14 drool-worthy gear from PressCamp

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

We’re back from the annual PressCamp in Park City, Utah where we lived and breathed nothing but bikes at 7,000+ feet of altitude for a week. It was fun and frankly it’s been a lot digesting all the materials. While more stories will be rolling out shortly, here are 14 items (in no particular order) we saw there that we’re pretty stoked about.


Ridley Fenix SLX disc

Ridley Fenix SLX Disc, now 300 grams lighter. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Aero and gravel bikes have been all the rage lately and while many pass on endurance bikes due to the preconceived notion of them being ‘slow,’ the Ridley Fenix SLX disc is anything but that. While the geometry remained identical to the ones Lotto-Soudal used to race in the classics, the 2018 model is 300 grams lighter, down to sub-850 grams in medium and now disc compatible, making it an ideal all-around machine. The disc-specific design utilizes Ridley’s own 60-50-40 ton high modulus unidirectional carbon and complete bikes will be available with Shimano Ultegra Di2, Ultegra mechanical, or the new Campagnolo Potenza 11 hydraulic disc grouppo.


Campagnolo Hydraulic Road Disc

Campagnolo Super Record mechanical, now available with hydraulic disc brakes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Built around reliability, safety, modulation and better late than never, Campy is alas entering the hydraulic disc brake market. Designed in collaboration with Germany’s Magura but made by Campy in Europe, the disc system is full of sweet little design details: Its flat-mount and rotor-size specific caliper houses two 22mm phenolic resin pistons to combat heat transfer (Campy does not recommend adapter use for safety reasons); its organic brake pads are chamfered with a built-in wear indicator and are separated magnetically (versus metal springs); its centerlock rotors have rounded edges.

On the interface side, while the Ergopower shifter extends 11mm further and the shifter knob is 8mm taller to accommodate the brake’s master cylinders, the contact surface has largely remained the same as the previous generation. With all those design elements on such small real estate, Campy was able to increase the range of adjustments available to fine tune a rider’s preference: the new Adjustable Modulation System to tune the brake feel, adjustable brake lever reach, and adjustable reach on the upshift lever.

The disc system, dubbed the H11, will be available to flagship groups such as Super Record and Record (mechanical and EPS). Mechanical Chorus will be available with disc as well. For a lower-price point, Campy’s Potenza 11 group will share the same rotor and caliper, but with alloy shift levers and a PowerShift drivetrain (instead of Ultra-Shift found on higher end group sets).


Pivot Mach 4

The Mach 4 was Pivot’s first model in 2007. Now in its 5th iteration, the bike is as capable and is fast. Designed to be World Cup cross country worthy and trail capable, the Mach 4 seems perfect for those who like a fast ride and eschew bikes with longer travels. The DW-link rear suspension with 115mm travel on a custom tuned FOX Factory DPS shock is now mated to a new rear triangle to accommodate boost 148 spacing while improving stiffness and tire clearance up to 2.6″. Pivot offers both builds oriented for both XC and trail build that goes as light as 22lbs complete and 5 sizes to fit riders from 4’10” to 6’3”. What’s neat about Pivot’s offering is that unlike other companies who use same frame designs but heavier carbon layups, the Mach 4 uses the same frame and shock across the board from its $4,599 race XT build to the top of the line $9,499 Team XTR Di2 build so you can always up your parts game later knowing your frame is as good as it gets.


Bag Balm

Bag Balm for days. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Started as a quest to remedy chafed and cracked cow udders in Vermont in 1900, Bag Balm sounded just so unrelated to bikes. But perhaps it’s a best kept secret from the ’96 US Olympic track team, as told by team member and world record holder, Sky Christopherson, where the team turned to Bag Balm as their go to chamois cream. They were only able to purchase it from a nearby livestock supply store. Bag Balm is as long-lasting as it is simple. Its formula contains only 4 ingredients: petrolatum, lanolin, 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate and paraffin wax. But it’s versatile as I doubt any famers would put anything unproven on their prized cows, or any of us who needs an effective moisturizer to fit our variety of needs from using it as chamois to lip balm to anything in between. We gave it a try while combating the dryness and altitude in Park City and it seemed to work exceptionally well. Bag Balm is available at most drug stores such as CVS, Target and Walgreens so you know where to find it next time when you need some chamois cream and all-around moisturizer.


Factor O2 Disc

Originally started in 2007 as an offshoot of Britian’s renowned engineering firm BF1systems, Factor Bikes is no stranger to the limelight thanks to its forward thinking designs over the years:  From the £25k Factor ONE-77 hyperbike made in collaboration with Aston Martin (yes, the car company) to the Twin Vane split down tube on the Vis Vires in 2013, Factor has been making, albeit limited stuff for the chosen few. That all changed in 2015 when industry veteran Rob Gitelis and former green jersey winner Baden Cooke purchased Factor from BF1 and went on to sponsor a WorldTour team before a bike was sold to the public.

But the wait is over and the O2 disc, a disc version of the same O2 that is being raced by AG2R La Mondiale (look for it in this year’s Tour De France). The disc version adds about 20 grams to the fork and about 40 grams to the frame, bringing the frame to about 800 grams. The frameset does not use any alloy inserts and will be available as a complete bike, chassis (frame, fork, headset, bottom bracket, bar, stem and seatpost), as well as rolling chassis (chassis plus wheels) with components from in house brand Black Inc. which is said to work as a system together in terms of optimal balance in performance and comfort. Extra Credit: Every Factor comes standard with a CeramicSpeed bottom bracket. Here is our first ride impression.


Boyd Altamont Lite

Boyd Altamont Lite. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Alloy wheels are not dead and Boyd’s Altamont Lite is a good example of what one could get from a high-end hand built set of alloy wheels. At $900/set and around 1,450 grams, the 30mm tall welded rim with 19.86mm internal width and tubeless compatible rim, it has all the bells and whistles that one would find on wheels costing much more. Boyd didn’t stop there, though. The Altamont Lite now comes with a durable ceramic coating on the brake track to improve all-weather braking performance. Since all of Boyd’s hoops are hand-built at their family-owned shop in Greenville, South Carolina, you have options regarding spoke counts as well as an upgrade to White Industries hubs. Also new for 2017 is Boyd’s Ready2Ride program where Boyd installs the wheels with axles, tires, cassette and rotors in advance (for a fee) so it will be ready to ride straight out of the box. A small but thoughtful detail perfect for those with a busy schedule.


Thule Yepp Nexxt Mini

Thule Yepp Nexxt Mini. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

We love high-performance machines but we didn’t forget about all you parents with kids. This year Thule had a mix of on-bike bike seats and convertible trailers for the little ones. We think the Yepp Nexxt Mini is pretty neat with its quick attach bracket, a slick five-point magnetic harness system on a shock-absorbing seat, plus an integrated handlebar and adjustable foot rests designed for nine month olds to three year olds plus a max 33-lb capacity on a lightweight 6.6-lb chassis. Because admit it, weight does matter.


3T Strada

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Gerard Vroomen is no stranger when it comes to designing something different. From his Cervelo days telling everyone about  the benefit of 25c tires and the idea of a compact crankset that has now been well-adopted, Gerard does his own thing. Though eagle-eyed readers might see a facade reminiscent of Gerard’s past projects, the Strada is different.

It’s drawn specifically around wider tires, disc brakes and without the front derailleur in mind. That’s right, a 1×12 drivetrain 3T believes so strongly the bike will be released with its own dedicated cassettes featuring what they could just call the golden ratio of cassettes that has the smooth 1-tooth transition on the first 5 gears, plus a massive 350% range.

Speaking of massive, the tubes are in their own league. Whereas common aero tubing assumes airflow to stay flat as the bike travels into the wind, 3T noticed the airflow actually behaves more like an arc so the tubes were designed accordingly. Its new Fundi fork continues to minimize the frontal area to the wind while being able to accommodate 25-30c tires.


NeilPryde Nazaré SL

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Perhaps the biggest bang for the buck at PressCamp this year had to be the NeilPryde Nazaré SL. Named after the legendary Portuguese wave, the Nazaré SL is the company’s aero offering. You’re probably thinking great, it’s (yet) another aero road bike. NeilPryde may be relatively new to the bike biz, but for those who are unfamiliar with them, NeilPryde has been playing with aerodynamics and composite engineering for about 40 years in water sports, notably windsurfing and sailing.

While other companies’ top aero offering could easy cost upwards of $10k, the top Nazaré SL in Dura-Ace 9100 mechanical transmission with Fulcrum Quattro Carbon hoops for $6,200, followed by a second model with Ultegra 8000 at an equally competitive $3,600. At 960 grams for a large frame, it ain’t no slouch either. Both models include their semi-integrated Aeroblade bar/stem cockpit to slice through the wind.

For those with tighter budgets, NeilPryde will also be offering the Nazaré, which shares the same design cues but is built with slightly heavier fibers. Nazare with Ultegra 8000 will be $2,900 and there will even be a 105-spec’d version, minus the Aeroblade cockpit, for $2,100.


Cinelli Nemo Tig

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

This one got me with its sparkly purple paint. At 1,800 grams for a frame, the Nemo is not going to win any weight weenie contests anytime soon, but this frame is much more than just a pretty face. Under the hood (ok, paint) the Nemo utilizes oversized triple-butted Columbus Spirit niobium steel tubes which are then TIG-welded in Italy before being painted with your choice of five colors. The Nemo is available in six standard sizes from XS (48cm) to XXL (61cm), but Cinelli will make one made to measure if you like this classy-looking machine. Who says weight is everything.


G-Form Elite Knee Guard

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Flexible body armor has been making its way into the body protection scene the last few years and I thank companies for making them so good yet hardly resembling those bulky hard rebadged ones from motocross that were once the only choice. Among them is G-Form. New this year is the Elite line of knee and elbow guards. The Elite continues the usage of G-Form’s own Reactive Protective Technology (RPT) layer to instantly absorb impact while staying flexible. Compared to the previous Pro-X line, the elite has thicker padding, more coverage and updated lycra sleeves that are not only longer in length, but also with a more breathable back panel plus silicone grippers top and bottom. Available now for $99.99. We are putting ours to the test for now so stay tuned for a more in depth look.


FSA SL-K BB392EVO Modular Crankset

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Thinking about buying a new crankset for your current mtb but worried about future compatibility? Enter the FSA SL-K BB392EVO modular crankset. For starters, it has the standard option of running direct mount 1x and 2x chainrings while the BB392 axle means you can fit the crank into a variety of frames with different bottom bracket standards (using appropriate bottom brackets obviously). But it doesn’t stop there. The modular crankset also makes nice between the traditional and the newer, wider Boost spacing with its built-in adjustment system (read: a spacer). They’re available in-stores now.


THM Tibia Stem

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

It’s by far the most expensive stem ($650) I’ve ever crossed paths with – so much so one can buy a new iPhone 7. But if money was no object, I’d get my hands on one of these gems ASAP. At 68 grams (100mm), it’s likely to be one of the lightest stems in the market by the THM Carbones of Germany. The Tibia is said to have the world’s best stiffness to weight ratio with its full carbon construction including the faceplate, and titanium fasteners (in torx versus the more traditional hex). What’s special about the Tibia’s design is that the faceplate mounting bolts are reversely mounted in such that the threaded rods extend from the stem and are secured by four t15 torx bolts. THM claims their particular design makes for a stiffer platform. The steer clamp is also mounted on two rotatable shafts to lessen stress. Available now.


Zipp 454 NSW disc

Zipp 454 NSW disc mounted to a Canyon AEROAD CF SLX DISC. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Also prohibitively expensive at $4,000 a set but equally fascinating is the Zipp 454 NSW (Nest Speed Weaponry) disc. The rim uses the Zipp’s new variable depth HyperFoil Sawtooth profile that gives the rim its distinctive zig-zag shape as it varies from 53mm to 58mm and is said to be inspired by the tubercles of a humpback whale’s pectoral fin. It’s the fastest and also the most stable wheelset, a point Zipp stresses in terms of aero balance when riding in the wind in the 30 years since Zipp got into the aero wheel business. The 454 also employs Zipp’s own Cognition hubset with Axial Clutch technology that uses magnets instead of the standard pawl design to reduce drag. Enough said about these gems. Just think of the 454 as the AMG of Zipp wheels.


I discovered that I was best in cycling

Isabelle Beckers
Isabelle Beckers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Racing in her fifth year as a professional and in her fourth season for UCI Women’s World Tour team Lotto Soudal LadiesIsabelle Beckers had a comparatively late, yet speedy foray into professional bike racing due to injuries from competitive track and field and many friends telling her, “Just do the same.” The former Belgium 400 meter track star and physical education teacher got her first start in triathlons because “I could ride my bike, I could still do some running, and I could do some swimming,” she explained.

After two years of racing triathlons and working full-time as a pharmaceutical sales rep, she eventually found her true calling.

“I discovered that I was best in cycling. I was like, ‘Okay. I’m 29 now. It’s now or never.’ So I decided to go 100% for cycling.”

Today, aside from her day job racing and pulling domestique duties for her teammates, the multi-talented Beckers works as a curator for La Ridley, a women’s cycling community founded by Ridley where one can read up on a wide variety of topics ranging from everyday questions such as how to fix a flat tire, to stories inside the pro peloton.

How long have you been riding for Lotto-Soudal? How long have you been racing?

I’ve been racing for five years and this is my fourth season with Lotto-Soudal.

Your most memorable race: 

Gent-Wevelgem two years ago. It wasn’t really rainy, but there was so much wind that we felt it in our arms because we were leaning into the wind. It was such a hard race because we were fighting the wind constantly, and you would see girls getting dropped the whole time and then just get off their bikes, so we were like “Lotto-Soudal, okay, that’s another one. And then another one, and then another.”

We were like the last ones.

That was such a cool experience also because I had my teammate with me. We were the last ones in the race because they (the commissaires) were taking everybody out. Everybody got dropped. There were riders all over the place and she was the one telling me, “Isabelle, keep eating. Keep drinking. We can do it. We can do it.” And I was like, “Okay Anouk (Rijff), that’s great.” After that she was the one being very hungry and couldn’t do it anymore.

We didn’t drop (each other). We did a time trial until the finish. (Only 65 riders out of a field of 169 finished the race- Ed.)

Biggest challenge as a professional cyclist:

The biggest challenge would be getting selected for races like the big classics… And really finish them and do a real good job.

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Uphill or downhill?

Uphill.

Your speciality and main role at Lotto-Soudal:

I try to specialize in Time Trials. I don’t have enough explosive power to be a sprinter. But I can ride really hard for a longer time. I am 183cm tall which makes me too heavy to be a good climber even when I’m very skinny. But I absolutely love climbing certainly the longer climbs where I can ride tempo and be the ‘busdriver.’

My job at the team is mostly to be a helper/domestique. And if I get the chance to be in an early break, I can grab it.

What’s on your playlist when you’re warming up for a time trial?

Dance music, like Tomorrow Land kind of music.

Favorite place to ride in Europe?

I have never done it but I would love to do the Stelvio.

Any recommendation if I was to visit Belgium tomorrow:

Oudenaarde. Because that is really the center of cycling. That is the center of Tour Flanders. Right there.

Do you see any difference in the cycling culture between the US and its European counterpart?

The difference I could experience so far is indeed that in the US, people are very serious about their cycling. Training with coaches, schedules, powermeters, newest tech. All the racing on the road and even on the track. I was impressed! Even in every age group!

In Europe the amateurs ride their bikes in a less professional way. Power meters you can only find with the pro riders at the moment. What you do see over here is a rising trend in granfondo’s, triathlons etc. The real endurance stuff. People want to make it to the finish line but the result isn’t that important.

I’ve been told that you’re also a talented artist, a Renaissance woman type:

To say that I am an artist, is a bit over the top, I reckon. I wish I had more time to draw. I work with crayons because I like the texture it gives.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:

A lot of nature, adventure. I don’t really like resorts. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl.

Your spirit animal:

I was with the girl scouts and there they give you an animal name during your last year. I was a swallow. They say they’re artistic fliers or something.

What about a favorite meal?

Meatballs with tomato sauce, together with warm cherries, cherry sauce and mashed potatoes with no gravy.

First thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

Just go to a very beautiful island.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Fly.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Is it a Belgian school bus? 10,582,361.

What is a coffee ride and what do you do when you’re on one?

I’m very good at coffee rides… It’s just riding a little bit and drinking coffee most of the time. We ride much slower than most of the tourists in a coffee ride. It goes really slow, it’s not doing serious stuff because we do that all the time. We look forward to doing coffee rides. It really is part of training and it’s just a day that you can really enjoy bike riding.

One embarrassing fact people don’t know about you: 

I basically fell over my first race bike with clipless pedals the first time I hopped on it. My dad was standing there and he brings up that story every time in every race or whatever- whoever he is talking with… Another thing also with pedals.  I was lost during our training camp. So we had to stop at a red light and I was all being cool… So I just grabbed a car who was also waiting at the red light, but they had green before me. I nearly fell while the whole team was there.

What would you like to see/improve in terms of women racing and cycling?

What I would like to see improved in cycling in general, is safety.

On the road and in the races. Do you know that team leaders and staff don’t even need a first aid certification to do their job? They are the first arriving at a crash during a race! To me this is just crazy. It’s not even mandatory to have a first aid kit in the team bus/car. We take so many risks during a race but if something goes wrong it could really go wrong.

The accident of Stig Broeckx is the perfect example. The ambulance following that day wasn’t even checked before the race. I think first aid courses should be followed by the staff of every single team and every year to be able to get a race license.

Women’s cycling could use more professionalism. That all starts with more TV-coverage or media attention. This way sponsors are more interested and budgets could rise. And wouldn’t it be great if it would be mandatory to have a women’s team next to every men’s team at the Pro Tour or World Tour level? They have huge budgets and could make it possible for every girl to get at least a minimal wage. Maybe I’m not thinking realistic but it’s not wrong to dream, right?

Anything else you would like to add about your job as a cyclist and as an ambassador at La Ridley our readers should know about?

Anything is possible. I’m proof that where there is will, there is a way.

Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops
Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

The Real dirt on Muc-Off’s dirt-shedding c3 dry ceramic lube

Muc-off C3 Ceramic Dry Lube
Muc-Off C3 Ceramic Dry Lube. Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

CHAIN LUBE!

Surely, you have experienced the thrill of obtaining a new bottle of chain lube. You haven’t? Well cycling’s most humble essential has a new trick up its sleeve with Muc-Off’s C3 Dry Ceramic Lube, so shut up about that power meter and hold on to your socks!

Already a high-performing dry lubricant that will clad a chain’s inner workings in a friction-fighting embrace, C3 also has the unusual ability to glow neon green under an included ultraviolet light. This quirky trait allows the user to verify a chain has drawn up just the right amount of lube, eliminating the guesswork that comes with most alternatives.

The included UV light for the MUC-off C3 Dry Lube
The included UV light. Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

Granted, applying chain lubricant is hardly rocket science. Yet it is a novel joy to see precisely how well C3 works its way into the hundreds of articulations that comprise a bicycle chain. Making the task easier is a well-designed, narrow bottle with a built-in applicator around two inches in length.

Now, there is no way in the world I could possibly tell you whether C3 actually reduced the friction in my drivetrain to any measurable result. Are you crazy? All I can add here is that UK-based Muc-Off does sponsor Team Sky at the time of this writing, an organization that strikes me as a little…meticulous…when it comes to vetting performance.

What I can tell you, however, is that C3 has an uncanny ability to shed crud. After consecutive days of wet-road riding left my bike in shambles, I was surprised to look down and see my chain utterly gleaming against the mess of my cassette.

C3 is more viscous than the dry lube I am used to, and the feel of a lubricated chain reminded me somewhat of the way a chain feels when it is fresh from the box (awesome). The lube holds up over multiple days of abuse, is easy to apply and freakin’ glows. It glows, man!

It glows! Photo: Eric Gneckow/ element.ly

 


From petroleum to bikes, I think that’s good karma there

Paul Component Engineering. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

When I was racing in the 2nd NorCal High School MTB League (yup, just dated myself) there was a kid in the expert class with a baby blue Soulcraft.

I remember him well. Not only because he was insanely fast and his dad carried the bike for him to the start line like a boss at the 2003 state championship to avoid the thick sticky mud in Nevada City, but he had some v-brakes I have never seen before.

Various types of brakes Paul made over the years. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

In the times where XTR M-950 and Avid Arch Ultimate were rampant, this kid had Paul Motolites. Cool like that one Macintosh user when everyone was about having an Intel Inside machine.

That was my first encounter of Paul Components. And now I finally got a chance to peek inside Paul’s shop, as well as the Paul behind the company, Paul Price.

Paul Price. The man behind Paul Component Engineering. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

After starting from his home garage in 1989, the company is now situated at a former Texaco petroleum distribution facility next to a bike path that was once a railroad track.

“From petroleum to bikes, I think that’s good karma there.” said Price as he led a dozen journalists around his shop.

Found at a metal scrap yard and now a prominent piece within the employee bike shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

To the uninitiated, it’s merely a nondescript warehouse with a bunch of machines running. Looking deeper, however, it’s evident that it’s more than your average machine shop. It’s a testament to Paul’s deep passion for cycling: From the giant CNC machine humming away in the distance,  the freshly machined cable barrel adjuster, the collection of vintage bikes high up on the wall, and to the manual machine in Paul’s R&D shop where he paid $500 for from a high school, they all speak volumes on the journey and dedication behind the brand.

Some might say the dude’s goofy, but I think Paul’s a total badass and knows exactly what he’s doing. So here’s an inside look of what goes on inside Paul Component Engineering.

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Office bulletin board at Paul. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Metal stock was once cut by hand but it's now automated. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Here comes a freshly cut block of 2024 aluminum to be turned into a stem. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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All the metal from manufacturing is collected and recycled. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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precursor to the cable adjuster. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul likes his shop to be tidy so they machined a few of these tool holders for a few stations at the shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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This machine was making Cross Levers when I was there. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Inspection. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul stopped one of the CNC machines for us to take a peek. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Raw aluminum bar (top) to finished quick release levers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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A painting of Mt. Diablo by Paul's mom who is an artist. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Some of the tools at the machine shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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A batch of hubs waiting to be drilled for spoke holes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Few of the vintage frames on the wall. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Paul fabricated this fixture on the left to prevent dings while polishing their Boxcar stems. Over at the right is a smaller polisher for smaller parts. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Walnut shells and corn cobb are used as polish media in this vibratory polishing machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul showing off his personal machine shop full of old manual machines where he tinkers and makes prototypes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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A $500 manual machine Paul bought from a high school shop. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul dabbled into framebuilding at one point and this was one of his creations. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Parts ready to be assembled. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Long-time tooling engineer Jim at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Memorabilia and old parts next to Paul's desk. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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Paul's desk... where the magic happens. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly

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The 2017 limited edition blue in all its livery. Available in 6-8 weeks. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly


Sea Otter was a much needed breather

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I thought hard about whether I should make a trip to Sea Otter this year.

No doubt last year’s inaugural e-bike race at one of America’s premier bike festivals was fun, but I could really use a day off, especially after what turned out to be an intense Saturday in Berkeley.

So I somewhat reluctantly made the drive down to Laguna Seca and in the end, I am glad I did.

As I walked toward the entrance, a friend I haven’t seen since InterBike came out of nowhere and we spent 10 minutes catching up as we treaded closer to the blue overpass. The conversation ranged from kids, life, and a bit of bikes.

Pretty spontaneous but it felt like family.

Once over the blue overpass, my initial plan of attack was to fly under the radar around the expo as long as I could. However, just like my previous conversation, my hopes of staying down low was all but evaporated within five minutes into the expo when I walked by the Boyd booth.

Old pal Richard was there showing them hoops with a couple of Factor O2s, industry chatters…

Want. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Somewhere along the way, test rides were offered but since I only had a day there, that just couldn’t happen. With more than 400 exhibitors, even quick drive-by booth visits quickly added up to a significant chunk of time as I jumped between the seemingly sprawling booths and race venues that littered within and outside the famed corkscrew race course.

As cheery racers went to claim their podiums from the day’s criterium and enduro races one after another, I slowly came to realize that Sea Otter is more than racing and new products.

Up and personal. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

It’s a family gathering of all disciplines where little rippers can share pump track tips with their older brother-in-arms of whom they’ve only seen in YouTube videos; Where aspiring cross-country racers in USA Talent ID jerseys rub shoulders with GT’s Anneke Beerten as Brett Tippie goofs around while filming his latest Just The Tip segment; And eBikes getting along with just about everyone, including them electric surfboards.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

In it, I find myself a brief reprieve from the constant barrage of what’s happening around the world.  The feeling where you’re so thirsty and suddenly the GU booth just magically appears like a desert oasis on the horizon, along with all the food samples and drinks you can have.

And I am not even mad about falling into one of the many gopher holes, or, as one of my teammates joked, bomb holes that lined the dual slalom course.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

With that in mind, perhaps I should treat next year’s Sea Otter as if I was coming home for Thanksgiving.

Until next year. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Cleaning the Steed gets friendlier with the Wash Buddy

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I love washing bikes.

For me, there’s something to be said about getting your hands dirty only to get the bike looking new, all lubed up and ready to rock.

I would never win a timed bike washing contest but I really don’t mind taking my time scrubbing and tweaking, granted made more enjoyable with some wine and music thrown in. Maybe it’s my personal woosah from the never-ending daddy/husband duty, including the realization I washed my bikes far more often than I washed my car last year.

We can talk about this love for bike washing all day, but you’re not here for that. And honestly, I am not going to write it either since what I’m supposed to tell you about is this Team Issue Washer Buddy from Abbey Bike Tools.

Amongst the unsung heroes in my cleaning kit has been the Morgan Blue Chain Keeper that I reviewed a few years ago. In fact, I loved it so much I bought a second one for traveling and washing multiple bikes. It is a bargain for $7. But as much as it was stupidly affordable and extremely durable, it had its limits, namely the inabilty to shift the rear derailleur, and lately, its incompatibility with thru axles.

There are products from other brands made specifically for thru axles, but I wanted a chain keeper that could do it all.

It seems I’ve finally found the perfect buddy.

Designed by Jason Quade who bought us the ingenious Crombie tool, the Team Issue Wash Buddy is hands down one of the most well-made chain keeper I’ve ever had my hands on. So good it should be on everyone’s holiday stuffers list this year.

At its core is a pulley made with DuPont Delrin for low friction and chemical resistance to solvents. Coupled with the stainless steel spindle where the pulley spins on, the Wash Buddy is made to last. And instead of a set stationary location where the pulley stays during use, the Pulley on the Wash Buddy is designed to glide along the spindle to allow shifting of the rear derailleur.

Plenty of room for the delrin pulley to move as you shift. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

On my 11-speed bike, I was able to shift to all but the 2 smallest cogs without the chain popping out of the pulley’s deep channels. It’s a small but welcoming design detail I found to be super helpful whenever I need to rid the gunk trapped between the derailleur body.

To top it off, Abbey uses a gorgeous custom skewer from Chico’s Paul Component for its quick release. It’s the same proven design off Paul’s wheel/seatpost skewer, and the lever action has stayed buttery smooth even after repetitive pressure washer treatment.

Smooth curves and small details. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

So what about bikes with thru-axles? Well, the easiest way, as Quade personally showed yours truly at Sea Otter, is to insert only the pulley onto your bike’s axle. While it is entirely possible to use the entire Wash Buddy with the included Paul Skewer by unscrewing and reconnecting the quick release as I did on my very first try, I wouldn’t recommend doing just that though since the whole installation felt rather awkward.

The Team Issue Wash Buddy retails for $75 with the Paul skewer. But Abbey will also sell you just the pulley for $15 should you wash your bike so much you manage to FUBAR yours, or are already all-in with 142×12 thru-axles.

All scuffed after repeated washings but everything still works as new. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Is going in circles really going to work?

Counting the seconds as I barreled toward the 42-and-a-half degree banking of Manchester’s HSBC UK National Cycling Centre velodrome for the first time, I couldn’t quite banish the instinct that I was about to end my honeymoon with a busted face.

Manchester was the latest stopover in our freewheeling post-wedding circumnavigation of Scotland and northern England, a loosely planned route that proved highly susceptible to the suggestions of fellow pub-goers. Following the vague endorsement of “it’s a cool city,” we wound up penciling in two days on the itinerary, relying on our good record of finding our own fun.

Perhaps the single existing bit of intelligence we had on Manchester was the velodrome, a facility I had read about for years in the scene-setting of various bits of cycling news. We committed to having a look, hopping the light rail for an easy trip out to the track where riders like Chris Hoy got their kicks in.

This was nothing like the beloved concrete Hellyer Velodrome in my hometown of San Jose, California. The massive indoor track seemed something reserved for professionals, something we could never hope to experience. But I remembered from San Jose that Hellyer regularly rented bikes for beginner sessions at the track, and it wasn’t long before a couple of dirty backpackers in T-shirts wound up on the roster for a one-hour afternoon session at Manchester.

The banking loomed huge as I hit it as fast as I could, as a not-so-insignificant part of my inner voice continued to scream, “Is this really going to work!?”. Yet I felt the curve scoop me up as it had the dozens of riders I’d watched that day and dump me out on the next straightaway with smooth and seamless speed. The sensation of building altitude around a turn and accelerating on the descent was incredible.

After adjusting to the surprising scale of the whole experience, we wished we had more time. We hadn’t even gotten into the racing. It was sheer joy, and one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

Velodromes all over the world offer these sorts of sessions, and in this case, it was cheap. Around $25 U.S. got each of us a bike, shoes and helmet – the worst part of the process was the minor annoyance of setting up a user account for the facility.

We were lucky to sneak in for the session, but I’d recommend calling a few days in advance for advice on how to properly set up an account. It was a hoot, and a nice way to work off some of that ale.


Rapha’s Flyweight glasses equal heavyweight style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cross over to the SuperX

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Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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

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Toptube logo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hear me out for a few minutes here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wahoo Elemnt: Short on vowels, big on functionality

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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