Post-Grinduro Bicycle Dreams

News of the North Bay fires, the possibility of toxic air and tragic stories have been filling my news feed, my mind and my heart since the moment I returned from Grinduro.

As I sat on my computer last night reading the news, I desperately needed a diversion.

So what better to occupy a bike nerd’s mind than the dream of a new bicycle.

Now, I ride a Pinarello F10 for work, so the bar is set pretty high for my two-wheeled, lust-filled dreams.

An argument can be made where you could build a “dream” gravel grinder whip for a very reasonable amount of money.

All one would have to do is to go on Craigslist and find an older mountain bike frame or even an early cyclocross frame and then start “shopping for parts.”

There are parts bins all over the planet filled with 80’s and early 90’s bits and pieces you could procure fairly cheaply and you would have a delightfully, rideable chariot to take into the back country in no time.

I know, because this was my first line of thinking. A classic Eddy Merckx cyclocross frame, some Paul Components bits and pieces and some handbuilt wheels and I would be styling and profiling at the next gravel grinder.

The problem with this plan is it misses all three of the criteria I came up with for my ultimate “adventure” bike. These three specifications became seared into my brain as I pushed my bike up the second climb, an epic piece of steep and long dirt road, of the Grinduro and baked into my pysche as I grinned all the way down the timed section of the race, an unbelievable, whippy fun piece of legitimate single track.

Requirement number one: Lightweight. I’m not young enough or fit enough to carry any more weight on myself or my bike and so being a weightweenie is going to be job one as I build my bike.

Requirement number two: Gears, gears and more gears. I have fully embraced the idea that spinning is winning. I’m no Chris Froome, but I would much rather have one more gear, rather than one less. I didn’t run out of cardio ability during the Grinduro, but I certainly ran out of gears. I won’t make this mistake again.

Requirement number three: Flat bars. I know, I know, there are advantages and disadvantages to this choice. If I were 10 or 15 years younger, I might make a different call here. If speed is your primary goal, that makes the decision even harder. There were plenty of sections of the Grinduro where the aero advantage and more aggressive decision making drop bars allow makes this a tougher decision. But I prefer the control allowed by flat bars.

Ok, with those three requirements in mind I turned to my traveling companions/beer drinking/potato chip eating/maple syrup slurping/tentmates, to find out what worked and what didn’t work in their self-selected two-wheeled wonders.

Cory Farrer, former bike shop owner, fellow inGamba employee and sexy single dad, was on a 2015 BMC Fourstroke 01 29er with 35c cross tires, SRAM XX1 and a 34t ring. 

“The bike was pretty close to perfect because for the most part, Grinduro is a mountain bike race course, but it has dual lockout and was light enough to keep up with the gravel road bikes on the rolling road section with the cross tires,” said Farrer. “Most importantly, I was having way more fun on average than people on Cross Bikes, Gravel Bikes, Hardtails, or heavier longer-travel Full Suspension mtn bikes.

“I was probably at a small disadvantage on the dirt climb because of the weight of the bike, but it probably comes in at near 20lbs the way it was set up. Not bad. I would switch out for the SRAM XX1 or Eagle to get that lower gear for the second climb and still have a high enough gear for the road.”

“I think I would also go with fatter tires, seeing as how the road gravel bikes almost all had much fatter rubber than I did, and I had to be concerned about burping a tire or destroying my rims at the speeds we were going on the 35c cross tires. Mainly though the thing I would do differently is not show up fat and out of shape again. Or old.”

Andrew Pollack, mountain bike racer, designer and Lily’s dad was on a 2016 Lynskey titanium 650b hardtail, XC Schwalbe Racing Ralphs, 100mm front fork, XX1 34t ring. 

“I felt this setup was darn near prefect for this event,” said Pollack. “I had some issues with my fit on the bike that I was able to resolve mid-race, but other than that I felt the lightweight XC flatbar hardtail was the way to go.”

“Riding that with drop bars would have crushed my soul.”

“The shot of whiskey I was gifted before the single track was also helpful.”

“And I agree with Cory, the Eagle would have been nice.”

Ted King, soon-to-be husband to Laura Spencer, former roommate of Thor Hushovd and Ivan Basso, trumpeter of all things maple (read: Untapped) was on a Cannondale SuperX with Clement 40c, Zipp 303s, SRAM 1x. 

“The expression “run whataya brung” is appropriate for Grinduro,” said King. “It’s such a motley collection of steeds — cross, mountain, gravel, and garaged tinkered together frankenbikes — and yet quite frankly no bike is perfect for Grinduro. I’m blessed to have a whole bunch of bikes in my garage so I have more than average options from which to bring.”

“I opted for the Cannondale SuperX, which was sweet. Having let a friend borrow my Cannondale Slate, which truth be told might be the perfect bike for the job, I was down to either this gravel maniac, the SuperX, or my full suspension Scalpel. This bike is set up with a SRAM 1x drivetrain, 44t in the front and a vast 10-42t cassette in the rear. I had speedy Zipp 303s with Clement 40c tires run tubeless. A Quarq powermeter and Speedplay Syzrs rounded out the drivetrain with a Zipp cockpit. Light, fast, and dreamy looking? This is your bike.”

“The first 1 mile climb was perfect. I had a respectable time and with just the slightest scent of the previous night’s IPA on my breath, I was pleased with a top 5. The next section was a six mile twisty, turny, loose gravel fireroad descent. Given the level of competition, again, I was stoked with… I think 4th place? 6th? I forget, but I was pleased.”

“The paved 4 mile rolling section was basically a TTT. With an average power somewhere in the high 400s, I went into this stage confident I had the ideal tool for the job. It was! The race just featured a few more coy racers who jumped into our group after hiding at the start and gamed the system to perfection. I did pump the impressively heated sprint, so again, this bike was the cat’s pajamas.”

“Let’s not kid ourselves, the final 3 mile descent was straight up downhill material. This wasn’t meant for a cross bike, nor gravel bike, a cross country MTB would be great and a downhill bike would take top honors. I think I did it by 20 or so seconds. Being a frenetic roadie, I was happy to a) finish with my bones intact and b) have a top 15 finish. That’s where the race was won, so maybe in 2018 I would run a hardtail mountain bike, so that I could skim through the first three stages and hammer the finale.”

“Or not. The SuperX was super sweet and I think that could be the bike of the day for fun alone. And that’s what this day was about.”

Nate Ripperton, who once climbed Mt. Tam like 27 times in a single day to win a pair of shoes, promoter of proper (Osmo) hydration and maker of secret routes was on a Santa Cruz Highball 29er.

I rode my Cruz Highball since I don’t own a gravel bike. I was under the (what turned out to be false) impression that “Grinduro” would need a “gravel-grinder.”

“However, I think a hardtail mtb is perfect. I had 40c Rambler tires from Maxxis on there, per recommendations from Ted King and Rebecca Rusch, that this was the fastest rolling tire with a bit of tread.”

“One additional bonus of riding my 6-year-old Santa Cruz was that it was built and spec’d before the current modern era of 1x drive chains and came equipped with the tried and true triple chain ring, replete with the old-fashioned granny gear. That was really nice on the last climb when a lot of people were walking. And it provided the added benefit of not spinning like an wacko during the road section while sitting at the back of the group led Ted, who was doing his pro Ted thing.”

“I would probably consider even wider tires next year as it seems that most of the time is to be gained would be on the downhill gravel road section and the single track sections.”

Decisions need to be made.

Will it be SRAM Eagle or maybe a sweet Shimano XTR Di2 build? Will it be a frame from one of the whips in the newly minted “gravel” segment, like the Open U.P. or U.P.P.E.R. or the 3T Exploro or a blinged-out, Ted King recommended Cannondale Slate.

Or will I put a flatbar on a bike like the Ridley X-Trail or the Santa Cruz Stigmata or one of those Niner RLT RDO which helped fuel the whole genre to begin with.

Holy shit cakes, I still haven’t added in the possible. Hardtail and dual-suspension mountain bikes, both in 29er and 27.5 wheel sizes. And what about cyclocross bikes like the Specialized Crux or endurance road bike likes the Trek Domane?

And wouldn’t the Pinarello GAN GRS Disk make a great platform for this quest, with its built in rear end suspension and built in room for some big fat tires?

Tires?

Rims?

Carbon?

Tubeless?

Damn it, I haven’t even started thinking about tires or pedals or saddles or grips.

Maybe a dropper post?

Oh yeah, and do I really want a flat bar?

Let the journey begin.


Product We Can’t Believe Didn’t Get Funded

We here at Element.ly are big fans of the American Dream.

We love have always loved the tinkerers, the hackers, the romantics and the hopers.

And the bike industry seems to attracts its fair sharer of those searching to be a part of an industry founded on the idea all you need is a great idea and some hardwork. No where is this more evident than on the back aisles at Interbike and the multiple pages of the crowd funding site Kickstarter.

Of course, not all that glitters is gold. Not all “great” ideas end of being great. And sometimes great ideas don’t float to the top because they are before their time, poorly presented, just can’t find their market or, sadly, have no market.

We decided to go take a look at some Kickstarters which failed to crack the wallets of the bicycle enthusiasts.


Veloloop

The team at Veloloop was looking to raise $84,000 to help you trigger those pesky traffic lights. It uses a patented circuit, powered by AAA batteries, to let the traffic light know you are there and a red light on the Veloloop turns from flashing to solid when the Veloloop triggers the traffic light.

It turns out there were only about $10,000 worth of backers who considered this a big enough problem to strap another battery operated thing-a-ma-jig to their bikes to solve it.

If we commuted in a city filled with traffic lights then maybe we would have been one of them.


Pingbell

The designers at Pingbell werelooking for a little over $45,000 to help you find your bicycle when the bike rack gets crowded or, more likely, after a long night of vodka and Red Bulls.

You just need to launch the app on your phone and tell it to alert you where you parked your whip by having it ring the bell. There was also a blinking light function “if you don’t want to wake up the neighbors just blink the light.”

And as an added bonus, it also functions like a normal bell.

Unfortunately, they were only able to get around $15,000 of their needed funding.

Ring. Ring.


Quikbyke Q•pod

The group behind Quikbyke Q•pod wanted to bring mobile e-bike rentals to your hometown.

Actually, they were promoting the idea as a way for you to bike up north in the summer and move your business to warmer climates in the winter.

Unfortunately, they needed to raise $275,000 to make this happen and they could only come up with $5665 in Kickstarter backing.

It could be that they were lost in the landslide of electric bicycle Kickstarter ideas.

It seems like every other bike idea on the platform includes the current electric bicycle business buzz.


Widerun

The kids at Widerun wanted to do a mashup between bicycling, virtual reality and gaming.

“Designed to deliver engaging fitness sessions through VR headsets and external screens. It delivers a responsive, immersive, biking experience with unlimited virtual 3D worlds featuring games and bike tracks.” – Widerun

They needed $40,000 to help you put your Occulus Rift to work in your garage, so you wouldn’t have to “stare at the wall.”

But they were virtually $15,000 short of making it happen.

Maybe they just need to add a few roadside bombs and some zombies?


High Bar

The inventor at High Bar needed $50,000 to allow riders to stand straight up on exercise bicycles.

He raised exactly zero dollars on his Kickstarter.

But that video.

Spot on.


Lancelock Titanium Chainmail

The fellas at Lancelock Titanium Chainmail were looking to make your bicycle as theft proof as titaniumly possible.

They used the word “chainmail” as part of their naming convention.

Unfortunately, it appears they were up against an already saturated market.

They were looking for $50,000 dollars and could only secure $603.


Bicycle Porter

The “cycling enthusiast” at Bicycle Porter were out to shake up the bicycle cargo carrier market place.

They needed $2000 to bring their aerodynamic, lightweight and extensively tested Porter, but were only able to extract $139.50 from the Kickstarter community.


Riding under the Supermoon

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9:05 p.m.: Ask and the gate shall be opened. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:01 p.m.: A rather chilly mid-ride break. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:45 p.m.: Late night posing at Marincello. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:47 p.m. On our way home with just a tiny bit of San Francisco looming over the hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:25 a.m.: Midnight regroup/goodbye at the Conzelman roundabout. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:31 a.m.: A few of us continue to climb to the top of Hawk Hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:34 a.m.: The view from above. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:14 a.m. Can only go as far as you can see in the dark. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It essentially started along the lines of “It’s supermoon this weekend… let’s do a night ride.”

Okay.

I was itching to ride, but after photographing three days of post-election protests with a bit of teargas thrown in, my body was telling me to just sleep. But wait, I have a mandatory baby shower for Saturday. Life of being a grown up.

But it worked out. Got home just in time to make dinner for the family and suit up in time for the 8:30PM meet up at Golden Gate Park.

Other than the occasional bike commute at night, I must admit that I’ve never done a full-blown night ride. So yes, the unknown excitement was just brewing and I wanted to ride and make a photo. Or two.

As we slowly rolled through the Richmond district, we picked up a few more friends to form a group of nine. It was more than just a night ride now. It was a freaking party. Amongst us were 29ers, cross bikes, gravel bikes, full-suspensions, hardtail, 26ers, and even a (vintage?) 1994 rigid Merlin with fenders original WTB cantilever brakes. Despite different wheel sizes, fitness levels and ages, we rode as a group and got along just fine. It was definitely a welcoming sight to behold after all the divisive politics in the air.

Here comes the view of the Golden Gate Bridge that we just crossed, then there’s Downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge just a bit out at a distance. Damn, that view never gets old.

After a quick dirt refresher down Coastal and what must have been a 15 degree temperature difference, we were all too eager to connect to Miwok. A friend suggested that we all turn off our headlights somewhere around there. Miwok is more or less a wide fire road so it’s not even remotely technical but I thought the dude was crazy.

We did it anyway.

One by one, we turned off our headlights and soon enough we were literally riding with just the moonlight. It was so dark that 8000 ISO and a 35mm F/1.4 lens meant nothing. But over time, the supermoon brought out this surreal luminous landscape, with our shadows and the occasional view of the City just looming just far enough for us to gawk at. We rode in complete silence for a few minutes, taking it all in with only the sound of our tires gripping the trail beneath us. It was glorious.

Eventually we worked our way into Tennessee Valley, rode Marincello and went back to the headlands via Bobcat. In keeping with the fun, we kept our lights off for the climbs and went full power on the descents.

11:47 p.m. On our way home with just a tiny bit of San Francisco looming over the hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It was already past midnight when we slowly cruised up for the final break/photo op up at Hawk Hill before we bombed down Conzelman with lights blazing again to trek across the deserted Golden Gate Bridge. Bridge control must have seen us coming because the gate opened up before we even managed to push the button. Thanks guys!

12:34 a.m.: The view from above. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It was a little after 1am when I pulled into my garage. My headlight ran out of juice two blocks from home and my Garmin just so happened to lose the ride but the ride really brought back all my childhood memories of just going out and exploring on my bike for hours. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt so strongly after a simple ride.

Plus, being able to talk smack while suffering with friends is a major plus too.

12:55 a.m. Jeff making sure no one gets dropped. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Relive InterBike

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Welcome to InterBike 2016! Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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PURPLE PURPLE MORE PURPLE PLEASE Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Everyone seems to be making their own cycling computers these days but one thing that caught my attention about this Stages Dash computer is its claim of 30-hour battery life. Hey, you can now record your entire 24 hr bike race in one charge! Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Shouldn't this fall under the e-motorcycle category? Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Otso Voytek got a good buzz throughout the show. Carbon frame that can take 27.5+ or 29+ AND up to 26 x 4.6” tires on 70 mm rims? Sign me up. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Lightweight's amazingly light Meilenstein has finally gone disc. The Meilenstein C Disc is a thing of beauty but was a bit disappointed to find out the rim width is still 20mm external and 17.8mm internal. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Giro's Factor Techlace sure looked different but it made a lot of sense after checking it out at the booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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I have to admit I was drawn to the Orbea booth by the dazzle paint job on this prototype Terra gravel bike. Looks even better in person. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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A 3D-printed Syntace FlatForce stem and a real Syntace FlatForce stem photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Let's admit it, skinsuit is a pain to put on. But Giordana might have an answer with their Quick On zippered suit system. More aero than a bib/jersey combo but easier and more versatile than a traditional skinsuit. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Dario Pergoretti's paint work never ceases to impress and this Responsorium in Ravenna finish is just so fresh. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Just can't get enough of this 3T Exploro. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Slovenia-based Unior tools might not be a household brand here in the States, but they've been around since 1919 and chances are you will see the tools a lot more in the States this coming year. photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Australia-based Knog brought their newest Oi bell to Interbike. It's dramatically different than one's image of a bell, but it's an interesting take just like their line of LED blinker lights. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Old-school-esque e-bike, anyone? photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Poor tire, its one and only job is just to be poked. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

We had a glitch on the site in the days after InterBike, so this post is way past due but the unplanned slow down also meant more time to relive this year’s InterBike

While the gallery above is going to highlight all the fun stuff… Below are the observations from the show floor.

– First, the appointments. I got smart this year and did a bunch of appointments in advance to check out offerings from various brands. So my InterBike was more structured, with shots of adrenaline from random drive-bys to booths I didn’t know much about.

– The buzz I kept hearing was “it’s pretty quiet this year.” Well, that was true. The show was smaller than last year’s. I honestly could have just spent a day there. One industry veteran commented on how he/she was checking out people’s badges and noticed there weren’t as many buyers at the show as there used to be, and he/she would be pretty pissed if they got a booth… All about the ROI, guys.

– On the outskirts of the show floor was arguably where the fun was… I got a pitch about a solar USB charger stating “looks like you can use one of those” during day one. At the other end of the hall was also a booth that sells handheld electric massage devices. The massage device booth definitely saw an uptake in traffic on Thursday, possibly due to the walking from day one on the floor + CrossVegas hangover collab.

It's true. Someone tried to sell me this solar usb charger during the show. Photo:Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Really thought the days of scantily-clad booth women were a thing of past. But I was wrong. I mean, okay, sex (allegedly) sells. But wouldn’t money be better spent on making a better product instead of having models promoting shitty products (and offending the female attendees while at it)?

Amount of broken arms/legs: It dawned on me during day two that there were quite a few people in slings/braces. Guess adventure shows must have a few of those around. As one rep put it “they’re getting after it”.

Reception of e-Bike: Last year was all about e-bike bashing and all of a sudden e-bikes are the future this year.

Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

The international aisle. Probably the quieter, less buzz sections but everyone there was pretty cool to talk to (knowing Mandarin and Cantonese definitely helped) and they really deserve more recognition for their efforts of travelling across the globe to Las Vegas to showcase their products, whether it’s the gazillion lights, matte carbon fiber parts, or aluminum parts in all the imaginable anodized colors one can possibly dream of.

Three spokes, five spokes, no spoke, the international isle have got you covered. photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Best snack from the show: Vanilla Ice Cream at the Skratch booth made with their new recovery drink mix. Not only was the line 4,000 times shorter than the Starbucks line outside but it was also freaking delicious. Way different than the typical “come by our booth for free booze” hook too.

Last thing I did at the show: tried an e-bike at the rep’s prudent suggestion, only to make it 30 plus feet before a security guard rolled up and warned “no biking on the show floor”. Returned the bike to the booth, walked down the aisle, and was greeted by two bros zipping past on motorized scooters.


OMG, the New Shimano Dura-Ace Is Here

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The all-new Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 Hydraulic group. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace FC-R9100 crankset. You'll have the chainring choices of 50/34, 52/36 and 53/39 while crank arms will be offered from 165 to 180mm in 2.5mm increments. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P powermeter crankset. Notice the small black module near the top center of the crank arm. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic front derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic front derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

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The mechanical front derailleur, notice the lack of the long cable arm and much more compact design compared to the previous iteration. photo: Shimano

The mechanical rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

The mechanical rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

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Redesigned standard rim brake caliper, notice the quick-release assembly is now tucked in into the arm. Clean. photo: Shimano

Redesigned Direct Mount rim brake caliper. photo: Shimano

Redesigned Direct Mount rim brake caliper. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91000 Shift/brake lever for standard brake caliper and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R9120 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91050 Shift/brake lever for standard caliper brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91070 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano

The new textured STI lever hood. photo: Shimano

The new textured STI lever hood. photo: Shimano

Flat Mount Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers. photo: Shimano

Flat Mount Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers. photo: Shimano

SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza disc brake rotor. photo: Shimano

SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza disc brake rotor. photo: Shimano

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Updated Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedal. Gone is the replaceable top plate and addition of hollow channels on both sides, presumed to shave more grams. photo: Shimano

And it’s a doozy.

You’ve seen spy shots, heard rumors, and might have even seen the official teaser (which more or less gave it away with the site aptly named www.duraace.com).

But yes, Shimano announced their new flagship road drivetrain group. The Dura-Ace R9100 series.

It’s still 11-speed driven with a metal chain, but the devil is in the detail, so let’s see what’s up with this grouppo.

Crankset

At first glance, it’s easy to point out that the FC-R9100 crankset has an (even) bigger crankarms, a darker finish (instead of the two tone silver/black) than the previous generation, but there’s much more under the hood. Returning are the four-bolt, Hollowtech II crankarm construction, but the chainrings profile has been reworked with a slightly wider spacing to accommodate frames with disc brakes and shorter chainstays. It’s also seven grams lighter and thank goodness the spindle remained the same at 24mm that we’ve come to love, or loathe, depending on who you talk to.

Integrated powermeter

Shimano is going to shake up the already crowded powermeter market a bit by offering their own power-measuring crankset, the FC-R9100-P. We haven’t seen much of the actual unit but we were told it’s a waterproof, dual-sided unit (powered by a single rechargeable battery) with an accuracy of +/- 2%. Communication will be done via your typical ANT+ and Bluetooth so you can use whatever head unit you have.

Mechanical system

On the cable-actuated side, the front derailleur (FD-R9100) has been reworked so that gone is the long lever arm. The light shift action remains but the action is much more compact, and cable management is said to be much easier.  Shimano has also integrated the tension adjuster right into the unit, so bye bye barrel adjuster. In the rear, the RD-R9100 borrowed the proven Shadow design from Shimano’s mountain bike derailleurs for a lower profile (no words on the possibility of any aero benefit – yet), direct mount capability, as well as better survivability in case of a crash (because shit happens). The hanger pulleys are also new, with a slightly longer toothing. To control the mechanical drivetrain, two models of STI levers will be offered. the ST-R9100 for standard caliper brakes and the ST-R9120 for hydraulic discs. The overall lever shapes remain more or less the same but with smaller detail upgrades such as textured hood tops (ala Campagnolo), and a claimed 14% shorter lever movement and 24% faster gear shift. It’s all about those marginal gains, dude.

Di2

Now that we’re done talking about the mechanical side of things, let’s talk about the Di2 system. Again, borrowing from the XTR Di2 MTB group, synchronized shifting is now available with the new Dura-Ace 9150 Di2 group. Besides the standard synchro mode where the computer shifts the front chainring while the user shifts the rear up and down the cassette, the new “semi” synchro model basically flips it the other way around where the user controls the front chain ring while the computer shifts the rear to keep a consistent cadence. Pretty novel concept, don’t you think? Hardware wise, the new rear derailleur (RD-R9150) will receive the shadow treatment similar to its mechanical brethren while the front derailleur (FD-R9150) remains largely the same.

Ultegra 6870 and Dura-Ace 9070 owners rejoice

New firmware is coming  to your existing 11-speed Di2 groups this November so the synchro shift option is there if you so please.

Two more things on Di2

The lowly but oh so important cable junction box got a makeover and now there’s the option of having it integrated into compatible frames and handlebar ends for a cleaner appearance. Sure beats having a tiny black box at the bottom of your stem. While Shimano didn’t go full wireless like SRAM eTap, Shimano is releasing a wireless junction box, the EW-WU111, made to enable programming of the Di2 system from a tablet or phone (instead of a pc), as well as to those who want to transfer drivetrain data to computers for better visualization.

Derailleur

Unfortunately, the clutched Shadow Plus derailleur did not make it into the group.

Brakes

As expected, Shimano didn’t stop making caliper brakes while launching their first Dura-Ace disc brake. And as if the previous Dura-Ace brake is not good enough, the new brake calipers have been updated for even more stopping power and clearance (thank you) for 28C tires. For the hydraulic brakes side of things, however, it’s completely new. The hydraulic caliper utilizes the Flat Mount mounting system for a smaller footprint while a wider pad clearance was made to further minimize rubbing. The most visually-striking part of the brake system, though, has got to be the new SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza rotor. While the stainless steel braking surface remains, the rotor’s aluminum inner core now extends out as one continuous piece towards the center for better a 30% heat reduction. And similar to its predecessor, it will only be offer with Centerlock mount in 140mm and 160mm diameter, just big enough to double as a pizza cutter and throwing star (but don’t tell the UCI about that)

Chain

It’s the same CN-HG901-11 with the tool-free connecting link. Nothing new here.

Cassette

Not much different other than the new 11-30 cassette combo. Let’s hope the dreaded cracked cassette syndrome is done and over with.

Pedals

The overall design is the same as any other SPD-SL pedals but the new PD-R9100 pedals are now 24.5 grams lighter and now shipped with hollow cleat bolts (ProTip: Use good hex keys).

Wheels?

Well, that’s another department deserving of a separate post. But yes, there are redesigned hoops in various materials and forms

Price and availability

The full R9100 mechanical group will be available this September for $2029.92. The R9100/R9120 mechanical/hydro brake group will come at $2354.90; The R9150 Di2 group will $3046.85 whereas the R9150/R9170 Di2 with hydraulic brakes will cost the most at $3137.90. Yea, there’s actually four similar, but different groupsets this time around within the Dura-Ace family.


We Love Aluminum Frames, and You Should Too

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eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.

As a kid I drooled over a Klein Quantum Pro with that badass orange paint job, or the flaming red Cannondale CAAD Cipollini rode. There’s a certain beauty to fat tubed, smooth welding frame that just screams come at me bro.

Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.

The Low Down

Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.

Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.

Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.

Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.

The Interview

Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.

It’s just how you shape the tubes.

Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.

How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.

Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.

Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”

That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.

Uphill or downhill: Downhill.

Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop

Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.

Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.

What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.

Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.

Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.

Anything else you’d like to add: Buy my bikes!


Rapha Climber’s Shoes Are The Kicks You’ve Been Looking For

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/Element.ly
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/Element.ly

I’m vain. You are too. Admit it. You don’t like it when someone compliments your bike or your kit? You lie. Cyclists are the peacocks of the sporting world.

From my first ride with Rapha’s Climber’s shoes, I was in love, because my buddy noticed them immediately. Sure, they performed well too, but I was expecting that. Anyone making high-end cycling products that don’t work flawlessly in 2016 should be ashamed of themselves. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to functionality. When it comes to fashion, however, it can often be slim pickings.

Designed in conjunction with Giro, they combine the latest technology from the American shoe and helmet maker—such as the uber-stiff EC90 SLXII sole—with classic looks that match right up with the Rapha aesthetic. The perforated body is a nod to shoes of yesteryear, while the simple velcro straps provide a nice, uncluttered appearance on top.

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/Element.ly
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/Element.ly

The British brand’s minimalist offering differs significantly from their GT model, providing a pared back option for the rider looking for a fast, comfortable, good-looking shoe without any bells or whistles. The Climber model weighs in at 215g compared to the 320g GT version, and comes with three velcro straps instead of the ratchet or wire closure systems popular with other manufacturers.

They don’t look very “technical”—industry speak for designed in the dark—but they’ll perform with the best of ’em. Nothing fancy, nothing loud, just comfortable kicks you can put on and forget about. Some people might like something flashier, and that’s fine. If you like metallic colored shoes covered in flags and logos, go for it. Whatever floats your boat. But for yours truly, these were just the ticket. Understated, functional and lightweight—the holy trinity of desirable characteristics for any (wannabe) stylish cyclist. Now if only it were warm enough to take these pesky shoe-covers off.


Snuggle Into These Winter Sockies to Keep Your Feet Warm and Dry

Gore-Tex socks. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

I love my Gore-Tex socks. I have been wearing them in the rain. And in the cold. And in the cold rain. And my feet have never been cold or wet.

Well, there was that one time I got caught in the rain. The water ran down my legs and into these socks, but even though my feet were riding in a pool of water, my toes still never actually got cold. It was like a little hot tub in there.

Yes, my feet do have a tendency to sweat in them on the warmer rainy rides and I would guess in snowy conditions this could create a problem on really long rides. But, I am sticking with what I said before. I love these socks.

They are waterproof, windproof, breathable and have a touch of reflective material. If you ride in the cold and rain, do not delay, get some sockies for you toesies.


These Ibex El Fito Knickers Are Magic

The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly
The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly.

As the snow starts to fly and temps continue to drop like Jeb Bush’s poll numbers, I find myself re-learning how to dress for winter on the bike. While the time tested mantra of layer layer layer is always in season, one piece of kit has changed how I look at the short days and long sleeves of winter.

The Ibex El Fito knickers are almost always codling my backsides in the cold season, not just because they are warm, but because they are as adaptable as a politician in New Hampshire. They are a blend of Merino wool, Spandex and Clima-wool softshell material, and this combo keeps the legs warm while wicking moisture and allowing freedom of movement. From 30º up to 60º, they simply disappear, regardless of the conditions. Below 30º or in the wet, a baggy short worn over keeps things cozy down into the teens. Wool is magic.

The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly
The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/Element.ly.

The chamois on the El Fito is a mixed bag and a mixed blessing. It too is made from a wool blend, meaning it doesn’t stink after a one-hour ride, and can be worn a few times between washings if you’re ok with that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the chamois just isn’t as comfortable as many high end shorts, and after four or five hours in the saddle, distress signals begin arriving from below. Following the advice of some friends, I took a seam ripper and carefully removed the chamois from one pair and simply wear my shorts of choice under the Ibex on long rides.

The El Fitos come in both a bib and plain knicker ($145/$185), I own both and am looking forward to plenty of riding this El Nino winter.


Review: Your Rear Will Love This Fabric Cell Elite Saddle

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Fabric Cell Elite saddle in Blue. The translucent top just glows in the light. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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At 155mm at its widest, the Cell Elite has plenty of cushy real estate for your rear. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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The top view of the Fabric Cell Elite Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

At first glance, the Fabric Cell Elite looks like a normal saddle with a bright-colored top. Well, it’s much more than that. And if you’ve never heard of Fabric, you should.

Launched in 2014 by the founder behind the hugely popular UK brand Charge Bikes, Fabric has in a short time brought on quite a few innovative products: The striking carbon ALM saddle designed in collaboration with Airbus, the Chamber multi-tool, and the cageless water bottle system. The Fabric guys are obviously onto something.

The Cell, in true Fabric fashion, is not your ordinary comfort saddle. No gel, no cutouts, no crazy amount of padding.

Beneath that opaque waterproof cover is a trick air-cell that acts as an air spring just like those neon Nike Air Max 95s you wanted so bad when you were young. Unlike the pressurized air cell in running shoes where an unfortunate puncture will spell it’s premature demise, the Cell’s airsprung will not be affected even if its polyurethane top is punctured or torn. ‘Cause you know, stuff happens.

A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

My first ride on the saddle was during a wet cyclocross race (tells you how much I love the saddle that came with the bike) and my initial thought was it’s one bitchin’ saddle. I was a bit skeptical on the effectiveness of the air cell core and that slight noise it made when I squeezed it with my hands. However, I never heard a thing when I was out on rides. And the air cell? It works. Not only does it act as a nice landing during my remounts, but the top has just the right amount of grip even in the rain. One extra credit for the Cell’s nylon base is that it makes post ride clean up a whole lot faster. Just rinse and repeat.

It’s been a month since the Cell was bolted onto my bike and it’s such a comfortable ride it’s staying on there. Its generous 155mm-wide platform reminded me of the old WTB SST (with a different cushion feel, of course.) Oh, and it’s a unique looking saddle that’s not black or white (Fabric does offer a black and opaque top).

At 354 grams, The Cell elite is not going to win a weightweenie contest; it’s not what it’s designed for. It’s one heck of a saddle for all it’s intended purpose, though. Super comfortable, a clean look, plus the price is right at around $65 with 6 different color ways to match your steed.