If you’ve been riding a long time, you probably have a fine collection of saddle bags. It’s just one of those things that we keep buying. Like the next one is going to be the one, the bag that fits all you want to fit, that doesn’t bounce around, or weigh a ton, or rub off your inner thighs when you’re high up on the saddle, or, worst of all, look like a Fred accessory on your hot new race machine.
Aesthetically, I’m been a fan of the classic pre-glued tubular neatly wrapped and tucked under the saddle, but that means having a couple of CO2 cartridges and a multi-tool bouncing around in your rear jersey pockets, which can be annoying. A storage bottle that slots right into your second cage is great too, right until you want to go on a long ride mid-summer and find yourself scrambling around for the old saddle bag so that you can carry more water.
I loved Scicon’s Roller 2.1 system where the bag clicked onto a quick release bracket … right until I hit a pothole and my pack went flying. In the middle of a fast descent in a granfondo. And so I gravitated back to the simplest of them all, a beat-up old rectangular pouch that’s secured to the seat posts with a long, wraparound piece of velcro. Hardly bling, but it worked.
Then along came Silca’s Grande Americano seat roll. Same idea – something wraps around it to secure it to the saddle rails – but instead of velcro, it’s a fancy BOA system, that most of you are probably familiar with from your shoes.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from Silca these days: Carefully considered, well-made, and at $58, not exactly cheap. There’s a lot of storage potential and it’s all kept tidy by three interior compartments that fold over onto one another. I had to pack and unpack a couple of times to get it to fold up the way I wanted – ie, as compact as possible – but now it’s a pleasure to use, with easy access to everything I could need on a ride. I carry some CO2, some tyre levers, a spare tube (Silca’s Latex offering is awesome if you swing that way), a mini-tool and a patch kit, but there’s room in there for more if you don’t mind it looking a bit bulkier.
So is it worth it? Well, in a sport where it’s OK to spend $30 on a fancy cream to rub on your crotch, I’d have to say yes. You could pick another saddle bag out of a bargain bin somewhere, and for a fraction of the price, it will do the same job. It just won’t do it as well. And it’s not like tyres or bar-tape that you’ll be replacing once or twice a season. Treat yourself, it will last for years, and if you’re a nerd like me, every time you open it you’ll get a little kick of smug satisfaction looking at how tidy all your stuff is.
The Bontrager TLR Flash Charger floor pump. The silver barrel is the pump and the bigger, black cylinder is the air chamber for tubeless. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
We wish the PSI gauge have more markers for more precise reading. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Flip the red lever down to charge the chamber for tubeless. Flip it again to release the air, or use it just as a normal pump.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The pump head is plastic but it worked liked a champ during out test, gripping both schrader and presta value with ease.
Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The red lever and the bleed valve. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
For the longest time, owning any tubeless tire almost meant you’d be better off owning a compressor too in order to help it seat properly. A regular floor pump/co2 sometimes worked but a compressor gives you that massive volume of compressed air with just a squeeze of the nozzle lever.
I reluctantly got a small Craftsman compressor when I converted my mountain bikes to tubeless. I found the compressor to be awfully loud as if I was mowing the lawn inside my garage. Good headphones helped but that’s just not very ideal … Can you imagine what it’d be like having a compressor in your two bedroom Brooklyn apartment with squeaky wooden floors? Yeah, not a good idea.
But the Bontrager TLR Flash Charger could very well replace the need for a compressor.
Just Flip the Switch
Built with two chambers, the TLR Flash Charger is part pump, part (manual) compressor. After flipping the unmistakable red switch, you pump air into the giant chamber. To use the stored air to seat a tubeless tire, all you’ll have to do is flip the switch and watch the air blast into the tire.
It’s that simple.
It takes about 42 strokes to get the chamber charged to the red indicator. Which, at about 160psi, was plenty enough to seat our 26, 29, and 700c tires with extra.
Pump it Up … Eventually
The other function of the pump is, well, to inflate your tires. Here I feel the TLR Flash Charger comes up a bit short. It’s not that it doesn’t fill the tires with air just like every other pump. But instead of just connecting it to the tire and pumping away, the TLR Flash Charger needs to be equalized (with the tire) first before one can start the actual inflation (Huh?).
Think of it this way, say the tire already has 100PSI and you want to check the pressure. The pump will pull about 50 psi from the tire for the equalization to happen. It’s not a big deal if the tire is flat as a pancake, but it was annoying having the need to do the extra work. So plan ahead if you’re in a time crunch.
I would also love to see a more precise pressure gauge. The numbers on the existing top-mount (thank you) gauge were easy to read. But I was left scratching my head at the fact that it only showed increments every 20psi with no markers in between (other than 30PSI). So what if I wanted to pump it to 90PSI? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a built-in bleed value?
This won’t be an issue if you measure your tire pressure in bars instead of psi but come on, for $120 you would think that’s a no brainer.
So is this pump for you? That depends. The TLR Flash Charger works beautifully in setting up all sorts of tubeless. It’s as good as any compressor in that regard albeit without all the noise and need for electricity — which is great if you’re living in a place with sensitive neighbors/housemates/kids, or don’t have the room for an electric compressor.
I really liked the concept, and it would be perfect to the be only pump you should own if Trek can do away with the air equalization.
Pegboards full of blue-handled tools—nipple drivers, caliper wrenches and the like—cover nearly every inch of wall, and the floor is a kind of obstacle course of repair and truing stands.
It is the showroom and final stop on the tour of Park Tool’s 85,000-square-foot facility in Oakdale, MN and when CEO Eric Hawkins leans against it’s newest repair stand with a hydraulic lift, this seems to be where the tour will end.
But Hawkins likes to end the tour where the story of Park Tool actually begins. He walks over to an odd sculptural piece on caster wheels. It is made with the base of a dining room table, a shell casing filled with cement, a ’37 Ford truck axel and a broken hockey stick.
Hawkins never tires of showing his father’s creation, the very first bicycle repair stand.
Two Sore Backs
Bicycles, whether in the peloton of the Tour de France or meandering along some state park bike path, are likely on the move because of Park Tool. Bike mechanics in more than 70 countries grab the tools to change break pads, spoke wheels, and adjust front and rear derailleurs.
That Park Tool rose up from a local fix-it shop in the Hazel Park neighborhood of St. Paul to having a 90 percent share of the global market for bicycle maintenance tools is a great American business success story.
“With us,” Hawkins says, “we have been in the right place at the right time with the right thing.”
The story, however, did not start with ambition. It began with two sore backs.
Howard Hawkins had just graduated from a technical college, where he learned welding and blacksmithing, when he bought a repair shop in 1956 with a friend, Art Engstrom. America was in the middle of a post-war housing boom and with it came all sorts of things to repair, like radios, televisions, and lawnmowers. Ice skates were in constant need of sharpening during the long Minnesota winters.
The housing boom also meant growing families with children riding bikes. From their shop, Hawkins and Engstrom sold and repaired Schwinn bicycles. The two were growing tired of stooping over bicycles on the ground when they came up with the idea for a contraption that could hold a bike off the ground and rotate 360 degrees.
Even today, the first stand is something to behold. The odd mix of items are smartly arranged to provide a solid, anchored weight in the base, along with a strength to support and balance a bike. Howard Hawkins laid down sure and economical beads in his welds and his first stand still stands ready for any bike triage.
Engstrom and Howard Hawkins repaired bikes with it for a few years before showing it to Schwinn in 1963. At Schwinn’s direction, the two designed a commercial stand that soon took its place wherever Schwinn bikes were repaired.
“He didn’t know anything about bikes, but he learned by putting his hands on things,” the younger Hawkins said of his father. “To him, everything was about common sense.”
That Midwest ingenuity began to come up against new challenges in the late 1960s, when the shifting and breaking mechanisms in bikes became more complex. Repairs were difficult because the tools for the new components did not exist.
Engstrom and Howard Hawkins began making the tools: wrenches, frame alignment gauges, bracket and cable tools. The tools in the early years were built from scratch with whatever materials were left over in their shop.
Meanwhile, the two were among the nation’s top Schwinn dealers and at one point operated out of three different locations. The demands for tools became so great the two sold the shops in 1981.
As the tool line expanded, Park Tool have out-grown a couple of other facilities. They make close to 400 different kinds of tools for bikes and hold more than two dozen patents.
Park Tool tracks the cycling industry and seems to have a tool every time something new is released. Because of its standing, companies often share the specs on new components so that Park Tool can make tools to be available at the time of the item’s release. It has enjoyed spikes in growth thanks to mountain biking, BMX and American success in international cycling.
The company also recognized that cyclists began to learn how to take care of their bikes and has a robust line of consumer products, from folding allen wrench sets to tire patch kits.The Park Tool website is also a repository for informational articles and video tutorials.
Tools get shipped to more than 70 countries. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Bottom bracket tools. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Chain whips ready for shipment. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Some of the employees commute to work by bike and factory floor fans are a good way to dry off clip shoes on a rainy day. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
Some of the tools past and present in the Park Tool showroom. Photo: David Pierini/Element.ly
“I think its important for us to take the mystery out of the bike,” Eric Hawkins said. “If you can show someone it’s easy to fix a flat tire, they’re likely to go for a ride. For a lot of people, being able to work on the bike is an ultimate goal. We are happy to give them that education.”
Eric Hawkins grew up in his father’s bike shops and learned the business just from watching. He went off to college and came back to work for Park Tool for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
The younger Hawkins started making suggestions from what he learned from college marketing classes. He suggested having a presence at trade shows and other cycling events and his father agreed.
It was Eric Hawkins idea to patent the Park Tool shade of blue, Pantone 2935, which in cycling has become as recognizable as the green of the John Deere tractor.
“What better childhood than to hang out in a bike shop,” he said. “I learned a lot about assembling bikes and without knowing it, common sense. My dad did have any great ambitions, he was content making a living with the bike shops, but to his credit, he let me try some things.”
Even after both Engstrom and the elder Hawkins retired, Howard popped into the factory a couple of times a week just to check on things. He even helped assemble display boards for the industry’s two biggest events, Interbike and Eurobike.
Hawkins and Engstrom were able to revel in the company’s 50 anniversary celebration in 2013. This past January, Howard Hawkins died in Arizona from a heart attack. He was 82.
Eric Hawkins has done much to modernize the company, but is a careful steward of his father’s legacy. There are pictures and newspaper clipping throughout the Park Tool office and one of every color and model of Schwinn Stingray ever made is lined up along an office, much like it looked in the old Hazel Park shop.
One way Eric Hawkins enjoys honoring his father is with a joke he always told people when asked how many people work for him. When I asked Eric how many work at Park Tool (between 50 and 60), he repeated his father’s line, “About half.”
Man, I wish I’d had the Pedro’s Apprentice Tool Kit twenty years ago. Instead of slowly accumulating the pile of tools that sits in my garage, I could’ve made one (slightly pricey) purchase and been ready for pretty much any repair most riders will do. I’ve built up a handful of bikes and made dozens of repairs with just the tools Pedro’s neatly packs into a slim plastic case.
While it’s geared towards new, tool-less riders, the Apprentice was great for tossing in the car for a road trip or race weekend—saving me a half hour of pillaging my large tool chest.
Mountain bikers will need to need to add a shock pump, and it’s a bummer that no tool set like this comes with a torque wrench. With the ubiquity of carbon bars and seatposts, beginners especially could use the precision of a torque wrench to avoid crushing expensive carbon bits with overly aggressive wrenching.
The included cog wrench was a revelation. Chain whips can now die the horrible death I’ve long wished for them.