Reversible style from Rapha

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

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.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

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.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

Flying high on Kenda’s Valkyrie

Photo: Eric Gneckow/ Element.ly

More and more roadies have been wrapping their rims with bigger-volume tires in recent years, drawn by the appeal of smoother riding roads and better mixed-terrain grip. Yet this voluminous rolling stock has historically come with a significant performance penalty, as even the highest-end rims would slow their spin when clad in one of these heavy-duty commuter clinchers.

No longer! Take flight, Valkyrie!

Kenda’s Valkyrie Pro is the company’s new high-end road tire, and all-around performer touting great grip performance and built-in flat protection.  The Valkyrie comes in both tubular and clincher versions that range from skinny-Minnie tubular 22c to a squishy-cushy (for roadies) 25c clincher. Kenda listed four versions at the time of this writing, though this tester would up with a mach-5-mush 28c version for demo purposes.

To experience this tire, I focused on the two areas I could predictably test – acceleration and grip.

The first sprint up a short ascent showed how quickly the Valkyrie spins up. This tire is indeed featherly for its size. The 28c Valkyrie Pro carries a listed median weight of 235 grams. By comparison, the latest version of Continental’s venerable Grand Prix 4000 S II clincher lists at 260 grams and 280 grams if you get the version with reflective sidewalls.

According to information from the company websites, to get within Kenda’s striking distance in weight at 28c would put a Continental rider on a 25c tire. Or you could just ditch your beloved titanium King Cage.

Next, on grip, the Valkyrie Pro inspires confidence. I won’t admit to being the kind of bike handler who can push a tire to its limits, but very fast mountain descending felt great on the Valkyrie, and better than this tester’s usual high-end 28c clincher. The handling felt comparable to the go-to performance clinchers that have long hogged the spotlight from Kenda, a company better known for its off-road offerings.

Puncture resistance was another area to test, though my approach here was a little less deliberate. The tires didn’t go flat, nuff said.

When you have mounted many different styles and brands of tires, you do get a sense of quality by sheer pliability in the hand. The Valkyrie compound, which Kenda calls R3C, is very tacky. Construction is consistent, and the soft folding tire readily takes its shape on the rim. Kenda claims its puncture resistant band, K-Armor, features a tighter weave for lower rolling resistance and lighter weight than the competition. These tires also come equipped with a reflective patch.

Kenda has never been top-of-mind for me in the world of road tires, but this tire is a killer on all counts. I was elated by the ride and would readily recommend the Valkyrie on almost all counts — fans of flashier color schemes might be disappointed in the “any color as long as it’s black” aesthetic available at the time of this writing.

The Valkyrie seems to have found the secret sauce to a lightweight tire that checks all the boxes. And while this particular tester is a fan of high-volume rubber, riders that prefer the classic 23c size will still find an compelling and quick-rolling option. MSRP for the clincher is $70, and the tubular, $100.

Bravo Kenda. Wagner would be proud.


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

Ringing the Knog Oi Bell

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Knog Oi Bell. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

After a successful Kickstarter campaign with more than $1 million AUD (that’s a little over $800k USD) raised in a month, the Knog Oi is arguably one of the most anticipated bicycle bells that has ever hit the market. I mean, look at it. It doesn’t even look like a bell.

Instead of going for a more traditional bulbous/round resonator, Knog went with a CNC’d semi-circular shape suspended by three springs over a plastic bracket that also houses the ambidextrous striker. The designers at Knog also incorporated a slot into its mounting bracket for those pre-existing underside cables on the bar that might be in the way. It’s a stylish little bell (available in four colors, no less) that could also be the most aerodynamic bell in existence if Team Sky ever needed one.

Unboxing was frustration-free and the set-up was easy. Knog’s illustrated installation guide was equally excellent. Once mounted, the Oi integrates well with existing cockpits without added clutter and with its slim 15mm cross-section, it doesn’t require of a whole lot of real estate, either.

The Oi comes in two sizes: Small for the 22.2mm bars (mtb near the grip, old bikes) or a larger version that’ll fit 23.8-31.8mm bars with the included spacers. I tested the large one on a 31.8mm carbon road handlebar.

On the road, I found the Oi to be easy to use and I like its rather pleasant tone that sounds more like a friendly reminder than a “get out of the way” from an angry rusted bell like the ones off rental bikes. I did, however, find myself pulling the striker as far back as I could at times to get the loudest ding possible especially in noisy, high traffic areas around San Francisco where it could get lost in the city noise at times.

To be fair, the Oi works and people do seem to hear it whenever I ring it, but perhaps its cordiality masked the assertiveness one would expect in a bell. There are definitely louder options out on the market, but how loud a bell is deemed efficient is as much a personal preference as one’s preferred car audio volume.

The striker. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

The exposed spring and plastic striker are holding up at the moment but the jury is still out on its long-term durability. I did manage to twist the striker off its pivot a few times, a rather annoying situation while trying to be heard, but it was a quick, tool-less fix. Each Oi also comes with a two-year warranty too if you do manage to break yours. Moreover, my test unit was putting out tiny rattling noises from vibrations whenever the road got a bit choppy,  just enough to be noticeable like that fanthom bottom bracket creak. It would largely disappear when I rode in large groups, or just put my hand on it…

So is the Oi worth it? At $19, it’s half the price of the very popular, but pricey Spurcycle Bell. Like a size 18 Yeezy Boost 360 that might fit some but not others, the Oi is a bell that needs to tried and heard in person. It’s undeniably beautiful but nevertheless I just wish it was a bit more rambunctious and that it wouldn’t rattle.


Rapha’s cotton trousers: Fashion meets function

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

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

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

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

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

 


You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’Til It’s Gone

Peter Rubin's ride of choice. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

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.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly