Bama Time! Thoughts on trikes and a FrankenSurly

And now, for your amusement, our roving sentinel of sanity ponders life, tricycle love, and a Surly you’ll never be able to buy. -Ed.
By Chris “Bama” Milucky

The steel-ular seat of my tricycle always felt cold under my jorts-clad butt cheeks. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was at 6 or maybe 7, and not because I had a development issue, but because I had an issue with development. I didn’t feel the need to learn how to ride a bike. I was happily hunkered down on the trike.
I remember rolling the rubber-wound wheel on that red and white wonderfully rickety rust wagon all the way down the crummy concrete driveway of my sweet Alabama home. It was pretty scary and in all the right ways. I’d pedal around and watch the humid summer sun heat my skin even under the shadows of the oaks, melting my mind smoothly into a self-reflecting syrup. Why would anyone walk away from the working wheels of three-dom and pick up a bike with their delicate KneeCaptains locked in the shackles, cranium cheering for Skid Row!? I was beyond content on that tricycle– I was transcendental.
Eventually, parental guidance intervened and my folks brought home a two-wheeler for me. With training wheels a’ gunnel, I guess it was a 4wheeler. Either way, I still got around, and my little sister got her turn on the Radio Flyer, aka, MINE, specifically, “that’s still MINE!”
Just as on the trike, I mapped my bike rides in meditation, never in miles or blocks from the house. I never counted cross streets or corridors in a quest to chart my progress. I rode the bicycle to relieve the rope-knots wrestling my mind, and when I found that inner peace, when wonder had replaced reason, that’s when I could hear the woodpeckers, smell the freshly cut grass, and let the crawdads hold me captive until the cloudy moonlight cadence of cicadas went off like a metronome perfectly timed to the flicker of fireflies who’s green heinie’s glowed almost bright enough to illuminate the red Kool-aide stains on my t-shirt.
Now an adult, I still don’t track my rides in minutes or miles, or even in days, or years. I remember my saddle time by life chapters and colored feelings. I can remember the distinct dirt smell of 18 Road in Fruita when I was 18 and had violent sideburns, just as well I can remember the soft spongy moss on Mt Hood the year my Mom died, or odd sandy rocks on Long Island singletrack I discovered while on tour with Santa Cruz Bicycles. I have no idea how many times I rode my bike last week. Or where I went, what I did, or who I saw.

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This particular bike used to be a Surly Straggler, size medium, fitting 27.5″ rotate-ers, but things have changed. The frame was given to me by a friend and came with a super custom headtube which looks to be wire-welded by a sophomore student at the Voc/Tech school. Not bad, but not good. I’m guessing it’s about 70 degrees, because I endo’ed pretty easily on a stack of logs, kinda like you would have done on a late 90s Trek with bar-ends and canti brakes. I’m not complaining; I’m just telling you how it is. It’s not a super slack mountain bike angle, but it is trusty enough to try some things your friends would wanna watch.
The fork is a fine specimen as well. She came with a through-axle that was about two inches too long and cost me a box of Dremmel wheels to make fit. The fork is definitely steel and lots of it, too. Weight? I’m gonna say 1.8lbs, with Price Is Right rules where if you guess too high, you’re out. It’s good, though. I like the fork. Maybe Surly made it, maybe not. Don’t know. Who knows? Who cares? I spray-painted it pink.
Without a spec sheet, I had a hellacious time connecting the fork to the frame, and none of the five friendly bike shops in beautiful Boulder, Colorado had what I called for, so I phoned up to Cane Creek in North Cackalacky. There was a little bit of a language barrier– not at all because of a drawl– I was on the line with an engineer who wanted measurements and all I had was a handful of adjectives like, “One and one eighth-ish”. Patience prevailed, and they sold me the right size headset on the first try. Slick!
 
The bottom bracket shell measured 68mm, so “if” I had any old bike stuff in the basement, I’d be set to jet. I did not. I don’t even have a basement. I did find a new 73mm crankset and guessed that two, drive side 2.5mm spacers would make for a decent chain line. I don’t know if yinzers know anything about chain lines and bb spacing but it used to be a hot topic and getting it right was something to be proud of: I feel good about myself. Ask me about it sometime, but don’t nerd out on numbers too hard, yah feel me? Don’t chill my mellow.
The wheelset is also wacky. Not a lot of 650b stuff out there, and even less carries a Derby-rating. I needed a 15mm front // 135mm QR rear. Flotsam and jetsam all the way, and completely cutting Craigslist out of the question. ‘Spent a solid Saturday morning making moves, wheelin’, and dealin’, but things came together, and this SRAM hodgepodge seems sturdy and pretty fast. My favorite luddite gave me a thumbs down on the 24 spoke-count, but I don’t think it’ll ever take a truing wrench. I think it’ll last forever. Don’t tell the anyone at SRAM I said this, but when it comes to rim jobs, I like the way they move.
All of the tire reviews for gravel tires said Brand Y, Model Z was really nice. It’s not very helpful to have everything rated 4/5 stars. I just guessed on these 47c WTB Byways. I’d used 38c Surly Knards on a previous 650b Straggler, and they didn’t have quite enough Rambo to get me through an impromptu trail-ride; I knew I wanted a little more under the hood. The 47c Byways seemed like something that’d look good under the fenders of a 4wd Eagle sedan, but you don’t know until you try. At 45psi, they do the job on both pavement and singletrack. 30 pounds is risky, and 60 would work if you’re paranoid. Personally, I like to party. At 45 pounds, I’m pretty sure I can do what I want and with an attitude like that, you know I deserve a fist full of black eyes, so bring it.
The Byways corner much better than the cyclocross tires of yesteryear. They’re pretty light. They pumped up (tubeless style) with a floor pump, and I haven’t popped one yet. Gonna white-out the name and Sharpie “MYWAYS” on the sidewall.
I wish I could be more specific than that, but I really only notice when things suck, and these shoes fit.. yeah, ferries wear boots, and ya gotta believe me.
The brakes brake, the shifter shifts, and a Brooks sits atop the whole lot, proudly saluting any weather, whether or not I come here or go there.
 
Done with the digits, so how’s she ride? Sunday driver, 100%. Way too nice to take out for a night on the town, but perfect for the morning after when wooly boogers are stuck to my lip and I can’t shake the cobwebs.
Even though 2wheelers are good for my emotions and psycho-health, it can be difficult for me to saddle up and get out for for a spin, but this bike, which I’m now calling the Millennial Falcoon, is inspirational. She makes me wonder where different roads go. This bike hits me like a fresh pad of paper and a perfectly sharpened #2 Ticonderoga pencil. I feel excited to get out and do my mental exercises. It coasts down hills quietly, and she goes up pavement pretty well, too. She’s slower than a Cat 4 training ride, but nothing goes that fast. I dunno what drugs they’re getting away with on the Tour these days, but Category 4 might as well be referred to as the Fully Unlimted Nitromethane Class, or FUNC for short, but hey– the hyperdrive on the Millennial Falcoon is permanently out of order. Sorry. She’s not stabled and fed for racing. But we all know Joe Walsh’s Maserati never went 185. Don’t chew worry, this machine’s plenty fast. She has enough ammo to nuke anything you got: collarbones, arm rods, knuckleheads alike. Show her a dirt road, and she’ll put bugs in your teeth. She’s about the same speed on dirt roads as on pavement, which is pretty and amazing (pretty amazing). This bike has what it takes to find the magicalators and mysterious abandonment, and as far as I know, that was the whole point of the original mountain bike: you supply the fitness and skills, and the bike is simply an instrument. Your feelings are the notes. Your life is the song.
I realize this review is sort of for something you can’t buy, but reviews are really only a wayside story from a sideways school. You gotta do a lap on the menu. You have to have your own experiences before you can pick your fav. Here’s my suggestion: try a bunch of hobbies until you find one you like. Enjoy the feeling of not knowing what you’re doing, because you can only learn once, and after you know what you’re doing, you’ll never know anything else. Also: Kiss with your eyes open.
The Falcoon has a good vibe. She feels good in my hands– through my palm-sweat, I can imagine what the ground feels like, almost like wearing flip-flops in the desert sand. Nomesane? It’s like, I can step on Lego’s without crying, but I’ll know if I bump a snake. That’s a good quality for a head-trip. You wanna be aware of your surroundings but not feel threatened by them.  I’d say this bike is more than adequate, it’s thorough (Thoreau?).

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Bama’s Bio: Hi, I’m Bama. I believe that bicycles, motorcycles, and guitars are only instruments; emotions are the notes; and life is the song.
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Field Tested: SRAM Rival 22 Hydraulic Disc group

Photos by Justin Steiner

Rival sits above SRAM’s entry level Apex group and below the better-known Force and Red groups. After a painful recall of the first generation hydraulic disc groups, SRAM is back on track and has expanded the hydraulic disc option (and the 11 speeds) to Rival level.

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Rival is all about options. Cranks come in 165, 167.5, 170, 172.5, 175 and 177.5 mm lengths, making this a great way to fine tune fit at an affordable price. Chainring options are 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36. Pair those up with a cassette in 11-26, 11-28 or 11-32 for plenty of range, though I was hoping for a 46/34 option for a more off-road oriented adventure bike.

I suppose the 34 be could paired with the 46, but shifting may suffer. The crank is a basic forged design and is far from svelte compared to the hollow-forged or carbon cranks from Force and Red. The cassettes carry the largest three cogs on an aluminum carrier; the rest are individual and may bite into softer aluminum cassette bodies.

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The Yaw front derailleur has a built-in chain keeper to prevent derailment to the inside. Yaw derailleurs move at an angle in relation to the chainrings, eliminating the need to trim and giving you access to all 22 gear combos. Once set up properly the front shifting was acceptable, but took awhile to tune out a tendency to shift past the big ring. The rear derailleur is a workhorse, setting up easily and firing off shifts without complaint.

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The integrated shift and brake levers are chunky, but comfortable. There are small reach adjust bolts for the brake and shift levers; care must be taken to adjust both properly or the shift lever can hang up on the brake lever. I’ve adapted to SRAM’s DoubleTap single lever shifting, but still find Shimano’s two levers to be more intuitive. While the shifting performs well, the tactile feel at the levers isn’t as precise as I’d like, with a feel of plastic and bushings rather than metal and bearings.

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The real stars of the show are the brakes. Much like SRAM’s newly released Guide mountain bike brakes, the Rival discs have an stellar feel at the lever, with excellent modulation building up to very controllable power. The caliper mounting surfaces are nicely machined and the brakes set up easily on the two bikes used for testing. Other than an odd vibration on the rear of one bike that I was never able to track down, the brakes were quiet and fade free, even after some sketchy and fast fire road descents under a bikepacking load.

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While electronic shifting gets all the attention lately, personally I think hydro discs are a bigger upgrade to performance than adding batteries and servo motors to shifting. The Rival group is hugely versatile, with enough options to keep everyone except fully-loaded touring cyclists happy with the gear range and fit options. With performance that rivals (HA!) more expensive groups, particularly the brakes, Rival parts are a less expensive replacement option for the high-end groups. For rough and tumble adventure bikes, the Rival group is right at home, particularly for riders used to the power and control of modern mountain bike brakes.

Pricing

  • Hydraulic brakeset and shifters: $384 per wheel
  • Front derailleur: $38
  • Rear derailleur: $72
  • Crankset: $218 BB30/$192 GXP
  • Cassette: $69-$76
  • Chain: $29
  • Centerline rotors: $44-$55
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Join Bicycle Times and SRAM for a free, VIP ride experience

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Most of the world’s roads are unpaved

The perception of road cycling as an asphalt-only discipline is a construct of recent history. Roads have been unpaved since roads began and cyclists have been riding them as long as bikes have existed. That’s why SRAM 1x (say: one by) drivetrainsfor road are so relevant. We invite you to ride with us  in Richmond on September 20 or Gloucester on September 26 as the 700c world celebrates the autumn of one discipline and the revolution of another.

As a Bicycle Times email subscriber you are invited to join SRAM for a free, first come-first serve ride and experience the improved chain security, simpler sequential shifting and an all the gear range you could need with the SRAM 1x system. It means “road riding” is no longer constrained to just asphalt.

To attend just sign up for a ride and select a bike in your size. The password is OPENTHEROAD1x. Bring your pedals, kit and helmet and we’ll make fit adjustments on your bike. You’ll roll with SRAM and friends on a fully supported ride adventure and gather afterwards to share a meal, some stories and some time for us to listen to your feed back. All for free.

Secure your bike now for Richmond or Gloucester.

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SRAM unveils wireless, electronic drivetrain group

The inevitable march of technology continues, and today SRAM made official one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry, the new wireless drivetrain known as Red eTap. The new shifters and derailleurs work in conjunction with existing SRAM Red cranksets, chains and cassettes. As bicycle frames become more and more complex, the absence of wires or cables allows them to take on even more aggressive forms. Modern wireless technology, battery technology and tiny servo motors all converge in the new system.

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To shift to a harder gear, tap the right hand button. To shift to an easier gear, tap the left hand button. To shift the front chainring back and forth, click both buttons at the same time. Up to four extra remote shifters, SRAM calls them Blips, can be positioned anywhere on the handlebars for sprinting or climbing positions. The shift levers themselves have carbon fiber blades and offer reach adjustments for a perfect fit.

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Small, removable battery packs on each of the derailleurs are interchangeable and can last a claimed 1,000 kilometers between recharges, which take 45 minutes. The wireless transmissions are encrypted to make it almost impossible for outside interference to influence the system. It uses a proprietary communications protocol and has been tested by the professional peloton for years. Firmware updates can be made with the included USB memory stick.

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The SRAM Red eTap group will go on sale in spring 2016 and it won’t be cheap: $2,758 for the full aftermarket setup. It will also be included on several 2016 model bikes from the major brands.

This type of technology is still far beyond the reach of average cyclists, but it’s interesting to how the bicycle continues to evolve with technology, and it might someday be more common than mechanical shifting.

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Join Bicycle Times and SRAM for a free demo ride on July 18

The definition of road is changing. Paved or gravel. Well-planned or uncharted journeys. SRAM and Bicycle Times are inviting you to ride the latest SRAM 1x™ gear (pronounced one-by) to have just such an adventure.

As a Bicycle Times email subscriber, you are invited to join SRAM for a free, first come — first served demo and ride on Saturday, July 18, in Beacon, New York.

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You’ll roll with SRAM ambassadors and professional cyclocross racers Gabby and Jeremy Durrin on a fully supported ride adventure and gather afterwards to share a meal, some stories and your feedback.

Don’t miss this free opportunity to sample the latest SRAM components on some of the nicest bikes on the road. When you sign up, select a bike in your size and SRAM will have it ready for you. All you need to bring is your pedals, cycling kit and a helmet.

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The demo ride will traverse 41 miles of scenic roads that are half paved and half gravel, and gain 3,350 feet of elevation. It’s the perfect way to experience the new SRAM 1x drivetrains.

It’s the perfect ride to challenge yourself and the day-to-day. So come out if you’re ready on Saturday, July 18 for a great time. Hurry! Space and bikes are limited. The password to register is Beacon1x. Please note, the password is CaSe sEnSiTiVe. Register now!

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Gallery: SRAM Open the Road Tour in Boulder

Images by Jake Orness, courtesy of SRAM

We joined SRAM in Boulder, Colorado, for an awesome ride on the new single chainring drivetrains as part of the Open the Road Tour. We rode 40 miles through Four Mile Canyon, along the stunning Switzerland Trail to Gold Hill and the iconic Gold Hill Store. The SRAM disc brakes were a huge help on the rough and loose Lick Skillet descent and through Lefthand Canyon, then we made it up over Old Stage and back to the Sanitas Brewery for tacos, beers and an informal focus group to see how the gear performed.

Special thanks goes to Skratch Labs and Real Athlete Diets for the nutrition along the way and to pro racers Nicole Duke and Kristin Weber for leading the way.

Stay tuned to see if the SRAM Open the Road Tour will be coming to a city near you.

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To see full-size photos, click the magnifying glass.

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Bicycle Times visits SRAM’s California research and development lab

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In 1998, a small group of California engineers developed bicycle components and called the company TruVativ. Six years later, the mighty SRAM purchased the San Luis Obispo company, followed by the company’s introduction of its Rival, then Force, then Red road group sets. We were in the area for a Zipp 30 Course wheel introduction, so on the way out of town we toured the new SRAM lab, a brand-new 20,000-square foot facility across from the SLO airport, about a mile down the road from the original 8,600-square foot building. Thirty employees—engineers, lab technicians, marketing, public relations and machine shop wizards—share a custom work space which might be the envy of the industry.

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The SRAM SLO lab is where drivetrain components, seat posts, cranksets, handlebars and stems are developed, prototyped, and tested until failure. It’s in the early stages of development, and we weren’t able to take photos of the early development stuff, but one thing stood out: engineers have the equipment necessary to create a carbon prototype crankset in-house and have it on the stress test machines the next day, a process that just a few years ago would take months.

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And yes, SRAM breaks a lot of stuff. They break stuff so you don’t have to!

And with the recent introduction of its expanded 1x drivetrain platform, it was cool to watch their chainline test, which took cross chaining to the extreme.

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Shifting and all it encompasses includes too many variables for a feeble-minded journalist to count, but SRAM built its own test mule to cover all possibilities.

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Zipp brand manager Declan Doyle—based in Indianapolis—hails from the Emerald Isle, and was pleased to see a conference room named in his honor.

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This man gets to build prototypes, and has the world-class equipment to play with every day. Can’t wait to see how his workspace evolves over the next few months.

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More photos

Click the magnifying glass to enlarge photos:

 

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This Just In: SRAM Rival 22 Hydro Disc Brake Group

After a disastrous release (and recall) of hydraulic road brakes , SRAM is back and ready to ride with a three different groups featuring disc brakes and mechanical shifting. We just received the Rival 22 group and peeled off most of the wrapping to show it to you.

We’ve got a frame set on the way to mount everything up, and a pretty fancy set of wheels from Zipp in the works to keep us rolling. These parts arrived just in time for the weather to get truly awful, so we aren’t going to take it easy on this group. And with that low gearing for the crank, and a frame with some tire clearance, it will is see its fair share of dirt as well as pavement, and perhaps the fast side of the course tape at a cyclcocross race or two. And maybe, just maybe, if family plans and a damaged shoulder agree, another attempt at the Dirty Dozen.

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Bike brands sponsoring women’s mechanic scholarships

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Several brands including SRAM, Liv, United Bicycle Institute (UBI), Quality Bicycle Products, Pedro’s, and Park Tool have joined together to offer ten scholarships for women to attend United Bicycle Institute.

Recognizing the bike industry needs to reach out to more women, these industry heavyweights have collaborated to fund a scholarship program for women. Additional support for the scholarship is provided by Nuu-Muu and the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition (OIWC).

The scholarship was created for women who are aspiring or experienced bike mechanics wishing to increase their technical knowledge and actively pursue a career in the cycling industry.

“It can be challenging for women to join the bike industry, and it will take numerous efforts to create a talent pipeline,” said Alix Magner, QBP’s Distribution Sales Manager and QBP’s scholarship program manager. “This is one step, and we’re thrilled at the level of initiative from our partners to start leading change in how women are included in our industry.”

Recipients will receive scholarships to attend UBI’s Professional Shop Repair and Operations Workshop. Lodging will be provided for those attending the Ashland, Oregon campus. Travel and other expenses are the responsibility of the recipient.

Interested parties can apply at qbp.com/womensscholarship through November 15, 2014. Applicants must be currently employed at a bike shop, at least 18 years old, a U.S. resident, and must be available to attend the February, March or April sessions. Winners will be notified via email by December 19, 2014.

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SRAM brings hydraulic braking, 11-speed to Rival groupset

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Of all the road bikes we test here at Bicycle Times, SRAM’s Rival group might be the most common drivetrain we see. With most of the technologies and features of the top-tier Red and Force groups, it hits a pricepoint that makes it appealing from weekend warriors to dedicated racers.

New for 2015, SRAM is offering the Rival group in its 11-speed format, first seen on Red and Force. With the change comes a host of other trickle-down features from the levers to the rear derailleur.

Get the details here.

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SRAM introduces more affordable 11-speed mountain group – X1

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There is little argument that SRAM’s 1×11 drivetrains work and work well, at least no argument among those who have ridden them And therein lies the problem, as both the XX1 and X01 groups are very expensive. But now the new X1 group trickles the 1×11 tech down to a lower price point, allowing it to be spec’ed on bikes at much lowe price points, and make sence as an aftermarket upgrade.

See the details here.

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SRAM’s president discusses hydraulic road/cx brake recall

In what seems to be a trend this month, another CEO of a major cycling brand falls on his sword and apologizes to consumers. Here, SRAM’s president Stan Day discusses what led to the recall of all SRAM hydraulic road and cyclocross brakes and what steps consumers should take if they have them. For the latest on the recall, visit sramroadhydraulicbrakerecall.com.

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SRAM publishes ‘stop use immediately’ notice for hydraulic brakes

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Disc brakes have made a big push into the cyclocross and even road bike markets in the past year, but they certainly have had their share of bumps in the road along the way. SRAM, Shimano and TRP have all issued recalls for some of their disc brake products, but the latest news from SRAM trumps them all.

Despite an earlier recall that affected only a small production group of SRAM RED hydraulic disc road brakes, the new recall covers ALL hydraulic disc and rim brakes, and recommend riders stop using them immediately for their own safety.

Click here to read the full text of the announcement.

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