Putting aside the controversy du jour/semaine/mois/année, can we all just agree that this Giro d’Italia has not only been the best race of the 2010 season, but the best Grand Tour in recent memory? Can we? If not, there’s a comments section. Lodge your protest there.
For me, this race has been a huge breath of fresh O2. Between successful breakaways (enough that I’m questioning my stance on race radios) and unexpected results (Richie Porte anyone?) and strong men on steep hills, I am beginning to think that Angelo Zomegnan (race organizer) is something of a genius. And they haven’t even crested the Gavia yet!
This week’s Group Ride is sort of a compendium of questions. Where does this Giro stack up against other recent Grand Tours? Why do you think this one has been so good? If Ivan Basso wins the overall, how will you feel about that? Do you think someone else will take the GC? Are Italian podium girls prettier than French ones? Has the Tour of California hurt or helped the Giro? Does Andre Greipel deserve to ride the Tour de France? What happened to Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins? Does it matter? What did you think of the Dutch prologue? Too much road furniture? Has Carlos Sastre’s 21st Grand Tour been disappointing, or is Charlie just passed it now?
Let’s talk about it. Let the craic ensue.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Giro, for those who haven’t been paying attention to one of the world’s top helmet manufacturers, has entered the glove market cannonball-style. That’s in addition to the eyewear and other accessories that the manufacturer has moved into.
It was a risky move. Giro’s place as one of the top three helmet makers is virtually decreed by government. All it would take to crack the foundation would be a crappy lens or two and gloves that didn’t fit or didn’t last.
Last fall I reviewed the Lusso glove, which has since been renamed the LX. I liked the Pittards leather glove a lot, but in the comments, I did get a bit of pushback. One owner of a set complained about how the gloves dried out after washing them.
The folks at Easton-Bell Sports read RKP after they are all caught up on the real news over at Cyclingnews. The brand manager for the gloves saw the comment, contacted the reader and addressed his concerns personally. It makes for great PR when you do something like that publicly, but I only know about it because someone at Giro contacted me.
I can say that no other bike company has shown the same level of concern for addressing consumer issues as Giro. The opportunity is certainly there.
Late this winter I received the long-finger version of the LX glove, called the LXLF. Like the LX, the LXLF comes in either a black and white or all black color scheme. Unlike the LX, it blends some more stretchable fabric at the knuckles to make the gloves more dextrous without forcing the leather to stretch. The perforated Cabretta leather on the back of the glove helps keep it breathable. And the alternating black and white makes them look like a classy costume accessory for the Oaxacan Festival of the Dead.
Compared to the short-finger version of the glove, the LXLF, rather surprisingly, features much less of the 3M technogel padding. While the pads are nice and do a great job of preventing vibration from reaching your hands, it is a little on the bulky side. The LXLF features but two pads at the heel of the palm. As a result, the palms move with your hands much more naturally. Yet, as thin as the glove feels, it still provides more than adequate protection in terms of padding and temperature control.
I wouldn’t advocate using this glove much below 50 degrees and certainly not above 70 degrees, but that temperature range describes my typical ride for at least eight months of the year.
Ever concerned that I’ll do something to stretch the LXs out, I’m super-careful when I remove them. With the LXLF, not so much. With a gentle tug on the fingertips, it’s easy to pull them off my hands. And after more than a month of near-daily use they still look new.
The gloves feature a section of microfiber fabric over the thumb to give you a place to wipe your sweaty, drippy bits, but honestly, the fabric behind the knuckles does just as good a job at absorbing bodily fluids.
Speaking of bodily fluids, in reviewing another company’s short-finger Pittards-palm glove, I had a less-than-fun incident involving the black dye used in the leather and my bar tape. I sweated so much on a hot day that the black dye not only stained my hands the color of coal, but stained my bar tape so that it looked brick red. I have yet to pick up any hint of dye on my hands from either the LX or the LXLF gloves. Some details you just don’t notice until someone else messes one up.
Easily my favorite feature of the gloves is the incredible sensitivity and dexterity they offer. My son’s butt is only slightly softer than these things, but LXLF has the advantage of being wearable for hours at a time.
In my climate, I can make use of a spring-weight glove, as I mentioned, for at least eight months of the year. I’ve tried a lot of lightweight, long-finger gloves. You’d be shocked if I told you how few of them are memorable. The LXLF is not only memorable, it is easily the best long-finger spring-weight glove I’ve ever worn. Periodendofstatement.
Because they retail for $70, it’s not a glove I’d be inclined to wear, say, during a cyclocross race or a six-hour, rainy training ride. I know they can be cleaned, but the cleaning process requires a bit of care and they aren’t indestructible. For those reasons, I don’t wear them on rides I anticipate will be messy.
If this whole global warming thing turns out to be a hoax and supposing my morning rides maintain their 55-degree start temp, I won’t mind. These gloves are so enjoyable, I’d gladly wear arm warmers year-round just to help justify wearing the gloves.
In the grand scheme, what makes these gloves so great isn’t how Giro got all the details right. What makes them so great is the fit of the glove combined with the feel of the leather on your hands; the combination of softness and dexterity is simply unparalleled. Pardon me, but I think I’m going to put them on and retype this review just so I can have another hour to wear them. Seriously—these gloves are so nice, you’ll rethink why you wear gloves … and the standard you hold them to.
In the last year the MBAs on Wall Street have fed us a number of interesting stories followed by dire predictions for increased disaster should we insist on continuing our wayward course. They have also stuck to the old hymnbook with the chorus that goes:
Competition begets innovation
Innovation begets revelation …
That might not have been a direct quote. Don’t hold me to that. Regardless, the MBAs are right that free-market competition is good for innovation. Witness the X Games.
Or consider Giro and Oakley. You’ve seen Lance Armstrong in his Jawbones and probably a fair chunk of your local peloton as well. The Jawbones made big noise for being the first Oakleys to use a unique lock and hinge system to make lens replacement a, um, snap.
But Giro actually beat them to the punch. The Filter debuted nearly nine months earlier and uses an even simpler lens changing system called Pop Top™ (not to be confused with an antique soda can) to allow the user to change lens without risk of breaking the frame thanks to too firm an effort. I’ve switched lenses on a number of occasions and I can attest to making the switch and being fear-free while doing it. The switch takes all of two minutes including putting away the recently removed lenses. If you’re a race mechanic, you’ll still have time to change a wheel and make a martini.
The Filter uses a half-entrapped frame so that the lower portion of the lens is frame-free for minimally interrupted vision. A lever at the temple unlocks a cam that holds the lens in place; a simple twist releases the lens, making tint choice on the morning of a ride a realistic option.
While I’ve tried the Filter with only one helmet so far (Specialized) I did find them to fit nicely in the vent holes on the few occasions I decided to take them off. The nose bridge and ear pieces are sufficiently grippy to keep the glasses in place even when you look straight down. However, I do have one minor issue with the ear pieces; as you can see from the photo above, they angle inward slightly. While I don’t have an issue on shorter rides, if I’m out for four or five hours, they do pinch me just a bit behind the ears, and I’ll notice a bit of irritation.
On fast descents the Filter does a great job of directing wind down my face without eddying up under the lens to make my eyes tear. In my experience, that is a rare quality for a lens this small.
The Filter I tried included two different sets of lenses, rose silver as well as orange selector. The orange selector was excellent for early mornings when the sun was not sufficiently up to require the rose silver lens. Under changeable and brighter conditions I found the rose silver to be one of the single most versatile lens colors I’ve ever used. I wore the Filter when I did Levi’s King Ridge Gran Fondo this fall and several people told me that my lenses were much too dark to be able to ride from sunlight into the forest-shaded areas. They were convinced I wouldn’t be able to see and would wind up some unfortunate statistic of the ride. On the contrary, I was able to see sufficiently in lower light situations and didn’t have to squint in mid-day sunlight. It’s too dark for rolling out at dawn, but once the sun is any kind of up, the tint is terrific.
I also got to try the clear silver lens which has a flash mirror coating which adds a hint of yellow mirror. They were good on really overcast days or on the occasional ride that started much too early and ended before the sun was fully up. They are fairly limited in their use but their ability to increase contrast in low-light situations can be very helpful.
Giro sells the Filter in several configurations. Glasses start at $160. As reviewed with the rose silver and orange selector lenses plus a cotton bag and hard travel case, the ensemble goes for $220. Additional lenses run from $30 to $50; those lenses with the flash mirror coatings are at the upper end of that pricing.
Day two of the Interbike show was a mad dash from one appointment to the next. Unfortunately, some of the coolest things I saw, including a new power meter that measures torque at the pedals, were in display cases that didn’t permit acceptable photography. There were plenty of autograph signings, lots of beer being served and wrenches trying to score schwag, but the one thing retailers told me over and over was that they weren’t placing orders. They had already placed their preseason orders or they were waiting to see how things would shake out with the economy in general and their business in specific.
I was weaned on inexpensive crochet-backed gloves. I never went for the more expensive all-leather gloves, though a few local shops carried them. Maybe I was cheap (I was a college student) or maybe I just didn’t appreciate the style of Eddy Merckx. The 1980s weren’t really the high water mark for sideburns or Porsches.
I recoil to think what was hip then: fluorescent colors, Delta brakes and shoulder pads (though not in cycling clothing). My first lycra-backed gloves with a Terry thumb utterly negated the need/relevance of crochet-backed gloves. The change was electric-light instant.
Years went by. One summer, on a tour in France, I noticed the hands of a friend’s wife. That may sound inappropriately sensual, but it was less her hands than the pattern of the tan on the back of her hands. She had a half-moon tan that was so dark as to be unavoidably noticeable. What made her hands even cooler was her complete nonchalance about them.
Most of my body has ridiculous tan lines. I’ve decided to embrace them. As a result, I’ve been waiting for more than 10 years for a stylish glove to come along that would give me some old-school tan lines on my hands. I’ll meet your farmer and raise you a half moon.
Giro’s new Lusso gloves bring back the 1970s in all their idealized glory. These gloves are a suped up Mustang Boss 302 that will pass smog. The palm is cut from Pittards leather while the back uses even softer Cabretta leather; it’s softer than a feather bed.
Properly fitted, a full-leather cycling glove starts out a bit tight. My first ride with these the they were quite snug across the knuckles. After three or four rides, they stretched enough to fit me naturally. After a half dozen rides they were me, only tougher.
The gloves may be old-school in their use of leather, but that’s where the retro ends. A small tab at the base of the wrist makes pulling them on eaiser. Perforations in the palm increase breathability as does a lightweight mesh between each of the fingers. These gloves couldn’t be more breathable if you gave them an asthma inhaler.
The best update of all is how the padding is placed. Technogel pads grace the thumb, the heel and the top of the palm. For anyone looking for a glove that can increase comfort on long rides (or really intense ones) these things are a marvel.
On the top of the thumb where an absorbent material would ordinarily be located, ultrasuede keeps the leather theme going, even if it isn’t actually leather. It’s not especially absorbent, though.
The Lussos are meant to be appropriate for any weather fair enough for short-finger gloves, though I wouldn’t wear them if the temperature rises above 85 degrees, no matter how low the humidity might be.
Giro offers the Lussos in two different color schemes, either in all black or with a black palm and white back. Naturally, the white back is the way to go on these. Protect your $65 dollar investment by hand washing them occasionally so your hands don’t smell like an old shoe.
Once you get over the completely PRO style, you’ll keep wearing them because they are so comfortable.
When I think of the cycling brands that have consistently set the bar in design, Giro is one of the first names that comes to mind. I can’t think of a single dud during the company’s history. Most brands out there have had some not insignificant missteps:
- Schwinn’s application of the Paramount name to TIG-welded frames in the 1990s.
- Campagnolo Delta brakes—beautiful, but ineffective.
- Modolo Morphos levers—they did more to hurt an excellent bar maker than competition did.
- Bell V1 Pro—that single helmet did more to set back the helmet cause than any head injury.
The V1 Pro and its predecessor, the Biker, offered cutting-edge protection for one of the most important organs in your body. Unfortunately, when Star Wars hit the silver screen three years after the introduction of the Biker, the Imperial Storm Troopers looked oddly familiar and while Star Wars fashions were all the rage at roller discos, cycling in America had yet to figure out hip. The V1 Pro looked rather like a leather hairnet on steroids and rigor mortis. The two designs were similar for fairly obvious engineering reasons, but both helmets missed the boat in attractiveness and ventilation. They were successful products for their time, but large numbers of cyclists—the majority by most statistics and my memory—avoided them like cod liver oil.
Jim Gentes introduction of the Giro Prolight in 1986 was a watershed moment for bicycle racing. Had Gentes been a motorcyclist, many of us might have trouble counting the concussions we’d have had by now. The look of amateur bike racing was instantly transformed and as PROs began to wear them at stateside events, Giro helmets became almost fashionable.
Since then only Bell and Specialized have truly been able to compete toe-to-toe with Giro. Several European brands have struggled to meet ANSI requirements. It’s fair to say that while its supremacy in helmet manufacturing has been challenged, no other company has had it in its rear view mirror.
Mastering a single market segment is tough to do, so I immediately wondered why Giro would enter the eyewear category. After all, one failed product can kill a whole industry, and while it is ludicrous to think a bad bike helmet could set us back to the BLH (before leather hairnet) era, New Coke proved that a sales win could still give you a black eye.
So I asked Giro the simplest of questions: Why eyewear?
Their response: Eyewear “had become a bit stale.” Citing the company’s reputation and expertise in fit, design and engineering, they believed they could breathe new life into sunglasses designed specifically for cyclists. The following five bullet points are the response I got verbatim:
- Lens interchange systems had not evolved from the most basic “tug and snap” interface (so we developed “PopTop” technology in the Filter sunglass)
- Nobody was engineering frames to fit with modern helmets (hence, Super Fit Engineering to create temple that minimize or eliminate fit issues with helmets)
- Styles had become stagnant (so we’ve been developing 2-4 styles a year)
- Lens technology wasn’t evolving much (we’ve worked with Zeiss to develop 3 proprietary lens tints for cycling, and we’re working on lens coatings and more…)
- Benchmark products had not evolved in a decade (imagine that same scenario for frames, components, helmets, etc!)
While most of these criticisms could be leveled at any competing eyewear maker, the third and fifth points seem most particularly appropriate to Oakley; the M-frame was more than 10 years old at the point Giro began its design work and the lens shapes had hardly changed; indeed the Heater lens, which looked oh-so-stylish on John Tomac in 1991 looks positively Halloween costume today … and it’s still available.
When I first saw the eyewear line I will admit I didn’t like the look of the company’s flagship wraparound, the Havik. Love the name, didn’t dig the styling. If anything, that was a good thing. The first time I saw the M-frame with the Heater I thought it looked a little too Buck Rogers. Then it grew on me. The recent retake on the design gave the shades a larger lens, slimmer frame and is now called the Havik 2.
Giro’s designers worked hard to create ventilation points to prevent fogging. There are ports at the temples and in the nosepiece to circulate just enough air to prevent fogging. It’s a tricky balance, that. Too much airflow can dry out your eyes, which will—ironically—make them water, leaving you with the feeling that you might as well not even have glasses on for all the good they are doing. Too little airflow and they can fog up, forcing you to take them off just so you can make out the wheel ahead.
I live in a fairly humid place and if eyewear has any inclination to fog, I’ll find out when I get to the start of my morning group rides. I’ve made enough of an effort on the way there to begin to sweat, so when I stop and wait for the others to arrive, I achieve a magic confluence of cool temperatures, warm water vapor and high humidity. Every pair of glasses I’ve ever worn has fogged up. That said, how quickly the fogging occurs varies like flavors of soda. The Havik will fog a bit more slowly than Oakley’s Radar, but much compared to the Jawbone, much more slowly.
Styling and fogging are minor points really when considered against the importance of lens clarity, quality and tint. Giro touts the excellent clarity of their Zeiss optics. My experience with Zeiss lenses goes back to my first introduction to Nikon cameras and the clarity that came with even their least expensive products. I’ll take their word that the impact resistance is sufficient; if it’s not and I find out, I suspect I’ll have bigger issues to consider, so I’m not too concerned.
But on the subject of lens tint, I get very picky. On a weekend day, my eyewear must be light enough to accommodate the low-light levels of a cloudy morning and yet dark enough to protect me from the bright sun of a cloudless noon. I’ve noticed that the difference in light from 7 am to noon at my home can be five F-stops or more, which is enormous considering that aperture is a squared function.
Specialized chose to address this problem with Adaptalite technology; consequently my Specialized shades are terrific on the darkest of early mornings, and just barely do the job when I’m heading home after coffee following the Saturday ride. With the Havik 2, I’ve been riding with the Rose Silver 23Z lens, which has shown remarkable flexibility so far. I’d actually prefer something that’s just a touch on the dark side when I leave home so that the sun isn’t quite so intense at mid-day. It is one of, if not the most adaptable lens tints I’ve used.
With almost two years in the eyewear category Giro has accomplished much. Any well-capitalized company can buy a ProTour team endorsement, but getting those athletes to wear bad glasses during a race’s hardest moments is not guaranteed. Establishing distribution and a sales force able to penetrate into even conservative shops isn’t easy; anyone who has worked in a shop has memories of trusted sales reps and the reps the shop owner used the staff to run interference. Oh, and there’s one other little detail that impressed me: I’m not surprised these glasses fit Giro helmets, but I am impressed they fit helmets from Bell and Specialized; clearly, they did their homework.
Alberto Contador photo: John Pierce, Photosport International