In the winter of 2000, I was standing in The Gap, trying to pick out a belt to go with some shoes I’d recently purchased when I ran across some microfleece gloves. They were on special for $7, because winter ends sometime in mid-January, and that old, unseasonal stock has to be cleared out, right? The material was thin by fleece standards, maybe five very compressible millimeters. I had some team gloves that were stretched out and I slid the microfleece beneath them, so that I had full-finger gloves with the grip of a traditional cycling glove while avoiding the liability of the bulky fingers that come with so many full-finger gloves. Here’s the thing: That combo kept my hands happy into the mid-40s, well below what I would have imagined I might tolerate.
Alas, the gloves wore out after six or seven years of use and I had to move on to other solutions. I’ve been searching for something as useful ever since. Or perhaps I should say I was searching for something as useful until I tried the Assos Insulator Gloves. I’ve been through gloves from a number of companies—seven at last count—basically anyone who offered something lightweight I tried. It’s not that the gloves in question were lousy, but either they weren’t as warm as what I’d had, or they were as warm as what I’d had, but were bulkier, so they reduced dexterity. The frustration has run for years for one simple reason—I’ve never been able to find microfleece gloves of quite the variety I purchased all those years ago.
I reached a point where I simply became curious about what was out there because I was so dissatisfied with everything I’d tried and that dissatisfaction metastisised to my wallet; I became willing to pay a king’s ransom just to get the glove I wanted. Even at full retail, the gloves I’d gotten from The Gap had only gone for $24; at that price I’d have purchased a couple of pair—if I could find them.
Enter the Assos insulatorGlove L1_S7. These are hands-down the lightest full-finger glove I can find. Unlike what I used previously, these feature a smooth polyester finish on the outside dotted with Assos’ silicone ProGrip to give your fingers a solid purchase on control levers, something I admit the original gloves lacked. At first glance, the suggested retail of $49.99 may seem pricey, but a quick review of some similar gloves shows they are going for $40 to $45. I prefer the Insulator Glove over other options for two reasons; first, due to excellent patterning resulting in very few seams, there’s a good deal less spare material inside the glove than I’ve found with competitors’ products. More seams increases bulk and decreases dexterity and sensitivity. Second, the glove has an exceptional fit, which owes something to the fact that it comes in a whopping seven sizes; I wear medium, the same size I wear in Assos jerseys and jackets.
These gloves have kept my hands warm into the low 50s. When combined with a slightly stretched out short-finger glove, they’ll keep me happy to the mid-40s. Life in Southern California means I don’t often encounter conditions colder than that. But I recently spent nearly three weeks in Memphis and that gave me the chance to try out the earlyWinterGlove_s7.
Most of the glove is constructed from a fleece-lined polyester; it’s surprisingly flexible given its weight. A second panel cut from a more durable polyamide, dotted with silicone grippers, is sewn over portions of the palm, as well as the thumb, and the middle and index fingertips for excellent grip. A long gauntlet ensures that the glove won’t leave your wrists exposed to the elements and a final gripper panel is sewn onto the inner side of the gauntlet to help you pull the gloves on. And as you can see from the photo, the way the glove is constructed, the thumb is articulated outward to make gripping the bar more comfortable.
While I Memphis I rode in temperatures ranging from the mid-70s all the way down to the mid-30s. On those mid-30s days I’d combine the Insulator Glove with the Early Winter Glove and stay fairly comfortable. Assos indicates the Early Winter Glove can be used in temperatures ranging from 43 to 54 degrees, Fahrenheit. Honestly, I’ve never worn the Early Winter Glove alone. I stick with the Insulator Glove until conditions are just too cold for it, and then I add the Early Winter Glove. Carrying a retail price of $139.99, this glove is definitely on the expensive side—I’ve seen gloves using similar materials for $100 to $130—but like the Insulator Glove, there are very few seams on the glove to help reduce excess material, and it is cut in seven sizes.
Think about it: Most manufacturers usually offer gloves in four or five sizes at best. A very few offer six sizes in gloves. When was the last time you ran across a manufacturer that offered gloves in seven sizes? In my experience, the effectiveness of a pair of gloves has more to do with patterning (how many pieces of material are used—more pieces means more seams) and sizing. I’ve yet to encounter any gloves cut from similar materials that fit as well or offer as much comfort.
Okay, now that the collective gasp everyone made in reading that title has passed, I’ll confirm for you that this is a review of eyewear that you may not even have known existed. Members of the Argos-Shimano and Française des Jeux teams have been wearing pieces of Shimano eyewear for a couples of seasons (though most of the bigger names at FDJ, like Jeremy Roy, wear Oakley) as have Niels Albert and Radomir Simunek Jr., but of the many things that Shimano makes, their eyewear has gotten less promotion than a woman in Congress.
Okay, so I’m going to be honest here. There are a great many accessories produced by big companies that aren’t necessarily up to par. Trek’s water bottles can’t compare to those made by Specialized, for instance. Cycling is full of similar examples. Last month I went to the media intro for Dura-Ace 9000, and while there I tried out a pair of the Equinox just to be polite. I really didn’t think they’d be anything that I’d wear more than a week, just to make sure they were unremarkable.
Sometimes, my hunches are just plain wrong and this is one of those times. I’ve never been wrongerer about an item that wasn’t core to a company’s product line.
Look, these are just glasses. They won’t make you faster, they won’t bring peace to the Middle East and they are unlikely to make the opposite sex bat their eyes at you, but what they will do is provide you with eye protection suited to anything from midnight to noon. That’s why I’m writing.
The Shimano Equinox Eyewear kit comes with three sets of lenses. There’s a pair of clear lenses included, plus a pair of mirrored lenses with a gradient, gray tint; their materials list a fourth, yellow, set of lenses, but mine didn’t include those. The lenses included in the glasses have a slight brown tint that is very color-accurate, but what makes them remarkable is that they are photochromic, covering the broadest range of any photochromic eyewear I’ve ever worn, from Cat. 1 to Cat. 3. I timed the transition from lightest tint to darkest at under 20 seconds, though the reverse seemed to take a few seconds longer.
I never used the clear or mirror lenses. Not once. I had no need. I wore these glasses during sunny, cloudless days and in pre-dawn darkness that required lights on my bike. Never in my life has one pair of glasses been so versatile.
Naturally, styling will be a big question on peoples’ minds. I think these look sufficiently PRO not to be an embarrassment, and I’m sorry, but I don’t care how effective a piece of eyewear is—if it looks like something I’d buy off a rack at the Flying J truck stop, I’m not wearing them for all the diesel in Bakersfield.
I could go on about all the technology Shimano uses in their polycarbonite lenses, how remarkably clear they are, the scratch-resistant coating, the prescription lens clip that’s available, the nice travel box and larger-than-Oakley’s cotton protection bag, or how I was able to fit them into helmets from both Specialized (the Prevail) and Giro (the Aeon)—though not Bell—but the only other detail that really impressed me was this: They retail for $119.99.
We tend to think of great achievements as unparalleled statements of personal belief. The great sporting performances, the great works of art, the great leaders, are easy to see as examples of uncompromising will. We like to think of Claude Monet as an artist without peer, yet even at the height of his powers he was aware of the work his contemporaries were doing, and often discussed them and their work in his letters.
We think of compromise as a kind of sacrifice, a net loss, something less than an individual’s pure art.
The Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers are an achievement borne of compromise. These aren’t the lightest wheels on the market. They aren’t the most aerodynamic wheels on the market. They aren’t the stiffest wheels on the market, nor are they the strongest. They aren’t even the best riding.
Sounds like they aren’t all that terrific, doesn’t it? Well that’s where the compromise helps. I’ve ridden the tubular 202 and have serious miles on the Firecrest 404s. The tubular 202s accelerated like a goosed cat and forgave over-geared climbing with the aplomb of an Irish priest. I’ve not ridden another wheel like them. On the other hand, the Firecrest 404s are a divine instrument of personal torture. Little else can inspire me to dig deeper than to look down at my Garmin and see 30 mph and know I still have a few beats in reserve. Not that it happens much, mind you, but going that fast is high-school-make-out fun. And if the only downside to riding that fast was chapped lips, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of this computer right now.
I flat-out have never ridden a wheel this light that wasn’t a liability aerodynamics-wise. Weight on the Firecrest 202s is 606 grams front, 737g rear and 1343g pair, significantly less than the advertised 1375g. Sure, there are lighter wheels out there, but wind tunnel tests say the traditional box rim throws 324g of drag when laced with the same spoke pattern as the 202s. By comparison, the hummingbird of the Zipp line throws only 131g of drag, for a 60 percent reduction in drag. Now, compare that to the 80g of drag of the Firecrest 404s.
Now consider the difference between the tubular 202s with the Firecrest Carbon Clincher 202s. The tubulars weigh what a lot of frames weigh—1115g. That’s 228g lighter than the clincher model and if the folks at Zipp were as bad at weighing the tubulars as they were the clinchers, that difference in weight is even greater, which is to say that the Bugatti Veyron doesn’t accelerate as quickly as these wheels do. The trick is, that weight loss is completely offset by the wheels’ unremarkable aerodynamics.
All the bike industry engineers I talk to are singing the same song: Weight is going to matter less and less. We’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. The real gains, as I’ve reported before, are going to be in aerodynamics. It took a while for me to become a believer, but I’ve ridden enough aero wheels and frames at this point that even if I didn’t want to believe, I’ve seen the results displayed before me on Strava. It took me months to understand why I set my fastest time down Decker Road in Malibu on a day where I really wasn’t trying hard to go fast. Finally, one day I recalled that on the day I’d bettered my previous top speed on that road by a full 2 mph (with no tailwind), I was riding the Cervelo S5. Oh. Ah. Right.
My sense is that on flat rides these wheels aren’t the liability other climbing wheels are. They are still an improvement over most of the aluminum wheels your friends are riding. But on climbs you’re going to have an easier time keeping your cadence up than if you were riding a heavier wheel. And if you’re an Eagle among frogs, an acceleration on these wheels will deliver dividends that will leave tongues lolling on stems.
It’s easy to focus on the Zipp rims and forget about the notable quality of the Zipp 88 and 188 hubs. Honestly, without the grade 10 bearings or ABEC 7 races, these wheels wouldn’t roll as fast or last as long. Because of the impending release of Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000 11-speed group, the rear 202 came equipped with the new 188 V8 hub. It features a new axle and freehub to allow for 11-speed cassettes. Riders with existing 2012 wheels (black or gray hubs) can get them retrofit with the new freehub and axle. This new hub requires a slightly different dish to the wheel; increased dish is always a concern for wheel longevity.
In years past, Zipp wheels had a reputation for being, well, fragile. As I mentioned in my post, “What About the Bike?” when I crashed, my front wheel struck something and came to a stop with the sudden inaction of a computer freezing. It took me almost as long to understand what occurred. By that time, I was on the ground and as rearranged as a freeway guardrail. Days later I inspected the front 202. I’ve inspected it a few times and can’t find anything that looks like damage. It’s not even out of true.
The rear wheel did come out of true a bit in the first few weeks of riding—not badly, but it didn’t stay perfectly true. I continued to ride it that way for another two weeks just to see what would happen. I attribute the change to spoke creep/stretch/settling, but even under continued riding that initial loss of true did not increase.
Zipp wheels are expensive enough that they, like Assos clothing, come in for as much criticism as the Lakers on an off night. It might not be just how you want it, but there’s no denying they are good. Spending $2700 on a set of wheels just isn’t in the cards for a great many people; hell, I’ve got a baby on the way and I wouldn’t even bring this up to my wife right now. But there are other people, people who got graduate degrees that weren’t MFAs like mine. They got PhDs, MBAs, MDs, JDs. They were both smart and disciplined. To them, the spoils … and an extra 40 watts or so. But the alternative—open mold stuff—is the cycling equivalent of a Corvair: not as fast, not as well-made and unlikely to fair as well when safety is an issue.
On my first few fast descents on the 202s I had some questions about how they’d fair on the technical descents in Malibu. Just because I’ve never melted a Zipp wheel doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen. With less material to dissipate heat when compared to the 303s and 404s, I wondered if there was a chance that I could melt the brake track under hard, sustained braking.
Yeah, the answer to that would be no. Of course, should I get caught behind a slow-moving car on a mountain descent with no place to pull over, I’m confident I could eventually push these or any other carbon fiber wheel there.
Let me acknowledge yet again that these wheels are as easily afforded as a two-week binge on cocaine. Even if you come up with the scratch, there could be lasting consequences, right? And for those who occupy the same economic stratus that I do, let me suggest: Move along—nothing to see here. That said, there’s no reason to badmouth these wheels. They are the technological leading edge that will trickle down through production and in three to five years, you’re likely to see something nearly as fast as these for a third the price. Of course, by then Zipp’s wheels will be even faster.
Those who have the spare cash, however, can enjoy a wheel that’s faster than a box rim on the flats, climbs like Reinhold Messner, and handles like Fred Astaire dances. Sometimes, compromise ain’t a bad thing.
On Friday, I attended an event at Shimano for the introduction of the new Dura-Ace 9000 group. My colleagues and I received an overview of the newest mechanical group from the Osaka behemoth, as well as a look at Shimano’s revised wheels, plus an overview of their new saddles and eyewear. Honestly, I can’t recall the last time I went to a media event held by a single company in which so many new products debuted. It was a bit overwhelming.
Shimano’s Dura-Ace group has been pretty thoroughly overhauled. While the addition of an 11th cog is the most obvious change, the story goes much deeper and the lasting impact of this group won’t be a single cassette cog. Here’s a brief inventory of some of the changes we were walked through: new pivot geometry for the derailleurs to decrease shift force, wider rims for better handling and aerodynamics, new brakes for improved brake force and modulation, a new cleat to offer better engagement while still offering limited float, a 110mm bolt-circle diameter for the crank so that riders can choose from many chainring combinations, vastly improved ergonomics for the control levers, and, yes, that aforementioned 11th cog.
I’m going to need some time to ride this new group before I do a full review, but thinking back on my introductions to the 7700 (9-speed) and 7800 groups, I have to say that 9000 is the group we all expected when 7900 was introduced. Not only is it the sort of quantum improvement over 7900 that 7800 was over 7700, it is also a pretty firm rebuke of 7900, in that so many features of that group lost ground to its predecessor. It’s such an improvement over its predecessors and such a competitive step back into the game that it prevents me from being anything other than agnostic about component groups. Let me clarify that last comment a bit: With 7900, it was easy to reject it as a sub-par group, opening the door for anyone to pick either Campagnolo or SRAM as their preferred components. This new group is so good, the only reasonable response to its introduction is to give it a test ride.
If I were forced to pick a single feature of the new group as emblematic of the whole, I’d have to point to the front derailleur and how the change in parallelogram geometry (plus the use of new cables) has changed the force required to execute the shift from small ring to big. The touch is so light I shift far more frequently that I have been with either 7900 or Campagnolo.
One detail we learned from one of the Shimano tech was that achieving 9000′s improved front shift action depends on cable actuation, that is, the point from which the cable pulls makes a difference in shift performance. As a result, the front derailleur is designed with two possible anchor points for the cable depending on the angle of the cable. The handy-dandy guide shown above helps techs determine just which anchor point to use. We are told that on many bikes either anchor point will work fine, but on those bikes with internal cable routing, on some occasions the cable exits the frame at an odd angle and under those circumstances which anchor point is used will determine how effective the shifting is.
In response to requests from fitters, The 9000-series pedal will offer an optional 4mm-wider pedal spindle to help riders whose feet feature exaggerated pronation. And the new blue cleat allows for +/- 1-degree of heel swing while moving the pivot point to the front of the cleat for a more positive, less sloppy sense of engagement and float.
We took a break in our presentation to attend a groundbreaking ceremony. Shimano is in the process of building three new facilities. There’s a new distribution facility being built in South Carolina, another facility being built in Colorado for Pearl Izumi (which Shimano also owns) and then the new building in Irvine, which will help with distribution and more.
In an unusual and forward-thinking move, Shimano had editors from a few different media outlets submit a frame set ahead of the introduction for Shimano’s techs to build with a new group. I reached out to my friends at Seven Cycles to see if they might be able to help. We’ve been discussing a review of the 622 frame for most of this year; I’ve been slow to get them my measurements for a custom frame. Fortunately for me, they had this particular 622 built for stock for Ride Studio Café, the studio/café operation Seven owns in Lexington, Mass.
It’s conceivable that a custom frame will fit me better than this, but I’m so accustomed to making stock stuff work, I have no complaints with this so far.
The new Dura-Ace crank is unlikely to stop looking freaky any time soon. It reminds me of the early Oakley M-series Heater lens. When I first saw it in the early 1990s, it looked distinctly insect-like. But then it grew on me. I suspect there will come a point when I love this look, but I still don’t see how I’m going to make the transition. The front derailleur looks strange with the arm for the cable anchor sticking up like a mechanical antenna, but that’s part of how the easy shift actuation occurs. A word to the wise, though: Trim that cable short!
Everything you ever thought you knew about precise, quick and quiet rear shifting is incomplete if you aren’t including this derailleur in your calculations. That it shifts as smoothly in the big cogs as it does in the small ones is just another instance of how good Shimano’s engineering can be.
I was not a fan of the 7900 brakes. In my experience, while they offered terrific power, they featured terrible modulation. They were just too grabby. I was a much bigger fan of the 7800 stoppers. The new 9000 units show incredible stopping power while still offering a broad modulation range.
Following lunch and a quick change into Lycra, we dialed in our bikes and then met for a shortish ride.
My Seven Cycles 622 was the subject of a great many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, but I need to be honest and say that I experienced some serious lust for the Alchemy that Peloton Tech Editor Ben Edwards was riding.
Our loop took us into Laguna Beach and up some rather steep pitches; one bump measured a whopping 31.5 percent in grade. My bike was equipped with a 34×28 low gear and it was nice to have gears low enough for everything I encountered, especially as I’m still not going super-hard since my crash.
I’ve got about 200 miles on this bike over four days. While I think most media outlets went pretty easy on Dura-Ace 7900, I can assure you that as you encounter reviews of this group and they all positively glow with the sort of effusive praise we reserve for Robert DeNiro thrillers, you won’t need to second-guess. This stuff is that good.
In what passes for cold weather in the record fall heat of Southern California, I’ve been wearing a couple of pieces from Rapha. Our mornings are still cool, cool enough to require long sleeves if you’re on the bike before 8:00 in the morning. I’m going to volunteer a piece of information I don’t put out there a lot: I’m not a big fan of long-sleeve jerseys. The challenge of the long-sleeve jersey is one of proportion. It seems that rarely are both the hem length and the sleeve length of the jersey correct. I’ve had jerseys that fit my chest, but the arms reached beyond my wrists and the pockets hung as low as those on my jeans. I’ve found other jerseys where the hem was perfect, but the sleeves ended about where my old concert baseball jerseys did—mid-forearm.
Even when those proportions are right, there’s another detail that can ruin a long-sleeve jersey for me—sleeve circumference. Most cyclists I know don’t have big guns, so having sleeves that leave room for biceps that can curl 150 lbs. seems kinda silly. For a lot of cyclists, you just end up with extra material that flaps in the wind. If ever I had a pet peeve, it’s fabric that flaps like a flag left out in a wind storm.
You’ll pardon me if I say I was flat-out shocked when I tried on the both the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey and they fit almost perfectly. At my chest they were fitted just enough not to bunch up when I leaned down and put my hands in the drops. The sleeves reached to the end of my wrists and the cuffs are cut on a slight taper so that you don’t end up with exposed skin between the cuffs and your gloves. The hem was expertly cut as well. My preference is for my jerseys to be cut just a bit shorter, but these have a very traditional fit, short enough that there’s no chance of me catching the back of the jersey on the saddle when I go to sit down following a standing effort. And yes, the sleeves were snug enough they didn’t flap. Holy cow; it was a veritable fit trifecta.
The jerseys share a few other features as well; they are cut from a 52/48 Merino wool/polyester blend which means they offer the temperature regulating adaptability of Merino with the fit and finish of polyester. It’s a great match on paper (or in pixels) but honestly, these are only the second or third wool/poly blend that I’ve ever seen that didn’t look like a shortcut straight to the junkyard. The two outer pockets are cut at an angle to give you easy access and they are also a bit wider than the center pocket. A slim pump sleeve shares space with the middle pocket; it’s a great idea, but getting a mini pump and a vest into that space is nearly impossible. There’s a fourth, zippered security pocket for something you can’t afford to lose, like say a house key, or your sanity. The hems sport a silicone gripper and elasticized draw strings to keep the jerseys fitting snug on breezy days.
Where the Long Sleeve Jersey and the Lombardia Jersey differ is in closure. Not that one of them has unresolved issue, mind you. The Long Sleeve Jersey features a locking, full zipper. As simple and straightforward as hamburger. The Lombardia Jersey, because it is meant to evoke the spirit of Giovanni Gerbi, features a button closure on the left shoulder (five buttons) and at the sleeves (three buttons each). Also helping to distinguish the $240 Lombardia from the $220 Long Sleeve is the embroidery on the rear pocket—a brief homage to Gerbi who was known as il Diavolo Rosso (the red devil)—and just below the collar. It’s a choice piece, there’s no doubt. There’s also exactly zero doubt that trying to button or unbutton the shoulder to adjust for temperature changes is utterly impossible, at least while on the fly. The buttons on the sleeves are a bit more doable and if you unbutton all three buttons, you can pull the sleeves up, effectively turning it into a half-sleeve jersey, which is definitely helpful.
I’ve found these jerseys to be terrific with just a base layer from low 50s to the mid 60s. Anything warmer and I pull a Wicked Witch of the West and melt. For colder temperatures, the addition of a vest or windbreaker is all you need. Both garments are best-suited to days where the temperature won’t vary by 20 degrees as we’ve been dealing with here. They are both starlet gorgeous. My wife says she loves how the Moroccan Blue of the Long Sleeve Jersey matches my eyes, but my son saw me in the Lombardia and said, “Ooh, cool shirt!”
It’s worth noting that while the very first Rapha jerseys I saw were well-made, I didn’t care much for the finish of the fabric and I liked the cut and fit even less. These are noticeably better than those first efforts. If these jerseys don’t last people ten years, it won’t be for lack of quality. For those who think $220 is too much to spend on a jersey, there are other good options. This is one of those occasions where the cost of this garment can easily be justified by how long it’s going to last. I’ve examined the embroidery, the seams, the fabric. I could foresee buying a steel frame to match either of these and retiring them both in the same season.
A seat bag occupies a curious space within the life of a cyclist. It’s usefulness is in direct proportion to its hideousness. The bigger they are, the less attractive they are. You want one that will carry all the items necessary to get you out of a jam, but no one wants the cycling equivalent of an expedition backpack hanging off their saddle, unless maybe they are actually on an expedition.
If that’s not enough to make you wrestle with what seat bag will best suit your needs, then consider the way that little velcro strap that goes around the seatpost has a habit if just brushing the inside of prized bib shorts. Those first couple of pulls multiply until you have the equivalent of leg fleece. Eventually the leg fleece gives way to a hole. Back when I raced and got several new pair of cheap bibs every season, it wasn’t a big deal. These days, with good bibs running upward of $150, that first pull is a tantrum inducing event.
This past spring I ran across the Micro Caddy from Lezyne. It comes in two sizes, small and medium. The small, shown above, is just big enough to hold a tube, a CO2 cartridge and adapter, plus a mini tool in the small pocket on the under side of the bag. It’s the sort of bag useful for the morning group ride. The medium is But that’s not why I fell in love with it. The Micro Caddy uses to neoprene straps that fit around the seat rails—nothing wraps around the seatpost. It’ll never put a pull in your prized bibs. The medium has the same circumference, but just runs a bit longer. You can fit a second tube in it. Because the straps are made from neoprene, they stretch. Should you suffer a flat out on the road, the straps will compress the bag to keep any leftovers in it from clinking around and making you think your cassette locking is loose (been there, wondered that).
Whether you go for the small ($20) or the slightly longer medium ($25), it’s a foolproof way to take better care of something that matters far more than what hangs off your saddle—your bibs.
I’ve got something to share with you. Part of the cost of me being a total word nerd is that some turns of phrase in the bike industry drive me crazy. Case in point: Any time a magazine refers to a “review” as a “test.” The God’s honest truth is almost no one ever gets a piece of gear from a manufacturer with the express advance consent to destroy it by some scientific method. Sure, bikes get broken (been there, done that) and phone calls containing profuse apologies ensue (made them). But actually putting a bicycle frame or component on some sort of test rig so that you can push it to its absolute limit and then report on the particular method of failure isn’t something bike magazines routinely do.
The upshot is that what we all publish are best described as “reviews.” My opposition to the use of the word “test” is that it implies some sort of scientific evaluation. While I do my best to subject bikes and components to objective evaluations, there’s always a subjective element, a part of the experience, the appraisal, that cannot be reduced to raw numbers. As a result, it’s really rare that we are ever in a position to discuss failure mode on a first-hand basis.
That said, crashing can be a pretty effective way to find out just how strong a part is. When I went down in Tuna Canyon, I came as close as I’m likely to come to finding out about failure modes for a few different items. Some of you have asked what I was riding and how it fared. The bike that day was a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4 with the new SRAM Red and Zipp Firecrest 202 Carbon Clinchers.
Aside from my jaw and teeth, I can also claim to have thoroughly investigated failure modes for the S-Works Tarmac SL4 frame and fork, not to mention the S-Works Shallow Bend Carbon Fiber Handlebar, as well as the new Zipp 202s.
The final GPS sample taken just before my ill-fated face-first dismount indicated that I was traveling at 29.9 mph. That’s one true statement about the moments leading up to my crash. Here’s another: I never touched the brakes. I think it’s safe to conclude that by the time I buried my wheel in whatever I shoved it in with sufficient gusto to arrest my bike’s forward motion like a couple of drunks in a bar fight, I may have scrubbed a bit of speed, but it couldn’t have been anything significant. Of that last statement I’m certain for one simple reason: The time that elapsed between my bike stopping and me stopping was insufficient to allow me to tuck, roll or even get my hands or arms up to protect my head and face. When people talk about things happening in fractions of a second, I can tell you this was faster than love at first sight.
If ever there had been a time where I might have reported on riding something hard enough to break it, well, this would have been that occasion. Taking one for the readers. Occupational hazard. Being empirical. Whatever. The simple fact is that I didn’t break the handlebar. I didn’t break the fork. I didn’t break the stem. I didn’t break the frame and most impressive, I didn’t break the front wheel.
Let’s say that last one again, for emphasis: I didn’t break the front wheel. Hell, it didn’t even come out of true. While my face took the majority of the impact force, the front wheel did take a fair drubbing when it hit whatever it did to bring the bike to a stop and thrust me, tether-ball-like, over the bar.
I can recall my friends picking up my bike as the paramedics were doing their dead-level best to convince me that I’d been unconscious since the release of Star Wars. Amid the many questions they asked as they secured me to the backboard, in the background I heard my buddies say, “Man, his bike is fine.”
I also recall thinking, “Yeah, no shit. Have you seen my face?”
Like I said, I thought that if for no other reason than it hurt too much to say out loud. At that point I still had a mouthful of gravel and dirt. The dirt didn’t bother me; the gravel was a definite pain. The experience was not unlike having a mouthful of peppercorns. Inevitably, you’re going to swallow some and I really could have used a beer to help wash it down. Looks like I have plenty of those now, though—thanks again.
I’ve broken my share of components over the years. I’m not a heavy guy (that day I was all of 162 lbs.) and I’m not even all that forceful as I ride, but I’ve broken bars, stems, seatposts, saddles, a couple of forks and plenty of wheels. When I picked up my bike from the friend who stored it for me for a few days, the only indication I could find that proved the bike had hit the deck was some dirt on one lever and on the bar tape; there was a bit more dirt on the front wheel.
I’ve inspected the bike thoroughly. I can’t find anything wrong with it. And I’m aware that the way composites are laid up today, they are designed that if they suffer a serious impact, though several layers of carbon may break, the entire structure won’t instantly fail. This gives the rider the opportunity to feel that something is soft, not all is right, time enough to pull over and avoid catastrophe.
I can tell you this bike feels the same as it did before I went down. The story might be different if the bar or levers or some other component had taken the second big impact, rather than my face, but they didn’t. I’ve looked for any indication I can find that I shouldn’t trust this bike and I couldn’t find a reason not to ride it.
So I rode it today.
It’s fine and I’m better for getting back in the saddle of the horse that threw me.
My ride today was, in part, an affirmation in my belief of how far carbon fiber technology has come in the bike industry. I don’t think manufacturers get enough credit for how much they’ve improved the durability of carbon products. And I’m not suggestion this is in any way isolated to Specialized or Zipp. I am willing to bet most of the bikes and wheels out there would have survived my particular crash. I can’t imagine how hard you have to hit to actually make any of those things fail.
Like I said, I didn’t enjoy this, but I’m glad that the bike I was on performed as advertised. I might even call it a “test.”
The original mountain bike pedal, the one that started it all, the Shimano PD-M737, was a pedal of such clairvoyant utility that it not only defined the genre of the mountain pedal forever, it also transcended it. It set the two-hole drill pattern for all mountain shoes which, considering the myriad drillings available for road shoes, is a feat on the order of getting the UCI to accept responsibility of any kind. Not only was the 737 popular with mountain bikers who wanted all the advantages of clipless pedals without the liabilities of trying to flip a road pedal over, it caught on with the touring segment of the road market. These riders wanted the advantages of clipless pedals and the fact they didn’t have to flip them over to clip in was handy, but the real selling point was that off the bike, they didn’t suffer the gait of a Mallard.
It’s rare that anything pulls off such a double whammy, but to do both in the same year of release is unheard of. Consider that when Bruce Springsteen hit the scene he was the model for a new, rawer, more personal rock and roll. Today, he’s a national institution. But in 1974, he was just an unshaven slacker you wouldn’t let date your daughter.
The 737 was the slacker you threw your daughter and gave the keys to your prized Mustang.
That’s not to say the 737 had no flaws. The bearings wore out, making the pedal sloppy and noisy. Worse, a pair weighed more than the conscience of young George Washington, post cherry tree. But they had one feature that make them vastly superior to every other competitor that entered the market until Time hit with their Atac. To engage the pedal, all you had to do was put your foot on it. There was no requirement that you catch the pedal toe-first. You could catch either the front or the rear of cleat on the pedal to engage; there were gates at both ends of the pedal. A double-sided pedal with gates both front and rear results in four gates per pedal, which is why they their mass was enough to bend light. Heavy or not, it’s a feature that Time and Crank Brothers both thought enough of to design into their pedals, but somehow, later Shimano pedals lost that feature.
It’s like selling a car with no stereo. You just don’t do that. If you’re not going to include a sound system, then the engine had better be its own sound system. That’s how Ferrari can get away with such an omission, but I digress.
I began riding a set of Ritchey’s WCS Paradigm Mountain Pedals this summer, first putting them on my mountain bike and then switching them to my ‘cross bike when I began to plan for the ‘cross season. Why did I switch a 223g set of pedals to a 19-lb. cyclocross rig? Easy. I wanted to make it lighter.
Kidding … sorta.
Sure, the pair weighed less than even one of the 737s (I’m not exaggerating—a pair of 737s weighed more than 500g), but the real reason is that I noticed on my first ride on the Paradigms that they had restored the double engagement feature I so loved. That mattered to me for cyclocross because following a dismount, getting back into your pedals so you can go top-fuel dragster on the gas is as imperative as sunlight.
Unfortunately, following my crash, I learned that my face has veto power over entry fees. Wow; I didn’t see that coming.
Ritchey products, like few others on the market, have an identity that’s more easily read than their genes. WCS products may not be cheap, but they share a uniform emaciation, stripped of anything remotely ornamental. In as much as these products are beautiful (and I do find them attractive), it’s because they are all business, kinda like an old-school circular saw—no protective slides and auto-switches. It doesn’t hurt that with so little to the pedal it sheds mud like cooking oil on Teflon.
As a result, there’s less to the spindles than the brain activity of a coma patient. They are secured to the cranks with an 8mm Allen wrench, and while they go on easy enough, I’ve always hated removing pedals that don’t have flats, but that would add weight, wouldn’t it?
Part of the particular genius of the Paradigms is that they feature only two gates. The front gate for one side also serves as the rear gate for the other side. One stone, two birds.
They feature three bearings: a sealed cartridge bearing at the end of the spindle, a long-lasting and load-bearing needle bearing in the middle and then a lightweight bushing for the inner bearing. Also contributing to what should be a very long-lived pedal is the chrome-moly spindle.
Float for these pedals is four degrees. It’s not a huge amount for those whose joints creak and quake, but it has proven to be enough for me and eliminates the slop that can make other pedal systems less efficient. Spring retention is adjustable, natch.
Even though these pedals are part of Ritchey’s top-of-the-line WCS line, I was a bit surprised that they only retail for $159.95. They’ll last longer than your next TV and thanks to their simple silver-and-gold look, they have yet to appear out-of-place on any bike I’ve mounted them.
It’s a typical Ritchey product: Somebody else’s idea, perfected.
The big news from Cervelo wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it was good news nonetheless. The company’s S5 model, their very quick aero road frame is now available in the company’s relatively recent VWD variant. The upshot here is that the S5 should now have a livelier presence on the road. Also, the company debuted any number of new finishes, which if there has been one thing about Cervelo that can get really old it’s that the company can go years without changing a paint scheme. Not only are the new finishes, well, new, but I think they are pretty good looking and some of them even forego the clearcoat that covers almost all of their work, which is another step in the right direction in terms of road feel.
Race-winning bikes are always fun to check out at Interbike and Cervelo didn’t miss the opportunity to show off Ryder Hesjedal’s rig from his recent Giro win. Take a moment, if you would, to look at the incredible amount of seatpost showing on this 56cm frame as well as the 14cm tiller keeping the handlebar in place. I couldn’t help noticing, either that with the Di2 batter in its spot, the seat-tube-mounted water bottle cage is too low to allow the water bottle to be fully inserted. That’s a small oops in an otherwise amazing bike and crazy PRO fit. How anyone can ride that low and still climb remains a mystery to me.
I saw a bunch of new bags at Lezyne (rhymes with design). Given the cost of a decent pair of bibs—let alone the cost of an amazing pair of bibs—I’m unwilling to use a seat bag that features a Velcro strap that wraps around the seatpost. My favorite designs that qualify are from Fi’zi:k and Lezyne and this new design shown on the white bag above uses a clamp that secures to the saddle rails and allows the seat bag to be removed as easily as some bike computers. No rattle, no Velcro.
Also new at Lezyne were a couple of smart phone bags that allow you to protect your smart phone while maximizing the space in your back pocket. In insulating the phone while combining a few pockets with the overall carrier, plus adding a loop of webbing for ultra-quick retrieval, they created one of the most useful and truly new products I saw at the show. Well done.
The Mega Drive light, shown above, foreground, is a 1000 lumens light that will last for 1.5 hrs. At 500 lumens it will go for three hours, while on the 200 lumens setting it will last a whopping seven hours. All for $200. I suspect this light and the many other new lights in Lezyne’s line will be cast in the roles of game changers. We pointed the light at the roof of the convention center while on the 1000 lumens setting; it was bright enough at that distance to reveal that the Sands could use a serious dusting above the 60-foot elevation. I’m just sayin’.
File this one under “Not Dead Yet.” The GF02 is a new bike from BMC. It takes the design concepts used in the carbon fiber gran fondo bike, GF01—such as the whispy, flexing seat stays—and translates them into an aluminum frame. Yep, aluminum. This Red-equipped bike weighed in under 16 lbs. The production bike will be sold with choices of Red, Ultegra Di2, Ultegra or 105 and will bring BMC’s work into a new, more affordable price tier.
Chrome has been the go-to brand for the urban commuter since essentially the brand’s inception. They’ve expanded their offerings over the years into clothing, some urban-oriented technical wear and now they even offer shoes. Everything I saw from them at the show seemed really solid, but the items that most impressed me were their new series of camera bags. The open bag on display here will carry a couple of camera bodies as well as lenses and has a pocket (note where the hand is slipping into the bag) that will fit a 15″ laptop. There are waterproof pockets for your SD cards and given that it zips open like butterfly wings, everything within the bag is easily accessible. I don’t really want to carry that much camera gear while riding a bike (I mean, I seriously don’t want that much camera gear on my body, ever, but if it was, I wouldn’t want to have to ride a bicycle at the same time) but I concede that there are times when nothing else would be as practical. In those instances, this bag looks as well-thought-out as any I’ve ever seen.
A Personal Note
For each of the last 20 years I’ve gone to Interbike with the stated intention of seeing the latest and greatest the bike industry has to offer. When I went to my first show, in Atlantic City back in 1992, it really was just to see the bike stuff. I was eager to see all the stuff the shop I worked for wasn’t carrying. Every time I could get someone to acknowledge me and walk me through their products it was a kind of victory. Heck, back then, I really didn’t even know what questions to ask.
At a certain point in my education I began to understand how to ask the right questions, questions that showed I not only was interested in the product at hand, but understood the challenge of creating a competitive product within that category, which would lead to questions like, “Why did you decide to go with the full zip rather than the 3/4 invisible zip?” It was an opening for someone to talk about who they were as a company.
It took a while but there came a point when I realized that no matter how many of those questions I asked, I really hadn’t built a relationship with any of the staff at those companies. It wasn’t until we allowed the conversation to veer off-topic, into the riding we did, the traveling that’s not for work, where we live or family and heritage. These days, those are the conversations I live for. That’s where the magic happens, where you can really have a laugh. Robot and I spent some time in the Gita booth talking with creative director Jenny Tuttle. Gita is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, which gave us a chance to talk about the South and Southern Vernacular, in particular the obvious difference between saying “y’all” and “all y’all.” And we may have even bonded over the insane usefulness of a statement like, “All y’all are full of shit.” I didn’t know Jenny before that day, but I walked out of their booth convinced she’s my kinda peeps.
When I was young, I used to think that talking family was kind of a copout, like you had run out of more important stuff to talk about. Some years passed between when I understood what talking family meant and when my son was born and with the advent of Facebook, there was a lot of talk of kids at the show. Crazy what kind of fun that is. That said, the most memorable and even most visceral conversation I had at the show was with a group of guys in the Enve booth where the talk of the number of kids inevitably turned to talk of controlling the number of kids. Yes, the big V. And I don’t mean victory. One among us had done it and I can assure you no talk at the show caused anyone to to squirm more or laugh harder than I did that morning.
For all those of you who fell in love with the Castelli San Remo Speedsuit, this is the thermal ‘cross version. It features heavier-weight Roubaix Lycra for cold conditions and though the sleeves are longer, they are cut just to elbow length (just longer than) because Castelli’s research showed most racers were pushing up the sleeves on their long-sleeve skinsuits. Pricing on the custom San Remo Speedsuits is surprisingly good, though the number you buy will influence your final price. I have a covet.
Parlee showed a new frame set in the Enve booth. Long known for truly cutting-edge work in carbon fiber, the new Z0 rivals the very finest work any of the big guys are doing, while offering completely custom geometry. The frame will weigh in the neighborhood of 750 grams, depending on size and while the price hasn’t been announced, it will run upward of $5k.
Internal cable routing for either mechanical or electronic groups is one of the many, choice features of the frame.
The appearance of the new Z0 is as simple as it is elegant. Gone are the abrupt lug transitions of its predecessors. What you see now are the smooth lines of other monocoque frames. And that’s how Bob Parlee describes the frame—monocoque. Yes, it features eight tubes constructed by Enve, but what really brings those elements together in what appears to be an essentially seamless unit is Parlee’s incredible workmanship and skill. In a nod to what other companies have found regarding stiffness, the Z0 will feature a tapered head tube with 1 1/8-inch top and 1 1/4-inch lower bearings. That’s still not as big as most companies, but Parlee said it’s an effort to balance the needs of the all-day rider versus the need for performance. Speaking of the needs of the all-day rider, the z0 will accommodate 28mm tires. Yeah, it’s like that.
Parlee also showed this disc-brake version of the new Z0. They expect it to be a standard option soon. Making the bike all the more attractive was the powder blue with orange paint scheme that recalls the Ford GT40, arguably one of the more iconic cars ever created.
Stages Cycling introduced a new power meter that will go for $699 and is contained entirely within the non-drive-side crank arm. It is both bluetooth and ANT+ compatible so it can talk to any device you’re running, including your iPhone or Android. They’ve inked agreements with most crank arm manufacturers so nearly any crank you might be running is available.
The StageONE power meter has been in development for more than two years and while it might not do everything that an SRM does, the vast majority of us don’t need quite the level of detail that it provides. Honestly, I don’t care if I’m using a power meter that’s off by 10 watts, so long as it’s consistent, nor do I care that much about an imbalance in my leg strength; I have neither the time nor inclination to head to a gym to solve one relatively minor problem. I think the real genius in this is that: A) it adds only 20 grams to the bike’s weight and B) if you’re running the same group on multiple bikes, you can conceivably swap the crank arm from time to time so that you can enjoy wattage data from more than one bike while still enjoying your choice of wheel sets.
I can’t say that anything I saw at Enve was new. I couldn’t help but stop by their booth because of the number of cool bikes they had and I’m eager for a chance to ride some of the new Smart system wheels in carbon clincher. A chance just to look at them is too good to pass up.
Polar has a new wrist unit GPS. Okay, so wrist units strapped to a handlebar are sooo 1990s (they’ll have a handlebar-specifc unit for 2013), but the entry by Polar into the GPS game is pretty interesting. The genius of Polar has never been the units themselves, it was always the software and firmware. The company has always been fixated on helping users analyze their training so they get the most out of each workout. The RC3 GPS includes a full suite of GPS features plus Polar’s Smart Coaching software which provides a viable alternative to products like Training Peaks.
The RC3 GPS bike package includes a heart rate monitor chest strap plus cadence sensor and goes for $369.95. It’s also worth noting that while the usability of Polar units has long been in question (they can be more complicated to operate than a Rubik’s Cube), the RC3 GPS was terrifically easy to operate, with a minimum number of button presses to start a workout.
Also worth noting is that Polar is now selling a bluetooth compatible heart rate monitor chest strap. So for all of you out there who run Strava on your iPhone while it sits in your jersey pocket, this is a way to record heart rate data without a dongle. Not just cool, damn cool.
I got my first look at the Sufferfest videos over at the Minoura booth. Minoura has been making solid trainers for ages; I had one back in the 1990s that I put 1000 miles on in a single winter.
It’s a winter I don’t wish to repeat. However, if I had to, the Sufferfest videos with their funny copy, imperative instructions and first-rate race footage could make an hour go by like 15 minutes, and anyone who has ever spent time on a trainer knows that the world usually works the other way around. It doesn’t hurt that if you buy a Minoura trainer you get a Sufferfest DVD with the unit. I can say that the only way I made it through that aforementioned winter was by watching VHS tapes I had recorded of any/all racing that appeared on TV. The Sufferfest video boils the action down into crafted workouts that are both structured and fun to watch, if not to do.
Which is the point, I suppose.
This would be a detail from a Pegoretti frame. ‘Nuff said.
Giordana and DMT have gone big on neon yellow. For everyone who has associated the color popularized as “Screaming Yellow” by Pearl Izumi as the mark of a new cyclist, get ready to have your assumptions nullified like so many Florida votes. If Giordana has any say in it, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of this seemingly battery-powered color on the road. Whether it’s an offense to your eyes or your aesthetics (or both) having a few more of us out in this color can’t help. We might be seen with more frequency and if your average texting driver gets the idea that free-range cyclists are more common, then they might thumb-LOL their friends a bit less. Which would be good for our survival, huh?
Let’s see, it’s corporate and smacks of the kind of branding tie-in that results in Jack Daniels’ BBQ sauce at chain eateries like T.G.I. Friday’s. But dude, something about this screams summer day and, “Have a Coke and a smile.” Which it did. Make me smile, that is. The folks at Nirve are no dummies. It’s a Coke crate on wheels screaming with the Dopamine bliss of ice cold sugar and caffeine. I don’t just like this bike, I want it, but only if I can get it complete with the banner.
There’s a reason why companies like Trek, Giant and Specialized are working hard to squeeze lines like Focus and Felt out of their dealers. They are offering killer values. The Cayo Evo 6.0 in the foreground retails for a measly $2150 and features the exact frame as its more expensive Cayo Evo counterparts. The drivetrain is Shimano 105 with an FSA crank and Fulcrum wheels. Its big brother, the Cayo Evo 1.0 goes for $4500 and comes equipped with Campy Chorus and Vision wheels.