Archive for category reviews
I’ve had quite a few hydration packs over the years. Most of the time, I wore the old one out (or got tired of the leaks) and bought a new one that had a couple new features and was maybe a little bit nicer. They held my water and tools and food without complaint. One of them even did a little extra duty as a pillow during a fateful night-riding incident. But that’s a different review…
So when Kurt said he had a new pack for me to review I was expected something little bit better and maybe a little bit nicer than my current pack. This one is A LOT better and A LOT nicer than my current pack. In fact, I’m pretty sure this one is much better in every regard.
The pack in question is a nice yellow-orange Osprey Viper 10. The first thing I noticed is that they seem to have used about 15 different types of fabric. Just listing the types that are orange, you’ve got the stretchy outer pocket, the sort of waffle-weave rip-stop outer fabric, the embossed bubble-wrap looking fabric, and probably a couple others. Instead of just picking up whatever was on the shelf at the factory in the right color, they really put some effort into picking the best technical fabric for the specific case. As a mechanical engineer who has done a bit of industrial design implementation, this is the kind of detail I really love because to me it’s the difference between a small bag with arm straps that you stuff a water bladder in, and a real designed hydration pack. It’s nice to see a product where an up-close inspection just reinforces the appearance of quality. But enough industrial design talk let’s get to some more details:
Basic Stuff: 3.0 liter reservoir, big internal pocket for tools, small zippered pocked for other stuff, big stretchy pocket on the outside for stashing things.
One of my favorite features is the magnetic clip for the bite valve. I’m used to blindly feeling around for that little clip to put the hose on, giving up because the trail requires two hands, and then having to put up with my pack slowly peeing on my leg. What the thoughtful folks at Osprey did is put a magnet on the sternum strap, and put one on the valve. It’s not totally automatic and you do have to blindly feel around for a little bit, but then it clicks into plate and you’re good.
The rotating valve is also a nice feature. It lets you get it at just the right angle, and also functions as the lock-out when you have it rotated parallel to the tube.
The next thing I loved about this pack is the resevoir. Pushing a floppy bag full of water into a small backpack that already has a bunch of stuff in it has never been an easy job. On this one, the 3.0 liter reservoir has a ribbed plastic back which helps it keep it’s shape, and a nice long handle on the front side which also protects where the tube exits the reservoir. Weather hasn’t been too warm lately, but I expect the ribbed back will also provide some air insulation to keep your back cooler in hot weather.
Installation is also helped by the fact that the reservoir compartment is separate from the others and has an easy velcro opening. There is a big nalgene screw on lid which is big improvement over my current hydration pack which has a weird inverted lid which is unfortunately really easy to overtighten and then impossible to get back off.
Other things I liked were the well thought-out straps to keep everything tightened down so it doesn’t flop around while riding. The stretchy back pocket is awesome and easily fits an extra 29er tube and my vest, knee-warmers, a couple clif bars, etc. It works pretty much like the usual criss-cross stretchy stuff that many packs like this have, but you don’t have to worry about stuff falling out, or listen to your vest flapping in the breeze. Pockets are well thought out (no surprise here) with a smaller one for cell phone and sunglasses, and a separately accessible bigger one for tools, pump, emergency blanket (after my “incident” I started to carry one of those), and other things that you hopefully won’t need to get to during a ride. There is a little stretchy pocked one of the arm straps that could hold a small phone or credit card.
They couldn’t even leave the zippers alone and put these cool injection molded loop things on the nylon loops that keep them open for easy grabbing. You probably think I’m a little bit crazy for talking about the zipper pulls but seriously folks, these are awesome!
If you’re current pack is at the end of it’s life and you want something new, I highly recommend the Osprey. It does come in some different sizes if you want something bigger for big epic rides or you want something a bit smaller.
I know I’ve listed a lot of positives up above but I’m having a hard time coming up with a real negative. I guess it did take some getting used to the shape on the bite valve. Also, if you check the website to look at features, you have to really dig to find the reservoir capacity. Another possible downside is you may not find these at your LBS. If you can’t find it there and you don’t feel like buying it online, try your local REI.
Dirty Dog MTB is a California based company bringing “Made in the USA” rotors to your mountain bike. They sent a set over for review.
Dirty Dog MTB rotors come in all popular rotor sizes, 160mm, 185mm, & 203mm with a thickness of 0.070″ and weights ranging from 147 g to 248 g, depending on size. Since they utilize the popular sizes they are compatible with major caliper manufactures, but always check the specs for your caliper before ordering. These are laser cut from stainless steel and come in several different designs, Dragon, Gecko, Skull, Ace of Spades, Spider Web and Bone Burner. The designs are look great and are well cut with plenty of braking surface. Burn is of course required as with any new disc brake set, so after a few go and stops, you are on your way. How do they stop? Very well!
If you are looking to set your ride apart from your friends and looking for easy upgrade, these rotors fit the bill with prices ranging from $69 to $80, depending on size, but searching the internet you can find some great deals. Even with the designs choices already available, it would be great to see a few more options.
Bikase is a universal smartphone or mp3 pouch that attaches to your bike to allow you to listen to tunes, track your rides, or keep on eye on your social media efforts, all by keeping your device safe and dry. Alt-Gear sent over the case for our review.
Constructed of neoprene, your phone or mp3 player will avoid scratches and dings. Easy access is provided by a zipper at the top side of the case and can be opened slightly for headphones. The clear screen cover allows you to still control your iPhone or Droid with swipes and touch. Attaching to your bike is done by velcro neoprene straps which you can mount either horizontally or vertically (handlebar or stem, for example).
I am one that always has my iPhone with me. Whether it is using it for logging the miles with Strava or for the occasional cycling tweet. I toss it in my jersey pocket and check on it through-out my ride to make sure it hasn’t slid out. For me, having the iPhone mounted to the bars can be bulky, so if I’m on the trainer, I’ll mount it, otherwise I put it in the jersey pocket and with the neoprene grip of the case, I know it isn’t going anywhere. The case fits your iPhone even with a protective case, as opposed to other smartphone mounts where you have to remove the protective case to mount. Cost of the Bikase will set you back only about $24, which is a great price.
Zixtro Wing Case is very simple saddle case to attach and remove. It easily attaches to your saddle rails and the case can be quickly disconnected from the mount for taking with you into the cafe, store or work. Alt-Gear sent over the case for our review.
Constructed of durable plastic this case can take a beating on and off the bike without the worry of breaking and is also light weight. With a weather resistant Velcro closure your goods are kept dry and out of the elements. Overall capacity of the case will put you at about 24 cubic inches and fits a tube, tire lever, patch kit and ID/credit card and a CO2 canister with nozzle.
I found the closure to work well with the occasional bumpy roads while carry aforementioned goods. Upon opening the case you notice a pocket to hold your items well so they don’t all fall out when you need them. Mounts worked well and stay locked in place without sliding held by the quick release Z-locks.
The Zixtro Wing Case is a great case whether you are a mountain or road biker. At $19, this case is priced accordingly and won’t break your wallet. I would like to see an additional pocket for the top section of the case so as to be able to store your ID or cards, thereby separating your “wallet” items from your “bike” items.
Cole Wheels is a company you might not have heard before, be that as it may, once you ride a set you will be completely sold. To see what the Treads thought, Cole sent over a set of their hand built carbon XC wheels named the Aries Lite.
Taking the wheels out of the box right away you know they are light, 1786 grams stated. The carbon rims are a High-Compression, high modulus 25mm Clincher with a 27mm width. Graphics are clean and note well the location of the valve stem, for quick pressure fills. Twenty-eight double threaded and double butted Swiss stainless steel spokes connect the rim to the DSA hub. What is DSA? A technology developed by Cole, Dynamic Spoke Alignment allows for higher spoke tension of the straight pull spokes which provides you better power transfers for quicker starts and handling through the corners. DSA’s cylindrical nipples distribute the spoke tension and road vibrations over a larger area helping to maintain a longer life for your hub. The 6061 T-6 cold forged alloy body, hard-anodized alloy free hub, stops by a center locking disc brake mounting and spins forever by sealed bearings. When I say forever, it sure seemed like forever, beyond the weight of this wheelset the smooth and continuous rotation will impress. Also available, is a 15mm thru-axle front hub.
Now enough of all the technical speak, how did they ride? Once you break off the line or just hit the trail from the parking lot, you will feel all your energy being transferred directly to the tire. In all out sprints the wheels stay rigid thanks to Cole’s DSA technology, there by keeping you headed down the trail and to the finish line. The low rolling resistance is really noticed on downhill sections but it continues to aide you on the climbs as well.
The wheels are solely a mountain XC wheel, but handle very well in technical sections and small rock gardens. The Aries Lite were put through many conditions and terrain and took their fair share of beatings, which to note, they clean up well. It isn’t suggested to use these for downhill or huge drop-offs, if that’s your flavor, look into the Massif. The price tag on the Aries Lite is the only hold back we saw at $1495, priced a couple hundred dollars above the competition. Getting past the price tag, the strength, their light weight and the smooth rolling, low rolling resistance will help you to get past that and assure you that if you are in the market for a high-end carbon wheelset, Cole will not dissapoint.
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.
My circa 1999 Magura Louis disc brakes were starting to show signs of their age and needed to be replaced. I decided to go the cost-effective and reliable route and replace them with Avid BB7’s. Since I was going the cost-effective route on the brakes, I spent a little extra on the cables and went for the Alligator i-LINK brake cables. They also have shifter cables, but as my bike is a single speed, I didn’t need any of those.
The cable housing is made up of a bunch of small aluminum bell-shaped segments that snap together, with a couple different end fittings for housing guides, etc. Inside the aluminum housing, there is a polymer liner which runs from the brake levers all the way to the brake. A PTFE coated steel cable runs inside the liner with some cable crimp ends and a couple of orange rubber sleeves to protect your frame. The housing comes in a bunch of anodized colors but I went with black. The aluminum links reportedly save a bunch of weight over normal housing. Good for weight weenies, not a big factor for me. Comes with very minimal instructions but who reads those anyways…
First thoughts.. a little weird… like my bike is sprouting antennae. Easy to snap on and off to change lengths. For someone who does not enjoy cutting cable housings, filing cable housings, and struggling to get the little end caps on over my mangled housing ends, it was a revelation! Granted, those of you with proper tools may not have this issue but my motto is “Any tool can be the right tool.” and I plan on living up to it. That orange thing in the pic by the headset is the rubber tubing to protect your frame. I turned it inside out to hide the big logo. The whole i-“your-product-name-here” thing is a little overdone.
Since the links are a little loose where they snap together, a strand will change length significantly if in tension or compression, so you need to keep pushing them together to get the correct full length. I started with the rear brake and the first time I tried it, things felt good until I clamped down the cable and pulled the lever. Friction was very noticeable. I added a couple links to the rear section of the housing and the problem was solved.
The good news is that it’s really easy to add more links or take some off to dial in the length. After I got it all put together I decided on a whim to flip my stem around which made my front brake housing a bit too long. Normally (especially with hydraulics) I would have just lived with it. In this case, since I also bought a jar of 100 crimp cable ends, it took me 5 minutes to pull off a few links and put it all back together. This is with “help” from my 18 month old and 4 year old. Fortunately the 100 cable ends in the jar are bright red so that got The Little away from her new favorite pastime of sticking her fingers in the spokes.
The fit between the aluminum segments prevents you from getting tight cable bends which is a good thing. Due to the position of the rear brake boss and the frame routing bits, I ended up bypassing the last one for more direct routing.
I didn’t bother to install the end fittings at the brake and just ran the housing all the way into the boot and to the end of stop. The liner can fit through the little end boot but I trimmed it off just before. I figure this keeps water from wicking up between the cable and liner. To cut the liner while the cable is inside use some wire strippers or you can score it with a knife and give a quick tug.
On the front brake I ran the housing on the inside of the fork. It’s a more direct routing, and I’m less concerned over rocks and mud in my tires than branches on the side of the trail.
With everything installed, I went for a ride to try it all out and wear in the brakes. I climbed up a couple thousand feet into the Santa Cruz mountains on a nearby road and came back down. The housing was absolutely rock solid! Of course that doesn’t help much when the brake pads are brand new, but after a couple minutes the BB7’s were feeling good. I thought I might hear some rattling from the aluminum links but even with county “maintained” roads, I didn’t hear anything. Maybe on bumpy singletrack, but with a rigid fork I probably couldn’t hear it over my own rattling brain.
First impressions: the i-LINK cables are a really nice product! Once you get the hang of how it all fits together, installation is simple and easy to dial in. Styling is probably a love-it or hate-it kind of thing. Time will tell how they hold up. The liner will probably be the first thing to wear out, but I’m not sure how long that will take. The kit comes with enough extra fittings and housing that I didn’t have a problem running out of anything.
You can buy a decent standard cable set for less, but they are in the range of the more specialized mid-high level cables. Nokon has a similar product but at a significant cost premium. This being the world of cycling you always have the option of spending more… for me, I feel like the extra $20 or so I spent over a standard cable set was worth was cost.
I’ll ride them for a few months give an update on how they are holding up.
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.
Roughly translated from Spanish, Variado, means diverse and that is exactly what the bike is. Focus Bikes built the Variado for the rider who is just entering the racing arena or the intermediate rider looking for a great all around road bike. Focus bikes was founded in 1992 by three-time cyclocross World Champion Mike Kluge. Kluge wanted to create a company that would be “in the focal point of bicycle development.” Focus bikes are made in Germany with the mission to “Provide the perfect, highest performing bicycles for riders of all abilities – in competition, in recreation, and for everyday living.”
The heart of the Variado is a double butted aluminum frame paired with a carbon fork (aluminum steer tube). One design that is noticeable right away on Focus frames is the rear dropouts are slightly tucked under the chainstay. This is to add compliance to the frame by distributing the vibration and hits you experience through both the chainstay and seatstay. On the hilly country roads I typically ride, I was able to tell that the design helped to soften the chatter a bit. The welds are strong and perhaps a little more conspicuous than I was expecting and the bottom bracket derailleur guide routed the cable over the chainstay welds slightly and, while I didn’t see noticeable impact to shifting, there was a small nick on the chainstay. The aluminum frame is paired with a carbon fork that also helped to dampen the road noise.
The drivetrain consists, almost of entirely, of the always reliable Shimano 105 black group and turning the gears is the FSA Gossamer crankset. When purchasing the Variado you can opt for the Gossamer triple crankset 52/39/30 or the compact 50/34 – I tested the 50/34. The rear cog on our compact was Shimano’s 11-27t, this combination was perfect for climbs in the foothills of California. Paired with the new fully internal cable routing of the 105’s shifters/brake levers your cockpit is very clean.
Keeping you connected to the road are Continental Grand Prix 24mm tires and wheelsets built from Focus’s in house brand Concept SL hubs and Rodi Stylus Race black rims. The wheelsets rolled very smooth, with sealed bearing front and rear you could really feel the minimal rolling resistance on the descents. The 32 spoke wheelsets proved to be strong through the less than perfect country back-roads which the Variado logged over 500 miles, no truing was needed.
Slowing you down from mach speeds are Shimano 105’s brakes. I experienced a few high speed descents that warranted some safe stopping power and they complied well with the Rodi rim braking surface. Never had issues or concerns with the bike’s ability to stop.
Rounding out the components are the FSA SL-280 seatpost, FSA OS-190 stem, FSA Vero compact handlebars. Straightforward quality from FSA. If you haven’t tried compact handlebars you should, I find them more comfortable than the standard bars. The Concept Ex saddle was my only real qualm of the bike. I found it to have a bit too much padding at the nose, which caused for some discomfort. Like pedals, most cyclists have a strong personal preference before they purchase a mid-to-upper range road bike and it’s at least somewhat expected that many riders would swap out the stock saddle for something else. If it didn’t look so bad, many manufacturers could probably get away with shipping new bikes without saddles…
The Variado was put through the full Talking Treads review; inclement weather elements, numerous hill climbs and descents and even a century ride-just a little over 500 miles total. Overall the Variado provided a comfortable ride throughout the review and to be truthful we are sad to see it go. The frame compliance transferred as much energy you put out, to the wheels both in climbing and sprinting. I felt comfortable descending both in control and braking ability especially in the upper 40-55 mph range. In addition, part of me feels as though the tucked rear dropouts give the sensation of “carving’ the corners, which is an added bonus. The white frame, seat and bar tape took a bit too get used to, but the red and black highlights sealed the deal. At approximately 23 pounds (60cm frame tested) it is a bit heavy, but it really comes down to stiffness/weight ratio and Focus got it right on this one. The suggested price of the Variado 2.0 is $1499 and can be found at your local bike shop and certain online retail stores. The price tag is set well for the Shimano 105, FSA componentry and the sealed hub wheelset providing years of reliable service on this machine.
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.