Archive for category accessories
High-end British cycling clothier Rapha has expanded its collection for 2011 with several cold-weather items, including the Pro Team Jacket, which will be available at the end of October and the Hooded Top, new for November. Also launching this month is a new zip-through cardigan-style Track Top, which adds to the line of city cycling jerseys, jeans and tops which the company has been rolling out over the last 18 months.
The new Pro Team Jacket is a high-performance softshell made from the proprietary Polartec membrane, which is windproof and water-repellent while remaining breathable and lightweight. The rear panels are constructed of Super-Roubaix fabric, providing essential wicking performance and insulation for cold-weather riding. Of the striking new color, which is new to the Rapha range of classic, muted hues, the company claims:
Scientific research shows the Chartreuse colourway offers exceptional visibility in low light. Though not technically fluorescent, studies have found that the rods in the retina – the part of the eye that work best in low light – are particularly receptive to the yellow/green color. As a result, chartreuse is increasingly used around the world for emergency vehicles.
The jacket – which is also available in black – features reflective side and rear trim, and the iconic Rapha armband is also reflective. It will be available late-October from the company website and will cost $275.
The Hooded Top is a clever mix of Merino for warmth, plus windproof panels to improve insulation. A close-fitting hood adds a contemporary edge to the top, and front and rear pockets add versatility. The Hooded Top will be available mid-November, and will sell for $195.
The Track Top is a characteristically low-key, elegant cardigan with a full-length zipper and subtle styling. Intended for wearing as a removable outer-layer in cool weather, the Track Top is constructed of 100% Merino wool, and is knitted – not stitched – together. It comes in charcoal gray or burgundy, and will sell for $165.
Already available, but new to the Rapha range, the Merino Roll Neck is a lightweight but high-performance woolen cycling jersey in the style of the classic jerseys worn by pro-riders in the early years of the 20th Century. Close-fitting, with a tall roll-neck and chest-level striping, the stylish jersey is available in one color – the popular Rapha black.
Rapha was recently named one of the fastest-growing UK companies by the Sunday Times in Britain. The company was founded in 2004, and has steadily built up a devoted following among cyclists in Europe and the US by offering low-key, classically-styled clothing of high-quality. A office in Portland, Oregon oversees the US market, which is increasingly receptive to the Rapha brand of old-school English tailoring. The company also sells high-performance waterproofs, shorts, accessories and a range of cosmetics and luggage.
Most of you probably have a several weeks of morning and evening light left before you need to start illuminating yourself. But as an early morning commuter (I’m late if I’m not out the door by 6:20) I’ve already noticed the first signs of the disappearing daylight hours. For the last couple of days I’ve been wearing my sunglasses on my helmet for the first 10 minutes or so of my commute and, this morning, I preemptively got my taillight installed on my bike.
When I first started commuting back in January, it was dark when I left. Like night time dark. Like, “what kind of crazy idiot is out of bed, let alone out of the house?” dark. And, as a new commuter I was unprepared for the darkness. Lucky for me, Knog sent us a couple of Boomers (front and back) to test out.
To be consistent with my previous technically specific reviews I will now avoid mentioning the lumen strength of the lights (50 lumens in the front, 15 lumens in the back) and just say that both lights are bright enough to hurt your eyes if you accidently turn them on while in your dark garage. That said, if you were to move the cars out of the garage and hide your bikes somewhere safe, you could turn them on – I’d recommend using the strobe flash feature on the white (front) and the random strobe on the red (back) – turn on some house music, and have a rave (in fact, Knog now offers wearable boomers, I assume these are for the rave crowd – if there is still such a thing).
Really, they’re bright and they flash. It’s fun, just don’t look directly at them.
While the front light is bright, it’s that unfocused bright that means people can probably see you from space, but you’re not going to be able to see the road much better. So, if you commute on poorly lit or unlit roads you’d be better off with a proper headlamp.
The Boomer is simple to install. It’s simple to remove. It’s so easy a hipster could do it – (you’re welcome, Knog, for the new tagline). Basically, for both the front and back Boomer, the silicone casing includes a silicone band and a little hook. So you just wrap the band around the bar or seat post and hook it to the hook. On my bike, this works really great for the seat post and the silicone casing prevents the light from sliding around as you ride. Things are a little different up front. My bike has these fat, oval, “ergo bars” which I quite like for holding onto, but, it turns out, are crap for mounting lights that have a fixed-length silicone band as a mounting device. The band just barely makes it all the way around my bars and catches the hook. When It’s installed, the light always looks like the hook and the band are about have a falling out, but so far it’s never happened.
These thing comes in many colors. Black is probably the most inconspicuous color the sell and white looks pretty ok on my black and white bike, but if you want everyone to know you’ve got your Knog Boomers installed on your bike, even in the day, by all means, get the blue, pink or red.
Other things to note:
If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve mentioned a couple of the light settings, modes, above, but in total there are four options: Constant, Strobe Flash, Fast Flash, and Random Flash. I never much pay attention to which flash setting I’ve got, so I just think of it as on, flash and off.
The Boomers I have take a pair of AAA batteries each. Next to 9V, AAA batteries are the most annoying battery size. On top of the overall annoyingness of AAA batteries, the Boomers seem to run through them pretty quickly (especially if you use the “solid” function). By the end of winter I was in the habit of charging/changing my batteries once a week. Knog offers a rechargeable set of Boomers now, and I sort of wish I had those instead.
My major compliant about the lights is pretty minor. But I have noticed than in certain circumstance the front light will suddenly change modes when you hit a bump in the road. I’ve noticed it seems to mostly happen when the batteries are running low, and I suspect it has to do with the fact that band is stretched so tightly around my fat handlebars. My theory is that the strained band is putting a strain on the rest of the silicone casing and either pulling the batteries out of place temporarily or cause the power/mode button to be depressed over harsh bumps (I’m talking crossing poorly maintained train tracks and jumping curbs). It’s not really difficult to deal with, if the light goes from flashing to flashing, I don’t even notice. The only annoying thing is if it goes from solid to flashing, you have to cycle through all of the modes to get it back to where it was.
I’ve ridden these things in the rain and in freezing temperatures and they held up well against the elements. I fully intend to use them again this winter and would recommend them to anyone shopping for bike lights. At $29.95 each, they’re pretty comparable to mid-range LED cycling lights.
The first thing that showed up on my doorstep unexpectedly was a Giro Xar MTB Helmet. And, actually, it didn’t even show up on my current doorstep, but my old doorstep which I just happened to ride my bike by one afternoon. So, I unpacked the helmet and clipped it to my bag and rode home wearing two helmets.
The Xar is a fairly low profile mountain bike helmet…wait, before I get started on the review proper, let me say a couple of things.
1) I don’t own a mountain bike anymore. This is probably because the last time I rode single-track I crashed 6 or 8 times and spent the entire time cursing Kurt (silently in my head) for convincing me that mountain biking would be a good idea.
2) Second only to guys that tool around at 25 kh on TT bikes, making fun of roadies in MTB helmets is about my favorite pastime.
Now that we have that confession out of the way. I put on the Xar for a few weeks of commuting – careful to make fun of myself in the mirror – and gave it a go. Before I even started, I told myself not to compare this $135 mountain bike helmet to my Ionos which cost nearly twice as much and, incidentally, is nearly twice the size.
It turns out the mental prep was unnecessary. Sure, there were some things I didn’t like as much – it has a bill – but mostly the Xar is a comfortable helmet that breathes well and looks pretty ok. The Xar has 17 vents and, according to the Giro website “optimized internal channeling” – even my wife, who has hijacked the Xar as her regular helmet and has only just started cycling after a 3 year break, noticed how well it the air flows over the head.
Uh…this is the point where I might say something to balance out the review a little and make sure y’all don’t think I’m being real real nice to Giro so they might send me an Aeon in exchange for my kind words, but honestly, my only complaint about the Xar is that it wasn’t a road helmet – it had a bill. Which is to say, I don’t like it as much as my Ionos (which, incidentally, I don’t like as much as my Atmos).
In short, if you’re going to hop on your road bike and head out to climb mountains or work in a pace line with your mates or wear a matching pro-team kit, the Xar is not your helmet. But if you’re a commuter or a mountain biker who is looking for a fairly lightweight, breathable helmet with a built in bill, you could do a whole lot worse than the Xar.
Have you ever dropped an energy gel wrapper or struggled to open one while riding? Many of times I have fumbled in my jersey or pockets for one and the Hydrapak Gel Bot has the answer. Hydrapak sent over their 24 fl oz. version for our review.
The Gel Bot stores both your energy gel and water in one container. Loading the gel into the inner container with a 3.2 oz energy gel is simple and easy. The inner container removes simply by pulling it from the lid, add the energy gel, then you push the green plunger up removing any excess air. After re-inserting the inner container to the lid, add your water to the fill line, screw on the lid and you are set for your ride.
Now how are you supposed to get your gel and water? Does it come out together in a water mess? Absolutely not. When the nozzle is closed and you squeeze the bottle, gel. Open the nozzle and squeeze, water. It is so simple and easy, no more fumbling! I found clean up to be easy as well, just separate the parts and hand wash or top shelf it in the dishwasher.the 20 fl 0z. version is $13.99 and the 24 fl oz version is $14.99, not a bad price for this convenience.
Got air? Genuine Innovations has you covered with the perfect on and off the bike pump products. It all began from a simple idea in 1986 to create a controllable CO2 inflator for bicycles, they helped GT Bicycles and even Reebok for their “Pump” line, they grew from there. For our review they sent over their Mountain Pipe pump and Top Dog floor pump.
The Mountain Pipe is the perfect addition to your cycling tools. Weighing in at 115 grams it is light, so not only do I use it on the trails, but it is a perfect fit for the road as well. Built of alloy with brass internals it has held up well to being tossed, dropped and stepped on. Length of the Mountain Pipe is about 8 1/2 inches so it packs well of course in a pack but equally as well in a jersey pocket.The hand pump works well if you have time to manually pump up your tire, one note however, it is a “backup” pump, which I find is nice to have over just relying on CO2, but it will take a bit of time to fill the tire. I’m of the belief if it is hot, I’m tired, loosing sunlight or just late getting back, I reach for the CO2, otherwise I’ll go for the pump. Your CO2 cartridge stores nicely in the handle and it even has a little area for patches or other small items. The Mountain pipe fits Presta valves right out of the box, but also includes a Schrader fitting.
Removing the stored CO2 cartridge from the handle and twisting it into the top, you are ready to fill your tire. Pressing the fitting to your valve and then continue twisting the CO2 cartridge fills your tire quickly, twisting the cartridge the opposite direction slows and/or stops the flow of CO2. Once complete, you can put the dust caps back and stow the empty cartridge back in the handle. In the review I had a few flats and was glad to have the Mountain Pipe with me. I found it really easy to use and stores nicely. My only qualm with it is the dust cap on the cartridge portion doesn’t like to stay in very well, minor detail and not a deal breaker. The MSRP for the pump is $39.99, sure you can find some CO2 and hand pump combo’s slightly cheaper, but you get what you pay for.
The Legend floor pump has clean sleek lines, a brushed aluminum finish and it even pumps tires. With it’s sturdy steel base the pump holds up well and it’s 26″ height gives quick and ample fills to your tire. The movement of the pump is smooth and with the 50″ hose it is easy to fit to your tire valve in any location even on a trunk/hitch rack. The handle is comfortable to grip. When not in use the pump head stows away and keeps the hose under control. I did find the hose to stretch a bit so be careful to not pull on the hose section roughly.
The location of the gauge is a plus, right at the handle, and paired with the well marked air pressure markings it very easy to read. The dial has a marked bezel so if you need help remembering your favorite air pressure, they’ve got you covered. The gauge is spring controlled so in heavy pumping the gauge will go above the actual pressure, but will return to actual pressure quickly once pumping has stopped. This is typical for these type of gauges.
The pump head is universal for both Presta and Schrader applications so rest assured you not having to switch out a fitting. I found pressing firmly down on the Presta valve then lifting the lock latch made for a perfect seal for filling the tires. The one thing that you have to be careful is when opening the latch once your tire is filled. It pops back and hits the knuckles and can hurt, it would be great to see if hose pressure could be by-passed some way to soften the blow of the latch.
The Legend is a great off the bike pump, pumps very well, looks great and at $69.99 is well priced for what it offers. The pump is built to last and will provide years of service.
When Walz Caps sent me a few of their caps to review I was looking forward to the opportunity to expand my cycling cap collection. The package arrived while I was at my day-job and when I got home I had to find away to get the caps from my two-year-old.
Walz Caps offers three different caps styles – four-panel, a three-panel, and earflap – in three fabric types – cotton blend, moisture wicking, and wool. They sent one of each: three-panel cotton blend, four-panel moisture wicking, and wool earflap. All three caps were of the highest quality, durable and comfortable. All three fit nicely under my helmet and offer a bill that’s long enough to shade the eyes and short enough to allow for visibility.
I’m going start with the wool cap. I’ll be brief about it since I’m pretty sure you’re not all about to rush out and buy a wool cap with earflaps just as summer (finally) hits. Rather than a straight earflap that’s like an extension of the cap itself, the Walz Caps earflap is loose bit of wool with an elastic band to hold the earflap in place. While this leads to a slightly less streamline cap – the earflaps mushroom out a bit, under the ears and down at the base of your head – the benefit is that it’s easy to tuck the ears in and protect them from the cold – no cold earlobes.
I’ve worn the wool earflap more times than I can count and washed it – more than a couple of times, against the care instructions – on delicate in our washing machine and the cap still looks new. The wool does what you expect. It’s comfortable, it keeps the head warm and, even in the rain, dry.
While the wool cap was my go-to morning cap it was pretty clear, even as the caps came out of the box that the red and black, three-panel cotton cap was going to be my everyday work horse. The cap is made of a durable cotton blend and the black stripe down the center gave it a classic and stylish look. Even as the weather slowly started to turn I’d wear my wool cap in the morning and pack the cotton cap in the bag for the ride home.
Where the cap with earflap looks, at least a little, silly when not on the bike, the cotton cap is stylish enough that I’ve worn it at the park with the kids, at the beach, out shopping, at coffee…basically, I’d wear it just about anywhere I’d wear a regular cap.
So, I need to be honest here, it’s just barely warm here – unusual for this time of year in Sacramento – so I haven’t had as much opportunity to wear the light weight moisture wicking cap. In the few times I’ve worn it, around the house and on the bike, I’ve noticed the same things about fit and comfort. At this point I can’t say for certain the moisture wicking fabric is going to hold up as well to everyday abuse as the other two caps, but I will say that I have no reason to believe it won’t.
These are fantastic caps and now that I’ve been using them so regularly, it’s pretty much impossible for me to imagine not having them. The two caps that I wear regularly have held up well to everyday abuse and I’ve not noticed any significant wear. If I were you I’d order a few, just in case a two-year-old intercepts your shipment too.
Via Raise Your Seat
In the western United States – and California in particular – the market for cycling helmets is dominated by the highly-visible Scotts Valley manufacturer Giro, whose Atmos, Ionos and Aeon road helmets are ubiquitous on the heads of amateurs and pros alike. Giro have been highly successful at placing their product in the pro teams, and their designs are both technically advanced and attractive to consumers.
Outside the US Giro has a strong foothold, but the company shares the market with the established European manufacturer Lazer. Lazer holds the distinction of being the oldest helmet maker in the world in continual operation, established in 1919 in Belgium. Over the last 92 years, the company has been responsible for innovating and developing almost every generation of cycling helmet technology.
The Lazer Sphere occupies a position in the Lazer range just below the Helium and the Genesis, making it a strong competitor for upper-mid-range priced helmets like the Giro Saros. The current model features the classic Lazer profile: a sharply downward-sweeping front with a rather abrupt rear when compared to other road helmets. In fact, the Sphere has been redesigned to offer greater protection to the back of the head, and this model features a broader, more substantial rear arrangement, with some attractive and functional venting beneath the sweeping lines which separate the top portion from the lower back piece.
The Sphere is extraordinarily lightweight – just 292g, despite the manufacturer’s claim of 315g nominal mass. Compare this to my Giro Atmos, which weighs in at 297g and my Giro Ionos which tips the scale at 308g. The Sphere is a smaller helmet all around, with a very sleek fore-section which fits close and snug to the head. This racier profile is visually appealing, especially if – like me – you’re used to Giro’s mushroom-head effect. The lines are fast and streamlined, with higher side-sections and a more top-of-the-head feeling than other helmets I’ve worn recently.
The chin strap is the best I’ve ever encountered on a road helmet, and the adjusters are smooth, easy to manipulate and sturdy. The nylon is high-quality and soft, and is arranged to clear the edges of the ears without any rubbing. I could wear the Sphere all day and be perfectly happy; this is a profoundly comfortable helmet. The straps look a little odd when you see the shorter, faster profile of the helmet, appearing to fasten closer to the front than I’m used to on similar helmets. Since the Sphere is essentially a flatter, less bulky helmet, you notice things like straps and where they appear. This is not necessarily a criticism of the design, but rather a personal opinion on the overall appearance. On my regular helmets, the straps appear further back and deeper, essentially becoming less visible when seen from the side.
The adjustable interior cradles the head with flexible plastic bands covered with Lazer’s X-Static foam cushions, while an innovative tube-and-wire arrangement allows minute adjustments via the wheel on the top of the helmet. This seems to me a more user-friendly and precise system than the ones on my regular helmets, although I did worry about the wires relaxing during the course of a long ride. Essentially, the wires pull the cradle tighter around the crown of the head, but without a locking mechanism, the system is prone to slipping open again. That said, I didn’t notice any looseness during my riding with the Sphere.
The Sphere is well ventilated, with 21 vents (23 if you count the central holes at the back) placed thoughtfully to provide cooling to every part of the head. As I mentioned earlier, the Sphere rides a lot higher on the wearer’s head than many other helmets, so overheating is unlikely. However, ventilation is not an exact science when you account for the variables in each rider, including the shape of an individual’s head, his hair length and style, whether he wears a cap or not, etc. The Sphere definitely errs on the side over-ventilation, which ought to satisfy Sacramento-area summertime cyclists, for whom every little extra breath of air is a bonus.
If I had one enduring criticism of the Sphere, it would be the use of a moulded shell reinforcement on the exterior, which is finished in a high-gloss laminate. The effect is, unfortunately, a rather cheap-looking helmet which belies the high-tech, high-performance item underneath. I vastly prefer the look of both my Ionos and my Atmos, which have a low-gloss finish with careful attention to detail. The Sphere seems to cry out for a more sophisticated color-scheme, finish and shell design, and that is really the great downfall of this particular helmet.
For around $130, the Sphere offers very sleek European styling in an (unfortunately) slightly dowdy package, let down by too much glossy sheen. If you can see past the cheap-plastic look of the finish, the Sphere ought to make Californian cyclists seriously consider reaching for something other than the Giro.
Somehow I managed to procure a personal sponsorship while at Interbike in Las Vegas last September (2010). I seem to forget sometimes how easy it is for me to start a conversation with a complete stranger and I’ve been known to make friends in 2.5 seconds flat. Networking comes easy to me, always has. I feel lucky then as an elite athlete to receive a Brand Ambassador sponsorship for my 2011 racing season from the relatively new company 2XU. When I say that I mean, relatively new to the United States markets. I’ve used other compression products for recovery in the past from brands like Skins and Zoot and have already been sold on the value of the effects on recovery as a result of wearing those types of products. Traveling to and from races is almost, if not just as difficult on an athlete as the actual race itself. Combine that with traveling anywhere from 1-3 hours one way to every race I go to here in Northern California nearly every weekend from February to September; and it doesn’t take long for the monetary investment to pay off for an elite athlete looking for every edge they can get to perform at their best every time they compete.
The first thing I noticed about 2XU’s compression tights was the brilliant eye-catching artwork that makes me feel like I’ve jumped ‘warp-speed’ into the 25th century and I suddenly have an urge to die my hair orange and walk around saying ‘Autttooooo wassshhhh’ all day long. Speaking of which, I think suspenders should come back in style……but I digress. It’s not uncommon to show up to a bike race and see 1/2 your competitors walking around in some kind of compression type clothing. I’ll tell you what though, you walk around with these tights on and…….BOOM…you’ve already mentally-whipped your competitors into submission because you already look fast walking around.
While I’m not in the habit of bad-mouthing other companies’ products, I will say this about 2XU’s compression tights, are not too tight, which makes them easy to get on, but they’re tight enough to help prevent loading and definitely make a significant difference in being able to train for days in a row and feel fresh. As elite athletes, we know the next best thing to a quality pair of compression tights is laying against a wall with your legs up in the air, but we also have other lives and lots of things that just need to get done. Investing in a quality pair of compression tight is well worth the investment and in my personal experience, no other product has performed better than my pair of 2XU compression tights.