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Lazer Sphere road helmet

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.

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2XU Compression Tights Product Review

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.

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Cyclelogical Commuter Backpack | Review


There have been a few things that have surprised me about my transition to bike commuting, one is my new obsession with bags. Fit, comfort, style, capacity, all of these things need to be considered when choosing the right bag for daily commuting. So, of course, when an awesome company like Cyclelogical sent me one of their Commuter bags to test out, I was more than a little excited.

Like Sam, I was excited about Cyclelogical when I first heard about the company and my first impression of the bag confirmed my suspicion about the quality of their products. Out of the box, I could tell the Commuter backpack was of the highest quality. With weather sealed zippers, padded laptop compartment, designated laundry, shoe and yoga mat compartments, it was clear the folks of Cyclelogical had thought of everything.

But bags have personalities. With the various compartments, pockets, and flaps, the Commuter bag almost demands it’s owner put things in the right place – pack it just so. When I first opened the bag I felt like it needed instructions. Put your shoes here. Put your folded clothes here, sweaty clothes here. This zipper does…well I still don’t know what. It was complex. I liked the idea of it. A spot for everything. But in reality it wasn’t for me.

Compared to my other bag, this bag took twice as long to pack. I wanted to love it, in fact, I did love a lot of it: the reflective pin-striping on the font of bag and the velcro that could be used for reflector or velcroable solar panel – genius; the padded, comfortable but not bulky shoulder straps; the plush lining in the laptop compartment. So, I used it, trying to fall in love with it, but I kept finding myself looking for excuses to use my messenger bag.

I forgot to mention capacity. I made a joke to my wife one evening that the Commuter backpack was like Mary Poppins’ bag. I never seemed to run out of space. Several times, we’ve had the following conversation:
“Hey, can you pick up a couple of things on your way home today?”

“I’m not sure if I can fit them in my bag.”

“Just bring that big bag.”

But the capacity thing cuts both ways. It was a big bag and it looked big on by back. Most days I wasn’t carrying any more than I normally do, but I felt like I was taking up twice as much space. I’d gone from being a cyclist to being a classic Volkswagon Beetle.

The punchline is that I didn’t love the bag. I was impressed with the quality and comfort, but the truth is, it wasn’t designed for me, really. This bag is for upright cyclists with flatbars and street clothes. This bag is for people who want to make sure their clean clothes and dirty clothes never touch. This bag is for someone a bit more organized than me. So for that person, I recommend it. For everyone else, check out the rest of what Cyclelogical is doing, because they’re still making quality gear and probably have something for you.

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Dirty Dog MTB Rotors

Dirty Dog MTB is a Northern California company wanting to add some more style and drop a few grams, all while saving you money,  on your mountain bike brake rotors. They offer five different styles of rotors and more are  to come! Talking Treads will be doing a full review on their web version, so check back to see how it performs!

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now I just need a reason to buy them

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Biologic Bike Mount for iPhone 4 | Review

When Kurt wrote his review of Wahoo Fitness’s Fisica Sensor Case for iPhone he talked about some of the technical aspects of the case:

Made from ABS, the case is durable and weatherproof. Overall control of your iPhone is possible through the clear lexan screen cover, that works very well to the touch and I found that I could navigate with gloves on.

I don’t much care about that kind of thing and figure that if you do you can get all that information from the source.

What we’re going to focus on today is iPhone safety and overall dork factor.
Let me just get this out of the way quickly, mounting an iPhone to your handle bars is going to make you look like a dork but, as you probably wear lycra or, at the very least, a helmet that makes your head look like a mushroom, you’re probably used to the judgement of others and don’t much mind a few judging looks from guys with disk wheels and aerobars screaming past you at 21.5 mph – that is if you can even see their judging looks at that incredibly fast speed that requires a $5,000 bike build to even come close to hitting.

I digress…

The iPhone is big when compared to a standard cycle computer. The Bike Mount makes it slightly larger. If that kind of thing bugs you, go out and by a proper GPS unit and don’t bother with the rest of this review. If, however, you are a bike commuter who likes the idea of having a some GPS tracking available at the touch of a finger and the possibility of easily texting – while stopped, of course – your loved ones to let them know that you’ll be delayed because of a 35 mph headwind, this Bike Mount might be for you.

biologic-front

The Bike Mount is really a mount and a water/shock resistant case for your iPhone 4 (or iPhone 3G/3GS). The phone rests in a removable nest of silicone, complete with cutouts for front and rear cameras and headphone/charger ports. The phone and silicone bed are then enclosed in a hard plastic case with touch-sensitive membrane so you can actually use your phone while mounted.

biologic-open

After more than 50 rides with my iPhone on my handlebars, some of it in the moist early morning, I can vouch for the cases ability to keep my phone dry – and my warranty intact. Additionally, while I opted not to hurling my phone across the room to test the “shockproof” qualities of the case, I did drop the phone one while rolling slowly through a parking lot. The case and phone held up nicely, but I made it a point not to do that again.

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The mount itself is my favorite part of the case. It’s easy to get on the bike and easy to move around. Basically, the mount attaches to the bike via a threaded plastic strap. You wrap the strap around the stem or handle bar – I guess you could mount it on the seatpost or downtube if you’d like – thread the strap into a little hole and tighten using provided Allen key – you are warned not to over tighten the mount as, presumably, the plastic strap might break, but I avoided testing that outcome as well. Once the mount is on the bike, the case snaps on via a rotating clippy bit.

Overall, I thought the Bike Mount was well designed and did exactly what I wanted it to do; safely mounted my iPhone where I could see it. The mounting process was easy and didn’t require a bulk supply of zip-ties for when you wanted to move it. In the end, it turned out that – at least on longer “training” rides – I didn’t really love having my iPhone on my handlebars. It’s big and bulky and tends to get in the way, especially when out of the saddle. My commutes were a different story. Having the phone handy on my way home made it possible for my wife to text me, “ride faster, the kids are hungry.” And for me to easily text back, when stopped, to let her know my ETA.

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Portland Design Works Origami Fenders | Review

Let’s talk about fenders! That’s right, fenders! I can just feel the excitement. Fenders!

Because my commute bike is my road bike and because things like fenders look awfully silly in a paceline – though I have been on a few rides where a fender on the bike in front of me wouldn’t have been the end of the world – and because we all know that cycling is 1% fun and 99% style, it’s important that the fenders I put on my bike are easy to get off my bike.

The Origami Fender from Portland Design Works is pretty much everything I could ask for from a fender.

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The rear fender clips onto the seat post with and adjustable two stage clippy thing (technical term) and includes an little turny bit (again, very technical) that can be loosened to adjust the angle of the fender. In addition to the ease of installation, the PDW Origami fender is low profile and doesn’t turn your sleek carbon fiber road bike into an odd lucking commuting juggernaut.

The plastic fender – and this is true for both the front and rear Origami Fender – snaps on and off the mount and will flatten out in the event you wanted to pack in the a bag and be even more incognito.

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Now, the front fender is almost as cool, but I have to admit I haven’t been using it as often. The mount for the fender slides under the derailleur and brake cables on the downtube and attaches to the tube with a couple of silicone straps. Once the mount is on you snap the fender in place. It’s a tiny bit more difficult to get the mount on and off and because I don’t commute in my street clothes and I have a pretty fat down tube I’m not overly concerned with the small amount of road spray that may make it onto my leg warmers. That said, in the event of cycling with real pants on, the front fender would be required.

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I haven’t quite made it though an entire winter with these fenders – I’ve been riding with them, as needed, since early February, but the durable, lightweight plastic fenders seem to be holding up pretty well. The rear fender is not quite as straight as it was when I first got it – it tends to get pushed a little out of shape in my bike locker – and the front fender only gets used on the wettest of days. But, they are super lightweight, well designed and worth the reasonable price – $20.00 for the front and $25 for the rear).

Before I wrap up, I should also mention that PDW sent a Magic Flute along with the fenders and while I’m not quite ready to write a full review – I haven’t had a puncture since I got my hands on it (perhaps that’s what’s magic about?) – I will just say that it’s a pretty clever little mini-pump.

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I forced a test with it this weekend and, while I hate pumping up road tires with a mini-pump, I was able to get the PSI up to 80 pretty consistently before my arm wanted to fall off. But that’s not the clever part. The Magic Flute takes threaded CO2 cartridges through a twist valve on the end of the pump. Ensure the valve is twisted to the closed position, thread in the CO2 cartridge and twist the valve open to release the air. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked; there was no leakage to speak of as I twisted on the cartridge and filled the tire. The Magic Flute, because it’s magic, works with both Schrader and Presta vavles, thanks to a reversible thingy (I really do apologize for being so technical today).

Admit it, that was all a lot more exciting than you thought it would be.

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By Bike | Week 6 (Miles 611-710)

I started this experiment a few weeks ago and jumped in with both feet. Sure, I’ve opted to drive in to work on more than a few occasions, but mostly I’ve been pretty dedicated to my mission. After six weeks I’ve identified a small handful of things I couldn’t commute without:

Lights – Leaving at dawn and coming home at dusk, sometimes in a asphalt gray jacket, lights are a must. It’s not so much about my ability to see the road as it’s about other people able to see me. I’m currently using Knog Boomers, mostly because they’re easy to put on and take off the bike – important because I use the same bike for commuting that I use for all my other road rides and lights in a paceline can really mess with your aerodynamics make you look like a tool.

Jacket – Duh. It’s cold, it’s wet. Wear a jacket. I live in northern California where the summers are hot and dry – I’m talking ZERO inches of rain from June to September – and winters are wet and mild. As a result, dropping a few hundred dollars on a full winter kit including spiffed up yellow cycling jacket has never made a whole lot of sense to me. I don’t didn’t ride as much in the winter and didn’t really need anything special April through November. For the last 6 weeks I’ve been wearing a light-weight waterproof shell that wasn’t specifically designed for cycling. Sure, you might get a slightly better on-the-bike-fit and better breathability with something designed specifically for riding, but the important thing is that you stay warm and dry.

Caps – Speaking of warm, is there anything worse than cold ears? A cycling cap may not be your style, but on a chilly morning something to go over the ears and block the helmet vents is required.

Bag – We already know I’m smitten with my Chrome Citizen. It’s a great bag that is holding up well to daily use. But a bag is a personal choice one that’s as much about style and personality as it is about comfort. Get a bag that fits your crap – chances are you might already have one. Just like the jacket, it doesn’t really matter if it was “made for cycling,” just as long as it’s comfortable on the bike.

Kit – Lycra and chamois. For me it’s the only way to go. I know that there’s an entire industry out there designing street clothes that also work well on the bike but that’s far too urban and hip for me. Dual purpose shoes and pants that don’t crease after seconds in the saddle might be good if you’re riding your bike short distances at a time and making several stops throughout the day, but for me it has to be cycling shorts and a jersey. Of course, I wouldn’t wear my top kit out as I drag my 17 pound bag through the gritty, greasy streets. Instead, I’m focused on comfort and durability.

Gloves – Of the long fingered variety. While I’m beginning to think along the same lines as Sam w/r/t fingerless cycling gloves, long fingered gloves are a completely different story. The pair I have aren’t particularly comfortable and seem to restrict finger movement but they do keep my hands warm – too warm on some mornings. The first pair I’d purchased were more comfortable and more flexible but also not even close to warm enough. I’m beginning to think cold fingers are, in fact, worse than cold ears.

Tires – Just before I started bike commuting I logged 3 flats – two rear and one front – in 4 rides. I promptly replaced my tires with a pair of GatorSkins – I’ve only been using them 6 weeks or so and withhold official judgment but hear, pretty consistently, that I shouldn’t have a problem with excessive punctures.

So that’s it, the six things you need to cycle commute…well, and a bike. But you don’t need a steel frame, single speed bike or a touring bike with panniers and fenders welded to the frame. You don’t need a comfort bike or a road bike or a mountain bike or a folding bike or an e-bike…All you need is a bike. The one you already have in the garage is fine.

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Cognition Caps | a review

When Cognition Caps sent a couple of cycling caps to review (disembodied head not included) I wasn’t all that excited. I’ve never much liked the look of cycling caps and hadn’t felt like I was missing out on anything in terms of head accessories. It turns out that now I’m slightly obsessed with hats.

Cognition sent a cotton cap and a wool cap with earflaps (which I’ve used far more often on my early morning commutes). Both caps have held up well in the month or so of testing – the wool cap did shrink a touch when it was accidently mixed in with my regular wash, but I was able to stretch it out to it’s orginal size and shape (more or less). Even before the shinkage, I found the earflaps on the wool cap just a touch short for my long ears, leaving me to deal with icy earlobes.

A style thing, I’m sure, but I also found the bills on both caps to be a bit short, leaving almost no protection from sun in the eyes. New to the cycling cap, I did a little comparision and confirmed that the bill was actually up to a full inch shorter than other caps I looked at. The short bill didn’t just offer little protection from the sun, it also made me look a little like a certain piece of the male anatomy.

Style questions aside, the hats fit well and are extermely durable – I even admit to using the wool cap to dry my legs after one rainy day commute. Both caps add comfort when worn under the helmet. The caps are handmade, come in a variety of colors, styles and materials and range from $24 – $30. The wool hat, specifically, is a good option if you’re looking for something low profile to wear under your helmet and keep your head warm.

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