That was my first impression of the POC Octal in 2014. Yeah, the bright colors were dope and all, but I had a hard time liking its shape. Plus, I just got a new helmet that I really, truly loved so I was not about to drop a few more Benjamins.
That didn’t stop me from keeping tabs on the Swedish firm’s progress. It’s pretty hard not to notice them on the road either. Similar to its fellow swede compatriot Volvo where you can unmistakably spot one from a mile away, it’s easy to pick out a POC amongst of sea of helmets, not that that’s a bad thing or anything.
The time finally came when it was time for a new lid. I was curious about aero helmets because seriously, who doesn’t like free speed these days. I also despise the feeling of wearing a bucket. I already get that when I have to wear my fire or ballistic helmet, thank you very much.
But I do want a do-it-all helmet.
POC just happened to drop the Ventral SPIN aero road helmet around the same time, so I decided to give it a run. We covered it during its initial launch so I’ll spare the technical details and will focus on how it works on the road. Touted Aerodynamics and ventilation aside, I was especially intrigued with the blue SPIN padding between the shell and my noggin’ that made more than a splash: Lawsuits against those seemingly benign, albeit squishy pads were filed (and settled). Is SPIN finally a challenger to MIPS?
I ended up wearing my all-white Ventral SPIN for almost two seasons now, and it’s time to taIk about it. TL:DR: I am a happy camper.
Sure that POC look takes some time to get used to, but what helmet doesn’t? The Ventral is a bit bigger, more bulbous, and perhaps has an even thicker appearance than a lot of helmets, but it’s a shape that grew on me as weeks passed.
From its frontal view, its generous five intake vents doesn’t give away the fact that this helmet is meant for speed. There are six large exhaust vents in the back that are aggressively shaped with sharp lines like the back of a Lamborghini Huracan. Bold. A dedicated dock for sunglasses is also neatly integrated out front.
Large air vents usually mean ample ventilation at the cost of aerodynamics, but POC mapped them to essentially force the wind in and out of the helmet on a specific flow math to create what is called the venturi effect. In Ventral’s case, the guided airflow utilizes moving air to its advantage to vent and cool heads while producing a more efficient air flow minimizing turbulence.
All those prominent statements aren’t easy to validate without a wind tunnel, but I can say with great certainty that it is a very comfortable helmet to wear day in and day out. The Ventral channels air well, and run cooler than other aero road helmets that I’ve tried while performing admirably in terms of airiness just below the exceptionally airy, climbing oriented Kask Valegro.
But while Kask fell short in the internal padding department, POC’s SPIN pads, short for Shearing Pad Inside were wonderful. Its silicone composition gave it a decidedly more fitted feel compared to regular foam pads.
Visually, it’s difficult to see beyond a humble padding that goes between one’s head and the helmet, but the very same blue pads, or precisely, the allowed movements of the pad’s gel-like center, is POC’s secret sauce to reduce rotational impact and brain damage. The concept does exactly what MIPS does with its movable helmet liner, but POC’s integrated solution is arguably cleaner and more subtle.
At $290, the Ventral comes at a premium, even some $40 more than the Ventral Air, its newer, lighter and more ventilated little brother. I am curious to see how it’ll pit against Giro’s Aether with its new MIPS Spherical system that eliminated the hard plastic slip plane of the original MIPS, or the evergreen Kask Protone. But one thing that’s certain: The Ventral is one heck of a lid one should consider when looking for an aero helmet that excels all around besides free speed.
Living in Northern California the brand Williams Cycling has always been in my peripheral like a good bike shop I’ve heard about but never got around to visiting. I don’t know what makes them stand out at races, but I can always count on seeing a handful of them in my own race group. Maybe it’s the fact everyone is faster than me and, thus, I am slow enough to see what others are rolling.
The wheel business is pretty wild these days. It seems like everyone is making or branding or rebranding a set of their own wheels. There are household names like Mavic, ENVE, DT Swiss, and Shimano. Then there are the halo wheels that are so rare that it feels like a Koenigsegg sighting. At the polar opposite of that spectrum, you can pick up a set of carbon hoops for under $400 on Amazon Prime, if you are feeling reallyadventurous.
And finally you can split the difference and get a set of Williams, such as their System 60 carbon clinchers tested here.
With its 60mm rim height, the System 60 is the middle child of the Stockton, California-based company’s new line up representing a balanced ride between aerodynamics and weight. Measuring 26mm externally and 18.4mm internally, the toroidal-shaped carbon monocoque rim is tubeless compatible and comes with a high temperature resin ceramic fiber composite brake track for consistent performance during heavy uses. The rims are laced to William’s own Virgo 20/24 hole hubset using top of the line Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples in favor of durability.
The wheels arrived straight and true and setup was relatively straight forward like most high-performance wheels. I did, however, have to toe the brake pads a bit more to get rid of a potentially glass-shattering squeal, but they’ve been effectively silenced since November. I am admittedly a fan of the cork pads that came with my Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 TLR, but the long-lasting Williams-specific blue brake pads weren’t too shabby and offered a positive, consistent feel.
Weighing in at 853 grams in front and 1,011 grams for the rear with rim tape, the System 60 is a tad heavier than its competitors, but it’s also significantly cheaper at $1,439 per set. The extra grams weren’t that noticeable other than the initial spin-up and the times I did some extended climbing – which, to be fair, is not why one would primarily buy it for anyways. The System 60 excels in rollers and flats where its 60mm rim height shines through with its aero advantage. The toroidal rim shape also handles surprisingly well in crosswind so I never felt as if I was going to get blown off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The System 60 offers a stiff ride but still does an admirable job in soaking up a lot of road imperfections that have been plaguing the Bay Area as of late. They stayed true even after a couple unfortunate encounters with potholes. The skewers, while heavy and gargantuan, were solid and securely held the wheels throughout the test. I did wish the pre-installed rim tape was tubeless compatible though, because why make a tubeless-ready wheel and put away that feature with regular tape?
Overall, the System 60 represents a wonderful option for those looking for a performance upgrade at a budget. It’s the perfect wheel for rolling courses such as the Snelling Road Race and tight office park criteriums. The System is also offered in 45/60 and 60/90 combos for those wanting to mix their rim depths. Lastly, every set of Williams comes standard with a 2-year warranty and a crash replacement program.
Feedback Sports' Ominum Trainer all packed and ready go to. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Beeline had one of their mobile bike shop on hand to help setting up the bikes, such as installing pedals for me because I forgot to bring a 8mm hex wrench, I blame that on my mini-tool. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
FSA's SLK crankset with their new super compact chainring aiming for the adventure/gravel crowd. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
DMT's slick RS1 featuring a single BOA dial to tighten/loosen the skeleton skin top. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Kenda's Flintridge Pro gravel tire, now available in 35c and 40c Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
SCICON AeroComfort Road 3.0 TSA bike travel bag, the choice of ProTour teams when they have to ship their bikes to races. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
What really makes SCICON AeroComfort Road 3.0 bag so unique is its wheeled caddy which secures your bike in the bag without the need of removing the handlebar and seatpost. All you need is to take the wheels off, mount the bike on the caddy and put the bag over it. Yay for being able to keep your dialed bike fit intact. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Variety of pedal stack for your Speedplay Syzr pedals. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
... As well as customizable axle lengths. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly
This must be the first time where I had a presention done in the dark. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The Joder riding shirt from Colorado's Panache Cyclewear Photo:Stephen Lam/ element.ly
Panache's Joder riding shirt features a full zipper, but perhaps the biggest standout are its two lower front pockets for small items such as gels, bars, phone, etc. Photo:Stephen Lam/ element.ly
For the first time ever, the annual spring PressCamp was all about road and by that I mean any bikes that come with a drop handlebar.
Here are the 9 coolest products I saw from the two days of back-to-back meetings.
Ridley Helium SLX
Prized for its comfort and the lack of grams, the Helium has long been a proven staple in Ridley’s line up and has had its share of refinement over the years. The newest iteration, the Helium SLX, is its lightest yet and continues to live up to this featherweight chemical element. With a new blend of Ridley’s 60T carbon and a new lay up schedule, Ridley was about to bring the frame down to 750g for a medium size while increasing its stiffness about 15% more than the previous model.
As for tire clearances, Ridley recommends a max 25mm for tires and 28mm for rim widths. In other words, most of the new wide aero wheels on the market will play nicely with the Helium SLX. Cable routings are now fully internal for both mechanical and electronic shifting groups for a cleaner appearance.
The sub-300 gram fork now features a full monocoque straight blade design and that’s counting its stainless steel inserts at the dropout for better alignment and protection. I briefly test rode the $5,800 version with full Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 mechanicals and the initial review was quite positive. The bike begs to be climbed, moves so eagerly with every pedal stroke and steers precisely around twisty descents. The geometry gravitates towards the aggressive racing stance as it was made for the ProTours, but I found the Helium to be comfortable, not squishy. Stay tuned for a long-term review soon.
Raleigh Stuntman ($2,499)
Inspired by the character Colt Seavers (by actor Lee Majors) in the 1981 television series The Fall Guy, the Stuntman is tailor-made for those who spend their days in the office planning their next bike camping epic. The gorgeously-painted frame is made out of double-butted Reynolds 631 steel for comfort and durability, but with modernized specs such as a 142×12 rear axle, a tapered headtube, and plenty of tire clearance (more on that later). In fact, the frame feels so solid we reckon it’ll be pretty difficult to break in half unless you decide to enter Redbull Rampage with one.
We think the components choice is pretty well fitting for what the bike is intended for as well: A no-nonsense full SRAM Rival 1X11 drivetrain with a 40T front ring for propulsion along with matching hydraulic discs to slow things down when called for. And when the road (or groad) gets a bit more gnarly, you could use the mechanical dropper post with 65-80mm of travel from a bar mounted remote on Raleigh’s own branded drop-bar with 16 degree flare in its drops. Interestingly enough, the Stuntman went with a full aluminum fork for better strength which also keeps the price low. Did I mention there are mounts for racks and fenders? So yes, all this bike missing is the stuntman himself.
The wheel build is an interesting proposition too: 50C (!) Clement X’PLOR MSO Tubeless rubbers mounted to sealed Novatec hubs laced to 28mm wide Weinmann U28TL tubeless rims with 32 14/15g butted stainless spokes, brass nipples. It’s nowhere as exotic as say, a pair of Zipp 454 NSWs, but again, you don’t go off-road on your 4-Runner with HRE P201s with Pirelli P Zeros, do you?
FSA WE hybrid-wireless drivetrain ($TBA)
Over the years, new companies with new drivetrain ideas have popped up, getting some flare about how disruptive their products will be, and eventually flame out in one way or another… Let’s face it, the barrier to enter the drivetrain business is not only risky, requiring a lot more than money and engineering, but it’s also been dominated by the big three (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo). That said, if there’s a company that could challenge the big three, FSA might just be it. You see, FSA has been cumulating their manufacturing know how for about 25 years making headsets, handlebars, cranksets, stems, wheels… essentially everything except a drivetrain group. Yet after years of development rumors and the occasional spy pics, they felt they finally have something to offer: The WE hybrid-electronic groupset.
But what the heck is a hybrid-wireless system anyway? Like is it wired AND wireless at the same time? The short answer, as confusing as it might be, is yes. The shifters are wireless utilizing ANT+ to securely communicate with the derailleurs while the derailleurs are wired to be powered from the battery within the seatpost. This is a solution where FSA engineers felt was more reliable and longer-lasting (claimed 4,000 to 6,000km per charge). We’ll take their word for the time being before our long-term test but the samples they had at PressCamp looked very close to the production model with very clean lines and completely functional for rides. The shifters felt comfortable in my hands and the FSA will be offering carbon lever blades in two different lengths (6mm difference) for better ergonomics. What’s more, a companion app will be available for users to further customize their system for things such as shift speed and button function.
Now, the shifting operation is of course, different than what’s already out there. The WE utilizes a rocker switch with different textures to differentiate up and down shift.
It works as advertised, being able to do both single and multiple shifts when called for. The switch will take a bit of time to get used to since the buttons are relatively close to each other, but that could be matter of getting used to a system like the first time you use a Mac. We’ll see whether the WE will be as popular as Di2, eTAP, or EPS, but the competition just heated up a bit more.
ABUS YADD-I Urban Helmet ($79.99-89.99)
Originally beginning as an aero-helmet concept, the YADD-I is part of ABUS’ introduction to the US helmet market. Yes, ABUS is probably better known for their badass locks in the states but the German company has been producing helmets since 1992. At first glance the YADD-I might look like a modernized skater helmet, but beneath the shell are air channels (ABUS named it Forced Air Cooling Technology) to suck cold air in to keep your head cool. There’s even a detachable soft visor that works just like your favorite cycling cap. Instead of using a teethed or geared retention system, ABUS uses a simple but brilliant Soft Tune System where it simply uses an elastic band to automatically adjust to the user’s head. Nine colors will be available starting this April, and that’s not counting the special edition with the flag of the City Chicago on top. Nothing against Chicago but I’d be very happy if ABUS released one with the California Bear on top.
Kenda Valkyrie ($69.95)
Admittably, Kenda is better known for their line of mountain bike tires, but the Taiwanese tire maker’s newest top road offering, the Valkyrie, aims to change that as a result of three years of development at their new R&D center in Cleveland, Ohio (Fun fact: Kenda is an official sponsor of the Cleveland Cavaliers). With the Valkryie, Kenda claims a low rolling resistance and an increased wet/dry with the use of their third generation R3C rubber compound while the new KA armor takes care of puncture protection in lieu of the more common but heavier kevlar belt. At a claimed 178g for 23c, 182g for 25c, 235g for 28c and 265g for 30c, the Valkyrie sure reads like a high-performance racing tire. The 700x23c and 25c are available now, with the 28c and 30c available around later this spring. If you’re a tubular guy, the Valkyrie has you covered too, offering 22c and 24c wrapped on a 300tpi casing, (which will cost a bit more than the clincher version). The tubeless version is also in development.
If you’ve been on a local race team for a while, I am sure you know something about ordering, actually, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, picking the right apparel maker for your next team kit. Fit parties, back and forth, and I won’t even go into the actual design of the jersey. There’s a reason that very position on my team is appropriately named the kit bitch.
But Giordana is here to streamline that process and is opening up their line of speciality apparel for customization. Your team can now order custom water-shedding G-Shield jerseys/bibs for wet days and the lightweight Sahara jerseys/bibs for hot summer days, while having access to their customized Giordana elite FR-C line of clothing if you are so inclined. The order minimum is 10 and the program includes Giordana’s own in house designer to help with the design, from a finished template to ideas still on napkins, Giordana will be able to help and all garments will be made in the same factory in Italy as the rest of the Giordana’s offerings with an average 6-8 week turnaround from start to finish.
HIA Velo/Allied Cycle Works ALFA ($2,700 frame/fork)
Perhaps the most exciting news from PressCamp and for a good reason. Think about this for a second: For $2,700, you get a sub-800 gram frame (56cm) in six sizes plus two head tube heights per size to choose from, plus lifetime warranty and factory repair service. Sounds good right? The frame is made entirely in the U.S. (Little Rock, Arkansas, to be exact) starting from the pre-preg itself. Speaking of their composites, the ALFA includes the exclusive use of Innegra fiber within its layout to have better impact resistance and helps keep the frame together shall the frame fail for safety, and just so it won’t snap into a million pieces when you stupidly crash at your next criterium in category forever 4.
For a complete bike, HIA is planning to offer a complete build starting at $4,000 with full Ultegra mechanical. 4k is a decent amount of money for a bike but a very competitive price if you’re already looking at custom U.S. made bikes.
No small details were overlooked, as evident by the metal badge here in the downtube that doubled as an access port if you choose to run a mechanical groupset by simply swapping it.
Also, if you think the paint job on the ALFA is bitchin’, that’s because it is in fact gorgeous. The in-house paint department, formerly known as SoCal’s Cyclart, definitely knows a thing or two when it comes to paint. HIA is hoping to introduce new paint finishes every week because 1: They can, and 2: Showing up to a group ride on a bike with the same bike same paint job as someone else is just not fresh.
Infinity Bike Seat ($170-$295)
I was skeptical when I first saw the seats from Infinity. If there’s a museum of awkward looking saddles, the Infinity is probably going to be there. Afterall, where is my bottom supposed to go? So I gave the Infinity a shot during the presentation and surprise surprise, nothing catastrophic happened contrary to conventional wisdom. The saddle is finicky to test and to review upon, much less in a short demonstration. But the Infinity saddle felt different than other split saddles that I’ve tried. Perhaps it’s the next big thing after the latest clipped nose saddle rage?
But seriously, though, don’t judge a seat by its (lack of) cover.
Cipollini MCM custom($3,872 frameset)
Almost a 180 degree difference from the Alfa aforementioned above, the Cipollini MCM is the Italian racer-turned-maker’s first made-to-order fame. For $3,872, you’ll get a slippery-looking carbon aero bike with custom geometry and custom finishes on a frame loaded with all the latest standards such as a tapered headtube, a BB86 bottom bracket, and mechanical/electronic shifting compatibilities. What’s more, the MCM will accommodate sizes from 44cm all the way to 63cm with tire clearance for 28C tires across the board.
While we’re on the MCM, it’s also worth mentioning the MCM2 that I feel is even more compelling. The MCM2 is currently still in the development phase and wasn’t shown at PressCamp, but it is in essence a MCM with an integrated electric motor. The current prototype is said to be around 10kg/22lbs but we should have more info on the bike soon. Hate eBikes all you want but I think the MCM2 is one of the hottest eBikes I’ve seen this year and it actually looks like a normal bike.
Don’t even think about bringing the MCM2 to your local races, though, that’s just wrong.
The Bontrager Aeolus D3 TLR Carbon Clinchers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The Aeolus D3 uses Bontrager hubs with DT Swiss internals throughout and it has been buttery smooth and problem-free this past year. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Subtle AND removable graphics on the rims mean you can go totally stealth if you so choose. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
At 67g front and 70g rear, the included Bontrager skewers are not going to win any weight weenies battle anytime soon, yet they are very comfortable in hand with a smooth and sure-footed cam action that's close to the venerable Shimano Dura-Ace offering. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Still have plenty of cork left after one year of use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Dried sealant and an inverse-patched tire patch. That's what the inside of the Bontrager R3 TLR Hard Case Lite looks like after one year of riding. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Let me make this clear: I did not expect myself to like tubeless road tires. My tubulars work just fine.
Plus, I have plenty of spare tubulars (intentionally) aging in my garage waiting for their turns.
Unfortunately, their call-ups might take longer now that I find myself enjoying, well, smitten over these Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 carbon clinchers that we’ve been playing with this past year.
But my love for tubeless road tires didn’t begin this way. In fact, it was like that very first shitty first date.
When the box showed up this past spring, I was as excited as kids running to their gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas day. Coming in at 1,439 grams (644front/795rear) with the tubeless strip pre-installed and with the tire valves, skewers, and brake pads included, the Aeolus 3 was ready to rock straight out of the box. A bit of elbow grease and voila, got some 26mm Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tubeless tires installed and off we went.
Then I got a flat on the first ride. Boo.
A 2mm cut from a piece of glass went through the tread and I had just enough air to limp back home thanks to a can of Vittoria Pitstop and pumping more air whenever I could.
It wasn’t pretty and the cleanup aftermath was a pain. Nevertheless, I was able to ride home instead of walking home.
Frustrated but undeterred, I repaired the tire following instructions from Stan’s NoTubes and the tire worked like a charm. When I finally replaced the tires about 10 months later with Schwalbe Pro One , the tires had three major repairs and a handful of cuts that would normally spell the end of a clincher tire. But each time I was able to ride home without having to put in a tube (still have to pack a tube and repair kit with tubeless). And in a few instances, I didn’t even know I punctured until I stopped for my mid-ride coffee.
They have won me over since then and they’re now my go-to wheels. Yes, I reckon my tubulars are still lighter and arguably smoother, but I did find the extra peace of mind and the convenience of road tubeless tires pretty hard to beat. I can pick and choose my tires for the ride/weather without worrying about gluing in advance.
But what about the rest of the wheel? Well, one year of abuse did not do anything to the DT-Swiss internals. They’re still smooth and quiet while the wheels remained true the entire time. The 35mm tall OCLV carbon rim also proved to be durable and comfortable throughout the test. One word of caution: the rims on the Aeolus 3 are significantly wider, measuring at 27mm on the outside with a 19.5 mm inner diameter, so make sure your bike has adequate clearance.
In the crosswind, the Aeolus 3 TLR D3 was easy to handle due to its lower rim height and rim shape, but my oh my, these wheels felt just as fast as some of the taller-rim hoops I’ve been on. Regarding the braking department, Bontrager recommends using their own cork brake pad with the wheels. While cork might lack absolute immediate stopping power, it makes up for its shortcoming by providing a very consistent and manageable lever feel that’s not so bad after getting used to it.
I also love the Aeolus’ overall minimalistic graphics. Big enough to show its maker yet not overly obnoxious as if I was a rolling billboard. And for those that want even more stealth, rejoice my friend, the decals on the rims can be easily removed since they are not water transferred decals with a clear coat on top.
If there’s any cleft with the Aeolus 3 TLR, it would be its $2,400 price tag. Pricey, yes, but a worthy prime candidate for those who are looking for those holy grail hoops for both training and racing with the added benefit of being tubeless. This is a set of hoops that could go fast without beating up the rider. I am addicted.