When Rapha’s loopback jacket arrived to my apartment, the mercury was pushing 40ºC [I’m not sure what that is in fahrenheit, so let’s just call it “Hot AF”]. It was sharp-looking, sure, but not what you want to see during southern European summertime. Just the thought of it was enough to induce severe perspiration, and so, it waited patiently, for the weather to change and the autumn to come.
A couple of months later and it’s become a go-to, which is about the best thing you can say for any garment. But I do have one bone to pick, albeit a pedantic and totally silly one. Rapha’s own description reads: “Trucker jacket utility with the comfort of a jersey.” I’ve just travelled from southern Spain to northern Portugal, and along that 1,100km stretch of road, at not one single rest stop did we see a trucker wearing Rapha.
Trucker jackets usually come in heavy-duty fabrics like denim or canvas and close with sturdy metallic buttons. And while the lightweight loopback fabric used here would be fine against bare skin, this isn’t a jersey. I’m not sure why they’re trying to make either association. Perhaps “blouson” didn’t sound as cool?
That said, you’re buying the jacket here, not the marketing copy. And the only bad thing I can say about the product is that I was a little confused by the sales pitch. I’m not sure how much more I can add, other than to say that it goes well with a tonne of stuff, is very comfortable, and the reversible, high-vis and pink cuffs are a nice touch for anyone feeling a little fancy. The water repellent, wind-blocking material is quick drying, so it does a great job as a cycling commuter jacket, but thanks to some low-key retro styling and a smart cut, it does just as well on social occasions. All in all, a solid addition to any wardrobe.
Who in their right mind would lust after a $200 titanium bike hammer? Me. That’s who.
For certain repair or build tasks, especially on a pricey carbon whip, there’s nothing better. Titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal and yet can be up to 45 percent lighter. Thus you can have this featherweight, 235 gram, Abbey Tools hammer in your toolbox for those tasks where you need to deliver a blow, without having to carry the heft of a regular hammer. The lower weight also allows faster speeds with less effort when, say, trying to remove some pesky press fit bearings.
The backstory is a good one. Orica GreenEDGE professional mechanic Craig Geeter first dreamed up the hammer while wrenching on pro bikes and then reached out to Jason Quade, owner of Abbey Tools. Quade luckily had some extra titanium laying around from his days building heat exchanges for the nuclear industry and built a quick prototype.
“At first I thought it was the dumbest thing anybody had ever requested,” Quade said. “But then, once I started to use it, I realized Craig’s idea wasn’t dumb at all and was actually pretty awesome for the light tapping you do on modern bicycles.”
Quade ended up making an initial batch of 50, with each one numbered and then engraved with the owner’s name. That batch sold so quickly that the hammer has since become a regular item in Abbey Tools’ catalog.
Most people still buy them for their bikes, but the hammers have also found a following with gun owners who like them for adjusting sites and tapping pins out. Because they’re non-magnetic, the hammers sometimes get used in data centers were magnetic signatures can be a problem.
If you asked me whether I absolutely need my $200 hammer the answer would be a stiff no. But if you asked me if I regularly enjoy the fine craftsmanship and precise mechanics, my answer would be a pounding, er…, resounding yes.
I met Bice Bicycles’ founder (and only employee) Dario Colombo a few years back, on a bike-packing trip from Venice to Turin. He showed up with a big smile and an old Pedersen, a peculiar Scandinavian rig with a cantilevered frame and a hammock-style saddle, complete with a set of modern pannier bags. It made a good first impression.
As we rode along the banks of the Po river, he talked enthusiastically about his business building steel frames, getting away from the homogeneity of the modern bike market by making products that would last and that could be tailored to each rider’s ability and needs. This also made a positive impression. When we got home, I promised, we’d talk some more. So this chat is long overdue.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Like a dating profile? My name’s Dario, I’m a nice guy, handsome, hard-working, a generous lover [laughing] … Before becoming a frame-builder, I worked as an electronic engineer for Siemens, and as an environmental engineer, working on the development of cycling in the city of Milan. I also worked at a biomechanics lab specialising in sports, and as a teacher on sustainability and smart cities, when I opened four cycling workshops around Milan to help young people repair their own bikes, have some fun, and maybe discover a future career.
Aside from the work, I suppose people would call me a Xennial, I’m still young, but old enough to remember rewinding my cassette tapes with a pen. I’ll happily drink beer but I prefer wine, in my part of Italy we say “La birra fa pisciar, il vino fa cantar,” – Beer makes you piss and wine makes you sing. I prefer mountain climbing to sunbathing and beaches, and I love music and cycling, obviously. If you made me choose between a concert and a bike, I’d tell you that I was riding to the gig. I actually did it last year when Dub FX played in Sestri Levante, on the Ligurian coast, I think it was more than 2,000 metres of climbing over about 220 kilometres.
When did you get into bikes?
Let’s say that before 2007, I wasn’t a cyclist. I went for a ride every so often, but nothing special. That June I went on a cycling trip to Provence with eight people and it changed my way of seeing the bicycle. From then on I started to bike-pack and to use it constantly for commuting and fun. I never had any grand delusions – if you saw my Strava you’d know what I mean – and I’ve always just seen the bike as something to have fun with and as a means of transport. I’m a committed singlespeeder, but at the same time, I don’t dislike innovations like e-bikes, especially not when you’re talking about something like a cargobike.
Why did you start making frames?
It was a gradual thing. Aside from my professional experiences, it began as an experiment, I just wanted to be a part of the bike world. My previous jobs were all positive experiences, but none of them really felt right for me. And I’ve always enjoyed creating things from scratch – but never to assemble them – and I liked bikes. It seemed like an obvious fit.
I started out modifying an old Leri frame, turning it from road to pursuit, changing the geometry and the rear end. The funny thing was that, even if it was a game to me then, before beginning that frame, I built a rig that I continued to use for three years. That first one was finished on Christmas eve, 2011, it was snowing and as is the tradition around my home town, there was a guy dressed as Santa doing the rounds, handing out presents. Meanwhile, I was flying around on my homemade track bike, it was such a weird beginning that I felt like it could only be a good omen!
What was the hardest thing about starting out?
Learning everything from scratch, self-taught, and above all, learning from my (many) mistakes, without letting them discourage me. In Italy, old frame-builders don’t have the money or the time to invest in young people, to pass on their skills and knowledge – even though a lot of them want to. So I wasn’t able to learn as a proper apprentice, and I could only get the knowledge by asking questions, listening, and watching. I came home several times after a day spent by with a frame-builder, only to completely change the whole workshop and machinery – as well as my mental modus operandi.
Another big difficulty is knowing the value of a firm “NO”. Involving the customer in the building process is an great experience for both parties, but it needs well-defined limitations if I’m to enjoy my work and they’re to get the best possible end product. But it’s a work in progress – I’m always learning!
Have you changed a lot?
So much. Every encounter with a frame-builder corresponded to a lesson in technique and in life. How to point a chassis, what type of welding alloys to use, how to TIG weld, how to set up the workshop to optimise my space, how to approach customers.
Not to mention the type of frames: at the beginning I didn’t even have a real price list, but now I’ve got a series of models that I’ve developed based on my experiences. I started with 29er frames and then moved on to touring, CX and most recently to the gravel and bike-packing scenes. Roughly, that corresponds to my personal cycling life.
One thing hasn’t changed: my desire to adapt and improve. Experimenting with new techniques and new tubing, for example, is an everyday thing for me, but it has nothing to do with market demand or programmed obsolescence. It just reflects my desire to keep moving and getting better.
Who buys a Bice?
The average customer is somewhere between 30 and 45, they generally have a lot of cycling experience, and are fed up with the modern “disposable” world. They don’t mind waiting four months for a truly custom frame. What’s the difference between that and one off the shelf? Well, you know who made it. You know it’s real.
Cycling has changed so much in recent years. Where do you see it going from here?
The modern bike industry is a child of our times: there is such a huge supply of products and a lot of the history, emotions, and memories, are being annihilated by increasingly heavy marketing campaigns. A year or two on from the presentation of a new model and it’s already “old.” Just one financial mistake, a speculative move made on the other side of the world, and a historic brand disappears. But I think a lot of people want to distance themselves from all that. I certainly do.
Am I the only one thinking that it’s about time Rapha’s city collection made the mainstream? Not that there’s anything wrong with the cosy waters of the cycling world, but Britain’s foremost pedal-powered fashionistas have been killing it with their civvy threads for a while now, and in my recent experience, their casual clothing garners the most lustful glances from those observers who haven’t ridden a bike since around the time their voices broke.
One of their latest offerings, the reversible wind jacket, struck me as peculiar when I first picked it up, because you can buy more technical jackets for far less, but the thing is … they don’t really look as good. This is not a coat for the darkest of winters, but in most climates it will do you year round with some creative layering because the wind-resistant fabric is really effective, and it’s now become a real go-to item when I’m running out the door.
It was the only jacket I needed in May during my day-job duties covering the Giro and on a recent vacation home to the old country, it stood up fine against the famously un-summery Irish summer. It’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for those of us who like to travel, and reflective elements will keep you safe on your commute while at home. But my favourite thing about it? Subtly flipping sides while in the company of others, and waiting to see if they say anything. Add a hat or glasses for best effect.
For me, the chase of finding the perfect camera bag is as difficult as finding freaking Nemo.
You see, over the years I pretty much have what some might call a collection of camera bags, and the collection is still growing. There are bags I use everyday (ThinkTank ShapeShifter, AirportSecurity), some are seldomly used (the good ol’ LowePro Stealth AW), and some, such as my giant Pelican 1650 where I bought solely to photograph the America’s Cup a few years ago, are essentially one hit wonders. There’s even a repurposed Timbuk2 messenger bag with inserts for small flashes and lenses when I need to go light and stealth.
All of those have been my “system” and they have worked for me for a variety of assignments from shooting the Super Bowl, wildfires, sitting in presidential campaign motorcades, CEOs, weddings, and bike races.
But, as if the N+1 rule extends to camera bags too, there’s always room for another one.
The struggle is so real that I now sympathize with my wife whenever she goes bag shopping. Okay, maybe not about the last part but you get my drift.
So here comes the Thule Covert camera backpack.
Better known for their extensive line of roof and bike racks, Thule has been making inroads into various products to help consumers bring whatever they want along, hence their motto of “Bring Your Life.” So out in the wild are Thule phone cases, luggage bags, strollers and backpacks.
On the outside, the Covert looks just like any other roll-top backpack that has been all the rage lately. It’s a pretty inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream “HAVE CAMERA. ROB ME NOW.” Awesome.
From the top, the roll-top lid is neatly tucked away with adjustable buckles, and unrolling it will reveal the zipper to access the main compartment.
The main compartment can be divided into two with its removable partition that seals the top half of the bag from the lower half that houses the camera insert.
Halfway down the bag is a second flap that covers a generous zippered organizer for small items such as batteries and keys. There are also two Velcro pouches that I found to be perfect for storing external hard drive and charge for my Macbook Air.
As if there isn’t enough space, there is one more pouch on the lower half of the bag where I can comfortably store a u-lock or a Nalgene bottle. There’s also another zippered pocket behind the lower center pouch to carry more ClifBars.
So yes, lots of pockets for those who 1: Like to carry a lot of stuff and 2: like their bags to be organized.
On the right side of the bag is an open pouch with an adjustable opening that’s meant for bottles and a small travel tripod. Also good for beer.
Moving on to the left side of the bag, there are side-entry zippers to the laptop/tablet storage and the heart of the bag: the camera pod.
While the idea of a removable camera compartment isn’t new, Thule deserves giant kudos for making the compartment right. Dubbed SafeZone, the pod’s dividers are some of the best I’ve ever come across. They’re denser than the ones from my other camera bags and cases. They also have origami-like ridges to facilitate folding for a customized fit.
I’ve been using the bag on and off for the past few months and it’s now my go to when I have to travel with my camera. During a recent wedding shoot in Mexico where I needed to divide up my gear for security, I was able to fit my essential kit (a Canon 1Dx Mark II, a 135mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.2 and a 24-70mm f/2.8) into the pod. The removable-nature of the pod also made going through custom inspections an easy one since I was able to just pull it all out at once. The partitioned top half of the backpack also meant the rest of the gear wouldn’t fall out of the side door if you go for the camera or remove the entire pod.
For short in-town trips, I could pack a 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to Canon 5D Mark III straight into the compartment with room to spare. The carrying chassis of padded shoulder straps and the back panel are ergonomically shaped to stay comfortable. I do wish Thule included a waist strap for better stability though.
Maybe I am a sucker for a multifunctional backpack with an understated look, but the more I use the bag the more I actually enjoy using it. For me, the Covert hit the sweet spot of what I want in a travel camera backpack: Keeping my essential camera kit safe while leaving plenty of room for everything else. By removing the divider and the camera pod, the Covert can be quickly converted into a regular backpack for those last minute grocery runs. The water-resistant material and overall construction are good quality and it is well thought out from its pockets and dividers, all the way down its zippers. At $199.99 and a lifetime warranty, the Covert is made for the long haul and will carry all your gear, or lots of six-packs, with ease.
Thule Covert next to a Canon 200-400 attached to a 1Dx Mark II
Yup. I can shrove a Canon 200-400 f/4 with a 1Dx Mark II into the Covert. With the camera pod and divider removed, of course. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Updated Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedal. Gone is the replaceable top plate and addition of hollow channels on both sides, presumed to shave more grams. photo: Shimano
And it’s a doozy.
You’ve seen spy shots, heard rumors, and might have even seen the official teaser (which more or less gave it away with the site aptly named www.duraace.com).
But yes, Shimano announced their new flagship road drivetrain group. The Dura-Ace R9100 series.
It’s still 11-speed driven with a metal chain, but the devil is in the detail, so let’s see what’s up with this grouppo.
At first glance, it’s easy to point out that the FC-R9100 crankset has an (even) bigger crankarms, a darker finish (instead of the two tone silver/black) than the previous generation, but there’s much more under the hood. Returning are the four-bolt, Hollowtech II crankarm construction, but the chainrings profile has been reworked with a slightly wider spacing to accommodate frames with disc brakes and shorter chainstays. It’s also seven grams lighter and thank goodness the spindle remained the same at 24mm that we’ve come to love, or loathe, depending on who you talk to.
Shimano is going to shake up the already crowded powermeter market a bit by offering their own power-measuring crankset, the FC-R9100-P. We haven’t seen much of the actual unit but we were told it’s a waterproof, dual-sided unit (powered by a single rechargeable battery) with an accuracy of +/- 2%. Communication will be done via your typical ANT+ and Bluetooth so you can use whatever head unit you have.
On the cable-actuated side, the front derailleur (FD-R9100) has been reworked so that gone is the long lever arm. The light shift action remains but the action is much more compact, and cable management is said to be much easier. Shimano has also integrated the tension adjuster right into the unit, so bye bye barrel adjuster. In the rear, the RD-R9100 borrowed the proven Shadow design from Shimano’s mountain bike derailleurs for a lower profile (no words on the possibility of any aero benefit – yet), direct mount capability, as well as better survivability in case of a crash (because shit happens). The hanger pulleys are also new, with a slightly longer toothing. To control the mechanical drivetrain, two models of STI levers will be offered. the ST-R9100 for standard caliper brakes and the ST-R9120 for hydraulic discs. The overall lever shapes remain more or less the same but with smaller detail upgrades such as textured hood tops (ala Campagnolo), and a claimed 14% shorter lever movement and 24% faster gear shift. It’s all about those marginal gains, dude.
Now that we’re done talking about the mechanical side of things, let’s talk about the Di2 system. Again, borrowing from the XTR Di2 MTB group, synchronized shifting is now available with the new Dura-Ace 9150 Di2 group. Besides the standard synchro mode where the computer shifts the front chainring while the user shifts the rear up and down the cassette, the new “semi” synchro model basically flips it the other way around where the user controls the front chain ring while the computer shifts the rear to keep a consistent cadence. Pretty novel concept, don’t you think? Hardware wise, the new rear derailleur (RD-R9150) will receive the shadow treatment similar to its mechanical brethren while the front derailleur (FD-R9150) remains largely the same.
Ultegra 6870 and Dura-Ace 9070 owners rejoice
New firmware is coming to your existing 11-speed Di2 groups this November so the synchro shift option is there if you so please.
Two more things on Di2
The lowly but oh so important cable junction box got a makeover and now there’s the option of having it integrated into compatible frames and handlebar ends for a cleaner appearance. Sure beats having a tiny black box at the bottom of your stem. While Shimano didn’t go full wireless like SRAM eTap, Shimano is releasing a wireless junction box, the EW-WU111, made to enable programming of the Di2 system from a tablet or phone (instead of a pc), as well as to those who want to transfer drivetrain data to computers for better visualization.
Unfortunately, the clutched Shadow Plus derailleur did not make it into the group.
As expected, Shimano didn’t stop making caliper brakes while launching their first Dura-Ace disc brake. And as if the previous Dura-Ace brake is not good enough, the new brake calipers have been updated for even more stopping power and clearance (thank you) for 28C tires. For the hydraulic brakes side of things, however, it’s completely new. The hydraulic caliper utilizes the Flat Mount mounting system for a smaller footprint while a wider pad clearance was made to further minimize rubbing. The most visually-striking part of the brake system, though, has got to be the new SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza rotor. While the stainless steel braking surface remains, the rotor’s aluminum inner core now extends out as one continuous piece towards the center for better a 30% heat reduction. And similar to its predecessor, it will only be offer with Centerlock mount in 140mm and 160mm diameter, just big enough to double as a pizza cutter and throwing star (but don’t tell the UCI about that)
It’s the same CN-HG901-11 with the tool-free connecting link. Nothing new here.
Not much different other than the new 11-30 cassette combo. Let’s hope the dreaded cracked cassette syndrome is done and over with.
The overall design is the same as any other SPD-SL pedals but the new PD-R9100 pedals are now 24.5 grams lighter and now shipped with hollow cleat bolts (ProTip: Use good hex keys).
Well, that’s another department deserving of a separate post. But yes, there are redesigned hoops in various materials and forms
Price and availability
The full R9100 mechanical group will be available this September for $2029.92. The R9100/R9120 mechanical/hydro brake group will come at $2354.90; The R9150 Di2 group will $3046.85 whereas the R9150/R9170 Di2 with hydraulic brakes will cost the most at $3137.90. Yea, there’s actually four similar, but different groupsets this time around within the Dura-Ace family.
Finishing our Ellsworth photo shoot. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Thank you for your service, mannequin head #1. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
No, this ain't no motorcycle. It's the drivetrain for the Haibike XDURO Downhill Pro. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
eDH bike Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Product explanation at Winter Press Camp. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Lazer AeroShell deployment. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Vintage Raleigh racing jersey by Giordana. This one's not for sale but sure looked great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
See those horizontal lines? That's compression fabric on the Giordana NXG bib shorts. Detail matters. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Yo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
Ridley beer steins. Works great. Photo: Stephen Lam/ Element.ly
The 2016 winter PressCamp wrapped up recently and there’s a lot to talk about. Here are my personal highlights in no particular order.
I have to admit that I once thought Haibike was a brand out of Asia (and there’s absolutely no shame of being an Asian brand, just ask Samsung). Haibike is actually German and has been around since 1995. “Hai” means shark in German and their eBikes are catered to the performance-oriented crowd. In 2016, they’re offering 55, yes, 55 eBikes from their SDURO and XDURO line equipped with either a Bosch or a Yamaha motor. “Your dealers must hate you,” an editor jokes.
Jokes aside, I’ll say this: Haibike makes beautiful ebikes. The XDURO FatSix RX fat bike might just be the ultimate do-it-all SUV on two wheels that I’ve been waiting for.
I can talk all day about all the nuisances of fabrics technology that goes behind a jersey (for example, it takes six separate pieces of fabric to construct the collar of the body-hugging NX-G jersey). But Giordana‘s EXO line stood out to me. Summer weight knickers with compression designed in conjunction with the legendary Dr. Max Testa? Sounds perfect for that typical San Francisco “summer.” We’re currently testing one and will report back soon.
Also love their sport jersey made with a blend of merino wool too. A slightly more relaxed fit, soft to the touch and clean, understated color wise. Sign me up.
Ellsworth is back. With BST Nano Carbon being its new owner and after a redesign, gone are the massive rocker links Ellsworth was known for. But founder Tony Ellsworth is excited to show us that the soul Ellsworth remains unchanged. Legacy models such as the Moment, Dare, and Epiphany are now offered in carbon fiber and boost 142×12 rear with a hex-shaped axle end for stiffness. Thankfully the bottom bracket is still english-threaded.
The Epiphany, being Ellsworth’s bestselling model, will also offer a USA made, alloyed-frame version with a shot-peened finish both inside and outside the tube. You now have three different wheel options to choose from (27.5, 27.5+ and 29). While you’re at it make sure to check out their 4-layered paint job, especially in red.
Founded in 1924, Abus sure knows a thing or two when it comes to locks. Products such as the Bordo have been a hit and now Abus is finally bringing their helmets to the states. The Hyban helmet will have a rear taillight and a storable rain cover for those unexpected showers while the magnetic Fidlock buckle clips securely into place with the quick flip of a finger. Pretty neat stuff. I am sure you can race with it too with all those vents atop.
It’s a bold, confident move when your entire line up consists of only one model and that’s exactly what former Giro D’Italia and Vuelta winner Pietro Caucchioli is doing here. Just one bike, the do it all ST. Though Divo offers only one model, it’d be hard to find two identical Divo ST given the robust Divo customization program ranging from frame color, decals, carbon finish, and custom geometry too. Now that’s custom for realz.
For Lazer, helmet integration is (literally) the name of the game: Add an AeroShell for aerodynamics and warmth; a LifeBEAM sensor to measure your heart rate like a fighter pilot, and a pair of Magneto sunglasses that’ll snap onto your helmet strap, or the back of your helmet via magnets. Don’t like it? You can always shake take it off.
We love super bikes, but honestly how many of us mere mortals can afford dropping all that money on a bicycle that costs as much as a decent motorcycle every few years? Well here comes the Ridley Noah. It’s essentially a Noah SL (same mould, actually) but with a different carbon layup and a traditional fork compared to the more expensive F-Split fork to keep the price more affordable ($3,750 for a Ultegra-equipped bike) while staying aero.
Fabric Cell Elite saddle in Blue. The translucent top just glows in the light.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
A durable polyurethane top, the hex-shaped air cell core, and a flexible nylon base that makes up the Fabric Cell Elite
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At 155mm at its widest, the Cell Elite has plenty of cushy real estate for your rear.
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
The top view of the Fabric Cell Elite
Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
At first glance, the Fabric Cell Elite looks like a normal saddle with a bright-colored top. Well, it’s much more than that. And if you’ve never heard of Fabric, you should.
Launched in 2014 by the founder behind the hugely popular UK brand Charge Bikes, Fabric has in a short time brought on quite a few innovative products: The striking carbon ALM saddle designed in collaboration with Airbus, the Chamber multi-tool, and the cageless water bottle system. The Fabric guys are obviously onto something.
The Cell, in true Fabric fashion, is not your ordinary comfort saddle. No gel, no cutouts, no crazy amount of padding.
Beneath that opaque waterproof cover is a trick air-cell that acts as an air spring just like those neon Nike Air Max 95s you wanted so bad when you were young. Unlike the pressurized air cell in running shoes where an unfortunate puncture will spell it’s premature demise, the Cell’s airsprung will not be affected even if its polyurethane top is punctured or torn. ‘Cause you know, stuff happens.
My first ride on the saddle was during a wet cyclocross race (tells you how much I love the saddle that came with the bike) and my initial thought was it’s one bitchin’ saddle. I was a bit skeptical on the effectiveness of the air cell core and that slight noise it made when I squeezed it with my hands. However, I never heard a thing when I was out on rides. And the air cell? It works. Not only does it act as a nice landing during my remounts, but the top has just the right amount of grip even in the rain. One extra credit for the Cell’s nylon base is that it makes post ride clean up a whole lot faster. Just rinse and repeat.
It’s been a month since the Cell was bolted onto my bike and it’s such a comfortable ride it’s staying on there. Its generous 155mm-wide platform reminded me of the old WTB SST (with a different cushion feel, of course.) Oh, and it’s a unique looking saddle that’s not black or white (Fabric does offer a black and opaque top).
At 354 grams, The Cell elite is not going to win a weightweenie contest; it’s not what it’s designed for. It’s one heck of a saddle for all it’s intended purpose, though. Super comfortable, a clean look, plus the price is right at around $65 with 6 different color ways to match your steed.
It was a rainy winter. Or maybe it was a regular winter, and the past two winters had been so dry that I wasn’t ready for it. But the upshot was the same: hastened by the permeability of the shed behind my house, my road bike developed a nasty cold.
It’s my fault, really; I didn’t take good enough care of it. I kept it clean, sure, but I took it for granted. And when the tickle in its sinus began, the shifting got little wonky. It’s January, I told myself. The shop’ll take forever. So I wiped the bike down instead, and gave it some new tires. Then it got sluggish, and I dropped the chain going down to the little ring. I’ll bring it to in this week, I told myself. It’s the right thing to do. So I wiped the bike down instead, and made sure the chain was lubed.
But then, toward the end of a Sunday spin last weekend, my rear shifter cable gave up the ghost. Just…snapped. Somewhere up inside the brake hoods where mortals dare not tread. I pulled it out of the derailleur, stuck the housing in my pocket, and rode the last five miles on a singlespeed, 82 gear inches into a bitch of a headwind, cursing my negligence with every mash.
Now, my bike is out of commission until the shop can get to it—which happens to be eight days from now. All of this is to say, don’t be like me. But that’s obvious. So it’s also to say that while you might not even be aware of the rhythms that have developed between you and your steed, they exist, and they are sacred.
It’s plain when you jump on another bike for a ride. Climbs are guessing games, descents a gamble. It’s not like my backup bike is 30 pounds of creak, either. It’s more than sufficient, and it’s taken me through centuries and up mountains. It’s just not my real bike.
To be fair, it’s not like I knew my bike was my real bike when it first came into my life. My line of work allows me to ride a lot of different things, most of which are lighter than a loaf of bread and all of which are thoroughly above my pay grade. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also given me an almost monastic aversion to the idea of bike permanence. So the first thing I thought when I saw my bike was “I guess bikes are murdered out now.” Specialized’s Roubaix line of Classics/endurance rides has been around for more than a decade, but 2013 was the first year it was available in stunning black on black.
It was also the first year the company had married the idea of comfort with its SL4 top-tier frame—so while my first impression was visual, my second was “smooooooth.” That wasn’t a thought, it was an actual involuntary utterance when I hit a chattery stretch of road. (And in Oakland, “chattery” is close to the best you can hope for until you get to the blacktop up in the hills.)
Everything about it was perfect, but subtle. Dura-Ace, but not digital. An 11-speed cassette that got me up just about anything, and Zertz dampers that let my legs feel the road without my…other parts feeling the road. Brakes that I trusted, on in-house wheels that were light without leaving me vulnerable to crosswinds. It didn’t jump off the line, but it didn’t need to—it got there fast, and it gave back to the road everything that I put into it. It made me stronger. Faster. And now it’s gone.
Look, yeah, I get it. It’s not gone forever. I’ll be back on it in a week. But mark my words: I’ll never take it for granted again. Q-tip was right: Joni Mitchell never lied.