Cyclops showed a new trainer interface that allows you to ride over videoed courses. You’ll have to put together the big-ass monitor set-up yourself. but it dials up wattage on the hills and changes the speed of the video relative to your speed. Tacx has a similar unit, but this one appears easier to operate. Maybe we’ll get a chance to find out.
Saris was showing off a new hitch-mount rack that comes in two and four-bike configurations.
It, like the Thule, comes with locks integrated into the rack. I wouldn’t leave bikes on the rack overnight in Fresno, but it should do an adequate job of keeping honest people honest.
Shimano showed off the new 11-speed Ultegra group. My sense from my limited chance to play with the group is that this is the closes that Ultegra has ever been in performance to Dura-Ace. The difference in the two levers is fairly negligible.
The crank uses the same asymmetric bolt pattern found in Dura-Ace. It’s a look I still haven’t fallen in love with.
The longer parallelogram of the front derailleur and the lines of the rear derailleur only reinforce the the impression that this is a heavier version of Dura-Ace.
For anyone who had a difficult time justifying the extra expense of Dura-Ace previously will find it much harder to do now.
Shimano also introduced a new apparel line. It’s not meant to go after the upper end of the market and compete with Assos and Rapha. Rather, it’s meant to be another affordable alternative for shops.
In addition to a line of clothes for the road, they also showed apparel for mountain biking as well.
Shimano showed some new hydration packs. This one intrigued me because of its relatively small size. It’s ideal for rides in the two to three-hour range.
Most hard-shell helmets, such as the ones worn in skateboarding, are known for being long on durability, but short on protection. Bell has undertaken a novel approach to using EPS foam in a hard-ish shell helmet.
The shell is flexible and populated with multiple sections of EPS , making it able to take a variety of abuses.
I imagine the helmets made with this new approach will give parents at least two or three different kinds of peace of mind.
The Belkin team wore this aero road helmet at the Tour de France (the hot new term for them is “sprint helmet”). Bell was showing it but indicated that this helmet won’t be put into production. They were showing it off as an indication of things to come.
Blackburn undertook a pretty radical reexamination of the brand’s identity and priorities this past year. The upshot is a reinvigorated focus on bags and racks. Among the new products was a locking rack so that when you lock up your bike, you can rest assured that the bags will stay put.
This new rack is stronger than a skunk’s odor and more adaptable than a character actor. I confess that I failed to take any pictures of the bags. My excuse if Friday afternoon lameness. The Blackburn line impressed me enough to make me fantasize about everything from grocery shopping to loaded touring.
In addition to showing off the new 810 computer, Garmin was showing off this new GPS-enabled video camera. It would be an ideal way to record video for the Cyclops trainer interface above.
My first serious road bike was a Specialized Expedition. It was a take-n0-prisoners touring bike meant for people disinclined to leave a forwarding address. It was a bike for people with ambition. On that bike I crossed the Continental Divide seven times in a single trip.
Like I said, it was meant for people with ambition. I didn’t say anything about brains.
In addition to the one big tour I did through the Rockies, I also did several shorter trips through New England. I commuted on that bike, raced ‘cross on it and bombed more than a few gravel roads. That bike helped me learn how fun touring can be. My disposition is such, though, that the bike may not have been necessary. I seem to be partial to touring, whether I have the touring bike or not.
Bike touring, though, isn’t the hip end of cycling. The touring bike is the pocket protector of the bike world. It’s not fast, and as a result lacks the sexy je ne c’est quoi that we automatically attribute to racing bikes. I get the attraction of the racing bike, but I must confess that I also get the attraction of the fully-loaded touring bike. It’s a bike with possibilities, a bike that’s prepared and maybe it’s just the Eagle Scout in me, but I resonate any time someone suggests that I should be prepared.
All this is to say, I have a very soft spot for bike touring.
It is with that in mind that I point your attention to the ad at the top of the home page, the one for Blackburn. Recently, they came to me and told me about a promotion they were doing. They were sponsoring a bunch of riders to go out and tackle ambitious tours. These weren’t two-day trips from Boston to the end of the Cape, no these were doozies. Canada to Mexico on the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Great Divide Route.
Can we just go over that again? Blackburn is SPONSORING riders to go on long tours. How amazing is that?
They call them the Blackburn Rangers. Little sheriff’s stars seem in order. The idea is a simple one: If you make touring gear, what better way to test your products than with people who will really put them through their paces. Lots of companies have a select roster of riders who comprise their torture chamber. What’s different about Blackburn Rangers is that they are riding completed products, so their role is less to test the product and make sure it works than to demonstrate proof of concept.
All that sounds nice, but then I got an email from Blackburn asking me if I wanted to intercept one of their riders coming down the Pacific Coast Highway and ride a bit.
Is Amanda Bynes cray-cray? Hellz yeah!
I met up with Jennifer at the Manhattan Beach Pier. She was actually on a rest day, which meant that she was likely to ride less than 30 miles that day and with less than her full load on the bike. She’d started her journey back in mid-June and as you read this she’s probably boarding a plane to head home to Seattle. She’d had the good sense to allow herself plenty of rest days, something on the order of every fourth or fifth day she took as a rest day.
Jennifer has been riding that Voodoo for more than 10 years, mostly as a bike commuter, but she’s also done some supported rides like STP, the Seattle to Portland ride. The rig, while serviceable, was nothing fancy: steel frame and fork, nine-speed drivetrain, double chainrings (not compact, no triple) and only a rear rack. No computer. I’m not sure I’ve met a more capable cyclist less concerned about equipment. What a trip.
Of course, that wasn’t where our conversation began. My first question was how she managed to find six weeks to ride her bike. Did she have a really understanding boss? Was she a freelancer? Trust fund?
Nope. She quit her job and her husband was chill about it.
She also left behind a chihuahua and when we stopped for chai in Venice, she was easily distracted by one just a few tables over.
When I asked her what the biggest surprise of the trip was she told me it was the people that she met. From other cyclists she encountered on the road to the folks she met off the bike, she was continually amazed by the kindness, warmth and generosity of the people she encountered. What she’d expected to get out of the trip was beautiful scenery, but it was in meeting people that she’d had her must pleasant and surprising encounters.
When I asked her about her favorite stretch she had ridden, she mentioned when she first rode into a Redwood forest, which would have been Del Norte State Forest, on the Pacific Coast a bit south of Crescent City, in far northern California. She talked about how she marveled not just at their massive presence, but how, from the saddle of a bike, she was able to take in the full effect of their size, that she didn’t have car windows letter boxing her view, how the scent of the forest washed over her as she rode and how she could feel the damp air of the forest on her skin.
Given the chance to be plucked out of Southern California and returned to any spot on her tour via helicopter, she said that was the spot.
Most of us don’t carpe that diem often enough. I’ll admit that I did more than just covet Jennifer’s adventure, I envied it. And while envy may be one of the seven deadly sins, in this instance I think it may have served a useful purpose in reminding me that it’s a big world. I need to get out and see more.
When Jim Blackburn started his eponymous company in 1975, his mission was to create lighweight pannier racks welded from aluminum. They were, for their day, very hi-tech. By 1987, when I bought my set, they were still top-of-the-line and had squashed almost all their competitors, at least in the U.S.
Blackburn eventually sold the company to what is now Easton Bell Sports, and the Rhode Gear line of accessories was folded into Blackburn to simplify the number of brand names the owners had to promote. Today, racks are a tiny part of the product line.
Cynics could easily point to the brand as an example of corporate sell-out, a line that lost its roots. You can tell the cynics to file that under Polaroid. A much fairer comparison could be drawn with Canon or Nikon, companies that made the transition from film to digital media, broadened their product lines, and continue to be leaders in their industry.
It hasn’t always been easy for Blackburn. Their pumps have ranged from Corvette to Corvair. For many years their trainers were category leaders more for their ubiquity in bike shops than the outright supremacy of the product. But in the last three years, every product I thought was weak has been eliminated from its catalog. I haven’t tried every product they make, but every product I had tried and couldn’t recommend is gone.
But you have to replace 86’d products with new offerings to stay in business. I offer the Flea combo of lights as an example of what I’m talking about. Head and taillights need to be seen—that’s it. They should only be as large and heavy as necessary to ensure your visibility, right? At 20 grams for the front unit and 21g for the rear on my scale, they are shockingly, disappearingly light. Something this light shouldn’t be able to produce this much light (read it again), the way a bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly.
The Flea Front and Flea Rear both accomplish the impossible: they can nearly blind you with only four LED lights—white Nichia in the front and red in the rear. For those morning and afternoon rides this time of year (and in spring), these lights offer more than adequate visibility. If drivers can’t see you with these on their bike it’s because they were dead at the time.
In full darkness (that is, once any lingering twilight has last gleamed) the front Flea actually makes a passable headlight, so long as you don’t ride too quickly. It isn’t powerful enough, however, to provide significant lighting at dawn or dusk, but then it wasn’t made for that; Blackburn offers more serious lighting for those needs.
Each light has three modes. For the front there is a lower-power beam, a high beam (which is when the light makes a passable headlight—certainly better than anything available through most of the 1990s) and a blinking mode. The rear has two blinking modes and a steady-state beam.
Run times for the lights are very good. On the flashing setting they run 12 hours, while on steady they’ll run for 6 hours.
What helps make the light’s namesake-light is the fact that they use rechargeable batteries a fraction of the size of the typical 1.5V AA battery. The charger, pictured above, uses said AA battery to recharge the lights (one at a time) and I take an almost perverse delight in this innovation.
None of this would matter if the lights were difficult to mount on the bar or seatpost. To that end, the folks at Blackburn made things as simple as possible: Velcro. Whether your handlebar is round or wing-shaped the simple attachment should make mounting and point the light quick. Remove the Velcro strap from the rear light and a built-in clip will allow you to hook it to your jersey pocket.
My love for how lightweight and bright these lights are is matched by my affection for the simple mounting system. I can swap them from bike to bike in less than a minute without the use of a single tool. Thomas Edison would marvel at their elegance.
What would you pay for all this? Wait, don’t answer!
As it turns out, there are other versions of the light that comes with a charger that works off a USB cable or another that either charges via USB or a tiny solar panel. The standard combo with front and rear Fleas and the 1.5V charger goes for $54.99. Either the front or rear Flea can be purchased alone for $34.95The version that includes the USB charger goes for $5, while the combination of the solar charger with USB charger is $15.
Learn more here.
When painted matte finishes first appeared on bikes in the mid-1990s, I found the look novel. Then I tired of it, the way we all tired of florescent colors. The lack of a clearcoat over the decals made bikes look rather third-rate, cheap.
I have a different opinion of matte finishes in carbon fiber. When I see a matte finish on a carbon fiber bike, I see a frame that the manufacturer has optimized for weight and performance. At some point, someone will probably produce something of questionable quality that will make a lie of my assumption, but currently, the frames I see in matte finishes tend to be plenty stiff while weighing less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Paint, as it turns out can mean the difference between breaking the 1kg barrier and not. Even on small frames paint weighs at least 2 ounces (56 grams), often more. Think about it: Paint can add 3 oz. to a 56cm frame with no increase in stiffness whatsoever.
So I’ve been disappointed that it has been hard to find matte-finishes on bars, stems, seatposts and bottle cages. Matte finishes could reduce the weight of these components, sure, but more importantly, they would look more harmonious with the frame. And while it would seem to make sense to want matte finishes on the carbon fiber components of Campy groups and aftermarket cranks, I’ll give those a pass given the beating they can take.
But my prayers have been answered on one front for the first time. Blackburn offers a carbon fiber water bottle cage, the Camber CF, in either glossy or matte finish. I tried the matte finish, which matches my frame and found the advertised weight of 32g to be accurate; if the glossy finish weighs more, I can’t say. The topmost layer of carbon is a 3k weave, which is still the most popular top (cosmetic) layer of carbon for road frames, further helping to match the appearance of many bikes.
Last year I tried a set of handmade carbon fiber cages that weighed 14g apiece. The bottom tab broke on one, bottles bounced out and they scratched up the bottles, making them look like they’d rolled around on the road.
I’ve been using the Camber CFs for more than six months and they haven’t broken, hold bottles securely, and leave the appearance of said bottles unscathed. I’ll admit, a water bottle cage isn’t really worth writing home about, but it should never, ever detract from the look of a bike. Ideally, it should complement the look of a bike, underscoring what a cool ride you have.
The Camber CF retails for $39.99. Learn more at http://www.blackburndesign.com/.