Car Less Ohio

Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State

Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Fall, Rise, and Fall of RapidRise

Surly Cross-Check with Shimano Tiagra brake/shift leversWhen I put together my new Surly Cross-Check earlier this year, I used a Shimano Tiagra rear derailer and a SRAM 11-28 9-speed cassette, just because that’s what I happened to have around. It’s got compact double (50/34-tooth) chainrings, and Shimano Tiagra integrated brake/shifter levers.

During the first couple of rides, although the routes were rather hilly, I never felt like I didn’t have a low enough gear. However, it’s not always a matter of having a low enough gear, but being able to find the “right” gear. I always had plenty low enough gears on my road racing bike with a 12-27 cassette, and the combination of the standard double (53/39-tooth) chain rings seems to allow me to cruise along for long stretches in either the big ring or small ring as needed.

The benefits of a compact double are having almost as low of a gear range as with triple chainrings, with the lower weight and better reliability of a double. I find myself having to switch between the small and big chain rings more often with a compact double, though, and the 11-28 cassette seemed to make this issue even worse.

Looking through my spare parts, I had a SRAM 11-34 cassette, but no spare mountain rear derailer that could handle that large of a cassette. So, I turned to our store stock to see what I could buy that was a decent model at a reasonable price. In searching through 9-speed Shimano rear derailers, this oddity turned up: Deore LX RapidRise. The very definition of “new old stock.” Out of curiosity, I gave it a try.

Shimano originally debuted their RapidRise rear derailers in the early 90’s, mainly for use on entry-level hybrid bikes. On a RapidRise rear derailer, the spring action is reversed, so that the “natural” position of the derailer is on the largest, i.e. easiest, cog. This is also referred to as “low normal.” This is as opposed to a “traditional,” or “top normal” rear derailer, where the natural position is on the smallest, or hardest cog.

When you operate your right shifter with a traditional rear derailer, the shifter action that pulls the shifter cable pulls the derailer against the spring tension to a larger, easier cog. Clicking the shifter to release cable tension allows the spring tension to pull the derailer back to the smaller, harder cogs. This action is reversed with a RapidRise rear derailer.

The alleged benefits of this are twofold. First, if your derailer cable should happen to break, the derailer returns to the easiest gear, rather than leaving you stuck in the hardest gear. Second, for novice riders, it makes shifting easier and more intuitive, because on both your left and right hands, the same actions make pedaling harder or easier on both the front chain rings and rear cogs. When selling a bike to a new rider, I find that traditional rear derailers make this one of the most confusing concepts to try to explain . “Okay so you click with your right finger to make it harder to pedal, and push with your right thumb to make it easier to pedal. But on your left hand, it’s the other way around.”

So, back to the early ’90s, when RapidRise made its first appearance. I don’t know from experience, but I’m told that it never caught on because it was used mainly on entry-level bikes, and as such, the parts were entry-level quality, and just didn’t work all that well. Bike mechanics hated it, so they wouldn’t buy  it, and wouldn’t sell it.

Shimano Dual Control operation diagramLater, in the mid ’00s, RapidRise returned when Shimano developed Dual Control shifters for mountain bikes. Without going into too much detail about how it worked, Dual Control was kind of like the mountain bike version of Shimano’s integrated road bike brake/shifter (STI) levers. With the way Dual Control levers worked, it just kinda made sense to use a RapidRise rear derailer with them. For a couple of years, they made two versions of some of their derailers, a traditional (top-normal) version, and a RapidRise (low-normal) version. And these were nice derailers this time around–Deore, Deore LX, Deore XT, and XTR. Dual Control lever sets were available for hydraulic disc brakes and for cable-actuated brakes (linear-pull rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes).

Alas, Dual Control never really caught on. I don’t know if it’s because riders just didn’t care for the way it worked, or because bike mechanics still had bad memories of RapidRise, and didn’t want to sell it. So, with the death of Dual Control came the second death of RapidRise.

Back to 2013 and my Surly Cross-Check and Shimano Deore LX RapidRise rear derailer. The installation and setup was a snap; I just put the chain in the largest cog, attached the derailer cable to the derailer’s pinch bolt, then fine-tuned the cable tension as needed. I had to add a link to my chain to allow for the longer derailer cage of the Deore LX compared to the Tiagra rear derailer. Unless you shifted the bike, you wouldn’t know it was any different by looking at it.

Shimano Deore LX RapidRise Rear Derailer

Out on the road, it works like a champ. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the opposite shifting action on my right hand. Down-shifts while climbing are much easier, and I think this is where the average rider needs their down-shifts to be easier.

There are only two possible downsides to this setup that I can see. One is that you can’t down-shift multiple gears at a time with one sweep of the lever (although you can up-shift multiple gears this way). The second is that with up-shifting being just a tad less responsive, this could be a detriment in sudden chase or sprint situations. However, this not being a race bike, neither of these issues are of any concern to me.

If this all sounds like a great idea to you, then I’m sorry, but your local bike shop isn’t likely to have many RapidRise rear derailers sitting around, if any at all.

The next evolution in bicycle drive train technology is Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifting systems for road bikes. The latest versions allow you to re-program the shift buttons to customize them however you like, so you could mimic the shifting functionality that I’ve described with my setup by swapping the up-shift and down-shift buttons. You can program the buttons to shift multiple gears in either direction. You can even swap the left- and right-hand shifting if you want. I suspect that this technology will move to the mountain bike world in the next couple of years.

Catching up on 2013

With this past winter being more harsh compared to the mild winter of ’12, and my diminished motivation for bundling up and riding in bad weather this year, I haven’t had much to report on since my last post after the Iceman race last November. So, here’s a quick re-cap of the riding (or lack thereof) that I’ve done this season.

On a snowy Dec. 30, I met up with my friends Dave and Pam for a snowy ride on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Dave rode his Carver Ti O’Beast snow bike, Pam rode his Surly Pugsley, and I rode my Raleigh XXIX singlespeed. We started at the Canal Visitor Center and rode south for about 45 minutes (probably just a handful of miles) and turned around.

Snow bike riding on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail

A couple of days later, for a New Year’s Day ride, I met Dave and Brent in Peninsula for another snowy Towpath ride. I rode Dave’s Pugsley and Brent rode his Salsa Mukluk. We rode up to Brecksville Station and back.

Under the State Route 82 bridge on the Towpath Trail near Brecksville

A couple of days later, I met Brent and Sean for a night ride at the Royalview Trail in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation near Strongsville. Didn’t get any photos; the trail had been ridden by others on fat bikes already, but it was still tough going on my XXIX, and hard to follow the trail even with our headlights. We ended up off-trail a few times, as well as on some of the hiking trails. We finished up by racing up and down the road on Royalview Lane. It was fun, but the exertion in the sub-freezing air took its toll on me, and I caught a nasty head cold that put me out of commission for over a week.

I got back into the swing of things on Jan. 12 with a few laps around my “neighborhood loop,” a 5-mile loop consisting of the Twinsburg Center Valley Park multi-purpose trail, the Old Hickory Trail, and a few of the streets that connect the two. The next day, I rode to and from work for my first and only time so far this year.

On Jan. 16, it was still pretty cold, but the roads dried off, so I took the Xtracycle out for a day of exploring to Peninsula and back, using the Metroparks, Serving Summit County Bike and Hike Trail.

Overlooking the Ohio Turnpike on the Bike and Hike Trail

More snowfall came later in January, and I got two days of cross-country skiing in. The first was at the Horseshoe Pond are in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The second was on Feb. 1 at Punderson State Park.

Cross-country skiing at Punderson State Park

On Feb. 2 I borrowed Dave’s Surly Pugsley again, and we met our new friend Jack (on his new 9:ZERO:7 fat bike) for a ride on the Bike and Hike Trail. We started at the Alexander Road trailhead and rode down to Brandywine Falls and back.

A stop at Brandywine Falls while snow biking on the Bike and Hike Trail

I met Dave again the next day for another snow bike ride (on his Pugsley) on the Towpath Trail, from Peninsula down to the Botzum Trailhead and back.

The Botzum Trailhead, on a snow bike ride on the Towpath Trail

I did a few laps on the Neighborhood Loop on Feb. 16. Finally, in early March, we had a brief period of spring-like weather. I had just finished putting together my new Surly Cross-Check, so on Mar. 10 I took it for a shakedown ride on the Twinsburg-Garrettsville Loop.

On Winchell Road between Hiram and Aurora, Ohio

More snow, rain, and cold followed. On Mar. 21, the first day of Spring, the temperatures still hovered around freezing, but I decided to grab the Salsa Fargo and head out to the singletrack at Mohican State Park. I just did the first eight miles out and back (with the shortcut at the 4-mile point on the way back). The upside was that the frozen trail made it nice and solid and ride-able. The exception was the final mile along the ridge above the campground, which gets the most sun of any part of the trail, so it was wet and sloppy.

Mountain biking at Mohican State Park

On April 3, I took the Xtracycle for another cruise to Peninsula, just as a warm-up for the race on April 6, the inaugural Amish Country Roubaix. This was a gravel road race, or “gravel grinder,” as these increasingly popular events have come to be known. I was way too out of shape to be competitive in such an event, with over 4,000 feet of climbing in 45 miles over the back roads of Holmes County. It turned out to be a nice day, though. I finished in about 3 hours and 40 minutes, it was a fun ride, and a well-run event that I’ll probably return for next year.

The Salsa Fargo in gravel grinder mode

The next morning, I felt surprisingly fresh during a ride of the Valley Loop with a group from Peninsula.  More rain came during the week, but I managed to get a somewhat wet ride in on April 11 with a short 24-mile loop on the Salsa Fargo through Aurora, Bainbridge, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. Here I am on Geauga Lake Road over the swelling banks of the Chagrin River:

The Chagrin River in Geauga County, Ohio

Spring weather finally broke last weekend, and I did a 31-mile Sunny Lake Loop on April 14, and then 40 miles yesterday with an extended loop taking in the Bike and Hike Trail, Peninsula, and Hudson (both on the Surly Cross-Check). The winds were pretty stiff yesterday, but with temperatures in the upper 70’s, it looks like Spring is finally here, with more great riding to come!

Sunny Lake Park in Aurora, Ohio