Ask Nick: Ace moto pilots, frame-specific forks, DOT fluid on carbon, and new bike nervousness

Tech editor Nick Legan also answers readers' questions about using DOT fluid on carbon and new bike nervousness

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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I am always impressed with the motorcycle camera crews. Their ability to capture the drama of racing, while often balancing at slower speeds, and not crashing either themselves or the riders is incredible; all the while having a guy on the back moving around to get the best shot – especially in the big alpine ascents or super twisty descents. So my question: Do these guys practice? Are there “superteams” who get to do the better events (kind of like NFL referees who get to do the playoffs)? Do you always ride with the same partner, or is it just mix/match of whoever is available? Do you need to qualify, i.e. some sort of test to prove that you have the skills to do the job? How do the riders feel about them? My guess is that they are happy when they can get a draft, and annoyed with them the rest of the time.
– Chris

A. Chris,
For an answer to your question I reached out to Chuck Hodge, the Technical Director at Medalist Sports (the company that organizes the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the new Exergy Tour and USA Cycling Pro Championships; these guys and gals know bike racing!). He coordinates an army of different crews, including local police, medical teams, officials and media. Here’s his response:

“The motor pilot for a camera bike job is pretty much the top of the heap as far as skill level and expertise goes. Many of the drivers have been doing the job for 20+ years – as is evidenced by their skill level. There is a mix of folks involved, but you tend to see teams who work well together. Sometimes these teams are hired by the race, while other times this is done by the TV production company. It is a tough job to break into, as there aren’t many positions available – in the US there are five or six races with live TV each with only three or four camera teams. If you look closely at pictures from major races you’ll tend to notice the same faces and motorcycles a lot!

The equipment is also pretty interesting. At the top-level races with live TV, the bikes are sending signal to an orbiting plane or helicopter. It is then shot from there down to a receive site, where it is fed to everything from the big screen to international satellite broadcast. ASO, which does TV production for the Amgen Tour of California, actually brings the motors, drivers and cameramen over from France.”

Riders know that the motorcycle crews, whether for timing, neutral support or media, are part of the race. Without them, racing isn’t possible. You need crews to keep track of splits, install a wheel after a puncture, and televise the proceedings.

In the end, pro cycling is all about sponsor promotion. Without television, the sponsors aren’t being seen. So the motorcycles are part and parcel to bike racing.

I recently had a crash that ended up cracking the steerer tube on the front fork. The bike is a 2011 Specialized Tarmac Comp. I decided to replace the fork with an Easton EC90 Tapered fork. All was well until the mechanics attempted to pull the crown race off the old fork. Specialized apparently epoxied the crown race to the fork. Specialized does not sell individual crown races either. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be a crown race available to buy on the open market that will fit. The issue is the recessed area at the bottom of the head tube, which is specific to Specialized’s crown race. Can you assist with helping us find a compatible option for this problem? Certainly I’m not the first person to break a fork and replace with an aftermarket option.
– Rhett McKeller

A. Rhett,
Your Tarmac frame will only work with a Specialized Tarmac fork. Unlike in years past, swapping out forks is increasingly difficult. Both tapered steerers and different fork geometries mean that it’s usually best to get a replacement from the original manufacturer. For more, read Brent Graves’ reply – he’s the director of Specialized’s road department:

“Our frame and fork are designed as a system. Specifically the fork crown race sits much higher in the head tube to eliminate sharp angles between the crown and steerer that occur when the crown race is in the traditional position. Carbon fiber doesn’t like sharp angles; the resulting smoother transition of our design dramatically improves the fork’s integrity. So it is not the crown race per se, but the steerer’s taper in that area, and where the crown race is situated, that is unique. Unfortunately, even if one had the crown race, it would not allow an aftermarket fork to be fitted. We generally stock items such as forks for cases like this. Any Specialized dealer should be able to look into what specific options are available.”

I recently purchased a new bicycle. I ordered the bicycle in the fall 2011 for delivery in the spring 2012, so I did not actually ride it before purchasing it. In one of your recent articles I noticed the word “nervous.” This bicycle is nervous. I would also describe it as twitchy. Anyway, the bicycle is a 2012 Giant Defy Advanced 2 (medium frame).

My old bicycle, purchased in 1990 was a Columbus steel frame with Shimano 105 and Mavic wheels. In a straight line this bicycle was very smooth. It held a line very well and was impossible to put into a high-speed wobble (not that I tried much). My new bicycle does not hold a straight line very well without my full attention, and at speed it feels as though I could induce a high-speed wobble with a flick of the handlebar.

I haven’t had a professional fitting as there is no such individual in my town. Do you have any suggestions or comments regarding this? When researching bicycles I thought that my new bike would be very smooth, being an “endurance” frame. I am not disappointed but somewhat surprised at the reality.

I am 54 years old, weigh 190lbs, 5’7” tall, ride about 15 mph and do approximately 2500 miles per year.
– Ray Boivin

A. Ray,
Congrats on your new bike. I like the Giant Defy a lot. I have a feeling that with a bit more time on the bike you’ll get used to its handling behavior. It’s sometimes hard to go from a bike that you rode for years and years to a new steed. You intimately knew how your steel frame cornered, handled a rough road, etc. It’s natural that your new bike will feel different.

And many road bikes have become more “nervous” since you last bought a bicycle. Chainstays are shorter, trail numbers are more aggressive.

I would recommend you spend a bit of time with both your bikes and a tape measure. Do everything you can to duplicate the position you’ve ridden for years. Also take a look at the wheelbases of both your bikes. I’m betting it’s shorter on the Giant. Also check out Lennard Zinn’s suggestions for getting identical positions between bikes.

In any case, I do think you’ll get used to and come to love your new bike. It can be a surprise to get on a new bike and come to find it’s not a direct replacement of your former ride. But your new bike is no doubt much lighter, with better shifting and better brakes. At the VeloNews office we have a strict 80-percent rule when it comes to test bikes (which are often foreign to us): We don’t let ourselves go over 80 pecent when sprinting, cornering, climbing, etc. until we’ve been on the bike for some time. It takes a bit to learn how a bike handles. After that, it’s full gas! You’ll be there soon.

With the floodgates already open for hydraulic disc brakes on cyclocross bikes, and their future on road bikes looming large on the horizon, I’ve been wondering about an issue I’ve never come across in 30 years on two wheels. DOT brake fluid and carbon frames. If during the bleeding process some DOT brake fluid accidentally came in contact with the frame, what kind of damage might it do to the epoxy and/or carbon? DOT brake fluid is pretty aggressive stuff, damaging paint in a matter of minutes, so the thought of even a small amount of it sitting pooled in some internal recess of a carbon frame is somewhat alarming. Or would the carbon/epoxy even on the internal surfaces of the layup be resistant to DOT fluid?
– James Murray

A. James,
A valid question, but you needn’t worry. Fortunately the mountain bike folks have thoroughly tested this over the years (in the field) and it’s not a big concern. You’re absolutely right that DOT brake fluid is pretty nasty stuff and requires proper handling.

But fortunately carbon fiber and its associated epoxies are pretty tough. While DOT fluid does affect paint, according to Craig Calfee, “it shouldn’t hurt epoxy-based composites. Paint remover is about the only common chemical that can really hurt epoxy.” That counts for internal and external surfaces.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.