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.
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.
The single most recurring question I get from readers is what bike stuff I actually use on my own bike. When it comes down to my money, what do I choose? On some points, I’m nearly agnostic. I’ll happily ride Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM components. I have quibbles with every one of them and know their strengths like the smiles of my boys. On saddles I get a bit pickier but my preferences there are as meaningless to you as my preferences in music; unless your ass is shaped like mine, what works for me isn’t likely to work for you. Bar preference runs along similar lines because it is influenced—if not outright determined—by your fit.
Pedals are different, though. A friend once said to me that pedals are like religion. Once you find something that works, you don’t want to switch, not for all the super models in New York. Granted, I know people who still feel that way about Campagnolo, but component groups don’t inspire the same fervent reaction across all three brands.
So what do I use? No big question there as this particular cat departed the bag the moment you saw the thumbnail image leading this post. I’m a Speedplay Zero user. I began using Speedplay X pedals back in 1997 out of a sense of journalistic duty. In the previous year I’d tried every other pedal system on the planet and figured I owed myself the perspective. The transition wasn’t easy, I’ll admit. The unimpeded float felt like ice skating on a bicycle for about three days. Somewhere between hour six and hour ten on these pedals, that sensation evaporated. I stayed on the X pedals until four or five years ago when Speedplay wizard-in-chief Richard Bryne urged me to switch to the Zeros. When I asked why I should switch, he said in his characteristically confident but understated way, that it was simply a better pedal. Because the cleat engages the pedal in a completely different way, both the pedal and the cleat will last longer.
My single favorite feature of the pedal is the double-sided engagement. Why no one else has made a serious run at double-sided road pedals is one of the bigger mysteries of component design to me. I mean, if it’s a good enough idea for every last mountain bike pedal in the known universe, it’s hard to make an argument that it wouldn’t always be handy feature for a road pedal. The issue isn’t that I struggle to enter Look-cleat or other pedals. I know how to engage a pedal. What I’ve noticed is that I’m always quicker off the line than people riding other pedals. Speedplay doesn’t require any thought or special moves to engage. If you can place your foot on a flat pedal, you can engage Speedplay. This feature might mean less if I lived in a small town in Europe (as I often dream) where stop lights and signs are as frequent as native English-speakers, but because I live in Southern California where the only thing that outnumbers the stop lights are the numbers of cars on the road, I stop a lot and on a long ride, there comes a point at which I’m just too flippin’ tired to do yet another track stand. It makes for a lot of clipping in and out.
Switching back and froth between shoes set up with Speedplay and other pairs set up with Look has taught me that my foot position changes from seated to standing riding. I pronate more when I’m seated and the unrestricted float on Speedplay is friendlier to that. When riding a Look or Shimano cleat I have to give a concerted little twist to my foot every time I sit down. Do not like.
I’m not a total weight snob, but the fact that a pair of Zeros with stainless steel spindles weighs only 209g is a genuine selling point to me. I don’t see a reason for a pedal to be more complicated than necessary, nor weigh more.
It used to be that one of the big selling points of any pedal was cornering clearance. Speedplay has led the pack among all the major manufacturers by allowing a 37 degree lean angle. To put this in perspective, since 1997 I’ve scraped a Speedplay pedal exactly once, at it was on an unusual, dipping corner on a motorcycle track I was racing on, a circumstance quite unlike the real world.
The fact that the Zeros feature adjustable float, that is, the rider can adjust how much heel swing both in and out from the centerline of the pedal wasn’t really a selling point for me. That said, I’ve limited a the amount of pronation the cleat will allow to prevent the heels of my shoes from rubbing some crank arms. I’ve talked to riders who moved to Speedplay from other pedals systems who adjusted their cleats so that they needed up with only a couple of degrees of float. The upshot is they ended up with a pedal system that answers the number one criticism I hear regarding Speedplay: too much float.
The other criticism I’ve seen leveled at Speedplay is that because the pedal itself is fairly small, it can cause hotspots for riders. In my experience, this is nonsense. Hotspots caused by flex between the shoe and the pedal were a notorious problem for SPD road pedals. That cleat was, to use a technical term, itty-bitty. However, when you look at how big the cleat is that attaches to the shoe, it’s larger than Look, Shimano or Time cleats, and because carbon fiber soles are so much stiffer today than they were 10 years ago, hotspots are more likely to be caused by problems with the shoe fit than in the shoe/cleat/pedal interface.
Back when I worked as a mechanic, I prided myself on being able to overhaul any cup-and-cone bearing I encountered. While I could get the job done, my results with pedals were frequently less-than satisfactory. Getting the adjustment right on pedals proved to be difficult because while you never want to over-tighten a bearing, what usually felt tight enough without the pedal body on was never quite tight enough with the pedal body on. That Speedplays use cartridge bearings that can be serviced with a grease port and an injection of a few squirts of grease makes them the mostly easily serviceable pedals I’ve encountered.
The Zeros with stainless steel spindles go for $199. If you’re part Mallard and pronate even more than I do, you can go for the longer chrome-moly spindle model which goes for a very reasonable $129.
My belief in the pedals notwithstanding, they do have a few other qualities to recommend them. First is the fact that every rider I know who has run into knee issues related to aging has been able to solve them by moving to Speedplay, a few of them reluctantly so. Second is how Speedplay began its Division I pro team sponsorship with CSC more than 10 years ago and expanded to nearly a half-dozen different teams at one point simply because as riders left Bjarne Riis’ formation they didn’t want to give up the pedals. Only recently has that number begun to drop, in part due to Shimano demanding that if they are going to sponsor a team they must take their pedals as well.
While I can ride other pedals when I need to riding anything other than Speedplay is a bit like travel; I’m always happy to return home.
When I was a kid, my parents had a subscription to New Yorker Magazine. They had a delightful habit of cutting out their favorite cartoons and taping them up inside the cabinet doors in our kitchen. One favorite of mine was by Edward Koren in which a large furry beast with a mouth the size of a bathtub stands behind a couple in their living room. The wife tells their company, “We deal with it by talking about it.”
That seems to be a fair way to start off a review of a pair of cycling shoes with laces.
I don’t want to dance around this. Until the Giro Empire was introduced we all thought that laces were strictly the domain of NOS Dettos and photos from the Horton Collection. I mean, laces? The blast-radius of WTF? reaches all the way to the Flemish Cap. Those neon yellow laces are Exhibit A in why Giro is the bravest company in the bike industry. I’ve not loved every product they have introduced. Indeed, they’ve introduced some stuff here and there that I’ve downright disliked. But here’s the thing: Even when I haven’t liked a product, the design elements underpinning an unusual feature that I’m not wild about have never been random, strictly for style. They are a company long on style, but never place it ahead of function.
Thinking back on the four worst aspects of my first pair of Sidis is probably a good way to assess the basic elements of the Empires. Those Sidis seemed like pretty good shoes until I switched to clipless pedals. Then all sorts of stuff started going wrong. First, the eyelets at the top of the shoe started to stretch. Second, because the eyelets were stretching, the laces effectively became longer and began to catch between the chain and big chainring. Third, the cotton laces began to break. And fourth, the reduced support for the shoe due to the lack of toe clips increased the stress on the sole just behind the cleat. Both soles snapped behind the cleat. Those are all good reasons to dismiss a pair of shoes, with prejudice.
There’s little point in introducing a pair of shoes that possess such obvious flaws, right? Still, those flaws were so monumental, I had trouble getting past an experience that occurred more than 20 years ago. Giro had more than addressed those concerns, though. The top two pairs of eyelets are reinforced. The laces are a good deal more stout than those old cotton ones and the Tejin microfiber is stout enough that while not impossible to stretch, a ride in the rain won’t result in your shoes growing by a half size. As to the silliness of having laces flopping around to get caught in a chainring, Giro included a small elastic loop to keep the laces out of the way. Those broken soles? Well there wasn’t much threat that the Easton EC90 carbon fiber soles would snap in two.
I had the sense that as I set the cleats up on the shoes and began adjusting the laces for my fit they were mocking my objections. I’m not one for personification, but if ever a pair of shoes could have managed a derisive laugh, these would have been the pair.
The one-piece Tejin upper is a marvel of construction in that finding a material that could be forced to assume such a shape wouldn’t also find a new, less-desirable shape the moment it becomes damp with road spray. Giro says the Tejin is remarkably breathable which is why there are no panels of mesh or more obviously breathable materials, just perforations to aid breathability. While I haven’t used these shoes in ultra-hot conditions, I’ve not noticed my feet becoming sweaty in familiar conditions, and they’ve been on the cool side when I’ve worn them without booties on mornings in the low 50s.
Most fitters I know turn red with apoplexy any time you try to discuss a shoe manufacturer’s insoles. I’ll agree that most are pretty awful. I’ll also agree that a custom-molded insole beats any production insole like a piece of schnitzel under a meat tenderizer. All that said, Giro’s insoles, with their replaceable arch support, are far and away my favorites on the market. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve got an extremely high arch (not to mention a foot wider than some boulevards) and the Giro insole is the only production insole that can provide support for the whole of my arch.
After riding with the included insoles for a week I went ahead and swapped them out with a pair of custom molded ones I have. This is a practice of mine that is virtually inevitable with all shoes I wear; I didn’t trim these insoles to match the shape of the insoles I removed, the upshot being that it pushes the toe box out a bit, gaining me a bit more width where I need it most, near the ball of my foot.
I’m told that if you’ve got a relationship with a good shoe repair shop a talented cobbler can stretch the Tejin a bit to customize the fit, but you need someone with both know-how and tools.
The last time someone sent me a $150 shoe to review, my feeling was that it was so crappy I didn’t see the point in reviewing something that made uncomfortable to do the two things that model was meant to accomplish: pedal and walk. With a suggested retail of $274.95, these are twice as expensive as any pair of dress shoes I’ve ever purchased, but I never asked as much of a pair of dress shoes I’ve worn. I’m also aware that some production—not custom—cycling shoes are still a good bit more expensive; I can’t make out why.
I’ve observed a number of features to recommend these shoes, but I’ve only circled the central issue of these shoes—how having laces affects the fit. Let’s consider that most cycling shoes use three straps to close, whether velcro or ratchet. Honestly, three points of adjustment isn’t much. By comparison, the Empire has seven sets of eyelets. The fit that the laces has allowed me to achieve is order magnitudes better than what I get with three straps and even better than what I can get with a Boa closure. Let me add that I’ve encountered a number of velcro straps that were too short and stiff to comfortably accommodate my wide, high-volume foot; I could barely get the strap to connect without cutting off circulation to my forefoot and toes.
A buddy on Saturday’s ride asked how on Earth I’m able to adjust the fit during my ride. My response: I don’t. I’d say that twice each year I’ll get distracted as I’m putting my shoes on and realize that either they are too loose or too tight and need to adjust them. Part of this depends on the fact that I’m not someone who rides with his shoes tightened down like a corset; I don’t see the point. I simply pull the the laces to the point that the fit is snug, but not tight, and I can do five hours in them that way.
It would be easy to pitch the Empire as a classic case of making an old idea new, but the truth is simpler, more compelling, less derivative. Seven sets of eyelets simply give you more control over fit through a greater length of the shoe. It’s an idea we should never have stopped chasing.
The thing is, in the 1990s I spent my winters chasing fitness with skate skiing and crazy-long trainer sessions. Even though I was a PSIA-certified ski instructor, a good week saw me on the snow maybe four days, so I’d spend the other days doing rides on my trainer. My last winter in Northampton saw record-breaking snowfall. It was still snowing in April. I got a lot of trainer time that winter. Three-hour sessions several times a week resulted in burned-out bearings for the resistance fan and on one occasion my workout was so vigorous that I managed to scoot the trainer across the floor until my bike’s rear tire was rubbing one of the cushions on my couch. I managed to burn a hole in the cushion. Made for a delightful meal of crow when my (ex) wife got home.
Ever since that winter spending time on trainers has been as attractive a thought as seeing an ex at a holiday party. Magnetic resistance and fluid resistance trainers may have made trainers quieter, but it has made them less pleasant to ride. Most of the units I’ve tried in the last 15 years lack the smooth resistance offered by fan-based resistance. I’ve still got one fluid-resistance trainer in my garage and even on its lowest setting riding that thing is like pedaling up a 20-percent grade. Any pause in pedaling results in the feeling that you are starting from a dead stop.
You might say I’ve been celibate for some years.
When I encountered the LeMond Revolution at Interbike in 2012, I was pretty impressed. Because it uses a fan for its resistance, it’s noisy, though it’s not so noisy as the wind trainer I owned in the ’90s. The LeMond Revolution adds an interesting twist to the wind resistance unit—it includes a flywheel. The upshot is that you get the resistance of a traditional fan plus the inertial feel of rollers. You can skip a few pedal strokes and actually coast without having the trainer immediately come to a stop. Tiny fidgets in the saddle in which you might ease up on the pedals for a moment don’t result in the feeling that you just shifted up a gear.
The Revolution is based on a design that a physicist LeMond knew came up with in the 1980s. The only American winner of the Tour de France used that prototype from ’82 until his retirement in ’94. LeMond says that when in your biggest gear while pedaling at 110 rpm, you’ll generate more than 800 watts. That makes for a great rebuttal should anyone worry that anything so easy to pedal could actually provide a reasonable workout.
The irony of stationary trainers is that they are sold on how hard you can go on them. The greater reality about them is that this time of year most riders need them most for logging base miles. It’s in doing easy miles that the more unnatural the feel of a trainer, the more unpleasant the experience is.
Even if you are opposed to the idea of a wind trainer, there are plenty of other reasons why the LeMond Revolution is better-designed than other trainers. By eliminating the rear wheel and mountain the rear triangle of the bike to the trainer, wheel and tire wear are eliminated. Tire slip against the roller during hard jumps is eliminated. Funny lean angles caused by bent or misaligned trainer legs is eliminated thanks to adjustable pads the trainer sits on; you can level it just like you would your stove. By eliminating the rear wheel, the Revolution tackles another common problem with trainers—how to level the front wheel. By positioning the axle at the same distance from the ground as that of a rear wheel, the front wheel need not be propped up to make the bike level. Pretty genius.
The trainer, with cassette goes for $659. That’s not cheap, but in my mind I liken it to the expensive health club that you use more because it’s not a dive. I can’t stress this enough; I’ve avoided trainers—avoided them—for many years because I just couldn’t stand the experience anymore. The LeMond Revolution has been enough of a revelation in experience that I’ve begun to see it as a way to sneak in extra miles, like after the boys are in bed.
I live in a place where the trainer isn’t necessary and yet the Revolution seems useful, a way to help my fitness. Imagine how useful it could be to everyone in the real world, that place where winter can screw up everything from trees to plumbing to fitness.
This isn’t quite what love feels like, but I’m willing to date this one.
Travel writers usually begin their careers with a zany appetite for the unknown and laugh off discomforts as the basis for their next funny line, and early on in their careers both the great Redmond O’Hanlon and Tim Cahill had few tools in their writers’ toolboxes other than humor. Laughter is, of course, disarming, a way to mitigate horror and repulsion, two reactions that tend to get served up with regularity the further afield you travel. Sure, the budding travel writer gets to try the planet’s many wonders: French beaches, German castles, Italian duomos, Swedish ice hotels. But pretty soon they run out of A-list destinations. There comes a point when a writer has done all the islands of Hawaii and skied from France to Italy that he is faced with Brazilian slums, Bulgarian hotels and Parisian cab drivers. Or, in Cahill’s case, the burning oil fields of Kuwait.
The upshot is the epiphany that maybe the world isn’t one ginormous oyster. Plenty of travel writers moved on to other subject matter rather than brave lodgings inoculated to both the mop and 600-thread-count sheets. There are, of course, exceptions. Here, I’m thinking of Rob Schultheis and Sebastian Junger, who decided to go all-in on adventure by becoming war correspondents and, again, of O’Hanlon, for whom the adventure didn’t really start until all of his companions were pissed off enough to return home and leave him to the cannibals.
The challenge is that the discomforts begin to outweigh the revelations. Leaving home begins to seem like not such a great idea.
Writing about cycling clothing is not entirely unlike travel writing.
I’ve been writing about cycling clothing with some regularity for nearly 20 years. In that time I’ve gone from welcoming each new kit with belief that here was yet another fine outfit to make riding enjoyable to the grudging acknowledgement that even some storied companies make pieces that are damned uncomfortable. Those discomforts begin to add up. It would be easy just to wear the Panache-made RKP kit and review the odd piece from Assos. Anthony Bourdain’s show would be a lot less interesting if all he did was tour the best restaurants of Las Vegas.
This year I tried a number of different pieces that were completely new to me. Some were amazing; readers would submit that they were as amazing for their prices as they were for my appraisal. Fair enough. There were far more pieces that weren’t terrible, but reviewing them carried the challenge of trying to figure out just what to say about a Holiday Inn in Memphis. It’s clothing. The shorts had a pad. The jersey had a zipper in front and pockets in the back. And?
But even the veteran travel writer encounters those unexpected treasures, the evidentiary miracle of poulet avec Rosé on a searing July day in Provence.
I live for those experiences and easily the biggest surprise I got this year came when I tried the Primal Wear Helix kit. Primal’s reputation has largely been built on its jersey designs, which mostly either delight or repulse, given your taste. For many years, the cuts were pretty traditional and the large jersey was a common choice for the 150-lb. century rider. That people couldn’t figure out how to select the proper size wasn’t exactly the company’s fault, but they gained a reputation for being a go-to for less than fashionable riders.
The company has evolved since those early days, though. They built their own factory to produce the clothing to their specs, rather than outsource it to a subcontractor; granted, that meant moving production from the U.S. to China, but the change gave them more control over the final product.
The Helix kit is a reflection of those and other changes. The jersey takes an aggressive step into a pro fit. The body of the jersey is noticeably shorter than the products they are best-known for, and it’s cut on a marked taper. Club cut this is not. To make sure this jersey isn’t meant exclusively for those who maintain great year-round fitness (a group I lost membership rights to), Primal uses SLR Ion fabric which features a lightweight and breathable weave, perfect for days where both the temperature and humidity soars. It’s got enough stretch to accommodate riders who aren’t so pro-shaped as well as those of us whose shape may, uh, fluctuate over the course of the season. The sleeves are cut from Z92, a dimpled material that has been shown to cut drag and has become all the rage among clothing makers for their upper-end kit. To make sure the jersey is as breathable as possible, a lightweight mesh—AE Elite Mesh—is used in the side panels and just behind the sleeves.
The design work is understated and classic. It touts the company’s heritage (founded in Denver in 1992) and avoids anything anyone might call garish. Primal’s design team deserves credit for creating a look many other brands struggle to achieve.
Making a short-cut, stretchy jersey really isn’t that hard. There are, however, a couple of ways to really screw it up. The first, most obvious way to do it is by placing the pockets in the same spot as you would for a traditional jersey. Do that and riders will bonk because they can’t get that last gel out. The pockets have to be positioned no more than a millimeter—okay, maybe two—above the hem so that you can get your hand into the jersey and back out. And you thought gripper elastic was just meant to keep from exposing your bibs. Primal also cut the two side pockets on a slight slant to increase access without really cutting carrying capacity.
The other important detail I’ve seen screwed up happens when a manufacturer uses a zipper that’s too stiff. An overly stiff zipper has resulted in an unsightly chest bulge some refer to (forgive the relative political incorrectness of the term) as monotit. A supple zipper can allow the jersey to move across your chest in a more natural manner. Here, Primal uses a high-quality YKK full-zip with a metal pull that is easy to find on the roll.
The surprise of this jersey was compounded by the fact that the sleeves are set-in. Were I to create a category for the worst-fitting jerseys I’ve ever tried on, they would all have in common a cut that included set-in sleeves. That this jersey fits me, despite its sleeves, makes it a serious outlier. Not that I object.
In my mind, it’s not that hard to make a good jersey. It’s kinda like making a burger. If you can’t manage that we are going to need you to step away from the kitchen. Bibs, however, are as ripe with opportunities for disaster as a slow-moving freighter in Somali waters. Are the bibs too long? Too short? Is the pad too far forward? Too far back? Is the pad too thin? Too thick? Are the shorts cut too tight in back? Too roomy? Do they cost more than a small TV? Or too little to convince you they won’t kill your undercarriage?
See what I mean? That’s why there are times when I open a package and think to myself, “Do I really need to visit Borneo?”
The answer, of course, is that I’m not much of a reviewer if I don’t review. So I pack for Borneo.
What I’ve run into on multiple occasions is a pad that only works so long as I’m in the drops. The moment I sit up my sit bones roll off the back of the pad and I might as well be wearing a pair of boxers for all the benefit I realize. The pad is not only well-positioned but it is made from dense enough foam that I’ve been comfortable on rides as long as five hours.What I like even better is that while the pad uses multiple thicknesses of foam, the transitions are gentle enough that you don’t end up with cavernous valleys between the various sections which causes some shorts to move rather unnaturally.
The dimpled Z92 material found in the jersey sleeves makes a reappearance, here in the butt panel and the gipper bands. The majority of the shorts are cut from Vero, a four-way stretch fabric touted for compression. I like it because it’s a fairly stout material, not like the paper-thin stuff I find in so many shorts that struggle to last the whole of a season. The bibs are cut from a mesh that breathes well enough not to be a liability.
The Axios Helix bibs go for $200 and the jersey another $100. Buy them together on the Primal Wear website and you’ll get a discount. I take a fair amount of heat for reviewing stuff that people think is inordinately expensive. As I type this, I can hear the shuffle of feet as people queue up to chastise me for encouraging readers to rob their children of a college education because even this will be judged by some to be too expensive. Whatever. This kit is the best value in cycling clothing I’ve worn this year. I looked at some budget shorts at Interbike this year and the thought that stuck with me was that life is too short to put on shorts that won’t last a year and will make me regret each ride I do in them. This kit achieved something very few kits do: It made it into my ongoing rotation of clothing, alongside my Panache and Assos stuff.
The first car I ever coveted or even cared about was the 1968 Mustang coupe. One of my camp counselors (in 1969) had one in what, in my memory, was a stunning gold. I’ve loved those late ’60s and early ’70s Mustangs with a romantic abandon ever since. Every now and then, I allow my self a fantasy about having a fun car, something indulgent and impractical. And every now and then I rejigger that fantasy to take in something a bit more affordable than a Porsche Cayman, and back to my beloved Mustang I go. The problem I encounter is that the practical streak that causes me to rejigger that fantasy in favor of affordability, extends to my considerations of the driving experience.
You see, I know that I don’t really want a Mustang. Stick with me a sec and I’ll explain how a guy who wants a Mustang simultaneously doesn’t want the car that he just said he wants. I swear.
Those old Mustangs were called muscle cars for a reason. They corner with all the grace of a bowling pin balanced on a roller skate. Their suspension has all the sophistication of a 16-year-old boy’s libido. Their emissions as offensive (and hilarious) as the great bean scene in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. Those seats? My couch is more comfortable. Lap belt? Are you serious? The sound system … don’t get me started about the aural offense that AM radio represents. But I’m started, so I just need to remind you how reception disappears as you pass beneath bridges, between buildings and in desirable driving terrain. AM radio is mono, not stereo, which is fine if you’re Vincent Van Gogh. And don’t talk to me about upgrades. That’s divorcing your wife for a trophy model; it’s admitting you didn’t really love her.
I carry a similar romance for those old English three speeds. When I was in grad school, I worked for Parker Ramspott at Laughing Dog Bicycles (back then, Bicycle World Too), in Amherst, Massachusetts, and at the end of each school year Parker would buy up all the used 3-speeds from departing students he could find. He’d sell them to incoming students the following fall. I worked on a hell of a lot of those bikes and they endured like the works Dickens.
The thing is, those old three speeds were just that: three speeds. They carry all the same flavor of liability that the Mustangs do. What I really want is a car that looks like a Mustang, but actually works. I found it in Electra‘s Ticino 20D. Nevermind the fact that this isn’t a car, let alone inspired by American Muscle. The Ticino revisits the style and appeal of those older utility bikes while adding some touches that make it practical in a way watching coeds push 50 lbs. of English steel uphill through campus isn’t.
Electra begins with an aluminum frame. The 6061 tubing is butted to give the bike a noticeably livelier demeanor while mitigating the harsh nature for which aluminum is so criticized. The fork is chromoly and uses a chromed, investment-cast crown, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.
These days, most utility bikes I come across are spec’d with parts that work well enough for weekend use but aren’t really sufficient to daily use. The Ticino is a clear exception to that. While the company is better known for cruisers long on style and maybe bashful on actual function, the Ticino demonstrates that the people at Electra know bikes today as well as back through their history. Allow me to explain.
Were you to build a 21st-century answer to the three speed, what would you include? Thanks, I’ll take it from here: I’d want more gears. I don’t need to fly downhill, but I’d like to get up them without needing to dismount. Similarly, in a land with hills, I’d like some real brakes. How about a rack to make errands practical? Why, thank you. Maybe some fenders for the rain? Absolutely. Oh, and that aforementioned aluminum frame? When combined with a lightweight drivetrain, aluminum rack and fenders, they work together to keep the bike from weighing as much as a moped.
It would seem a lot to ask for it all to carry some style, but a guy can dream, right? Well, therein lies the particular genius of the Ticino. From the chromed fork crown and faux Reynolds tubing decals, this bike all but fools me into thinking it was created in Nottingham. The crank evokes the old cotter-pin variety that was as much fun to work on as doing your taxes. Ack. The brushed aluminum found in the canti’s turns up in the pedals, and the high-flange hubs and they are high enough in luster to effectively match the many other components possessing a first-rate polish. The shine of the fork crown and cranks turns up in the brake levers, bar, stem, seatpost, rims, fenders and even the rack.
The upshot is that this bike functions as well as it looks. Even the saddle is meant to evoke a bygone era, rather than the latest comfort tech.
I added a couple of blinkys in a shot at increased visibility and a Knog lock to make sure I could return to the bike post-errand. And then I set out for the post office, the bank, Trader Joe’s and the odd taqueria. I admit here, most of my actual miles were logged behind Mini-Shred in trips to the neighborhood parks because a day without a trip to the park is a day wasted, in his estimation.
The forward-pointing brake levers, while cool and period-appropriate in look, are one of my only quibbles with this bike. Because of the way the cable exits the grip, it limits both the positioning of the brake lever and the shifters. Those levers also made it a bit more difficult to figure out the ideal manner in which to lean the bike against walls.
My one other criticism of this bike was the decision to pair a 50/39 crankset with a 12-30 cassette. Speed was never a concern while I was riding this bike. The cassette could easily have been paired with something smaller—a 46/34, perhaps—to ease the hills just a bit more and to make it easier to follow my son at low speeds.
Both of these criticisms are small points in an otherwise nearly impossible-to-criticize bike.
Thanks to its upright rider position, the Ticino’s handling is light and easy. With so little weight on the front wheel, I wouldn’t want to descend any mountain passes, but I feel safe enough in my neighborhood if gravity pulls me toward 20 mph. In turns, partly courtesy the 35mm tires, the bike imparts confidence if not dare-devilry.
The Ticino comes in two sizes for men and one for women, and thanks to the sloping top tube they’ll cover a great many people. It also comes in three different trim levels: a seven speed, an eight speed and then the fully tricked-out 20-speed I’ve been riding. The entry-level bike goes for $650 while my loaded version goes for $1600.
People can buy their throwbacks and achieve authenticity, but I like the idea of splitting the difference, not having a bike that weighs 50 lbs., stops on command, gets me up hills with a minimum of fuss and still carries the appeal of the bicycle itself. That’s the real triumph of this bike. The Ticino is a bike for people who know bikes.
I’ll admit that when I was in my teens and even into my twenties, I didn’t give a lot of thought to appropriate dress. If the occasion wasn’t formal enough to demand dress wear, then I tended to think there were no rules. My parents found that to be one of my less endearing qualities. I’ve learned a thing or two since then. The upshot is that when I show up for a ride, I do what I can to look the part. Lycra for group rides on the road, something normal looking for store runs and on mountain bike rides, something that falls somewhere in between.
So if I’m with other riders, that means I’ve got baggy shorts on. Getting my head around baggy shorts has taken deliberate, concerted, effort. I had plenty of reasons not to wear them. I didn’t see the need to catch the crotch of the shorts on the saddle. I’d rejected regular shorts decades ago in favor of bibs. And why would I want to put anything useful in a pocket that hung near my knee? Still, I didn’t want to show up for a casual mountain bike ride looking like I was ready to pin a number on. Who wants to hang out with a guy who can’t relax?
Then I got some shorts that I could pair with bibs. That made my undercarriage more comfortable, but brought up a new issue. With so much fabric on, it made a ride on a hot summer day even hotter. With a few I tried I noticed that if they were loose enough in fit so they didn’t restrict my breathing, I could nearly slide out of them thanks to the Lycra.
Then one of the more creative engineers I know tackled the problem. Tim Lane, the proprietor of Dirt Baggies, was an engineer at Felt. Among his designs is the original DA, which was a stunningly fast bike, thanks to the patented Bayonet fork.
If you ask Tim about Dirt Baggies, he can go on and on about the little details he bothered to pay attention to make the Dirt Baggies a fresh take on what mountain bike shorts could be. The first time I wore a pair of Dirt Baggies on a ride, I vowed I wouldn’t wear anything else so long as these were clean from the last ride, they were that good.
For me, the difference between Dirt Baggies and everything else comes down to a few key points. First, the Feature inner short—the liner—is a proper bib short. Second, the short has a fly in it to make kidney tapping the opposite of elaborate. Third—and I love this one—he went with Cytech’s top of the line pad, the same pad that Panache uses. He did this in part, he told me, because he’d listened to me rave about it so much. Fourth, the Vent outer short is reasonably lightweight and breathable. Wearing these on a hot August afternoon doesn’t seem vaguely suicidal. If those don’t seem like revolutionary ideas, this one will: Fifth, he invented an adjustable tether system to keep the liner and the outer together.
Tim so thoroughly believes in the need for superior fit and the comfort that can come with it that he went to the trouble to offer both the liner and the outer shorts in nine sizes: every two inches from 28 to 44. I am wearing the 32 bib with the 34 outer short. That combo gives me a great fit without restricting my breathing and keeps the liner concealed beneath the outer.
The Vent outer short goes for $89.99 while the Feature liner goes for $179.99. They are arguably the most expensive baggies on the market, but they so thoroughly outstrip everything else I’ve tried, I believe the only reasonable way to frame their superiority is to say that these are the Assos of mountain bike shorts. They’re that good.
I could go on about the amazing pocket designs. Ones in the bib straps can hold your phone or an iPod while the thigh pockets on the outer shorts are big enough to hold a 24-oz. water bottle without preventing you from pedaling. Impressive. But really, while details like those are great, they aren’t why I recommend these, why I’m devoted to them.
Given the time of year, it’s worth mentioning that Tim has a Kickstarter campaign going right now for thermal bibs and thermal knickers. You’ve got about two weeks from this publication date to get in on a set. Because the project has already reached its funding goal, if you pledge, you’re assured to get a set. You can find the Kickstarter here.
When I was a kid getting a new board game for Christmas didn’t rank quite as cool as a new toy or model, but it was way better than receiving clothing. I recall how my parents were always excited to see my sister or me receive a game. I get it now. And while I don’t have the opposition to video games that some parents do, the reality is that the majority of games I’ve encountered for the Xbox are for single players. Taking turns only entertains for so long. Board games are another matter.
Trading on our nostalgia for the Schwinn brand (can you blame them?), the company has introduced a relatively simple board game that can keep a family entertained. They say it’s possible for kids as young as four to play, but I’ll admit that my four-year-old needed more than a little help to play. The game is really well done. The player’s pieces are based on popular Schwinn bikes—I was all about the Gray Ghost Stingray.
Play is simple and straightforward: roll the dice and move your piece around the board. Two decks of cards offer players questions. Some are kid-simple, such as a photo of a bike part that the player is expected to name. Some, such as trivia about cycling on the order of, “Who is Greg LeMond?” are a bit tougher.
Honestly, I’m more executed to play this than I’ve ever been to play a board game with my family. There may come a point when playing Candyland with Philip becomes exciting, but the Schwinn Biking Game is yet another chance for me to share something I love with at least one of my boys.
Oddly, I can’t find the game on the Schwinn site. For more info, or to go ahead and buy it, you might try Amazon.
In the world of cycling apparel, each company tries to have a unique point of view, technical story, and brand direction, while simultaneously reaching a wide swath of riders. Since apparel is one of the easiest games to get into, it’s also the most crowded. You have the big, heavy hitters like Pearl Izumi crammed into every IBD and big box (and Amazon site) in existence. You have the bicycle companies such as Specialized and Cannondale trying to leverage their brand recognition. You have Rapha and Road Holland, who encapsulate a lifestyle and image, and you have them all at the same time.
But every so often, a company comes along who is able to negotiate this complicated arena and stake out their own space by pairing a unique design aesthetic with a technically superior product. SOUTH Apparel is just such a company.
Based in Australia, SOUTH has only a few kit designs, but they are all well thought out and highly desirable. Kit choices usually sit somewhere around billboard and boring. SOUTH hits the sweet spot with patterns that stand out in the crowd. Their range varies from a wild leopard print called Feline (with a pink option…for men) to a subtle, striped design called Preppy. Technical features range from a 240gsm enhanced moisture management fabric (most brands use 200gsm, which doesn’t have the same compression values), which is also SPF 25, to double stitched pockets and hems throughout for durability.
Needless to say, I was pretty psyched to get the product and try it out.
When it arrived, it was all class from the start, with the kit emerging from the box in a very nice SOUTH Musette bag (which I have to admit, I am still using as my daily carry-all, see above). The feel of the fabric was lovely to the touch, but the thing that most excited me? The very large 9cm compression leg band. As a woman, “sausage thigh” is my largest pet peeve.
Donning the jersey, the fit was spot on, form fitting but not so tight that it couldn’t accommodate my usual solo ride gear, pump, tube, tire lever, Clif bar, banana, and cellphone. The compression leg band was just as dreamy as I had hoped.
Next test: Riding.
In the saddle, the performance of the kit impressed me right off the bat. That first day, I put in 65 miles with two significant climbs. The women’s specific chamois kept all the right places comfortable regardless of where I sat on the saddle, which is always a huge concern for me as I ride a 168cm wide Specialized Oura. I was also doubly impressed with the extra wide leg band, as the added compression helped keep my thighs in top condition regardless of the pitch of the climb.
My only small complaint that first day was that the fabric seemed a little slick on the saddle. Though I could put myself into the right place, staying there at times seemed more challenging than I would have liked, and unfortunately, this challenge never went away, though it also hasn’t presented enough of a problem to dampen my enthusiasm for the kit.
Since then, I’ve logged countless miles in my SOUTH kit, putting it through the wash many times. It has held up to every trip through the Maytag in fine form, with no pilling or loose seams. The chamois has also held up well, ride after ride, not breaking down or losing shape, not becoming less comfy over the miles.
Today, I’m still happy to report that when the weather is nice, it’s one of my go-to options. Since the temperatures have started to dip, the weight doesn’t lend itself well to the elements, even when paired with base layers and jackets. That is not to say I wouldn’t go out in a base layer and arm warmers on a chilly morning, but I make sure the temperatures will eventually rise before choosing this particular kit from my closet. I would say it’s a late Spring to early Fall choice, which is the optimal ride time for most anyway.
Bottom line? If you’re looking for a great all-around kit that will make you stand out in the crowd in a good way, SOUTH is definitely the way to go. Retailing for $295.oo AUD ($264.48 USD) as a complete kit, SOUTH is currently running a Holiday Sale with a very tempting price of $147.50 AUD ($134.24 USD). To order, head to their website. Don’t waste time Googling around; you won’t find them.