Every now and then I encounter a product so well done, so dialed in conception and execution that I end up at a loss for words. It’s as if the reviewer in me comes up against a massive existential, “Well yeah.” Were I French, then I’d be thinking, “Mais oui.” And while I’m not French, I mention that phrase because it goes “duh” one better, because the literal translation of mais oui is “but yes.” It’s an “of course” of a different feather.
Which is what brings me to the Wabi Woolens Sport Series Merino long-sleeve jersey. Merino wool is one of those phrases that when sighted on a hang tag makes most riders I know go, “ooh.” It conveys such a level of quality and comfort it’s as if those two words alone should command a 40 percent upcharge. Unfortunately, most Merino items I encounter ought to include the term alleged as an honorific. The difference between the very softest Merino items I own (typified by my Swobo base layer) to the coarsest (as exemplified by a pair of off-brand socks that really deserve a liner between me and them) can only be measured in orders of magnitude. It’s a bit like noting that the Ferrari 458 and Ford Focus are both cars. I mean, yes, but….
The Wabi Woolens jersey is arguably the best example of the Merino wool jersey I’ve ever worn. I’l note that it lacks the visual presentation of the old-school jerseys that enjoy that vaguely furry look found in women’s Cashmere sweaters, which is a little perceptual detail I really love, but for that one negligible exception, everything else about this jersey is what you want from a long-sleeve jersey.
I’m going to try not to belabor the point. The Merino is softer than baby bunnies. Wear a base layer with this jersey and the UN will write a resolution banning you from international travel for crimes against sheep. A common problem with Merino jerseys is stretch; I’ve loaded the pockets up on this thing for a three-hour ride and have yet to discover the tail of the jersey getting caught on my saddle. And they aren’t small pockets.
Wabi Woolens is based in Portland (Oregon, of course, not Maine) and like most products from Portland companies I encounter, there is a deep vein of practical running through this jersey. There’s a fourth, zippered pocket for a house key or other important (but small) item. The rear hem of the jersey is lined with a gripper to keep it positioned at the small of your back. And while some folks may prefer a full zipper, they use a high-quality 12-inch zipper which gives adequate ventilation. The cuffs and collar get a touch of added Lycra to help them retain their, but other than that, this is 100-percent Merino wool.
One of the traditional trouble points for long-sleeve jerseys—and jackets, for that matter—is sleeve length. Over the years most of the long-sleeve jerseys I’ve worn have had the dubious distinction of being equipped with sleeves that were too long by an inch or more. This thing is spot-on, at least for my arms. Lest you think I’m part T. Rex, I should mention that I buy my shirts off the rack.
My red jersey is less stop sign in color than brick, so it doesn’t completely agree with the color in this photo. I’ll admit that I’m not normally one to wear a completely plain jersey; I’m usually in my RKP or some other team-style kit, but there are times when a really plain-looking jersey and a pair of black bibs really suits my mood. And for those days, this jersey is perfect.
The jersey I wore goes for $175 (the short sleeve is $160) and while that’s a fair amount of money for a jersey, here’s another detail that I think help justifies it: I wore this jersey in weather as cool as 50 degrees and as warm as 75 degrees (that was an unexpected development that day), but I stayed comfortable throughout. So when evaluating the price, maybe the question to ask yourself is what versatility is worth.
Simply put, this is why people buy Merino wool jerseys.
In the last 10 years a funny thing has happened with saddle design. Saddle shapes have become ever more diverse in an all-consuming quest to improve comfort and decrease the chances that your undercarriage will suffer any negative side effects as a result of logging long and/or frequent miles on a bicycle. As those shapes have evolved (gotten weirder) the number of saddles I can comfortably ride has dropped precipitously. There are whole manufacturers out there whose work I really can’t ride … at all.
The flip side is worth mentioning though. The saddles that I do find comfortable are more comfortable than anything that was available in the past. Case in point: The new Fi’zi:k Kurve. While a great many saddles are moving away from designs with an arched side-to-side profile, the Fi’zi:k Kurve saddles are a bit old-school in that regard. The amount of curve isn’t so great as, say, a Rolls, but when I first sat down on one, the sense was that the saddle all but disappeared beneath me; it didn’t draw attention to itself. I should note that Fi’zi:k says that the curvature you see when off the saddle disappears once you’re on it. Why that happens is one of the saddles best characteristics. More on that in a sec.
The Kurve is different from other Fi’zi:k saddles in that the design is based around a plastic body that can be easily seen at the edge of the saddle. The 2014 aluminum rail (not rails, as it’s a single piece of cast aluminum) plugs into that body at the very edge, creating more surface area beneath the saddle that can flex without being restricted by the presence of the rails.
Fi’zi:k refers to the plastic body as the “hull.” Integrated into the hull is the three-layer composite shell that supports the rider. The structure is meant to be the next generation beyond wing flex (which is the way the saddle flexes at its sides) and twin flex (which is the way the saddle flexes under the weight-bearing sections) into what they are calling re:flex.
The idea here is that this saddle should flex with the rider’s movement more naturally than any previous Fi’zi:k saddle. That’s a tall order. If you’re familiar with the Spine Concept of Snake (the Arione shape), Chameleon (the Antares shape) and Bull (the Aliante shape), then selecting a saddle to fit you won’t be difficult. I’d been riding an Antares previously, so I went with the Chameleon.
I should mention that I’ve ridden both the Arione and the Aliante. I like the Aliante a lot. The Arione always seems comfortable enough when I first get on it, but ultimately I do notice numbness if I’m on one for too long. While I think the Spine Concept works well to address a rider’s needs based on flexibility, I do think Fi’zi:k is missing another important aspect of fit, namely saddle width. I know big guys who are also really flexible, but the Snake just isn’t wide enough for them. And in my case, while I love the Chameleon, I suspect if it were 5mm wider, I’d be a tad more comfortable. It’s been said I have a big, fat ass.
And it’s true.
One of the most interesting features of the Kurve is the nose piece that allows the rider to select just how firm the saddle is. I swore up and down to myself that I’d ride it with both the hard and soft nose pieces, just to see what the difference is. But I never did. After beginning with the soft nose piece, I couldn’t come up with a single reason to stop using it. It may be that my comfort trumped my integrity. How do you like that?
This saddle has been—for me—a revelation in terms of comfort. It has been the sort of revelation that the old Flite was back in the early 1990s. But this saddle might as well be the Flite’s wilier offspring. I found that I was most comfortable with the saddle set up a few millimeters forward of where I initially thought I would need to be. Being comfortable when climbing requires you to sit pretty far back on the saddle. Again, if the saddle were 5mm wider, I think I’d have more ability to move around even while climbing seated.
Unlike a lot of saddles out there, the Kurve has almost no foam in it. There’s very little padding of any kind. The cushioning you experience comes from the flex in the hull. As a result, this saddle needed no break-in time. I know this for fact because it hasn’t changed a bit from when I first started riding it.
The hull design has an ancillary benefit. I hate seeing leather or Lorica or Microtex (which is what is used on the Kurve) or whatever get scuffed up at the edges of a saddle. The hull prevents that by having the saddle cover end before the edge. And of course, you can pop out the logo clip in the back to install a velcro-less seat bag. Why other manufacturers haven’t licensed this design or done something similar defies comprehension considering we live in a world populated with bib shorts that can run upward of $200 per pair.
My Kurve came in at 226g. The suggested retail is $270. Because everyone’s ass is shaped differently, I’m not fool enough to tell you that this saddle will work for you. What I can tell you is that if you’ve been having saddle trouble, you ought to try out one or more of the Kurve saddles. Fi’zi:k has a demo program going; there is probably a dealer near you participating in it.
Back in January I was charged with writing peloton magazine’s look at SRAM’s new Red group. To do my job I was equipped with six or seven images and a bunch of copy. Then I went to work, connecting dots, describing features and noting differences. I was forced to stick with the objective. Some things were easy to discern: the new crank arm and its hollow construction, the re-shaped control levers and the elastomer bands encircling the cassette body. Other details were more circumspect: would the difficult and complicated construction of the chainrings really result in stiffer rings that provided better shifting? And just how did the new brake work? I had a photo and a description, but I was still clueless.
Well I had a chance to ride the new SRAM Red group at last weekend’s Sea Otter Classic. As is typical of SRAM’s visit to Laguna Seca, there was a ride Friday morning on new gear followed by a tech presentation on the parts before lunch. The loop took 1.5 hrs. and gave us a chance to do some climbing and descending along with a bit of flat-pounding.
I rode a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL equipped with the new parts. While I didn’t have a chance to weight the bike, I’ve picked up enough bikes in the low-14 lb. range to know this bike was light. Bantam-ish, even. The moment we pulled out the first thing I did was shift a few cogs up and down the cassette. I was curious to know if that stuff really made the group quieter.
Holy sheep stuffing, Batman, it works.
Instantly, Red went from the noisiest group I’d ever ridden to the quietest. Neat trick. I bet there’s a rabbit in that hat. The other thing I noticed almost as instantly was that, well yes, the levers did have a new shape that did make them easier to grip. The larger bump at the end of the lever body was welcome. But in that same flash I realized that the force required to execute a shift was much lower than it had been. There was a distinct improvement in rear shifting relative to my experience with Dura-Ace 7900, but the biggest improvement was in front shifting. But not only had the return springs been softened, the larger shift paddles on new Red made it easier to get two fingers on the lever to make that shift.
The new brakes were a surprise. I’ve preferred SRAM and Campagnolo brakes to the 7900 brakes. My problem with the Dura-Ace stoppers is that they are rather grabby. It’s hard to touch those brakes to the rim with so little force as to scrub just a single mile per hour from your speed unless you’re at very high speed. Also, the response has seemed very linear. By contrast, Skeleton and (old) Red brakes have offered terrifically progressive braking that starts at almost nothing and goes all the way to full lock-up. The new brakes offer an even more progressive response thanks to that little linkage in the lower arm. I watched it work on and off the bike and still can’t describe how it works without pointing to the post on which the two arms swivel. It’s a truly fresh piece of thinking.
My experience was less than two hours. Hardly enough to get to know an entire groupset. Yet my experience was so notable all I wanted to do was keep riding it.
I’ll do a more in-depth review of the new Red soon; we have a group on the way I’m told. Here’s what I’ll leave you with: I know a number of who tried Red and decided it wasn’t for them. They have been more than willing to let me know why they didn’t like it. The complaints I heard at least three times are as follows:
- Lever body was too big for someone with small hands.
- Lever hoods were too smooth for sweaty hands.
- The front shifting was wimpy due to the titanium cage on the front derailleur.
- It was hard to drop a rear wheel out because the derailleur sat too far forward.
- The shifting is confusing.
Except for that last (which is easy enough to sort out if you just spend a day on a bike with Red), all those items have been sorted out.
I spent some time on the ride thinking back on when the last time was I rode a group that changed that much from one generation to the next. Now, to be fair, Campagnolo isn’t really part of this discussion because they prefer to do a few incremental changes every year. But given Shimano’s history, the jump from eight to nine speeds in both the Dura-Ace and Ultegra groups in ’97 and ’98, respectively, was the last time I was a wowed by the overhauling of a group. The folks at SRAM like to refer to this as a new group, not just an improved one. This may seem a semantic point, but if you have experience on the current Red parts, once you get on this new group, you’ll understand what they mean. They’ve earned the distinction.
The BMC media event I attended included not one but two bike introductions. Yesterday I had the opportunity to ride the new Teamelite TE01, a hard-tail 29er. Don’t worry, RKP isn’t changing its editorial direction, but we’ve made the decision to start including some off-road content when it seems appropriate. And this bike was so much fun it’s worth mentioning.
That it took the frequently innovative world of mountain biking as long as it did to move to a wheel larger than 26″ is something of a mystery to me. Sure, there are times when in ultra-technical terrain the smaller wheels are the better choice, but the bigger footprint, larger rotational mass and larger air volume does so much to make bikes ride better, riding a 29er for the first time can often make for an epic riding duh.
The TE01 looks a lot like BMC’s road bikes, for good reason. First is the simple matter of the industrial design. While it’s obvious that some RKP readers don’t like the angular lines of the tubes, they are a Swiss brand with decidedly European tastes. Hyundai this is not. The other reason the look is familiar is due to BMC’s incorporation of it’s Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC) design work into the frame. The idea is that the chainstays and seatstays will flex a bit, vertically, while the seat tube will flex fore-to-aft. The seat tube’s fore-aft flex is the reason for the small reinforcement coming off the top tube. One of BMC’s engineers told me that the seat tube moves enough that without that reinforcement the top tube/seat tube junction eventually breaks.
Of course, the big challenge with 29ers is to create a geometry that allows the bike to move nimbly. BMC went with a lower-than-some (most?) bottom bracket, which made the bike easy to lean into turns. In this regard it reminded me of the Specialized Stumpjumper 29er hard tail which was previously the best-handling hard tail I’d ridden.
The weather here on the Monterey Peninsula is almost unconscionably good, so pardon me while I go check out more cool stuff and do a bit more riding.
If you ever doubted that grand touring bikes were destined to become a sub-category of road bikes taken seriously by the industry, it’s time to stop. With the introduction of the Trek Domane and now the new BMC GF01, basically every one of the cool kids has one. Some of the early efforts weren’t particularly successful (no names mentioned) because the designs contained one or more flaws that either compromised the feel or the handling of the bike.
BMC has spent the last 18 months developing the new GF01. The GF stands for gran fondo. This is BMC’s first not to a bike meant to embrace the needs of the more recreational rider. Grand touring bikes such as the Specialized Roubaix (and the women’s Ruby) have had an easy time gaining traction with the disease-ride set, but they have lagged a bit with more serious riders. For the most part, I think the problem has been one of marketing. In defining the bike as one appropriate to the needs of the less avid cyclist, avid cyclists frequently come to the conclusion that the bike won’t meet their high-performance needs.
So how do you overcome that misperception? Easy. Put your sponsored pros on it at Paris-Roubaix. The tactic has worked well for Specialized. It was serving Trek well with Fabian Cancellara this spring with his win at l’Eroica, but his crash at Flanders will make the rest of his spring campaign a what-might-have-been and the Domane won’t get all the attention it could have. What you may not have noticed was that Team BMC rode the new GF01 at Paris-Roubaix. Had Thor Hushovd turned in the kind of performance he was shooting for, you would certainly have heard more about the bike by now.
Last night I attended a technical presentation on the bike, followed by a Q&A before riding the bike this morning. For those who’d like me to cut to the chase, I’ll tell you this: This is a seriously great bike. I’d put the GF01 up against the best bikes in this category.
So how come?
To make a good grand touring bike, a company must deliver three things. Miss any of these and the bike deserves to be an also-ran. The first thing the bike needs to do is accommodate a less aggressive fit. Whether the issue is one of spare tonnage or lack of flexibility, or even just being new to the sport, these bikes should accommodate a higher bar position relative to the saddle. For stack/reach types, that’s more stack and sometimes a bit less reach. The second thing one of these bikes needs to do is offer greater comfort than a similar road bike. Comfort that isn’t tied to fit is managed by reducing vibration and increasing compliance. Finally, these bikes must remain stable when riding on the bar top, but also offer crisp handling in turns and on descents.
The GF01 comes in six sizes, 48, 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm. Sizing geometry was based on reach and stack and the corresponding increase in top tube length and head tube length results in a very linear progression through the sizes. My 56cm review bike had a 55.6cm top tube paired with a 17.6cm head tube. I’d have liked a 12cm stem with this combination, but the fit wasn’t bad. Compare that to the 55cm frame in the Race Machine (that’s the most comparable size) and the GF01 features a 4mm shorter top tube and an 8mm longer head tube. Definitely a less aggressive fit. Like previous BMC models, this bike uses the same 73.5-degree seat tube angle found in the Team Machine and the Race Machine. What’s different with the GF01 is that this model is available with three different seatpost setbacks: 3mm, 18mm and 30mm. In the 56cm frame that range gives a fit tech effectively 2.5 degrees of adjustable seat tube angle (that’ll be less in the 61 and more in the 48), and that doesn’t even figure in the fore-aft adjustment of the saddle rails, so if nothing else, the GF01 will be easier to fit more different riders correctly than previous BMC bikes.
In addressing comfort, BMC likes to point to their Tuned Compliance Concept (TCC). The idea is that tube shapes and strategic layup will allow the seat tube and seat and chain stays plus the fork to flex vertically. We’re talking minute distances here, but every little bit can help. Those angles in the chainstays, seatstays and fork are designed to increase flex ever-so slightly. While I didn’t get exact numbers, BMC reports that the GF01 has 40 percent more vertical compliance than the SLR01 Team Machine. I need to be honest and say I was expecting something more like 100 or 150 percent more. How much movement is there, really? A 1000Nm load will move the axle 4mm vertically. What they ultimately settled on was no accident, though. After considerable modeling, four rideable prototypes were produced, and ridden by the BMC Team before settling on a final design. The comfort story doesn’t end there, though. There are, fortunately, two other components that come into play in the bike’s comfort. First is the seatpost. Each of the posts is designed to include some vertical compliance. BMC produced roughly a dozen different rideable prototypes; the first ones that went to the team were, reportedly, too soft. And because of the different offsets, the flex is adjusted accordingly so that they each offer the same flex pattern whether you’re using the 3mm offset or the 30mm offset. Last, but not by any means least, The GF01 has clearance for 28mm tires. After my recent post The Bell Curve, this is a pleasant piece of news.
To make a bike handle predictably, the designers must build in enough stiffness that the bike’s behavior in turns doesn’t change as speed increases. That was a far bigger problem with bikes in the 1990s than was stiffness at the bottom bracket. Those early aluminum and carbon fiber forks flexed sideways more than the average steel fork and often left you feeling like you were sliding around on a mover’s dolly. Whereas bottom bracket flex was a nuisance, fork flex had the ability to turn even the most confident bike handler into a timid kitten. To make sure the GF01 would provide performance up to the standards required for racing by the BMC team, the bike was built around a massive down tube, head tube and chainstays. The idea was build the compliance into the top tube, seat tube and seatstays, while making the spine of the bike—the head tube, down tube and chainstays—stiff enough for pro racing. It seems to work as advertised; on short climbs it responded well to input while I was out of the saddle.
In my size, the bike handled well on the twisting roads around Monterey. But here, I do have a bone to pick with BMC. In six sizes, the bike gets four different head tube angles and only one fork rake—50mm. As a result, the trail is all over the place. Here’s a rundown of each size with its head tube angle and resulting trail:
- 48cm: 71˚, 6.42cm
- 51cm: 71.5˚, 6.1cm
- 54cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
- 56cm: 72˚, 5.79cm
- 58cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm
- 61cm: 72.5˚, 5.48cm
Four of these sizes are going to handle very well. The 54 through 61cm frames will all handle with great response, though the experience of someone on the 61 will vary some from someone on the 54. Moving on, the 51 is going to be a slightly sluggish handling bike. I have my doubts that its handling will be particularly confidence inspiring. Unfortunately, from what I see on paper, the 48 is a school bus. That thing will have all the inclination to turn that a flying cannon ball does. That’s really my only serious knock against this bike, though.
A note on weight: This is roughly a 1kg frame. The 54 is said to come in at 995g. Most of the bikes in this category come in a bit heavy due to efforts to make them more comfortable. What’s interesting to note from BMC’s numbers is that this frame is 11 percent heavier than the Team Machine, yet it possesses a third more torsional stiffness and almost 20 percent more stiffness at the BB, all while offering a 40 percent increase in vertical compliance.
The bikes we rode were well-spec’d. They used a full Ultegra Ui2 group with an Easton EA70 cockpit and Easton EA90 tubeless-ready wheels. The drivetrain included a 50/34 compact crank with an 11-28 cassette. While this may not be entirely necessary in Florida, newer riders who live near any sort of hills will find this gearing to alleviate the humiliation that comes with many race-spec’d bikes. I was surprised to learn that BMC’s engineers were able to position the brake mounts carefully enough to avoid long-reach calipers while spec’ing that 28mm tire. That’s a neat piece of work.
As built, the bike will retail for $6599. Not cheap, but not crazy expensive, either. I’m told stores will begin receiving demo units following Sea Otter and the bikes will be available in June.
After my experiences riding the Race Machine and (albeit more briefly) the Team Machine, I’m inclined to say that this is, so far, my favorite BMC bike. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to spend some more time on one in the near future.
I’ve got a friend—a bigwig with an eyewear company—who crashed recently. Somehow, despite 20+ years of competent use of quick releases, the skewer on the front wheel came loose. He was on a top-of-the-line carbon bike, so no biggie, right? Well, as it happens the fork had no lawyer tabs. But this was a road bike, so he’s not doing jumps and wheelies, so no great whoop, right? Well, he popped the front wheel just a bit for a storm drain.
This would be where the front wheel flew out like a cat from a closet.
His injuries read like an inventory of the human body. They aren’t nearly as bad as what his wife threatened to do should he crash again.
I’m not naming names because it’s not my story and I suspect there may yet be some litigation. The unfortunate thing here is that what was arguably a lousy quick release have given the lawyers ammo for crap like lawyer lips. Ugh. Because to many people those damn tabs would have solved this problem.
No, those tabs aren’t the solution. Better quick release skewers are.
Which brings me to an item I’ve been meaning to review since before we switched presidents. These Ritchey WCS titanium quick release skewers. It just took someone else’s pain to make me act. I don’t use them as often as I’d like because so often I’m sent wheels with skewers. And most of the time, I hate those skewers. The problems range from the movement not being smooth enough to having levers that feature a little outward curve that comes to a point right where I want to use my palm to push the lever closed.
Who dreams this stuff up?
I have previously not been a fan of ti skewers because they stretched just enough to prevent the wheel from being locked in place with the same security I found in steel skewers. That’s not a problem with these. They feature levers that are a whopping 8cm long, longer than any other levers I possess, though longer may be out there somewhere. The advantage of the longer lever, as we all know, is Archimedean. And because the levers feature a gentle curve, they fit nicely in your hand and look dashing as they curl around a fork blade or dropout and chainstay.
I weighed them at 82g, exactly what Ritchey claims. How’s that for refreshing?
They retail for $69.95. That may seem a lot until you ask yourself about the price of safety.
The efforts to tame the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix have included everything from running lower tire pressure in 28mm tires to wrapping the handlebar with foam pipe insulation and even using cyclocross bikes. The cyclocross bikes have been a less than stellar option for a few reasons. First, they’ve been chosen because the standard race bikes from the teams’ sponsors have allowed clearance for 28mm tires; in some cases they won’t even allow 25mm tires. Second, they feature geometries that include high bottom brackets (for pedal clearance) when the average Roubaix rider wants a lower BB to make the bike easier to handle over the bumps.
Felt has taken a novel approach to meeting the needs of their sponsored riders. For this year’s Paris-Roubaix, the Argos-Shimano team rode on a special run of the company’s F1 frames. How these frames differ from a standard F1 might surprise you. Unchanged is the bike’s layup and stiffness, which many might guess would be the first concession made to the cobbles. In fact, the changes are deeper in the DNA of the machine.
Felt’s engineering team changed the geometry of the F1—giving it handling and tire clearance perfect for the cobbles—without cutting new molds. Seems like an impossible trick, huh? Let’s cover the changes to the geometry and the rationale for it and then we’ll get into just how they did it.
The F1 seen above features head and seat tube angles a full degree slacker than the stock bikes. They also have a 10mm longer front center and 13mm longer chain stays to keep the weight distribution virtually unchanged. Felt’s engineers also managed to drop the bikes’ BB height by 3mm even after the addition of 28mm tires. And of course, the modified the fork and the rear triangle to create clearance for those bigger tires.
Again, the amazing thing here is that they managed all these changes without cutting new molds for bikes that will essentially be raced once a year. So how’d they do it?
They designed new dropouts that moved the rear wheel back and up (relative to the old position) which dropped the rear end of the bike and increased the wheelbase of the bike. Up front, new dropouts raised the fork crown and increased the rake, compensating for the decrease in head tube angle to keep trail consistent. The slacker seat tube angle allows riders to sit back a bit more, shifting some weight off their upper bodies to give their hands, arms and shoulders a bit of a break.
And to compensate for the changes to the fork and rear triangle, non-series Shimano long-reach calipers handle the stopping duties.
This isn’t the first time Felt has done this. In 2008 when they were sponsoring Garmin-Chipotle, which included Magnus Backstedt pictured above, Felt produced a run of F frames for the team. Those frames also featured Felt’s “Superstiff” layup, a feature that wasn’t required this time around as the new F1 is both lighter than the previous F1 (standard layup) and stiffer than the Superstiff layup.
While Trek and Specialized realize excellent marketing benefits from putting their sponsored teams on the new Domane and established Roubaix, Felt’s approach yields a bike more purpose built to the racers’ requirements. Both the Roubaix and Domane feature more trail than their racier counterparts. What’s most surprising here is that more companies haven’t had the insight to create a second set of dropouts to give their top-flight race bikes more versatility. Maybe this will help illustrate just how bright Felt’s head of engineering, Jeff Soucek, and his team are.
The world is full of cycling caps, and they are not all created equal. Walz makes their hats, by hand, in the USA. Whether or not their handmade-ness or their USA-ness are behind the quality and comfort of the final product is not for me to say. What I will say is that Walz makes a great cap.
Let me start by saying what I appreciated most about this four-panel hat, is that it didn’t require breaking in. It was comfortable from the first wearing, and by the third or fourth already seemed like an old friend. I have owned all manner of cycling head wear, cotton, wool and synthetic, and without exception it takes time to break in. Not Brooks saddle time, but time. My Walz cap did not.
My wife approved it for off-bike wear despite violation of the strict prohibition against wearing cycling caps whilst not cycling. Her approval is a big deal, since any other time I summon the temerity to keep my hat on in a restaurant or at the grocery store she flashes me that reproachful glance that says, “Really? Must you?”
Another plus for this cap is that its fit is not tight/not loose, so you can fit a beanie underneath when it’s really cold, but then not end up with a distended pancake on your head when the weather warms up enough to allow for wearing it on its own. I have an average size head, and the small/medium was just right.
I also appreciated the minimal but highly effective sweat band around the interior, which kept the sweat-wet wool from irritating my forehead. At the same time, this cap breathes extremely well. The wool manages to be both thick and airy at the same time. I have not in 30-40 wearings been able to make this hat stink, which is saying more than you can imagine.
Above and beyond the quality of the hat though, I appreciate that someone makes hats that I want to wear regardless of what might be printed on the brim or the side panel. Sure, I have a collection of cycling caps that broadcast my brand preferences and all the subtle, inside jokes that mark me out as an annoying cyclo-dork, but Walz gives me the option of just wearing something for its pure function, a function it serves very well.
Every now and then I run across a product that seems to have weaknesses equal to its strengths. As a reviewer, that leaves me in a quandary. Because I write about more than product, and really don’t want the mind-numbing job of trying to write about every single road-oriented product on the market (a task so large that it simply isn’t achievable), I’ve chosen to focus on products that excite and I believe are worthy of some attention and market share. The upshot is that I tend to get steered into higher-end products and don’t do a lot on more budget-oriented items even when there are great ones out there. Well, that and I use it as an opportunity, generally speaking, to avoid having a go at a product that I consider inferior. As my review of the Colnago CLX 2.0 last year showed, even after lambasting that bike (no matter how reluctantly) a couple of readers took the opportunity to write in to say they purchased the bike and loved it.
There’s no point in dragging this out in some overly dramatic build-up. I have a serious degree of ambivalence for the Specialized ’74 Road Shoes. I’ll do what I can to keep this simple and direct. Okay, genuine selling point: The FACT carbon sole is both stiff and light. My sense is that it’s not quite as stiff as the Easton carbon sole, but it’s stiffer than everything else I’ve ridden so far. Another genuine selling point: double Boa closures. There’s not another system on the planet that results in a more precise fit for cycling shoes. No matter how much I might like some other systems, Boa is simply better. Another selling point: Kangaroo leather. Try these shoes on and you’ll be reminded of just how soft and supple a cycling shoe can be. I couldn’t tell you the last time I wore a cycling shoe that featured leather this soft. It might be a pair of Sidis I had back in the 1980s. I can certainly list a dozen pairs of shoes I’ve worn that aren’t anywhere as soft as these.
Then there’s the look. The simple black leather with the red/orange/yellow tag and yellow stitching, not to mention the single Specialized “S” logo on the toe and the “74″ on the outside of the heel, makes these shoes as agreeable to look at as Grace Kelly in Rear Window—classic and classy. They are a serious departure from the typical S-Works product even though they are built on a decidedly S-Works platform.
So there’s plenty to recommend these shoes. That said, I haven’t had the shoes long enough to find out if the kangaroo leather will stretch with repeated riding. My circa 1980s Sidis stretched terribly when I switched from clips and straps to clipless pedals; the eyelets almost pulled through. But a bit of stretch could serve these shoes well for any number of people, especially those who, like me, have a high-volume foot. So that’s only a maybe problem.
What troubles me about this shoe is the last two inches of it. If you’ve seen any of the display ads for the 74 shoe, it is placed alongside an original Specialized cycling shoe from that era. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the heel cup curls down around the ankle and then rises high in back to keep the foot secure, even under the force of a sprint. The 74 shoe is cut less on a curve; it looks a lot like those other cycling shoes that were on the market in the ’70s and ’80s. While the heel rises nearly as high as the comparable S-Works shoe, it doesn’t rise as high and the difference in feel is noticeable … and disconcerting.
Look, I haven’t done a full-on sprint in these shoes and pulled out a la Tom Schuler at the US Pro Championships back in ’86. And I don’t even have the right to say I could. It might never happen. However, the feeling that my heel is not as secure as it is in a shoe that runs $40 less (more on that in a sec), is distinct and has caused me to throttle back efforts because I don’t feel secure enough. And because the S-Works shoe runs $360, that $40 premium means these retail for a not insignificant $400.
As I said, there’s a lot to like about these shoes, but my issues with the heel cup and the fact that I simply don’t feel as secure when wearing this shoe as I do when pedaling away in its sibling has the bummer factor of finding out your favorite beer is made using child labor. Really? What gives? Can’t they fix that?
But damn, they look cool.
On a brighter note, the gloves are wonderful, full stop. While many Pittards-leather gloves can go for $60 or more, the 74 glove is a long-finger glove that is only $55. Pairing the gloves and shoes with an understated kit will make for stylish appearance, there’s no doubt. It’s worth noting that the back of the hand features four Lycra gussets to improve fit and flexibility. And while they look good on my hands as i ride, they’d be an even better accessory were I driving a Porsche. On a more technical note, I tend to wear gloves like this in cool but not cold conditions; I prefer them from the low 50s to the low to mid 60s. They also have the advantage of coming in a whopping five sizes. Those of you with big hands who have had trouble finding gloves big enough to accommodate your mits might appreciate the XL and XXL sizes.
I suspect that after I return to wearing the S-Works shoes, each time I pull these gloves on I’ll continue to wish the 74 shoe fit better than it did. Of course, I can keep them around for recovery rides and those breezy jaunts when you don’t want to feel anything more than the wind in your face. For that, these shoes may be perfect.
I am about to buy a new bike. Never mind which bike. It’s a bike that I will love. It’s the one I want the most right now. It’s another bike, but it’s a solution for a problem I didn’t know I had, but am now very concerned about.
Of course, I already have a bike for every reason I can think of to have a bike. I have five of them. I had more, but I gave some away, and I sold others to make room for new ones. They were all, at one time or another, the bike I wanted the most.
And because I’m like you, and you’re like me, there is always that bike, the next bike, and I am always having that internal conversation over which bike it should be and the follow on conversation about how I’m going to go about paying for it.
My latest idea is to sell my vinyl record collection. Let’s not discuss this part of the plan any further. My gatefold, lime-green version of Zen Arcade has been a prized possession since I was about 20. The idea that I am somehow “done with it” has already precipitated an ontological crisis I’m not yet emotionally prepared to share with you.
This week’s Group Ride is a pretty simple one: Of the bikes you own right now, which one is most important and why? Another way to think of the question is this: If you had to get rid of all the bikes you own but one, which would you keep?
I am not concerned with which bike might be the ideal, single solution to riding, racing, and commuting. We all know the answer to that question is a disc-brake cross bike with an internal hub, rear rack and dyno hub. Each of us will buy that bike next year when it makes up 65% of the new bikes on the market.
No. I want to know which of your bikes is most important to you, the one hanging in pride of place in the garage. Or maybe you don’t have a garage, and the bike lives inside with you. It’s house broken. Maybe you even have a nice wooden wall rack for it. That’s the bike I want to know about. Why is it where it is?