This past lockdown weekend, I’ve treated my Cannondale Topstone to it’s first bit of real maintenance in the form of Jagwire Elite Pro shifter cables and a new chain. After 2500 miles, things were getting a bit hit and miss on the shifting front.
I’m glad to say, that was exactly what was needed. Chain stretch is a thing as I could tell putting old and new chains next to each other. Unfortunately, my front chainring appears to be worn too as things get quite grindy when I pedal. I was actually thinking the cassette was bound to need replacing, so I can’t say I’m surprised. Maybe sometime I’ll actually buy myself a spare chain and rotate things round?
Anyway, thanks to the Jagwire cables (that have a continuous inner sleeve for the cable), shifting on the Topstone is now perfect. Unaccountedly, and in a sign that lockdown might be getting to me, I was seduced into buying brown cable outers by the Jagwire description of ‘matte frozen coffee’, thinking it might look OK with my tanwall tyres and smoke grey paint. I’ll let you be the judge of how successful that choice was!
Ritchey WCS Ergomax handlebars
I thought this was a good time to upgrade my bars and tape on the Topstone. If there’s one thing you can be sure of, the bars that come standard on any bike are going to be low rent affairs. While not bad, the OE spec left a bit to be desired, my main beef being the bar shape that didn’t really give a level finish to the bar ends.
After a lot of pondering I finally plumped for a set of Ritchey WCS Ergomax handlebars. These have a nice level run on the bar ends and a 12° flare, but the defining feature of these bars is they have a 10mm rise!
Understandedly, I do have concerns about a visit from the fashion police, but I decided that there were some advantages to having a bit of rise on a gravel handlebar. Not only does it put me in a more upright riding position but it means it’s more comfortable for me in the drops, which means I may actually use them more.
There are also a couple of other benefits to the Ergomax bars in that they have a flat, almost aero top to the bars with a 4° backsweep. This makes climbing more comfy and with all that shaping going on there is just a small amount of flex engineered in.
When you combine the shape, with the rise, with the flex it turns out comfort is a big feature of the Ergomax bars. It also has to be said that the finish is excellent – the Ritchey WCS Ergomax might be made of 7050 aluminium but they look like uni-directional carbon.
Lizard Skins DSP bar tape
The final part of the jigsaw was what to wrap the Ergomax bars with.
Well, I have been saving myself for this moment since Christmas when I recieved some fluoro yellow Lizard Skins DSP bar tape. You can see I have a little fluoro accent theme going on with the Topstone which otherwise is unremittingly monochrome. This was my chance to take things to the next level!
The Topstone mainly sees use as a commuter (remember commuting? – nah, me neither), so I don’t mind a bit of fluoro yellow at times, but there’s no getting away from the fact my new handlebars and tape make quite a statement. When you see it for the first time it’s quite a shock!
Having used Lizard Skins DSP bar tape in the past I have nothing but praise for it – it’s thick (I went for the 3.2mm version), which makes things very comfy without being too bulky, and the material wraps well with a nice tacky surface to it. Plenty more colours are available, to cater for every taste from subdued to – well, fluoro yellow! Compared to something like SupaCaz tape I’d say the Lizard Skins is more flexible and much easier to wrap.
So there you have it – a weekend of maintenance for the Topstone sees shifting fixed (albeit still needing a cassette and/or a chainring), new handlebars and new bar tape.
All they need to do now with these gravel bikes is somehow fit fatter tyres, make the handlebars wider and higher and maybe even add some suspension. Then I reckon they might be OK off-road.
Or, just ride them where they work – any metalled road, in any condition, with dirt and cinder paths or forest roads thrown in when it suits.