Technical FAQ with Lennard Zinn: Christmas Stocking Stuffers

A world renowned procrastinator, Lennard Zinn offers up some cool ideas for last-minute gifts for the bike geeks on your list.

Once again, the holidays crept up, and I still have a lot of (read: almost all of my) Christmas shopping yet to do. If you have procrastinated like me and there is somebody on your list that is really into cycling, these stocking stuffers could be just the ticket. Many of them are equally applicable to road, cyclocross, mountain, or even track bikes.
These are all items that I use constantly and would not want to be without.

Gear Floss

You can floss the gunk out from between a lot of gears with the bulk size Gear Floss.
You can floss the gunk out from between a lot of gears with the bulk size Gear Floss.

This stuff is awesome. If you’ve ever flossed between your cogs with a rag, you know how the rag constantly snags on the cogs, hindering progress. But Finish Line Gear Floss is loosely-woven, absorbent, microfiber rope that slides in between the cogs and does a beautiful job. You can also use it to remove the dog hair, grime, and grass wrapped around your jockey wheel center bolts and around your bottom bracket spindle where it meets your crank arm.

I have a big roll of Gear Floss that I chop hunks off of whenever I need – which is frequently during cyclocross season, but the stocking stuffer size is a package of 20 ropes, each 20 inches long. You can clean a lot of cogsets with one 20-inch piece, so don’t think that it’s only 20 cog cleanings in a package. For $7, you can make somebody very happy, and they’ll probably wonder what the heck it is when they open the wrapping paper, which makes it even more fun.

Tire pressure gauge

Especially if the recipient of your stocking generosity is into cyclocross or rides tubeless tires, particularly on mountain bikes, a separate gauge is a must.

A good hand-held gauge will generally be more accurate than the gauge on your floor pump, because the former is only measuring what is in the tire, and not what is in the pump hose, as the latter is. This distinction is particularly important if you are running your tires at low pressure, because the big surge of pressure with each pump stroke makes the pump’s gauge needle go way beyond the actual tire pressure, and it won’t necessarily come back to the actual pressure in the tire by the time the valve seals off again.

Pass on the black dial gauge on the left, but feel the pressure with the others three.
Pass on the black dial gauge on the left, but feel the pressure with the others three.

Of the four gauges in the photo, the ones I use constantly are the SKS Airchecker digital, $29, and the Accu-Gage dial, $15, mainly because they are quicker to use. Every time you put the SKS on another valve, it automatically clears itself and displays the new pressure, and the Accu-Gage only takes a tap of the thumb on the clear button between measurements. The SKS reads out a more precise number, to the first decimal place, whereas you’re guessing to within 1-2psi with the Accu-Gage. The SKS works on both Schrader and Presta valves, whereas the others are Presta only. But man, is that Accu-Gage ever nice for popping onto the valve; it completely seals it well below its threads quickly and easily without releasing any air. I think that the ideal gauge would be a digital one like the SKS with the Accu-Gage’s head.

The Schwalbe Airmax Pro digital gauge, $20, also displays an easy-to-read number, its measurement units are easier to read the than on the SKS. It offers four different units of measurement, as opposed to the two that the SKS and the two dial gauges offer. However, it’s more challenging to get it onto the valve without releasing some air than any of the others, and you have to clear it — and wait until it displays first “CLE” and then “0.00” again before each new measurement.

Don’t buy the Planet Bike dial gauge (the black one in the photo), $15, because it only works on valves without removable valve cores, and only just barely then, too. The problem is that the head has neither sufficient length, bore diameter, nor thick enough rubber seal to seal around the flats of a removable valve core. This one offers little other than frustration.

Double-threaded valve extenders

The valve extenders on the right rock; the ones on the left don’t.
The valve extenders on the right rock; the ones on the left don’t.

Valve extenders are a necessary evil if with deep-section rims. That said, if you use double-threaded extenders, with which you remove the valve core, screw the extender into the valve where the core was, and then screw the core into the top of the extender, you lose none of the valve’s function. These are the type to get; they are the ones on the right in the photo.

The types on the center left of the photo, which are a simple straw type with a female thread at the base that screws onto the valve-cap threads, are included in the packaging with lots of deep-section wheels, probably because they are cheap. Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to check the tire pressure by any means other than by pumping more in with a pump and looking at its gauge. As we discussed, that is particularly inaccurate at low pressures. This straw-type valve extender also require the valve to be open at all times, and if the nut screws back in due to vibration, you won’t be able to get any air into the tire.

The type at the far left is marginally better, since it has a shaft that grabs the valve stem and protrudes out of the top, allowing you to depress the valve by pushing down on the shaft. It’s still hard to use a gauge on this type of valve extender, and, like the simple straws, it requires sealing at the base with Teflon plumber’s tape.

Valve-core remover

If you’re going to be using the good kind of valve extender, you need a valve-core remover. You actually need one anyway, because valves fail, unscrew, or get plugged up with sealant and need to be replaced or cleaned.

The best valve-core remover is a red-anodized version from NoTubes, $9. It not only works on both Schrader and Presta valves and is easy to turn—like a screwdriver—to remove the core, but it also is long, allowing you to reach down and remove a valve core deep down inside a deep-section wheel. This is important in the case where there already is one of the lame straw-type valve extenders on the valve, and it is now either leaking, has closed off, or the user is fed up with not being able to measure tire pressure.

The silver tool is a short version of the NoTubes valve-core remover; this type is often is packaged with a bottle of Slime. It works great with the one exception of not being long enough to reach down inside the deep valve hole of a deep-section wheel.

The cheap plastic C-shaped valve-core-remover key is not even on the scale with the other two, but it still beats the heck out of having to resort to a Crescent wrench to remove a valve core. I don’t even know if it’s possible to buy these little plastic valve-core keys separately; they generally comes with valves or with valve extenders.

Little 5 N-m torque key for M5 bolts (4mm hex key size)

If your bolt takes a 4mm hex key and needs to be tightened to 5 Newton-meters, your tool is one of these.
If your bolt takes a 4mm hex key and needs to be tightened to 5 Newton-meters, your tool is one of these.

For stem bolts, mountain/cyclocross shoe cleat bolts, bottle boss bolts, and, sometimes, brake pad bolts, you need a torque wrench set at 5 N-m to do the job properly, safely, and to spec. But a big torque wrench is cumbersome to use with such tiny bolts. That’s the beauty of these two torque keys; they fit easily in your hand, giving you more of the sense of the amount of torque you’re applying, and they require no setting. They are permanently set at 5 N-m of torque, and they have a 4mm hex key already installed.

I find the Bontrager (Trek) torque key, $20, to be slightly easier to use, since you can turn it more easily with your fingers, thanks to the extra length and leverage.

The Ritchey torque key, $17, does give you more of a feel for how tight 5 N-m really is when you turn it with your fingers alone.

While there are subtle comments one can make about each, both are great tools. And with either tool, you have to stop turning when the head clicks, or it will have all been for naught; if you continue turning, you overtighten the bolt.

Aftermarket sealed-bearing jockey wheels

Rear derailleur jockey wheels get beat over time — not only do the teeth wear down, but so do and bushings or bearings on which they turn. Sealed-bearing jockey wheels offer a performance increase, even before the stock wheels are worn.

I like the aluminum Sampsons, $24, especially for durability. The plastic Tacx are also nice and offer various bearing options. There are other brands as well.

Vincero Design Edge16 magnetic water bottle and mount

$47 may be pushing the stocking-stuffer price tag, but the Edge 16 is still a small thing that fits in a big sock and offers a lot of versatility, particularly for a cyclocross bike or a travel bike. I depended on it for riding cyclocross this season, both due to unseasonably warm weather in races, and the desire to train without carrying water on my back.

When warming up or training on a cyclocross race bike, you want water, but you don’t want anything impeding shouldering the bike, nor do you want to add weight to a bike you have to carry around. And on a travel bike, the bottle cages are really in the way when packing the bike.

The Edge16 mount is a tiny, 11mm-tall, 16-gram carbon composite pedestal that mounts onto a bike frame’s bottle mounts. It has negatively-angled edges and a powerful, dime-sized magnet on top. The bottle looks like standard bike water bottle except for the groove on the back to engage the edges of the pedestal and an embedded magnet to mate with the one on the mount. It also has a diaphragm in the valve, so you can grab a sip and throw it back on the mount during a hot ’cross race without having to push the top closed again. As long as the bottle is less than half full, no amount of bouncing over bumps is likely to dislodge it. Bottles sell for $10 for 24-oz. and $9 for 20-oz. sizes. Aero bottles are in development.

The bottle snaps in firmly and securely and needs to move up only slightly to be removed, a bonus for fitting a bottle on small and full-suspension bikes. It is easier to get the bottle in and out than with a standard cage. When the bottle is removed, the mount is so small it is completely out of the way, making it perfect for cyclocross bikes, aero bikes, and travel bikes.

Shoe shields

A thin Sidi steel shoe shield protects the expensive carbon sole of a Sidi Dragon 2.
A thin Sidi steel shoe shield protects the expensive carbon sole of a Sidi Dragon 2.

If you have mountain-bike pedals with wire bales to hold the cleats (Crank Brothers, Time, Look), the bales will indent the soles just ahead and behind the cleat. Over time, this can crack the sole, particularly with carbon soles. Shoe shields are little rectangular steel plates available from Crank Brothers and from Sidi, and probably others as well, that fit under the cleats and protect the shoe soles from the pedal catches.

This is a small ($10 retail) investment that has the potential of a saving an expensive pair of shoes. More on that here.

Schwalbe Racing Ralph HT cyclocross tubulars

The Racing Ralph is a beloved mountain bike tire. Now it’s available in a 700 X 35C tubular. While it folds up small enough to fit in a large stocking, $145 is a bit much for a stocking, and the season is over for all but a few die-hards who race through January. But wow, is this a nice tire.

The Racing Ralph HT has soft knobs, and lots of them all over the place, making traction incredible on some fallaway turns on loose dirt or grass that generally defy traction with most ’cross tires. It’s supple and rolls very nicely as well. And at 385 grams, it’s quite light. It’s not a good mud tire, since the knobs are too tightly-packed to let mud out easily.

Gore Ride-On low-friction cables

Sealed Gore RideOn cables and sealed Sampson jockey wheels keeps this bike working smoothly no matter the mud.
Sealed Gore RideOn cables and sealed Sampson jockey wheels keeps this bike working smoothly no matter the mud.

These cables really make a difference. I was not a believer until I switched halfway through the cyclocross season to them. Holy cow, my shifting and rear braking were so dramatically improved, I was amazed. And they stayed that way, since the system is sealed end to end. $65 is spendy for a cable set (and twice that for both brakes and derailleurs), but most $130 bike upgrade parts won’t provide a noticeable performance boost like this. They don’t fit well in a stocking, but you can put them on the mantelpiece above the stocking.

OCTTO gel handlebar tape

Handlebar tape is a great stocking stuffer, and the OCTTO BT-01 Professional Extra-Long EVA GELicone Smooth Bar Tape, $27, offers a lot more than just a clean wrap in a new color. The tape is tough, stretchy, and grippy without glue on the back, so it won’t tear while wrapping, and it won’t leave a stripe of sticky tape on the bar that is hard to get off and tears the tape when unwrapping it. It’s also plenty long enough, so if you have wide bars, you can have plenty of overlap on each wrap and still have extra left at the end. It’s super cushy when riding and just feels great, as well as being shiny, smooth, long-lasting, and easy to clean. I’ve unwrapped and re-wrapped my bars numerous times to replace brakes and brake cables, and the tape is still in good shape and cleans up nicely.

The OCTTO end plug has an innovative twist lock to it. However, I’ve only tried it in carbon handlebars, and maybe they’re thicker wall than it’s intended for. In any case, I simply ruined the plugs trying to turn the screw. I ultimately resorted to some Cinelli plugs.

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Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (, a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides “Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”

Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn. Zinn’s column appears here each Tuesday.