recommend doing just that though since the whole installation felt rather awkward.

The Team Issue Wash Buddy retails for $75 with the Paul skewer. But Abbey will also sell you just the pulley for $15 should you wash your bike so much you manage to FUBAR yours, or are already all-in with 142×12 thru-axles.

All scuffed after repeated washings but everything still works as new. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly