It’s been exactly one week since I got back from Sea Otter Classic and I am already yearning for more like a hooked gearhead back from CES.
We’ve featured a few pieces of gear in a previous post, and here is more about all the other things I saw. Some gear, but mostly photographs that wouldn’t make it into a story otherwise. I guess you can call it my visual journal.
I loathe going to the North American Handmade Bike Show. IT’s not because the show sucks, but because everything just looks so darn beautiful.
I was admittedly grouchy as I made the trek from San Francisco to Sacramento, yet more than anything, the people, new and old friends, really made the show a whole lot more worthwhile.
Onto the bikes. Well, there were lots of them. Scroll through the gallery and you’ll see why NAHBS is such a fun show even if you have no inclination whatsoever to buy one of these custom steeds. The amount of time the builders, or shall I said wizard artisans, spent in making these ridable show bikes was simply amazing. I hope you enjoy the bikes as much as I do.
Special shoutout to Travis at Paul Component, Dennis at McGovern Cycles, Jeremy at Sycip, Billy at ECHOS, Evan at Alex Rims, and Andrew at Cyclocross Magazine for keeping things light and fun.
I was all ready to photograph this wooden bike at the Cal Poly Bike Builders booth when I saw this small-tubed downhill rig chilling front and center. We at Element.ly don’t cover much downhill but a downhill bike is also not a common sight at NAHBS, either. So I decided to take a look.
Cal Poly Bike Builders is a mechanical engineering club out of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, an uber-competitive public university known for its excellent engineering program that happens to be surrounded with plenty of good riding. I know this well because I really wanted to attend that school.
According to Chris Fedor, the club’s vice president and a 4th year mechanical engineering major, this downhill rig, named D.A.V.E for Downhill Assault Vehicle Extraordinaire, was conceived one week after the 2018 NAHBS.
With about 3,000 man-hours of work done by as many as 25 members of the club to manufacture much of the bike from scratch including the use of 3D modeling, FEA, running the CNC machines, and brazing the steel frame together at the fabrication facilities on campus that would make some full-time builders very jealous.
Needless to say, D.A.V.E is one hell of a student project. The bike has yet to see any trail action, per the members’ agreement of not riding the show bike before NAHBS, but perhaps the lead welder will get first dibs? There’s also rumored to be a long waiting list.
Because of my day job I spend an inordinate amount of time riding a road bike. Maybe not a crazy number of miles, but definitely a crazy number of days. Hell, I got a company Pinarello F10 handed to me in the same way I got issued my MacBook Pro. My uniform for work is a full Giordana FRC kit in team colors and I have used the company mechanic far more often than the company IT department.
I occasionally shave my legs, take the random FTP test and visit Steephill.tv on a regular basis to get a dose of the professional race scene, but I also have a subscription to BIKE magazine, love watching mountain bike videos on instagram and find myself ocassionally geeking out over sag percentages and rebound rates.
And never has it been a better time to be a bicyclist in the off-season. The amount of fodder to pour over is at an all-time high. You have your traditional books and magazine, you have podcast and youtube channels, you have online training tools like Zwift and TrainerRoad and Sufferfest and you have Strava to not only track everything you do, but the ability to stalk all your friends, neighbors and even the professionals who let you peak at there impressive numbers.
All this is to say I have spent an inordinate amount of time this winter reading training articles, listening to mountain bike podcasts, studying workout charts and generally geeking out over all things bicycle.
And what I’ve concluded is I desperately want a new mountain bike.
And buying a new mountain bike right now should be a no-brainer. No one is making a bad bicycle right now. Whether that be a mountain bike or a road bike or a gravel bike, the bicycles of 2019 are amazing. From the shifting to the braking to the geometry, bicycles right now are better than they have ever been.
Which is both a blessing and a curse.
If all the bikes are great, then how does one pick a new whip? And to make the task of picking a new mountain bike even more daunting the people who ride mountain bikers, come in more varietals than grapes. You have your enduro riders, cross-country rides, downhill riders, down-country riders, short track experts, freeriders, single-speeders and your garden variety trail rider. And there is a bike for each and everyone of them.
So here is what I’ve learned about the modern mountain bikes, so far. 100mm is plenty of travel. 150mm is not enough travel. 130mm is the new 145mm. 180mm hardtails are the new singlespeed. Having longer travel upfront is better than having the same travel front and rear, unless having the same travel is better than the other way around. And hardtails are great unless you have one.
And thus, if I may summarize, the mountain bike shopper is looking for a one-quiver bicycle and as far as I can tell it does not exist. If you want to race, you need a cross-country bike which is short on travel and light on weight or at least a trail bike that has a solid pedaling platform, that climbs really well. And if you want to trail ride our need a cross-country bike that is a little slacker and descends well or an enduro bike with cross country tendencies. Not to mention that if you live in some place flat, but aspire to hit the bike parks for some big hucks then you will want something that pedals really well, has a reasonable amount of travel, but rides like a much bigger sled.
Now once you have picked out the perfect mountain bike for your riding conditions you are going to have to make some serious calculation and decisions about how you will set up your suspension. Do you want small bump compliance or do you want a bottomless feel to your whip. Do you want aggressive rebound over stutter clutter and/or big hit plushness. Should you be running a coil shock, are you going to nerd out over rebound and compression and therefore want a shock with a myriad of adjustment or are you a set it and forget it kind of guy. Then we have stem length, saddle setback, dropper post drop, bar width and water bottle placement.
Oh wait, even before all this you need to decide if you want a 29er, a 27.5er or maybe you picture yourself as a 27.5+ kind of pedaler. The 29er is faster unless you are riding in the tighter slower sections then they are apparently slower and more cumbersome. And the 27.5er is faster unless you are in the faster sections and then they are slower. And they are more fun unless you are riding faster sections, then they are less fun. Finally, the 27.5+ is more confidence inspiring and possibly faster in trickier sections with more grip, but can also be difficult because they can feel uncertain while being certainly fun.
Of course, this leads us to tires and tire pressure. Softer rubber offers more grip, but also wears faster and can be a bit pricey. Harder rubber is good for certain conditions and certain days and then bigger tires with lower tire pressures being great for some conditions on some days and you will need a tire with wider spread tread for those other days on other conditions. This, of course, will all become much clearer once you have added your Quark Tyre Wiz monitors and start to parse the data.
Which brings us to another crucial question. Are you Shimano rider or SRAM devotee? Is the bird the word? Or are you still of the belief 2x drivetrains make for a better riding experience? And what about the conundrum of whether you are in the Rock Shox or the Fox Factory Racing camp. Or maybe you like the idea of running a smaller companies suspension: Marzocchi, DVO, Cane Creek or maybe Manitou.
I have weighed all of these things, done all the research, watched all the videos and have narrowed my choice down to three bicycles. They are, in no particular order, the Yeti SB6, the Santa Cruz Hightower 27.5+ and the Scott Spark RC 900. Which is to say, I have literally no idea what bike I should be riding.
I’m battling two very clear schools of thought at this juncture. The first being there is something comforting about being way over-biked for almost all conditions. Which explains my love of the Yeti. It runs on 27.5 inch wheels, has 6 inches of travel, climbs surprisingly well and under almost no circumstances would I ever take full advantage of all the craziness it is capable of getting one into. I would be so over-biked as to be embarrassing.
Which brings us to the second school of thought, which is to buy the bike for the type of riding you actually do. Which for me, at the moment is a lot of pedaling with my beloved labrador, Carter Whitney, and mostly Cross Country types of trails. Which brings us the Scott Spark RC. The bike rolls 100mm of travel front and back, is whisper light and has just a enough rowdie built-in to make it’s race specific pedigree a blast to blast. I road one of these steeds at last years Barner Burner and it is all that and a bag of chips.
And finally we come to the school of thought I had not discovered in all of my research, which is the Holy Shit I love this thing and it makes no sense at all. But this bike is a blast. I borrowed my friend Tony’s Hightower, which is all blinged out with the Eagle drivetrain, the Fox Factory fork with the Fit4 damper and Float DPX2 shock and giant carbon hoops from Enve. Sitting on it, looking down at those giant WBR tires I was figuring it was going to be like spending the day on a clown bike. How less right could I have been? Certainly, the 27.5+ tires didn’t make it climb like the Spark, but it went up just fine. Climbing and clambering over everything I could ram it into and when the trail turned sloshy, rooty and steep it was nothing but a ripping good time.
So I am so close to making a decision. I just need to test ride the Evil Following MB, the Specialized Stumpjumper S-Works 29, the Yeti SB130, the Trek Fuel EX, the Cannondale Bad Habit, the Spot Mayhem 29, the BMC Fourstroke, the Ibis Ripmo…
Our next installment will take on the hot button topics of baggy shorts vs. lycra, full face helmet vs. enduro lids and the backpack vs. fanny pack vs. no pack conundrum.
Like many of cycling’s iconic brands, the storied pumpmaker Silca evokes a certain emotional response. A well-used Silca floor pump is a necessary component in the mind’s conjuring of an imagined bicycle shop, an essential piece that inspires wonder of the countless tasks it endured, happily, over many decades of service. It is Fausto Coppi. It is driving hours to rainy road races. It is growing up in the saddle. It is timeless, and perhaps the most intriguing bicycle brand story in recent memory was when the nearly century-old family company uprooted from Italy to become an innovative American firm under new ownership.
As the latest offering in the reborn Silca’s growing floor pump lineup, the SuperPista Digital augments the decadent innards of yore with a crisp, colorful digital gauge. Deviating slightly from a familiar silhouette in the pursuit of updated usability, the latest SuperPista doles mercy to those who anguish over tire pressure – and muscular support for the workaday mechanic – in equal aplomb. It is the digital-native Millennial daughter of Italian immigrants, raised on motorsports and Merckx, and notably diversifies Silca’s excellence in several significant ways.
Firstly, and most notably, is the prominent digital gauge of this new SuperPista.
The illuminated and colorful display springs to life automatically when it senses pressure, bright-red digits in precise contrast to a white background. The display measures to one-tenth in pounds per square inch, one-hundredth in barometric pressure and again one-hundredth in kilograms per square centimeter. It is rated up to 220 psi, suitable for perfectionist cross racers and trackies alike.
The display includes a preset function that will flash once the user reaches a target pressure, as well as a battery life gauge, all cast in sharp blacks, reds, blues and greens. The display automatically cuts the illumination and reverts to a monochrome mode after about a minute of disuse, and both modes render clearly when viewed from all angles. The display fully deactivates in about five minutes, ready to spring to life again upon sensing pressure or a quick toggle of the three-button interface. The gauge operates on two small CR2032 batteries, which according to Silca, should provide around 100 hours of use.
The digital gauge is newsworthy on its own in comparison to Silca’s classic analogue approach. Yet the display doesn’t appear to exist for its own sake, but is rather a means to accomplish an updated form factor overall.
Where Silca’s other floor pumps locate the gauge at the base of the barrel, the SuperPista Digital’s clear readout sits at the top of the barrel about three feet above the floor. This greatly improves readability in low-light conditions, and is a welcome touch for the wrench whose eyesight is not as good as it used to be.
The Digital is also the first Silca pump that appears to be purpose-built for the company’s celebrated Hiro chuck. Unlike the classic and simple push-on Silca chuck, the Hiro slips easily over valve stems and clamps securely via a side-lever. Users can dial in the clamping force for the Hiro’s gasket, creating a more secure interface for high-pressure applications.
While the Hiro now comes standard on the top-of-the-line SuperPista Ultimate pump, the magnetic dock on the Ultimate still appears sized for the classic chuck design. For the Digital, the Hiro fits neatly into a recess just under the gauge. The effectively puts all controls for the pump, including the ash-wood handle, on a single dashboard, and limits the need to bend over. This could be a nice touch while servicing bikes on a workstand. A secondary magnetic dock exists at the base, and a separate Schrader chuck exists in-line with the hose.
The hosing for this model begins near the top of the barrel, and users droop the hose under a near-floor catch before fixing the chuck, under tension, to the magnetic dock. This is a departure from the classic routing that passes over the handle before returning to the base, which also keeps the handle from extending. Silca added an extra strap to the Digital to retain the handle and prevent it from extending under transport, and the strap appears easily removable.
The Digital’s base is large, heavy and stable, prepared for hard use and friendly to cleated feet. The pump uses a leather plunger and a plated steel piston, and Silca describes the pump as “more like a suspension fork than a traditional pump.”
In two months of constant use, the SuperPista Digital has become a close companion for this tester and dissolved, through sheer joy of use, some of my romantic’s loyalty to the classic Silca design. The aerospace-esque barrel shape and murdered-out color scheme is a big departure from the vintage charm of older models, but one century on, it’s great to see today’s Silca offering a thoughtful augmentation of tradition. Form follows function for this model.
I think, when you tally up the features for sheer usability, that the SuperPista Digital is superior (gasp!) to the original Silca design and even the premium-material SuperPista Ultimate. In the poor lighting conditions of the early morning and the grey light of the Pacific Northwest, the digital display is a delight. The seemingly slight tweaks to the form factor add up to measurable improvements in user experience, and the Digital, at $275, is significantly more affordable than the $450 SuperPista Ultimate. Still, $275 is hugely more expensive than Silca’s $100 Pista model and scores of non-Silca alternatives that accomplish, seemingly, the same task.
So who is the target audience for the SuperPista Digital? In my opinion, this pump is meant for someone who spends countless hours a year in the saddle, the kind of person who would get better value on a use-per-dollar basis with the Digital than the average rider would on another more affordable floor pump. It is for the no-nonsense rider who knows – but doesn’t dwell on – the mythology of cycling, someone who views the bicycle as a tool for personal experience and athletic achievement. This is a pump for someone who spends as much time pumping tires as some people spend riding.
It is hard to comment on the longevity of the SuperPista Digital after only two months of use, particularly when the manufacturer’s reputation for durability is measured in decades. Will the Digital become a classic for the new century of Silca, a family heirloom, an essential part of bike shop milieu? Time will tell, but kudos to Silca for honoring tradition while pushing the envelope for what is possible with a humble floor pump.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Flatten chainstays to absorb vertical bumps.
Sculpted carbon forks for ride comfort.
Room for up to 35c tires.
Focus' own Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T) to enable faster wheel change.
A quarter turn is all that's needed to secure the wheels
The stock Prologo Scratch saddle was comfortable but also heavy
Zipp Course 30 wheels with 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4 season rubbers
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The idea of riding from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, on The Coast Ride, has been on my must-do list for quite some time, but sadly my radar just seems to always go into auto-forget mode after that first slice of Thanksgiving turkey. I would like to blame tryptophan but that wouldn’t be fair to the poor turkey.
It almost happened again this year until I was chatting with Jim about whether he was going to Cyclocross Nationals in Reno. “Not going because of the Coast Ride,” he said. I casually mentioned to him that I’ve always wanted to shoot the Coast Ride and he told me I could shoot it from the inGamba car. A very enticing offer indeed considering the logistics were all taken care of, and an assistant wouldn’t forever hate me for hiring them on for the sole purpose of driving really, really slow along the California coast.
But what about cyclocross nationals in Reno? I mean RENO! It’s so close I can almost make it a day trip. I could even shoot for a day and spend some time on the slopes with the family. But a supported Coast Ride, or embed as I would call it, was pretty hard to turn down, so I agreed. Perhaps the predicted warm SoCal weather played a part in the decison as well.
(Full Disclosure: E co-founder Jim works for inGamba and in such that they provided me with a spot in the team car to shoot from, a bed to sleep in, and fed me whenever it was time to eat in exchange for a few snappies.)
After the wife and kids dropped me off in Sausalito early Saturday morning, it was time to work. Since I was neither staff, nor a riding guest, and I didn’t know anyone other than recognizing a few from the social medias, I was largely on my own. But that was perfectly fine. I was able to shoot uninterrupted. Or as they say in journalism school, I was a fly on the wall.
Support staff was already busy loading the cars and making last minute adjustments while riders were getting ready. We were off just as the first light of the day popped out of the sky. The team cars crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, reconnected with the riders, rolled past the Legion of Honor and off on our journey barreling along the coast with a few hundred other riders.
Life in a support car can be a pretty mundane affair but there was never a dull moment this time as mechanicals, flats, and tired bodies appeared as soon as we strolled past Lake Merced. We saw riders that ran out of juice in their Di2 battery, a dude that flatted on a Lightweight tubular… with no spare, broken derailleur cables (PSA: replace them every season), and compromised tubeless tire sidewalls. Highway 1, as gorgeous and picturesque as it was, mercilessly consumed both riders and equipment, figuratively, of course. Don’t get me started on the amount of middle fingers we got along the route either. I stopped counting after 5 during the opening hours.
Leaving the team hotel in Sausalito
Manuel riding in the good light.
Ralf picking up some warmers.
Relaxing behind the team car.
Somewhere between Santa Cruz and Monterey.
Riding across one of many historic bridges along Big Sur.
Mark taking a few snappies
Climbing Loma Vista.
Sweet socks, buddy.
Ted on the rollers.
The key is to stick together.
We got chased by this cute dog near Lucia... and it kept running
Special mid-ride snack
Hugs before tackling Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.
Raul and Katie descending towards the big climb.
Fort Hunter Liggett is pretty damn sweet
A couple of horses came by the RV to say hello in Lockwood.
Loading up the bags for the final day into Santa Barbara
Everyone's happy after Mark fixed his busted Di2.
Andrew having a blast.
Jim and Xico packing a guest's bike
Almost done with the Coast Ride.
Manuel chilling next to the team car.
Inasmuch as each Coast Ride participant had to go through their own version of sufferfest (we saw a guy on a singlespeed, true story), the view of the California coast and the camaraderie among riders made a huge difference turning the event from a shitty terrible idea to a fun one. Sure there were faces of people in pain, but there were also a ton of happy folks that seemed to be enjoying every bit of the ride, even on that monster 7 mile climb with 2,700 ft of climbing out of Big Sur on Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. High-fives, hugs, and encouragement floated around which made the miles all the better. Definitely a unique take on them there base miles.
For the inGamba crew, though, a lot of these concerns were taken care of. Two team cars, a van and an RV staffed with pro mechanics. Cold in the morning? Here’s an inflated latex glove to stuff under your jersey for warmth. Need a wheel change? Need to shed your warmers or need to stop? The team car was there. In fact, the team car was everywhere for the three day, 400+ mile journey.
Then, there was the world-class guides of Eros Poli, Manuel Cardoso, Raul Matias, and Ted King who seemed to ride on the front for hours, take a few photos with their phones, drop back to the team car, and then go right back to the front for more.
The pro team treatment didn’t stop there though: Lunch and post-ride meals were ready to go at the RV. Recovery massages and suitcases were already awaiting inside each hotel room everyday. Bikes were also washed and checked daily.
One memorable moments was when one of the guests missed the turn for the Nacimiento climb so the team car promptly turned around to fetch him back to the RV full of semi-worried, tired, but cheerful riders. On day three, the Di2 battery on one of the guest’s personal bike battery went out and instead of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere between Morro Bay and Santa Barbara, the team cars pulled up and gave him a spare bike – measured, adjusted and installed with the guest’s own pedals, saddle and a computer mount – all done from the side of a road. See, they really mean it when they say they want you to focus on riding your bike and nothing else.
After three days of soaking up the inGamba x Coast Ride experience behind a camera from inside the team car, I most certainly would go with inGamba if I were to do the Coast Ride. Sounds like a paid statement, but no, I just want to ride and enjoy the view.