Rapha’s Flyweight glasses equal heavyweight style

In the beginning, there were goggles. Military-style flying goggles made of glass and leather, designed to protect the riders’ eyes from dust … and judging from the photos of the era, the discarded cigarette butts of their rivals, too.

Then, came Fausto Coppi, when stylish offerings by Persol and Rayban gave the peloton some Hollywood sheen. This was surely cycling’s Peak Fashion: an age of slicked-back hair, slender steel bicycles and elegant wool jerseys in block colors.

The ’80s were still an innocent time, when Greg LeMond and his Oakley Eyeshades seemed modern and fun, before we knew what genuine sartorial sin really looked like. If only we could have stopped the clock then, before Mario Cipollini and Marco Pantani, with their garish Brikos. Before the dawn of Oakley’s “Over The Tops,” perhaps the most aptly named piece of kit in cycling history.

Alas, it was another disgraceful decade before the sport’s purveyors of ocular apparel got their collective shit together. Before a word like “cool” ever applied to your riding wardrobe.

Of course, fashion is transient, and we might well wretch when we look at all of our cycling selfies 10 years from now, but it’s hard not to look at a pair of POC DO Blades or Oakley Jawbreakers and think that they’ll still have a certain air of retro charm for the next generation.

They will be second place however, at least in this guy’s opinion, to Rapha’s Pro Team Flyweights, which manage to combine some retro charm with uber-modern styling and high-quality materials into one of the raciest, boldest eyewear options on the market.

The Carl Zeiss lens is made in Italy and coated with a protective treatment, making it scratch resistant and easy to clean. They usually look great, even after a long, grubby ride. And there’s a selection of five different styles, covering every conceivable weather condition.

For the racers, their svelte 25-gram weight will appeal. The way they sit, and their frameless lens design, makes it easy to forget you’re wearing them. They’re also super aero (if that’s your thing), and after a few months’ worth of testing in rain and shine, I can say they are excellent at staying clear, free of fog, and dispersing water. But all of that is secondary, because they look awesome, especially with the standard, bronze mirror lens. And isn’t that all we really care about anyway?

Not exactly cheap at $220, but that’s the ballpark cost of high-end shades these days. There is only one problem: The hard case comes with a space for two extra lenses. Damn the budget – those spots must be filled. And if you’ll excuse the pun, I already have my eyes on a couple.


Cross over to the SuperX

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Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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More of that slick finish on the all-carbon disc fork. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Toptube logo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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The SuperX utilizes Shimano's flatmount for both front and rear disc brakes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Schwalbe's excellent X-One knobbies were fast and predictable. I just wish they were tubeless ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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The Shimano 105/RS505 levers worked brilliantly but the slight bulge inside the hood was a bit awkward. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Grippy Cannondale gel bar tape. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Fabric's excellent Scoop Shallow Elite was comfortable and easy to clean. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Just can't get enough of that paint job. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Instead of the heavy stock wheels, we spent half of our test period using a pair Stan's ZTR Avion Team and the difference was night and day. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

You’re probably asking why I’m reviewing a ‘cross bike now that cross season is all but over.

But hear me out for a few minutes here.

After InterBike (I know, so long ago), I was told that a SuperX was on its way directly from the show floor and I was stoked! I’ve been hearing a lot of great positive things about the SuperX and simply couldn’t wait to give it a run. But before I got the package, I got called out to cover the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So the wife had fun lugging the giant box into the garage. Thank goodness the bike was light.

When I got back from the fire, the box was sitting there taking up all the space in the garage, but wait, there’s a crack in the box. Let’s see which SuperX we have here:

It was the SuperX 105 with arguably the best paint job in the entire line up. I mean, just look at the fork.

But I am not here to review paint jobs and how much it weighs. I want to ride it and maybe abuse it a little to see how much it can or can’t do.

Fast forward to February 2017, the bike is now on its way back to Cannondale and I am sad to say that I am smitten with the SuperX.

Compared to a lot of cross offerings on the market, the SuperX has a rather different geometry than most in such that the headtube notably has more slack (71 degrees) with the fork using a bit more offset. This results in the bike handling nicely on low speed technical stuff yet staying rock steady as speeds head north. I took the SuperX to the Super Moon ride (in the dark) and the more time I spent riding it, the more I realized how much confidence-inspiring the SuperX is even when I was essentially riding blindly with merely the moonlight. Its carbon fiber frame will take all your lines and soak up all your mistakes comfortably.

On the race course, the SuperX takes loose off-camber turns like a champ and the 42.2 cm short chain stay feels agile with plenty of traction at the wheel. The thru-axles (10×100 front, 12×142 rear) also make a difference on long twisty descents when I use it as a gravel bike. Speaking of riding gravel, while the SuperX is a pure-breed cyclocross race bike at heart, it will do gravel very nicely.

Now, I know Cannondale offers a bona fide gravel bike, the Slate, but I don’t care. The SuperX is arguably lighter (our test bike was weighed at a respectable 19.5lbs) and better as a gravel bike than using the Slate as a cross bike, plus I can still use my old wheels as long as 1: they’re disc and thru-axle compatible, and 2: able to re-dish the rear wheel 6mm toward the non-drive side to play nicely with the SuperX’s asymmetrical chain stay (they call it Asymmetric Integration (Ai)).

The stock Maddux 2.0 wheels, though, were a bit of a disappointment. They are tubeless ready alright, but they felt sluggish as if the bike got bogged down by a pair of boat anchors. For comparison sake, I swapped the stock hoops with a pair of Stans’ ZTR Avion Pro (of course I re-dished the rear), a $2,300 upgrade that costs as much as the SuperX 105 itself but the difference was night and day as if the red bull got its wings.

So my suspicion was confirmed: With a good set of race wheels, the SuperX will fly.

And Cannondale, the Schwalbe X-One tires had just about everything I had hoped for in an all-around cross rubber: Plenty of traction and rolls fast, but why not throw in the tubeless version instead? And while I am going to nitpick here, I am just going to say that I am not a fan of the shape of the 105/RS505 hydraulic STI shift brake lever. Functionally, it worked beautifully but the bulbous bulge located inside the lever just never felt right.

So if you’re still wondering why I am writing about a cross bike in February, it’s because…

She stole my heart and I’m ready for cross season to be all season long.


Wahoo Elemnt: Short on vowels, big on functionality

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Bike computers are my kryptonite. Yes, even Garmins. I know I’m in a tiny minority on that one, but they’ve always bugged the hell out of me. I can never stop the beeping. Ever. And the problem has gotten the worse the better the computers have become.

No matter how hard I try to work the wireless syncing, I always end up dragging ride files from the unit with a USB cable and dropping them into Strava. I have no patience left. I don’t want to learn how to sync anything. I want to be petulant. I’m proud to be a luddite.

All of this is undoubtedly a user issue. A bicycle version of PEBKAC, as in, problem exists between keyboard and chair. This problem exists between bar-mount and saddle. I know this. But I don’t care. I have no interest in the Quantified Self. I know I suck. I don’t need a computer for confirmation.

Part of the issue is device overload. Life these days can seem like little more than hopping from one screen to the next. Laptops, phones, tablets, smart watches, wi-fi kettles, intelligent fridges … I’m genuinely convinced that someone I know is going to become a real life Theodore Twombly – Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the film Her, who falls in love with his OS – in the next few years. I have some suspicions that it’s happened already.

I’m not going to start talking to the Wahoo Elemnt, but I am smitten. The simple screen is crystal clear and always visible, no matter what conditions you find yourself in, and the uncomplicated interface belies serious functionality. There’s all kinds of connectivity with Bluetooth 4, ANT+, and Wi-Fi, including automatic uploads to social media or everyone’s favorite ride-tracking site, and alerts for incoming calls and messages.

Route directions come with eye-catching color-coded alerts on the LEDs on the side of the unit; if you see those red lights, you’ve made a wrong turn. The LEDs are also customizable to indicate performance and exertion levels. Wahoo claim that it’s waterproof up to five feet, which means that unless you’re the sort who washes their bike in the deep end of a swimming pool, you should be ok. And the battery lasts for ages, even when it’s giving turn-by-turn directions. When used for more basic purposes like data and ride-tracking, it should last for several outings without a charge.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

The monochrome display, which is not touchscreen, will be a deal-breaker for some, and a boon for others. Were it not for its myriad features and excellent connectivity, you might call that low-fi. As an overall package, I prefer to think of it as paired back. No computer on the market is easier to set-up or personalize, thanks to its accompanying app, which also checks for updates and warns you if the battery is low. You just pair it quickly with a QR code and unless you want to individualize the info displayed on screen, the process is practically done. And though it’s obviously subjective, I also found it easier to use on the bike. Is it a match for the mighty Garmin? It’s another option. A fool-proof one. Which is great news, for fools like me.


Have extra kidney, need Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 Wheels

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The Bontrager Aeolus D3 TLR Carbon Clinchers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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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

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Subtle AND removable graphics on the rims mean you can go totally stealth if you so choose. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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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

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Still have plenty of cork left after one year of use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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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.


Showers Pass will take whatever Mother Nature is Giving

 

Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

If you are attracted to the idea of spending a wet winter bicycle commuting in comfort and safety, the affordable Showers Pass Club Pro Jacket, a heavier-duty shell fit for layering on the bike, could be a great cornerstone of your regular getup. Yet if you are looking for an on-off stowable jacket for conditions that evolve over the course of a recreational ride, you might want to look elsewhere in the lineup.

The Club Pro shell is of a classic design, made of a waterproof fabric that drops lower in the back and sleeves cut for a better fit on the bike. It also features zipper-clad vents at the armpits, ventable pockets on the torso and a large horizontal vent above the shoulder blades. A drawstring closure at the waist, Velcro wrist cuffs and a soft fabric neck keep things cozy.

This particular model also features a color so shockingly fluorescent that this tester swore the pigment must have come from another dimension. Showers Pass offers this jacket in a spectrum of hues, all with reflective features.

The fundamental design challenge for a jacket like this is to balance rain protection with ventilation. A garbage bag provides great rain protection, for example, yet will quickly become a horrible swamp during physical exertion.

Rain was a non-issue while wearing the Club Pro during a 14-mile jaunt across a rainy Portland, Oregon. Moisture accumulation within the jacket itself was also not a problem, no doubt thanks in part to the large back vent.

Reflective tape right above the back vent. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Toward the end of the trip, with things getting a little toasty, the other vents were easy to unzip while wearing heavy gloves and provided plenty of cooling without water intrusion. It’s notable to me that the pit vents are short and shielded by the arm, compared to rain shells designed for other outdoor pursuits that tend to have very long vents running along much of the torso.

I’m no stranger to rainy-day cycling, having ridden hundreds of cumulative miles in the pouring winter wet while much of the cycling public was cultivating its love/hate relationship with the turbo trainer. It is absolutely possible to ride in total comfort with the right gear, which hinges most of all on the right rain shell.

To me, this shell is best for very cold and wet commutes, rather than high-intensity recreational rides. The fit is rather generous in the torso, making it easy to layer up with a bulky fleece and other items that are unlikely to come off during an early-morning ride.

The material of the shell itself is burly, making this a garment that does not pack as well as other options. Yet for something that will stay on over the course of a ride, it’s not a bad thing to have something that seems likely to withstand a lot of abuse.

Those looking for something packable still have options from Showers Pass, including the lightweight Spring Classic Jacket. Yet at just over $100, compared to $289 for the Spring Classic, the Club Pro is a solid and relatively affordable option in a shell likely to last several years.

As for the color — with the sun low in the sky in the winter months, assuming the sun is out at all, you are wise to have a little extra visibility. But if radioactive yellow isn’t your thing, you’ve got options.

View from the back. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
And it was all yellow. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly


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

Rapha’s cotton trousers: Fashion meets function

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We could say a lot about Rapha’s cotton trousers. For one, we think they’re snappy looking. They’re also really well made, with a couple of pleasing features like the high-vis pink tabs and the hidden pocket zippers that set them apart from the competition.

They also offer an awesome blend of off-the-bike style with on-the-bike functionality, something that every sartorially-conscious commuter will tell you is hard to find. And the little bit of lycra woven into them makes them super comfortable, all day long, no matter what you get up to.

All of this is great, of course, but that’s not why we really love them. No, these pants get an unequivocal seal of approval because they were complimented by someone with no interest in bicycles or the culty, lusty status us roadies give to brands like Rapha. With some bonus points thrown in because the flattering remarks came from a member of the fairer sex.

The trousers are a slim fit and taper towards the lower leg but the sizing is accurate and a little more generous than Rapha’s casual offerings in the past. The fitted look is eye-catching, especially with the hot pink pocket tab on the rear and the coloured seams that you show off with a crucial roll-up at the hem, and the zipped side pockets are great for keeping valuables safe while you ride. They’re bike-friendly, but fashionable enough to be an alluring choice even for people with no interest in two-wheeled transportation.

What more do you need to know? At $150, they’re not the cheapest pair of slacks you’ll find on the rack, but then, if you’re shopping at Rapha you’ll know that their good looks and quality construction rarely comes cheap. Threads like these are a practical investment in your wardrobe, and they’re worth it for anyone who values bike-friendly clothing but doesn’t want to go all courier chic – or worse, show up dressed like a Fred. Because no one likes those.

 


CrossVegas: Thriller in the desert

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Pro men at the starting grid. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Racers wait for the call-up for the Wheelers and Dealers race. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Reigning U.S. cyclocross national champion Katie Compton chatting it up with a friend Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Pink gorilla sighting. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The sandpit where only the pro men managed to ride through. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Nice shirt, dude. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Kaitlin Antonneau of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com waves to a friend during her warmup. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The lead group of the elite women navigating the course Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Almost done. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Crystal Anthony reacts after racing CrossVegas Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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FYI. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Post-race recovery. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Getting Ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The crowd at CrossVegas. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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(L-R) Jeremy Powers, Wout Van Aert, and Michael Vanthourenhout at the line. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Stephen Hyde getting it done in the sandpit. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Wout Van Aert cruising to a solo win. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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After. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Elite women's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Elite men's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Racing cross at a place named Desert Breeze Soccer Complex is such an irony because it was hardly a breeze. Okay, the weather at CrossVegas this year was noticeably more tolerable but it’s a World Cup damnit. There’s nothing easy about that.

during UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup CrossVegas 2016 at the Desert Breeze Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 21, 2016.
When the bikes on the rack cost more than the car hauling them… photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

For the spectators, however, CrossVegas was a blast. Quality racing, great atmosphere, and plenty of hospitality. It’s also a much-needed break from listening to and giving product pitches at InterBike. Two highlights:

Sophie De Boer out sprinted Katie Compton and Katerina Nash on the finishing straight for the win while Nash worked her way to claim second after a crash in the sandpit. Impressive.

Sophie De Boer attacks for the win photo:Stephen Lam/element.ly
The moment Sophie De Boer attacks for the win. photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

The sandpit got everyone talking about whether anyone would be able to ride through it. The announcers joked it was “the finest sand imported from Tahiti”. The elite men did it like hot knife through butter. Then there was the Wout van Aert’s solo win that was so thrilling that he made it look easy even though it was obvious the warm, dry heat affected just about everyone, including the supposedly ice-cold beers. Still, the turnout and the atmosphere was pretty cool. Can’t wait to go back next year.

The lead group of the elite women race during UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup CrossVegas 2016 at the Desert Breeze Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 21, 2016.

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

ST-R9150-R_R_zz_STD_S1

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

ST-R9170-R_R_zz_STD_S1

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

PD-R9100_zz_zz_STD_S1

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.


The CamelBak Quick Stow Flask Quenches Our Thirst For a Reliable Bottle

CamelBak Quick Stow flask

Insulated (top) and regular (bottom) CamelBak Quick Stow flask. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

CamelBak Quick Stow flask

The CamelBak Quick Stow Flask, folded. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

At last year’s PressCamp, I got so many water bottles that I ran out of space in my luggage. So while packing for this year’s PressCamp, I thought I could get away with not bringing any. Well, day one and there’s no bottles in sight. Joke’s on me now.

But, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Seth from CamelBak came to the rescue and I ended up with two of their new Quick Stow flasks for my gravel ride.

Let’s be clear: Soft bottles aren’t a new “thing.” They’ve been around the market for quite sometime. What CamelBak did with the Quick Stow, however, was incorporate their technical know-hows to improve upon a soft bottle.

At first glance, the existing CamelBak hydration pack user will feel instantly at home given that the water bottle uses the same blue polyurethane material (BPA and BPS free in case you’re curious) from their hydration reservoir. For the cap, CamelBak designers incorporated the design cues from their podium bottle, plus a self-sealing silicone bite valve similar to the ones found on the hydration packs. There’s also a lockout switch to prevent leaks during transport.

I was given both the normal ($20) and the insulated version ($28) and both worked very nicely. The cap was easy to thread on/off with an opening large enough for ice cubes and drink powders (whisky anyone?). And it never leaked. The textured surface also gave it a nice grip while I was sweating under the Utah sun.

The Quick Stow holds 17oz of fluid, a bit less than your standard water bottle but overall that’s not a huge deal. It’s wonderful for short rides, or longer rides where you want to carry a bit more fluids without the clumsiness/real estate issue of a hard bottle. Its small footprint also allows one to stow it inside the pocket of say, a Specialized SWAT liner bib … plus it’s great for traveling.

Now, the insulated version works the same way but with the addition of an insulation wrap that will keep your drink cold for about twice as long as its non-insulated brethren. After a few rides with both, I found myself liking the non-insulated version as it was packed down smaller and was slightly easier to squeeze given the single wall design over the double-walled insulated version. Alas, that’s just a personal preference.

Available this October.