On my first test run, I carefully rode for 30 minutes on the standard chain and then 30 minutes with the optimized, following the same protocol for both runs, the optimized came out ahead, but just. The second run was even clearer, the optimized was faster.
Then a friend suggested using the optimized first. And then the run with the standard chain was the faster. Yikes.
I reached out to Kreitler to see if the bearings could get faster after a warm-up period. Never heard back. The temperature during these early runs, according to the Garmin we were using, registered at .8˚ Fahrenheit difference. I didn’t have the means to see if the drum was heating up. I resolved to find a temperature correction formula as well as only test one chain per day.
As for temperature, I asked around and was pointed to the book Bicycling Science. The book posits that rolling resistance (Crr) changes by about .6% per degree Fahrenheit. Some recently tried to see if they could find those numbers, but in their tests they got .8% per degree Fahrenheit difference, and are wondering which to trust. So looking at the temperature differentials on the Garmin, I could have been getting anywhere from a 1.7-2.3% difference in Crr on the first day of testing, which, assuming the power was spot-on in both runs, is hard to know if it would be enough to make a difference I could find, but a difference all the same. I base this on looking at Tom Anhalt’s Crr spreadsheet and the accompanying article. He tests an Armadillo’s Crr being .0077, and 2.3% of that is .0001771, so the new Crr would be .0078771. As I didn’t measure either the tires or the loads going in, and I know my weight fluctuates over the course of the day, I’m reluctant to calculate the Crr for the tires I was riding. And finally, it’s hard to know how consistent the Garmin’s temperature measurement is.
|chain||tires||powermeter||Kreitler||interval||power||distance||speed mph||speed m/s||cadence||Temp|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||153||1.015||15.225||6.806184||102||69|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||200||1.164||17.46||7.8053184||99||69.8|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||15:00||250||4.872||19.488||8.71191552||96||69.8|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||151||1.026||15.39||6.8799456||102||71.6|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||4:00||200||1.175||17.625||7.87908||101||71.6|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||gate open||15:00||250||4.865||19.46||8.6993984||96||71.6|
|standard||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||no resistance||15:00||251||6.33||25.32||11.3190528||92||68|
|optimized||Rubino Pro||Cinquo||no resistance||15:00||249||6.5||26||11.62304||94||68|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||4.868||19.472||8.70476288||106||73.5|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.365||21.46||9.5934784||93||67.7|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||4.863||19.452||8.69582208||99||71.6|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.482||21.928||9.80269312||94||69.8|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||6.059||24.236||10.83446144||98||69.8|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||6.159||24.636||11.01327744||100||69.8|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.785||23.14||10.3445056||99||64.4|
|standard||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.786||23.144||10.34629376||99||64.4|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.877||23.508||10.50901632||100||66.2|
|optimized||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||247||5.842||23.368||10.44643072||96||64.4|
|optim&lubed||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||5.915||23.66||10.5769664||96||68|
|optim&lubed||Armadillo||Elsa Calibrated||gate closed||15:00||205||5.228||20.912||9.34850048||91||64.5|
|optim&lubed||Zipp 303||Elsa Calibrated||no resistance||15:00||154||8.883||35.532||15.88422528||106||68|
That said, the optimized chain did beat the standard chain at identical power in most runs. And given days with two identical runs with the same chain, the second run was typically faster.
After lots of runs, and lots of frustration realizing how carefully I had to control for variables and wishing I had been able to stay on the same components at the same calibration and same temperature for every run, it seems that I probably found small benefits. Interestingly, the results recorded show the difference between the optimized and standard chain to be greater than 6cm per second, not that the numbers I found are reliable due to the power meter variations and the questions as to how to correct for temperature.
The testing itself was eye-opening. The first thing is that taking the time and attention to make sure all the variables are properly controlled is hard. The second thing is that even with all that effort, I found myself questioning the results, worried that the unquantified made the measurable differences. To me, the experience showed if I’m going to sweat any detail, better sweat all the details because otherwise the effort could be for naught. It’s swell to have a fast chain, but if I ride the wrong tire, or the right tire at the wrong pressure, or too thick a grease on the bearings, the power saved by one component could be more than offset by insufficient attention paid to another. This is why the top racing teams often have people who figure this stuff out (“performance directors”) and then they nag the mechanics to get it all dialed in properly—in some cases it gets undone by a competitor making a boneheaded equipment choice. It seems that the smart strategy in the marginal gains game is pick off the easy gains first, and then, as focus and budget allows, go for the harder ones. Even non-racers can benefit from marginal gains so long as they choose wisely. On the flip side, it’s a waste of resources to spend on all one’s budget looking for marginal power savings, and then lack the funds to travel comfortably to your primary racing goal of the year.
I’ll trust Friction Facts tests because Smith has demonstrated he’s careful, transparent, thorough, and thoughtful–and Smith is also giving away the details of his wax mix on the Friction Facts website, so it’s hard to accuse him of skewing the results to favor a service he sells.. I should add “for now,” as new data questioning everything could come to light some day. With the chain, looking at the tests he’s produced and talking with him, doing the full-on optimization makes sense only when I’ve got everything in life, training, and my bike set and I’m heading to some kind of championship event. Melting plain paraffin and bathing a chain in it looks like it can get people most of the way to the special treatment, and if it’s easy to do, it could be a real help to do it right before a major event if you have the time. A good master link, like Wippermann’s, can make this operation pretty fast and simple. And short of that there are thin lubes FF tested that are good for everyday use.
One of the other questions I had with the optimized chain is how it would fare in terms of durability. Could it manage several time trials? A long road race? A stage race? What about riding in rain and grit? At the end of the test, after riding the optimized chain 111mi indoors, we took the chain outside into the final throes of NYC winter. The first outside ride was the day after a snowfall, and it was pretty messy. We did 50 miles that day, and then another 44 miles before squeaks started emanating from the chain. FF’s Smith states that the chain efficiency decreases before squeaks start happening, and our last run before applying Rock ‘n Roll Gold lube was slower than the first run after applying the lube. RnR is both what I had handy, and a lube that tested very well for FF.
The wax treatment probably isn’t effective for a stage race, but for long road races, time trials, and especially track racing, it could be a relatively easy performance boost.
I didn’t expect this test to focus on testing methodology and controlling variables, but that’s where the focus shifted as I started to analyze results. At the same time, it was a valuable lesson and good practice for the future, both in terms of testing and looking for performance gains. It is frustrating not to be able to re-create at home any assurance that the gains found in labs can be found in real-world testing, but that’s the nature of marginal gains, and why they’re hard to find.
I want to thank Velimpex for suggesting said test, providing the chains, and for Friction Facts for their work and time.
The quest to make the bike go faster never ends. Once the big things are taken care of, it’s time to focus on the little things. And when the little things seem dialed, it’s probably a good idea to check back on the big things, just in case something has changed. And then back to the little, just because something else might have been overlooked.
When I read about Friction Facts and their claims that variations in chains and chain lube results in a measurable difference in terms of energy cost to propel a bike, I was intrigued. Especially when part of the solution was a proprietary paraffin mix. A semi-secret sauce? How much better could high-tech old-school waxing be? I purchased the set of reports they had on offer to take a look. Turns out, the differences can be big.
This piece gets fairly technical. There’s a reason. I’m trying to explain everything on the assumption that the reader isn’t familiar with every little bit of info. And, as with watts, little things can add up to make big differences.
Chain and Drag
Friction Facts tested five top-of-the line ten-speed chains, with five samples each, and averaged the results. According to Friction Facts, the standard Wippermann Connex 10S1 chain, Wippermann’s lightest chain, a chain I’ve run on my bike many times, has 8.85 watts of drag straight out of the box when the five samples tested at 250w were averaged. In the tests, the 10S1 also showed the least variation from chain-to-chain, with the spread between the least efficient and most efficient a total of .45w. And when the 10S1 was relubed with light oil, the friction dropped to 7.04w at 250w. In other words, a 1.81w difference (0.724%) is found by changing lubes. And the differences are much bigger for “optimized” chains, with many of them coming closer to 5w, a whopping 2%!
In case you’re wondering, the oil used for the Friction Facts tests was a non-cycling oil. Specifically, an electric motor oil from a company that doesn’t make or market cycling-specific lubricants. This was a deliberate choice, both to show no favoritism to any bike-specific brand, and because the oil has no additives, like Teflon, that could potentially affect results.
1.81w is pretty small, but all things being equal, can result in some noticeable differences. To give a sense of what kind of difference 1.81w makes, we went to Analytic Cycling. If you haven’t been to the site, it is a must-visit of the tech set. The calculators are incredible.
Utilizing the Speed For Given Power calculator, you can quantify what 1.81w means. Because it is in a part that directly propels the bike, the wattage can be directly added to the rider’s power. Assuming the default frontal area, average drag coefficient, riding at sea level on a typical asphalt road and no wind, a 150lb rider pedaling a 17lb bike at 250w goes 11.22 meters per second or 25.01mph. Take that 1.81w savings and add it to your power, and the same rider goes 11.25m/s or 25.17mph. In other words 3cm farther per second translates into .16mph increase in speed. Or .64mi in four hours—over a kilometer difference in a four-hour ride by changing chain lube. Even at an easier 200w, where the same rider is doing 10.78m/s, the rider with the lubed chain is still traveling 3cm faster every second.
This is why looking for “marginal gains” is something just about everybody should consider. Marginal gains is a term the Sky professional racing team has popularized. Essentially, it means that accruing tiny improvements, on the order of one percent or so, wherever they can be found, can add up to race-winning differences. It’s hard to imagine that people wouldn’t want the cumulative effect of small gains, even if they can barely feel them. And it’s easy to see why professional cyclists should care: ride the 80 hours or so of a Grand Tour as a time trial, that marginal savings could be worth over 20 kilometers, or almost a half-hour.
In other words, 1.81w is a big deal. Wondering if the data was reliable, I got in touch with Tom Petrie, whose company, Velimpex, imports and distributes Wippermann chains. Presumably a chain expert, I figured he might have something to say on the matter. He got back to me with a proposal. Test two Wippermann chains out in real-world conditions; see if the difference is measurable. One was the stock 10s1, the other was the stock 10s1 with the Friction Facts chain wax applied. He sent one chain directly to me, another to Friction Facts, who did their magic and sent it my way.
Jason Smith, the man behind FF, sends a report along with each chain he optimizes. The particular chain he sent had 5.51w of friction, 3.34w lower than standard, with factory lube, in the range of what he reports is possible with Wippermann, and above the 5w guarantee he has for the other chains he optimizes. But his reports indicate that he’s been unable to get the Wippermann chains down to 5w. Still, the 3.34w drop in resistance takes that same person above from going 11.22m/s to 11.28m/s. an extra 6cm per second, an extra .22mph, raising that same theoretical rider’s speed from 25.01 to 25.23mph. After four hours, you’ve gone .88mi farther.
Wippermann comes with an advantage in chain testing. Their Connex link is a tool-free, reusable master link, which makes swapping chains easy. It’s also something that Smith recommends using with all the chains he optimizes. This way, you can warm up on your standard chain, swap out the standard chain for the optimized one in less than a minute, put in the rear disc, clean hands, and head for the start house.
I started with the two Wippermann 10S1 chains. My basic idea was: take them out of the box, size them identically and then alternate chains on repeated tests. Do many indoor sessions so the tests are repeated over time, and then take the optimized chain out and see how long it goes before it starts squeaking. Smith actually runs the chains he optimizes for 20 minutes before sending them out, so there isn’t a need for any break-in period. And, as he believes the treatment is good for around 200 miles, there’s little reason to waste any mileage on breaking it in. Since that chain wasn’t going to be cleaned, we also started with the standard chain straight out of the box, no lubing or cleaning. It would be our daily chain and would only get wiped down, if necessary, before an indoor session, and only lubed when absolutely necessary. This way, I figured I’d be treating the regular and optimized chains the way people looking for performance advantages would be.
The plan was to ride with them doing repeated runs on my Kreitler rollers at three different loads: 150, 250, and 300 watts, to see if I could find any differences at the different power numbers and if those differences could change depending on load. I’d do one chain for a half hour. Then the other.
The only way to know if the differences, assuming there were differences, are actually there, is to control as many variables as possible. I used a digital pressure gauge to make sure the tires were within 1psi of 105psi for every ride. I made sure the room was within a narrow temperature range of a few degrees Fahrenheit. I let the bike sit in the room for at least 15 minutes before starting to make sure the power meter was properly acclimated. I zeroed out the power meter offset before each test. I either used the rollers with no resistance or with the headwind unit attached and the gate closed.
A perfect scenario would have been to have a test bike just for riding indoors. But I went with my regular road bike that was going indoors and out in the winter. So there could be variations on bearing drag and the wear of the tires could potentially make a difference. I started the test on Vittoria Rubino Pro tires, but as they looked pretty worn and was worried they wouldn’t last through the test period. So, after a few runs, I swapped in Specialized Armadillo Elites, a nice slow super-durable tire.
I also ended up having to send back my Quarq Cinqo and replaced with a Quarq Elsa. This was a potential boon, as the Elsa is supposed to be more accurate than the Cinqo. But here you’ll see the limitation of testing with a powermeter. The Cinqo has a claimed accuracy of +/-2%, a 4% potential variation. Assuming +/- 2%, 3.34w is equal to the variation at 83.5w of power. The Quarq Elsa has a claimed accuracy of +/- 1.5%, where the margin of error spread equals the power savings at 111.3w. And after we changed chain rings and tested the accuracy thereof, we ended up recalibrating the Elsa.
The idea of testing out the chains at three different loads, 150, 250, and 300 watts is to find if the change in load could result in any differences. I ended up riding at 154w and 247w, and the 300w ended up being a bit too optimistic in terms of what I could consistently hold for fifteen minutes.
I took the chains out of the boxes, sized them, and then kept them separated. They’re easy to tell apart at the start. One has wax flakes all over it and the links feel stiff to the touch. It’s a bit hard to believe the chain is faster that way. But, as I started to pedal, the wax flew off so quickly on the first run that there was no need to clean it. The other one was slightly greasy. I left it as is.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II.
I will endeavor over the following paragraphs to make no butt jokes, employ no puerile double entendre, and avoid, at all costs, referencing parts of the human anatomy I have barred my young sons from mentioning at the dinner table. We have over recent weeks been discussing product preferences for such crucial gear as helmets and gloves, and you, our readers, have chimed in ringingly with your insight and experience. We are group-sourcing this cycling thing, and it goes better when we all participate. So thanks for your effort.
Now, of all the touch points on the bike, I will argue that the most important one is the saddle. I don’t believe I have ever heard of a person’s ride being ruined by an insufficiently ergonomic lever, an improperly rounded handlebar or a properly functioning pedal of any stripe. To be sure, those things, bars and levers and pedals, if broken or set up badly, can have a dramatically deleterious effect on your ride, but your saddle, even functioning as it was intended by the bespectacled engineers who first drew its curves onto a sheet of paper, can turn a century into an eon, an epoch, a shambling millennium of despair.
And our hind quarters (careful now) are also highly individualized and various. We cyclists run from the beanpole narrow to the Volkswagen wide, our sit bones two points on a line describing a continuum not easily charted in leather or synthetic, with manganese, Ti or carbon rails. The seemingly simple curves of our selves are also bisected and punctuated by sensitive equipment (I know, I know) whose function ought not be compromised by a spirited, two-wheeled jaunt with our friends.
On my own primary road bike I recently installed a Specialized Romin saddle, which I assumed I would hate (because I assume this about all new cycling products that enter my world), but in actual practice (as with many of the aforementioned products) I love it. I can ride it for 100+ miles and maintain a level of comfort that keeps me seated on climbs I might normally attack out of the saddle, merely to give my aft deck (ok, sorry) a break.
This week’s Group Ride asks the question: What saddles do you love and why? Do you subscribe to the cut out model? Do you prefer firm or soft? What is it about you that works with the saddle of your choice? Give us enough detail that like-sized/minded riders might draw some benefit from your hard won experience.
In my experience, more than any other component found on a bicycle, pedals elicit a near-religious loyalty among users. It may be that because cleat design will remain static to a degree that even the number of cogs on a cassette will not, people have more years of use on a system and are more likely to develop less a preference than an accustom. We tend to like those things we’ve used for long periods of time. After all, if we didn’t like them, we would have switched, so the longer we use them, the more we tend to think what we’re using is the best thing going.
Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, if you like what you use, and it poses no problems for you, why not continue to use it?
It is into this particular world of settled opinion and calcified satisfaction that I thrust the Ritchey Echelon WCS pedals. The challenge is that pedals accepting the Look cleat have been around since shoulder pads were the hot look in women’s fashions. Good thing they have a greater functional benefit.
In addition to Look, we’ve had Shimano, Wellgo, Campagnolo, Sampson and a score of other manufacturers make pedals designed to accept the Look cleat. Had it not been for Time, and Shimano’s ill-advised decision to take the SPD platform to the road, Look might have become the industry standard. But not only is that three-bolt fixing standard still in play, the cleat itself remains mostly unchanged.
It begs the question: What has changed in all that time? Okay, so the cleat went from black to red, meaning from fixed to floating. The Keo cleat also reduced the stack height between the center of the pedal spindle and the foot. Most manufacturers have increased both the number and the quality of the bearings used. Spring release tension is adjustable (has been for, oh … at least 20 years). The pedal body shape has been refined to increase lean-angle clearance. And let’s not forget weight. Some early examples (Mavic, anyone?) might as well have been constructed from depleted plutonium so heavy were they.
For six months I’ve been riding a range of pedals: the Ritchey Echelons as well as a couple of others, including the new Shimano Dura-Ace 9000s. While the Shimano cleat is slightly different than the Look Keo, I consider them of a piece; they’re not fundamentally different, the way Time and Speedplay are.
By any critical measure, these pedals are reasonably light, weighing in at 250 grams. Unfortunately, Ritchey claims they weigh only 233g, which makes this the first Ritchey product I’ve encountered that strayed from the advertised weight by more than five percent. Still, 250g for the pedals, combined with 77g for the cleats one of the lightest pedal systems on the market for less than $200. This is where the Echelons show best—value. At just $159 for the set with cleats and hardware, they are more than $100 less than the corresponding Shimanos (not to mention a few other competitors.
The Echelons use a two bearings: an outer, sealed-cartridge bearing, and a needle bearing in the middle. Inboard duties are handled by a lightweight bushing. Spring tension is adjustable, and while I didn’t check torque values, I can say anecdotally, it goes from light enough for a panicked escape to grab-a-stop-sign-cuz-I’m-falling-over tight.
Having ridden in so many different pedals of late, I came to only one firm conclusion on the subject of pedals using Look-style cleats. Because of where I live, which is to say a place where there are stop lights and stop signs for 30 miles in every direction except west, I stop like a sitcom has ads. It’s annoying, but it’s a fact of my life. What surprised me about the Echelon pedals was that I eventually noticed I was able to catch the tongue of the cleat more reliably with them than with any similar pedal. There are lights that are just too long to track stand through at the end of a long ride, so I want a pedal that allows me to roll away from a light with something approaching haste. If I have to stop pedaling and look down for a moment, that’s a fail.
One factor that contributes to the success or failure of a pedal in this regard isn’t so much the weight of the pedal but the weight delta from the front of the pedal to the rear of the pedal. The greater that delta, the more likely a pedal is to hang, rather than spin due to bearing drag. A tiny amount of bearing drag will cause the pedal to sit motionless until the pedal reaches the top of the pedal stroke, the point at which most riders will attempt to clip the second foot in. That pause will cause the rear end of the pedal to overcome the bearing drag and spin forward. Practically speaking, it means often putting your foot down on the bottom of the pedal, rather than engaging it. Not good for quick getaways. I’ll hasten to add that I had to ride each pedal for more than 500 miles to make sure that I wasn’t just encountering drag from the bearing seal.
It’s this one, tiny little detail that caused me to love this pedal. If I lived 50 miles outside of Cedar Rapids, with corn fields surrounding my home, different story. Add in the fact that it costs less than a night in a nice hotel, and you’ve got one of my favorite pedals of the last few years.
Oh, man. When I brought up helmets last week, I had this sneaking suspicion it was a better conversation starter than the Giro d’Italia, though in years past I know we would have turned the Giro over and over like a favorite record. 50 comments later, I think we covered helmets pretty well.
In midweek, Padraig reviewed a new pair of gloves, and that got me thinking that gloves have that same sort of personal character that helmets do.
Truth be told, I prefer to ride without gloves, but years of doing so, while spending my days with my paws on a keyboard, have left the nerves that run from my arms into my mitts with less than optimal connectivity. Some days it doesn’t take very long for a familiar buzzing to creep from my palms up into my fingers.
So, I tend to keep a couple or three pairs of gel-palmed gloves in my steady rotation. The right glove can cradle my frayed nerves and dissipate enough vibration to keep me sensate all day long, over road and gravel, up singletrack and down powerline cut. The Giro Monaco long-fingered glove is a particular favorite, with just the right amount of pad.
Padding, breathability, seam-angle and height, materials, they all go into making a great glove, and of course durability is an issue, because we use our hands for everything.
This week’s Group Ride is about gloves. What do you wear and why? As it’s mostly warm most everywhere right now, let’s keep this to warmer weather gloves. The winter variety can be an entirely different beast with a whole other set of challenges.
The long-sleeve jersey is an item that wasn’t represented in my wardrobe for a great many years. There was a simple reason why: Fit. Most of them fit me like a burlap sack. Now, a burlap sack is fine if you plan to take 50 pounds of potatoes to the farmer’s market, but even for a cyclist who was only marginally picky about fit, that wasn’t sufficient.
So I gave up on them for … we’ll call it 10 years. It might have been 12, but who’s counting?
Were it not for Assos and Rapha, I’d never have bothered to tune back in. Patterning has come a long way, meaning fit isn’t the haphazard affair it once was. In the past, if the arms were long enough then the torso was too long. But if the torso was the right length, then the arms were too short. And don’t get me started on the windsock arms and baggy chest. In every case, if the arms were form-fitting then they were at least two inches too short.
They were, in short, fit disasters.
Road Holland intrigued me when I first learned of them last year. An American company with American production working with Merino wool/polyester blends. It wasn’t so long ago that because Merino wool blend jerseys didn’t have the fuzzy look of a Cashmere sweater were considered second-rate. Well, Rapha single-handedly took care of that. The question on my mind was if the difference in price between a Road Holland jersey would be negligible enough to make the savings over a jersey from Rapha seem like a savings rather than a step down in quality. After all, Road Holland has done nothing so much as set Rapha in its cross-hairs with its line of jerseys. Road Holland is a significantly smaller company than Rapha and while they would probably prefer not to be compared so directly with their overseas competitor, it’s impossible to look at a Road Holland jersey and have it recall any of a number of Rapha jerseys I’ve seen and worn.
For everyone who has complained about the pricing on Rapha’s clothing, Road Holland is a step in the right direction. Because they are an American company, shoppers don’t get hit with the onerous exchange rate of the pound sterling to the dollar, which I suspect accounts for much of the disparity between merely being premium products and being outrageous, pocket-emptying affairs. To the detriment of Rapha’s $220 Long Sleeve Jersey, Road Holland’s Arnhem Jersey, at only $150, seems like a bargain.
To reiterate, I don’t normally review a product in comparison to another, but the reference point here between the Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey and the Arnhem is so obvious as to be unavoidable. While I can say—after checking the patterning—the Arnhem is not based on the Rapha jersey, the cut and fit are so similar one could be forgiven for thinking one was a copy of the other. The fit is first-rate. It’s not as aggressive and form-following a fit as the Assos iJ.intermediate that I just reviewed, so in that regard it may be more to some riders’ liking.
The Rapha Long Sleeve Jersey is heavier-weight jersey, though not by a significant amount. It’s based on a material that is a 48/52 percent Merino wool/polyester blend, whereas the Arnhem is based on a 39/61 Merino/poly blend. I’d like to surmise that the overall difference in garment weight is attributable to the difference in the amount of Merino in the respective garments, but I’ve learned just enough about the milling of fabric to know that’s not the case, which means that the weight of the material used in each jersey was more deliberate.
Ultimately, the Arnhem is a jersey for a slightly warmer day, making it perfect for those cool, damp mornings here (that’s actually redundant—all mornings in the South Bay are damp). The lighter-weight fabric does a better job of shedding moisture so that you don’t arrive home from a ride feeling wet and smelling like a sheep.
Road Holland jerseys take a notably different tack on their approach to pockets, something that’s worth taking a moment to discuss. Yes, they use a traditional three-pocket design, with the two side pockets cut at a slight angle to improve access. There’s also a fourth, zippered, pocket for valuables. What’s unusual about Road Holland jerseys (this applies to the short-sleeve jerseys as well) is the distribution of space. The two side pockets are cut rather massively. There’s room enough for six-hours-worth of food because the middle pocket is cut deliberately narrow. It’s only wide enough for a cell phone or electronic music player. It also features a buttonhole to pass the cable for the ear buds inside your jersey. It’s a feature that gets no use from me on the road, but off-road is another story. Unfortunately, the center pocket is cut on such a restrictive scale that if you put your phone in a case of any real heft—think Otterbox and the like—you won’t be able to get it in the pocket. My iPhone 4 wears a fairly slim case and I have to push it into the pocket because the fit is so snug. They might have overdone a pretty good idea.
The workmanship of the jersey is very high, based on my inspection. Will it last as long as my Rapha jersey? I plan to find out; I hope so. My Carolina Blue jersey (Tarheels, anyone?) recalls the the blue of the Belgian national team, a color I loved seeing on Eddy Merckx. In keeping with the Dutch theme of the company, the jersey sports several orange highlights, including the silicone gripper in the rear hem, the embroidered reflector on the left pocket and the orange zipper for the security pocket. These are offset by white accent stripes down the sleeves, giving the jersey a simple and elegant look. I appreciate that the company is pretty up-front about their design philosophy. They write on their web site: “So if you’re looking for skin-tight, dye-sublimated cheap polyester with lightning bolts, cereal box characters, and team sponsor logos, you won’t find them here.”
Better yet is the fact that they aren’t trying to out-hip you. Also from their site: “What you will find are friendly down-to-earth people with a love for top-notch materials, always in style designs with fun accents, and flattering cuts that make you look good on and off the bike, whether you are a male, a female, a whip thin racer, or a Clydesdale.” Refreshingly different.
It’s funny to me that the biggest gripe I have with Road Holland is that they don’t make bibs [update: they actually released their first pair recently], so any time I wear one of their jerseys I have to give some thought to just which pair of bibs I ought to wear with this; to don a pair from Assos or Rapha seems perfect some days, sacrilegious on others. I can’t make up my mind. That suggests the problem, like most, is all in my head.
I’ve written previously about how life in the South Bay of Southern California means that I spend at least eight months of each year in arm warmers. I go through a lot of embro as well. I’m also, eternally, on the lookout for lightweight long-finger gloves. That is, a long-finger glove that is warm, but not too warm. For me, I tend to put the short-finger gloves away somewhere between 55 and 60 degrees. I admit the decision process isn’t exactly scientific. Ride length has a lot to do with it—I’ll go with short gloves for longer rides if the temperature is likely to rise a fair bit—but my mood is a big predictor as well.
I’m thinking your results may vary.
This would be a good place to mention that I wouldn’t ordinarily review two products by one company in consecutive days, but as I’ve worn the longSummerGloves with each ride I’ve done in the iJ.intermediate_s7, it makes sense to go ahead and do them now. They are, to use a turn of phrase, “of a piece.”
Looking at the Assos longSummer Gloves on the web site didn’t give me the perspective on these that I needed. I had the idea that they were just the Summer Gloves, but with long fingers.
Wrong! Thank you for playing.
The back of the longSummerGloves is notably heavier than the single layer of Lycra of the summerGloves_s7. The material is a knit polyester that does a fair job of stopping the wind. I started wearing these later in the spring than would have been truly helpful. These are just heavy enough to get me through the entirety of the South Bay winter save perhaps January. Better yet, they are one of two or three pairs of long-finger gloves I’ve ever worn that don’t cause my hands to slosh around inside the sweat-lubricated domain should the temperature rise above 60 degrees. Of course, it’s a good deal easier to make a closure-less back glove fit if you go to the trouble of making it in seven (7!) sizes. My hands, which will never, ever be confused with those of a carpenter or basketball player, are regarded by Assos as medium. I harbor the expectation that the XXS fit people who can find no other gloves that fit.
Which brings me back to the real challenge. Keeping hands comfortable on a ride is a good deal easier if the temperature won’t stray by more than a degree or two from the start to the finish of the ride. But around here, the temperature can vary 10 degrees in two hours. As a result, I confess something of a glove fetish; I own more pairs of gloves than I do of bib shorts—and I’ve got a lot of bibs.
Owners of the summerGloves_s7 will note that the longSummerGloves use identical palm material, padding and grip. The fit is identical as well and the closure-less back reduces bulk, giving the gloves an unusually svelte feel and look. And then there’s the fact that if you own other Assos items, these gloves come in a color that will perfectly match what you already own. From a safety standpoint, I love being able to hold up a hand that is almost entirely red. If a driver can’t see that, they weren’t really looking. They are also available in black, blue, yellow and white. There is a small patch of black near the thumb that includes the absorbent terry-like material for nose and face wiping; in the case of the Long Summer Gloves the material continues straight up the top of the thumb for extra wipage. One other aspect of these gloves that makes them notably different from competition is how the thumb is essentially sewn in backward, i.e., at an angle that would otherwise break your thumb. If you’ve ever put on a pair of full-finger gloves that brought your thumb in close to your index finger, making it less than comfortable to wrap your thumb around the bar, then I won’t need to explain how this feature of the pattern helps.
At $85, these gloves aren’t cheap, but that number doesn’t really come as a surprise given that these gloves are from Assos. Everyone expects Assos gear to be pricey. Predictably, this is where I consider the COO—cost of ownership. I mentioned earlier this spring that I finally killed a pair of the Summer Gloves I’d been wearing for more than five years. As they were absolutely my go-to gloves, meaning if they weren’t so smelly they needed to be washed or it wasn’t too cold, that’s what I wore. I estimate I wore them at least 100 times per year, and probably managed somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 uses. I’d say that’s a pretty remarkable value.
Given the spring, or lack thereof, that many parts of the world are experiencing, I’m guessing these gloves could see significant use clear into July.
There are times when I notice that what I feel for Assos is also what I feel for my son Philip. Yes, there’s the incandescent affection that can cause me to smile at the simple utterance of his, or their, name. But there’s also cross-eyed frustration that comes when you simply want your kid to stop moving. Not only have I said through gritted teeth to my son, “Would you please sit still!” (It wasn’t a question), I’ve noticed that the same thought has occurred to me with regard to Assos’ ongoing reinvention of its product line.
Case in point: They are redesigning the SS.13 jersey right now. It’s the single greatest short-sleeve jersey I’ve ever worn and the reasons why are too numerous to list in a review of a different product. I’m bringing it up because I’d like to shout from rooftops just how great that jersey is, but because it’s being redone, they’d like me to skip it. Just to be clear: They don’t want me to review the finest short sleeve jersey on the market.
These people are depriving me of an opportunity to do what I do best: geek out.
I had a similar reaction to the announcement that Assos would discontinue the intermediate EVO. It wasn’t the depression I experienced when I realized that the latest season of Archer had come to an end, but it still merited a small-scale WTF. After all, most manufacturers make long-sleeve garments where the sleeves are just as heavy as the torso, when usually, the sleeves don’t need to be quite so heavy. Rarely has a garment so light been so warm.
(This next portion requires a brief channeling of John Belushi.)
But noooooo! They couldn’t leave it be. They introduce the iJ.intermediate_s7, and if I’m going to complain about anything else Assos does it’s point to their arcane naming nomenclature and call it out for being just as strange as standing in line for the next Star Trek movie and hearing two pimple-faced teens telling knock-knock jokes in Klingon. Not that I’d know anything about that.
When I talk with people at Assos, I’m not always sure just how to talk to them. By that I mean that I’m patently unwilling to say, “I really love the eye-jay-dot-intermediate-underscore-ess-seven.” Won’t do it. I just say the eye-jay-intermediate. I’m not sure how they feel about that, but for me it feels like one of those rare occasions when I get to protect that final, hidden, scrap of dignity that allows me to continue believing I’m some variety of adult.
But they’re Swiss and when you make trains run like atomic clocks and timepieces (anything that beautiful is not a watch) more handsome than Fabian Cancellara, I suppose you have earned the right to invent whatever naming convention you want. Drat.
When I first spied this piece on the Assos web site I was concerned by just how black it was, even in the red edition. Fortunately, the back is far more red than the front. I have genuine concerns about visibility for cyclists and wearing black doesn’t really help. Pair black bibs with a black jersey and you’ve created a big dark spot that’s easy for drivers to miss. But how often do drivers see the front of a rider’s torso? I’m guessing not much, which is why I’m okay with the black front of the torso. The back, which is mostly red, is what counts.
Were you to ask me what could have been improved about the intermediate EVO, I’d tell you that the sleeves were just a hair long and it would be nice if the front of the torso breathed just a bit, as opposed to not at all. They were minor points that within the grand scheme of the garment really didn’t even rise to the level of irritant. That sprig of parsley delivered on your steak.
It’s points like those where the superiority of the iJ.intermediate is most obvious. The piece is light in feel, weighing only slightly more than a long-sleeve base layer; the hem, cuffs and pockets are the points where its bulk is most noticeable. It seems too light to offer the warmth that it does on a 50-degree day; paired with a short-sleeve base layer, I was perfectly comfortable. The sleeve length? About 2cm shorter than the intermediate EVO, which turns out is perfect for my arms.
Also different from the intermediate EVO is the cut of the pockets. Not a big deal, but the two side pockets are cut at a slight angle now, easing access. Pocket capacity seems to have improved, which is saying something because the pocket capacity of an Assos jersey is greater than any other similar jersey I own. Think watermelon in hip pocket. They also moved the fourth, zippered pocket from the right side to the center and increased its capacity, making it big enough to hold a phone, but not a phablet (don’t get me started).
I tried wearing the intermediate EVO one day and the iJ.intermediate the following day, under similar weather (something easy to do ’round these parts), and while I can say the intermediate EVO kept my torso warmer, the difference in warmth from my arms to my torso—not that my arms were actually cold, mind you—was noticeable until I started riding with a firm tempo. The iJ.intermediate was different in how the garment felt more uniform in its temperature control. I can’t say that my arms were actually warmer, but they didn’t seem cooler than my torso, which felt like an improvement as I rode.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not the skinny racer I once was. Poorly cut jerseys will make my 160-lb. physique look, well, rather John-Belushi-ish. (I’m not sure why I’ve just referred to Belushi again in the same review. I think this the final reference to him.) So part of my definition of good cut includes the requirement that wearing the item makes me look faster, not fatter. I’ve yet to encounter a clothing company to do this as well, or as thoroughly, as Assos does. So while I could go Commander Data on you and rattle off their marketing prattle about how they use advanced patterning this and hyper whatever that, what it comes down to is Assos understands the body of a cyclist better than anyone else. I believe that the way I believe in the love of my parents.
I’m aware that, technically, Assos considers this piece a jacket, but to all native-English-speaking cyclists, this is a long-sleeve jersey. Having said that, I can say I’ve worn a lot of long-sleeve jerseys and none combine the breathability, warmth, fit and good looks of the iJ.intermediate. We can discuss the finer points of the look of the piece (I know someone is rolling his eyes right now), but I’ve not encountered another long sleeve jersey that comes close to the technical achievement of this. This is how they can charge $370. Jaws are clattering to the ground around the world as people read that number, but when I consider that number against what other top-notch companies are charging for their best long-sleeve jersey, this strikes me as fair. Pricier than lunch at the French Laundry, but still fair.
In that I’ve struck what may be the fairest comparison of all. People who take an interest in fine dining understand that a meal at the French laundry is an extravagance, not something you do on a whim. The iJ.intermediate is a rare piece of gear and comparing it to most other long sleeve jerseys is like comparing the French Laundry to Red Lobster.
(John Belushi was not harmed in the making of this review.)
Take a moment to look at the object above. Really look at it. If you weren’t already a dedicated cyclist, what would you guess that was? I can say that I would guess that it was a souvenir replica of some sort of head gear from a first-person-shooter video game. It would be right at home on an alien in Halo. Falling back on my trained experience as a cyclist, I’d conclude from its sharp lines, balanced proportions and deliberate symmetry that it was an established helmet maker’s new top-of-the-line model.
Neither of those guesses would be right, of course.
It is neither from a manufacturer known for a history in helmets, nor is it their top model. Cannondale has a history in helmets like I’ve got a history in beer: I’ve consumed a lot of it, but no one is waiting for my opinion, or for me to make one. But make one—scratch that, six—they have.
Helmets have been a topic of discussion at every industry event I’ve been to recently, largely due to Giro’s new offering. People are struggling with it because the look is such a departure. Function aside, it looks like a skateboard helmet people say. It doesn’t look like a proper cycling helmet people say. There’s no denying that. But that’s because the average cycling helmet doesn’t look like anything else on earth.
The evolution of the bicycle helmet has been a long and surprising journey. The only time I wore my first helmet was when I entered a race. The first helmet I wore on regular training rides was my Giro LeMond Air Attack. That was the first helmet that had a look I was able to define as cool, rather than laughable. The evolution since then has been into progressively more vents and shapes that looked organic—ribs with connective tissue or framework with panels. The most successful design aesthetically don’t usually look like putty with holes poked in it. Consider the Catlike.
Significant in this is that most helmet manufacturer’s second- and third-tier designs seem like watered-down ideas, like all the truly rakish lines were softened, lest a less enthusiastic cyclist be frightened away. They usually smack of design by committee, which is about the lowest thing you can say about a piece of industrial design work. It’s like saying the Ferrari Daytona is a ripoff of a Datsun 240z. Oof.
If I hadn’t seen the Cannondale Cypher, the company’s $200 head protector, I’d have concluded that the Teramo was the primo model. Even though I knew it wasn’t the top model, my jaw dropped when I found out this baby retails for $119.99. Finally, a reasonably affordable helmet that doesn’t look like a design studio’s sloppy seconds.
Now, even if a helmet looks okay, the fit can still be a complete fail. I’ve tried helmets that fit like a five-gallon bucket, covering my eyes after every bump in the road, and others that were essentially styrofoam yarmulkes, devices that failed to shield my temples from all but top-side blows. I don’t know how else to put it: The Terramo fit like a bike helmet.
Feature-wise, this thing gives nothing up on the pricier Cypher. Most notable in my mind is that the Terramo uses dual-density EPS to better cushion your noggin in the event of an extreme deceleration event—you know, from 30 to zero in now. The softer density EPS takes that first portion of the hit, giving your head a softer start to the stop, while the denser EPS makes sure that your head gets stopped as well as possible under the circumstances. The thing about that softer density EPS is that it is by its very nature fragile and many companies have avoided it for durability reasons. Cannondale uses an internal framework (they call it a chassis) to provide improved structural integrity in the event of a crash. This is a technology that’s been around a while, but it is especially necessary in helmets that use two different foams so that the helmet doesn’t go watermelon-through-a-cooler if you fall.
Also helping to keep the helmet together is an alloy reinforced polycarbonate outer shell. Again, this is technology we’ve seen before, but Cannondale uses it effectively to create a durable helmet with big vents. I’ve not bothered to count the vents; there are plenty of them to do what you expect a bike helmet to do.
My one knock against this helmet is the Ergo-Fit occipital pad. While it’s plenty comfortable, the fact that it’s covered with rubber (okay, perforated rubber) means there’s a lot of surface contact at the back of your head. While I didn’t ever overheat while wearing the helmet, I noticed I was pretty sweaty back there when I took the helmet off, and the warmest ride I ever did with it didn’t reach 80 degrees. It’s a small issue in the grand scheme.
The Terramo comes in six color schemes, two of them sufficiently neutral to go with any cycling kit you might own, and all of them attractive enough to avoid geek-side embarrassment. The helmet also comes in two sizes. Regular readers of RKP will recall that Zippy (the pinhead) is my first cousin. I wore the small/medium. I bring up that point to establish the following: I was able to perch eyewear from SPY, Shimano, Smith, Oakley and Giro in the vents and not have them immediately drop out when I looked down. Pretty good record, though I will say getting the Radars in took a bit of flexing.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that I prefer this to the Giro Aeon or the Specialized Prevail. There’s no point. However, I can say that for friends of mine who think spending $200 on a helmet is out of their league, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Terramo. It’s one of the best helmet values I’ve seen.
I need to be honest. I haven’t worn the kit from a team I wasn’t a member of in probably 15 years. Before I moved to Southern California, I and all of my friends wore any jersey or kit we thought was cool. I had team jerseys from PDM, Z, Gatorade-Chateau d’Ax and even a replica Banania-sponsored maillot jaune like Greg LeMond wore in the ’86 Tour de France. My PDM jersey was arguably my favorite jersey until I got my first UMASS team jersey. I still think the jersey that wrapped the granite bodies of Steven Rooks, Sean Kelly and Gert Jan Theunisse was as gorgeous a design as was ever raced. So why shouldn’t I have worn one?
But then I moved to SoCal. The single most image-conscious place on the planet. A place where, unlike Milan, wherein the sure sign that one is aware of the presence struck is being dressed to the proverbial three cubed, in the land where all the best parts are aftermarket—both on cars and bodies—we go to great lengths to make a sculpted appearance look accidental. What that’s about has dysfunction written all over it. However, I quickly learned on the group rides here that you do not wear the jersey of a team for which you did not ride. A simple rule, I suppose. It might have been the first cycling faux pas I ever encountered, aside from the excommunicable offense of not holding your line.
All those cool jerseys went in a container in my garage. I think they’re still there. I think. Eventually, I learned that there were exceptions, such as if you were given the jersey by someone attached to the team, especially if that someone was a rider. Fundamentally, the rule was about not reaping the reward of something you hadn’t earned. So for years, I wore only those kits from the teams that sponsored me.
So when I heard that Rapha was going to sponsor Team Sky, I hazarded a few connect-the-dot thoughts. First, I wondered what had taken to long. In a world starved for heaven-made matches, Rapha and Sky are the peanut butter and jelly of the British Isles. I mean, dude. This is cycling’s Brangelina. Next, I admit I wondered what the jersey would be, as in would it be an embroidered no-silkscreen affair. Would Rapha impose its style on the pro peloton? Alas, that didn’t happen. The new Sky kit is rather in keeping with a current trend in kits of, Just how black can we make it? If there’s one thing that does, it make the sky blue pop like a child’s balloon in a palm jungle.
What I didn’t expect was to receive said kit for review. I’ll admit, when I saw the box, I was torn. I simply don’t wear pro kits anymore. How would I say something true without dissing the pro-kit blunder? I’m certain other places don’t suffer this stricture, but my departure from the realm of cool happened when I stopped being one of the fast guys and that’s been a good 10 years. Point being, I’d like to avoid becoming any less cool ’round these parts.
So I pulled the kit out early one morning and dressed in near dark. There was no denying the quality of the kit as I pulled it on. There’s a synergy of cut and materials that occurs in those best-of-class pieces. They lack that little tug here, stretch there, of lesser garments. The jersey length was just-so—long enough to get your hand in a pocket easily enough but only long enough to reach your waist—a proper pro cut.
I headed into the bathroom for a final pit stop before heading out for the ride when I noticed the side panel I’d missed as I dressed. My name. There it was, billboard bold; my name paired with Old Glory.
I geek out on clothing with the regularity of moon phases. Occasionally, my wife will spy something and comment on how nice it looks. If she doesn’t comment, I take note. I never, ever, go racing to her and say, “Babe, you gotta check this out.” But that’s what I did with this jersey. I waited for someone on the ride to give me some grief. It seemed as inevitable as a baby barfing, which I can say with considerable authority is definitely inevitable. When it came, I simply lifted my arm and twisted a bit.
“Okay, that’s kinda cool.” Game. Set. Match.
Think back on childhood and the first sports jersey or shirt you wore with your name on it. So long as we’re not talking the plastic name tag of fast-food careers, having your name on your clothing is still cool enough to elicit a smile. When I think about it, it seems like I ought, at this point in life, to be immune to such charms. I’m not. I got stickers with my name and the RKP logo made last year, little ones to stick on top tubes, seat stays or any other place I felt compelled. (I also had a bunch made for RKP’s regular contributors.)
Rapha is rumored to have spent crazy money, Michael Jackson money, on this sponsorship, so to make it work, they need to be able to make this kit connect with the masses, and really, the best way to do that isn’t with a five-sizes, pro-cut jersey and crappy bibs. For those of you who have spent any time around Beatles memorabilia, you know how each of the Fab Four were marketed within a nose hair of their lives. And no matter who you were, there was a Beatle for everyone. So what is Rapha doing?
Rapha is offering the chance for you to order a Sky jersey with your name and flag on it. Before you suck in a deep breath and hold it, I should mention that it’s only $150. And it comes in six sizes, from XS to XXL. How it is that the brand most often derided for being over-priced is offering a truly custom jersey for only $150, I don’t currently fathom. I don’t need to. What I know is that you can spend more on a jersey that’s no better and still not have your name on it. The replica team jersey goes for $115. Rapha is also offering the national champion jerseys for Great Britain and Norway, plus a Wiggins supporter jersey , both in pro-cut a relaxed-fit version of the Sky jersey with “Wiggo” on the sides (they even do kids’ versions in both cuts). The replica jersey (pro cut) is $120 while the supporter jersey (relaxed fit) is only $65. Has to be the least expensive jersey Rapha has ever offered (save the kids’ version which is only $55. So stop complaining about how pricey their stuff is. There are 13 jerseys, two base layers, five bib shorts, three jackets (oops, two—one is already sold out), jeans, nine shirts, a belt, gloves; heck, there’s even a scarf. A proper Sky fan could remake their entire wardrobe in this stuff.
The Sky bib shorts are very similar to the Pro Team bibs that I reviewed previously. You can read that review here. It’s the same pad, and while the Lycra of the shorts has the same weight and feel as the Pro Team bibs I have been wearing, the fabric in the Sky bibs has just a bit more stretch to it. And like the Pro Team bibs, they also go for $260.
Rapha is offering the custom jersey for a very limited time. From their release:
The order window opens on Friday 26th April 14.00 GMT and closes on Friday 10th May 15.00 GMT.
Orders should arrive in time for the Tour.
You’ll be able to order the custom jersey here. You can also see the full range of Sky offerings there as well.
I’ve got my name on a jersey. You can bet your ass I’m going to wear this. And Sky isn’t even my favorite team.