To read part one, click here.
So let’s talk ride quality. I’ll be blunt—I haven’t ridden another bike that offered as vibration-free a ride while maintaining a lively, responsive nature. I’ve ridden bikes that were stiffer in overall torsion. I’ve ridden bikes that were stiffer at the bottom bracket, too. But of all the bikes I’ve ridden that were meant to put a pillow over the face of vibration, none did so as effectively as the 622 slx. The closest was the Serotta Ottrot, and while I loved how that bike handled, it wasn’t exactly light and it lacked a certain lively feel on the road that the 622 slx possesses. That’s also a quality of geometry and can be part of the flip side of a bike that descends like water poured from a pitcher.
Allow me a slight restatement of that last idea. The last time I rode a bike that possessed as quiet a ride as the 622 slx, I was on a carbon fiber bike that didn’t particularly impress me. While it could turn a fair road into smooth pavement and a good road into a marble floor, those bikes (I’m not singling out any one manufacturer because there are so many of that ilk out there) lacked the stiff, responsive ride of something like the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4. The 622 slx is unusual because it combines great stiffness—stiffer than most carbon bikes on the market as recently as 2005, though not as stiff as some current offerings like the Cervelo R5 VWD or Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4—with a ride quieter than even the new S-Works Roubaix SL4.
Let me add that while the Serotta Ottrot is a fine example of a bike that mixes titanium and carbon fiber, it is by no means the only bike that does it. Sampson has offered one; it had most of the ride quality of the Ottrot at something like 60 percent of the cost. There have been other examples—especially Seven’s own Elium—but outside of Seven and Serotta no one has done a bike with as attractive a mix of ride characteristics.
I’ve made it clear previously that my favorite bikes send a fair amount of vibration through to the rider. Now it’s true that the amount of vibration that any bike delivers to the ride can be influenced by a number of factors; that’s a detail I’m aware of and do what I can to mitigate. I use the same bar tape on all the bikes I review. I will run a couple of sets of wheels I’m very familiar with on the bikes. Those wheels feature the same tires pumped up to the same pressure. The point is to zero out as many variables as possible, so that if a bike seems to be sending less vibration to my hands and butt, it’s not just a matter of needing to pump the tires up another 20 psi.
So while I’m a fan of bikes that deliver as much high-frequency vibration as possible to the rider, I have to admit that the feel of the 622 slx was something I quickly came to appreciate. Imagine driving a Ferrari for your daily commute, then you go on a weekend jaunt to Yosemite in a big Lexus sedan. The ride is ice-cream smooth, quieter than a field of wheat on a windless night, and more comfortable than your mother’s arms. It’s the sort of experience that could make anyone rethink the attraction of a sport-tuned suspension.
I have friends for whom vibration is a real issue, that it causes nerve impingement. I see them on rides sitting up to shake their hands in an attempt to restore feeling and bloodflow to their deadened mitts. For anyone who faces issues with nerve impingement and numbness, whether it be in their hands, shoulders or back, reducing vibration can increase not just enjoyment, but the number of miles someone can ride without feeling the discomfort of numbness.
When considered against bikes like Time’s VRS Vibraser or the Specialized Roubaix, the 622 slx does more to reduce vibration and insulate the rider from rough roads. Of course, that shouldn’t be the only reason someone chooses a bike, but let’s be honest—we are all aging. Every one of us. And while vibration may not be an issue for you today, it’s fair to harbor some concern that being rattled like a paint can for a dozen hours each week will result in some sensitivity as you pass your fifth decade.
Another factor contributing to the 622 slx’s comfort was the fact that this isn’t an über-stiff bike. In plain terms, this isn’t a race bike. It reminded me of the Kestrel that I rode for an afternoon at last year’s Interbike. That bike was designed to be enjoyable, not adrenal. There was no mistaking that when considered against the other two road bikes I was riding at the time, the Felt F1 and the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4, the 622 slx simply wasn’t as lethal. Sure, it was sharp in its handling like any great road bike ought to be, but this was paring knife-sharp, not scalpel sharp. So what’s that in an absolute sense? Here are the specs from Seven:
- Seat tube length: 50.0cm
- Top tube length: 58.1cm
- Head tube angle: 73.5˚
- Seat tube angle: 73˚
- BB drop: 7.0cm
- Chainstay length: 40.5cm
- Top tube slope: 8˚
- Front center: 59.7cm
- Head tube length: 16.8cm
- Head tube diameter: 1.125″
Seven allows customers to choose four different parameters of ride quality as they go through the purchase. They are all specified on a 10-point scale.
- Handling: 6 (1 is stable; 10 is agile)
- Drivetrain rigidity: 7 (1 is lightweight; 10 is stiff)
- Vertical compliance: 3 (1 is comfortable; 10 is stiff)
- Weight-to-performance: 8 (1 is lightweight; 10 is responsive)
When I went through the custom process back in ’97, there were only two scales to choose from—handling and stiffness/weight. Seven has a much improved ability to control for these different variables now. What is perhaps most impressive in these numbers is that they were able to achieve such high numbers for drivetrain rigidity and weight-to-performance while keeping the bike remarkably vertically compliant.
Perhaps the most remarkable detail I haven’t revealed about this bike so far is that it wasn’t custom. Though the fit was remarkably good, this bike came from a demo fleet. They shipped the frame and fork to Shimano for my review of the Dura-Ace 9000 group. It was assembled by one of Shimano’s techs. Incidentally, after our tech presentation and initial ride on the 9000-equipped bikes, I had a chance to speak with the tech who assembled my bike. Actually, he approached me. He wanted to make clear to me that of all the bikes that they assembled for this shindig, the Seven was the easiest to install the group on, the most fun to work on because the cable routing was so straightforward, and all the fittings and threads so perfectly cut.
Even though the folks at Seven expressed a high degree of desire to take me through the custom process again, I sold them on the idea of letting me do a “stock” bike. If after my review hit they didn’t think they’d gotten the high marks they hoped for, I said we could then do a custom bike. So why do this? I wanted a chance to ride a bike that was meant to be emblematic of the ride Seven wants to sell. I don’t know if they would necessarily call this bike emblematic, but because it was built as an example of their work meant to woo a prospective customer, this bike must possess many of the qualities Seven thinks are among its most winning. Sure, they can build a lighter bike or a stiffer bike or a pig that can carry panniers, but this bike is meant to be nothing so much as a good time.
And I can say it is. Once you’ve let go of being the fastest guy (or gal), or having the ultimate climbing bike or whatever, and you just focus on the qualities that will make a bike enjoyable on group rides, on solo rides, at long gran fondos and short recovery rides, this bike does it all very well. It was yet another occasion of packing a bike in a box only under duress. I’d have continued to ride it regularly.
Here’s the thing I keep thinking about when I contemplate reviewing a custom Seven: I don’t think I would have requested this bike and in that you, the readers, would have been cheated. Sure, the dimensions in the wake of my fitting last winter would be different, but I’m talking about issues larger than just fit. The fit on this bike was perfectly workable. I probably would have requested a bike that was a 7 or 8 in handling. I would have asked for an 8 or 9 on drivetrain rigidity. I’m not sure I’d have had the presence of mind to request the maximum in vertical compliance relative to the drivetrain rigidity I requested. And for weight to performance, that’s the one number that is probably close to what I would have requested.
To me, the point of going with a demo bike was to learn more about what Seven thinks is a good time, not what I think is a good time. It was a chance to gain more insight into what Seven hopes to deliver to customers. Granted, their bread and butter is custom work, but once you’ve built tens of thousands of road bikes, you come to some conclusions and they are reflected in this bike. When you’re not driven by making a race bike, you’re suddenly free to make something that places enjoyment ahead of performance.
There ought to be more bikes made with that priority.
Statement of bias: To the degree that I’m not impartial where Seven Cycles is concerned, I, like many other people, have admired the company since its launch. My affinity goes further than just a Facebook-deep “like.”
I’ve owned an Axiom for about as long as anyone has been able to own one. Mine is C0028. Back in 2010 I had it cut in half and S&S couplers installed to turn it into my travel bike, a purpose for which I’ve used it several times a year since. When I originally reviewed the Axiom I called the bike, “the best I’d ever ridden,” a statement I was able to stand behind for 10 years. They used that quote in marketing materials for nearly as many years and I don’t mind admitting to feeling some pride at seeing the way they put that quote to use.
I’ve wanted to revisit Seven for a review ever since they introduced the Odonata, a bike that changed the course of the industry back in 1997. Before the Odonata, there were no road bikes with titanium, aluminum or steel frames sporting carbon fiber seatstays. The Odonata was the first bike to substitute carbon fiber seatstays (and seat tube) for what would otherwise have been 100-percent titanium construction. Plenty of other bikes had mixed materials. Trek had helped popularize carbon fiber main triangles bonded to an aluminum rear triangle. But Seven turned that formula around, using lively titanium in the main triangle and then positioning carbon fiber in low-stress spots on the bike.
The influence of the Odonata cannot be overstated. It was introduced at the ’97 Interbike show and at the ’98 Interbike every company who wanted to be seen as contemporary had an aluminum, ti or steel bike (or all three) with a carbon fiber wishbone. That wishbone was a response to the Odonata and companies produced them like McDonald’s makes burgers for the simple fact that it worked. Just how we define “worked” is something I’ll return to later.
Long before Seven ever existed, Merlin Metalworks had done some research to determine which areas of the bicycle flex the least and are subjected to the lowest load under riding forces. Their research led to the RSR, a frame that combined less-robust commercially pure titanium (known to the industry as CP) with the more commonly used 3Al/2.5V———
The RSR was an attempt by Merlin to offer a less-expensive frame without lowering their standards for welding or alignment. The bike wasn’t a success, at least not in the commercial sense, but it did teach Rob Vandermark a lasting lesson.
My old boss at Bicycle Guide, Garrett Lai, reviewed the RSR and said he’d pick the RSR over any other road bike Merlin produced “based on ride alone.” After joining the staff, I had a chance to put a few miles in on the bike before it was sent back to Cambridge. It was a remarkable bike and unlike other ti bikes I’d ridden up to that point, it made me realize it was possible to make a ti road bike stiff enough to race.
So what the hell does the RSR have to do with the 622 slx? They are kissing cousins. To complete the connection, though, I have to go back to the Seven model called the Elium. The RSR and the Elium are nearly brothers. The Elium replaces the RSR’s CP ti tubes with carbon fiber ones; it features 3/2.5 tubing in the head tube, down tube and chainstays, and carbon fiber in the top tube, seat tube and seat stays. The 622 slx differs from the Elium in that it takes the carbon fiber usage to its logical conclusion. It is a six-carbon-tube frame: top tube, down tube, seat tube, seat stays and head tube. Only the chainstays remain titanium, partly for ride quality, partly for durability in the face of chain slap.
It’s worth noting that the Odonata had simple, blunt joints. To the degree that the bike was attractive (and I thought it was gorgeous), its beauty arose from its precision—the stack-of-dimes welds, the gap-free joints, the rich luster of the titanium tubes’ surface finish and the nearly iridescent look of the fiber-wound carbon fiber tubes. However, the 622 slx takes a page from its steel forebears by shaping the titanium lugs, giving them points like steel lugs would have. They even cut windows in two of the points to include the brand’s signature numeral 7.
However, I need to note that without the history of point shaping the way a guy like Peter Weigle has, there’s a certain flair that these points lack. Don’t get me wrong, this bike is gorgeous, front to back, but when I see lugs, I’ve been trained to look at the lines of the lugs, to watch how the points curve. The best among them have a certain geometric progression to them, starting shallow and then flairing out as they near the joint; it’s not a line, but a curve. There’s an angularity to the points and windows that doesn’t reflect the look of the most heralded steel lug work. It’s important to keep in mind that lug points weren’t just a triumph of aesthetic; they had a function, too. They were meant to distribute stress over a greater area and the swoopy curves were part of the effort to make sure that stress didn’t collect in some corner, so part of what my eye sees in a beautifully cut lug is artful engineering, defeating stress before it gains a foothold.
Having just written that, I’m aware that people have a right to wonder if I’ve got bowling balls for testes for criticizing the look of a Seven frame, but I know that had those points been shaped by the likes of Peter Weigle, Brian Baylis or Peter Johnson, they wouldn’t take quite that line. My gall notwithstanding, it’s an opportunity to make the frames even prettier. The particular workmanship required to shape said titanium points might be a nightmare, just not my nightmare, though.
Some years back a mechanical engineer friend of mine told me that if bike companies got smart, they wouldn’t need to use funky elastomers or even suspension to insulate a rider from vibration. He works in aerospace, where a common method of reducing vibration has been to change materials between point A and point B. Think of a seatpost. Imagine that seatpost is 100 percent carbon fiber. Vibrations will move up that post toward the clamp and the saddle. If you transition from carbon fiber to, say, titanium, a great deal of vibration will stop dead at the transition point. I’m simplifying here, but the point is that by mixing materials, you reduce vibration more than you can with a well-made carbon fiber frame. I have to add that modifier “well-made” because while on paper a mixed-materials frame ought to eliminate more vibration than a full carbon frame, my experience is that there are carbon fiber frames out there that are as lifeless as a rubber glove. In those instances, part of the issue is that they don’t offer the same level of stiffness that most of us have come to expect from a top-shelf frame today. While the 622 slx attenuates vibration, I need to be clear that this frame is not lifeless. It’s far from that.
So when I wrote earlier that the Odonata “worked” what I meant was that the amount of vibration at the saddle was less than many similar frames. For most riders, that translated to less lower back fatigue after three, four, five hours.
Even though the 622 slx appears to be an essentially carbon fiber bicycle, it’s very different from most other bikes on the market. The presence of the titanium lugs and chainstays means that a good deal of vibration that would ordinarily reach the rider doesn’t. It would be really easy to deride this bike as old tech. after all, Specialized and Trek both made something very similar to this bike. However, neither of them used carbon fiber tubes that were as stiff, strong and light, so it’s impossible to compare the ride quality. The Treks, of which I rode a few, were only slightly more lively than a cadaver. They were popular because it was a lot of bike for the money, not because they rode like a signal flare on methamphetamine.
Next up, Part II: the ride.
Images of Seven Odonata and Merlin RSR pilfered from the Interwebs thanks to Google
Of all the parts of a bicycle, it is the wheel that can do the most to impart a different experience. Put on a pair of heavy wheels and you’ll feel invincible on descents, but also like someone robbed you of your sprint. Put on a light set of wheels and your bike will handle quicker and accelerate like you added a supercharger. Put on an aero set and you get free speed. Lace up a set of 36-hole Ambrosio tubular rims, tie and solder the spokes and you can ride across Damascus at 40 psi. And now we’ve got a tubeless technology for those wanting the ride of tubulars in a form that is no less difficult to address should you flat.
It’s quite a menu. And therein lies the challenge. No one ever thinks about frames and says, “I want the handling of an old Moser, the weight of a Cannondale, the stiffness of a Specialized and the aero performance of a Cervelo.” Well, almost no one. The thing is, frames don’t have swappable components that have encouraged us to think this way. However, I’ve often thought that I wanted a wheel with the aerodynamic performance of a set of Zipp 404s, tubeless technology, a power meter and built well enough to survive California fire roads.
Well, a new partnership between PowerTap and Wheelbuilder is taking us a good deal closer to that. Of all the wheels I’ve ridden in the last five years, the best build I’ve encountered was performed by staff at Wheelbuilder. They were easily better than anything from Zipp, and writing that pains me. While Zipp wheel builds are usually good, they have yet to be flawless, and on one occasion the wheel build was definitely sub-par.
Granted, I’ve ridden only one set of wheels from Wheelbuilder, but I checked them for true when I pulled them from the box, checked them after my first ride, and checked them again at the end of the review. They hadn’t moved. Easton takes a lot of flak for hub and bearing issues, but I can say that I’ve seen no OEM or aftermarket wheel maker that produces a more uniformly tensioned and true wheel than they. Wheelbuilder, I’m finding, is every bit as good.
It only makes sense. Wheelbuilder’s only product is its labor, well, that and its ability to do custom builds of any selection of components you might want. But because its product is fundamentally a service, the build needs to be better than OEM; otherwise, what’s the point?
So PowerTap, in an effort to increase its appeal to buyers, has struck an agreement (I refuse to say “partnered”) with Wheelbuilder. You can now get Enve, Zipp and HED rims laced to a PowerTap hub. It’s not a huge increase in selection, but the point is, you now have more options and you don’t have to sacrifice build quality to get it; on the contrary, the build is likely to be better than what you might otherwise have been able to find locally.
Power-measuring devices have changed training the way that heart rate monitors did 20 years ago. The proof can be found as simply as by attending a group ride. Every group ride I do is faster than it was 10 years ago. While some of that can be attributed to smart training and nutrition, the fact is that the riders who have gained the most in their fitness are the ones able to talk one-minute power, five-minute power and 20-minute power. There was a time when talking power was like trying to eat sand; it was just a fancy number most folks didn’t know how to digest. Thanks, in part, to pro riders talking about their numbers and their training, the average joe has a much better working understanding of wattage and how to use those numbers.
It’s fair to say the market for power-measuring devices is heating up. Between SRM, PowerTap, Quarq, Stags and now Garmin, consumers have a great many choices. How you might go about choosing between those various systems isn’t the point of this post. Just which system you go for depends on how many bikes you have, how many wheels you have and how often you switch bikes and wheels. Whether or not you think there’s a right answer, the only obvious assessment is that there are no easy answers. I’m partial to PowerTap because it’s the only power measuring system that’s easy to move between bikes. That said, I know plenty of guys who have one bike and lots of wheels, so for them it’s not nearly as useful a system as something like SRM.
We (assembled members of the media) went for a ride when we met with the folks from PowerTap and Wheelbuilder. Naturally, I took the opportunity to check my wheels when they were first installed in my bike. One thing I’ve learned from years of building wheels (so long ago it was practically a different life) is that whatever re-truing is required following a set of wheels’ first ride will tell the story of those wheels’ life. If they don’t move in that first ride, they’ll last a long time (barring crashes). If they need a fair amount of re-truing and re-tensioning after five miles, they will only last a season. The wheels I rode didn’t budge even though I rode across all the rough and broken pavement I could find on our ride. Damn fine work.
If there was a truism about reviewing a Giro helmet it’s that readers expect you to review the latest, greatest of their road offerings. So maybe the thing to do is to start with the elephant that isn’t in this particular room—the Giro Air Attack. I’m not going there. At least, not this time. They’ve taken some knocks for that design, fast or not; it may be that after it’s on the market a bit longer we will become a bit more accustomed to its look.
I bring the Air Attack up for two reasons. One is to demonstrate that Giro is unafraid to push boundaries in design. The other is to point out how Giro isn’t afraid to reach back, either. The Air Attack was the name given to the helmet that Greg LeMond endorsed at the height of his career. And what is the Reverb but a riff on that old design. With its nine vents, solid sides and vaguely cereal-bowl shape it looks a bit like the first-born of the original Prolight and the Air Attack because, to be perfectly accurate, the original Air Attack had a bit more of a tail to it.
Even the name of this helmet, the Reverb, carries some underlying meaning; reverb is a bit like an echo. It’s a number of very short echoes, too short to give a separate repetition of the original sound. It’s reaching back, but not too far back.
So why review a helmet that looks like it’s old enough to vote? Well, it answers a question friends of mine keep asking. As more and more of us ride bikes with our kids and for errand-running, more and more of us are asking the question, “What helmet can I wear when on a beach cruisers/three speed/bakfiets without looking like I’m wearing jeans and an air filter?”
You get my drift.
Three years ago, there weren’t many options. You either wore your Ionos or whatever, or you wore something that looked like a skateboard helmet, but not that skateboard helmet. And frankly, the skateboard helmets and whatnot that were available looked like Moe’s haircut from the Three Stooges. By that I mean uglier than the sound made by kids in a garage with the sheet music to Stairway to Heaven.
I could go on about tech this and fit that, but I’m going to spare you. I
like love this helmet for two reasons. First is the simple fact that it goes with jeans. My Aeon doesn’t do that. Hell, I don’t have a another helmet that is remotely compatible with cotton. Second is how I have an emotional connection with my own past thanks to this helmet. I wore the original Air Attack and recall to this day how I had a conversation with my parents about the wisdom of a someone in grad school spending $60 (my price with shop discount) on a helmet. My answer included the terms “bike race,” “descent,” “guaranteed 50 mph” and “feeding tube.”
They laid off.
I really liked that helmet. When I’m out riding with Mini-Shred, this thing gives me a chance to fly my freak flag without anyone knowing. To the rest of the world I look as normal as an adult can hope to look while wearing a bicycle helmet, which I respect is as easy as training a cat to vacuum. (We’ve tried.) But the thing is, because that helmet speaks to something of my past I cherish (did you dig the old-style logo?), I feel cool every time I put it on. Now here I have to admit that getting me to feel cool is a good deal harder than training a cat to vacuum. Or cook. Don’t ask.
The Reverb comes with an interesting extra; a small visor can be added in case you’re going to be riding around in the sun without the aid of sunglasses. It’s a nice touch, especially as it’s short and fabric-covered, which makes it look like the brim of a cycling cap.
While I did my best to gloss over any technical features of the Reverb, there really are a couple of features that makes it notably better than any skateboard helmet, not to mention its predecessor. It includes an occipital device that needs no adjustment; they call it Autolock, and the helmet is features in-mold construction which makes it both lighter and more durable than skateboard helmets. That’s not why I use it as my skateboard helmet, but I tell myself I’m smart for doing so.
The Reverb comes in a whopping 11 color combinations to give anyone a fair shot at looking cool. As most folks don’t suffer my particular setbacks in hipitude, your results are likely to be more successful.
The Reverb retails for a measly $60. Given the original Air Attack carried a suggested retail of $90, it’s nice to know that today you can get a safer helmet for 33 percent less. Despite all it’s retro appeal, that’s progress.
Reviewing shoes induces equal parts fear and exhilaration. Nothing else I review is as fraught with possibility … and pain. A bad cycling shoe can be a device compatible with the Spanish Inquisition, while a good shoe could be confused with a summer day at the beach wherein your feet were sunk to your ankles in wet sand.
I’ll be honest and say that Shimano’s shoes have been all over the map for me. There were times I wore them not because they were the best-made shoes, but because they were the only shoes in my price range that offered anything resembling a fit. It was not unlike hiring a bar bouncer for the Secret Service. It’s a fit, but it’s not a fit, is it? So it can go with shoes.
I can no longer remember just which pair of Shimano shoes I purchased first. Certainly, they were acquired with the assistance of a shop employee deal, but I can’t recall if they were road or mountain shoes. No matter. I can recall at least six pair of shoes over the years. This last stat is significant if only for one reason.
My feet are wide. They have always been wide. The are likely to continue being wide unless I do like that one guy at scout camp who was splitting wood with an axe and went through a log and his boot and just about excised two toes all the way back to the heel. Moving right along….
Over the last 20 years no one has more consistently offered a shoe cut on a wide-ish last than Shimano. No matter what your price range, they’ve had a shoe that works for wider feet. And by wider, I mean those of us for whom all the standard D-width stuff almost work, but not quite. The particular shape of my foot is such that I have to wear a shoe that is technically too long for me, at least, on paper. That helps me a bit with the width, but by any standard, even after you factor out my hammer toe, Morton’s Foot (speaking of missing toes) and arch high enough to park a bus beneath it—and I accept that factoring all that out is a bit like saying rattlesakes are great fun so long as they don’t bite—I still have a wide, weird foot. Depending on who the shoe maker is, I’ve ranged between one and five Es.
You read that right. I have a pair of Italian-made shoes that say “EEEEE” inside.
So I’ve been riding the R320s as a big part of my shoe rotation this season. That part shouldn’t surprise you; after all, this is a review of those shoes. However, this bit will definitely surprise you: Shimano makes these shoes in a standard width and a wide version. After all that talk of how wide my foot is, here’s the kicker: I’ve been wearing the standard width.
When the shoes arrived, I was momentarily dismayed. I’d been dying to try them and they said they’d send the wide. But I got the standard. In one of those “what the hell” moments I pulled them from the box and tried them on. Turns out, they fit at least as well as some other shoes I’d reviewed and as these are part of Shimano’s Custom Fit series, I figured they’d fit even better once we’d done the toaster-oven-vacuum-pump-thingy to them.
And that part was right. I visited Steven Carre at Bike Effect and he took me through the fitting process and I have to admit I was shocked by how much the fit of the shoes improved after going through the fitting. It was most apparent when we took the bag and toe cup off and I was able to stand up with one molded and one unmolded shoe on. I got pretty excited about my ride home.
I’m such a geek.
I’d like to add that I tried the R241B and didn’t like that shoe. For reasons that aren’t readily apparent, that shoe struck me as rather poorly made. The tongues didn’t line up properly and the straps seemed too thin. I know the shoe was meant to be relatively lightweight, but the presentation was disappointing, like finding out your date smokes.
By comparison, the R320 is also a relatively light shoe, at 277g per shoe in the 42 size, but the straps held firm and the tongues ran true. Carbon fiber shoe soles, such as these, are so far improved over what we used to ride on that I really can’t register one as being stiffer than another anymore. The last time I was able to detect a shoe was unusual it was because it had a high degree of flex because it was meant to make walking easier. There’s probably a difference in stiffness between this and, say, the Rapha Grand Tour shoe made by Giro, but they both fall so squarely in the sufficiently stiff range that I have yet to tell them apart, at least, not in that regard.
The shoe is cut from, well, a lot of plastic, carbon fiber and Rovenica, an artificial leather. It offers a degree of elasticity which will increase your comfort in hard efforts, but that also means it won’t stretch. Ever. Stretching is a handy thing for improving a shoe’s fit, if volume is an issue for you; more on that in a sec. On the upside, the material also resists abrasions and because it won’t stretch, the shoes will last longer than some wheel sets. That channel you see in the sole is a big reason why the shoe is as stiff as it is. You need a structure with some edges and corners to generate stiffness.
This is still a production shoe and in that regard it, like every production shoe I’ve ever worn, falls somewhat short in a couple of regards. The insoles simply don’t provide as much support as my feet could use. Adding some molded units to these shoes would take care of that problem, but then they would bump up against the shoe’s other weakness—volume. With an insole providing more support, the amount of volume in the shoe would increase and these shoes really aren’t built for a super-high-volume foot. It may be that this is where the wide shoes would help. I don’t have a lot of contact for the middle, Velcro strap; you can see how little overlap there is in the top photo. Increasing the volume any further may make it hard to keep that middle strap closed. This is one reason I remain a fan of the BOA closure system.
I need to raise a note of caution on those criticisms. They are entirely peculiar to me and unlikely to pose a problem for most riders. Fewer than 10 percent of all people are said to have a high-volume foot. Damn bell curves. I’m always in the shallow end of one pool or another.
Another reason to like Shimano shoes is that they offer a wide array of sizes, wider than many of their competitors. They offer from 36 to 50 in whole sizes plus half sizes from 37.5 to 46.5. The wide last is available in all the same sizes except for the 49 and 50. They retail for $379.99, which seems like a fair amount of money at first blush, but given what I get for $40 at the Vans store, I think a dollar goes a good bit further with Shimano.
Shimano recently came out with a limited production run of blue shoes, as worn by the Argos-Shimano team at this year’s Tour de France. While I tend to like my cycling shoes in either black or white (or both), this is one of the best-looking blue shoes I’ve ever seen.
Given what we used to think were good shoes 10 or 15 years ago, I can say we’ve come a long way. Cycling shoes have improved as much as carbon fiber frames, and that’s an improvement on the order of HD TV. And who doesn’t like HD TV?
So a couple of weeks ago when I posted about the Felt Media Day, there were two models I wasn’t supposed to mention—at all. One was the complete redesign of the AR model, while the other was the introduction of the IA, a brother to the DA. The IA is a triathlon-specific aero bike. Naturally, what makes the IA tri-specific are its tube shapes that in many cases exceed the 3:1 ratio set (arbitrarily) by the UCI.
I suspect that even now Pat McQuaid is dispatching goons to the corners of the world to make sure that no Cat 4 enters a local time trial on such a dastardly invention. All snark against the UCI aside, the IA is a pretty fascinating bike because it falls in the tradition of a great many bikes from companies like Lotus and Colnago, bikes that were responses to a very simple question: How aerodynamic can a bicycle be?
It’s a fair question and the UCI’s meddling in innovation hasn’t actually resulted in safer riders. Worse, it has stifled genuine innovation. I’ll also take a moment to add that the UCI’s claim that they restrict designs (and created the bike approval process) to ensure the safety of riders is silly for the simple reason that going to market with a bicycle that can’t pass the CEN standards is essentially impossible and there is no stronger motivation against marketing a shoddy product than the black eye that would come from having your bike disintegrate on worldwide television. Talk about powerful motivators.
For roadies, the biggest news is that the company’s aero road bike, the AR, has been completely redesigned for 2014. They scrapped the existing design and built a new bike, one tube at a time. Dave Koesel, Felt’s road product manager, reports that while the new AR isn’t as stiff in torsion as the F bike, it is significantly stiffer than its predecessor; it now matches the stiffness of the Super-Stiff layup of the previous generation of F. This is the bike that most Garmin riders were riding. While the AR is a better sprinting bike, the company’s testing has shown that it is much more comfortable than most aero road bikes. Comfort-wise, the AR is said to fall between the F and the company’s grand touring road bike, the Z.
Irvine is but two hours from the San Diego Low-Speed Wind Tunnel. If another company has spent more time there testing and developing new designs, I’d like to hear who it is. Among their many trips to San Diego, Felt took aero bikes from its competitors and after building up each bike with the same components and wheels in an effort to make the tests as fair and equal as possible and then “blew” (as the engineers at the SDLSWT like to say) each bike. Felt says the AR was the fastest bike of the set.
Of the AR’s many innovations, one of the more surprising was what the engineering team did with the seatpost. They created a clamp that pinches only the carbon fiber walls of the post, not the whole of the post. The channels you see in the post are what allow the post to slide up and down on the clamp. Once saddle height has been set, there are polyurethane plugs that can be cut to length to fill those slots. The design allows Felt to go with thinner walls for the post, which is part of what helps give the AR its reportedly improved ride quality.
One of the changes that the engineers made in the redesign of the AR was to move the rear brake under the chainstays. Because a few different companies have done that, Shimano has come up with this quick release for the rear brake to make fixing a flat a little speedier.
The brake used on the AR has a very low-profile design and offers plenty of stopping power, in part because each brake arm mounts to its own post, much like U-brakes or cantilevers.
You’ll notice that both the AR and IA have a checkerboard pattern to their layup that is uncharacteristic of other top-shelf carbon fiber bikes. That’s because they use a material called Textreme. So far, Felt is the only company in the bike market to use this material. You can find it on each of their bikes that carry the “FRD” (Felt Racing Design) designation. If the look is at all familiar to you, it may be because you saw the same pattern on the F FRD ridden to four stage victories at this year’s Tour de France by Marcel Kittel.
Textreme is interesting enough to merit a post of its own, but its manufacturer has figured out a way to produce sheets of material that looks much like traditional 3k or 12k nonstructural weave but offer structure while remaining lightweight and still providing a degree of impact resistance. It’s an intriguing material, and so far, Felt is the only company using it.
The bottom bracket area on the AR has been built up substantially to give the bike better handling and a more responsive demeanor under out-of-the-saddle efforts. And naturally, like all Felt bikes, the AR is going to come in a full range of spec, some of which will be remarkably affordable.
I’m going to have a chance to ride the AR soon and I’ll be able to report some first impressions. Even if it’s not the absolute fastest aero bike out there, if it can be reasonably comfortable and stiff enough not to scare me on a descent, I’m intrigued.
Vélobici is a small company that designs and makes cycle wear in the UK. Chris Puttnam and his partner, Tara Love, grew up in knitwear factories, their fathers both running some of the last generation of British mills to produce domestically before it all went to Asia. They started Vélobici a few short years ago, driven by a desire to make stylish cycling clothes, but also to do it locally, to be part of the resurgence of British manufacturing.
Chris told me, by email, “We are very proud of the fact that all we produce is manufactured within a 20 mile radius of our homeland. And the performance fabric, including the Van-Dapper is knitted in Nottingham 25 miles from us. As a kid, I just enjoyed the whole environment of the factories and the girls fussing over you, fond memories. So when we created this thing it was always going to be produced in the UK.”
This particular review came about because Vélobici were advertising with us, which is how I became aware of them in the first place, and after looking at their clothing and hearing some of their story, I requested a kit to try out. Two things piqued my curiosity, 1) the slick, muted style of their clothing, and 2) just what the quality difference might be between their garments, produced in the UK, and other cycling clothing, produced in the Far East.
It should be clear. Vélobici did not request a review.
So a few weeks after I made initial contact, with New England still in the throes of winter, a package arrived. First impressions were very good. Pulling the bibs from the padded mailer, I was immediately struck by their weight and softness. Even coming out of a flat package, tossed and trampled in the international mail, they sprung immediately into shape, as if I’d just taken them off.
Turning to the jersey, I immediately discovered the two zippered, water-proof pockets, one at each hip, and thought, “Huh, those will be handy.” Of course, the top had the same heft and texture, too. It was cold the day the Van-Dapper arrived, but I layered it into my ensemble for the next morning’s ride, anxious to see if it was as nice as it seemed. I have worn it, on average, twice a week for the last 6 months, and it is the first kit I reach for unless the day promises to be scorchingly hot. More on that in a bit.
Vélobici’s design aesthetic is not so much retro, as it might appear at first, but rather minimalist. Their designer, Tara, clearly has the confidence that the garments speak for themselves more than any logo might. The Van-Dapper features some tasteful, sublimated logos, subtle fabric effects, on the legs of the bib and across the back of the jersey, and a small crest on the chest. Otherwise, it is stealth itself, all black with a single yellow accent across the rear pocket line and in a small notch at the top of the zipper.
I really appreciate a brand that doesn’t feel compelled to scream its logo at you from half-a-mile away. You won’t feel like a billboard in this kit, and you can mix and match it with any other clothing you like.
It is a functional garment as well, the meryl/lycra blend offers UVA and UVB protection. The full zip has that small yellow guard at the top to prevent chafing. The fully-lined collar makes it snug but comfortable at the neck. The piping is reflective, and in addition to the standard three vertical pockets, the jersey also features those two readily-accessible, zippered, water-proof pockets, one to keep your phone dry, one for cash, allowing you to forgo the classic phone in a baggie pre-ride prep. Finally, the jersey has a handy swatch of cloth beneath the hem for cleaning glasses.
All of these small things make the Van-Dapper the easiest kit to ride in that I own. The level of functionality easily surpasses the standard jersey fare. Vélobici have thought through the business of daily riding and offered solutions where most of us had simply accepted adaptations to other kits. The upshot is that I prep less and remain more comfortable during the ride when I am in the Van-Dapper.
I like this kit best for rides in the middle temperature ranges. It is not as light as some others, but its luxurious comfort make it perfect on its own for any ride with an average temp between 50-70F. Sleeves and legs have seamless silicone grippers that play well with warmers, too, so it layers up to extend its use into winter quite nicely.
Some will take issue with it’s non-race cut. It doesn’t purport to offer aerodynamic advantages, but it is as comfortable and attractive a kit as I’ve ridden in.
The Van-Dapper set (bib and jersey) is well-made, under-stated, classic and durable. It has not faded under my heavy use, nor wilted under my less-than-on-label washing regimen. Take it from its package, hold it up, feel its weight, its softness. The differences between this and most of what’s out there are palpable, and hold up over time and use. At $360 (£230) the Van-Dapper set is as affordable (or not) as any high-end kit, but to my mind offers much more in functionality and quality.
Get it at Vélobici on-line.
On Tuesday I went to Felt Bicycles’ headquarters in Irvine for the introduction of their 2014 line. Of all the bike companies I know, they are the most intensely product-focused. By that I mean they devote a disproportionate amount of their resources to product. It’s a double-edged sword; no other company this small (they have fewer than 50 full-time employees in the U.S.) produces such a vast range of bikes, but I’m also reasonably certain that no other company producing product at the quality level and value they do spends less on marketing and advertising. There again, another double-edged sword. By spending a fraction of what Specialized does on marketing, Felt’s bikes are noticeably more value-packed at a given price-point. I’ve encountered riders for whom the effect induced suspicion, as if there must be a man behind a curtain somewhere.
Maybe that will change for 2014. Felt is coming off its most successful appearance at the Tour de France in the company’s history. Marcel Kittel of Argos-Shimano won four stages and wore the yellow jersey for a day. And let’s be honest, Argos-Shimano is a team that doesn’t get the props, attention or respect that Garmin-Sharp does, yet they gave Felt a far better return on investment. Also, while this isn’t exactly germane to the point at hand, I don’t mind adding that with four very evenly matched sprinters (Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel), the sprint stages at this year’s Tour were the most thrilling the race has seen in decades.
Before I go any further, I need to clarify what I meant in the headline. There are bikes that we saw that are currently under embargo. I’ll report on them shortly.
The other thing worth noting about Felt’s line is that they offer road bikes at some nearly unheard-of values. Case in point: the Z5, which retails for $1699. While it’s possible to find a carbon fiber bike in this price range, most of Felt’s competitors are spec’ing a Shimano Sora group. Felt specs a mostly 105 group. That’s a big step up in quality.
The other really interesting development I can talk about for now is the new Virtue Nine. Pictured here is the Virtue Nine One, the top-of-the-line. The Virtue has been Felt’s trail offering, fitting in that 120mm to 140mm-travel range (it’s 130mm front and rear). Thanks to a newly designed seat tube and (for those models that use a front derailleur) a new front derailleur mount, Felt’s engineers were able to revise the rear suspension to keep the rear wheel in tight enough that you can pick up the front end when you need to. The challenge they faced was Felt’s patented Equilink design, which is actually a six-bar linkage.
The bar running vertically behind the seat tube minimizes pedal-induced bobbing and helps control the path of the rear wheel. Of all the new mountain bikes I’ve seen announced for 2014, this is one of the ones I’m most excited about.
I continue to marvel at the quality of the layup work on Felt’s bikes. Little touches like the one above, which are cosmetic rather than structural, are a great chance to showcase just how good the work is. So far, I’ve only seen work like this showing up on bikes from Alchemy.
Felt also offers an astounding number of cruisers, fixies and other assorted city bikes. Give them a frame and they’ll come up with five ways to spec it. The bike above is the York, which features a steel frame, aluminum fenders, that carrier and a two-speed kickback hub and carries a suggested retail of $829.
The ever-popular (and nearly impossible to get) New Belgium Fat Tire cruisers have been produced by Felt for the entire run of the offering. Each year they change them up a bit. This year they head in a new direction with the addition of 29″ wheels and a new Felt tire.
The embargo will run out on … other stuff in about 10 days. Check back for more revelations then.
Since my decision to start writing about mountain biking again, I’ve been doing all I can to log miles on different equipment, though I admit I’ve skewed things in the 29er direction. I’m not a downhiller, never really was, and that’s even if you count me competing as one of the final two riders to attack the Mount Snow Downhill on a fully rigid bike. I swear.
It was 1991 and I got huge cheers all the way down. People were screaming, “Go rigid! Go riiiigiiiiid!” I was fourth from last, which means I not only beat the other guy on a rigid bike, I also beat two guys with suspension. Given that the field was nearly 100 riders, it was a victory roughly as hollow as a politician’s promise.
So like I said, I was never really a downhiller, which would be my justification for not really going after any 26″ bikes. Were I still riding in Memphis, or some places in New England, I’d be open to it, but around here, with all these fire road climbs, it seems silly to do a long, nontechnical climb on 26″ wheels. However, I’ve been known to swear by 26″ wheels at the apex of any switchback. It’s a bit like how there are no atheists in foxholes, though not nearly so dire.
In talking with a product manager friend recently he noted that for a mountain bike product manager to spec the most universally useful tire on a mountain bike, that is, the tire that will work on as many different environments as possible, the effort will result in lousy reviews because those most adaptable of tires tend to be heavy. Spec a race tire and you can shave a half pound off a bike, even though it might make the bike handle like a Fiat 500 in a quarry.
So while the difference in road tires can seem dramatic, when compared to the wide differences in mountain bike tires, road tires differ by a matter of degrees. I’ve been using the Panaracer Driver 29 Pro as my primary tire this year. I’ll ride it for a while, take it off, ride something else, then give it another try. Inevitably, the scenario is less thorough than that might read. I get fed up with how easily this marathon tire breaks loose in turns, only to end up dismayed at how slow another tire climbs, and I put it back on. Because the tire is 2.2″ wide, there is some meat there to grab the ground, and while it can float nicely on sand, it really does break loose the moment the bike is leaned more than a few degrees. These tires could have been called the Rogue for all they choose to do despite your input.
There are plenty of knobs on this tire. That’s not the problem. The trouble is that they are smaller than the average income of a self-employed writer. No names mentioned. And while those side blocks look like they’d catch once you get the bike leaned over, the tires break away too much for me to trust that they’ll eventually hook up. I’m not saying that they won’t hook up, just that I chicken out before I can get there.
But oh, how they roll! I don’t care what the surface is, if you’re riding in a straight line, I suspect the only tire that would be faster would be an 0ld-school slick. It’s absolutely the fastest tire I’ve ever ridden. The challenge of matching tire to conditions is both this tire’s promise and Achilles heel. It’s never going to be at its best in loose and often sandy conditions. However, I’ve ridden places where conditions do tend to be a good deal firmer. There were places I rode in the Berkshires where this tire would be star geek in calculus class.
Panaracer claims the tire weighs 590g; mine was a bit closer to 600, but that’s close enough for a non-racer. What surprised me is that the tire could be so light despite being only 66 tpi. I’d have expected anything this light to be 120 tpi. The upshot is that even though it’s a reasonably light tire, it has proven to be exceptionally durable. I’ve yet to experience a flat with this tire, though my record of flats on 120 tpi tires is dismal. The Driver 29 Pro comes in only one size, the 29″ x 2.2″ and carries a suggested retail of $56.
What I wish I could manage to do is revive my former ability to drift. If I could just get a feel for when these would break away and by how much, I might not have much interest in running other tires. Alas, that muscle memory seems destined, currently, to remain just that—a memory.
Final thought: It’s not you, it’s me.
I’d like to get one thing out of the way now, just so we’re clear, and because I don’t see drama as an option.
These are the finest bib shorts available. It’s not really up for discussion.
Some will complain about the price, and at $369, that’s a bunch of greenbacks out of your wallet in exchange for a single garment. I once spent roughly that for two jerseys, two bib shorts, arm warmers, a vest and a skinsuit. But that was 14 years ago and those bibs could do things to my undercarriage worthy of scenes in “50 Shades of Gray.” The rest of the pieces were all, at some level, rudimentary pieces no one would mention in a postcard home. Some will observe that at that price, they simply couldn’t afford even one new kit per year.
This is a crazy amount of money for a single pair of bibs; I know that.
I’m not going to suggest these are the bibs for you. If you have anything like a middle-class income and a marriage you want to last at least through the next presidency, ordering a pair of these could be a bad idea. Which is a shame, really.
Were this any one of the millions of gear-centric sites on the web, I could probably have concluded the review following the third sentence. But readers of RKP know I can’t shut up after only 50 words. Reviewing a piece of gear like this is half the fun of my job. This little exercise, which may seem like a paid-for advertisement for Assos, is really just an excuse for me to write about craft and the pursuit of excellence. I have a thing for folks who really walk the walk, especially when they are the CEO of the company. The Fi.13 bibs are the shorts that Roche Maier, Assos’ resident Don Quixote, wanted for himself.
I dig that.
So even if you know you’re not going to plunk down your lettuce on a pair of these bibs, here’s why you should keep reading: These bibs have a host of features you’d do well to look for in other, less expensive, bibs. You won’t find exactly the same features anywhere, but there are elements of these bibs that are going to gradually show up in other bibs as time does that little marchy thingy.
The crux of these bibs really comes down to the chamois. If there were only one feature that I were to focus on for Assos bibs as a whole, it would be their pads. The Uno pad is is amazing, better than most companies’ top-of-the-line units. But that’s only Assos’ entry-level product. The chamois in the Mille (say Mee-lay) is a rose among weeds, an Eames among toilets. It’s so fine that you can be forgiven for thinking no one could top it.
So what makes the Fi.13 chamois so special? Were I an employee of Assos, I’d give my patented, exasperated eye-roll. It’s the same eye roll that Aston Martin salesmen give. Where to begin…?
Well, now that I’ve danced around it a bit, I should mention the elephant in the room. Yes, that name. If you can call it that. The folks at Assos just refer to these as the eff-aye-dot-thirteen. Even they concede that to say tee-eff-aye-dot-thirteen-underscore-ess-five is in the next orbit beyond mouthful. It’s not even a term of art. It’s computer code, just minus the machine language. Now that I’ve dealt with what to call them (I mean, other than expensive), let’s consider the product itself.
Permit me a moment to talk about what you see at Interbike. That is, what you see at Interbike when you’re not at the Colnago booth, or the Campagnolo booth, or getting Mario Cipollini’s autograph or chatting up the models pouring espresso at the Marzocchi booth. There are apparel contractors at Interbike. These aren’t the apparel companies whose names appear on the tags of your team kit. These are the companies supplying textiles to the factories that actually make the clothing for companies like Hincapie, Capo and Sugoi. They usually occupy nondescript 10×10 booths and they’ll have a whole range of pads that you can select. One of the things I’ve seen repeatedly are pads that have been designed with little darts and tucks to make them conform to the shape of the shorts. The idea is that these adjustment will make them better follow the legs of the shorts, wrapping around the saddle more.
It’s not a bad line of thinking, but it is a wrong line of thinking.
Let’s think about what a pad really needs to do. It doesn’t need to conform to the saddle. It needs to conform to you. It needs to curve front to rear, effectively cradling you and your faucet. So what Assos did was start molding a pad not as a single, flat piece of padding, but in 3D, building the cradle into the pad. I’ve seen the Fi.13 pad on its own and it won’t lay flat. This curved construction has another excellent effect. The bunching up of material that can happen when a thick pad gets sewn into a curvy pair of cycling shorts doesn’t happen with these bibs. As a matter of fact, you can tell the Fi.13 bibs from anything else on the market because they hang weird. Unlike top bibs from every other company I can think of, the legs of the Fi.13s are held apart by the pad, like a ref between two angry ball players. This pad doesn’t have a crease to make the shorts lie flat on the drying rack.
That brings us to another point about this pad: It does not follow the example of so many other pads that use multiple thicknesses to create channels of reduced pressure. The interesting thing is how often these various channels end up working like hinge points, meaning the pad is more likely to bend there than at other points. The dimpled surface of the pad maintains a mostly uniform thickness across its surface, though it’s not perfectly consistent due to the aforementioned dimpling. That dimpling is meant to help with ventilation, to keep you drier on long days.
Back to the Mille pad for a second. That pad is designed specifically for riders who are apt to sit up a bit more and have more of their weight rest on their sit bones. That’s why the Mille pad is 10mm thick. If you’ve ever thought that maybe the Mille pad was a bit too thick, that might be why. The Fi.13 pad, by comparison, is meant for riders who rotate their hips and as a result have their weight spread over a broader area, and as a result is only 8mm thick.
Lest I give you the impression that the pad in the Fi.13s has a single, form-following curve, that’s not quite right. There’s actually a second curve to the front of the pad. Call it a pocket, if you will. The idea here is that it will cut pressure on your groceries. So while you don’t look so indelicate as a ballet dancer, there is definitely a pronounced bulge at the front of the bibs. It’s a sight that, in the mirror, is reassuring. I’ve always found it disconcerting the way so many shorts make a man look like a Ken doll below the waist.
So when I donned a pair of Fi.13s for the first time, I was immediately aware that I was wearing a garment meant for a specific duty. The molding of the pad is such that the bibs are pre-shaped to sit on a saddle. The very first time I pushed off, took a couple of pedal strokes and sat down I was struck by that extra ease I experienced in sitting down on exactly the right spot on the saddle. It wasn’t huge, but it was tangible.
Because these are Assos’ ne-plus-ultra shorts, they decided to spec a fabric on the inside of the thighs that stretches less than the material used elsewhere in the shorts, in order to move more naturally with you, while also offering increased durability as your legs rub that fabric against your saddle. That unusual stitching at the back of the pad is intended to allow more more independent cheek movement; it works. But don’t let little stitching touches throw you. This is a six-panel short. Stitching is kept to a minimum in order to keep you as comfortable as possible. The fact that this is a six-panel short makes me chuckle. I spent years in bike shops steering everyone to eight-panel shorts because they fit better than six-panel shorts. That was the pitch. Tonight, I fully expect to have a nightmare in which a pair of six-panel shorts walk up to me says, “How you like me now, bitch?!”
Compared to its predecessor (the S2), these bibs are supposed to be 20 percent lighter and offer 20 percent more muscle compression. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worn plenty of compression shorts that use materials like Power Lycra. While support seems like a really good idea, if a pair of shorts is too tight, I begin avoiding them. I’ve had the experience of looking into a drawer, seeing a particular pair of compression shorts and thinking, “Oh, no, I can’t wear the corset shorts today.”
I am quite definitely a freak, but I can’t be the only person who has ever thought that.
With the Fi.13 I get a certain amount of compression without feeling like I’m wearing the two-headed bastard sire of a tourniquet and a diaper. I mean, really, where’s the fun in that? A great pair of bibs shouldn’t require chamois cream for installation and ought to feel comfortable when you pull them on; medical devices are for the injured, right? Right.
Assos claims that these bibs are also 35 percent more breathable than their predecessors. Part of how they attempt to achieve that is by running the mesh used in the bibs right down into the crotch. I’ve no way to verify that number, but what I can tell you is this: In the hottest, sunniest weather I’ve experienced this year the Fi.13 has proven to be the pair of bibs that keep me driest. Maybe not perfectly dry, but drier than even some of the allegedly summer-leaning clothing I’ve tried this year. I’ll take it.
The Fi.13s are available in two colors, black and unforgivable—I mean black and white. I’ve yet to see anyone wear the white. If I had half the charisma of Mario Cipollini, I’d give ‘em a try, but I don’t, so like all the intelligent people I know, I’ll stick with black. They also come in six sizes: small, medium, large XL, XXL and TIR. (For folks who haven’t been to Switzerland, that’s a little joke; “TIR” is what the Swiss put on the back of a truck to indicate a wide load.) I’m about 160 lbs. and wear the large.
I’m going to add a little testimonial to this review. This spring I decided it was time to make sure that my family of four remained a family of four, if you get my drift. There was a consultation, a needle, some tugging, a bit of smoke and some time off the bike. In my first attempts to return to the bike I noticed a curious affinity. Those first rides demanded everything be situated just-s0. On my first three rides, the only shorts that made riding possible were the Fi.13s. Mind you, this was following a 12-day wait. I took my time. There was one day where I wanted to ride, but the Fi.13s were on the drying rack, so I pulled out every other pair of bibs I owned and kept trying to see if something else could provide not the same comfort, but just adequate comfort. I was only seeking enough comfort to enable me to ride for an hour. It didn’t happen. I didn’t comfort. I didn’t ride. I didn’t happy.