No matter what your interest in cycling is, the last year has been one disappointment after another. The fallout from the USADA investigation and the Reasoned Decision made a mockery of cycling’s favorite rags-to-riches story. The implosion of Divine Cycling Group shuttered three brands—Serotta, Mad Fiber and Blue (though Blue has recently returned)—and stiffed more contractors than an auto-industry bailout. And how can we forget the Café Roubaix debacle? Independent of what we know for sure, people have used this as an example of all they find most reprehensible in American business.
As spectators to all of this, none of these events have really affected us in any personal way. Even the masters doping fiascos involving riders like Rich Meeker and David LeDuc haven’t harmed anyone in any significant way. But what these events have in common is that they have each, at some level, violated what many of us believe to be the social contract of a community we hold dear. We want cycling to be free of cheating, free of bullying, free of the kinds of business deals that make us long for nothing so much a bike ride to get away from the bullshit of business. I write this as someone who’s just been through the wringer with someone I once thought was a friend.
Perhaps we’re naive to think that cycling could be as pure as the joy of a bike ride itself, but because most people don’t work in the bike industry, cycling is meant to be an escape, a way to get away from the rest of the garbage that can make a day a disappointment. That desire is perfectly human. We each need at least one safe harbor, one place where we can turn to be free of the rest of our frustrations, and for those of us who have fallen for the bike, a ride shouldn’t be a reminder that some MBA is driving small brands under so he can make a mint on real estate.
My recent frustration with a business deal in which I think no one really got what they wanted got me to thinking about what could have been done differently, what I could have done differently, what the other side could have done differently, how at the end, we could all have wanted to get a beer together rather than me wanting a shot of whiskey—alone.
Clearly, cycling is in a state of transition. Mom and pop shops are being replaced by bigger, and in some ways more professional, bike shops. Pro racing seems to be the cleanest it has ever been, but at what cost? The rate of innovation on the product side is staggering and while some of those changes have been embraced (who doesn’t love GPS?), others have left some us of wary and suspicious (hydraulic disc brakes on road bikes). The ten-speed boom this ain’t.
So here’s this week’s question: Suppose for an instant you were the president of the UCI or WADA or the new CEO for some big bike company or maybe a brilliant engineer being courted by a bunch of VC money. Better yet, suppose you were some all-powerful god-like being, but just for 15 minutes. Suppose you had the power to change some fundamental piece of cycling for the better, what would you choose? What would you devote your energy to, how would you improve our world?
For Part I, click here.
Evaluating road feel
In the past year I’ve ridden roughly a dozen different bikes for 50 miles or more—enough to get pretty familiar with them. Of those bikes (some of them will be coming through in other reviews I’ve yet to write), the Roubaix proved to be among the easiest to fit to me.
I’ve heard people at Specialized as well as a number of retailers mention the “new” geometry for the Roubaix. It’s a detail I repeated a few times until I actually looked at the geometry chart. Across its six sizes, the bike hasn’t changed by a millimeter. The only significant change I can see that will affect the bike’s handling is that I’m not seeing the bike with that long, conic top cap anymore (and followed by three or four centimeters of spacers). And despite continued assertions by others, I’ve verified this with the manufacturer. No change in the head tube length.
So while the geometry of the Roubaix remains unchanged, that doesn’t mean this bike hasn’t evolved significantly. The SL4 iteration of the Roubaix introduces yet another expression of the Zertz technology. Where previously the Zertz inserts were inserted into openings molded into the fork and seatstays and were held in place by their contours, they now wrap around the fork blades and seatstays and are secured with small bolts. This change has a two-fold effect; first, it eliminates the extra material required to form those openings, making the bike lighter and, second, the new attachment method has resulted in improved vibration reduction, according to testing that Specialized performed.
Specialized added a new new seatpost, the CG-R that cantilevers the seat clamp in order to create more of a pivot action with the carbon arm that holds the clamp supported by a high-durometer Zertz damper. The combination of Zertz dampers in both the seatpost and seatstays means that even less vibration is being transmitted to the rider’s hindquarters than ever before.
While Specialized claims that the CG-R offers a whopping 18mm of suspension action, I have my doubts that I got even a full centimeter of travel. So while I quibble with that number, I’d hate for that to obscure the fact that this seatpost does cushion the ride, and I can say that because I tried the Roubaix without that seatpost and I tried that seatpost in another bike; it definitely changes what you feel at the saddle.
I can tell you that this bike was built with Specialized’s FACT 11r construction, but the simple reality is that having typed those words, they don’t really mean anything. This business of constantly coming up with arcane nomenclature mostly doesn’t serve the consumer that well because it doesn’t do anything to enable a consumer to make an apples-to-apples comparison of different bikes. What I can tell you is this: as Specialized has moved from FACT 9r to FACT 10r and now FACT 11r, those jumps have been meaningful enough that they’ve translated to bikes that were stiffer under pedaling forces, lighter and arguably stronger, given that I can report anecdotally I saw fewer riders taking their bikes back to the dealer for frame cracks.
More important are the lengths Specialized had gone to optimize the ride quality for each size. It’s not uncommon for a brand to use the same chainstays or the same wishbone seatstay and the same fork for every single model. By varying tube diameter and layup for each size bike, the Roubaix is one of a select group of bikes that offers such a tuned ride.
The S-Works Roubaix SL4 is a far cry from the original Roubaix. Honestly, all they really share is geometry. My sense is that the S-Works SL4 conveys a similar amount of vibration to the rider as the original Roubaix, though I have to grant I haven’t been able to go back and ride one of the original bikes to verify that assertion. But I’m willing to put that out there because I know that as frames see weight reductions thanks to better compaction, using superior fibers and cutting the amount of material used, those advancements cause more vibration to move through the frame. In short, the very features that cause the Roubaix to be a better bike today are the wrinkles that make shielding a rider from vibration ever more difficult. Just treading water in this game is a win.
The upshot is that this is one of the most comfortable bikes on the market, easily in my top three, when considered for vibration damping. What truly sets the Roubaix apart from other bikes in its class is that it still has the performance of a sport (or “racing”) bike. As much as I really like the live-wire feel of a bike that makes no effort to shield the rider from vibration, there is something positively welcoming to climbing on the Roubaix. As I’ve put it previously, we may dream of owning a Ferrari, but you would probably prefer to stick with a Lexus for your daily driver. Honestly, smooth sells itself.
As I mentioned in Part I of my review, the geometry on the Roubaix hasn’t changed since the model was launched, but this bike is a marked improvement over the original. Several features contribute to that evolution and improvement. Because the bike is both stiffer and lighter now, that improved feedback in handling and reduced mass means it’s easier to ride the bike aggressively. By spec’ing the bike with Roval carbon fiber clinchers and new, lighter Roubaix tires, it’s easier to dive into turns, which allowed me to compensate some for the calm handling, which is imparted by the long wheelbase and low bottom bracket. So, while Roubaix has only 5.6cm of train in the 56cm size, a bit less than its Italian predecessors, its 101cm wheelbase and 7.15cm of BB drop are what give this bike its deliberate demeanor.
When you combine the Roubaix’s ability to smooth out roads and impart confidence to a rider, what you get is a bike that is my preferred ride for rough descents. That’s a quality that is particularly useful in the Sierra where many of the descents feature wide-open turns on surfaces that are sometimes—well, let’s just say I’ve been on smoother fire roads.
Because the Zertz are dead weight in the frame, in order to present a 14.3-lb. bike, Specialized had to pull out essentially all the stops. Details like hollow dropouts, longer fiber runs, and more size-specific features, such as 1 1/8″ steerers in the smallest frames, 1 1/4″ in the mid-sized frames and 1 3/8″ in the largest sizes; this also aids rider comfort.
On the parts side, my bike was equipped SRAM Red as well as an S-Works bar and stem, plus the aforementioned CG-R seatpost. An S-Works crank is substituted for the Red unit. The Roval Rapide CLX 40s with Ceramicspeed bearings follow the example of Zipp’s Firecrest and Enve’s SES wheels which are designed around the idea using the spoke bed as a second leading edge. The way these wheels handled in the wind only served to confirm my previous experience that this rim shape makes a big difference, sending markedly less steering input to the rider than traditional deep-V designs. That said, braking performance was decidedly lacking. It was better than an aluminum rim in wet conditions, but it was far less than I’ve come to (reasonably) expect from a set of carbon clinchers.
My review bike, which included mechanical calipers carried a retail of $8000. Specialized supplanted this version with models sporting either SRAM’s hydro road rim brake or the hydro road disc, which run $500 more. Unfortunately, due to SRAM’s recall of those brakes, those bikes aren’t available in exactly those configurations currently. You may find them on the shop floor; SRAM is providing mechanical disks (cable-actuated) for all those who really can’t wait to have a disc version.
An $8k bike is more than many of us can afford, but here again, Specialized sets itself apart from many of its competitors by offering a stunning 15 different versions of this bike, from the $10,500 Dura-Ace Di2-equipped bike all the way down to an $1800-version. Very few companies come anywhere near this level of selection.
Specialized has taken some hits to its reputation in the last few years, first with the lawsuit against Volagi, then with the C&D letter to Cafe Roubaix. In both situations both parties claimed victory; whether that was true was really a matter of perspective. What was certain for all to see was the hit Specialized’s public image took. It’s a shame that ill-handled actions on the part of Specialized’s legal team should obscure the achievement on the part of the company’s product team. This is one fantastic bike.
I’m going to be candid. I think it’s fair to say that categorically the head tubes on race-oriented road bikes are too short. To be clear, I’m referring to the bikes that the big pro teams are riding, models like the Trek Madone, Specialized Tarmac, Giant TCR and Cervelo R5, what I typically refer to as “sport” bikes. That’s why when Specialized introduced the Roubaix nearly 10 years ago I concluded that it was one of the best carbon-fiber road bikes on the market designed for real people.
Designing bikes for the needs or at least the perceived needs of top level pros has proven to be a double-edged sword. Thanks to the input from some of the strongest riders in the world you and I have the good fortune to ride bikes that are stiffer under pedaling forces and in cornering. Some of them have remained remarkably comfortable; others, less so. What I continue to marvel at is the incredible diversity of experiences out there. Not only are the significantly greater differences between top-of-the-line road bikes for most brands than there were back when everyone’s top road bike was made from steel, there’s also the fact that now many brands offer a sport bike, a grand touring bike, as well as an aero road bike. The interesting detail in this is that for most brands that offer all three models or at least a race bike and a grand touring model, the race bike still is the sales leader.
There’s an interesting back story, not just to this bike, but to this category, because the simple truth is that when Specialized introduced the Roubaix, they didn’t just launch a bike, they launched a category. If we get in the Wayback Machine® and set it for 1984, the bikes we will see in the better bike shops will have a bunch of details in common. They’ll have a long wheelbase (100cm or more for a 58cm frame), a lowish bottom bracket (all the Italian stuff will be 26.5cm or lower) and a moderate amount of trail (5.9cm was common). They’ll also have a stunning amount of flex by today’s standards. The Roubaix is essentially that bike, just lighter and stiffer. In other words, the Roubaix is a bike that—from a geometry standpoint—has been around a long time.
So what changed?
Well, back then what a Roubaix is was just a road bike. However, we can say with considerable authority that the bike industry has chased stiffness ever since. A funny thing happened along the way. Stiffer tube sets allow a builder to give a bike quicker geometry. So as bikes got stiffer, we make them more nimble because that’s what racers wanted. This is evolution at its finest. Descent with modification means that by the time the Roubaix was introduced, nothing on the market handled like that anymore. Sure, there were custom builders still producing bikes like that, but there wasn’t anything on a bike shop showroom floor like the Roubaix. It took the introduction of a production model to turn this into a category. For that, Specialized in general, and Mike Sinyard in specific, deserve a lot of credit.
Even though bikes became quicker handling thanks to ever-stiffer frames, the opposite wasn’t untrue. Full points to Sinyard for being the first guy to realize that you could use top-shelf carbon fiber to build a light, stiff frame that handled like the old Italian stage-race bikes.
Since Specialized introduced the Roubaix I’ve been pretty vocal in touting it as an example of the bike that most people should be riding. I’ve often seen people on group rides overreact in situations because they’re on a quick-handling bike. While it’s impossible to say definitively, I think many dicey situations I’ve seen could have been calmed, if not averted, had at least a few of the people involved been on bikes that are slower to react.
That we even need the Roubaix and its ilk is tragicomic. Production race bikes have ultra-short head tubes because that’s what pros want. And anyone who has been to see pro racing up close knows that a great many, possibly most, pros ride bikes that don’t fit them. The bar is often too low and the reach too great, all part of that effort to get that ultra-aero flat back. To make sure that the bike will turn when you have that much weight on the front end, you have to build the bike around 5cm of trail, maybe a tad more. So what happens when you put 6cm of spacers between the headset and the stem? The bike handles wicked quick, that’s what. It’s essentially a different bike that what the pros ride just because the weight distribution is so different.
Which brings us back to the Roubaix and other bikes in the grand touring category. I’ve heard these bikes referred to as “old man bikes.” They should more properly be referred to as “bikes designed around good fit.” That would be more accurate.
Case in point: Most of the time, when I look at a bike’s geometry chart, I struggle to decide whether the 56 or 58 will be the better fit because it’s rare anyone offers a 57. The geometry of most grand touring bikes makes that choice much easier. Let me put it this way: If I remove all the spacers below the stem and run it on the top cap of the headset, that puts the bar below my preferred fit. That leads me to think that the head tube, unlike what some people have suggested, isn’t too long. The top tube on the 56 (or “large”) is 56.5cm and when paired with a 12cm stem, the result is one of the best fits for me I’ve found in production bikes.
One aspect of the Roubaix that I think gets overlooked is the fact that while the Roubaix itself comes in six sizes, the Ruby—the women’s model—comes in another five sizes, from 44cm to 57cm. Considering the fact that the Ruby does come in a gender neutral finish each year (this year, it’s white), this gives a fitter the chance to pick a bike not just for its size, but also for the rider’s weight. Were I shopping for a skinny adolescent boy, the Ruby would be near the top of my list because it features a bit more vertical flex (thanks to less carbon) in order to yield the same comfortable ride for someone who weighs 120 lbs. as the Roubaix will yield for a 160-lb. man. The upshot is that the Roubaix has the ability to fit someone as short as 4’11″ and someone as tall as 6’3″, not to mention offering some choices based on weight.
If it seems I’ve gone overly deep into the why of the Roubaix and just what this category means to both consumers and the bike industry, there’s a reason, if not a method behind this. I’m going to be reviewing a number of bikes from this category this year and I want to frame some of my larger observations now. This review will be a reference point later this year.
I spent most of last week in Phoenix, Arizona, at an event organized for members of the media by Skratch Labs. The lectures and Q&A sessions resulted in the closest I’ve come to feeling like someone inserted a memory stick directly into my brain in some years.
I don’t mind admitting that a significant portion of my bedrock assumptions about cycling have changed over the last two years. I won’t rehash everything that’s changed thanks to USADA, but in addition to that, there have been some big changes in tires and wheels, not to mention bicycles. On top of this pile, I now toss what I used to know, or thought I knew, about hydration and on-the-bike fueling.
I’d come to an uneasy detente with hydration, much the way I had with doping. I knew there was more to it than meets the eye, but the numbers didn’t add up. Specifically, drink makers have been marketing drinks that are supposed to be mixed at a 6 to 8-percent solution. Go any higher and you risked gastrointestinal distress, yet these same manufacturers are also marketing bars, chews and gels you’re meant to consume—also while on the bike.
The math didn’t work for me: drink mix + bar = need for extra bottle of water. The alternative was no better: drink mix + bar = GI distress. But I prefer having something with flavor, and because the marketing and sales staffers at some of these companies were clearly more concerned with selling me more product (or at least getting me to use more of their product), getting the truth from them was harder than getting a kiss from a nun.
Here’s where I have to credit Skratch Labs and Osmo Nutrition for taking the time to explain to me just how the body really works. Too often products are created that look great on the blackboard but don’t really work in real life. Here’s an example: Maltodextrin. Sure, I’ve seen some spectacular bonks due to people drinking water but not eating enough, but all the truly flashy fireworks (and I mean that almost literally) occurred when riders focused on drinks laden with maltodextrin. The sales pitch was always that a malto-sweetened drink would deliver huge numbers of calories in an easy-to-digest chain of glucose molecules. Then I crewed for a RAAM rider and watched her firehose a malto-laden drink into a ditch from her bike. What I didn’t understand until last week was that maltodextrin begins breaking down the moment it hits your mouth. It continues breaking down in your stomach, so by the time it reaches your small intestine, what you have is hundreds of calories of glucose and only water enough to help absorb about half of them. The rest goes in one of two directions. She didn’t have enough water to absorb all that sugar so her body ejected the rest. Not pretty.
And that’s just one of the minefields out there that I personally witnessed.
Even though Skratch Labs and Osmo Nutrition are incredibly competitive with each other, they’ve done a lot to give me something I can believe, and I’ve got two good reasons to believe. First, there’s the simple fact that I have found I ride better on both Skratch and Osmo than I do on anything else. Even more significant is that I felt better at the end of a long ride if I’d stuck to Skratch or Osmo. Second is the fact that these two companies are not only singing from the same song book, but they have been followed down this path by Clif, which is reformulating its drink mix to take the same approach to hydration. I’m accustomed to dealing with brands that try to convince me they make the only drink mix that could possibly work, that everyone else has it wrong, that without their mix, I’m destined to fall off my bike in the most epic bonk in the history of hypoglycemia. It gets old.
At root, what Osmo and Skratch Labs offer is a drink mix that keeps the mix of carbohydrate and electrolyte low, in the 2 to 3-percent range. As I’ve heard from both companies, the point is to include just enough sugar and salt to speed up gastric emptying.
Our sessions in Phoenix were led by Allen Lim. Yes, that Allen Lim; he of PowerTap, Floyd Landis, the Garmin team and even Lance Armstrong, he of the Ph.D. in exercise physiology. The guy at the root of the biological passport. Here’s how it was explained (in significant detail) to me: Plain water will move into your bloodstream by passing through the semi-permeable membrane. This process is slow, but it works. Use a sports drink with too strong a solution and water will be pulled into your small intestine in order to dilute the mix. The approach that Skratch Labs and Osmo have taken is based on studies that show that in that 2 to 3-percent solution range a roughly two-to-one mix of salt to sugar will cause something akin to floodgates to open, pulling water into your bloodstream far more quickly than can be accomplished by plain water moving across the semipermeable membrane.
It’s a huge relief to me to be able to write about something I’ve found success with and be able to show that I haven’t just chugged one brand’s Kool Aid.
That said, Skratch Labs will give you a half-dozen reasons why their product is distinctly different—and superior—to Osmo. Likewise, Osmo will swear that they are working from the latest science and that their stuff works even better. As a consumer, you could benefit from trying both, or you could conclude that because Skratch Labs offers a pineapple flavor, that’s your new go-to flavor. Believe me, I’m right there with you on that, though I’m becoming a fan of the raspberry as well.
Over the years, what I’ve learned is that I can drink just about anything and get through a three-hour ride. What Skratch Labs and Osmo help me to do is last longer so that my fifth hour is as strong as my third and as I pointed out earlier, ultimately finish a ride with more in the tank. So even though I’m no longer racing, on a weekend day, I need to get off the bike and be able to function. It’s not really okay for me to stagger from the garage, complain that I’m shredded, eat while bent over the sink, pass out on the couch in my kit and wake up as the sun is going down. Would it be too much to suggest that Skratch Labs improves domestic harmony?
Not at my home.
If you go to Europe and spend enough time kicking around bike shops and talking to distributors you’ll find that seemingly every pro who ever won Paris-Roubaix more than once or stood on the top step of the podium of a grand tour has his own line of bikes. Most of them never made it stateside, and among the ones that did, Eddy Merckx is to exception what Bernard Hinault is to rule. I know of at least two attempts to bring his bikes to North American that ended with such anonymity you’d think the line had been launched by one of his domestiques, not the Badger himself.
Into this non-fray Chris Boardman, holder of the “absolute” hour record, has chosen to distinguish himself. Here’s the funny thing: he just might pull it off. Forget for a second that you need a great product with killer marketing to connect with consumers; you’ll never get there if you don’t have distribution. By partnering with Competitive Cyclist (which has had a near-Midas-touch with helping to give a brand credibility) while also seeking select high-end dealers, Boardman is off to an effective start.
Another important ingredient: effective public speaking. Brands need a figurehead, someone who can help project a persona on which to hang the identity of the bikes. I watched a video of Boardman talking about his bikes and the development that went into each model and realized that he has a rare talent for talking intelligently about his product line; he’s good in front of the camera, engaging like few CEOs in the bike industry.
Then there’s the product. My visit focused on the road bike, the aero road bike and their ‘cross bike. I was able to ride the road bike on the second day’s ride but never shot it. Insert sizable d’oh.
What I saw in the bikes that made me interested in them was a simplicity of design, a lack of affect, that is, funny contours that can’t be supported by solid engineering. I love great industrial design that results in products that are as beautiful as they are functional, but that means that if a bike looks like it was drawn by a Victorian costumer so that it has frills and ruffles where a straight line would do, well then I’m probably out.
In the Boardman line I saw bikes that repeated the best ideas that I’m seeing on a number of other bikes. The down tubes are massive and squarish. The seatstays had all the moxie of a number two pencil. The chainstays curved upward in an effort to make the rear triangle a little more supple; think pasta al dente. Of course, all of that could have just been sharp presentation. Making a bike that looks like other popular bikes is easy to do, especially if you already have a Taiwanese factory ready to work for you, but making it ride right is another matter.
When I took the road bike out, I’ll admit that I wasn’t holding my breath. Sure, my conversation with Fletch and Andy, the Boardman representatives, went well, but I’ve had people fudge significant details before. The bike I rode, the SLR 9.8 is SRAM Red 22-equipped and frame weight in the medium size (55.5cm top tube) is said to weigh 798 grams. I can say from some experience that once a frame is down under the 900g threshold, the bike will feel lively just because there’s not a ton of material to result in a dead-feeling frame. The more material in the frame, the more zombie-like the feel.
Stay tuned for a review of the Air, their aero frame, sometime later this year.
This was my first chance to take a look at Box components. They are better known as a maker of BMX components, but they’ve been gradually adding more and more mountain components to their range of offerings. They’re offering some stuff that will be of interest to ‘cross riders, such as a linear-pull brake that mounts to cantilever posts.
What makes them especially interesting is that they’ve branched out beyond just those parts that are easy to CNC machine—namely, linear-pull brakes, cantilevers, levers, stems and the like.
Box has been working in concert with their sister brand Promax (owned by their factory), to introduce a hydraulic disc brake.
This is the Promax-branded version, but a Box version, which should look a bit more elegant is on the way.
But here’s the really impressive part: Box has tackled the drivetrain. This rear derailleur is already in production.
This is the shifter, which was the most exciting component to me. This shifter is the patent minefield, the thing that requires not just some good engineering sense, but creativity by the warehouse. To downshift, you simply push the paddle forward like you would other shifters. To upshift, you push the portion of the paddle past the fold (with the little dots) in toward the shifter unit. In my time playing with it in the stand it performed solidly.
Orbea, the Basque brand best-known for sponsoring the Euskaltel-Euskadi team for their run, was on-hand to show two mountain bikes, the Alma and the Rallon (say Ray-own). While the company is best-known in the U.S. as a road brand, they’ve more than proven themselves as a mountain bike brand in Europe due to the success of cross country riders like Julien Absalon and Georgia Gould.
The Alma is a hardtail Orbea offers in 27.5″ and 29″ wheels. Unlike some (most) brands that will base a model on one wheel size, Orbea took the approach of using 27.5″ wheels for the 15.5″, while offering the 17.5″ in both 27.5″ and 29″ wheels and then offering the 19″ and 21″ versions in 29″ wheels exclusively. It’s their belief that wheel size is less a choice than a function of rider size and to a lesser degree type of bike. It makes a lot of sense to me.
The Rallon is the company’s new enduro bike. It features 27.5″ wheels and 160mm of travel front and rear. They’re putting a big push behind this bike with the announcement of a new enduro team they’re sponsoring. As much as I know the Alma is the bike that Orbea is known for, the Rallon is the bike I’m excited to ride.
Campagnolo came to show their new internal battery system for the EPS group. Those two nuts you see in the battery above allow small screws to go in through a frame’s water bottle bosses and secure the battery. The screws are threaded on both ends so that you can still mount a water bottle. I’ll admit that at first I though that even though the battery was slim, I figured it would only be mounted in the seat tube, the exception being larger frames. Surprisingly, Campy’s tech guru Dan Large showed me that he could slip the battery into the down tube of even small frames.
Campy’s engineers devised an ingenious system of cables ending in magnets to capture the cables and feed them through the frame. I recall how challenging we used to find just routing a brake cable through a top tube if there wasn’t a guide and I’d conclude this battery system all but impossible to install without the guides from Campy.
For seat tube installations, there’s a threaded rod that allow the installer to lower the battery into the seat tube and hold it in position until the first screw can be inserted.
To charge the battery, the installer drills a small hole in the frame and the charging port is mounted. The cable for the charging port is long enough to give the installer a fair amount of latitude on just where the port is positioned.
Also on display was Campy’s new Over Torque crankset, which was announced last fall. Rather than using a split spindle, the Over Torque now uses a one-piece titanium spindle. The new crank is really mean to address the proliferation of new bottom bracket standards. using different adapter cups, it will work with BB30, BB386 and PF30
The Over Torque crank moves the bearings as far outboard as the spindle will allow. It’s available in two versions, the Ultra Comp and the Camp 1. The Ultra Comp is said to drop of 54 grams from the crank (for a claimed weight of 563g) as well as offer a five percent increase in stiffness.
Vision was on hand to show a number of additions to their product line, including this bar, a variation on FSA’s popular K-Wing design. Despite my regard for this bar, I had to ask the guys a fairly elemental question: What’s the difference? As it turns out, there are a few notable differences between the two bars. The first, biggest distinction is the effort on the part of Vision to clarify its position in the market. Previously, Vision was strictly a triathlon line; it is being transitioned into a line that encompasses all aerodynamic race-quality components. FSA’s K-Force line will remain the lightweight stuff, parts that won’t offer the same level of stiffness as those from Vision.
Like the K-Wing compact, the Metron 4D bar has an 80mm reach and 125mm drop. However, this bar offers a five degree forward sweep as well as a slight outward bend in the drop to make the reach to the brake levers easier.
Every now and then I encounter a product that defies expectations. It can be a bike from a storied brand that rides like a Huffy, or it can be something I suspect will be absolute junk that turns out to be at least silver if not gold. That very thing happened to me on the first day of Winter PressCamp.
Before I arrived and got my schedule I had no idea who or what Infinity Cycling was. New brands come and go from cycling like African governments, so I didn’t feel like I’d been remiss in my duties in not finding out just what this company did. Upon walking over to their booth, I noticed a bunch of saddle prototypes plus some old saddles and then something that was more air than saddle.
I’m going to be perfectly honest and admit I groaned a bit—on the inside. When I looked at the saddle my mind immediately went to the Selle SMP. I’d ridden one—for less than 10 miles—some years ago. I made the mistake of putting it on one Friday night and on Saturday morning I rolled out for the training ride and had to turn around before I was half-way there because the thing was so uncomfortable for me. I missed the ride as a result of the saddle swap and I found myself angry over that stupid detail. While the anger subsided, my dislike of the saddle never did. I’m aware there are people who like, even love, that saddle. My body won’t budge on that detail. So when I spied the Infinity saddle, I groaned.
Here’s why: I didn’t want to have a meeting with someone and be polite about a product that wasn’t going to work for me. I don’t like lying to people. But I didn’t want to argue with someone about how the saddle design did little more than hurt me. And how could any saddle design with less surface area than a Selle SMP not hurt worse than that saddle.
Here’s the funny thing: I was wrong. I sat down—albeit in jeans—and then proceeded to pedal a spin-type bike. The way you sit on the saddle requires what appears to be a significantly higher saddle position than you might expect but there was no denying that I was pedaling without pain or a constant need to shift. I reveled in being perfectly honest. I told its design, Dr. Vincent Marcel—he’s a chiropractor—that I was uncomfortable on the Selle SMP and as a result expected not to be comfortable on his saddle. I can’t help but wonder just how many times he’s heard something similar.
To his credit, he has located a number of people who believe in his design, even without riding it. To bring the saddle to market he used a Kickstarter campaign and raised nearly $800,000, more than 700 percent more than his goal. His is a classic Kickstarter success story.
I can’t say if this saddle will be comfortable over a 100-mile ride, but I’m confident I could do 20 miles on it without regret. One notable detail about it is that it’s a real one-position saddle; it’s not like a Fi:zi’k Arione on which you can slide forward and back at will. Philosophically, it’s much closer to the Aliante, a much more contoured saddle.
Reynolds Cycling was the first company to put a carbon clincher into large-scale production. That gave them an advantage in terms of market penetration but it also meant that early adopters satisfied with their wheels didn’t necessarily progress to their newer technology. I’m beginning with this shot of the inside of the rim to show just how clean their molding is. I’ve seen a lot of carbon wheels and that level of precision at the inner wall and bead hook isn’t common.
We spent much of our session discussing their Aero line of wheels which includes four different depths: 46mm, 58mm, 72mm and 90mm. These wheels range from $2675 to $2975 and are the wheels most directly meant to be competitive with Zipp, Enve and the like. While the wheels are a traditional deep-V design, I’m told they’ve worked on the rim shape to make them more stable in cross winds, and while I haven’t had a chance to ride them yet, I can at least report from previous experience that not all deep-V rims are created equal when it comes to crosswinds.
One of the questions I posed to Reynolds’ Paul Lew was whether the company had found in wind tunnel if a particular brand of tire resulted in better aero performance. Their answer surprised and intrigued me. He said that thanks to that little notch you see in that rim cross-section above that comes just beyond the brake track, differences between different tires are really minimized. Their testing showed that 23mm tires definitely are performing better than 25s or anything deeper, but that notch is meant to neutralize the difference between tire profiles so that you can run any tire you like and not suffer a penalty. It’s a fascinating concept; I hate the idea that I’m going to be slower if I run Tire A rather than Tire B.
Given the amount of resistance I encounter from readers any time I review a set of wheels that get north of $2500, I have to admit that I was especially interested in Reynolds’ Performance line of wheels. Three wheels comprise the line: the 29mm Attack ($1575), the 41mm Assault SLG ($1800) and the 90mm Strike SLG ($1900). I know that’s still a fair amount of money for a set of wheels but it’s a chance to get first-rate American production along with what I’m hearing is stellar braking thanks to Reynolds’ CTg technology, which stands for Cryogenic Glass Transition, which is really just a fancy way of saying they’ve put a lot of effort into matching their brake pad compound with the resin used in their wheels. They’ve also introduced a new, larger brake pad, the Cryo-Blue Power which reportedly offers a 33-percent increase in braking power in dry conditions and a 42-percent increase in braking power in wet conditions. I’m intrigued by the possibility that a set of carbon wheels might actually brake better in wet conditions than an aluminum clincher. I’ve got a set of the brake pads and am just waiting on a set of wheels to review.
I’ve written previously how I was not an electric bike believer even despite having an experience that gave me an ear-wide grin. What changed my opinion was when I considered the impact that electric bikes could have on society. Every additional person riding an e-bike who didn’t used to ride at all, or rode less is another person who thinks of him or herself as a cyclist. That’s one more person who sees the rest of us as like-minded souls, not the other. E-bikes have the ability to increase the range of those who might only have ridden in their own neighborhood previously, exposing them to more traffic and helping them appreciate how important a little extra room on the road can be.
In addition to helping evolve minds and making the roads safer, people using e-bikes to run errands and commute to work has the potential to reduce the number of cars on the road. That means less gas usage, lower emissions, fewer cars on the road which will reduce congestion, not to mention healthier people. There’s not another segment of cycling growing as fast as the e-bike category. And there’s always a chance that today’s e-bike enthusiast will be tomorrow’s new roadie. In my head there’s not a single downside to the e-bike.
This was my first chance to look at any of the bikes from Currie Tech. The first bike I rode was the eFlow E3 Nitro. At $3500, it’s not nearly as expensive as the Specialized Turbo and Currie offers a one-year same-as-cash financing deal. The motor sits in the rear wheel, which is the most common location for them. They hide (if you can call it that) the battery in the seat tube, which places that extra mass in-line with your body, making the bike pretty easy to handle.
The E3 Nitro gives the user a choice between a twist throttle (above) and just placing the bike in one of several modes that simply add to the wattage you put into the pedals. The name is a bit over the top, but the bike has a terrific, even zippy, feel. It’s the sort of thing that were my parents a decade or two younger, I’d recommend to them to keep them outside and active.
Just which mode the bike operates in can be selected easily with the plus and minus buttons on the left side of the computer. I fault the web site for deluging users with too much technical info. It’s tough to get high-end brands to publish that much info on their bikes, but for a purchase that seems unlikely to be overly analytical given the relative inexperience of the typical buyer, the web site is utterly overwhelming. It’s a shame because the bike itself isn’t.
Currie Tech also distributes the Haibike line of e-bikes. Haibike is a higher-end line of bikes for the more performance-oriented rider. The Haibike line includes a trekking bike (pictured above) plus a flat-bar road bike and a full-suspension mountain bike. They range in price from, on the low end, $4000 all the way up to $8600 for one of the full-suspension mountain bikes.
The bikes use Bosch’s transmission which puts the power into the crank. Selling points are that if you try to pedal with no power assist all you’re doing is pedaling a heavy bike, unlike bikes like the eFlow, which force you to overcome the generator, plus you can swap out wheels any time you want. Of course, the drive system is really noticeable, but you get better battery life with this system.
Users can select five modes of operation, from no assist at all to roughly a 300 percent assist; that is, nearly 3 watts added to every watt you put out. I nearly lost control of the bike when I goosed the pedals a bit too much as I was turning around in tight quarters. The trekking bike had particular appeal to me because it seemed better spec’d for commuting and errand running, thanks to the rack and fenders.
I have to admit that I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for me in terms of decreasing fitness. I’m much slower than I was 10 years ago, and while I think I’ve got the ability to get much of that lost ground back this year, I have to admit that there will come a point where my current fitness will become a year’s high-water mark. An electric assist bike may become my way of knocking out 80 miles when I’m 70 years old. It seems a weird thought, but I don’t have to make my peace with that today.
I’m in Rancho Palos Verdes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, about 45 minutes south of where I live in Redondo Beach, Calif. I’m attending the first-ever Winter Press Camp, held at the Terranea Resort which sits on a cliff overlooking one of the most gorgeous stretches of California coastline there is. It’s prettier than Heidi Klum washed with unicorn tears.
I’m here to meet with 11 different manufacturers, from the gargantuan SRAM to a Lilliputian saddle manufacturer whose Kickstarter funded at more than 700 percent of their goal. It’s an interesting collection of products, to be sure.
I’ve attended one other Press Camp event, during the summer of 2012. I’m a big believer in not just the event, but its unique format. Unlike a typical trade show where you just wander around at your own pace, meetings are set up in advance and you spend 45 minutes in session with each manufacturer. It eliminates interruptions and allows for a more in-depth presentation of a company’s wares and all the manufacturers here are showing a limited number of products so they can really focus the visit to a targeted objective.
There’s a break after lunch in which we go for a ride one of of the bikes here. Because the PV Peninsula is my ‘hood, I’m leading both the road rides and doing my utmost to make sure and show these kids some views that are the visual equivalent of a taser. I’ll be back tomorrow with the first of my reports on the products I saw.
Dorel, the parent company behind Cannondale, Schwinn, GT, Mongoose, Iron Horse and Sugoi purchased the Canadian brand Guru last year. In doing so, Dorel was able to bring into the fold a new fitting system based around what might be the most sophisticated fitting device on the market, the Guru Dynamic Fit Unit. We got a look at the Dynamic Fit Unit at Interbike and had a chance to see the basic process for taking someone through a fit.
During the Cannondale team introduction I had a chance to go through a fitting with Colby Marple from Guru. The Guru system offers two different levels of fit, one for production bikes and another should you want to have a custom bike (say a Guru) produced to your personal requirements.
The fitting began with me being scanned by a Kinect unit. Yes, Kinect as in Xbox. As it turns out, Guru’s lead software developer was one of the original developers working on the Kinect unit. The Guru software includes a database of production bikes and their geometry. Based on its scan of me, we were able to choose a couple of different bike models and it quickly showed how neatly I fall between the 56 and 58 sizes.
The Dynamic Fit Unit (DFU) is the real heart of the system. Quick release clamps allow for easy swapping of both saddles and handlebars and the cranks can be adjusted to provide riders the recommended crank length.
For those familiar with the latest version of the Serotta Size Cycle, one of its big selling points is the ability to use an electric driver to make handlebar and saddle position adjustments while the rider pedals. The ability to move smoothly through a range of possible reaches, bar heights and saddle heights is one of the two biggest advancements in fit methodology of the last 25 years, the other being the rider flexibility assessment. I had one of the original Serotta Size Cycles in my garage for about a year and I’d use it to experiment with my fit. The difference between getting off the bike, making an adjustment and getting back on vs. pedaling continuously while the bar or saddle moves is the difference between the Dewey Decimal System and the Internet. It’s just no comparison.
Where the Guru DFU differs with the Serotta Size Cycle is that servo motors in the DFU unit make precise adjustments based on keyboard inputs by the fit tech, resulting in changes of higher precision and performed at greater speed. But that’s not all. Supposing you like your bar position relative to your saddle height but you want your saddle to go up a centimeter. The DFU fitter can make the two changes simultaneously. Similarly, say you want to try a slightly steeper seat tube angle, the DFU can simultaneously raise your saddle and bring it forward while also dropping the bar and moving it forward in order to preserve the saddle-to-bar relationship.
Wait, that’s not all.
The full-on Ginsu pitch is that the fitter can rock the full position back to simulate climbing on almost any gradient in order to allow you to experience what that position will feel like on Mt. Shootmenow. And if you’re getting a mountain bike fit, you can be swung forward to simulate an ultra-steep descent to get a feel for just how much weight you’ll have on the bike’s front wheel.
My view is that a fit system is just a tool. From the gear to the methodology, a fit system is just a tool to do a job. In the hands of someone with minimal training, it might not be a very effective tool. However, in the hands of someone like Cyclologic’s Paraic McGlynn or Bike Effect’s Steve Carre, the DFU is the most powerful dynamic fitting tool I’ve encountered. This thing could make a great fitter as formidable as Peter Sagan is in a sprint.
My session resulted in a fit that I’d be willing to put my faith in. It differs from my current fit by less than a centimeter in saddle height, while the bar position was more than a centimeter higher with roughly the same reach. I should mention here that because I move between a number of bikes on an ongoing basis and between as many saddles, I’ve grown immune to small differences in ft. I had to learn to put up with changes in my fit from bike to bike, even when I’ve gone to great lengths to replicate my position exactly. Exactly just never happens. Because I’ve managed to ride well on a number of bikes with slightly differing fits, I’ve come to believe that when someone (be it fitter or rider) starts to get fussy about that last millimeter they are failing to understand the inherent adaptability of the body. And I write this with the knowing admission that I’ve suffered problems at the hands of bad fits by alleged fit experts.
I think part of the genius of the DFU is that all the rider has to go on is the feel of the fit. With no stem to look at nor the visual cue of seeing the drop from the saddle to the bar framed by the bike itself, all you can really go on is the feel of sitting in the saddle and reaching for the bar. When the original Serotta Size Cycle was introduced I was skeptical that a good fit could be achieved by a fitter simply listening to feedback from the rider. I was perhaps right to be suspicious of the original iteration, but today it’s an approach that makes terrific sense. It does require that the person being fitted talk a lot about what he or she is experiencing as the key to a good fit is communication, but even a relatively quiet person can get a great fit from a good fitter. The best can see unwanted muscle tension the way poker players can suss out tells.
Finally, I’ll grant that it might be a challenge to place your faith in this approach until you’ve experienced it. I learned to give a lot of feedback as either the bar or saddle is moving: no, no, no, not bad, okay, yes, yes, errmm, nah, no, no, no. It was interesting to me that Colby had the same reaction to my feedback that Steve Carre at Bike Effect did. They both noted that they saw an easing of tension in my shoulders just as I started to say “yes.”
Again, the Guru system is just a tool, and that goes double for the DFU. However, in the hands of a great fitter I think the DFU has the ability to help a fitter arrive at a result that the client will believe in. Why? Well the dirty little secret of fitting is that the single biggest challenge a fitter faces is getting the client to not just adopt the recommendations, but to stick with them long term rather than switching the bike back after a ride or two. The DFU provides an experience that makes the recommendation one’s own, not some outside piece of advice. When I was first trained as a fitter, recommendations were made based on a set of tables the correlated to the rider’s personal dimensions. The process was effectly: here’s what you are, so here’s what your fit should be.
The DFU, more than any other fitting tool I’ve encountered, upends that convention by making the fitting a matter of self-selected comfort. That might seem obvious to the point of naive, but really a proper fit is fundamentally a function of comfort and who can better know your comfort than you?
In the last two years, I’ve ridden a bunch of mountain bike tires. They’ve ranged from race-worthy cross-country tires to brutes suited to trail and even enduro riding. I’ll admit that I’ve had, if not an agenda, a goal. I wanted to find a reliable tire for Southern California conditions. Those conditions are entirely unlike what I experienced in New England or the South. In those latter two, mud was an ever-present issue.
The conditions I encounter here in SoCal are found in only two time zones in the U.S. and very few places elsewhere in the world. Most places I ride are characterized by hard-pack with loose rock and sand. “Loose” is a term I’ve come to know well. Hero dirt is something we only occasionally see in the 72 hours following a brief rain, but even then, you have to find the right spot.
While I appreciate having the right tool for the job, I don’t get to spend as much time in the garage as I used to. That, combined with the fact that tubeless tires don’t really enjoy being mounted, removed and remounted means that when I put a set of tires on, I intend to leave them on until I find another set of tires I think I might like better. I mounted the 29×2.2 Continental Mountain King IIs in late August and the only reason I’m considering removing them is to put on the set of 29×2.4 X-Kings I have.
Generally, I’ve been running these tires somewhere between 23 and 25 psi in the front and between 25 and 28 in the rear. I give those ranges because my gauge is so small and my eyes have deteriorated so much, I can’t really be certain. What I’ve found is that everywhere I’ve found other tires wanting in the traction department, these have surpassed those performances. Truly, they have so thoroughly improved traction for my bike that I’ve entered a new paradigm of traction. I’m cornering at speeds well beyond what used to seem possible; now the limitation is my nerve.
To get a feel for what they tires my be like when the break free I pumped them up to 27 in the front and 30 in the rear and then took on some terrain I know. When they did break free in silty, sandy soil, they were pretty predictable, unlike some tires I’ve ridden that go from grip to grease in a single degree of lean angle.
What amazes me about this tire isn’t that I’ve finally found a tire that offers as much traction as a Justin Bieber video. No, what amazes me is that on the handful of times I’ve ridden through anything that approximates mud, it has still worked with the assured grip of Reinhold Messner. The engineers at Continental will tell you this is because the Mountain King II uses their Black Chili compound, which is a blend of natural and synthetic rubber with tiny bits of carbon soot mixed in. Maybe so. The upshot is that I’ve found a tire I’m willing to ride on hard pack, in sand and through mud. It’s so all-purpose I don’t really want to switch them any time soon.
The one other noteworthy detail about these tires is that every other tubeless tire I’ve ridden has had sidewalls as thin-skinned as an apple. The Mountain King II has proven to be as impervious to punctures as Donald Trump is to criticism. This, despite a high-quality 180tpi casing; most bulletproof tires have a casing in the range of 60tpi and they roll like a flattened Coke can. Of course, with such a high degree of impervituity (new word) you end up with a tire that weighs 640g, but I’m willing to put up with some extra weight in order to have a tire at least as worthy of my faith as the time from a Swiss watch.
On the off-chance that I haven’t pounded this point into schnitzel, for $60 I now have a tire that I no longer have to think about whether or not it will get me through a given terrain. I can go ride any place I choose and not wonder if I should change tires beforehand. The benefit that renders isn’t just peace of mind, it’s simplification and as a busy dad, I wish more products carried that selling point.