Williams Wheels Worth a Whirl

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review

Living in Northern California the brand Williams Cycling has always been in my peripheral like a good bike shop I’ve heard about but never got around to visiting. I don’t know what makes them stand out at races, but I can always count on seeing a handful of them in my own race group. Maybe it’s the fact everyone is faster than me and, thus, I am slow enough to see what others are rolling.

The wheel business is pretty wild these days. It seems like everyone is making or branding or rebranding a set of their own wheels. There are household names like Mavic, ENVE, DT Swiss, and Shimano. Then there are the halo wheels that are so rare that it feels like a Koenigsegg sighting. At the polar opposite of that spectrum, you can pick up a set of carbon hoops for under $400 on Amazon Prime, if you are feeling really adventurous.

And finally you can split the difference and get a set of Williams, such as their System 60 carbon clinchers tested here.

With its 60mm rim height, the System 60 is the middle child of the Stockton, California-based company’s new line up representing a balanced ride between aerodynamics and weight. Measuring 26mm externally and 18.4mm internally, the toroidal-shaped carbon monocoque rim is tubeless compatible and comes with a high temperature resin ceramic fiber composite brake track for consistent performance during heavy uses. The rims are laced to William’s own Virgo 20/24 hole hubset using top of the line Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples in favor of durability.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
Williams’ own Virgo hubs.

The wheels arrived straight and true and setup was relatively straight forward like most high-performance wheels. I did, however, have to toe the brake pads a bit more to get rid of a potentially glass-shattering squeal, but they’ve been effectively silenced since November. I am admittedly a fan of the cork pads that came with my Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 TLR, but the long-lasting Williams-specific blue brake pads weren’t too shabby and offered a positive, consistent feel.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
The rear hub features a three pawl, 36 ratchet mechanism for fast engagement. Not only were they smooth, they were also comparatively quiet.

Weighing in at 853 grams in front and 1,011 grams for the rear with rim tape, the System 60 is a tad heavier than its competitors, but it’s also significantly cheaper at $1,439 per set. The extra grams weren’t that noticeable other than the initial spin-up and the times I did some extended climbing – which, to be fair, is not why one would primarily buy it for anyways. The System 60 excels in rollers and flats where its 60mm rim height shines through with its aero advantage. The toroidal rim shape also handles surprisingly well in crosswind so I never felt as if I was going to get blown off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
Williams could have make the System 60 a tad lighter with aluminum nipples, but instead, they opt for brass to ensure long-term durability.

The System 60 offers a stiff ride but still does an admirable job in soaking up a lot of road imperfections that have been plaguing the Bay Area as of late. They stayed true even after a couple unfortunate encounters with potholes. The skewers, while heavy and gargantuan, were solid and securely held the wheels throughout the test. I did wish the pre-installed rim tape was tubeless compatible though, because why make a tubeless-ready wheel and put away that feature with regular tape?

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
The skewer.

Overall, the System 60 represents a wonderful option for those looking for a performance upgrade at a budget. It’s the  perfect wheel for rolling courses such as the Snelling Road Race and tight office park criteriums. The System is also offered in 45/60 and 60/90 combos for those wanting to mix their rim depths. Lastly, every set of Williams comes standard with a 2-year warranty and a crash replacement program.

http://www.williamscycling.com


Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket: Take Me Everywhere

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

It was a love at first sight when I first saw the Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket. I love the beige/camo/pastel green color combo with just a hint of orange highlights on the zipper. Me like.

As gorgeous looking of a piece of cycling kit as it is, the best part of the Versa Barrier jacket is that it looks like a typical softshell jacket from REI and honestly, I’ve been wearing mine like a regular jacket more than when I’m on the bike.

Its tapered back panel is nicely tailored so that my rear end remains covered for times like riding to the post office and teaching my son how to ride his balance bike.  Strategically-placed reflective accents also provide visibility in low lights. The DWR water-resistant finish on the soft Versa-Barrier fabric also keeps me dry from the elements during the morning fog drizzle around town or while dodging rain during a recent work trip in Seattle. The button closures on the pockets never unhinge on their own and their generous angled entry ways make access while riding a much-easier task.

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

Speaking of traveling, I also found the Versa Barrier Jacket to be a great companion to take on trips. It doesn’t take up much space in a backpack and it’s a decent layering piece in such that all I need is a thin thermo component underneath when the temperature drops. The flexible drawstring hood can be worn beneath a helmet and there’s even a built-in mitt on each sleeve for when I am stupid enough to forget my gloves.

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

It’s the perfect anti-cycling cycling jacket, if you know what I mean.

www.pearlizumi.com


Hillsound Armadillo LT: Perfect For Mushrooms

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Photo: Daria Gneckow

Whether you are crashing through the brush in search of delicious chanterelle mushrooms, hiking long miles to your next camp or bounding through the snow like a goofball, the Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT gaiters are an excellent option for a waterproof barrier that can take a pounding with panache.

Coming high up on the calf, the LT features a sculpted shape that fits close to the leg while leaving room for necessary layering in cold weather. This well-considered fit, which I consider half the battle in gaiters, is effective at keeping pesky dirt, water and snow out of the hiking shoes.  The design maintains freedom of movement when rock scrambling or bushwhacking.

The quality of the hardware is clear from the first time you zip these up. A burly waterproof zipper closes off the gaiter, featuring an oversized pull that is friendly to bulky gloves. A sturdy front retention hook slips easily under laces for a secure fit. The buckle, the strap that goes under the shoe, the cuff strap – all feels great, and inspires confidence that the model can hold up to serious use.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Out hiking and foraging mushrooms in Oregon. Photo: Daria Gneckow

I had no issues with water soaking through the fabric of the Armadillo LT despite hours of tromping through rain-soaked woods and six-inch-deep snow in the Pacific Northwest, and the gaiters seemed to live up to Hillsounds promise of breathability. The Flexia fabric also handled the abuse of spiny bushes and rock abrasion with hardly a scratch — the lower part of the gaiter is a tougher fabric, with a lighter and more flexible material up top.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Got ’em. Photo: Daria Genckow

At 315 grams for this tester’s large, the Armadillo LT is the lightest in Vancouver, Canada-based Hillsound’s lineup. It is also the least expensive, at around $49. Two models profess to offer greater durability and breathability, but at a greater penalty in weight and cost – the highest-end Super Armadillo Nano gaiter comes in at $79, and a weight of 380 grams in size large.

I believe these gaiters are a great fit for through-hikers putting in long miles and anyone looking for a well-fitting, quality piece. Mountaineers might lean toward the other models, yet I would confidently take the Armadillo LT on my next alpine adventure.

www.hillsound.com


Rapha’s Loopback – Function With A Splash Of Flair

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?

Rapha Loopback jacket

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.

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This Computer Refuses To Tell You Where To Go

Photo: Jim Merithew / element.ly

You can find bike computers that are cheaper, more intuitive, and just plain easier to use than the SRM PC8, but you won’t find one that’s sexier. Just look at it. Yowza.

The horizontal layout looks far more elegant than the vertical or square designs everyone uses these days. The gorgeous anodized aluminum body weighs just 93 grams, yet feels substantial and robust. Best of all, the backlit display is clear, concise and infinitely adjustable.

So why don’t you see a PC8 on every whip? Well, it’s expensive. It doesn’t offer navigation. The interface is a nightmare. And it’s expensive.

The PC8 costs $750 and if, heaven forbid, you lose that nicely designed magnetic download cable, a new one sets you back 30 clams. I understand the desire to design a sexy cable, but it seems so Apple. And as long as I’m ranting, can we all please agree on a cable standard?

Sorry. Back to the SRM. Given that you an pick up the excellent Wahoo Elemnt for less than half the cost of a PC8, paying $750 for a computer seems silly. Especially one that doesn’t offer navigation. That explains why I yank the SRM mount off my bike and rely on my trusty, if quirky, Garmin 820 whenever I’m in Europe.

Granted, the PC8 features GPS for data recording (500 megabytes of memory) and provides all your ride info when you upload data to Training Peaks and Strava, but you can’t use it to get home. If you regularly download routes from Strava so you can explore new roads, move along to better options like, say, the Garmin 1000 that we love so much.

That said, data junkies will adore the PC8. Add a cadence sensor, heart rate monitor, and power meter and this thing provides hours and hours of data to crunch. Want to know your average heart rate, power or speed? No problem. Want to know your 30-second power or your max heart rate? No problem. Want to know your altitude, ride time, distance, or the temperature? No problem. And you can configure the 240x400p screen to show seemingly endless combinations of this data in real time.

But that interface can drive you nuts. Setting it up through a laptop is a snap—you can play around with several configurations, choose one, and upload it to the PC8. But once you’re on the bike, all those menus and submenus look like an M.C. Escher painting. Accessing them requires holding down various combinations of the three buttons. Ugh.

Finish exploring the myriad screen options and master the digital dexterity needed to access them all, though, and the PC8 is a joy. I found the execution of intervals simple, the data presented elegantly, and uploading/downloading data quick n’ easy. The battery lasts as long as 45 hours, too.

There’s a lot to like about the PC8, especially if you love data as much as you love riding. Even if you can look past the lack of navigation, you’re still left with that crazy price. But, like the iPhone X, just looking at the PC8 makes you want one, and using it only makes you want it more.


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.