I recently experienced a surprising and unexpected musical performance, one that begged more questions than it answered. But before I get to the existential quandary that performance imposed on me, I should back up and talk a bit about what I saw.
There’s a tribute band called The Musical Box. They have devoted themselves to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s like devoting your career as a film historian to the movies of Marlon Brando made prior to the death of James Dean. I need to get on record immediately with the admission that I’ve thought tribute acts, as a category, were silly, like hunting for Mexican Diet Coke, as if that were a thing. Look, I was in plenty of bands that did a more than adequate job of playing other peoples’ material, but the idea of going to see a bunch of guys perform nothing but songs from one band seemed weak at some elemental level. While I can’t say exactly why, the more cynical bones in my body thought it was a special lack of imagination. Let me be clear, I thought of tribute bands as a kind of glorified cover band, a self-absorbed frat party act.
I’m fortunate that I have friends who can point out when I’m being a pinhead and ought to remain more open-minded. I’m also fortunate that these same friends are easily as devoted to the early Genesis material as I am and had actually seen The Musical Box, so they could actively advocate for the superlative quality of their performances.
So on a recent Sunday night my wife, friends and I went to see these five Quebecois musicians perform a selection of songs from Genesis’ 1972 album “Foxtrot.” In addition to those songs they did three songs from earlier albums that appear on the album “Genesis Live.” This is stuff that serves as a textbook example for Progressive Rock, capital P, capital R, for better or worse, depending on your personal view. I know plenty of people who detest this stuff. It appeals to me on a multitude of levels, from the visceral fun of the music, to the technical dexterity required to play it, to the themes contained within the lyrics, right down to the production values and even the cover art. Early Genesis was, for me, the whole package.
What unfolded on stage that night was an event so unlikely as to be surreal. It was very nearly an elaborate joke. The performance wasn’t just an accurate performance of some material that was terribly difficult to perform correctly (I can report this from personal experience), it was a note-for-note replication of the performances contained on those two albums. Not only was every note replicated, they were played on the same period instruments (save the famously wonky mellotron), with the same tone, dynamics and demeanor. Hell, they wore the same clothing and the costumes that Peter Gabriel made to use during those performances. Peter Gabriel actually gave them his old costumes. And the between-song banter and song introductions? Nailed ‘em.
So thoroughly did these guys capture the essence of Genesis that there were times when as I watched them, I simply forgot that I was watching an ensemble other than Genesis. I’d blink my eyes and remember that the vocalist’s first language was French. Interviews with the members of Genesis reveal long-simmering tensions about the challenge of performing their material correctly night after night. The performance by The Musical Box was flawless, and that points to a Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not! moment: those guys are actually better than the original.
Not only did Peter Gabriel give them his old costumes, their web site features testimonials by the members of Genesis on just how good they are. Gabriel says he took his kids to see them so they “could see what their father did back then.” But Phil Collins’ testimonial is perhaps the most effective. Collins says, “They are not a tribute band, they are taking a period and faithfully reproducing it in the same way that someone would do a theater production.”
As I walked out I told my wife that what we’d just seen was, from a musical standpoint, the best performance I’d seen in years. It wasn’t just that what they played was technically accurate; rather, what they did honored the original intent of the music. It reminded me of a recording I have of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The conductor worked with the record label to go back through Tchaikovsky’s original score and look at the parts for the cannons at the end of the piece. They noted the rhythms and dynamic markings and then went out to a field and had someone fire period-correct cannons that they recorded and integrated into the final recording. The first time the final mix of that recording was playing in the studio was the first time in history that Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece was heard as it was intended. How’s that for mind-blowing?
The Musical Box’s performance came from a place of such deep respect that they could be called a tribute band in the truest sense of the word. Still, I had trouble articulating to her and to myself why I’d found the performance so rousing. A religious experience this was not, but it reached something in me that almost no other musical performance I’ve seen in the last 20 years has managed.
As I struggled with the question of why I was so wowed, I considered how I’ve passed on going to see the Rolling Stones (and a number of other aging acts) over the last 20, maybe even 30 years; it was for exactly the opposite reason. If you watch a live performance by the Stones, you see that the underlying fire to their music is largely gone. Mick Jagger’s voice is more gravel than tone and the loose rhythm to Keith Richards’ guitar work, which was once stylish seems now just to be sloppy. There’s little left to them other than Jaggers’ swagger, which is something to marvel at, but isn’t enough to command me to spend upwards of $100 for an opportunity to sit in the next area code.
That—now that—begs the question of just what we are looking for in a live performance. I’ve realized that it’s not enough for me to be in the same room with performers who were once great. I want to hear music. Shouldn’t that really be the first priority? It’s the music that got me interested in the first place. If you play great and can shake your ass, then great, but I’m not showing up just to see you shake your ass. If your priority is the dancing there’s this thing called ballet, or you can go see a tango recital.
And so I’m back around to why that performance was so affecting that four days later another friend and I drove 100 miles to go see these guys again. Same bunch of songs. No matter. At root, it was a chance to witness someone being very, very good at something, something that was damn difficult. Nothing against AC/DC, but “Back in Black” this ain’t. This material is difficult the way quantum mechanics is difficult. I also recognized a special regard for the audience. Anyone going to this trouble really cares about the people buying tickets, really wants them to have a memorable experience. Given the number of acts I’ve seen that barely phoned in their performances, this is a kind of commerce the world needs more of.
There was no obvious need for me to relate my reaction to those performances back to larger issues in my life, but I’m much too introspective to let something like this go. Within the collective urge by these guys to honor Genesis’ music I see a parallel in the bike industry. I find it in the people who toil somewhat anonymously in building for a name like Waterford or Seven, cutting fabric for Assos and Castelli. Those names are an implicit mark of quality and demand a level of precision difficult to achieve without a commensurate passion for the work itself. Does anything really need to be that difficult, that precise? No, but excellence is rarely found without bucketfuls of passion. Being witness to such an intense replication of that music was first-kiss heady. I’m awed to say that these play-actors performed with such faithfulness that my connection to that material is stronger than ever. I came to appreciate nuances—playfulness and irony—of songs I’d missed by only listening to the albums.
All-in is a favorite descriptor of mine. It speaks to a commitment that isn’t possible without an underlying fire. Those five guys reminded me why I’ve been writing about bicycles for 20 years. Quality matters. It always matters.
The inexorable march of technology can be as infuriating as it is fun. I didn’t buy the first iPhone. I swore I didn’t need to be able to send email with my phone or surf the Interwebs. Then one day, 400 miles from home and busy trying to figure out an itinerary change, I suddenly realized that real-time access to Google Maps would make my life much easier. Either that, or I needed to travel with a filing cabinet full of maps. I went with technology. Ever since buying that first iPhone I’ve wondered how I got along without it. So elemental to my life is the iPhone that I can compare it to the bicycle in terms of its genius, its necessity, and I can do that with a straight face. No mock sarcasm or irony. Still, with each new introduction I wonder just how much better it could be.
And every single time I catch myself going, “Oh. Wow. Cool.” Imagine how I’d feel if I used Siri regularly.
I wasn’t thinking of the iPhone when Assos announced last fall that they were introducing a new series of bibs. Four pairs total, the S7 line replaces the S5 with four different models, as compared to three. No, what I was thinking of was just who I was going to have to kill for discontinuing the finest pair of bibs on the market. I had heart palpitations when I considered the possibility that the Fi.13 bibs would cease to exist. It’s like no more Grade B maple syrup. No, I’m sorry; that’s not workable. We’re going to have to find an alternative. I didn’t have a problem with them adding new models, but when your top-of-the-line bibs are easily twice as good as everything else on the market (and I swear, nothing comes close to the Fi.13s), what on earth must you be possessed by to think, “Okay, nix those”?
Who does that?
Of course, all my gnashing of teeth happened before I rode anything from the new S7 lineup.
Then I pulled on a pair of the Équipe bibs. It’s a good thing I didn’t speak ill of them before their introduction.
So the S7 lineup has four bibs. The NeoPros are the entry level. The Équipes are next in the lineup. The Cento is third and then Campionissimo is the new top-of-the-line bib. Assos has set up a microsite devoted just to the S7 bibs. There’s a great interview with Tony Maier Moussa, the company founder, there.
With a suggested retail of $270, the Équipe bibs accomplish an unusual feat by turning a nearly entry-level product into a magnitude of premium most manufacturers would find unthinkable. A quick survey online shows that there are a fair number of brands whose best bibs cost less than the Équipes. For some brands, that disparity would be alarming, a signal that they misunderstood the market. But not Assos.
I recall reading an interview with East Coast mountain bike pioneer Chris Chance back in 1987 or ’88. I believe the interview ran in Mountain Bike Action and the interviewer may have been my friend Dan Koeppel. One of the questions he put to Chance was, “What would you tell someone who only had $600 to spend on a mountain bike?” Now, back in ’88, $600 was a helluva lot of sawbucks to spend on a bicycle, doubly so for a mountain bike, but a Wicked Fat Chance ran more than $1000. So how did Chance respond?
“I’d tell them to save their money.”
I was a nearly destitute graduate student. Saving money was as impractical a goal for me as growing gills. Yet, I loved that answer. I liked the man’s principles, and I made a point to tell him so when I met him a few months later—even as I rode an $800 GT Avalanche.
Placing principles ahead of all other concerns is a stance that appeals to me at a very elemental, even visceral, level. If I may, I’m of the belief that too much is done with an eye on cost. Chasing a commodity seems a pointless endeavor, and the pursuit of producing something for the lowest possible cost seems a kind of cancer. I’m reminded of astronaut Alan Shepard, and what he had to say about his Mercury rocket.
“It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
That’s always unnerved me. It’s offensive to my sensibility, as well.
But back to Assos. I’m using their images for the overall shots of the bibs because I don’t look cool enough to model anything, certainly not with my shirt off. I’m doing you a kind of service.
What I find so mind boggling is the way this company dustbinned their entire S5 line of bibs. I went on record calling the Fi.13_S5 bibs the finest on the market. Yes, at $369 they were nearly as expensive as the last set of tires I purchased for my car, but they were more comfortable than anything else on the market by order of magnitude. But they are no more.
So I tried on the Équipe bibs and even before I’d managed to pull the strap up I noticed an unusual feature. That same feeling that the Fi.13 bibs gave of cupping my package and getting it out of the way of my leg movement was present in the Équipe, although at only 75 percent of the cost. This feature is the Kukupenthouse, a term that has gotten more than a touch of derisive laughter. However, this is Assos at their most Assos. Sure, it’s a ridiculous name, but it’s a feature that has a distinct benefit and isn’t duplicated by any other bibs on the market; it’s truly unique to Assos.
The pad in the Équipe bibs enjoys an unusual relationship to the shorts. It is sewn in at five points. This is Assos’ new feature called Goldengate. There’s stitching along the very front of the pad, then two wing points that help form the Kukupenthouse, and then in two sections along the back of the pad—but they don’t join at the middle. The purpose is to allow the pad more natural movement, more freedom to stay with you by allowing it to slide along the short. Think of the stitching as an anchor, not glue, for three-dimensional freedom of movement.
You may have noticed that the bib straps are spaced in an unusually wide stance. Previous attempts to space the bibs wide like this really haven’t worked out. The bibs I’ve worn that tried this either tried to slip off my shoulders or the bunched up around my neck. Assos’ Bibstabilizer is a small piece of fairly rubbery plastic sewn on to the straps to make sure they lie flat along the chest and don’t bunch up. They work; they also doubles as a place to hang your eyewear, as they are sewn only at the ends. Just hook an ear piece through.
Helping to keep those bib straps wide is the (wait for it) Y7 Frame Carrier Bibtech. By using less spandex in the bibs the material bunches less and lays flat to keep the straps set wide. The upshot of the bib straps running wide is that your chest feels more open. Do other bibs restrict my breathing? I wouldn’t suggest that, but my chest feels more open with these.
You may also have noticed that the front of the short is cut pretty low, lower than most bibs. I’ll say that every time I pull these on (and it’s been several times per week since I received my pair) I want a bit more material covering my belly. I hate to have to keep talking about this, but I don’t have the flat belly of a racer boy anymore. And I don’t want my bibs to remind me of that. This is why I’ve never reviewed the Castelli Body Paint bibs; they are cut so low my belly … oh hell, you get the idea. What is both remarkable and frustrating is that the Équipe bibs seem to be cut just barely high enough to keep me from going muffin top. Still, I’d like it if the front was cut just a bit higher, but given that the Équipe is meant to be Assos’ most race-ready bibs, that’s not going to happen.
My friend Steve Carre at Bike Effect has already had the misfortune to crash in a set of the Équipes. My heart sank when he told me this. But because these are are meant for racers, Assos used an unusual blend of fibers in the shorts. They are constructed from fabric that is 70 percent polyamide, 18 percent elastane and 12 percent polyester. The intent was to create a fabric that was more abrasion resistant. Steve told me his bibs were fine despite the distance he slid and they even reduced the amount of road rash he got. Had these been out when I was still racing as a Cat III, this would have been enough to get me to purchase a pair, or two. Assos claims its Abrasionprotec increases abrasion resistance by 18 to 43 percent.
Other features include Assos Icecolor, which is their version of Coldblack, to keep you cooler on hot days, and the new Superflat Grippers which somewhat thicker leg bands to secure the shorts but they aren’t as restrictive as some out there. But these aren’t the big deal.
What’s more important is that Assos has been using memory foam since the S2 generation of shorts—one of only a small handful of companies to employ it. They also improved the Waffle and Superair features, which are the perforations in the pad that increase breathability to cut down on monkeybutt (that’s a motocross term) at the end of a long, sweaty ride. The pad is, of course, an Elastic Interface, made for them by Cytech and is proprietary to Assos. When I consider all these features plus the Kukupenthouse and the Goldengate, I realize that the Équipe bibs are every bit as good as the Fi.13 bibs.
I don’t like writing that.
I’ve got some minor quibbles, like how I prefer the way the way the front of the Fi.13s come up a bit higher and all the sublimation on the webbing in the back of the bibs. They aren’t a deal breaker. What I do think may have some impact on sales for these bibs is the purple stripe that encircles the left gripper that denotes these as the Équipe. What on Earth possessed them to do that? I know plenty of riders who color coordinate every piece of their wardrobe and getting that purple stripe to match everything you wear isn’t going to happen for every ride.
Whatever. These bibs are so good I’ll probably wear them with any jersey I own because they are so comfortable. I’ve worn nothing from another brand that comes close to how comfortable these bibs are—at any price. I was about to write about how these bibs are a game changer and then caught myself when I recalled how Assos’ ads for these bibs used exactly that phrase. Damn. They’re right.
I’m fundamentally a form-follows-function person. That’s not to say that I think that clothing, buildings and home furnishings all need to be austere to the point of Bauhausian sterility, but I think that style should never trump substance. Having said that, I accept the reality that such an outlook makes me a candidate for both the worst home decorator and least romantic male of the 21st century, even though it’s early in this 100-year span.
That preference is borne of a hopelessly strategic approach to most dimensions of my life. Practically, that has translated to an affinity for technical fibers (including wool). Show me two jackets; if one of them, thanks to the use of a special fabrics, happens to be both lighter and warmer, I’m inclined to go with it, even if it doesn’t look quite as workaday. On the contrary, many years ago, when I was living in New England, I realized that I enjoyed having people note my preference for specialized garments. I didn’t really care what they thought of my choice; back then I just like that they noticed I wasn’t wearing some cotton coat that would lose it’s ability to keep you warm or dry the moment it started raining or snowing, and during the cold months of the fall, winter and spring, that could happen a couple of times each week.
That said, there are plenty of people who try to use their outerwear to project something they are not. I’m thinking of lawyers with Carhartt barn coats and urban yuppies who’ve never seen a ski left, let alone a mountain, decorated in the finest down from The North Face. My urge is to make a statement more authentic, not less so. And while anyone is entitled to wear what they want, I appreciate pieces that confirm I’m active. That means my outerwear is cut for my cyclist’s physique and I prefer items that offer as much warmth as possible while simultaneously throwing overboard the homogenized style of Old Navy. In short, I like pieces that don’t necessarily scream “cyclist” while still conveying that my wardrobe didn’t come from Macy’s. RKP T-shirts are handy in this regard, but they aren’t all that warm.
There are two pieces in my wardrobe I’ve decided are worth mentioning; one, a piece from Giro’s New Road line, is a recent addition, while the other has been a part of my cool weather rotation for a couple of years. That piece is the Assos DB.4 kickTop. Again with the crazy names. Around the house, when I can’t find it, I just refer to it as my Assos pullover, to which my wife will respond, “Your black one?”
Compared to a couple of similar (though cotton-constructed) pullovers I have from Ralph Lauren, the DB.4 kickTop is lighter, warmer and includes two zippered pockets. Both zip to the neck in the event of a chill breeze. Unlike the pullovers from Ralph Lauren, the Assos device won’t wrinkle, packs into a backpack like a dime in a pocket and in the event of rain dries as quickly as a toddler’s tears.
The bad news is that Assos has decided not to carry this piece in the U.S. anymore. You can still find some around, but it’s not easy. Ah, the power of Google.
Giro has been adding new pieces to its apparel line and easily my favorite piece from the fall line is the new Soft Shell Jacket. It’s cut from medium-weight polyester (304 gm/m²), which makes it heavy enough to keep you comfortable down into the 40s yet light enough that I never overheated in around-town trips and could jam it in a small bag when traveling. Despite the fact that it is cut from polyester, the jacket doesn’t have that shiny finish that makes you look like a square. Part of its ability to help regulate temperature comes via two small chest zips that open vents right at your collarbones. Given how small they are I wondered just how much they could do; I was surprised to realize that they offered just enough ventilation to keep me from breaking a sweat when chasing Mini-Shred around the neighborhood.
Inside the jacket, it’s got two chest pockets big enough for a pair of sunglasses in their case, while there are two zippered pockets for hands or keys. There is a fifth pocket at the small of the back, zippered on both sized with the capacity to carry a loaf of bread or a couple of water bottles, it’s that big. I didn’t discover it until reading about the jacket’s features because it was so well cut that it is completely concealed when not in use. Kinda makes it the perfect jacket for riding to a party without worrying about how to bring a bottle of wine.
To keep the jacket form fitting both on and off the bike, it is cut with raglan sleeves. While the zipper starts at the center of the bottom hem, but then sweeps to the right at the neck to keep soft fabric at your chin. When zipped up, this feature is terrific, but when the jacket is unzipped, there are times when the collar will rub against my chin and it can be hard to keep it out of the way. The cuffs stretch to keep the wind from running up the sleeves while elasticized drawstrings at the hem allow you to gather the jacket around you a bit more when riding.
The Giro Soft Shell Jacket goes for $250 and comes in five sizes (S-XXL). It comes in but one color, dark heather gray, which has proven to be as versatile as gray flannel. Noteworthy is how Giro positions its return policy alongside the garment’s features. In a sense, their commitment to your satisfaction could be said to be one of the jacket’s features. I just can’t imagine anyone returning one of these things. Wearing this both on and off the bike is a chance to wear a garment that suits me and my lifestyle.
Sometimes I find myself thinking about stuff I want, and I think, ‘yeah, I’m gonna get that stuff. It’s going to be great.’ And then I catch myself. I remember that getting stuff very seldom makes my life better. It’s doing stuff that makes me happy, and for sure, there is some relationship between the two, for example you have to have a bike to ride a bike, but at this stage in my life I’ve got so much stuff that a lack thereof is not what’s holding me back.
Last night a new helmet arrived at my house, sent to me by a company to review here on RKP. It’s a cool helmet, and I was impressed with it right away. I’m looking forward to trying it out. Stay tuned for more on that, but as I took it out of its box and formed first impressions, I also thought, well it’s heavier than my current helmet (they all are), so I began the process of putting it into context.
For most products, context is everything. I have yet to receive a review product that didn’t excel at some part of its intended function, and I think a good review highlights what a thing is good at, while acknowledging the ways it might fall short.
A good review should keep you from getting a thing and being disappointed by it. A good review should help you spend your money with a reasonable knowledge of what problem the product will solve for you. It’s harder to write that review than it might seem.
In truth, there are relatively few real revelatory products out there. There is a lot of pretty good stuff, a smaller, but not insignificant amount of very good stuff, and then this small, select number of game-changer items. One example of a game changer is a particular, thermal under-layer made by Exte Ondo that Padraig sent me a few winters back. It is the warmest, non-bulky, perfect-fitting winter riding thing I own. When I put it on, I know I’ll be warm enough. And comfortable. I can’t think of any way to make that thing better. I can’t think of any way it comes up short.
I am extremely fortunate to get regular exposure to new cycling stuff, and I take an active interest in hearing from my legion of riding friends what they like and don’t like. Despite knowing that it’s the doing not the having that matters, I am still very interested in having. But as I get older, I’m really only interested in having those best things, the game changers. I don’t have the time or room for stuff that just sorta works.
So this week’s Group Ride asks, what one thing do you have in your cycling life that you think is perfect? How did it change the game for you? And how many other things did you try before you settled on it?
I’d like to get one thing out of the way now, just so we’re clear, and because I don’t see drama as an option.
These are the finest bib shorts available. It’s not really up for discussion.
Some will complain about the price, and at $369, that’s a bunch of greenbacks out of your wallet in exchange for a single garment. I once spent roughly that for two jerseys, two bib shorts, arm warmers, a vest and a skinsuit. But that was 14 years ago and those bibs could do things to my undercarriage worthy of scenes in “50 Shades of Gray.” The rest of the pieces were all, at some level, rudimentary pieces no one would mention in a postcard home. Some will observe that at that price, they simply couldn’t afford even one new kit per year.
This is a crazy amount of money for a single pair of bibs; I know that.
I’m not going to suggest these are the bibs for you. If you have anything like a middle-class income and a marriage you want to last at least through the next presidency, ordering a pair of these could be a bad idea. Which is a shame, really.
Were this any one of the millions of gear-centric sites on the web, I could probably have concluded the review following the third sentence. But readers of RKP know I can’t shut up after only 50 words. Reviewing a piece of gear like this is half the fun of my job. This little exercise, which may seem like a paid-for advertisement for Assos, is really just an excuse for me to write about craft and the pursuit of excellence. I have a thing for folks who really walk the walk, especially when they are the CEO of the company. The Fi.13 bibs are the shorts that Roche Maier, Assos’ resident Don Quixote, wanted for himself.
I dig that.
So even if you know you’re not going to plunk down your lettuce on a pair of these bibs, here’s why you should keep reading: These bibs have a host of features you’d do well to look for in other, less expensive, bibs. You won’t find exactly the same features anywhere, but there are elements of these bibs that are going to gradually show up in other bibs as time does that little marchy thingy.
The crux of these bibs really comes down to the chamois. If there were only one feature that I were to focus on for Assos bibs as a whole, it would be their pads. The Uno pad is is amazing, better than most companies’ top-of-the-line units. But that’s only Assos’ entry-level product. The chamois in the Mille (say Mee-lay) is a rose among weeds, an Eames among toilets. It’s so fine that you can be forgiven for thinking no one could top it.
So what makes the Fi.13 chamois so special? Were I an employee of Assos, I’d give my patented, exasperated eye-roll. It’s the same eye roll that Aston Martin salesmen give. Where to begin…?
Well, now that I’ve danced around it a bit, I should mention the elephant in the room. Yes, that name. If you can call it that. The folks at Assos just refer to these as the eff-aye-dot-thirteen. Even they concede that to say tee-eff-aye-dot-thirteen-underscore-ess-five is in the next orbit beyond mouthful. It’s not even a term of art. It’s computer code, just minus the machine language. Now that I’ve dealt with what to call them (I mean, other than expensive), let’s consider the product itself.
Permit me a moment to talk about what you see at Interbike. That is, what you see at Interbike when you’re not at the Colnago booth, or the Campagnolo booth, or getting Mario Cipollini’s autograph or chatting up the models pouring espresso at the Marzocchi booth. There are apparel contractors at Interbike. These aren’t the apparel companies whose names appear on the tags of your team kit. These are the companies supplying textiles to the factories that actually make the clothing for companies like Hincapie, Capo and Sugoi. They usually occupy nondescript 10×10 booths and they’ll have a whole range of pads that you can select. One of the things I’ve seen repeatedly are pads that have been designed with little darts and tucks to make them conform to the shape of the shorts. The idea is that these adjustment will make them better follow the legs of the shorts, wrapping around the saddle more.
It’s not a bad line of thinking, but it is a wrong line of thinking.
Let’s think about what a pad really needs to do. It doesn’t need to conform to the saddle. It needs to conform to you. It needs to curve front to rear, effectively cradling you and your faucet. So what Assos did was start molding a pad not as a single, flat piece of padding, but in 3D, building the cradle into the pad. I’ve seen the Fi.13 pad on its own and it won’t lay flat. This curved construction has another excellent effect. The bunching up of material that can happen when a thick pad gets sewn into a curvy pair of cycling shorts doesn’t happen with these bibs. As a matter of fact, you can tell the Fi.13 bibs from anything else on the market because they hang weird. Unlike top bibs from every other company I can think of, the legs of the Fi.13s are held apart by the pad, like a ref between two angry ball players. This pad doesn’t have a crease to make the shorts lie flat on the drying rack.
That brings us to another point about this pad: It does not follow the example of so many other pads that use multiple thicknesses to create channels of reduced pressure. The interesting thing is how often these various channels end up working like hinge points, meaning the pad is more likely to bend there than at other points. The dimpled surface of the pad maintains a mostly uniform thickness across its surface, though it’s not perfectly consistent due to the aforementioned dimpling. That dimpling is meant to help with ventilation, to keep you drier on long days.
Back to the Mille pad for a second. That pad is designed specifically for riders who are apt to sit up a bit more and have more of their weight rest on their sit bones. That’s why the Mille pad is 10mm thick. If you’ve ever thought that maybe the Mille pad was a bit too thick, that might be why. The Fi.13 pad, by comparison, is meant for riders who rotate their hips and as a result have their weight spread over a broader area, and as a result is only 8mm thick.
Lest I give you the impression that the pad in the Fi.13s has a single, form-following curve, that’s not quite right. There’s actually a second curve to the front of the pad. Call it a pocket, if you will. The idea here is that it will cut pressure on your groceries. So while you don’t look so indelicate as a ballet dancer, there is definitely a pronounced bulge at the front of the bibs. It’s a sight that, in the mirror, is reassuring. I’ve always found it disconcerting the way so many shorts make a man look like a Ken doll below the waist.
So when I donned a pair of Fi.13s for the first time, I was immediately aware that I was wearing a garment meant for a specific duty. The molding of the pad is such that the bibs are pre-shaped to sit on a saddle. The very first time I pushed off, took a couple of pedal strokes and sat down I was struck by that extra ease I experienced in sitting down on exactly the right spot on the saddle. It wasn’t huge, but it was tangible.
Because these are Assos’ ne-plus-ultra shorts, they decided to spec a fabric on the inside of the thighs that stretches less than the material used elsewhere in the shorts, in order to move more naturally with you, while also offering increased durability as your legs rub that fabric against your saddle. That unusual stitching at the back of the pad is intended to allow more more independent cheek movement; it works. But don’t let little stitching touches throw you. This is a six-panel short. Stitching is kept to a minimum in order to keep you as comfortable as possible. The fact that this is a six-panel short makes me chuckle. I spent years in bike shops steering everyone to eight-panel shorts because they fit better than six-panel shorts. That was the pitch. Tonight, I fully expect to have a nightmare in which a pair of six-panel shorts walk up to me says, “How you like me now, bitch?!”
Compared to its predecessor (the S2), these bibs are supposed to be 20 percent lighter and offer 20 percent more muscle compression. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worn plenty of compression shorts that use materials like Power Lycra. While support seems like a really good idea, if a pair of shorts is too tight, I begin avoiding them. I’ve had the experience of looking into a drawer, seeing a particular pair of compression shorts and thinking, “Oh, no, I can’t wear the corset shorts today.”
I am quite definitely a freak, but I can’t be the only person who has ever thought that.
With the Fi.13 I get a certain amount of compression without feeling like I’m wearing the two-headed bastard sire of a tourniquet and a diaper. I mean, really, where’s the fun in that? A great pair of bibs shouldn’t require chamois cream for installation and ought to feel comfortable when you pull them on; medical devices are for the injured, right? Right.
Assos claims that these bibs are also 35 percent more breathable than their predecessors. Part of how they attempt to achieve that is by running the mesh used in the bibs right down into the crotch. I’ve no way to verify that number, but what I can tell you is this: In the hottest, sunniest weather I’ve experienced this year the Fi.13 has proven to be the pair of bibs that keep me driest. Maybe not perfectly dry, but drier than even some of the allegedly summer-leaning clothing I’ve tried this year. I’ll take it.
The Fi.13s are available in two colors, black and unforgivable—I mean black and white. I’ve yet to see anyone wear the white. If I had half the charisma of Mario Cipollini, I’d give ‘em a try, but I don’t, so like all the intelligent people I know, I’ll stick with black. They also come in six sizes: small, medium, large XL, XXL and TIR. (For folks who haven’t been to Switzerland, that’s a little joke; “TIR” is what the Swiss put on the back of a truck to indicate a wide load.) I’m about 160 lbs. and wear the large.
I’m going to add a little testimonial to this review. This spring I decided it was time to make sure that my family of four remained a family of four, if you get my drift. There was a consultation, a needle, some tugging, a bit of smoke and some time off the bike. In my first attempts to return to the bike I noticed a curious affinity. Those first rides demanded everything be situated just-s0. On my first three rides, the only shorts that made riding possible were the Fi.13s. Mind you, this was following a 12-day wait. I took my time. There was one day where I wanted to ride, but the Fi.13s were on the drying rack, so I pulled out every other pair of bibs I owned and kept trying to see if something else could provide not the same comfort, but just adequate comfort. I was only seeking enough comfort to enable me to ride for an hour. It didn’t happen. I didn’t comfort. I didn’t ride. I didn’t happy.
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.)
In my efforts to (unsuccessfully) get back to my mandated editorial duties, which is to say posts in which cycling is the primary concern, I’ve flashed on a few different products I have reviewed previously and for one reason or another have felt a need to update readers with insights gained from my ongoing experience with them. I don’t normally feel a need to do this. I try to make sure that by the time I publish a review of something I’ve digested that product well enough that I am unlikely to have any further insight into its use or function in the coming months.
Every now and then I find out otherwise.
A great example of this is my review of Rapha’s shaving cream a few months back. I lamented how the high cost of the product ($20) was likely to keep some consumers away. At the time, I reasoned that the 150ml tin wouldn’t go far. In my head, I expected it would last me two months, tops. That made its per-use cost quite high—$10 per month for shaving cream is a bit luxurious for my household. Since my review, I’ve realized that I need far less of the cream to execute the perfect shave. I estimate that I used the first third of the tin in about three weeks. I’ve gotten through about another third of the tin (not quite, actually) in the two months since my review.
What I learned is that I just need to wet my face a bit more before applying it. Perhaps if I had one of those old horse-hair application brushes I’d have gotten hip to this sooner.
I bring this up for two reasons. First, I really think I owe it to anyone whose product I review to give it the fairest shake I can. I’m sensitive to the ongoing criticism that Rapha receives in the U.S. because their products carry such a premium. I have observed that some of this isn’t their fault: They can’t adjust the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar. That said, they deserve to have word circulate when a reviewer realizes a product is a better value than originally perceived.
The second reason is this stuff is just ridiculously good. Since my crash last fall, I haven’t been—ahem—enamored of my face. While no one else notices the change in my smile and no one else can feel the scar tissue in my lips, looking in the mirror is something I’m still adjusting to. That shaving my face (despite the ongoing numb spot) can bring me any pleasure is as odd and ironic an outcome as I could have this week. The way my skin feels and the way my face smells after shaving with this stuff is something that makes me genuinely happy. I figure if it’s my business to tell the world what I think of something then they deserve to have me be honest about this.
Next up, I need to go on record and say that as much as I love the revised SRAM Red group, I’m finding the new generation of Red brakes to be rather finicky. Keeping them perfectly centered while balancing left/right side spring tension isn’t as easy as with any of the competing dual-pivot calipers. Much of this has to do with the stamped-steel spring. While on one hand the spring gives the brake very light action, something that SRAM can get away with due to the used-car-salesman-slick Gore Ride-On cables. The issue isn’t that I can’t adjust tension or center the brake; the issue is that it just doesn’t seem to keep the adjustment for more than a couple of weeks. Still, if you accept the idea that any time you make a brake set lighter you’re going to give up something, I’d prefer finicky adjustment while keeping overall brake power, rather than what happened when Dura-Ace went from 8-speed to 9-speed: The brake set gave up power.
Some years back, when the bulk of my work was appearing at Belgium Knee Warmers, I reviewed the Assos Summer Gloves. The review appeared in 2009 after having used the gloves for more than a full season. By the time I wrote about them, as I noted in my review, I was completely in love with them and I reviewed them only because my strong feelings for their quality, fit and finish were so unexpected.
Well, I finally killed those gloves recently. That’s the pair I’ve been riding all this time, pictured above. The pink peeking out of the one palm pad is the padding creeping through a rip in the stitching. Yes, I mean that I killed that particular pair of gloves. The actual date they were pressed into service is no longer known to me, but I can say it was probably some time during the summer of 2007. That’s more than five years of use. It’s fair to ask though, just how many uses that was. We can factor out four months for late fall, winter and early spring, during which time I wear long-finger gloves. And we have to siphon off a fair chunk of the spring, summer and fall due to other gloves I’m sent to try. Conservatively, I think that leaves me with at least 100 days of use per year. These have absolutely been my go-to gloves for all rides where the temp is at least 60 degrees at the start. Factored another way, I can say that I’ve usually worn these gloves at least three days a week, and I’d guess for a good 30 to 35 weeks each year. That’s probably in the neighborhood of 600 uses. That works out to, what, a dime per use?
While I’ve worn some gloves made from Pittards leather that were as comfortable in the palm as … hell, I don’t know what to say here that won’t sound unintendedly sexual. The thing is, Pittards leather gloves are supple the way we wish our own skin still was. In that regard the first few wears are experiences that carbonate our senses with the infatuation of a first date. They possess magical properties to beguile our hands if not our senses.
If only they lasted as long as even the average romance. I’ve yet to get 100 wears out of a pair of Pittards gloves. There’s a distinct possibility that I’m part, if not most, of the problem. I’ve yet to figure out—even after following instructions—just how to properly clean Pittards gloves without them getting dried out and stiff like 20-year-old boot leather. Maybe it’s easier than I think. The thing is, I don’t want the graduate seminar in leather glove care. This is precisely why I love the Assos Summer Gloves. They have required no greater care than a jersey. I toss them in the wash and never worry about how they’ll come out. Because they are closure-less they have a clean appearance and lack all that bulk of material on the back of the wrist, making them more comfortable and giving them less material to soak up sweat.
You’ll pardon me if I think the care and feeding of a pair of gloves should be simple, a process as thought-free as drinking a glass of water.
As worn as they are, I’m going to continue to use these gloves for mountain bike rides and dirt road rides on my ‘cross bike. I figure they’ve got at least another season like this before there’s damage bad enough to toss them in the trash.
Okay, glad to have that off my chest. Seriously, these little details have been eating at me.
In the winter of 2000, I was standing in The Gap, trying to pick out a belt to go with some shoes I’d recently purchased when I ran across some microfleece gloves. They were on special for $7, because winter ends sometime in mid-January, and that old, unseasonal stock has to be cleared out, right? The material was thin by fleece standards, maybe five very compressible millimeters. I had some team gloves that were stretched out and I slid the microfleece beneath them, so that I had full-finger gloves with the grip of a traditional cycling glove while avoiding the liability of the bulky fingers that come with so many full-finger gloves. Here’s the thing: That combo kept my hands happy into the mid-40s, well below what I would have imagined I might tolerate.
Alas, the gloves wore out after six or seven years of use and I had to move on to other solutions. I’ve been searching for something as useful ever since. Or perhaps I should say I was searching for something as useful until I tried the Assos Insulator Gloves. I’ve been through gloves from a number of companies—seven at last count—basically anyone who offered something lightweight I tried. It’s not that the gloves in question were lousy, but either they weren’t as warm as what I’d had, or they were as warm as what I’d had, but were bulkier, so they reduced dexterity. The frustration has run for years for one simple reason—I’ve never been able to find microfleece gloves of quite the variety I purchased all those years ago.
I reached a point where I simply became curious about what was out there because I was so dissatisfied with everything I’d tried and that dissatisfaction metastisised to my wallet; I became willing to pay a king’s ransom just to get the glove I wanted. Even at full retail, the gloves I’d gotten from The Gap had only gone for $24; at that price I’d have purchased a couple of pair—if I could find them.
Enter the Assos insulatorGlove L1_S7. These are hands-down the lightest full-finger glove I can find. Unlike what I used previously, these feature a smooth polyester finish on the outside dotted with Assos’ silicone ProGrip to give your fingers a solid purchase on control levers, something I admit the original gloves lacked. At first glance, the suggested retail of $49.99 may seem pricey, but a quick review of some similar gloves shows they are going for $40 to $45. I prefer the Insulator Glove over other options for two reasons; first, due to excellent patterning resulting in very few seams, there’s a good deal less spare material inside the glove than I’ve found with competitors’ products. More seams increases bulk and decreases dexterity and sensitivity. Second, the glove has an exceptional fit, which owes something to the fact that it comes in a whopping seven sizes; I wear medium, the same size I wear in Assos jerseys and jackets.
These gloves have kept my hands warm into the low 50s. When combined with a slightly stretched out short-finger glove, they’ll keep me happy to the mid-40s. Life in Southern California means I don’t often encounter conditions colder than that. But I recently spent nearly three weeks in Memphis and that gave me the chance to try out the earlyWinterGlove_s7.
Most of the glove is constructed from a fleece-lined polyester; it’s surprisingly flexible given its weight. A second panel cut from a more durable polyamide, dotted with silicone grippers, is sewn over portions of the palm, as well as the thumb, and the middle and index fingertips for excellent grip. A long gauntlet ensures that the glove won’t leave your wrists exposed to the elements and a final gripper panel is sewn onto the inner side of the gauntlet to help you pull the gloves on. And as you can see from the photo, the way the glove is constructed, the thumb is articulated outward to make gripping the bar more comfortable.
While I Memphis I rode in temperatures ranging from the mid-70s all the way down to the mid-30s. On those mid-30s days I’d combine the Insulator Glove with the Early Winter Glove and stay fairly comfortable. Assos indicates the Early Winter Glove can be used in temperatures ranging from 43 to 54 degrees, Fahrenheit. Honestly, I’ve never worn the Early Winter Glove alone. I stick with the Insulator Glove until conditions are just too cold for it, and then I add the Early Winter Glove. Carrying a retail price of $139.99, this glove is definitely on the expensive side—I’ve seen gloves using similar materials for $100 to $130—but like the Insulator Glove, there are very few seams on the glove to help reduce excess material, and it is cut in seven sizes.
Think about it: Most manufacturers usually offer gloves in four or five sizes at best. A very few offer six sizes in gloves. When was the last time you ran across a manufacturer that offered gloves in seven sizes? In my experience, the effectiveness of a pair of gloves has more to do with patterning (how many pieces of material are used—more pieces means more seams) and sizing. I’ve yet to encounter any gloves cut from similar materials that fit as well or offer as much comfort.
Press Camp is both the best and most difficult aspects of of a trade show rolled together. It’s the best of a what a trade show can be because you had the ability to receive the complete attention of whoever you’re meeting with. And it’s a chance to pick up anything you’re interested in and really look it over, also without the worry of being interrupted by anyone. But it’s also challenging in that every conversation you have could go on for at least an hour longer than you have time for. At Interbike I’ll schedule a 15 minute meeting with someone and not have enough time to find out what the new products are. Here at Press Camp, I have 45 minutes and we end up digging deep into the first half-dozen products and end up not having enough time to get through the others. No matter how much time you have, it seems never to be enough. Thankfully, I consider this to be a happy problem.
I’ve been meeting with people who aren’t necessarily core to what RKP is about, such as Hayes. Yes, they offer this amazing forged cable-actuated cyclocross disc brake shown above. And ‘cross bikes are firmly in the wheelhouse of RKP. But really, I stopped by to learn more about their suspension forks and many brakes. Anyone who does that much good work I want to check out; after all, their brands also include Answer and Manitou.
Years ago, I reviewed plenty of Canari clothing and used it in photo shoots. It was fairly inexpensive stuff and good price points. Since then, the quality has risen noticeably and the price hasn’t increased that much. It’s nice to see a company invest in Southern California manufacturing, while offering many of the high-end features you see elsewhere, such as digital printing, full zips and hidden seams. While there I saw what was one of the more intriguing pairs of sub-$150 pairs of bibs I’ve encountered in a good 10 years. Expect to hear more on those.
I first used a Camelbak in 1996. Back then, the product was good, but had plenty of issues, many of which I can no longer recall. As the company has improved and evolved, their packs have become more sophisticated and the bladders stronger, better fitting and less likely to impart any taste. Above are just a few of the different bladders they produce at their own facility. For where I live, the pack mule approach to spare gear is never necessary. There are no lightning-laced afternoon thundershowers and the temperature won’t drop 20 degrees as dusk approaches, but my mountain bike won’t carry more than one water bottle and I don’t go out for mountain bike rides on the weekend that aren’t at least three hours, so hydration is an issue. I encountered some new packs from Camelbak that I’ll be trying as soon as I’m back.
Assos is here and this was a chance for me to see some new products on the way for 2013. There have been some revisions to base layers that should make them noticeably more comfortable than most, if not all, their competition. And with four different weights, they produce something perfect for whatever conditions you’re riding in. Above is the jersey that will be worn by the Swiss team at the Olympics. I can already see Cancellara killing it in this jersey. Inside the jersey collar I noticed a little inscription.
My German is beyond rusty (think Yugo in a junk yard and you’ll get an accurate picture), but the inscription suggests that the jersey is to be used by the nation’s heroes in pursuit of the top step of the podium. Not bad.
I also had meetings with Clif, where I received a few new samples and we spent time discussing just how cool a life Gary and Kit lead (yes, I’m envious), and Cannondale. Honestly, I wanted to get more familiar with their mountain bike line, just because I find them interesting. (It has either helped or not helped depending on your personally outlook that I’ve been sharing a room with Richard Cunningham of Pink Bike and he’s had a Claymore here in the room that I continue to eye with fascination; at 180mm of travel, it’s a park bike and something I must admit, I have no idea how to ride.) Alas, they’ve got some cool stuff going on with road and that’s all we really had time to discuss. The big news on the road are a few new models of the SuperSix EVO. They are now offering a women’s model, and in five different sizes. And as is to be expected with any truly conscientious work, each size not only receives a full set of its own molds, but the layup schedule changes for each size, giving each bike a consistent flex pattern for the riders. There’s also a new SuperSix EVO made with intermediate modulus carbon to bring that model down to a more affordable price point, as well as a new layup of the SuperSix EVO Hi-Mod in which they’ve done a bit of judicious refinement in the layup schedule to shave another 40 grams or so from the frame and they say become the undisputed leader in the weight game.
We spent a lot more time discussing their ongoing work with aluminum and how much bike they continue to deliver even with an entry-level bike like one of the CAAD 10s. Watch for a pair of reviews of the CAAD 10 and SuperSix EVO in the near future.
It’s worth mentioning that one of the most-discussed products here yesterday was the just-announced Giro Air Attack helmet.
Even though the helmet won’t be available until spring of next year, it had most of us talking. And while the press materials make a compelling case for why it will keep you just as cool as any of today’s helmets, what had everyone’s curiosity, of course, was its shape. The helmet is said to offer a significant aerodynamic advantage, but many of us, and if I’m honest, that group includes me, struggled to get past the look. It’s worth noting that we’ve come to accept and even champion some head-ware that has no real analog in nature. Put another way: We’ve come to accept a pretty strange looking device—even like it. The strangeness of the look of the Air Attack says more about what we accept than what it truly is, which is a lot closer in shape and look to other sporting helmets.
I’ll do my wrap-up of today’s meetings this weekend as I leave here before lunch for a flight to an undisclosed location for the introduction of a new Specialized S-Works product. It should make for some great photos.