Bearclaw Bicycle Claws Its Way Out Of The Northern Michigan Woods

Bearclaw Bicycles Michigan Framebuilder

I grew up in the Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City, Michigan. A place where we called the tourists “fudgies”, you referred to where you lived by pointing at the little crack between your pinky and your ring finger on your hand and where my parents owned a roller skating rink called The Fun Factory. I raced my first bicycle race out behind McClain Cycles on their amazing BMX track and I bought my very first real road bike downtown at Brick Wheels. After school I used to motorpace behind my buddy Matt’s Motobecane moped out to his house on Long Lake. On the weekends we would ride our bikes out to the lighthouse on Old Mission Peninsula or I would ride past some random girls house 400 times in the hope I would run into her.

The bicycle season in “the pinky” of Michigan is not exactly long and even though, at the time, I thought it was pretty hilly Michigan is actually devoid of any real climbing. The region is more well known for the Vasa Ski Trails, the National Cherry Festival and the Sleeping Bear Dunes, then the bicycle riding. Although, the much beloved Iceman Cometh is held there every year.

All of this is to say, I was pretty surprised when I found out about Bearclaw Bicycle, an upstart bicycle company is using the place of my birth to design, build and deliver some pretty interesting whips. I reached out to the owner and all thing Bearclaw, Jason Lowetz, to find out what gives and what follows is the full rundown on how he went from would-be rockstar in Los Angeles to two-wheeled evangelist in Traverse City, Michigan.

Bearclaw Bicycles Michigan Framebuilder

You say you moved back to Michigan from LA to pursue a music career, but ended up selling and then making bicycles. Can you tell us a little bit of this story and are you still playing music?

I lived in the Hollywood/Los Angeles area from 1999-2009. There I was living the dream as a a singer in a rock and roll band, Vibralounge, with my brother and a couple of good friends. We wore pleather jackets and giant sunglasses, and had our own signature hair do’s- mine was a tri-hawk.  Even though we had ‘the look’, we were actually pretty darn strait-edge and never got into the party scene. Instead, we liked riding dirt bikes and mountain bikes- I liked the competitive aspect. I also love pushing myself to physical extremes.

My brother and I, for 4 years in a row, rode from Los Angeles to Monterey, 300 miles, non-stop on new year’s eve. I currently put on a yearly 200 mile gravel bike race called the Sancho 200 and enjoy motivating others to push themselves. It’s amazing what we humans are capable of!

While we made some interesting connections in the music industry, in the end it wasn’t to be, and we needed money to live on. Thanks to my ex-girlfriend’s dad (she’s my wife now), I sort of knew how to assemble a bike. When I applied for a job at Montrose Bike Shop, assembling a bike was the main part of my interview.  They hired me on and I started riding and racing road bikes soon after.

By 2009, I had gotten heavy into racing in Southern California. I was a Cat 1 roadie, man!  We started a bike race team called Team Bearclaw after my alter ego, the ultra famous Chet Bearclaw. We had a cat 1 road team as well as 20+ other category road and mtb racers.  I was one of the sprinters and took 1st at Manhattan Beach Grand Prix Criterium (my one major racing claim to fame). We had a 1970’s Winnebago team RV that also doubled as my brothers home. We were still living on a high horse.

In 2009, I reunited with a former flame, Kristie, who was living in Denver.  We were both ready for a change, and we decided to move back to Michigan together.

I was rather surprised and impressed with the Michigan bike scene.  I didn’t really have any expectations when I arrived, but quickly realized that there were some legit races.  I started making connections and soon started another race team in Traverse City–Einstein Racing.  We had quite a following, and it wasn’t long after that I opened up my own bike shop, Einstein Cycles.  We started out small, in the garage, without a business loan.  We borrowed money from a couple family members and maxed out our credit cards and quickly had a retail location (thanks to our garage shop getting shut down by the township!).

The gamble paid off, and three years later and we were doing a million+ sales per year. The success of the shop allowed me to dive into the world of owning and operating my own bike brand.

For 3 years now, Bearclaw Bicycle Co. has been my #1. I’m having a lot of fun with it. But yeah, music.

Music will always be one of my many passions, but it’s become something I now do in my basement for my own enjoyment.  Some day I hope to put some of it out there for the world, but for now, there is no pressure and no deadlines.

Bearclaw Bicycles Michigan Framebuilder

Traverse City seems like a great place to go to the beach or maybe, in the winter, hit the nordic ski trails, but it seems like a strange place to start a bicycle company. How did you come to the decision Northern Michigan was a good place to influence bicycle design and start a bicycle brand?

I opened my own bicycle shop, Einstein Cycles, in 2011. I quickly learned that I had to do something in the winter to generate revenue. I found some other people in the area with some interest in winter fat biking and we started making trail. We would snowshoe trails then ride them on our Salsa and Surly fat bikes. A few years later we were grooming trails by snowmobile and we were selling out of carbon Salsa Fat Bikes. I figured this was a good reason to start a new brand of bicycles.

I was always curious about this and had made some connections in the industry over the years which gave me the confidence to go for it. I figured we could design a fat bike to be more like the 29er hardtail cross-country bikes we were riding all summer. I convinced my bank to loan me the money I would need to start this new venture, then got to work. A year or so later Bearclaw Bicycle Co. introduced the Balthazar, our carbon fat bike. The design was and still is a hit for us. It combines nimble cross-country bike handling with the ability to fit massive 5” tires. Oh, and we think it looks pretty neat too. The next spring we realized that people didn’t stop riding our fat bikes even though the snow was gone. They were having too much fun floating through the sandy section of our trails and riding over obstacles they may not have otherwise ridden over. Turns out that big tires are ideal for Northern Michigan with its sandy terrain.

We took this love for big tires to the gravel bike, too. After spending a lot of time riding the gravel roads of Northern Michigan, I knew that the then current 35c max tire wide gravel bikes were not cutting it. We needed 700 x 50 or bigger. We were considering carbon for this new bike, but started to think about the abuse we wanted to put the bike through and ultimately landed on Titanium. We are now very much in love with Titanium. But yeah, to answer your question, Northern Michigan just so happens to be the perfect region for us. Tons of singletrack, 2-track, gravel roads, and paved roads to ride. Wildly different terrain and weather with each season. I believe the average temp was 6 degrees in February a few years ago. We also get a ton of lake-effect snow. Summers are warm and the soil is very sandy. The trails get pretty loose by mid-summer. Big tires rule this region.

Bearclaw Bicycles Michigan Framebuilder

I believe you got your start working in bicycle shops. How did this influence your approach to Bearclaw Bicycles?

That’s how BBCo. began and that’s what makes it so special. Our ability to have this direct retail connection with our BBCo. brand customers is very important. I really think people are loving it. These days it’s pretty much unheard of to have the kind of connection our customers have with us. Our contact number is my cell phone.

Bearclaw started it’s existence with the Balthazar, a fat tire bicycle. It seems, based on what we saw at Interbike last year, that the fat tire bike might have seen its moment in the sun come and go. Where do you see fat tire bicycle fitting in going forward?

Oh man, I don’t see fat bikes going away. They are too much fun to ride and can handle any terrain. I think you will start to see more and more of the snowbelt regions figuring out this winter fatbike trail grooming too. Our network of groomed Fat Bike winter trails here in Traverse City has grown to well over 20 miles. Marquette has a great winter bike scene too.

Bearclaw is building bicycle which might actually reach the status of “one-quiver” rigs. Is this the goal? To build a bicycle which can go anywhere and do anything, with just a quick swap of wheels?

Our bikes are all designed to fit an array of different wheel sizes. This makes them much more useful year round or for different events/terrain. Our Thunderhawk can be fitted with skinny road tires and win the local road race or you can toss 27.5×2.4 tires on and head deeep into nature. We are seeing more and more people go for the wider tires on our Thunderhawk. More and more people that love road cycling just want to have the ability to be far, far away from cars. If I only had one bike it would be a Thunderhawk. I could ride it across the country on paved or gravel roads, race it in a criterium, or shred singltrack for days on it. One bike. I would however have trouble in the winter on the Fat Bike trails. So I guess I need two bikes. Then of course I would also want a Ti fat bike for loading down and bike packing across the UP. So three bikes. There is a slight chance I may also need a fourth bike which is coming soon from a BBCo. near you, it’s specialty will be shred packing in the Colorado Rockies. It’s a slacked trail bike with room for bags, bottle, racks, etc. My good buddy, Buck Macho of Durango, is helping me design it.

If you were building a specifically for an event like Grinduro, where do you think you would go. You have an uphill timed section, a downhill timed section, a single track timed section and a flat road timed section? What bicycle makes the most sense: components, gearing, tires, etc…

Sounds like the perfect job for Thunderhawk with wide range 10-46 gearing in the back and a 40-42 up front! I would run 27.5×2.25 Schwalbe Rocket Ron tires for their singletrack prowess and light weight. They roll pretty well on the pavement too.


Grinduro: What A Difference A Year Makes

Grinduro 2018

Just a year ago on these actual pages I was lamenting my desire to build the perfect bike for Grinduro and while standing at the lunch stop in Taylorsville, California at this years Grinduro it is clear I was not the only one.

Grinduro 2018 Fabric saddles

The biggest change at this gravel/adventure/road/everything ride/race/ramble in the Gold Country north of the San Francisco Bay Area, actually north of Chico, was the number of bicycles built specifically for conditions experienced in these them-there hills.

There were “gravel” bicycles from the big players, including Trek, Cannondale, Felt, Open, Specialized and Giant. There were custom builders also weighing in on the genre, including bicycle from Caletti, Rock Lobster, SyCip, Speedvagen, Blue Collar Bicycle and many more.

The wheelbases are long, the tires are big, and I mean really big, brakes, for the most part, are disk and rear cogs are massive.

Grinduro 2018 Blue Collar Bikes

Last year it was surprising to see someone aboard a properly and purposely built gravel bike, but this year it was more odd to find someone riding a full-suspension mountain bike or a cyclocross bike. They were there, but their herd is getting much thinner and thinner.

Grinduro 2018

And this is where the story really begins.

The procurement of a proper whip.

Since my day job includes riding Pinarellos, it only seemed wise to start there. And I was lucky enough to land a “demo” Pinarello GAN GRS Disk from the lovely crew at Pinarello USA.

Grinduro 2018 Pinarello GAN GRS Disk

After a couple of shakeout rides, I decided I was going to need to swap a couple of items in order to feel more confident in my second attempt at this ridiculous, yet rewarding, shindig.

So I ordered myself the biggest cassette Shimano will let you pair with their Ultegra 2x setup, an 11×34. This would enable me to get a 34-34 as my easiest gear. A crucial situation.

I also pulled my workhorse Zipp 302s from my F10 Disk and mounted up a new pair of Donnelly X’Plor MSO 36mm tires to the beast.

Grinduro 2018 Ted King

I then set about testing the premise this bicycle was going to make my day in the mountains as pleasant as humanly possible.

This Pinarello rips on the descents, is admirably fast and functional on the road and handled the singletrack with aplomb.

If I had my druthers, I would probably have put on even bigger rubber and more gears, but all things considered, I was superstoked.

Grinduro 2018

Fast forward to the night before Grinduro and I’m sitting in my room at the straight-from-an-80s-movie Ranchito Motel in lovely Quincy, California, sipping a beer, watching Ted stuff his jersey pockets with maple syrup and brushing my teeth at an actual sink.

If you remember correctly, my whippy fast and delightful unprepared companion from last year’s Grinduro, Ted King, and I slept in a tent at the fairgrounds and thoroughly froze our asses off. So in a moment of pure wonder, we decided to get a couple of hotel rooms, with hot running water and a lock on the door. And other than marrying my wife and moving to California, this will stand as one of the greatest decision I have ever made.

In the great battle of tent vs. motel, motel wins hands down. At least in regards to fairground camping.

Grinduro 2018

Anyway, I am pulling together my kit and essentials for the next day, while one of my riding companions in the room next door is dialing in his very own Pinarello gravel bike. He was complaining of a noise in the seatpost, so he was adding a touch of lube and double checking the seat binder bolt.

Grinduro 2018

And then I hear it.

The sound.

That gut-wrenching sound.

The sound of someone’s day going horribly wrong.

The sound of a broken seatpost bolt reverberating through the innards of a carbon fiber frame.

The sound of Grinduro heartbreak.

Grinduro 2018

Ok, so here’s the thing. I’m not really a nice guy.

But I was born in the midwest and with that comes certain obligations.

And so when push-came-to-shove, I gave up my seatpost bolt so my traveling companion, dare I say, my friend, could ride this event for the very first time.

So having cannibalized my beautiful steed, and in the process ending my chances of glory, off to bed I went.

Grinduro 2018

So instead of kitting up the next morning, I pull on some jeans and spend the next day hopscotching all over the course, cleaning rider’s filthy sunglasses, shouting support and eavesdropping on riders.

There were distinctly three categories of riders on the road.

First, those looking for glory.

Second, those claiming they were just here to enjoy themselves.

Finally, those who were just hoping to survive. With the course being 60 plus miles and almost 8,000 feet of climbing, no matter your fitness it is a legitimately difficult day in the saddle.

Grinduro 2018 Trek

As luck (and hard work) would have it my roommate, the rider formerly known as the King of Gravel, Ted King, took first place overall.

This changed our post ride party into a fest and made it a whole lot more fun: the band sounded sweeter, the beer tasted better and the pork rinds were all the more delicious.

Grinduro 2018

The one thing I think we can all count is there will be a Grinduro next, there will be more and more race specific gear and race tactics will play a bigger and bigger part in the outcome of the podium.

Grinduro 2018

And just when I think I have my “which whip?” issues all ironed out, it turns out Ted King, won Grinduro aboard Cannondale’s new mountain bike, The F-Si. I mean come on, what the what? And we’re pretty sure women’s winner, Lindsay Dwyer, was aboard her Trek mountain bike. Let the search and handwringing continue.

Grinduro 2018 winners

Plato Would Have Loved The Sage PDXCX

Cross season is here and while many undoubtedly have all their rig(s) ready to go, I don’t. I have an unhealthy tendency to procrastinate till the very last minute, so if you’re like me, or if you’re in the market for a good durable cross bike, may I introduce you to a bike that I lovingly test rode for months. The impeding cross season reminded me how much I love and miss this Sage PDXCX.

The story started late winter of 2017 when the bike showed up at my house a few days before Christmas. Cross season was pretty much over by then, but I figured I can do a combination of ‘cross and gravel riding since gravel is the rage these days. Plus, I was curious as to how titanium, the darling material of choice before it was totally blindsided by the emergence of carbon, would change the ride, if any.

So Sage treated the build as one would expect from a small customer builder: customization. Based out of Beaverton, Oregon, owner and designer Dave Rosen was very hands on in terms of getting the right build.

Sage Titanium owner/designer Dave Rosen
Owner/Designer Dave Rosen racing in the Wheelers and Dealers category at RenoCross

I opted for a 52cm frame and Dave built my test bike with a 2x Shimano Ultegra R8000 mechanical grouppo, TRP HY/RD cable-actuated hydraualic disc brakes, an ENVE Cross disc fork, Hed Ardennes Plus LT disc hoops with versatile Donnelly PDX 700x33C tires, a 3T cockpit with 2.5mm Lizard Skins DSP bartape, plus a Selle Italia SLR saddle. The PDXCX is available as frame only for $2,900. Our 18.9lb test bike was $6,625.

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Sage outfitted the build with Shimano Ultegra R8000 crankset with 46/36 chainrings for the purpose of cross and gravel riding.

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142x12 thru-axle in the rear to keep the rear end together

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Grippy Lizard Skins DSP 2.5mm Bartape was the right choice between the less padded 1.8mm and the really cushy 3.0mm version.

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The Selle Italia SLR Saddle was surprisingly comfortable

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Old-school reversing pulley for the front derailleur.

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Clean welds and stealth fender mounts

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ENVE Cross fork with plenty of mud clearance.

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You can say that’s an awful lot of money to be spend on a bike when you can get something lighter for less. But I digress. I love the PDXCX. Designed by Rosen and manufactured by titanium specialist Lynksey in Tennessee, the 3V/2.5Al titanium alloy frame features a double-butted ovalized toptube, a bi-ovalized downtube (also double butted), an oversized 44mm headtube, with a nod to both the old school and the new school thoughts of what a cyclocross geometry should be: A modern short chainstay coupled with a longer front end mated to a higher bottom bracket similar to traditional euro cross bikes.

A giant 44mm headtube

t’s further dotted with little details such as a reversing pulley for the front derailleur, a patented interchangeable cable routing system to keep all the cables tidy whether you are running either mechanical or electrical groups, a 1X or a 2X. The PDXCX also comes with a traditional bottom bracket, a 142×12 rear dropout, and mounts for fenders. It’s clear Rosen spent a lot of time tinkering it through and through.

Keeping it tidy with the system-specific interchangeable cable routing system

The PDXCX is a very easy bike to work on – something a privateer would appreciate, like its brushed finish with removable decals where replacement decals in ten different colorways are readily available. Rosen would also be happy to refinish your frame to make it looking brand-new for a mere $50. Again, they’re the small details that make this bike enticing for those who plan to keep their bikes for a while.

Rosen envisioned a nimble race machine to slice through technical courses and often muddy tracks of the Pacific Northwest, and the bike delivered. The PDXCX is aggressive and stiff like a well-tuned race car where its sole mission is to get you to places – fast. I found the PDXCX to be a comfortable race bike… but it’s still a race bike, and prospective buyers should understand that any bike won’t be automatically magical just because it’s made out of titanium. You can’t compare a suspension of a Toyota Camry to the suspension on a Porsche 911. The PDXCX offers a firm ride, and I like that. There are cushier, more laidback cross bikes out there, but I like the PDXCX for its playfulness and razor-sharp handling in tight courses. I’d give Sage’s gravel frame, the Barlow, a look if I was to do more gravel riding than ‘cross whereas the PDXCX is great for CX racers who like to do some occasional mixed terrain rides.

I encountered a few issues with our test bike. First, the 3T Zero25 seatpost is beautiful and offers both zero and 25-degrees of offset in a flip of the clamps, but our seatpost slipped twice during our testing despite being properly torqued. It finally stayed in its place after we torqued it for the third time. Second, while the Ultegra R8000 grouppo worked flawlessly with the dual chainring being a welcoming sight on longer mixed terrain rides, I never warmed up to the TRP HY/RD cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes. Sure, they modulate well and will stop, but they lack the power of the hydraulic offerings from Shimano or SRAM.

The TRP HY/RD cable-actuated hydraulic disc brakes got a nice brake feel but lacks power compared to hydraulic brakes from the likes of Shimano and SRAM.

Tire clearance is also a point worth noting. Sage noted the PDXCX will clear 42c tires, but our 33mm Donnelly PDX tires measured out to be around 36.7mm on our caliper on the 25mm-wide HED rim, with about 4mm of clearance left on either side of the chainstay… A 42mm tire is going to be a very tight squeeze. Other than these little things, the PDXCX was as good of a race bike that I could ask for.

So yes, if I am planning to keep a highly capable and spirited cross bike for a long while, I’d give the Sage PDXCX a serious look.

www.sagetitanium.com


The Alé K-Tornado: A good jacket for bad weather

I realise that for most of the northern hemisphere, it’s still summer. But not here. The sunshine in Ireland has faded quicker than Richie Porte at a grand tour, and by the looks of things it won’t be too long until I’m digging out the winter kit bag.

A little wind, a little drizzle, the occasional ray of sun – that’s the Irish summer. There have been a few rides recently where the changeable elements called for something more than a jersey. And as luck would have it, I had Alé’s K-Tornado jacket waiting to be tested.

They say jacket, I say long-sleeve jersey. Alé suggests a temperature range of 6º to 12º Celsius (that’s 43º to 54º in old money). But depending on how you layer I’d say it functions well outside of that range. I’ve been using it with a base layer and short bibs to great effect in a variety of conditions.

It does a great job of keeping you warm and dry without the old boil-in-the-bag feel that used to come with a lot of wet-weather options. Can anything really be waterproof and breathable? Ignoring the marketing jargon, common sense would say no. But having said that, this jacket makes for a pretty good compromise. Alé says that their proprietary waterproof fabric features “billions of microscopic pores that allow sweat to quickly evaporate.” Sooner or later, the rain will get in, but I’ve tried running a tap over the sleeve and the water beads right off. At the same time, it’s a world away from a plastic rain cape in terms of general comfort, and I’m happy to pull it on even when it’s clear outside.

The zipper is waterproof and the stretchy material will keep out everything but very heavy rain. The long cuffs cover more on top without bunching up below your palms, thanks to an asymmetric cut. That leaves you both covered and comfortable, and while this next observation has nothing to do with functionality, I also think they look cool. A flap covers the pockets to help keep them dry, and the bottom of the jacket extends nice and low so you can cover your behind from tyre spray. There are also some nice reflective strips for added visibility.

Alé have been around for a long time, often making product for other brands. You’ll come across plenty of their stuff in Italy, but they’re no so well known internationally. They should be. Both the materials and the finish feels top-notch, and the cut will appeal to anyone who like a racy fit. Definitely worth considering when the weather eventually turns on you.


Spurcycle Saddle Bag: Much More Than Meets The Eye

Spurcycle Saddle Bag Review

Spurcycle doesn’t make a whole lot of things. Five, to be exact and that’s not counting the trio of brilliant condiment-inspired water bottles.

But as the saying less is more goes, it’s obvious that Spurcycle is very good at crafting minimalistic accessories that are as beautiful as they are functional. The newest addition to the Spurcycle family, the saddle bag, is no different.

Aptly named “Saddle Bag,” the San Francisco firm didn’t slap no novel French name or a cool oh wow marketing copy to go along with it. Instead, what we have here is a no-BS bag for $45 that is simple yet practical and makes me wonder why this didn’t happen sooner.

Spurcycle Saddle Bag Review

At first glance, the Saddle Bag resembles a fold up, top-loading lunch bag sewn on with a Velcro strap. Simple, right? What’s not so obvious is that the choice of material used, X-Pac VX42, is anything but simple. It is a rugged multi-ply lamination consisting of a layer of 420 denier Cordura nylon, a tell-tale diamond-pattern monofilm reinforcement, weatherproof film and finally, a 50 denier polyester backing. There’s much more going on than what meets the eye.

Spurcycle Saddle Bag Review

Spurcycle employs a removable and noticeably long hook and loop strap with a reinforced section to put over the saddle rail. The low profile hook and loops mean the strap won’t put up a huge fight whenever you take it on and off but remains strong enough to keep its contents secure. For further peace of mind, Spurcycle also placed two security tabs running perpendicularly across the strap to prevent any unintended undoings. And to be honest, there was plenty of interlocking hook and loop to go around that it would take a herculean effort or a severely overfilled bag to lose it. Nevertheless, the extra security tabs don’t add much, if any, bulk so why not. If you are one of those people who insists on reading instructions, the black-on-black instruction card was difficult to read. Thankfully, instructions are also available on the Spurcycle website and the company is planning to remedy that in the next batch.

 Spurcycle Saddle Bag Review
Simple but effective security tabs.

Compared to many compartmentalized roll-styled bags, the solo compartment design of the Spurcycle bag immediately jumped out, as there was still plenty of space left after I transferred all the contents over from the excellent Silca Roll Premio. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of slots for individual items to channel my inner OCD, but I can now have the option to add or remove accessories depending on the ride and not be limited by the size of pre-determined organizer slots. In keeping a small footprint, I also found that I could easily place bulky items such as CO2 canisters in specific spots within the bag so that they would fit between the saddle rails.

Inevitably, the single compartment also means that all the contents will be bunched together so any pointy objects such as multi-tools should be shielded from sensitive objects like spare inner tubes (a paper towel works great, plus it’s handy to have around at times). But to be fair, that’s not the fault of the bag and it’s a small tradeoff for having a flexible, shape-shifting storage system.


Pirelli Brings The Speed With The Zero TT

Pirelli P Zero Velo TT Tire

As someone who has tried dozens of different tires, I’ve yet to find a model that genuinely stands out for performance. In fact, I figured all modern “race” tires were more or less the same. That has changed with the Pirelli P Zero Velo TT.

Easily the best-performing clincher tire I’ve ever used, the Pirelli P Zero Velo TT is an incredibly fast, grippy and lightweight option that inspires great confidence in handling and achieves great speed in acceleration. Devoid of tread and lacking any puncture-resistant band, this 165-gram, 23mm-only tire is a great choice for time trialists, criterium racers, trackies and anyone looking to go as fast as their legs will carry them.

This tester has grown accustomed to the tiny squeaks of his usual clincher tires while traversing the 43-degree banking of Portland Oregon’s Alpenrose Velodrome at slower speeds. That sound, I assume, is the product of tiny slips of the tire. Yet the Velo TT simply planted on the pavement, and this tester could ride much more confidently and with more safety along that familiar surface. The difference was startling.

Pirelli P Zero Velo TT Tire

This isn’t a tire for going slowly, though. The Velo TT spins up with a great ease due to very light weight, and the tire smooths out bumps on high-speed sprints. Foreshadowing this ride quality was the experience of simply installing the tires, which are incredibly supple and mounted easily.

In such a controlled environment, it’s hard to evaluate puncture resistance. Pirelli offers several models with puncture-resistant features, and while the company claims the compound of the Velo TT can resist punctures to a degree, I believe it’s safe to assume other options would be more suited to long rides or races.

Yet across a well-manicured surface during a criterium, time trial or track race, the P Zero Velo TT will provide an undeniable advantage.


The Eagle Has Landed

When I was told a few weeks ago that Goodyear was making a comeback into the bicycle tire business, I had to look up what they meant by “comeback”.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know that Goodyear wasn’t in the bicycle business. With companies like Continental, Michelin and Maxxis knee deep into bike tires, you’d think Goodyear, the third largest tire manufacturer in the world, would be in the game in some shape or form.

Well, they were. As a matter of fact, the Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear produced bicycle tires from the company’s founding in 1898 up until 1976.

So unlike Michael Jordan’s one year “retirement” from the NBA, or Johnny Manziel and Dave Chappelle, it’s been 42 years. But guess who’s back, back again? Goodyear is back. Tell a friend. Thank you Eminem for that sweet quote.

While Goodyear’s new lineup consists of nine tires, I am just going to focus on the road-going Eagle.

Goodyear Eagle All-Season Tubeless

That’s right, the sole road tire in Goodyear’s lineup shares the same name as the company’s better known racing rubbers both previously seen in Formula One and currently seen in NASCAR… and most likely as OEM tires in some cars. In fact, Goodyear even used the same font to label “Eagle” on the sidewall. Okay, I get it. The Eagle has a deep, high-performance heritage.

And Goodyear was kind enough to send us a pair in 25c to play with before the launch.

Our test samples weigh 310 and 311 grams, just a tad over the claimed 300 grams for the 25C tire. Installation was pretty straight forward. I was told the Eagle is mountable with just a floor pump. I managed to get one of the two tires inflated with no sealant while the second tire needed just a tiny bit of sealant and compressed air from my Bontrager TLR Flash Charger. There wasn’t any overnight leakage, either. I did, however, injected some sealant into that one dry tire for extra insurance before my first outing.

Goodyear Eagle All-Season Tubeless

My first ride using the tires was a 70-mile stroll following the weekend’s atmospheric river that caused some minor flooding, downed trees, and well, unpredictable road conditions that left me yearning for those disc brakes on the Focus Paralane I just sent back and I almost went to IKEA instead of riding. Not your ideal day to try out tires for the first time, or was it?

Goodyear Eagle All-Season Tubeless

So off I went. Rolling down this 10% hill right outside of my house. The Eagle felt supple, dare I say even better than the Zipp Tangente RT25 I just came off of, or the stable Schwalbe Pro One 25s. Goodyear ostensibly didn’t include much info such as the tpi of the casing used, but did mentioned the inclusion of a Nylon-based fabric from bead to bead called R:Armor to combat against cuts on punctures.

Interestingly enough, the Eagle didn’t balloon as much as the other two tires, measuring at 25.55 and 26.17mm on our Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 rim-braked wheels. It’s definitely a welcoming tidbit if you don’t have a lot of tire clearance.

Not long after I navigated out across the slippery Golden Gate Bridge, I ran across this broken Jameson bottle in Sausalito. Last time I rode on wet road with glass, the glass won so I was waiting to hear the tell-tale hiss. Nope. Nothing. The show went on.

The more miles I rode on the Eagle, the more I trusted its capability. The proprietary silca-based Dynamic:Silica4 compound designed with a smooth center for low rolling resistance felt lively and comfortable at 90psi.

Goodyear Eagle All-Season Tubeless

And that “best in class wet grip” Goodyear claims to have is pretty darn good too. The Eagle handled water graciously with its directional sipes on the edges and grooves to channel water from the center. I’d like to see the comparison chart, though.

It’s still too early to comment on the long-term durability of the Eagle but it’s looking pretty promising so far. So stay tuned for our long-term report. The Eagle retails for $70 in four widths: 25, 28, 30, and 32. The 30mm and 32mm will also come with a second version that includes reflective strip all the way around the tire.

www.goodyearbike.com


Focus Paralane: The Two-Wheeled Station Wagon

Focus Paralane eTap

The Paint. That’s right, the paint. It was the paint job on this steed that first caught my attention.

Sure, this is a terrible and vain thing to say, but the paint on this Focus Paralane was truly eye catching at the InterBike media preview night last fall (more on the paint later).

If you’ve never been to one of these preview nights, let me tell you, what gets shown is usually anyone’s guess. You see a whole lot of e-bikes, questionable contraptions, and a tiny bit of sensible stuff.

So there I was hopping between booths and the Paralane was literally chilling next to the Focus booth. The booth guys were pushing a really nice e-bike, but I couldn’t help but be curious about this brightly-colored endurance steed.

To be honest, endurance bikes, much like the American crossovers monstrosity (RIP station wagons), have never really enticed me. I am comfortable on my professionally-fitted road bike, I don’t intend to give that up anytime soon, and I love my station wagon.

Alas, a lot has changed since the introduction of the endurance bike segment and bicycles that fall within this growing category are pretty darn good these days. Standouts such as the Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse, and Trek Domane are just as fast, if not faster, than their pure-bred racing brethren in such that the line between a road bike and an endurance bike is so blurred, so difficult to ignore, just like the sentiment I got when I was shopping for a SUV recently and inevitably ended up looking at a bunch of crossovers. That’s not counting gravel bikes, either.

Focus Paralane eTap

So I put in a request to review the bike. Then things got busy and I completely forgot about it. So imagine the surprise when the Paralane unexpectedly showed up one morning in early December. Maybe it was a bit of #newbikeday hype or maybe because, unlike Roubaix or the Domanae, I just didn’t know much about this bike.

It has been almost four months since I’ve swung my legs over the Paralane, and even though I love it so much, it was not without its quirks, or shall I say, quirky personality.

The Paralane that Focus sent over came with all the bells and whistles one would expect for $7,999. A lightweight disc-only carbon fiber frame with shaped Comfort Improving Areas (C.I.A), a stiff BB86 bottom bracket for power, 142×12 and 100×10 thru-axles coupled with Focus’ proprietary Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T) to secure the wheels, with integrated internal cable routings.

e_FocusParalaneSL151

Flatten chainstays to absorb vertical bumps.

e_FocusParalaneSL086

Sculpted carbon forks for ride comfort.

e_FocusParalaneSL230

Room for up to 35c tires.

e_FocusParalaneSL240

Focus' own Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T) to enable faster wheel change.

e_FocusParalaneSL223

A quarter turn is all that's needed to secure the wheels

e_FocusParalaneSL210

The stock Prologo Scratch saddle was comfortable but also heavy

e_FocusParalaneSL188

Zipp Course 30 wheels with 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4 season rubbers

e_FocusParalaneSL200

A clean cockpit with minimal wirings.

Our bike was kitted with a full SRAM RED eTap HRD compact group set, an Easton EC90 Aero handlebar, a Prologo Scratch saddle mounted and a unique-looking 25.4mm BBB CPX Plus carbon seatpost that’s not to be confused with LaVar’s BBB brand.

Focus Paralane eTap

The only item that was not factory spec was the aluminum Zipp 30 Course Clincher (with factory spec 28mm Continental GP 4 Seasons). The bike will come with the Zipp 302 carbon clinchers and for comparison purposes, we spent half of our testing period on our benchmark Stan’s Avion Pro hoops with 25mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires. As an added bonus, the Paralane also ships with removal mudguards.

Focus Paralane

One thing that immediately made an impression was the taller headtube along with its generous, relaxed geometry. Much to my lower back’s delight, I get to sit a bit more upright at the expense of losing a few watts for not being aerodynamic, but that’s not what this bike is designed for anyway.

According to Focus, the Paralane was intended for “leisure cyclists who like to spend longer in the saddle and don’t mind unsurfaced roads.” Well, that couldn’t be more true given its generous 50/34 compact crankset and 11-32 cassette. Yet the Paralane is so much more than a leisure machine that labeling it as such almost feels like I am sandbagging. The Paralane is one flippin’ fast steed that you can totally race with.

On the less than perfect NorCal roads, the Paralane is smooth, responsive, and stable at high-speeds. Those Comfort Improving Areas, a.k.a shaped stays, worked as advertised to soak up all the shitty road buzz without the need of any suspension elements. The bike has handling that’s direct and firm like an expertly tuned car worthy of the autobahn. Coupled with the powerful SRAM hydraulic disc brakes, the bike accelerates as well as it can stop on a dime.

Focus Paralance eTap
It’s pretty cramped back there.

I found that the more I cranked up the distance, the more efficient of a bike it was. My body didn’t scream at me (as much) at the end of those 100+ mile rides. Those 28mm Continental GP 4 Season weren’t only long lasting but also grippy in all-weather, performing admirably when I took them off the asphalt for some light gravel rides. SRAM’s eTap has also grown on me tremendously with its car-like paddle shifters as well. I really like its crisp, mistake-free touch and the ergonomics finally feel right.

Focus Paralane eTap

I do wish there was more bar tape than just on the drops though, as the bare wing top, while gorgeous to look at, was slippery to behold. It’s a comfortable and stiff handlebar one would expect from Easton, but I would argue that an endurance bike like this one can be benefitted with more secure and padded hand positions, especially if unsurfaced roads are frequently visited.

Focus Paralane eTap

Coming in at 16.9 lbs with the shipped wheels and 16.19 lbs with Stan’s Avion Pro/ 25c Schwalbe Pro One tubeless, with Shimano Ultegra pedals installed on both setups, the Paralane can obviously be lightened up a notch given Focus claims a painted 54cm frame weighs 907 grams minus the R.A.T thru axle. I truly believe doing so will further unlock the bike’s potential. Regardless of its weight, though, the Paralane has quickly become my favorite go-to bike to log those early season miles regardless of weather. The longer the ride, the more this bike’s personality shines. With the bike’s decidedly worry-free parts and the BB86 bottom bracket that didn’t creak once during the four month test period, my personal SuperSix Evo was starting to feel left out.

And that eyecatching, colorful paint job matches nicely with just about all of my questionably, colorful kit choices.

www.focus-bikes.com


Velocio: An Understated Alternative To The Big Brands

Velocio ES Jacket

The first time I saw Velocio kit in the flesh, it was on Ted King. As clothes hangers go, a pro cyclist could make almost any old rags look good, but his outfit stood out on its own merits. The colours were subtle. There were no funky, clashing technical panels. And you had to squint to read the branding. To me, that’s the holy trinity of bike kit fashion.

When I got my hands on an ES Jacket and some thermal bibs – my own, not Ted’s – it stood out again. Clean lines, a great fit, and subtle reflective touches to offset what is otherwise pure black. The jacket is light, making me doubtful of the claims that it would work with just a base layer down towards freezing. I was wrong.

The “spring” mornings around here have been frosty and I haven’t once felt a chill. It also stands up well to strong winds and rain showers. Really well. So well, I’m smug about it riding past shivering cyclists. I’m not sure how much use I’ll get from the two-way zip, but it’s a nice feature that might as well be there as not, and I’m sure someone will love it for their own reasons.

I’ll bet on the bibshorts being comfortable no matter what you throw at them, even though rides so far have been short – anything more than a couple of hours when it’s 4º or 5º celsius isn’t my thing. The pad is cushy and they’re well-made. The only critique I’d offer is that the raised lettering printed on the lower leg began to show signs of peeling after just one wash. Personally, I’m fine with taking it all off and having the shorts totally plain, but I’d imagine it might upset some people to buy a high-end pair of bibs only to have them looking less than pristine almost immediately.

They are thermal and I’ve been pairing them with leg warmers, but unless you’re riding in real summer heat they’re not so thick that they’d turn you into a sweaty mess. Here in northern Europe, I think they’ll be usable all year on all but the hottest days. The pad is worth another mention, too, because it comes up higher in the front, providing some modesty insurance to anyone who’s ever worried about showing the coffee shop a little too much. The non-riding half of my household thinks this is a major plus.

I have a wardrobe full of every kind of bike kit, from eye-wateringly tacky event jerseys and some gear from my old club that’s so eurotrash it would make Mario Cipollini blush, to the latest and greatest from the all the big brands. And it’s all good. But the thing is, I stick to the staples. Choice cuts from Giordana, Sportful, and Castelli. Everything else comes and goes, but I always revert back to the most reliable rotation. This Velocio kit is now part of that list.

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Essential Adventure Gear For Spring

In just a blink of an eye, we are already two months into 2018. The Super Bowl has come and gone, Cross Worlds is over and done with and the Coast Ride is already a distant memory. How has your riding been so far?

I know it’s still technically considered “deep winter” for the better part of the country and that it wouldn’t be right to break out the short sleeves just yet. But spring is coming, and here are a few pieces of gear that I’m looking forward to rocking this year.

Time ATAC XC 6 Pedals $150

Time has been making their ATAC (Auto Tension Adjust Concept) pedals for as long as I can remember. I still have my very first pair after 15 years of abuse racing mountain bikes, cyclocross, or running late to meet up friends at coffee shops across town. I love them for their ease of entry and the fact that mud has nothing on them so I can always stay clipped in. The ATAC’s generous 6mm lateral and +/- 5º float are easy on my sensitive knees. Like all pedals, there’s a familiarization time to get acquainted with them but they are now second nature and for me they really are the ultimate set ’em and forget ’em pedals. Their low-profile cleats are reversible to provide either a 13º or 17º of release angle to your own liking, as well. The made in France ATAC XC6 is right in the middle of the ATAC lineup which is essentially the happy medium between price ($150) and weight (293 grams).


Silca Seat Roll Premio

Silca Seat Roll Premio $48

When I was at an industry ride last year, I was told saddlebags are lame. Well, I don’t care. I like my saddlebag and I prefer to have a second water bottle. My Jandd was finally showing its age so I replaced it with a Silca Seat Roll Premio. I love the durable waxed canvas material and three-pocket design allowing me to separate my tubes, mini tool and CO2 cartridge, so I don’t have to resort to a sad ziplock baggie or worry about tools rubbing on the tube. It’s also waterproof and the quilted reflective thread is a nice touch. My favorite part about the $48 Premio, however, is the Boa enclosure system. I am not sure why no one put a Boa on a saddle bag sooner, but it’s such a brilliant move. The Boa allows for more adjustments than traditional hook-and-loops so I can really tighten it down onto the saddle rail. There’s also a button at the end of the enclosure for extra security. I can attest to its effectiveness after I forgot to close the Boa before going on a 45+ mph run down Olympic Parkway in Park City.


CamelBak Chute Vacuum Stainless Insulated Bottle
It’s been scratched, dented and abused for about a year but still zero leaks and works like a champ

CamelBak Chute Vacuum Stainless Insulated Bottle $38

I’ve been using this double-walled vacuum insulation bottle for a little over a year now and it officially my go-to bottle. Its 18/8 stainless steel construction has a few dents and dings from repeated trial-by-fire beating by myself, the wife and the kids combined, but it still works like it did on day one, in keeping beverages chilled or hot. The powder-coated finish has proven to be very durable too.

The 40 oz version is so ginormous I have yet to track down a cupholder big enough to hold it, but whatevs, I love this bottle. The angled, BPA-free spout cap is designed to be snapped into the handle and it’s quite a nice touch once you get used to it. If the 40 oz is just too big to stow your coffee, sake, whisky, or water, CamelBak also makes a smaller 20 oz version.


Lizard Skins DSP Bar tape

Lizard Skins DSP Bar Tape $42-46

Seriously, bar tape deserves more attention. Think about it. Those crucial few millimeters of padding between your hands and the handlebar make a world of difference. Your hands are either slipping off the bar or the tape is working so well you don’t even think about it. Forté Grip-Tec was my tape of choice for the last few seasons, but Lizard Skins has recently won my heart over with their DSP bar tape. The DSP tape comes in 3 different thicknesses: 1.8mm to shave off a few grams and have a better road feel, 2.5mm for a balance of cushion and grip, or 3.2mm if you’re looking for that maximum cush without the need for awkward gel pads. I personally run the 2.5mm on my road bike and 3.2mm on my cross/gravel machine. The DSP tape is available in a plethora of colors including solid, dual, and camo.


Proviz REFLECT360 CRS Plus Vest

Proviz REFLECT360 CRS Plus Vest $125

Commuting around San Francisco continues to be a pretty dicey affair, but the Proviz REFLECT360 CRS Plus vest, or gilets for all my European friends, will brighten things up for you and have you poppin’ when things turn dark. The Reflect 360 has a typical mesh cycling vest look but what makes it stand out are the millions of embedded glass beads that instantly reflect light. It’s so bright, in fact, it’s almost impossible to ignore this giant reflective blob. The tailor-cut fabric is waterproof and retains just enough warmth in combination with the micro-thermal fleece collar for those early morning rides to work.


Boyd Wingnut tubeless valves

Boyd Wingnut Tubeless Valves $14-25

Honestly Boyd‘s wingnut is just a tire valve with a wingnut-shaped nut instead of a typical round knurled nut but it’s such a ingenious move. I can now easily tighten AND loosen my tubeless valve without tools and without losing my mind. So simple, yet so effective. Get some. You’re welcome.


Wolf Tooth Stainless PowerTrac Elliptical chainring

Wolf Tooth Stainless PowerTrac Elliptical Chainring $99.95

My 29er needed a new chain ring last year so I thought I’d give an elliptical ring a shot. I was a skeptic of the benefit of oval rings because they sounded way too good to be true. My teammate told me he could feel the increased traction. Okay, you got me there. The one I ended up testing, a 32t from the Minneapolis-based Wolf Tooth Component, features a less ovalized shape and less aggressive timing for a more natural pedal stroke. It’s beautifully CNC machined out of 416 stainless steel where raw billets cost more and take longer to make than the conventional 7075 aluminum counterparts, but they are also said to be five to ten times longer lasting. Besides the material, the ring incorporates Wolf-Tooth’s own Drop-Stop narrow/wide tooth profile to prevent chain drops. It’s been running smoothly on a 1×10 drivetrain with a clutched Shimano XT rear derailleur for a few months now and the chainring feels natural and not awkward at all. While the ovality does become slightly apparent in lower cadences, it’s a forgone sensation after a couple of rides. It did seem to smooth out the torque a bit and I was able to get a bit more traction on the loose stuff. And I have yet to drop my chain.


Henty Enduro Backpack

Henty Enduro Backpack $110

Fanny packs are all the rage now. Though I like a good locally-made artisanal fanny pack, I miss the load-bearing aspect of a backpack. Luckily, Australia’s Henty Enduro backpack seems to have solved my dilemma. Despite its name moniker, it’s not really a backpack. It’s more like a lumbar pack sewn with a mesh backpack retention system. Henty designed the water reservoir to be placed horizontally instead of the traditional vertical orientation so not only does it keep the center of gravity low for better stability, but I can also reuse my pre-existing CamelBak reservoir.

Made with tough Cordura 500D nylon, the pack is also padded with molded foam for lumbar protection. It has military-inspired MOLLE webbing that gives me plenty of mounting points to evenly and neatly distribute my gear, plus enough pockets to keep my inner OCD satisfied.


Abl B19 Belt

Abl B19 Belt $39.95

I’ve never had a belt that stretches. I mean, don’t you think it’s counter-intuitive to have a stretchy belt? My curiosity got the best of me when I ran across the Abl B19, and I am glad I took a chance on it. The buckle is made with injection-molded carbon fiber with no moving parts and metals meaning you can breeze through airport/stadium screening without taking it off. The 38mm-wide natural elastic band has what Abl calls performance stretch – just the right amount of stretch to make it both extremely comfortable and keeping my pants from falling off at the worst possible moments. It’s so good that it has been my daily driver, save for those days where I need dress a little sharper.