I will endeavor over the following paragraphs to make no butt jokes, employ no puerile double entendre, and avoid, at all costs, referencing parts of the human anatomy I have barred my young sons from mentioning at the dinner table. We have over recent weeks been discussing product preferences for such crucial gear as helmets and gloves, and you, our readers, have chimed in ringingly with your insight and experience. We are group-sourcing this cycling thing, and it goes better when we all participate. So thanks for your effort.
Now, of all the touch points on the bike, I will argue that the most important one is the saddle. I don’t believe I have ever heard of a person’s ride being ruined by an insufficiently ergonomic lever, an improperly rounded handlebar or a properly functioning pedal of any stripe. To be sure, those things, bars and levers and pedals, if broken or set up badly, can have a dramatically deleterious effect on your ride, but your saddle, even functioning as it was intended by the bespectacled engineers who first drew its curves onto a sheet of paper, can turn a century into an eon, an epoch, a shambling millennium of despair.
And our hind quarters (careful now) are also highly individualized and various. We cyclists run from the beanpole narrow to the Volkswagen wide, our sit bones two points on a line describing a continuum not easily charted in leather or synthetic, with manganese, Ti or carbon rails. The seemingly simple curves of our selves are also bisected and punctuated by sensitive equipment (I know, I know) whose function ought not be compromised by a spirited, two-wheeled jaunt with our friends.
On my own primary road bike I recently installed a Specialized Romin saddle, which I assumed I would hate (because I assume this about all new cycling products that enter my world), but in actual practice (as with many of the aforementioned products) I love it. I can ride it for 100+ miles and maintain a level of comfort that keeps me seated on climbs I might normally attack out of the saddle, merely to give my aft deck (ok, sorry) a break.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What saddles do you love and why? Do you subscribe to the cut out model? Do you prefer firm or soft? What is it about you that works with the saddle of your choice? Give us enough detail that like-sized/minded riders might draw some benefit from your hard won experience.
In my experience, more than any other component found on a bicycle, pedals elicit a near-religious loyalty among users. It may be that because cleat design will remain static to a degree that even the number of cogs on a cassette will not, people have more years of use on a system and are more likely to develop less a preference than an accustom. We tend to like those things we’ve used for long periods of time. After all, if we didn’t like them, we would have switched, so the longer we use them, the more we tend to think what we’re using is the best thing going.
Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if you like what you use, and it poses no problems for you, why not continue to use it?
It is into this particular world of settled opinion and calcified satisfaction that I thrust the Ritchey Echelon WCS pedals. The challenge is that pedals accepting the Look cleat have been around since shoulder pads were the hot look in women’s fashions. Good thing they have a greater functional benefit.
In addition to Look, we’ve had Shimano, Wellgo, Campagnolo, Sampson and a score of other manufacturers make pedals designed to accept the Look cleat. Had it not been for Time, and Shimano’s ill-advised decision to take the SPD platform to the road, Look might have become the industry standard. But not only is that three-bolt fixing standard still in play, the cleat itself remains mostly unchanged.
It begs the question: What has changed in all that time? Okay, so the cleat went from black to red, meaning from fixed to floating. The Keo cleat also reduced the stack height between the center of the pedal spindle and the foot. Most manufacturers have increased both the number and the quality of the bearings used. Spring release tension is adjustable (has been for, oh … at least 20 years). The pedal body shape has been refined to increase lean-angle clearance. And let’s not forget weight. Some early examples (Mavic, anyone?) might as well have been constructed from depleted plutonium so heavy were they.
For six months I’ve been riding a range of pedals: the Ritchey Echelons as well as a couple of others, including the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000s. While the Shimano cleat is slightly different than the Look Keo, I consider them of a piece; they’re not fundamentally different, the way Time and Speedplay are.
By any critical measure, these pedals are reasonably light, weighing in at 250 grams. Unfortunately, Ritchey claims they weigh only 233g, which makes this the first Ritchey product I’ve encountered that strayed from the advertised weight by more than five percent. Still, 250g for the pedals, combined with 77g for the cleats one of the lightest pedal systems on the market for less than $200. This is where the Echelons show best—value. At just $159 for the set with cleats and hardware, they are more than $100 less than the corresponding Shimanos (not to mention a few other competitors.
The Echelons use a two bearings: an outer, sealed-cartridge bearing, and a needle bearing in the middle. Inboard duties are handled by a lightweight bushing. Spring tension is adjustable, and while I didn’t check torque values, I can say anecdotally, it goes from light enough for a panicked escape to grab-a-stop-sign-cuz-I’m-falling-over tight.
Having ridden in so many different pedals of late, I came to only one firm conclusion on the subject of pedals using Look-style cleats. Because of where I live, which is to say a place where there are stop lights and stop signs for 30 miles in every direction except west, I stop like a sitcom has ads. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact of my life. What surprised me about the Echelon pedals was that I eventually noticed I was able to catch the tongue of the cleat more reliably with them than with any similar pedal. There are lights that are just too long to track stand through at the end of a long ride, so I want a pedal that allows me to roll away from a light with something approaching haste. If I have to stop pedaling and look down for a moment, that’s a fail.
One factor that contributes to the success or failure of a pedal in this regard isn’t so much the weight of the pedal but the weight delta from the front of the pedal to the rear of the pedal. The greater that delta, the more likely a pedal is to hang, rather than spin due to bearing drag. A tiny amount of bearing drag will cause the pedal to sit motionless until the pedal reaches the top of the pedal stroke, the point at which most riders will attempt to clip the second foot in. That pause will cause the rear end of the pedal to overcome the bearing drag and spin forward. Practically speaking, it means often putting your foot down on the bottom of the pedal, rather than engaging it. Not good for quick getaways. I’ll hasten to add that I had to ride each pedal for more than 500 miles to make sure that I wasn’t just encountering drag from the bearing seal.
It’s this one, tiny little detail that caused me to love this pedal. If I lived 50 miles outside of Cedar Rapids, with corn fields surrounding my home, different story. Add in the fact that it costs less than a night in a nice hotel, and you’ve got one of my favorite pedals of the last few years.
Oh, man. When I brought up helmets last week, I had this sneaking suspicion it was a better conversation starter than the Giro d’Italia, though in years past I know we would have turned the Giro over and over like a favorite record. 50 comments later, I think we covered helmets pretty well.
In midweek, Padraig reviewed a new pair of gloves, and that got me thinking that gloves have that same sort of personal character that helmets do.
Truth be told, I prefer to ride without gloves, but years of doing so, while spending my days with my paws on a keyboard, have left the nerves that run from my arms into my mitts with less than optimal connectivity. Some days it doesn’t take very long for a familiar buzzing to creep from my palms up into my fingers.
So, I tend to keep a couple or three pairs of gel-palmed gloves in my steady rotation. The right glove can cradle my frayed nerves and dissipate enough vibration to keep me sensate all day long, over road and gravel, up singletrack and down powerline cut. The Giro Monaco long-fingered glove is a particular favorite, with just the right amount of pad.
Padding, breathability, seam-angle and height, materials, they all go into making a great glove, and of course durability is an issue, because we use our hands for everything.
This week’s Group Ride is about gloves. What do you wear and why? As it’s mostly warm most everywhere right now, let’s keep this to warmer weather gloves. The winter variety can be an entirely different beast with a whole other set of challenges.
The long-sleeve jersey is an item that wasn’t represented in my wardrobe for a great many years. There was a simple reason why: Fit. Most of them fit me like a burlap sack. Now, a burlap sack is fine if you plan to take 50 pounds of potatoes to the farmer’s market, but even for a cyclist who was only marginally picky about fit, that wasn’t sufficient.
So I gave up on them for … we’ll call it 10 years. It might have been 12, but who’s counting?
Were it not for Assos and Rapha, I’d never have bothered to tune back in. Patterning has come a long way, meaning fit isn’t the haphazard affair it once was. In the past, if the arms were long enough then the torso was too long. But if the torso was the right length, then the arms were too short. And don’t get me started on the windsock arms and baggy chest. In every case, if the arms were form-fitting then they were at least two inches too short.
They were, in short, fit disasters.
Road Holland intrigued me when I first learned of them last year. An American company with American production working with Merino wool/polyester blends. It wasn’t so long ago that because Merino wool blend jerseys didn’t have the fuzzy look of a Cashmere sweater were considered second-rate. Well, Rapha single-handedly took care of that. The question on my mind was if the difference in price between a Road Holland jersey would be negligible enough to make the savings over a jersey from Rapha seem like a savings rather than a step down in quality. After all, Road Holland has done nothing so much as set Rapha in its cross-hairs with its line of jerseys. Road Holland is a significantly smaller company than Rapha and while they would probably prefer not to be compared so directly with their overseas competitor, it’s impossible to look at a Road Holland jersey and have it recall any of a number of Rapha jerseys I’ve seen and worn.
For everyone who has complained about the pricing on Rapha’s clothing, Road Holland is a step in the right direction. Because they are an American company, shoppers don’t get hit with the onerous exchange rate of the pound sterling to the dollar, which I suspect accounts for much of the disparity between merely being premium products and being outrageous, pocket-emptying affairs. To the detriment of Rapha’s $220 Long Sleeve Jersey, Road Holland’s Arnhem Jersey, at only $150, seems like a bargain.
To reiterate, I don’t normally review a product in comparison to another, but the reference point here between the Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey and the Arnhem is so obvious as to be unavoidable. While I can say—after checking the patterning—the Arnhem is not based on the Rapha jersey, the cut and fit are so similar one could be forgiven for thinking one was a copy of the other. The fit is first-rate. It’s not as aggressive and form-following a fit as the Assos iJ.intermediate that I just reviewed, so in that regard it may be more to some riders’ liking.
The Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey is heavier-weight jersey, though not by a significant amount. It’s based on a material that is a 48/52 percent Merino wool/polyester blend, whereas the Arnhem is based on a 39/61 Merino/poly blend. I’d like to surmise that the overall difference in garment weight is attributable to the difference in the amount of Merino in the respective garments, but I’ve learned just enough about the milling of fabric to know that’s not the case, which means that the weight of the material used in each jersey was more deliberate.
Ultimately, the Arnhem is a jersey for a slightly warmer day, making it perfect for those cool, damp mornings here (that’s actually redundant—all mornings in the South Bay are damp). The lighter-weight fabric does a better job of shedding moisture so that you don’t arrive home from a ride feeling wet and smelling like a sheep.
Road Holland jerseys take a notably different tack on their approach to pockets, something that’s worth taking a moment to discuss. Yes, they use a traditional three-pocket design, with the two side pockets cut at a slight angle to improve access. There’s also a fourth, zippered, pocket for valuables. What’s unusual about Road Holland jerseys (this applies to the short-sleeve jerseys as well) is the distribution of space. The two side pockets are cut rather massively. There’s room enough for six-hours-worth of food because the middle pocket is cut deliberately narrow. It’s only wide enough for a cell phone or electronic music player. It also features a buttonhole to pass the cable for the ear buds inside your jersey. It’s a feature that gets no use from me on the road, but off-road is another story. Unfortunately, the center pocket is cut on such a restrictive scale that if you put your phone in a case of any real heft—think Otterbox and the like—you won’t be able to get it in the pocket. My iPhone 4 wears a fairly slim case and I have to push it into the pocket because the fit is so snug. They might have overdone a pretty good idea.
The workmanship of the jersey is very high, based on my inspection. Will it last as long as my Rapha jersey? I plan to find out; I hope so. My Carolina Blue jersey (Tarheels, anyone?) recalls the the blue of the Belgian national team, a color I loved seeing on Eddy Merckx. In keeping with the Dutch theme of the company, the jersey sports several orange highlights, including the silicone gripper in the rear hem, the embroidered reflector on the left pocket and the orange zipper for the security pocket. These are offset by white accent stripes down the sleeves, giving the jersey a simple and elegant look. I appreciate that the company is pretty up-front about their design philosophy. They write on their web site: “So if you’re looking for skin-tight, dye-sublimated cheap polyester with lightning bolts, cereal box characters, and team sponsor logos, you won’t find them here.”
Better yet is the fact that they aren’t trying to out-hip you. Also from their site: “What you will find are friendly down-to-earth people with a love for top-notch materials, always in style designs with fun accents, and flattering cuts that make you look good on and off the bike, whether you are a male, a female, a whip thin racer, or a Clydesdale.” Refreshingly different.
It’s funny to me that the biggest gripe I have with Road Holland is that they don’t make bibs [update: they actually released their first pair recently], so any time I wear one of their jerseys I have to give some thought to just which pair of bibs I ought to wear with this; to don a pair from Assos or Rapha seems perfect some days, sacrilegious on others. I can’t make up my mind. That suggests the problem, like most, is all in my head.
I’ve written previously about how life in the South Bay of Southern California means that I spend at least eight months of each year in arm warmers. I go through a lot of embro as well. I’m also, eternally, on the lookout for lightweight long-finger gloves. That is, a long-finger glove that is warm, but not too warm. For me, I tend to put the short-finger gloves away somewhere between 55 and 60 degrees. I admit the decision process isn’t exactly scientific. Ride length has a lot to do with it—I’ll go with short gloves for longer rides if the temperature is likely to rise a fair bit—but my mood is a big predictor as well.
I’m thinking your results may vary.
This would be a good place to mention that I wouldn’t ordinarily review two products by one company in consecutive days, but as I’ve worn the longSummerGloves with each ride I’ve done in the iJ.intermediate_s7, it makes sense to go ahead and do them now. They are, to use a turn of phrase, “of a piece.”
Looking at the Assos longSummer Gloves on the web site didn’t give me the perspective on these that I needed. I had the idea that they were just the Summer Gloves, but with long fingers.
Wrong! Thank you for playing.
The back of the longSummerGloves is notably heavier than the single layer of Lycra of the summerGloves_s7. The material is a knit polyester that does a fair job of stopping the wind. I started wearing these later in the spring than would have been truly helpful. These are just heavy enough to get me through the entirety of the South Bay winter save perhaps January. Better yet, they are one of two or three pairs of long-finger gloves I’ve ever worn that don’t cause my hands to slosh around inside the sweat-lubricated domain should the temperature rise above 60 degrees. Of course, it’s a good deal easier to make a closure-less back glove fit if you go to the trouble of making it in seven (7!) sizes. My hands, which will never, ever be confused with those of a carpenter or basketball player, are regarded by Assos as medium. I harbor the expectation that the XXS fit people who can find no other gloves that fit.
Which brings me back to the real challenge. Keeping hands comfortable on a ride is a good deal easier if the temperature won’t stray by more than a degree or two from the start to the finish of the ride. But around here, the temperature can vary 10 degrees in two hours. As a result, I confess something of a glove fetish; I own more pairs of gloves than I do of bib shorts—and I’ve got a lot of bibs.
Owners of the summerGloves_s7 will note that the longSummerGloves use identical palm material, padding and grip. The fit is identical as well and the closure-less back reduces bulk, giving the gloves an unusually svelte feel and look. And then there’s the fact that if you own other Assos items, these gloves come in a color that will perfectly match what you already own. From a safety standpoint, I love being able to hold up a hand that is almost entirely red. If a driver can’t see that, they weren’t really looking. They are also available in black, blue, yellow and white. There is a small patch of black near the thumb that includes the absorbent terry-like material for nose and face wiping; in the case of the Long Summer Gloves the material continues straight up the top of the thumb for extra wipage. One other aspect of these gloves that makes them notably different from competition is how the thumb is essentially sewn in backward, i.e., at an angle that would otherwise break your thumb. If you’ve ever put on a pair of full-finger gloves that brought your thumb in close to your index finger, making it less than comfortable to wrap your thumb around the bar, then I won’t need to explain how this feature of the pattern helps.
At $85, these gloves aren’t cheap, but that number doesn’t really come as a surprise given that these gloves are from Assos. Everyone expects Assos gear to be pricey. Predictably, this is where I consider the COO—cost of ownership. I mentioned earlier this spring that I finally killed a pair of the Summer Gloves I’d been wearing for more than five years. As they were absolutely my go-to gloves, meaning if they weren’t so smelly they needed to be washed or it wasn’t too cold, that’s what I wore. I estimate I wore them at least 100 times per year, and probably managed somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 uses. I’d say that’s a pretty remarkable value.
Given the spring, or lack thereof, that many parts of the world are experiencing, I’m guessing these gloves could see significant use clear into July.
There are times when I notice that what I feel for Assos is also what I feel for my son Philip. Yes, there’s the incandescent affection that can cause me to smile at the simple utterance of his, or their, name. But there’s also cross-eyed frustration that comes when you simply want your kid to stop moving. Not only have I said through gritted teeth to my son, “Would you please sit still!” (It wasn’t a question), I’ve noticed that the same thought has occurred to me with regard to Assos’ ongoing reinvention of its product line.
Case in point: They are redesigning the SS.13 jersey right now. It’s the single greatest short-sleeve jersey I’ve ever worn and the reasons why are too numerous to list in a review of a different product. I’m bringing it up because I’d like to shout from rooftops just how great that jersey is, but because it’s being redone, they’d like me to skip it. Just to be clear: They don’t want me to review the finest short sleeve jersey on the market.
These people are depriving me of an opportunity to do what I do best: geek out.
I had a similar reaction to the announcement that Assos would discontinue the intermediate EVO. It wasn’t the depression I experienced when I realized that the latest season of Archer had come to an end, but it still merited a small-scale WTF. After all, most manufacturers make long-sleeve garments where the sleeves are just as heavy as the torso, when usually, the sleeves don’t need to be quite so heavy. Rarely has a garment so light been so warm.
(This next portion requires a brief channeling of John Belushi.)
But noooooo! They couldn’t leave it be. They introduce the iJ.intermediate_s7, and if I’m going to complain about anything else Assos does it’s point to their arcane naming nomenclature and call it out for being just as strange as standing in line for the next Star Trek movie and hearing two pimple-faced teens telling knock-knock jokes in Klingon. Not that I’d know anything about that.
When I talk with people at Assos, I’m not always sure just how to talk to them. By that I mean that I’m patently unwilling to say, “I really love the eye-jay-dot-intermediate-underscore-ess-seven.” Won’t do it. I just say the eye-jay-intermediate. I’m not sure how they feel about that, but for me it feels like one of those rare occasions when I get to protect that final, hidden, scrap of dignity that allows me to continue believing I’m some variety of adult.
But they’re Swiss and when you make trains run like atomic clocks and timepieces (anything that beautiful is not a watch) more handsome than Fabian Cancellara, I suppose you have earned the right to invent whatever naming convention you want. Drat.
When I first spied this piece on the Assos web site I was concerned by just how black it was, even in the red edition. Fortunately, the back is far more red than the front. I have genuine concerns about visibility for cyclists and wearing black doesn’t really help. Pair black bibs with a black jersey and you’ve created a big dark spot that’s easy for drivers to miss. But how often do drivers see the front of a rider’s torso? I’m guessing not much, which is why I’m okay with the black front of the torso. The back, which is mostly red, is what counts.
Were you to ask me what could have been improved about the intermediate EVO, I’d tell you that the sleeves were just a hair long and it would be nice if the front of the torso breathed just a bit, as opposed to not at all. They were minor points that within the grand scheme of the garment really didn’t even rise to the level of irritant. That sprig of parsley delivered on your steak.
It’s points like those where the superiority of the iJ.intermediate is most obvious. The piece is light in feel, weighing only slightly more than a long-sleeve base layer; the hem, cuffs and pockets are the points where its bulk is most noticeable. It seems too light to offer the warmth that it does on a 50-degree day; paired with a short-sleeve base layer, I was perfectly comfortable. The sleeve length? About 2cm shorter than the intermediate EVO, which turns out is perfect for my arms.
Also different from the intermediate EVO is the cut of the pockets. Not a big deal, but the two side pockets are cut at a slight angle now, easing access. Pocket capacity seems to have improved, which is saying something because the pocket capacity of an Assos jersey is greater than any other similar jersey I own. Think watermelon in hip pocket. They also moved the fourth, zippered pocket from the right side to the center and increased its capacity, making it big enough to hold a phone, but not a phablet (don’t get me started).
I tried wearing the intermediate EVO one day and the iJ.intermediate the following day, under similar weather (something easy to do ’round these parts), and while I can say the intermediate EVO kept my torso warmer, the difference in warmth from my arms to my torso—not that my arms were actually cold, mind you—was noticeable until I started riding with a firm tempo. The iJ.intermediate was different in how the garment felt more uniform in its temperature control. I can’t say that my arms were actually warmer, but they didn’t seem cooler than my torso, which felt like an improvement as I rode.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not the skinny racer I once was. Poorly cut jerseys will make my 160-lb. physique look, well, rather John-Belushi-ish. (I’m not sure why I’ve just referred to Belushi again in the same review. I think this the final reference to him.) So part of my definition of good cut includes the requirement that wearing the item makes me look faster, not fatter. I’ve yet to encounter a clothing company to do this as well, or as thoroughly, as Assos does. So while I could go Commander Data on you and rattle off their marketing prattle about how they use advanced patterning this and hyper whatever that, what it comes down to is Assos understands the body of a cyclist better than anyone else. I believe that the way I believe in the love of my parents.
I’m aware that, technically, Assos considers this piece a jacket, but to all native-English-speaking cyclists, this is a long-sleeve jersey. Having said that, I can say I’ve worn a lot of long-sleeve jerseys and none combine the breathability, warmth, fit and good looks of the iJ.intermediate. We can discuss the finer points of the look of the piece (I know someone is rolling his eyes right now), but I’ve not encountered another long sleeve jersey that comes close to the technical achievement of this. This is how they can charge $370. Jaws are clattering to the ground around the world as people read that number, but when I consider that number against what other top-notch companies are charging for their best long-sleeve jersey, this strikes me as fair. Pricier than lunch at the French Laundry, but still fair.
In that I’ve struck what may be the fairest comparison of all. People who take an interest in fine dining understand that a meal at the French laundry is an extravagance, not something you do on a whim. The iJ.intermediate is a rare piece of gear and comparing it to most other long sleeve jerseys is like comparing the French Laundry to Red Lobster.
(John Belushi was not harmed in the making of this review.)
Take a moment to look at the object above. Really look at it. If you weren’t already a dedicated cyclist, what would you guess that was? I can say that I would guess that it was a souvenir replica of some sort of head gear from a first-person-shooter video game. It would be right at home on an alien in Halo. Falling back on my trained experience as a cyclist, I’d conclude from its sharp lines, balanced proportions and deliberate symmetry that it was an established helmet maker’s new top-of-the-line model.
Neither of those guesses would be right, of course.
It is neither from a manufacturer known for a history in helmets, nor is it their top model. Cannondale has a history in helmets like I’ve got a history in beer: I’ve consumed a lot of it, but no one is waiting for my opinion, or for me to make one. But make one—scratch that, six—they have.
Helmets have been a topic of discussion at every industry event I’ve been to recently, largely due to Giro’s new offering. People are struggling with it because the look is such a departure. Function aside, it looks like a skateboard helmet people say. It doesn’t look like a proper cycling helmet people say. There’s no denying that. But that’s because the average cycling helmet doesn’t look like anything else on earth.
The evolution of the bicycle helmet has been a long and surprising journey. The only time I wore my first helmet was when I entered a race. The first helmet I wore on regular training rides was my Giro LeMond Air Attack. That was the first helmet that had a look I was able to define as cool, rather than laughable. The evolution since then has been into progressively more vents and shapes that looked organic—ribs with connective tissue or framework with panels. The most successful design aesthetically don’t usually look like putty with holes poked in it. Consider the Catlike.
Significant in this is that most helmet manufacturer’s second- and third-tier designs seem like watered-down ideas, like all the truly rakish lines were softened, lest a less enthusiastic cyclist be frightened away. They usually smack of design by committee, which is about the lowest thing you can say about a piece of industrial design work. It’s like saying the Ferrari Daytona is a ripoff of a Datsun 240z. Oof.
If I hadn’t seen the Cannondale Cypher, the company’s $200 head protector, I’d have concluded that the Teramo was the primo model. Even though I knew it wasn’t the top model, my jaw dropped when I found out this baby retails for $119.99. Finally, a reasonably affordable helmet that doesn’t look like a design studio’s sloppy seconds.
Now, even if a helmet looks okay, the fit can still be a complete fail. I’ve tried helmets that fit like a five-gallon bucket, covering my eyes after every bump in the road, and others that were essentially styrofoam yarmulkes, devices that failed to shield my temples from all but top-side blows. I don’t know how else to put it: The Terramo fit like a bike helmet.
Feature-wise, this thing gives nothing up on the pricier Cypher. Most notable in my mind is that the Terramo uses dual-density EPS to better cushion your noggin in the event of an extreme deceleration event—you know, from 30 to zero in now. The softer density EPS takes that first portion of the hit, giving your head a softer start to the stop, while the denser EPS makes sure that your head gets stopped as well as possible under the circumstances. The thing about that softer density EPS is that it is by its very nature fragile and many companies have avoided it for durability reasons. Cannondale uses an internal framework (they call it a chassis) to provide improved structural integrity in the event of a crash. This is a technology that’s been around a while, but it is especially necessary in helmets that use two different foams so that the helmet doesn’t go watermelon-through-a-cooler if you fall.
Also helping to keep the helmet together is an alloy reinforced polycarbonate outer shell. Again, this is technology we’ve seen before, but Cannondale uses it effectively to create a durable helmet with big vents. I’ve not bothered to count the vents; there are plenty of them to do what you expect a bike helmet to do.
My one knock against this helmet is the Ergo-Fit occipital pad. While it’s plenty comfortable, the fact that it’s covered with rubber (okay, perforated rubber) means there’s a lot of surface contact at the back of your head. While I didn’t ever overheat while wearing the helmet, I noticed I was pretty sweaty back there when I took the helmet off, and the warmest ride I ever did with it didn’t reach 80 degrees. It’s a small issue in the grand scheme.
The Terramo comes in six color schemes, two of them sufficiently neutral to go with any cycling kit you might own, and all of them attractive enough to avoid geek-side embarrassment. The helmet also comes in two sizes. Regular readers of RKP will recall that Zippy (the pinhead) is my first cousin. I wore the small/medium. I bring up that point to establish the following: I was able to perch eyewear from SPY, Shimano, Smith, Oakley and Giro in the vents and not have them immediately drop out when I looked down. Pretty good record, though I will say getting the Radars in took a bit of flexing.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I prefer this to the Giro Aeon or the Specialized Prevail. There’s no point. However, I can say that for friends of mine who think spending $200 on a helmet is out of their league, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Terramo. It’s one of the best helmet values I’ve seen.
I need to be honest. I haven’t worn the kit from a team I wasn’t a member of in probably 15 years. Before I moved to Southern California, I and all of my friends wore any jersey or kit we thought was cool. I had team jerseys from PDM, Z, Gatorade-Chateau d’Ax and even a replica Banania-sponsored maillot jaune like Greg LeMond wore in the ’86 Tour de France. My PDM jersey was arguably my favorite jersey until I got my first UMASS team jersey. I still think the jersey that wrapped the granite bodies of Steven Rooks, Sean Kelly and Gert Jan Theunisse was as gorgeous a design as was ever raced. So why shouldn’t I have worn one?
But then I moved to SoCal. The single most image-conscious place on the planet. A place where, unlike Milan, wherein the sure sign that one is aware of the presence struck is being dressed to the proverbial three cubed, in the land where all the best parts are aftermarket—both on cars and bodies—we go to great lengths to make a sculpted appearance look accidental. What that’s about has dysfunction written all over it. However, I quickly learned on the group rides here that you do not wear the jersey of a team for which you did not ride. A simple rule, I suppose. It might have been the first cycling faux pas I ever encountered, aside from the excommunicable offense of not holding your line.
All those cool jerseys went in a container in my garage. I think they’re still there. I think. Eventually, I learned that there were exceptions, such as if you were given the jersey by someone attached to the team, especially if that someone was a rider. Fundamentally, the rule was about not reaping the reward of something you hadn’t earned. So for years, I wore only those kits from the teams that sponsored me.
So when I heard that Rapha was going to sponsor Team Sky, I hazarded a few connect-the-dot thoughts. First, I wondered what had taken to long. In a world starved for heaven-made matches, Rapha and Sky are the peanut butter and jelly of the British Isles. I mean, dude. This is cycling’s Brangelina. Next, I admit I wondered what the jersey would be, as in would it be an embroidered no-silkscreen affair. Would Rapha impose its style on the pro peloton? Alas, that didn’t happen. The new Sky kit is rather in keeping with a current trend in kits of, Just how black can we make it? If there’s one thing that does, it make the sky blue pop like a child’s balloon in a palm jungle.
What I didn’t expect was to receive said kit for review. I’ll admit, when I saw the box, I was torn. I simply don’t wear pro kits anymore. How would I say something true without dissing the pro-kit blunder? I’m certain other places don’t suffer this stricture, but my departure from the realm of cool happened when I stopped being one of the fast guys and that’s been a good 10 years. Point being, I’d like to avoid becoming any less cool ’round these parts.
So I pulled the kit out early one morning and dressed in near dark. There was no denying the quality of the kit as I pulled it on. There’s a synergy of cut and materials that occurs in those best-of-class pieces. They lack that little tug here, stretch there, of lesser garments. The jersey length was just-so—long enough to get your hand in a pocket easily enough but only long enough to reach your waist—a proper pro cut.
I headed into the bathroom for a final pit stop before heading out for the ride when I noticed the side panel I’d missed as I dressed. My name. There it was, billboard bold; my name paired with Old Glory.
I geek out on clothing with the regularity of moon phases. Occasionally, my wife will spy something and comment on how nice it looks. If she doesn’t comment, I take note. I never, ever, go racing to her and say, “Babe, you gotta check this out.” But that’s what I did with this jersey. I waited for someone on the ride to give me some grief. It seemed as inevitable as a baby barfing, which I can say with considerable authority is definitely inevitable. When it came, I simply lifted my arm and twisted a bit.
“Okay, that’s kinda cool.” Game. Set. Match.
Think back on childhood and the first sports jersey or shirt you wore with your name on it. So long as we’re not talking the plastic name tag of fast-food careers, having your name on your clothing is still cool enough to elicit a smile. When I think about it, it seems like I ought, at this point in life, to be immune to such charms. I’m not. I got stickers with my name and the RKP logo made last year, little ones to stick on top tubes, seat stays or any other place I felt compelled. (I also had a bunch made for RKP’s regular contributors.)
Rapha is rumored to have spent crazy money, Michael Jackson money, on this sponsorship, so to make it work, they need to be able to make this kit connect with the masses, and really, the best way to do that isn’t with a five-sizes, pro-cut jersey and crappy bibs. For those of you who have spent any time around Beatles memorabilia, you know how each of the Fab Four were marketed within a nose hair of their lives. And no matter who you were, there was a Beatle for everyone. So what is Rapha doing?
Rapha is offering the chance for you to order a Sky jersey with your name and flag on it. Before you suck in a deep breath and hold it, I should mention that it’s only $150. And it comes in six sizes, from XS to XXL. How it is that the brand most often derided for being over-priced is offering a truly custom jersey for only $150, I don’t currently fathom. I don’t need to. What I know is that you can spend more on a jersey that’s no better and still not have your name on it. The replica team jersey goes for $115. Rapha is also offering the national champion jerseys for Great Britain and Norway, plus a Wiggins supporter jersey , both in pro-cut a relaxed-fit version of the Sky jersey with “Wiggo” on the sides (they even do kids’ versions in both cuts). The replica jersey (pro cut) is $120 while the supporter jersey (relaxed fit) is only $65. Has to be the least expensive jersey Rapha has ever offered (save the kids’ version which is only $55. So stop complaining about how pricey their stuff is. There are 13 jerseys, two base layers, five bib shorts, three jackets (oops, two—one is already sold out), jeans, nine shirts, a belt, gloves; heck, there’s even a scarf. A proper Sky fan could remake their entire wardrobe in this stuff.
The Sky bib shorts are very similar to the Pro Team bibs that I reviewed previously. You can read that review here. It’s the same pad, and while the Lycra of the shorts has the same weight and feel as the Pro Team bibs I have been wearing, the fabric in the Sky bibs has just a bit more stretch to it. And like the Pro Team bibs, they also go for $260.
Rapha is offering the custom jersey for a very limited time. From their release:
The order window opens on Friday 26th April 14.00 GMT and closes on Friday 10th May 15.00 GMT.
Orders should arrive in time for the Tour.
You’ll be able to order the custom jersey here. You can also see the full range of Sky offerings there as well.
I’ve got my name on a jersey. You can bet your ass I’m going to wear this. And Sky isn’t even my favorite team.
Over the course of the SRAM 22 launch, we went for three rides. Because the product intro was being held in Westlake Village, just north of the eastern-most portion of the Santa Monica Mountains, I’d either know the roads we were riding intimately, or at least be familiar with them. While I was pleased not to be terribly far from my family, I was trying to figure out if the marketing team were geniuses or gamblers for picking this location. That I had that reaction surprised me; I’ve written on several occasions that if you really want to prove that a road product works, you ought to spend some time testing it in the Santa Monicas. I have been serious about that. However, there’s a big difference between doing testing and having the worldwide launch for your product over those roads.
On our first ride, I rode a Specialized S-Words Roubaix SL4 equipped with Red 22 and mechanical brakes. What I’ve noticed about 11-speed groups is that you lose track of just how many cogs you have; you lose track of your place in the cassette. Why 11 cogs is harder to keep track of than 10, I can’t say, but I’ve noticed for myself that there’s rarely an occasion when I don’t have at least one more cog in either direction. There is nothing else to report about this group. Doing the ride was, for me, simply an opportunity to have an immediate reminder of what braking is like with the mechanical Red brakes. The reminder was mostly superfluous for me; I’d ridden the group (with 10 speeds, mind you) just the day before.
On our second ride I had the opportunity to ride the Cannondale SuperSix EVO with the Hydro R—hydraulic rim brakes. I expect you’ll see steel builders making bikes to accommodate this before the week is out. The brake has gobs of clearance (that’s a technical term meaning so much more than your typical dual-pivot caliper that it’s visually noticeable); think ‘cross tire clearance. It’s worth mentioning that the bike was equipped with Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers. Anyone who has ever held the sweeping belief that you can’t achieve enough braking force with carbon wheels will be amazed by what’s possible with these brakes and carbon wheels. Rolling around the parking lot to make sure my saddle height and reach were more or less correct, I hit the brakes a few times just to get a feel for how quickly the power ramped up and how the bike would react to a panic-y grab. With my hands only on the hoods, I felt more power than on any other road bike I’d ever ridden.
I actually said, “Wow.”
As company for our rides SRAM brought in Tim Johnson and Allison Tetrick as ride leaders. Tim was terrific at keeping the group orderly—unsurprising given his work in advocacy, while Allison proved to be even funnier in person than she was on the Road I.D. commercials with cycling’s favorite buffoon, Bob Roll. Having them along for our rides was a nice touch.
Out on the road, in braking for stop signs and lights, I noticed nothing unusual. The experience of the new brake wasn’t so startling that I needed to recalibrate my grip. Honestly, that was my biggest concern, that all braking on this bike would be like trying to slice an apple with a meat cleaver. That delicate ability to scrub speed to maintain a two- or three-foot distance from the rider in front of me remained intact.
There’s a descent into Westlake Village that is among the diciest in the Santa Monicas. It’s called Westlake Road and to my knowledge it has the single steepest pitch in all of the Santa Monicas. The road pitches downward at an incredible 20 percent. But because the road in that spot twists like some ridiculous gag in a Road Runner cartoon, riders don’t have a chance to build up lethal speed like you can on, say, Tuna Canyon. Our return for the second and third rides was down that road.
Here’s where I need to admit that my descending skills are still in reboot. I’m pretty much back to normal on the easy stuff, stuff in Palos Verdes I know well. But I still wear a skirt to all the descents in the Santa Monicas. I’d been down Westlake a couple of times in the past. Due to its location and the fact that I generally ride from the South Bay, descending that road puts the Santa Monicas between me and 50-some miles to home. All this is to say that I knew the road just well enough to know it required caution. Hell, the first time I ever descended it I managed to brake just hard enough to cause my rear wheel slide a bit. And so when I dropped into that descent, I did so with nearly all the trepidation of someone with a shellfish allergy about to chow down on a bucket of shrimp. That I was on a bike with even more powerful brakes than the one I was on during my first trip down that road was like adding interest to my tax bill.
Insert giant, sarcastic, “Hooray!”
Nothing against the folks at SRAM, mind you. I felt I had an obligation to show up with my faculties new-pencil sharp, and I was embarrassed not to be there yet. There was an upshot, though; my reticence to dive into each turn meant that I was braking with the deliberate “Whoa!” of a camper emerging from a tent who sees a bear. And that is kinda what this product was all about—the whoa.
There’s no denying that the Hydro rim brake had more power than any brake on a road bike I’d ever encountered. While I was diving into turns with thrill-inducing speed, I still tried to wait as late as possible to do my braking and then brake with a brief, firm arrest. Never once did I break a tire free.
For our final ride I moved to the new Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL4 with the Hyrdo disc brakes. This was the bike of which I was most skeptical, because it was the bike that had required more re-engineering than just a new routing of a rear brake line. The Roubaix featured an all-new fork and rear triangle in order to accommodate the disc clearance and the change in the distribution of braking forces. Rolling those discs was a pair of the new Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers and they were shod with some 25mm-wide Continentals. On the already wide rims of the 303s, the tires looked like they were 28mm wide.
My first concern when I climbed on was pad retraction. There was no rubbing of pads. My next concern as I rolled around the parking lot was whether I would be able to brake lightly enough to scrub speed the way I sometimes need to in the pack without applying too much power. With a feathery touch of the levers, I was able to take the sharp edge off any velocity. And the rest of those concerns?
“Oh, the hell with them,” I thought. “Let’s just go ride the damn thing.”
I did my best to forget about the bike and just ride it. Admittedly, that wasn’t exactly easy to do. The control lever has an oddly square shape to the bottom of the body; it’s not as comfortable to hold as the lever hoods on the mechanical Red and, worse in my mind, there’s no adjustment for lever throw, so I had to adjust to reaching a bit further to the brake levers. Not my fave. These are two features that need improving in the future, but are by no means deal-breakers.
Our first real descent was down Potrero Canyon. I braked a bit at the top to let the group go. That gave me a chance to read the road better and not feel like my uncertainty with the bike was going to mess with anyone else’s ride. The more I concentrated on the terrain and my line, the better able I was to forget about the brakes, but there were any number of turns (I’m guessing we’re talking at least a dozen) where the brake power was just too conspicuous to Ninja past. These are the most powerful brakes I’ve ever encountered on a road bike. No contest. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.
By the time I’d reached the bottom of the descent, the question on my mind wasn’t whether or not this stuff worked, it was how much re-learning was going to be required to make optimal use of the brakes. My concern for more braking power than is necessary was dismissed with the flip of a hand you reserve for a bad waiter. The guys at SRAM tried to sell me on the idea that my hands wouldn’t fatigue as much on descents. That didn’t sell me. The only times my hands have gotten tired from braking I was on a mountain bike. That said, I can recall occasions on certain descents in the Santa Monicas where I had had concerns for being able to sufficiently slow the bike from 40+ miles per hour to make it through the next turn. But that memory and how these brakes would affect that situation didn’t come to me until after I’d finished the ride on the Roubaix and made it down the intestinal Westlake where I would brake once with the determined grip required to squeeze a lime over an al pastor taco. Mmm. Where were we?
It was after I was down Westlake and back to the hotel that I began to appreciate just what’s possible with those brakes. I never once broke a tire loose and believe me, I was often braking harder than was necessary. The lesson here for me is that there is a wide delta between how much braking power our bikes have and what is truly required to break a tire loose—provided your bike is under proper control. There’s a fair learning curve between my brief experience with these brakes and really making optimal use of them. And anyone who purchases a bike with these brakes will need two skill sets, the first being how to make full use of their remarkable abilities and the second being understanding how to apply them as if they were using mechanical brakes so that when they are riding in a group they don’t wear another rider like a cape because they over-braked in a turn. A half-dozen of these in a group of 30 riders could spell mayhem.
I don’t see the need for these brakes for anyone who lives someplace flat and never takes in dirt roads. There’s just no need. But for anyone in the mountains, I have to admit these brakes will increase a rider’s control. I’m not yet sure how hard it will be to transition from a bike with mechanical brakes to hydraulic discs and back again, but I suspect it won’t be as simple as moving from SRAM shifting to Dura-Ace and back again, but that’s a skill set anyone with multiple bikes would need to work on.
I didn’t expect to say this, but I want more time on a Roubaix with Hydro D. A lot more time.
This past weekend I joined a number of my colleagues in Westlake Village, California, for the introduction of a number of new products from SRAM. There was a lot on offer, more than they could cover in a two-hour presentation at Sea Otter, hence the get-together. We got to ride much of the new stuff hitting the market and in an environment suited to the mission. I’ll get to the riding in a minute; first, a list.
So SRAM introduced the following:
- An upgrade of the popular Red group to 11-speed
- A revamped Force group with hoods shaped like those in Red and an 11-speed cassette
- Hydraulic rim brakes
- Zipp 303s with discs
- Hydraulic disc brakes for Red
While I did pick up the new Force parts to check them out, I didn’t have the chance to ride them, so all I really feel qualified to do—other than regurgitate the press release—is to tell you that group will hit the market soon and the suggested retail on the group will be $1358, about half of Red 22′s $2618 price tag. According to the company’s scales, the refined group will come in at 2150 grams, putting it in the neighborhood, weight-wise, with Chorus and Dura-Ace 7900, making the Force group a notable value, at least on paper.
For mechanical Red, the only significant change is the addition of an 11th cog. So why is SRAM making a big deal about calling this group 22-speed? It goes to their assertion that users will have a true 22 speeds even without the presence of a trimable front derailleur. Shimano went in the other direction with their new 9000-series Dura Ace. The wide spread on an 11-speed cassette is going to demand a very carefully adjusted front derailleur to avoid chain rub in the big and small cogs, no matter which chainring the chain is on.
As a more practical matter, because SRAM continues to start every flippin’ Red cassette with an 11t cog, the addition of another cog means that all the cassettes (save the 11-32 WiFLi) now sport a 16t cog. It’s nice having that 16, but if they’d offer a 12-26 and a 12-28, you’d then have the 16 and an 18. I’m willing to wager all the beer in Yankee Stadium that nine out of 10 cyclists would use an 18t cog far more than they use an 11. As to the 11-32 WiFLi cassette, an 11th cog there gives the the very noticeable addition of a 14t cog. In the past, when I rode the 10-speed Red with an Apex rear derailleur and the 11-32 cassette, I can tell you that the jump from the 15 to the 13 felt like I’d over-shifted with an Ergo lever. It was a big jump.
Mechanical Red remains the lightest complete group on the market, at a claimed weight of 1747g.
When I first arrived at our host location, I wasn’t sure just what I would see, other than 11 cogs. So I walked over to the NRS tents to see what the mechanics were up to. It was there that I noticed one of the mechanics bleeding a hydraulic brake system. From a road lever.
This would be the spot in the program where it’s a good idea for me to back up and remind everyone that I have written previously about just how skeptical I am of the need and utility of hydraulic brakes, particularly hydraulic discs, on road bikes. Honestly, I when I noticed what was afoot, I was a bit surprised that Michael Zellmann, the head of road PR for SRAM, had invited me. I mean, this was like pitching Dura-Ace to a guy who’d inherited his love of Campy from his dad. I do my best to be open-minded, but at every turn I had questions about just what sort of solution hydraulic discs offered.
Let’s recap those concerns, shall we?
- If you boil your brake fluid on a descent, your brakes can fail.
- Generally, you want the bike to offer some vertical flex at the dropouts; disc brakes would demand beefing up the fork and stays.
- Many mountain bike disc brake system offer poor modulation. Road bike brakes need to offer great modulation.
- Pad retraction is an issue on many mountain bike brake systems. Roadies won’t put up with rubbing brakes.
- Disc brakes won’t improve a bike’s aerodynamics.
- The hydraulic lines will require working hand-in-glove with manufacturers to offer suitable frames.
- There isn’t enough room in control levers to add a master cylinder.
- It’ll make the bike heavier. Roadies are allergic to heavier.
Last summer, I went for a ride with Brent Graves, the head of road product for Specialized. We discussed disc brakes quite a bit. It was hard not to detect his enthusiasm. So I posed each of my concerns to him. Damn that guy, he came back with the same answer each time.
“It’s an engineering issue,” he’d say with the confidence of a pilot who’s flown to Tokyo once a week for 10 years. “It’s just engineering.”
At that point I realized I should probably just shut up and wait to see what happens. What I didn’t know (because he didn’t tell me) was that he was already riding a disc-brake-equipped prototype of the Specialized Roubaix. What he did tell me was that I could expect to see hydraulic discs on road bikes at a variety of price points perhaps as early as 2015, but certainly by 2016.
Then it was me again with the skepticism. And then, damn his intelligence, he noted that every time there had been a significant shift in the market, it had begun with the curiosity of innovators and early adopters—the bleeding edge—and then as the idea caught on, refinement of the technology to make it both affordable and palatable to the masses.
Did someone just say iPhone?
Because not all bike companies will begin developing a frame to accept the disc brakes immediately and also because even by their own admission hydraulic discs won’t be right for all applications, SRAM is offering a hydraulic rim brake. Terminology-wise, they are referring to the class of products as “Hydro R” to denote hydraulic road. The disc brake is HRD, while the rim brake is HRR. As you can tell from the photos, the master cylinder is located in the inflamed thyroid of the lever bump. Let it be said that no one will ever be able to complain about the bump on SRAM road levers being too small any more.
Specialized is actively spec’ing a Roubaix with the discs and Cannondale has a version of the SuperSix EVO with the hydraulic calipers. This is no longer bleeding edge, this is leading edge.
So that’s the what. In my next post I’ll cover my experience of actually riding each of the options with Red 22: mechanical, HRR and then HRD.