Semi-Random Product Update


In my efforts to (unsuccessfully) get back to my mandated editorial duties, which is to say posts in which cycling is the primary concern, I’ve flashed on a few different products I have reviewed previously and for one reason or another have felt a need to update readers with insights gained from my ongoing experience with them. I don’t normally feel a need to do this. I try to make sure that by the time I publish a review of something I’ve digested that product well enough that I am unlikely to have any further insight into its use or function in the coming months.

Every now and then I find out otherwise.

A great example of this is my review of Rapha’s shaving cream a few months back. I lamented how the high cost of the product ($20) was likely to keep some consumers away. At the time, I reasoned that the 150ml tin wouldn’t go far. In my head, I expected it would last me two months, tops. That made its per-use cost quite high—$10 per month for shaving cream is a bit luxurious for my household. Since my review, I’ve realized that I need far less of the cream to execute the perfect shave. I estimate that I used the first third of the tin in about three weeks. I’ve gotten through about another third of the tin (not quite, actually) in the two months since my review.

Shaving Cream

What I learned is that I just need to wet my face a bit more before applying it. Perhaps if I had one of those old horse-hair application brushes I’d have gotten hip to this sooner.

I bring this up for two reasons. First, I really think I owe it to anyone whose product I review to give it the fairest shake I can. I’m sensitive to the ongoing criticism that Rapha receives in the U.S. because their products carry such a premium. I have observed that some of this isn’t their fault: They can’t adjust the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar. That said, they deserve to have word circulate when a reviewer realizes a product is a better value than originally perceived.

The second reason is this stuff is just ridiculously good. Since my crash last fall, I haven’t been—ahem—enamored of my face. While no one else notices the change in my smile and no one else can feel the scar tissue in my lips, looking in the mirror is something I’m still adjusting to. That shaving my face (despite the ongoing numb spot) can bring me any pleasure is as odd and ironic an outcome as I could have this week. The way my skin feels and the way my face smells after shaving with this stuff is something that makes me genuinely happy. I figure if it’s my business to tell the world what I think of something then they deserve to have me be honest about this.


Next up, I need to go on record and say that as much as I love the revised SRAM Red group, I’m finding the new generation of Red brakes to be rather finicky. Keeping them perfectly centered while balancing left/right side spring tension isn’t as easy as with any of the competing dual-pivot calipers. Much of this has to do with the stamped-steel spring. While on one hand the spring gives the brake very light action, something that SRAM can get away with due to the used-car-salesman-slick Gore Ride-On cables. The issue isn’t that I can’t adjust tension or center the brake; the issue is that it just doesn’t seem to keep the adjustment for more than a couple of weeks. Still, if you accept the idea that any time you make a brake set lighter you’re going to give up something, I’d prefer finicky adjustment while keeping overall brake power, rather than what happened when Dura-Ace went from 8-speed to 9-speed: The brake set gave up power.

Some years back, when the bulk of my work was appearing at Belgium Knee Warmers, I reviewed the Assos Summer Gloves. The review appeared in 2009 after having used the gloves for more than a full season. By the time I wrote about them, as I noted in my review, I was completely in love with them and I reviewed them only because my strong feelings for their quality, fit and finish were so unexpected.

Well, I finally killed those gloves recently. That’s the pair I’ve been riding all this time, pictured above. The pink peeking out of the one palm pad is the padding creeping through a rip in the stitching. Yes, I mean that I killed that particular pair of gloves. The actual date they were pressed into service is no longer known to me, but I can say it was probably some time during the summer of 2007. That’s more than five years of use. It’s fair to ask though, just how many uses that was. We can factor out four months for late fall, winter and early spring, during which time I wear long-finger gloves. And we have to siphon off a fair chunk of the spring, summer and fall due to other gloves I’m sent to try. Conservatively, I think that leaves me with at least 100 days of use per year. These have absolutely been my go-to gloves for all rides where the temp is at least 60 degrees at the start. Factored another way, I can say that I’ve usually worn these gloves at least three days a week, and I’d guess for a good 30 to 35 weeks each year. That’s probably in the neighborhood of 600 uses. That works out to, what, a dime per use?

While I’ve worn some gloves made from Pittards leather that were as comfortable in the palm as … hell, I don’t know what to say here that won’t sound unintendedly sexual. The thing is, Pittards leather gloves are supple the way we wish our own skin still was. In that regard the first few wears are experiences that carbonate our senses with the infatuation of a first date. They possess magical properties to beguile our hands if not our senses.

If only they lasted as long as even the average romance. I’ve yet to get 100 wears out of a pair of Pittards gloves. There’s a distinct possibility that I’m part, if not most, of the problem. I’ve yet to figure out—even after following instructions—just how to properly clean Pittards gloves without them getting dried out and stiff like 20-year-old boot leather. Maybe it’s easier than I think. The thing is, I don’t want the graduate seminar in leather glove care. This is precisely why I love the Assos Summer Gloves. They have required no greater care than a jersey. I toss them in the wash and never worry about how they’ll come out. Because they are closure-less they have a clean appearance and lack all that bulk of material on the back of the wrist, making them more comfortable and giving them less material to soak up sweat.

You’ll pardon me if I think the care and feeding of a pair of gloves should be simple, a process as thought-free as drinking a glass of water.

As worn as they are, I’m going to continue to use these gloves for mountain bike rides and dirt road rides on my ‘cross bike. I figure they’ve got at least another season like this before there’s damage bad enough to toss them in the trash.

Okay, glad to have that off my chest. Seriously, these little details have been eating at me.

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  1. Diane

    So, I totally agree re: the Assos gloves! They “sound” expensive but, in this case, I think you do get what you pay for – in spades. As for the RED brakes – out of my league, that would be more technical than I can address. So, that sort of leaves Rapha.

    I don’t “shave my face” and truth be told, I haven’t shaved my legs with their product either. MY gripe about Rapha is their attitude. As many know, I had a custom only shop for 17 years; rather successful I might add. I wanted to order some things for a special client and was told that under no circumstances could I do that. Even to this day, Rapha is “snooty”. Are their products cool? You bet they are? And are they good? I really couldn’t say; but, their attitude could use some adjusting.

    I’m sticking with DZ products. Tushy, legs, face – whatever! I even send a free sample with every on line order I get! It gets rave reviews and they appreciate the business.

  2. Ted

    I have my 13mm wrench sitting out on the “mail storage” table by the front door, just so I can center the SRAM Red brakes, about once per week. I guess I’m in good company!

  3. Derek

    @Diane, While I agree with you about the snooty attitude, I would have used an example like sending riders to win the SS Worlds and then refusing the award. In your example they were simply protecting dealer territory, something that this industry should see more often.
    As a man once said “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up”. High quality products are a welcome addition to the Wal-Mart wasteland we are forced to live in because we have poor consumer buying decisions made multiple times per second in this country. Perceived value has to increase or people will just keep buying cheap shit and down the rabbit hole we go. If you use less of a product to achieve the same results then a smaller quantity of product has a higher value, i.e. is worth more.
    I am not saying that Rapha’s stuff is all that, because I haven’t used any of it but in an industry where local dealers get undercut all the time by manufacturers it is refreshing to hear of one protecting exclusive dealers.

  4. Jon

    Padraig, go out and get yourself one of those old brushes, or splurge and get a new one. Badger is the Bomb. Soak the brush in HOT water, shake out the excess, using an Altoid mint sized drop of the Rapha shave cream, whip up the best lather ever in your hand or in a small mug. The application of the lather on your face or legs with a good brush causes your whiskers to stand up and you will shave closer than you have before. (A new Badger brush will smell badgery for a few shavings, but the Rosemary in the cream makes that go away quickly)

  5. dave

    I’ll be the second to join the badger brush fan club. They’re more expensive (ever tried getting the hair off of a badger?), but if you shop around they needn’t be prohibitively so. Any shaving brush will make your shave better, but a badger brush works better and lasts longer than anything else.

  6. Dave O

    FWIW I too wondered how Rapha could make a product that justified their premium prices. I took the plunge and bought their Brevet Jersey with every intention of being unimpressed and returning it. It fit better than anything I had before. After buying a pair of bibs and trying them out, I bought another pair and another jersey. Is it a lot of money, yes! But given all the hours I spend in the saddle every month if it lasts 5 years the difference will be insignificant to me.

  7. Dave O

    Oh yes, I forgot. Make sure you buy a real badger hair brush, most of what you see are pig bristle striped with black dye. I’ve had my badger brush for over 14 years. Taken care of they should last decades.

  8. @PasadenaCyclist

    Last week, I had the opportunity to stop by the Rapha store in London. I have to say the experience was disappointing. While heading there by tube, I was plotting how I would justify to my wife spending hundreds of dollars on new kit. Didn’t have to worry about it. The service was pretty snooty and unhelpful, and they had very little stock. In fact, they only had one jersey in my size. It hasn’t put me off Rapha completely (and I did buy a hat) but they missed out on an opportunity to make me a real fan of the brand.

    I have not tried Rapha’s shave cream, but there is a store called Taylor of Old Bond Street just around the corner from the Rapha shop. They do internet orders to the US. I’ve been getting my shaving cream and badger hair brushes from this store for more the 15 years. They’ve been making and selling the stuff for more than 150 years. Their price for top quality cream is less than Rapha and I would venture that they are very similar products. I strongly recommend Taylor of Old Bond Street:

  9. DonW

    @PasadenaCyclist, while I haven’t been to the London Rapha store, I have been to the one in San Francisco, and had the exact opposite experience. The store was a good size, they had lots of stock and selection, and the customer service was great. I’m not going to argue that Rapha presents a high-end, and to some degree exclusive image, but at least in my experience, they’ve been a great company to purchase from. Keep in mind, I say that as a rather ‘thick’ road rider who may not fit the stereotypical roadie mold and will certainly never be featured in their films. Nobody gave me any attitude, the experience and the shop itself were very cool, and I walked away a very happy customer even though I was many hundreds of dollars lighter. I’m not saying you didn’t have a bad experience in London, which is unfortunate. It seems in that instance, Rapha missed a chance to win your loyalty and make you a satisfied customer. No company is perfect, and sometimes they don’t fire on all cylinders all of the time, but I feel in general, I’ve gotten what I paid for from them.

    On the other hand, it’ll be interesting to see if the Team Sky relationship, and guys like Wiggins and his notoriously cold personality, will skew people’s sentiment to the brand further one way or the other. Time will tell.

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