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.
Two years ago Panache did a run of thermal bibs for us. They looked like the bibs above. Just like. That’s a pair of them.
I figure it’s time to do a run once again. Because this is a pretty specialized piece of gear, I’m not planning to order any for stock. This will be strictly done on a pre-order basis. So the bibs will look just like our current bibs, as evidenced below. They will feature the same ultra-comfortable Cytech pad found in our other bibs and like our current bibs, they will be industrial black, except for the white and red in our logo. It’ll be easy to keep clean and will match the rest of your jerseys.
The difference between our current bibs and the thermal ones is that the thermal bibs will look like the inside of these below.
And while we can’t guarantee these will make you look more handsome (or beautiful as the case may be), you’ll at least make people laugh with our nifty triple-entendre.
Shouldn’t the back panel always have something funny?
So here’s the deal. The thermal bibs will be $140 (the regular bibs go for $125). To cue up, just send us an email at: killerkit [at] redkiteprayer [dot] com. We’ll send you a Paypal invoice. This will be your only chance to pick up a set of these this year; they won’t be showing up in our store. I might ought to mention that we have lots of vests and arm warmers to go with them, for those of you who already have a jersey. Christmas is only five months away, right?
The best part is, once you’re riding in a set of these, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to get a pair.
I learned about Pearl Izumi in 1990 from a sales rep who walked into the bike shop I worked at to give us a technical presentation on their cycling apparel. To this day I don’t recall enough about what he said to be able to decide if the features were really that great or if he was just that good at tech presentations. Either way, he succeeded. I was sold. My grad-school-student bank account was thinner than the leg of a ballet dancer, but somehow I found the scratch necessary to order a long sleeve jersey.
I’ve still got that jersey in a container in my garage. It has held up remarkably well, which is as much a testament to my careful washing and inability to discard anything still functional as it is a verification of the durability of the clothing itself. The jersey had no rear pockets, so if you were going out for more than an hour or so, you needed to wear a jacket or vest with pockets. In the event that it wasn’t cold enough for both that jersey and a vest, you had a dilemma. How to solve that dilemma isn’t something I recall. But I do remember how I was convinced that no garment ever in the history of man-made fibers could wick moisture off my body as effectively. I stayed convinced, too, for the simple reason that it really did. Compared to the long-sleeve jerseys I owned from Avenir and Giordana, the Pearl Izumi jersey was better in every manner, save pocket inclusion. It pulled moisture off me like a cotton towel. It fit like a tailored dress shirt. The zipper was just long enough to conduct actual ventilation. It looked as stylish as a ’71 Mustang. The material was as comfortable as flannel sheets. And it had brand zing the way Clint Eastwood has irascible.
In 1990, Boulder, Colorado, was the epicenter of cool in cycling. All the best pros—international and domestic—were based there, along with a growing number of bike companies. The fact that Pearl Izumi was based there was simply confirmation that they had it going on. From that moment until sometime in the late 1990s, Pearl was the creme de la creme of cycling kit to me. I can recall season upon season where my friends and I would buy our team’s Voler jerseys but pass on the bibs and instead go with the Pearl Field/Micro/Ultrasensor bibs.
It’s hard for me to pin down why or how I lost interest in Pearl; it may be that I just reached a point where I was ready for a new top brand and I transferred my affection to Assos around 1998. Then, due to changes in management and shop distribution they all but disappeared from my radar for a good 10 years.
Last fall I got reintroduced to some of the line. They—Pearl Izumi—were something of a curiosity to me—the question being, had they progressed much? Sure, there were new materials, but I wondered about whether the cut of the jerseys and bibs had evolved in a significant way.
In the last six months I have ridden a lot of new kits. Some I have liked and will be reviewing. Some of the stuff I didn’t find remarkable enough to be worth the time required to write the review. My experience with all this new cycling clothing has taught me two interesting lessons, interesting because the lessons are divergent. The first lesson is that while cycling jerseys have come in two different cuts, generally referred to as “race” and “club,” those two cuts have evolved over the last five years. Race cuts are snugger, more form-following, and tend to use more Lycra or at least Lycra-adjacent materials to give them skinsuit-like cling. And while I don’t (won’t) wear club-cut jerseys, I’m noticing that many of the ones out there aren’t the spinnakers of yore. I’ve caught a few exceptions, such as some of Rapha’s pieces, but as the cliché goes, things are trending toward more form-following cuts, even if your personal dimensions are more Jon Voight than Jens Voigt.
Bibs, on the other hand, are cut in more lengths than ever before. This is mostly due to the incredible variety of gripper bands forming the bottom of the bibs. Capo is pushing the long bands that feature double-layer material simply folded over with no actual grippers. Assos is staying the traditional course with a narrow band backed with silicone gripper dots. The space in between is rich enough in options that you needn’t develop a hard-edged tan line on your thigh.
I’ve been wearing two different kits from Pearl’s line since this spring. One of the kits is the P.R.O. LTD Speed Jersey and In-R-Cool Bibs. The other is the P.R.O. Leader Jersey and Bibs.
I’m going to begin with the P.R.O. Leader Jersey and Bibs. This is Pearl’s super-call stuff. The moment I pulled on the bibs I could tell that this was a cut above. I’ve tried on so much stuff that seems amazing but I wonder how long it will last. Well these bibs are cut from 244g/m² (roughly 8.6 oz.) fabric, meaning it has some real heft to it. The sublimated side panels are, naturally, lighter—more like 6 oz. I’ve worn this kit mountain biking on several occasions because I figure if I go down it’s not going to vaporize the moment it comes into contact with the ground. These bibs, like the In-R-Cool bibs, receive a Coldblack treatment to reflect UV rays to keep you cooler.
Some manufacturers have gone crazy with multiple panels in their quest to create a better-fitting pair of bibs. But some, including Pearl Izumi and Assos, have gone the other direction on some of their bibs. Inventive patterning has allowed manufacturers to use material that stretches more in one direction than another, which has enabled them to reduce the number of necessary panels to make bibs fit properly. With the P.R.O. Leader Bibs, excluding the band for the gripper, each leg is made up of just two panels. That’s a six-panel short minus the bibs. That eliminated a few serge-seams on the inside of the short, making them more comfortable on your skin when you’re out for rides upwards of three hours.
The pad employed is Pearl’s P.R.O. Seamless 4D Chamois. I’ve had 4D stretch explained to me a few times (several companies are using pads or materials that they claim stretch in 4D), but I need to be honest and say that I’d like everyone just to cut this shit out. We live in a 3D world, and 4D isn’t really clever unless you’re a quantum physicist. For those working in textiles, just tell me the chamois has a lot of stretch and once I ride it, if you’re right, I’ll agree with you. Claiming a pad stretches in 4D is something I’m never really going to believe, either intellectually or viscerally. It’s a marketing fail.
But as failures go, this is a pretty terrific pad. At it’s thickest it’s supposed to be 13mm. I couldn’t measure it, but that sounds about right. There’s a central channel to relieve pressure on soft tissue and while I know that pressure relief is its primary mission, in many of these pads the thinner areas are really helpful in allowing the chamois to move with you without bunching up.
For me, the real test of a chamois comes when I have to make several out-of-the-saddle efforts in rapid succession. That repeated movement of standing up, accelerating, sitting back down and then standing up again won’t go well if the chamois doesn’t really move with me. At some point a lesser chamois will bunch up or catch on the saddle. The P.R.O. Seamless yadda yadda chamois kept my undercarriage happy as a kid on Coca-Cola.
The shorts feature a 10-inch inseam, largely due to the double-layer cuff that finishes the short. What’s surprising, though, is that the inside of the cuff is doted with silicone grippers; there are a dozen small diamond-shaped grippers on each cuff. I’m not really convinced they are necessary, though I can’t say they are a real disservice either. The bib straps are cut from Minerale polyester, a very lightweight and breathable poly that does a fine job of wicking moisture off my body.
The bibs are all black except for the sublimated side panels and the highlight trim on the bib straps. Visually, it’s a pretty traditional look, and in this case I consider that a selling point.
The P.R.O. Leader jersey is cut largely from nylon (91 percent) and elastane (9 percent), which makes it nearly stretchy as a skinsuit. The sleeves are stretchier still, for obvious reasons and are cut from polyester (80 percent) and elastane (20 percent). I’ve encountered a few jerseys of this variety that were so stretchy that once you loaded up the pockets you risked catching the hem of the jersey on your saddle. Some companies have used materials that stretch horizontally but not vertically, or lengthwise panels that simply didn’t stretch much. Pearl went a different direction. A big, stylized ‘X’ is laminated to the back panel of the jersey, allowing it to stretch some horizontally and just a touch vertically so that it will follow your contours without sagging. It’s a novel and effective approach and adds another visual element to the jersey. There are three small, highly breathable mesh panels employed to aid moisture transfer in critical areas, at the nape of the neck and the underarms.
All the In-R-Cool jerseys receive a Coldblack treatment to keep you cooler on hot days. Pearl claims the body of the jersey has an SPF of 50 while the sleeves are 40.
Of all the various pro-fit jerseys I’ve tried, the P.R.O. Leader has one of the very best fits I’ve encountered. It’s hard to explain the difference in feel between form-following and clingy. One feels natural, and makes me look presentable (MAMIL presentable, anyway) in the mirror, while the other causes claustrophobia while simultaneously eliciting a spider-web creepy factor. Honestly, I’m not sure which of these two effects is more surprising, but I’m clear that one won’t sell in bike shops.
The pockets on the P.R.O. Leader are a bit unconventional. It seems everyone is experimenting with unusual pocket configurations. For this jersey, the two side pockets are cut narrow. You can fit gels and packages of Clif Shot Bloks or tubes of Skratch or Osmo drink mix. You won’t be stuffing a Clif Bar in there; at least, not unless you like the idea of wrestling it out. What that does, though, is make the middle pocket big enough for a farmer’s fist. Inside that pocket is a second, slightly water resistant, radio pocket. There’s a buttonhole to run the earpiece cable inside the jersey, but because it’s not the sort of thing you can reach very easily, if you listen to music while riding, plan to leave your iPod on shuffle.
Part of Pear Izumi’s brand identity in the ’90s was the black/electric blue/screaming yellow color combination. My first Pearl jersey had it and I never tired of the look. I’m pleased to note they finally brought it back and this kit played those colors with style. I get concerned about any kit with too much black for reasons of visibility, but for reasons I can’t explain, this kit doesn’t appear as black as it actually is. In wearing it, I’ve had several people tell me it pops well due to where the yellow and blue designs are placed.
So what’s the damage? The bibs go for $200 and the jersey is $200. Some of you will squawk about how much money that is. And it is a fair amount of money for cycling kit, but when I consider this against Assos, Giordana and Rapha, this kit is a terrific value. It doesn’t stack up against Assos’ best work, but it’s competitive with their Uno line and costs less.
The jersey is available in a whopping seven sizes: Small, S/M, Medium, M/L, L, XL and XXL and the bibs are available in five sizes: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large and XXL. I wore the S/M jersey and the Medium bibs. I’d compare the sizing favorably to most American brands. The S/M jersey is slightly larger than a Small in most brands (except for Euro lines like Castelli and Assos) and the Medium bibs line up nicely with most other American brands. Those tweener sizes of S/M and M/L are meant to give as dialed a fit as possible for an off-the-rack jersey.
Even though the fit is new, the materials are new and the look has been updated, this feels like a return to Pearl Izumi’s roots—great quality without going bankrupt.
Some years back when I was an editor at Bicycle Guide, my colleague Joe Lindsey and I had the occasion to meet with a gentleman hawking electric bikes. He was the head of marketing for some electric bike company that is now less-remembered than Major Matt Mason. In 1997 the idea of an electric bike was a good deal less accepted than it is today. Worse yet, the pitch was a good deal less refined. The poor guy was desperate and it was evident in his voice, his pitch, his face. His big play was, “But it’s easier!”
Joe, in his wonderfully soft-spoken and gentle, but direct, manner responded, ‘Well, you see, our readers like the work. They want to pedal hard.’ There was a bit more to the conversation, but there was little to do at that point other than wish him well. I told him we weren’t hostile to what he was doing, but we just weren’t the right outlet. As we walked away, I turned back for a moment and the look on his face was less hang-dog than hanged-man. Returning to the office empty-handed clearly wasn’t how this little excursion was supposed to go and his next stop appeared to be the gallows. There have been few occasions in my life when I have said anything to someone that made them look sadder. I’ve never been so acutely aware what it meant to pity someone as I did that day.
Fast-forward 10 years. My buddy Jim buys his wife an electric bike as a way for her to run errands without always getting in the car. She’s lucky enough to have an exceedingly local life and rarely has to travel more than three miles from home. So one day she rolls up to the coffee shop as we’re hanging out post-ride. To my eye, with its 20-inch wheels and ultra-long stem extension (essentially a handlebar mast), it looks to me more like a travel bike than a proper bike. Naturally, Jim begins egging me on to take it for a spin. My refusals go unheeded; he doesn’t care that I’m in cleats, that it doesn’t fit, that I’m trying to be polite about not being interested. So I get on. The variety of bike she had included a twist throttle, meaning you could pedal, add in some electric power, or just ride it like an electric scooter.
As I rolled out, I did what cyclists do—I pedaled. That’s when Jim yelled after me, “Use the throttle!”
When I did, the resulting kick had a curious effect: I smiled. Actually, I didn’t just smile, I grinned. I didn’t need a mirror to know how large it was; I could feel my cheeks press against my helmet straps. Were I prone to embarrassment due to shows of public emotion, this would have sent me to a closet. Fortunately, I’m not easily flustered by my own actions, so as I headed back up the hill to my friends, it didn’t really bother me that they gave hearty laughs when they saw my smile set to 11.
The particular combination of acceleration and nearly noiseless operation is what made the electric bike such a revelation. Cars and motorcycles have taught us that big accelerations with motors make big noises. We’ve been taught to expect big throttle action to result in equal parts velocity and noise. After all, only half the love of muscle cars is a love of speed. The other half is a love for the growl, the aural conflagration that is the internal combustion engine. Lions wish they could sound so impressive. But when you take out the scream, no matter how lovely a symphony of pipes and explosions may furnish it, the combination of all-out-attack quickening and child’s-toy noise breaks our expectations, making the experience tantamount to a joke. And any time you multiply fun by funny, the result is a tightening of facial muscles combined with involuntary hiccups of air.
Yeah, I grinned and laughed.
I tell you that to explain why when the folks at Specialized rolled out the Turbo—their electric bike with a price tag like a top-notch race bike—and said, “You’re guaranteed to smile,” well, that’s when I didn’t laugh.
Now before anyone thinks this is a full-fledged review of the Turbo, let me say I’ve had exactly one ride on this thing and it was roughly as long as a network sitcom. That’s not really enough for me to do what I’d call a review. But as an introduction to a product, well, it had the same effect of a tasting pour at a winery. Yes, I’d like to purchase a whole bottle of that, please.
The first, biggest, difference between the Turbo was … hell, kinda everything. I’d like to point to how there’s no throttle, that instead there is a four-setting switch that dictates just how much electric assist you receive. I’d also like to point out how it handles like a regular bike, and how the gimongous battery fits into the down tube to keep the center of gravity as low as possible to improve the handling. They are all really stellar features that make the Turbo a very different line of thinking in the electric bike category.
It’s when the switch that determines how much assist you get is in the fourth and highest setting that the bike is at its most incandescent glory. For every watt you put into the pedals, the Turbo matches it, just like when your employer gives you a dollar-for-dollar match for contributing to NPR. The payoff for a watt-for-watt contribution, though, is way more fun. This is on the order of first-kiss exciting.
The Turbo will actually teach you a thing or two about riding, as well. Because it multiplies your wattage, if you pedal in squares, the bike will surge with each pedal stroke. I’ve never ridden anything that does more to reward a smooth spin. The handling is as balanced as a liberal arts degree. It’s nimble, but not too quick, and stable, but not lazy.
Now, I should make clear that this thing weighs more than both of my sons put together, more than most downhill bikes, more than a book by David Foster Wallace. It’s a good thing you won’t need to load this onto a roof rack; it’s unlikely most cyclists could lift it that high (I’m speaking for myself here). The good news is the wheels are military grade and roll up and down curbs with the nonchalance of a dump truck over flowers. Let me be blunt: This is a real bike, through-and-through.
The genius marketing move would be a $100 million TV ad campaign in which consumers were challenged not to giggle. Don’t giggle, get $100. Giggle and … you get to keep riding for another hour. I tell you, this thing is better than Six Flags.
At some point I may enjoy the opportunity (and I do mean enjoy) to do a full review on a Turbo. The challenge for the bike isn’t that you need to be convinced that the big, red S did its homework. It employs a proprietary battery developed by the same folks who do batteries for Apple’s mobile devices. Yeah, it’s like that. The bike employs myriad features to make sure it’s as easy to use as an iPhone. Actually, it’s easier.
The challenge with this bike is the suggested retail of $5900. If we compare this to purchasing a mountain bike from Specialized, the difference is that the mountain bike is a passion-driven discretionary purchase. We all-cap WANT a mountain bike. That purchase is aspirational—I’m gonna have so much fun on this! But the Turbo is much less likely to be seen through quite the same recreational lens. Sure, it will for plenty of people who aren’t currently cyclists, but I’d like to think that part of the Turbo’s charm and promise will be its ability to make believers out of existing cyclists. I harbor this suspicion that if thousands of dedicated riders were to add these to their quiver for commuting and errand duty (CED), that would be yet another win not just for this bike or electric bikes as a category, but for cycling as a whole.
Another suspicion: if the Turbo is unlikely to be a passion purchase the way a new bike usually is, something will need to make the purchase easier to swallow. After all, this will still be a discretionary—i.e., not a necessity—purchase for most people who consider buying one. There’s a chance that Ed Begley might ditch his electric car for one, but I can’t imagine too many people will turn to the Turbo as their sole means of transportation, at least in the good ole United States of Murka.
With that in mind, what I think Specialized ought to do is partner with GE Capital to come up with a financing program for the Turbo. There’s already a one-year-same-as-cash deal, but that means your monthly nut is the same as the payment for a very nice car. I’m thinking something that brings the monthly payment down below $200. At that point, I’d consider it.
It’s interesting to me that the Turbo is just a bike. It’s not a utility bike. There are (thus far) no accessories for it like racks or trailers for CED. Wouldn’t that increase the attraction for this bike? Wait, that gives me an idea.
Hey Mike, make if you’ll make a bakfiet Turbo and offer a financing plan, I’ll be first in line.
While at Copper Mountain I spent the better part of two days riding mountain bikes. For me, the point to the exercise was to ride a bunch of bikes I was unlikely to actually review, while expanding my vocabulary of bikes. I’ll also confess that with singletrack latticed across the ski area, not doing some mountain biking while there seemed like it would have been a criminal missed opportunity.
I do try not to be felonious.
The thing that surprised me as I walked by to my room following my last ride was that I never ended up riding anything with 26-inch wheels. It was both an accident and not. I’d intended to ride something with 26-inch wheels just to have the experience of riding the smaller wheels again, but every time I went to select another bike, I went with yet another 29er. I know what happened. My sense of fun trumped my interest in being thorough. It’s also why I did multiple runs (I’ll explain that in a minute) on two bikes rather than switching after each run. The sense I had was that the first run was the handshake and the second run was the conversation. I can’t say I was always faster on the second run, but I felt like I had a better feel for the bike the second time down the descent.
I need to reiterate that the altitude kicked my back 40. The base elevation for Copper Mountain is 9700 feet. That’s not so bad, except for the fact that I had to sleep at that altitude, too. The ongoing oxygen deprivation was almost comical in its effects. Even the slightest uphill effort could leave me lightheaded and gasping. So while I used to think that lift-served mountain biking was strictly for the Marlboro set, I need to admit that sometime this spring the thought occurred to me that if you weren’t pedaling up to the top of the mountain after each run you could get at least three times as many runs in. Other things this attractive include Mexican Coca-Cola, the Ferrari Daytona and a babysitter … that changes diapers. Hey, I’m a parent.
Yet another admission: Two days into our stay, had someone come to me with fast-acting EPO, like three-hours quick, I’d have gone for it. I don’t fault the folks at Specialized for picking such a lovely spot so completely devoid of oxygen; I just felt frustrated that I was so compromised in performance. I felt such a sense of desperation at my inability to pedal it gave me yet another window into what may transpire for some riders when they consider doping.
The elevation at the top of the lift was, as shown above, a whopping 10,700 feet. Following one trip up I decided to try to check out a trail that started a bit above where the lift ended. I’ll be generous in my retelling and claim that I rode 200 meters. You weren’t there, so you won’t know that I’m grossly exaggerating. When I pulled over to catch my breath, I made it look like it was a planned stop to go pee on a tree, not that anyone was watching, of course. Still, one must keep up appearances. Dignity and all, you know?
I was able to take in four lift-served runs. The first two were aboard the S-Works Camber, a 24-lb. trail bike with 110mm of travel and 29-inch wheels. While I’m unwilling to name names, I am willing to reveal that a few years ago the top engineer for one bike company known for making very fine road bikes said to me that full-suspension 29ers was just a bad idea, that they’d never ride well and that for reasons of control, you really wouldn’t want a 29er to have more than 100mm of travel. Ever.
Um. Yeah. About that. Do you think I should tell him how much I liked the Camber? No, me either. As an example of a bike that doesn’t work, the Camber fails miserably. That is, it fails at failing, which is to say it was good fun. I’ll admit that when I demoed one in spring of last year it was a heavier bike that really didn’t offer much in the way of interest. The steering was mildly quicker than the Stumpjumper FSR 29, but it weighed more and wasn’t as stiff. So when I purchased my bike, I went with the Stumpy. However, this new S-Works version of the Camber has a much more aggressive feel to it while still feeling plenty plush for my riding style.
And what is my riding style? Well let’s say I have the downhill competence of a cross-country rider who’d like to be a freerider, just without all the airtime. I know, kinda lame, but if I’m in the air, it’s usually because it’s being handled by someone with a license and a logbook. The reality is that for a great many of us who have come to an agreement with our own mortality, one in which we promise not to bait it and in return we get a chance to have some fun, if not stupid, free-fall fun, a bike like the Camber is pretty cool. It’s not a cross-country race bike; it’s a mountain bike for people who enjoy cruising single track and aren’t afraid to pedal uphill some. For roadies who want a full-suspension 29er and aren’t planning to race cross country, this is a great example of what to look for.
After my runs on the Camber I took a break for lunch. It was there that at least two different Specialized staffers said I really needed to take a run on the Enduro. You’ll pardon me if at least initially I took their exhortations as a sort of ill-advised encouragement to a new driver—”Hey, you like cars? Forget that Ford Escort. Just wait until you try the Porsche 911!”
I was wary in that last-time-I-did-this-I-broke-my-arm sort of way. Not that I’ve broken my arm in more than 35 years, but still. When I expressed concern at what I’d do with more than six inches of travel, how it seemed unjust to use a Bugatti Veyron to drive to church (within the speed limit), I got assured nods that I would, indeed, know what to do with it. That nature would take its course. Seriously? I can’t tell a seven-inch-travel bike from an eight-inch-travel bike, at least not unless you tell me which is which. In as much as I have a wheelhouse, downhill bikes don’t enter my bridge; hell, they aren’t on my boat.
As it turned out, the only way to end the conversation, or at least steer it to something else as we ate lunch, was to promise that I would take at least one run on the thing. I pictured my mother astride a Ducati—any Ducati—as the rough approximation of me tearing down the singletrack on the Enduro.
To recap: The Enduro veers from the outer reaches of trail bikes into all-mountain—better known to some as freeride. It features 29-inch wheels, 165mm of travel, weighs less than a fair-size dog (25.9 lbs.) and I was told had chainstays short enough to avoid that bus-in-a-parking-lot feeling so common to the Stumpy 29er when trying to negotiate switchbacks; more objectively, they measure 41.9cm compared to the Stumpy’s 45cm stays. The Camber is right in the same territory, at 44.7cm.
At low speeds this thing doesn’t countersteer; all steering requires just that, steering. That takes a bit of getting used to. It felt a bit ungainly initially. However, once I dropped into the singletrack and got the thing up to speed (I have no idea just how fast that might have been but it was roughly between “look out!” and “oh yeah!”) it handled naturally, moving with me rather than in response to me. There were times when I could easily have cruised around some rocks and instead I just railed through them, just to see what the bike could do. What it did was roll through the stuff as if it was as unremarkable as pocket lint. Whatevs.
Sure enough, when I got to the first couple of switchbacks I noticed the Enduro carved through them in a way neither the Stumpy or Camber could. Shortly thereafter I lost time. What I recall is being aware that just after New Order’s “True Faith” started on my iPod, I began letting the bike run. I have a memory of me singing along to Peter Gabriel’s “I Have the Touch,” Thomas Dolby’s “One of Our Submarines” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Troy” but the rest of the run is a series of mental snapshots captured mostly when I needed to hit the brakes.
Terrain that had been difficult on the Camber was a good deal easier on the Enduro and stuff that was fun on the Camber became stupidly exhilarating. At one point I pulled over just to give my arms a break. After clipping out and pulling out one of my earbuds I noticed a sound. I was laughing.
It was on my second run that I gave a bit of thought to why the bike was working so well for me. Ever since I’d made the switch to suspension in the early ’90s (a whopping 80mm of travel back then), I had appreciated that while some riders saw suspension as a ticket to air time, the real benefit to suspension was improved control. The more your wheels are in contact with the trail, the more control you have over where the bike is going. The Enduro allowed me more than just control; it gave me a certain faith that everything would just work out in those dicier situations. I’d see braking bumps and ruts and think, “Problem!” to which the bike looked back with the face of Alfred E. Newman and said,
Still, I braked too much.
The Enduro is arguably the biggest surprise in a cycling experience I’ve encountered in more than 10 years. I really didn’t think the bike would work for me, and as it turns out, I was able to make enough use of it that I could appreciate the intention behind the bike. There is still room for me to develop as a rider with that bike, which is something I think is important in any mountain bike purchase. Allowing for your developing skills is an aspect of a mountain bike purchase that really doesn’t have an analog in road bikes.
Our final day of riding gave us the opportunity to do a group ride, either on- or off-road. I chose the dirty ride with the hope that I wouldn’t be DFL on the climb up to Searle Pass. As it turns out, I wasn’t, but that’s only because I didn’t ride the full eight miles there. At five miles I was so hypoxic I couldn’t have spelled the word that refers to the condition. For the ride, I’d chosen the S-Works Epic World Cup. This 100mm travel beauty with 29-inch wheels carved like a paring knife but really left most of the suspension duties to the rider. Elbows and knees are the ticket. At five miles I’d reached an elevation of roughly 11,200 feet and realized that even if I could ride higher I wouldn’t be conscious to enjoy it. It was after turning around that I really wished I had selected a bike with more travel. The kicker was the realization that the Enduro was just as nimble (at least, in my hands) in the switchbacks as the Epic. Oh, and a word to the wise: This whole one-chainring-thing really only works if you’re in proper condition. It’s funny to me how roadies can never have too high a gear while mountain bikers have figured out they really won’t pedal a hugemongous gear, so they don’t bring it along.
This past week I and at least one journalist from every reputable cycling media outlet flew to Colorado to attend the launch of the 2014 product line for Specialized. I heard at least five languages other than English spoken, and no less than six distinct accents of English uttered. At one point at the mountain bike demo tent one of the mechanics called my name so I could go over for saddle height adjustment and suspension setup and I responded with, “C’est moi,” which I do from time to time when I’m kidding around. Well, given the population assembled at the oxygen-deprived locale of Copper Mountain, the tech turned and said, “Oh, sorry, are you from France? Are you with a French magazine?”
Me and my sense of humor.
In addition to all the journalists, many of Specialized’s top dealers were in attendance as well. I’d prefer not to contemplate the logistics (and expense) of assembling so many people at a ski resort; it’s just too overwhelming. But for a big bike company like Specialized, such a gathering makes a lot of sense. Rather than try to introduce all the new products in a noisy trade show booth, they can make a deliberate (and rehearsed) presentation in a function room, complete with projector and sound system to make sure everyone follows along.
I attended presentations on the new road line, the mountain line, the women’s line and what they are now calling the “core” line. Core refers to all those bread-and-butter items in a product line—aluminum road bikes, entry level mountain bikes, including some oddball stuff like a go-anywhere touring bike and even, yes, a fat bike.
I’ve not been invited to this event for some years. Previously, when I attended I focused exclusively on the products I was most likely to review in the coming year. This time I decided to do things in a different way. Because I tend to get to ride the S-Works and Pro level bikes, I figured I’d branch out and ride some of the bikes I’m less likely to review. Well, mostly.
My first ride after the presentations were over was on a Venge Pro Race Force, which is to say a frame one step down from S-Works equipped with SRAM Force components; it retails for $5800. I’ve been meaning to ride a Venge for ages, but circumstances just haven’t lined up. Until now. We rolled out from Copper Mountain and headed downhill to Frisco, where we did a loop on the bike path around Dillon Reservoir, a place that gave my colleague Dillon Clapp of ROAD endless opportunities for self-referential jokes. I concede, he set them up well, even when I saw them coming.
Under ordinary circumstances, I can learn 80 percent of what I’m going to find out about a bike in the first five or ten miles … provided I can make some efforts. Given my current state of fitness, which can easily be described as one in which a 12-year-old paper boy with a full load of papers and one leg tied behind his back could drop me, being at 9700 feet of elevation (the height of the village at Copper Mountain) left me with as much operating bandwidth as someone trying to watch a YouTube video over a dial-up modem. I could stand up long enough to make five or six pedal strokes (okay, maybe it was a dozen), but then I’d have to sit back down and stop pedaling and pant like a dog stranded in the Mojave.
What I can say for sure is that I’d happily do more miles on the Venge. It’s not nearly as harsh a ride as the Cervelo S5 and it was stiffer in torsion than some of the other aero bikes I’ve ridden. Specialized likes to say the Venge is more bike than aero, and I get what they are claiming. Just how aero it is when compared to other aero road bikes is what would require some research.
It was during the “Core” presentation that I was introduced to the latest iteration of the Specialized Allez. The bike has been around in its current form for a year, but it completely escaped me. I don’t have any notes or photos of it from the last Interbike, which is a shame because I was suitably impressed by the presentation to feel that riding it was warranted.
What makes the bike remarkable is the aluminum tube set. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Specialized’s Chris D’Aluisio invented a new process, now patented, called Smartweld that increases the strength and stiffness of the front end of the bike. The top and down tubes curl inward, like the bottom of a soda can, and meet a hydroformed (and size-specific) head tube with similar inward-curled sockets for the top and down tubes. This creates a kind of 360-degree trough for the weld bead, making it easier for a less-than-expert welder to perform the weld correctly. Afterward, there’s less grinding away of material.
The frame is anodized to keep weight down while giving the bike a stylish finish. You can see the Smartweld as a vertical stripe in the top and down tubes. While the Smartweld is ground smooth, the other welds on the frame, such as those at the bottom bracket, have the traditional look of a Dynafiled weld bead.
Specialized is offering an S-Works edition of the Allez and the frame, rather incredibly, bears a claimed weight of only 1060g for a 56cm frame. I rode both the S-Works version as well as the Comp. The Comp has a mostly 105 drivetrain with an FSA crank and retails for $1350. The S-Works version featured the 11-sp. Dura-Ace group, and while last year’s bike was $7k, there’s no word yet on what this year’s version will go for. And yes, Virginia, that is a lot of money for an aluminum bike.
What I can say about the ride quality of the two bikes is that they are impressive. The Comp was as good as anything I’ve ridden in the past, while the S-Works was easily the finest-riding aluminum frame I’ve encountered. Because there are multiple price points for this bike, the tube sets vary some as well. I’ll go as far as to say that I preferred the ride of the S-Works Allez to some carbon frames I’ve been on. What I can’t really speak to is just how stiff the bike is in torsion. While I made some efforts, they were so compromised by the altitude I doubt I generated 200 watts on any of them. It’s possible this bike won’t be quite as impressive if I take it on a sea level group ride.
My first day-and-a-half of riding left me with the desire to spend more time on the Venge and the Allez. I’ll be honest and say that I find S-Works stuff far more interesting (and satisfying) to ride. The pricier bikes simple feel better as I ride them and that has nothing to do with how much better a Dura-Ace shifter functions as compared to a 105 (and the difference is dramatic).
That said, I’m aware that not everyone has enjoyed the benefits of President Reagan’s trickle-down economics (maybe because it didn’t work), meaning not everyone is going to spend $5k (or more) on a bicycle. Most folks have the good sense to own a home and have a college fund for their kids, which means a $14,000 bike is a recipe for nothing so much as a divorce. I anticipate I’m going to revisit both the Venge and the Allez in a longer review, even though the rides I did at the press intro were supposed to cure me of that urge. Go figure. My sense is that if I was still racing, rather than risk killing an expensive carbon frame in a crash during a crit, I’d purchase something like an Allez or a Cannondale CAAD10.
Before I begin addressing the Sugoi RSE bibs specifically, I want to make a general statement about cycling shorts. Compared to what was available 20 years ago, today’s bib shorts are barely distant cousins. Few items have evolved as thoroughly (frames, wheels and helmets deserve a nod) in the last two decades as cycling shorts. To everyone who has had a hand in this, my entire undercarriage thanks you.
When I think back on the best stuff I had to wear 20 years ago, the RSE bibs would have been an off-the-chart hit had they been around then. Hell, back then bibs were still exotic; the shops I worked for all stocked regular shorts and if you wanted bibs, they were a special order item. Even 10 years ago, these would have been Prius (Pria?) among Ford Torinos. But it’s not the past, thankfully, and even the worst bibs out there are acceptable for two hours.
It’s summer, so I want to talk a bit about wicking. I encounter a lot of garments, both bibs and jerseys that claim to wick better than your garden-variety kit. Rarely do they turn out to actually keep me drier. The relative humidity of my environment makes an order magnitude greater difference than any fabric ever has. Put another way, when I lived in the desert everything wicked well. When I ride in Memphis, nothing wicks well.
I don’t expect a lot from a pair of bibs. To keep me happy, all you really need to do is use a fabric covering the chamois that will wick enough to keep me from feeling like I’m wearing swim trunks. And this isn’t something that happens by degrees. I’ve noticed that if I’ve been out for more than four hours and the pad isn’t keeping me dry, my hindquarters will get uncomfortable due to moisture on my skin. Keep me dry and it doesn’t happen. It’s pretty simple.
The FXE pad used in the RSE bibs features a center channel for pressure relief, an anti-microbial cover cut from Meryl Skinlife (which is what helped keep me reasonably dry) and four-way stretch to keep the bibs moving with your body. It’s also worth noting the the construction was laminar, meaning the layers weren’t sewn together. I encounter a lot of shorts where the pad seems good until you enter the fourth hour. With the RSE bibs, the thickest foam is reserved for the sit bones, while there’s still enough under the perineum to allow you to roll your hips and not feel like you’re riding some witch’s broomstick. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s better than anything Sugoi has ever used in the past, the way Ernest Hemingway is better than Jackie Collins. Not really worth the conversation.
The construction of the bibs features a combination of flat-locked and laminated seams. It reduces bulk, which gives two benefits. First, it reduces the amount of material that can hold sweat, which helps keep you drier, and thus, more comfortable and second it reduces the irritation on your skin that can come from traditional serge or overlock seams. And the patterning is such that they eliminated the traditional inseam that runs down the inside of the thigh, to result in less chafing. The straps of the bibs are cut from a knit material that doesn’t require a finishing hem to keep it from unraveling. Nearly every manufacturer has a piece that uses this stuff, but Sugoi, to give the straps a bit more structure, laminated a second layer of material to each edge. It reduces stretch to better keep the bibs in place. The practice of laminating a second, narrow, strip of material is used at the top of the short to add durability.
At the back of the bibs just above the waist is a radio pocket with a buttonhole for the cable plus an extra guide loop at the top of the bibs. It’s all very well done, but it strikes me as about as useful as a second speed of reverse on a family sedan. When are you going to use it? Not many riders actually need a race radio at this point and for those who use a music player when you’re riding (this is something I do, but only when mountain biking), you’d never be able to change the music or adjust the volume if your player is in that pocket. Great execution but something I don’t see many people putting to use.
The leg grippers feature the same clean-edge knit found elsewhere in the bibs, only here there’s no extra layer of material laminated at the edge. The shorts are either all black or all white except for at the gripper, which is the one place where some sublimation is used for branding. The bands feature a weave with the silicone integrated into the fabric, so that it’s not a few dots to tug on your skin. The upside is that these bands don’t budge unless you’ve got embro on your leg. The bad news is because these bibs are cut to feature some compression, getting these bibs all the way up is a challenge. I kept readjusting even when out of the road to make sure that the chamois was properly docked in the harbor.
So how much compression do they offer? I would otherwise swear I had worn the wrong size, but according to their sizing guideline a guy with a 32-inch waist should be wearing a medium and medium I had. Put another way, don’t even dream of making a quick potty stop with these things on. You’ll need to ditch your jersey and pull the straps down (the front of the bibs rose above my belly button). To get them on, I advise using either embrocation or a shoe horn. With continued use I came to the conclusion that I’d be more comfortable going up one size and the act of pulling these one probably wouldn’t take five minutes. So like I said, while their sizing guidelines put me and my 32-inch waist in a medium, I’d be happier in a large. That also fits with my experience with other brands: If I wear their medium jersey, I’ll be a large in their bibs, and with the RSE jersey, their medium fit me. Me and my big, fat, American ass.
The RSE bibs go for $230 and come in two colors (black or white) and five sizes (small through 2XL). That might seem like a lot for a pair of bibs from a brand that isn’t first-tier, but these are as well made as anything at this price point. Except for how tight they are overall, the cut was good for me in that they allowed more room in the caboose for my aforementioned hindquarters than does a pair of bibs from some brands, such as Castelli. Were I shopping for a set, I’d try both the recommended size and the next larger size. My greatest concern about these bibs (and the jersey) isn’t the sizing, though. I wonder how many shops are going to sign on as dealers for Sugoi. My suspicion is that they’ll mostly be Cannondale dealers, and while that will help signal likely outlets, the RSE bibs and jersey deserve broad exposure. They are better than much of what I see people wearing.
In the mid-to-late 1990s, non-custom cycling clothing mostly sucked. I don’t think I’m insulting anyone or letting out any family secrets. Factor out Assos and you were left with a handful of pieces from Giordana and Pearl Izumi worth owning. Etxe Ondo, Nalini and Santini, while All very fine manufacturers, were nearly impossible to find unless you were on vacation in Europe and the Castelli stuff that was available in the U.S. was mostly entry-level, just a few octane higher than garbage.
On those occasions that the stuff where the garments themselves were made with notable quality, they failed in the looks department with all the assured regularity of new cars from Oldsmobile. It’s hard to imagine that another company on the planet has worked harder to avoid making consumers smile at their new products than Oldsmobile, though the Yugo does come to mind.
Lines like Giordana and Castelli were plagued with the misfortune of employing designers who lacked an understanding of cycling fashion, graphic design or even modern art. A rudimentary facility for any of those would have been helpful. Alas. Sometimes the stuff was so ugly I was unwilling to wear it, no matter how nice the jersey or bibs were made or fit.
As it turns out, treating a jersey like a canvas for an artist to put a picture on, isn’t exactly a look cyclists go for. So when I encountered Sugoi in ’96, they made an impression for the simple reason that their designs took such a fresh approach. Around this time, one of their jerseys was a particular favorite of mine. Called the Big Kahuna, it featured a Hawaiian print with King Kamehameha as well as a hula girl in a repeating pattern. It’s hard (if not impossible) to convey playful style in text, but it did something at a distance that was appealing: It looked like an abstract design that might appear on recreational clothing. The upshot is that it worked both close-up and at a distance, something that most century jerseys and the like fail at.
As much as I liked Sugoi stuff, there were some issues. The jerseys were cut for casual riders. Even the small jerseys were like floppy T-shirts on me. And the bib shorts were cut for hipsters—they had no ass. Fitting me into a pair of their bibs required a bunch of extra tugging.
Since then, Sugoi has evolved continuously. Sure, the company was sold and is part of Dorel, Cannondale’s parent, but the real import of that is the way it gave the company additional resources in design, materials and construction.
Lately, I’ve been wearing the RSE bibs and jersey. While I’ve kept an eye on the evolution of Sugoi, there was a time when the stuff didn’t have any style and didn’t look like the fit had improved. Dear reader, those days are gone. There are a number of companies that have elected to forego graphic design to give a garment its look and instead use a combination of different fabrics and creative patterning in order to create a stylish look that remains true to the garment’s function. Assos has been doing this for years. So has Giordana. Capo and Castelli are making terrific examples as well. The point here isn’t that companies have given up on sublimation; you’ll still find sublimated touches on many pieces, but the top pieces for many of these companies are relying less on sublimation than creative design to create a simple, yet stylish, look.
Honestly, I can’t recall the last time someone introduced a more completely white jersey than this that didn’t have the look of a plain, white T-shirt. My general reaction to solid white jerseys is to think that Fruit of the Loom does the look better. But not this time.
I should make clear the jersey isn’t completely white; there are two sets of hatching just above the breast on the front. Additionally, the lower hem of the jersey and the cuffs of the sleeves are grippers sublimated black with the Sugoi logo. They’re cut from the same material. The front of the jersey is cut primarily from Sugoi’s Revo material, a nylon and spandex blend that offers more stretch than polyester, which makes it more suitable to a form-following fit. The back of the jersey, the backs of the sleeves and two small accent spots on the front of the jersey are all cut from Sugoi’s Revoflex material, which is a highly breathable mesh meant to wick moisture away from the body and allow it to evaporate quickly thanks to the waffle pattern of the material.
The surprise here is the the jersey has an understated look without looking plain-Jane.
There’s nothing really ground-breaking in its features. It’s got a full zipper, three pockets in back with a fourth, zippered, security pocket and is cut so that it follows the contours of a reasonably fit cyclist. It’s probably not cut slim enough for the Garmin team, but the medium works well on me.
There are two ways that these pro-fit jerseys go wrong, on the occasions the manufacturer didn’t get them right. The first is that the spandex content can be too high, making them ultra-stretchy, so that even in the appropriate size they end up feeling clingy. There’s a big difference between form-following and clingy. Think of the former as a hug and the latter as a needy girlfriend (or boyfriend). The second mistake some manufacturers will make is to cut the jersey too long. I’m not my former six-foot self. I’ve lost an inch due to spinal compression over the years, and as a result, I’ve run across some jerseys that are an inch or two too long; the hem ends up sitting on my butt, not at my waist, which is how these jerseys ought to be cut. With the RSE, I’m pleased to say Sugoi got the fit right.
Silicone is incorporated into the weave on the grippers, and because the hem and cuffs are each several centimeters long, and the grippers go the entire circumference of the sleeves and the jersey, once you put this jersey on, it doesn’t ride up on you. I like that.
What I like a bit less is that the Revo fabric seems to have a penchant for picking up any dye that bleeds off another garment. I’m in the process of riding some other new stuff from a competitor to Sugoi and some neon yellow dye bled into the RSE jersey. I’m not entirely sure where to place more of the fault, with the bleeder or the bleedee. This occurred in the hour after the laundry finished and before I hung it up. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered this issue. I’ll note that there were predominantly white jerseys from both Primal and Assos in the wash and they didn’t pick up any of the dye.
If I can get it out, I’ll let you know.
The dye issue aside, this is a terrific jersey. I like it much more than I expected. Is it worth $180? Yeah. I’ve encountered jerseys that were more expensive that delivered less. Plus, when I look at jerseys that run half as much, they seem to deliver less than half as much. Finally, for anyone who would like not to look like a billboard for someone else’s stuff, this is as low-key a look as you’ll find. Seriously, Sugoi deserves some praise for placing how you might want to look ahead of their branding considerations.
Next up, the RSE bibs.
My buddy Eric has moved twice in the last two years and has three kids. You math types out there probably have a differential equation to show that it wasn’t just likely that something would happen to his carbon fiber bike, it was unavoidable. But ask anyone who has ever had a carbon fiber frame damaged due to factors others think are inevitable and they’ll all tell you the same thing.
Inevitability can go suck it.
So before I dive into the specifics of what the damage was and how it was addressed, I should give you a tiny bit of back story on the frame itself. Eric, the owner of this frame isn’t just a buddy; he was also one of the people responsible for the beer fund. I know folks who know folks and at the end of the ’08 season Felt had some Garmin team frames that the team never took delivery of. I put Eric in touch with the right people and good things happened. Let me add, this is not the sort of transaction that gets advertised, but sometimes the right person gets lucky. His enthusiasm for this bike is what everyone ought to experience any time they buy a new bike.
This particular beauty is the previous generation of the F-series frame and is one of the rare Sprint layups. If memory serves, it tipped the scales at roughly 1100g (about a 10 percent increase in weight) but was closer 15 percent stiffer. Because this frame was painted, it was probably closer to 1300g. The important detail in this is that prior to his purchase, this frame had never been built, much less ridden, so the three-plus years of use he’d put on it were all it had. There was no chance there’d been any underlying damage due to previous use by a pro.
Unfortunately, one day Eric walked into the garage and noticed a crack on the non-drive-side seatstay. The crack wasn’t super-apparent, but it was noticeable and when he pressed on the carbon near the crack it would flex with some ease. Ugh.
He got in touch with me to ask about options. My one and only recommendation was that he contact Carbon Frame Repair. I’d met owner Joe Hendig at an event and was impressed with his work. He has worked in aerospace repairing carbon fiber structures (think carbon fiber jets and bombers) and doubles as a bike geek. It’s a handy combination, not unlike the electric guitar and Pete Townshend.
Eric says he wasn’t able to get a photo that captured the damage, but Joe at Carbon Frame Repair took a shot midway through the repair.
While this shot better shows the door to his repair shop than it does the seatstay (damn autofocus), you can still see clearly how layers of carbon fiber have been sanded away to remove damaged material, leaving a void that shows the inside of the seatstay. On a cognitive level, I understand the steps necessary to do the repair, but the reality of how to vacuum-bag a completed frame mystifies me. He talks a bit about the fact that he does the operation, and for those who don’t know why it’s necessary he explains how it’s important to achieving proper compaction so the frame will be as strong as before, not to mention weighing the same. Leaving a lot of old resin in the frame would add weight without adding any strength or even restoring the previous strength.
Here’s a shot from his web site of another repair he did that shows the work area in better focus:
I’ve seen a number of carbon fiber frames repaired. Many of them included lumps and wrinkles or other obvious cues that a repair had taken place. The lack of any effort to repaint them and conceal the repair was, honestly, unnerving. Of course, paint alone shouldn’t make you feel good about a bike that has experienced this:
As it happens, Joe has also repaired a number of surf boards and surfers won’t suffer a board that looks like it just returned from a war zone. Eric tells me he can’t see the repair, that the only way he even knows it’s not completely original is lack of the dashed lines denoting the argyle in the blue and orange diamonds. He says the color is spot-on.
This is the repaired side:
This is the undamaged side:
I’ve looked at a number of images and can’t find the repair. Eric tells me that the transition point happens in the “o” in Vittoria. What he says he can see in-person at reading distance is a slight change in color in the weave; the new stuff is lighter in color that the original. He took a number of images and says he couldn’t manage to record it. In his words, “The human eye can see it, but the camera can’t.” He adds, “At 10 feet, even I can’t see it. He blended the weave so well that the only way you can discern a difference is by the color.”
Joe at Carbon Frame Repair offers an a la carte menu for repairs. It varies by the severity of the damage, from “Mere Flesh Wound” all the way up to “Hella FUBARed.” Refinishing is separate and ranges from just clear coat (Raw Dog) to what Eric had done (Pimp My Repair). With shipping, Eric’s repair came to $540. The site does a nice job of spelling out what your expectations should be. From what I can tell, he’s a miracle worker with frames, but he can’t Lazarus everything. Some frames are beyond repair. And some stuff he doesn’t touch. He won’t do forks, any carbon components or some wheels.
Dude’s got 20 years of experience. It shows.
The repair took four weeks, start to finish, including shipping.
I have two boys and a garage full of carbon fiber. One day, hopefully not soon, I know I’m going to have an experience like Eric’s. It’s nice to know I won’t have to ask around about what to do when that day comes. Does that sound like an endorsement for a service provider I’ve never used? I’m okay with that.
If the day comes that your baby needs rescuing, just click here.
I’m going to begin by saying that it’s not in my habit to write posts in response to a press release. Reprinting a press release isn’t RKP’s editorial mandate; put another way, being a mouthpiece for some company’s PR machine rubs me the wrong way. I like having a chance to check something out before I write about it. There have been a few occasions when I came close to writing something in the wake of an announcement because I thought the company or product was interesting enough to be worth chasing, but for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, I didn’t ultimately find those situations compelling enough to warrant moving forward with a piece.
So this is a first for RKP. And I think it’s warranted.
A new company, Recon Instruments, has introduced the Recon Jet, a heads-up display (HUD) for cyclists. Actually, it’s a lot more than that. In reading through the press release I had the sense that I could sit through an hour-long presentation about the Jet and still not understand all its functionality. The last time that happened was when I was introduced to Map My Ride founder Robin Thurston back in 2006.
If this were just a bike computer incorporated into a HUD, I wouldn’t be writing. This thing has more tricks than Batman’s utility belt. It’s a GPS unit. It has WiFi, Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. Did I mention the HD camera? The polarized lens? Running all this is a 1GHz dual-core processor. This thing is more powerful than an iPhone 4s. Srsly. Battery life depends, of course, on just how much you’re doing with it, but will range between four and six hours. That’s not terrific, but where the Jet differs from most devices is that you can replace the battery while you’re out.
Its makers say the Jet is controlled by a precision optical touchscreen with gestures and clicks. It also includes a microphone and speakers. Voice commands could be just around the corner.
Recon Instruments says that the device adds only 28 grams to the glasses, balanced 14g per side. What I’m more curious about is what the glasses feel like on your head than what they weigh, and what screens below actually look like.
Those are just bullet-point capabilities, not actual features that either give you something useful or distract you from your ride. I’ve run across bike computers that promised the ability to recite Shakespeare, but were so hopelessly complicated in actual use that I took them off after only a week.
So this isn’t an endorsement. I’m not urging anyone to order a set, STAT.
This thing is open-platform, so other developers will be able to think up new capabilities for the Jet.
I have concerns about how much of my field of vision the Jet will obscure and I’m curious about how these will fare in a crash. I’m hoping there’s a crash replacement program of some sort.
In the early 2000s (2003 perhaps?), I began using a Garmin Geko. It was a mostly lousy unit, but I loved the VAM function on it when I was climbing. Garmin is way past that now and because at least some of us bought those early Garmin units (I also had an eTrex), we now have units like the new 810. To help encourage some early adopters of their own, Recon is offering an introductory deal on the Jet. Until the final stage of the Tour de France—July 21—people can order a Jet for $499. After that they’ll go for $599. According to Recon’s site, the Jet is not yet available. They anticipate shipping the first units in December.
I am the guy who said he didn’t need his phone to be able to play music. And on the first phone I owned that could do that, the process was more difficult than operating a Polar heart rate monitor, so I never loaded any of my music to it. I also said I didn’t need a camera in my phone. As an iPhone user, my phone now does tons more than I could have imagined. I offer that as a prelude to the question of just how much more I need my bike computer to do. It would be easy to play the role of hater and rag on how I don’t need to be able to make phone calls with my glasses while riding my bike. However, I’m aware that that one idea—make phone call with glasses while riding bike—would have sent 10-year-old me into sci-fi heaven.
Take that Dick Tracy!
I’d have gone on bike rides just so I could make a phone call. My iPhone does things I don’t want to give up. I imagine if I start using the Jet I’ll find some of the things it does indispensable. Maybe. I’m willing to find out.
If you self-select as an early adopter, you can order a set here.