Bringing back the Cycling Cap one Domestique at a time

Ride Review: BGC Philippines 40k Challenge



Around nine weeks back, Daytripper1021 told me about an upcoming Cycling event , BGC Philippines 40k Challenge.

With non-cycling stuff to worry about, I lukewarmly agreed, forked out the Php 1500++ fee and completed the online registration for the event. 

At the time, all I knew was this ride was that this ride will run 40 kilometers within the Cycling friendly, unpolluted streets of Metro Manila (sarcasm inline). The November 17 event date was then far off in the horizon and was the least of my worries. 

Training for the ride was the last thing on my mind.

Days seemed to pass in a flurry until, lo and behold, it was November 15 and I was informed via email and SMS that our race kits were available for pickup. Realizing what commotion 2,000 cyclists can wreak in a cramped venue, Daytripper and I quickly made arrangements to pick up the items on the first day.

The Goods

Long story short, we were able to get our kit and get back to our lowly cubicles during lunch break. When we opened the bag (which, in itself, is an item of its own), we had ourselves an extremely well made dye-sublimated race jersey from F2P, a pair of RPJ Sunglasses (a Rudy Project brand), a bottle of Gatorade, reflectors, stickers and timing chip.

Photo by PTrainer JC

The fact that either the jersey or the shades alone costs as much as the entry fee makes the registration fee feel worth it. Add to that the Felt-branded canvas sling bag... sure it may be low cost, but it's useability, on two wheels or on foot, is beyond question.  

The Ride

We were part of Wave A which was scheduled to depart right after the Ride with Robbie wave. Robbie being retired Aussie pro-tour rider Robbie McEwen. Luckily, I was able to sneak in a few rides a few days before the event and shake off the rust from my semi atrophied calves, quads and hammies.

As the mass of riders assembled at the starting line at the corner of 9th and 10 avenues in BGC, i wrapped up some warmup laps and made my way to the start line to join my wave. I saw daytripper1021 looking at me from the other side of the crowd with a sheepish grin seemingly saying "Oh great! You actually woke up". I nodded in acknowledgement.

The challenge started off 5 minutes later than scheduled to give Robbie McEwen time to gauge their wave's abilities, or so the event host announced.... so, at exactly 6:10am, we were off. 

The takeoff was not without drama. Off the bat, a rider in front of me seemed to have difficulty clipping his cleats in and came to a stop, causing the rider behind to collide. Good thing, I was able to avoid them. 

As the group turned toward St. Lukes Medical Center, one rider's water bottle got detached and flew off across the road. The riders in front of me swerved to avoid the bottle and all the while pointing at the hazard. This, thankfully, was the last of the drama as far as my ride was concerned.   

As we turned right on Kalayaan, we were greeted by slow lengthy climb and as we reached the peak riders started to bunch up in order to avoid a huge unrepaired pothole. Credit has to be given to the event organizers as each and every pothole, train rail and road hazard had a marshall standing guard to warn cyclists of impending wheelset damage.

Once we passed this and started downhill, we soon found ourselves breaking right and on C5 road. Cycling on C5 has always been in my bucket list, but unruly drivers, jaywalkers, bad road patches and other stuff were always around to turn me off. Well, this was the day is when I ticked it off my bucket list as we had a lane and a half all to ourselves. 

C5 is a series of rolling uphills and descents but most enjoyable was the long descent towards The Heritage Park. With an unobstructed view of the relatively straight road, most cyclists, myself included, undoubtedly had their top speed marks set here. Conserving energy, I maxed out at 48km/h with just a moderate application of pedal power.

Taking a U-turn using the Bayani Road underpass, we made our way back to BGC with haste. Things were pretty uneventful except for the exit climbing up to Market Market where we had to do a steep 500 meter climb while avoiding some ruts and cracks. Lack of climbing practice took it's toll as a lot of guys I passed on flats and descents overtook me.   

As we made our way to the Buendia flyover, things started looking a lot better. As we started yet another short climb, we were greeted with asphalt. Well laid, smooth asphalt. As we traversed Buendia, buildings and trees provided ample shade cyclists.

The smooth goings on however, were interrupted once we passed the train rails on the corner of South Super Highway. Everyone had to slow down and pick a spot to cross the rails with minimum bumps.

Soon enough, we found ourselves in Roxas Boulevard. Which was as well asphalted as Buendia. Honking motorists greeted us with every intersection, it seemed. Fortunately, police were there to keep the restless natives from revolting.

At the halfway point in Luneta Grandstand, I stopped at a hydration point and took in a couple of cups of water. The route to the finish line was essentially tracing our way back through Roxas and Buendia.

As I approached the Buendia flyover for the last time, I had a sense that I conserved too much energy. And as I cranked my way up and finished the climb, I figured I'd just enjoy the rest of the ride and not chase a few measly seconds.

As my group approached the finish line, everyone started sprinting. I held back purposely, content with a solo finish and possibly some good finish line pics. And true enough, I had a good solo shot and finish, just a the announcer called out my time.

Out of Shape, but just look at that depth-of-field! 

Daytripper1021 was waiting when I got to the medal awarding area and we managed to get some photos with Robbie. After which, we went for a relaxed cooldown ride around BGC.




I can't express enough how satisfied I am with the BGC Philippines 2013 ride. It's well organized and, in my opinion, well worth the entry price. And of course, riding the same roads you regularly drive through daily sans the traffic and pollution is an experience in itself.

Am I looking forward to BGC Philippines 2014?

I think the question is "When do we start training?".


P.S. 

I asked Robbie McEwen if we can swap Foils (his being Team Edition). He said "It's not mine, go ahead!". Should've had taken him up on that. 




   



Read more »

2014 Ultegra 6800 - Dura Ace Tech Trickles Down!

As expected, some a lot of the new features introduced in Shimano's Dura Ace 9000 series will trickle down to the 6800 series Ultegra group, which will be released sometime 2014. As we'll see, it's more than just going 11-speed.

Highlights, in a nutshell: 

  • Crankset (FC-6800) - Will feature a four arm spider resembling the Dura Ace's FC-9000. This will save some weight off the outgoing FC-6700 cranks while offering a standardized crankarm for use with standard, compact and mid-compact chainrings. 
  • Shifters (ST-6800) - Mimics the ergonomics of the Dura Ace ST-9000 in that it's thinner, therefore easier to grip. These will also feature the same light shift effort and shorter lever throw of the Dura Ace STI's. How much so is the question. 

  • Front Derailleur (FD-6800) - Again we see a direct trickle down of Dura Ace technology in the upcoming Ultegra's FD. The long arm, promises the same, light shift effort of the FD-9000. 

  • Brakes (BR-6800) - Symmetrical Dual Pivot design also inherited from the Dura Ace BR-9000. Shimano claims a 10% increase in braking power over the BR-6700. 

  • Rear Derailleur (RD-6800) - One ups the Dura Ace RD-9000 in that a long cage option is available. You'll need this if you want to run the 6800's new 38T large sprockets. 


  • Cassette (CS-6800) - available in 11-23, 11-25, 11-28 and now in 11-32! You'll need a long cage RD-6800 to accommodate the 32T gear though. Having 11 speeds now means having back  one additional 'missing' gear in the middle of the range, or suddenly having a 32T bailout gear for the toughest of climbs. Depends on your point of view. 
  • Chain (CN-6800) - Same as the DA-9000 chain, the inner dimensions are maintained while size reduction only applies to the outer dimensions. The 6800 chain gets a PTFE (Teflon) coating as well. These are not directional which means you can mount it either way. These don't get the CN-9000's hollow pins though.

  • Cables - Also get the Polymer coating used in the 9000 series. 
Everything about the 6800 looks good on paper. Specs and features are up there in terms of mid-level groups and it looks like we just have to suffer some good ol' added weight with the 6800 series. This is, of course, to give the flagship Dura Ace 9000 a halo effect.

As can be observed with the previous Dura Ace 7900 and the Ultegra 6700 series, it's not beyond reason to expect that the Ultegra 6800 will perform very much like the 9000.

Given that the 6800 will set you back almost half of what the 9000 does, the added 200 or so grams is a penalty which we predict a lot of people will gladly bear.

Expected release date is September 2013. Asian release is typically a few months before. 

Read more »

Review: Giro Air Attack

2012 really cemented a new Road Bike consideration: Aerodynamics. It was no longer enough that frames and components be light and stiff, they had to be aero. 

While Aerodynamics have long been the realm of wheel designers and Time Trial bikes, it has made its indelible mark on the roadie landscape with the slew of new aerodynamic frames, handlebars, pedals and what have you, all claiming they can cheat the wind and save precious watts.  

Eventually it had to come to this.  The call of aerodynamics found their way to the Helmet as well.  While we have heard of aerodynamic claims from ordinary multi-holed road helmets before, let's just say that this is the first time that we have seen something which really looks like something we'd imagine an aero road helmet to be.  

Here we have in our hands.... Giro's Air Attack.



Impressions

First off, let's get straight to the aesthetics issue. You either like the looks of the Air Attack or you hate it. I haven't seen anyone who's just fine or lukewarm with the looks. Anyone with an Air Attack is bound to get comments like 'it looks like something you'd find on a mountainbiker' or 'is that helmet from Tony Hawk?'.  We can't blame people for saying that because, well, it's true. But you do have to take into consideration where the design is rooted.

Only six vents present on the Air Attack

Giro's designers wanted to take their Selector tear drop helmet and somehow adapt the design to produce a road specific cycling helmet. Giro's designers tapped into the now familiar Kamm-tail aero principle. This states that you can still get very good aerodynamic performance by having the front end of the very aerodynamic teardrop shape and lopping off the rear portion as the air still tends to flow as if over a whole teardrop shape. This design has been implemented in newer aero road frames such as Scott's Foil and BMC's TMR01 among others.

Two of the vents are actually dedicated for exhaust

This lends to what the Air Attack looks like now... a truncated Selector. 

It may take some getting used to but from our perspective it's not at all ugly. In fact, it has a certain 'function over form' beauty to it.  

As in most Giro helmets, build quality is top notch. The outer shell is finished nicely with perfectly placed decals and chrome emblem. The cables and straps are well placed and the adjusters and locks are made of quality plastic. Overall, you're looking at a top-class lid.



Features

Giro claims that the Air Attack's aerodynamic efficiency sits somewhere between the Aeon and the Selector, with the latter being the best. This is to be expected as the Air Attack does not have as much drag producing vents the Aeon has but also lacks the long teardrop tail of the Selector.  If you want the maths of it, head on over to Spokeydokeyblog to see the extrapolated power savings of the Air Attack.


And speaking of vents, the Air Attack will come up dead last in most helmet vent comparisons, sporting just six (two front, two top, two exhaust).  However, Giro pulled up some tricks from its ventilation sleeve. Instead of the helmet making contact with your head, the helmet is actually suspended 3 millimeters above the rider's head by Giro's Roc Loc Air system. What this does is give room for the air to flow under the helmet and over your head thus providing ventilation.

Roc Loc Air mechanism suspends the Air Attack a few millimeters above your head

As seen here, there is a bit of space on the forehead as well as groove channels on the side of the foam to allow air to channel inwards. Giro claims that the air attack sits in between the Aeon and the Selector on this front as well, this time with the Aeon providing the best ventilation.

Internal grooves help channel air over the head

The adjustment mechanism works satisfactorily in-ride, but not as easily as our long term tester Prevail, mostly due to the smaller knob. We found initial strap adjustments a bit finicky, but its a one time thing so it's not really a big deal.

Our sample came in at is 312 grams, heavy by today's standards.

As weighted: 312 grams


A magnetic visor is available in the Air Attack Shield. This visor is made by renowned optics manufacturer Carl Zeiss Vision. The visor can easily be detached and reattached while in the saddle and can be mounted upside-down to allow the rider to get it out of the way for whatever reason. As the system uses magnets, this is easily accomplished.

The Air Attack Shield with the magnetic visor

On The Road

Our size Large sample sat quite comfortably and we found the Roc Loc Air mechanism was quite secure. That said, our Prevail is a tiny bit more comfortable, but then again not as comfortable as our old Bell Array in terms of pure fit. You can take this with a grain of salt however as head shape, and therefore fit, is extremely relative and varies from person to person.

The added weight, compared to our erstwhile staple lid Prevail, was a bit noticeable when initially worn but becomes a non issue over the course of a ride.

Ventilation, now this is what a lot of people ask about. Initial skepticism on probable marketing hype were dismissed once we were in motion. Yes, we were actually surprised at the airflow the Air Attack provides! Giro's gimmicky venting system actually works. The slits on the front of the helmet provide adequate ventilation from 14 km/h and good ventilation from 19 km/h. In between 25 to around 30 km/h is where you want to be to truly call the helmet breezy. And one more thing, you'd want to be facing a bit downward and point the vents onto incoming air to really ram it in.

That said, this is still not as well ventilated as our Prevail, whose mega mouthport just blows off or dries forehead sweat.

One positive thing we noticed with the Giro is the wind noise... or lack thereof. This is noticeably quieter than previous multi-vent helmets we used. The only noise we noticed is from the air going over the ears.

What we didn't like is the rear height/angle adjuster. It's a bit too easy to adjust and we observed that it keeps adjusting by itself.  The good thing is that our preferred fit is at the lowest position, which the adjuster seems to default to.

Final Words

They say that, as in fighter planes, if it looks fast - it looks good. And while we can't dispute that the Air Attack is faster in the wind tunnel, real world advantages are very much subject to debate. Nonetheless, the Air Attack is the first of a growing list of dedicated aero helmets for road cyclists with the Scott Vanish Aero having just been announced and Specialized's thing undergoing field testing (below).



With the advent of UCI banning helmet covers such as Lazer's Aeroshell, we expect that manufactures will continue to churn out dedicated aero road helmets. At this point it's looking as like they are here to stay.

Verdict

Not our first choice on long climbs in hot summer days but something we'll definitely sport on the flats.  Just get used to other Cyclists staring at you until these aero road helms become more commonplace. 

Read more »

The Cycling Epiphanies (2009)

A friend recently liked this note I made on my Facebook page way back 2009. Good thing he did as I totally forgot I wrote this. Anyway here's a collection of my random cycling induced musings.

----- 0 ------

Cycling often induces conditions of extreme physical stress which isolates your mind. This isolation, in turn, separates your mind from immediate reality and allows you reflect on things apparent and things unrealized. To break down your complex life into simple nuggets (ahem) wisdom or common sense. Here are some what I still remember...

1. Happiness is simply expectation management.

2. Always smile or at least pose for photography students when cycling. You'll never know when or where your pic will end up posted!

3. Anything worth doing is worth doing in style. Really.

4. The more you give, the more you truly are rewarded.

5. Reward yourself continuously! You deserve it! Let yourself feel it!

6. Never let depression, negativity or anger take you over. 

7. Overanalysis overcomplicates. The quickest distance between two points is a straight line.

8. Truth be told, the fact of the matter is, if all things are equal = they are.

9. The right music can make you better. The wrong music can make you worse.

10. "Be yourself, no matter what they say" is constantly and perpetually true. People will like you just because you're you.

11. If you want something, focus on it and get it. Don't settle. You'll save a whole lot of money than doing incremental upgrades.

12. Always listen, be patient and learn. You neither omniscient nor perfect. 

13. Cycling requires fast legs, not strong legs.

14. Be not afraid of asking other people for answers. Not knowing is human and this is why pride is considered a sin.

15. First impressions are just impressions. Dig deeper!

16. Know what makes you happy. do it, enjoy it, cherish it and never forget it!

17. Don't forget to jumble life's priorities once in while! 

18. At the end of the day, it's the end of the day. GO HOME AND REST!

19. Be proud of and never forget where you're coming from.

20. This works for me: Preburn -> Carbo Load -> GO! Preburn: 250-300 calories (light cycling), Carbo Load: Eat lots of Carbo (+Coffee), Go: intense workout (usually 80kms/2000cal). Good for losing 2-3 lbs the next day.

21. Kung Nike, Nike. Kung Adidas, Adidas. Don't mix outfits and shoes! :D 

22. Keep evolving. It's not only exciting, it keeps you young! Only archaeologists dig dinosaur pits (pun intended). 

23. If you don't like what you see, step back or maybe step forward. A change in perspective might sometimes result in a change of view.

24. Keep forging on! However, while moving forward, look back once in a while. You might have forgotten something. 

25. Never think that you're too cool to dive into a new or baduy experience! 

26. It goes in like this... earphones, then helmet, then shades over helmet straps! Just do it.

27. When peoplewatching, always remember that you, too, are being peoplewatched. Now try it wearing cycling shorts in a resto full of people who just came from mass.

28. You know what they say about the Big Guy the door and the window, right? So stop banging on the door! :)

29. All uphills are followed by downhills. The harder the climb, the sweeter the descent!

30. Mas mahirap maging Rapper kesa Rock Star! I sang Stigmatized by The Calling...sakit sa lalamunan pero ok lang. Then we sang I Know You Want Me by Pitbull.... potek.... pagod kami mind body and soul ergo the conclusion :D  (It's harder being a Rapper than a Rock Star! I sang Stigmatized by the Calling... my throat hurt but was ok. Then we sang I Know You Want Me by Pitbull.... damn... we were tired mind, body and soul therefore the conclusion)





------

Ok so just go ahead and ignore number 30. Be happy and ride safe! 

~Armand 

Read more »

Ride Report: Bugarin-Mabitac-Jalajala

Manila, The Philippines. Having a couple non-working holidays off due to Holy Week, my ride buddy Mr. Bourne and I decided to ride somewhere a bit farther away from our usual weekly fitness loops. At the back of our minds, we already knew where. A few text messages later and the plan set. We're gonna go back to Rizal and do the Bugarin climb and Jalajala loop.

The Climb

Bugarin is not a town in itself but is a sitio, an outlying community which is part of Pililla Municipality in the province of Rizal.

A sort of Mecca to Pinoy cyclists who have access to it, the Bugarin climb is one of those early challenges which simply must be conquered. The climb in itself is not that difficult. From the stopover known as Pisong Kape (One Peso Coffee)it's a straight 8.8 kilometer climb to around 1,100ft (332m). This makes for an average gradient of 3.7%. Deceptively hidden in these kilometers are two Strava Category 3 climbs, and first-timers are best advised not to exert too much effort in the earlier sections to prevent bonking.

In an area filled with climbs of all sorts, Bugarin may be the easiest. Cyclists looking for something more challenging can try any of a variety of other nearby routes including the Sampaloc Road climb with several Category 4s.

No KOMs nor PRs were to be broken though as Mr. Bourne and I agreed beforehand that this ride will be purely recreational... one of those "reconnect with your love of cycling" affairs.  We were just out to enjoy the sights and the sounds.

We headed by car to Pisong Kape hoping to start the climb early. Being Good Friday, we got into our fair share of traffic en route as we had to go through a crowd of devotees doing their yearly walk to Antipolo church. After spending 45 minutes of Good Friday penance in traffic, the rest of the drive was thankfully exceptionally smooth, devoid of anything you can remotely describe as traffic.



But the delay took its toll. Starting an hour later than planned, we were off following the Manila East Road to Bugarin. And while the climb itself was quite uneventful, the scenery was not.  All the way up, we got our fair share of fresh air and lush mountainous scenery.  and being Good Friday, there was almost no vehicle traffic, save for the occasional motorcycle rider doing a Valentino Rossi impression. But we were not alone.  Cyclists of all sorts were also along for the ride, from local pros to recreational cyclists chatting along on mountain bikes.

The view from Lookout Point (image: Jun Roche)

Halfway up, I stopped at the lookout point to rehydrate and admire Laguna Lake in all it's glory (all while waiting for my HR to drop below stress levels).  All in all, it took my gravitationally challenged self 44 minutes to climb 8.8 kilometers and overcome that last steep section and arrive in Bugarin. Not exactly like a Schleck but borderline acceptable for a big guy on aero wheels.

After the last few meters of the grind, I found myself stopping at a carinderia and hooking my bike on a stand. Bugarin itself is just a collection of houses welcoming tired cyclists. The place makes its intentions pretty clear as several bike stands are provided to hold on to your ride while you replenish. All the shops have Gatorade and are just raring to serve something up to refuel you on your way back.

To my surprise The Cannibal, another ride buddy, was already having a mid-ride recovery meal with Mr. Bourne.  After a few minutes of chit-chat, we refilled the water bottles, clipped in and headed off. While the guys had actual food, I just had a sachet of peanut butter Gu gel. Yes, I was saving the appetite for later.

The Descent

After pedaling all of twenty revolutions, we started our pedal-free descent into Laguna, a different province altogether.  It took me almost an hour to get over the top but only fifteen minutes to reach sea level. Even with safety as top priority, I still took the corners with relish. The roads were smooth and  inviting and just egging you on to corner even more aggressively. At this point, I'm really loving the BR-9000's braking performance. Braking power is very very good and it doesn't take much effort to apply that power.

Upon reaching the bottom, we traversed the long, flat straight which led to Mabitac.  The town is unusually quiet that day and we passed by it without the tricycle dodging that usually occurs.  On the way out we did pass quite a few flagellants. A gentle reminder of what day it is.

The Flats:  Mabitac - Jalajala

With the suffering of the climb and the adrenaline rush of the descent both over and done with, we now started the last part of our ride: 49 kilometers of oft-shaded two lane provincial roads around the peninsula going back to where we started.



With roads this open, there's always time for a photo op 

Providing a welcome respite from the madding streets of Manila, the roads in this area of Jalajala, Rizal province provide kilometer upon kilometer of cycling bliss. Most of the streets are well shaded, having ample tree cover. Apart from one or two instances of unfinished road repair (which only extend to around 3 meters max), the roads themselves are in good condition and are very rideable.

75% of the road back is this scenic. It's worth the trip. (Image: SGPanguito)

By 10:30am, there was a marked increase in vehicle traffic which we attributed to vacationers from Manila making a trek to Laguna. That said, we're talking about probably only a dozen vehicles every thirty minutes. A bigger concern as the miles rolled on was the heat, especially on some long unshaded stretches near the finish. Aware of this, we made pretty sure that we were properly hydrated, stopping whenever we had to. The availability of sari-sari stores on a holiday sure helped a lot.  It's always a good thing when you have ready access to a cold sweaty bottle of Coke before blasting through a section of road baked by the noon-day sun.

As the kilometers passed, the route had just once final trick up it's sleeve: a short  ~7% grade climb lasting about 300 meters with about 2 kilometers left in the loop. While this may not sound like a lot, having this section at the end of a ride in a sunny, tropical noon is a test your stamina, energy reserves and psyche.

After exactly 63.6 kilometers. We were back to where we started. We vowed to do this again next year and the year after that. Cycling future aside, I started looking for something more... short term... time to get some grub.

Recovery

Our goal was not to train. Not to grab a few Strava KOMs. The goal was to reconnect and get back to the root of why we love cycling. Mission accomplished.

Aerial view: We started from the left,  pedaled up the mountain in the middle and around the coast!

Ride safe!

~Armand

Post Script: 

  • Pre-ride and in-ride food toll: Two slices of wheat bread, a thick slice of dubliner, a glass of Glucerna SR, two bottles of Gatorade, one Gu gel, a Sprite and two bottles of water.
  • Totally forgetting my Catholic roots and partly because of post-ride hallucination, I ordered and ate a slab of liempo on Good Friday. Sorry God!
  • Trying to avoid the traffic situation in Antipolo, we took an alternate route going back to Manila. and encountered a parade of flagellants carrying crosses down Sampaloc road.  It doesn't look like they were having a good time but the 'Roman Guards' sure did!


Read more »

Mid-Compact Rising (on the FC-9000)

Six or seven years back, the upstart, hotshot crankset was the Compact. Offering a light 50T/34T gearing, it gave so equipped cyclists the ability to climb up hills at a higher, more comfortable cadence.  This relaxed climbing pace, to a certain extent, came at the expense of speed. Riders powerful enough to max out the 50T chainring are left wanting in terms of top end pace.

On the other side of the coin are the Standard chainrings. These commonly have 53 or 52-tooth large rings and 39-tooth inner rings. These have been de facto for so long that the setup earned Standard moniker. And we're talking about the modern Standard here. Older Standard cranks even came in at up to a whopping 54T/44T! Although these ring combinations are still around, they're now almost exclusively for time-trial use.  

All things equal, Compact will be outpaced by Standard in the top end of the speed spectrum as Compact users will eventually run out of cogs or spin their lungs out trying to keep up with Standard riders on long flats. Conversely, Standard crank users will be finding themselves grinding (and possibly cramping) their way up mountains while Compact-equipped Cyclists pass them by, spinning merrily ahead. While this may not be a big issue in shorter climbs, this would definitely manifest itself in longer, sustained climbs.

Any self respecting Cyclist must, of course, select which chainring combination is best for his particular type of riding or terrain...which works out around 90% of the time. However, the 10% needs to be addressed every now and then. It can't be avoided that that one needs to ride outside of his usual comfort zone.

For lack of a better term, an inappropriate crank is less of an issue for the guy with Compacts on the flats. However, it may certainly break the guy on Standards going up a steep mountain...... which is  perhaps the reason why most roadie built-bike offerings these days often come with Compact gearing as standard.... as opposed to 'Standard' gearing.

Yes, Triple Cranks do exist in the road cycling universe. However the added weight, cost and complexity of these systems coupled with limited availability makes this an option only for people who really really need it badly enough.

 

Enter: The Mid-Compact

Rapidly gaining popularity is a new crank setup: The Mid-Compact. Some call it the semi-compact and some even choose to ignore it altogether and dump it into the compact category. For us, however, this new in-between gearing definitely deserves to be in its own class.

The Mid-Compact crankset first popped up in our radar in 2010. This was when SRAM introduced it as part of their Red lineup. Campagnolo and just recently, Shimano joined the bandwagon and introduced their own Mid-Compact cranks in their top tier Groups. Back when the Mid-Compact initially appeared, some people scoffed at the configuration as 'confused' and 'undecided'. However, this in-between range is what makes this configuration special.

With its 52T/36T tooth count, the Mid-Compact loses very little in terms of top speed, only giving up a tooth compared to a Standard crank's 53T large ring. Little is sacrificed on climbs as well. The Mid-Compact's 36T small ring can keep up with the 34T compact crank, only giving up 2 teeth to the full pledged climbing ring.

Spot the Diff: Mid-Compact (L) vs. Compact (Installed)

The Numbers

To give us a better idea on where the Mid-Compact sits in the gearing hierarchy, we made this simple gear ratio chart.  This chart focuses specifically on Chainring-Cog ratios which are computed as Chainring ÷ Cog. Layman's terms: one revolution of your selected Chainring (Vertical) will spin the selected Cog (Horizontal) exactly that number of times.

e.g. A 53T crank will spin a 28T cog 1.893 times per complete revolution.

Depicted in the Cogs column is the Shimano CS-9000 11-Speed 12-25 cassette. The 28T and 11T cogs (in parenthesis) are included in the chart to further illustrate how they play with Standard, Mid and Compact Cranksets.  With the way equipment development is progressing, we wouldn't be surprised to see all of these thirteen cogs in a production cassette in the not too distant future.

To focus purely on the merits of the crank gearing, we shall leave discussions on cassette selection, crank length, tire thickness, inflation pressure, cadence, leg strength and what have you off the table.


Everything absolutely equal, the Mid-Compact effectively bridges Standard and Compact. The Mid's large chainring performs close to the Standard's large ring while its small chainring performs closer to the Compact's small ring.

In other words:

The Mid-Compact is like a Standard on the large rings and like a Compact on the small rings.   

To further illustrate, we took the average gear ratios of three Cranksets and the 12-25 cassette and compared them to each other.


On the Large rings (top speed scenario) where Standard is preferred, the Mid-Compact is only 1.89% slower vs. Standard. The Compact is 5.67% slower.

On the Small rings (climbing scenario) where the Compact is preferred, we find that the Mid-Compact is 5.56% harder to crank than the Compact. Compare that to the Standard's Small ring, which is a whopping 12.79% harder crank across the cassette range!

This jack-of-all-trades approach may very well make the Mid-Compact the new Standard. We're already seeing a lot of the word Mid-Compact here.

Shimano FC-9000 52/36

Our Mid-Compact crankset came in the form of Shimano's radical FC-9000. With four asymmetrically placed spider arms, this new design shaves quite a few grams off of a comparable five armed spider. The design also offers a great long-term advantage... all chainring sizes use one, for lack of a better term, bolt circle diameter (BCD). A minor miracle of sorts, this means that all chainrings are interchangeable!  Switching from Compact to Mid to Standard only requires chainrings as the crankarms and spiders are standard.

At a manufacturer claimed weight of ~600g, the four-armed design and improved hollow rings/cranks managed to shave off 60 or so grams off the 7900 version. The four arms are positioned in areas where strength is most needed during the crank cycle, which rather makes sense.  The new aesthetic, however, is polarizing. In fact, a lot of people hate the design outright. However, it's function over form and for more than a few, it's a real looker in itself. The workmanship and quality of materials on the crank, as well as for all the 9000 series components, is top notch.

On The Road

Immediately noticeable is the Mid-Compact's large chainring performance on the flats. Off the bat, we observed our cadence drop compared to our previously installed Compact crank while maintaining the same pace. Upping the ante to our normal riding cadence brought about even more speed! It's been a while since we rode Standards. And while we technically still aren't on Standards, the Mid-Compact's large ring pulls off a  very good impersonation.

The same can be said about the 36T small ring. On rolling hills, this can definitely hold its own against the Compact's 34T and in this scenario, may actually be better as there is less need to shift the RD while transitioning from uphill to downhill to uphill.

On long climbs, we did not observe any major difference between the Mid-Compact's 36T small ring and the 34T ring our our compact. In fact, the 36T ring made us climb a bit faster than our previous record using the 34T. This may be due to many different factors but at the very least, we can comfortably say that the 36T is adequate for all but the most thigh busting of ascents.

In terms of technical functionality, we can't see any fault with the FC-9000. Adequately stiff, it simply does it's job well.    

Convert to a Mid-Compact and pair it with an 11-28 and you can go virtually anywhere. We may have well found the holy grail of chainrings.

Verdict

The do-all Mid-Compact just makes sense as Cyclists no longer need to choose between Standard and Compact. Everyone can just get a Mid-Compact and do tailor fitting on the cassette end. This will be the new 'Standard' in a few short years.

Read more »

Walz Caps - All American Cycling Caps

Why cycling caps have decreased in popularity over the years is beyond us.

In our opinion, The Cap should be part and parcel of every decent cyclist's kit along with bib shorts and full zip retro jerseys.

If you should go out looking for one, you have tons of styles to select from a sea of manufacturers.

One cap manufacturer, however, stands out from the rest... and based on what we have seen from their catalogue so far, they offer some really classy caps!



Walz Caps was founded by Michael and Jennifer Gilstrap in 2007 with the aim of providing high quality cycling caps. We admire their dedication to this epic symbol of the sport as they are really focused on the one product (well they also offer socks and bandanas but Caps are what they're known for).

Want class? look no further than their catalogue page. Pure, devoid of logos, Walz caps come in a variety of models and styles which cater to almost every cyclist's styling whim. Between tweed, plaid, herringbone, houndstooth and just plain cotton, we were visually overloaded with the wide selection.

A sample of Walz's Cotton Caps

Cyclists have a choice of materials as well.  Cotton for all around weather cycling or Wool if things get a little bit colder than preferred. They also offer a Moisture Wicking variant made of polyester which promises to keep sweat from dripping on your eyes and forehead.

Some Moisture Wicking models

Each Walz Cycling Cap is made in the USA and is shipped from their Headquarters in Oceanside, California to any US destination free of charge! International orders are charged a nominal shipping fee.
Classy Wool for Colder Climates

The caps come in two sizes: Small/Medium which fits heads below 23.5 inches and Mediuml/Large, which fits noggins above 23.5. Funny thing is my head is exactly 23.5". I opted for the larger one. Good thing is that Walz gives an excellent guarantee that should the caps not fit, you can send them back and get a custom fitted cap in return! Prices range from USD 19 to around 35 for customized wool models.

If you're in the market looking for The Cap... or wanting something unique. Make sure you check out the class offerings by Walz Caps on their website at www.walzcaps.com.

We can't wait to try out of their awesome caps!


Read more »

Shimano WH-9000-C24-TU 1100 gram Tubulars

Shimano has just announced that it will be releasing the long rumored Tubular version of the C24 wheelset. The tubular version,WH-9000-C24-TU,  wheelset weighs in at a svelte 1,100 grams. No need to rub your eyes, Yes, that is the claimed weight.

This is, for us, the most interesting of the new 11-speed compatible wheelsets announced by Shimano. Other goodies include the RS-81, basically a WH-9000-C50 wit Ultegra level hubs and a new 105 series full carbon SPD-SL pedals.

From the looks of things, the WH-9000-C24-TU will be a 21 spoke affair on the rear (vs 20 spokes in the clincher). We presume that the front will sport 16 spokes similar to the clincher version.

Even if Shimano is over-optimistic on the weight figures and end up at around 1155grams (5% error margin), these will still be light wheels by any measure.

This is something  hardcore tub climbers or weight weenies will surely look forward to.

And, yes, the graphics have grown on us enough to stop complaining about them.

Sad news in all of this is that these wheels will be released in 2014. At least that gives people time to save up.

Meanwhile, you can check out our reviews on the C50 and C24 here and here.


Read more »

Review: Continental Grand Prix 4000s 23c and 25c

Yes, there are lighter tires our there. There are grippier. There are sturdier. But, in our experience, nothing comes close to being the perfect all rounder as Continental's Grand Prix 4000s.

It has all those necessary qualities you would want in your road tire. Light enough, grippy enough, sturdy enough. Just dont expect it to beat an Ultremo in a race or go thru debris like a Gatorskin or a 4 Seasons.

The key to the Grand Prix 4000s' performance is Continental's judicious inclusion of a variety of features found across its offerings.



Technical Features

For puncture resistance, Continental decided to include only one Vectran anti-puncture layer where the Conti 4 Seasons has two. This sacrifices a bit of puncture protection but yields lighter weight and improves rolling resistance.  

Key to the GP 4000s' grip is the use of the Black Chili compound. First developed in 2005, Black Chili basically infuses the basic rubber base with microscopic carbon soot particles.  Continental claims that this technology produces 26% less rolling resistance, 30% more grip... all while decreasing wear by 5%.

This is remarkable since rolling resistance, grip and wear are opposing requirements. Say you want to increase grip, wear is usually sacrificed. With Black Chili, resistance and grip are improved as well as wear. Amazing.

Black Chili technology is said to be so sensitive that it can only be produced out of Conti's Korbach plant in Germany.

The GP 4000s' are quite average in terms of weight. We measured our 700x25 sample at 224 grams, a good six grams below the listed 230g.

 700x25 - A good 6 grams lighter than advertised

What got us dumbfounded was our used 700x23 sample. Our scales have them at 218 grams where it was only supposed to be 205! We were relieved upon measuring another used sample which went for 209 grams.  You'll have to take our word on that as we failed to photograph before mounting. Although we cannot be 100% sure, we attribute this major discrepancy to the way the tires were folded during measurement. This may have distributed the tire differently and may have affected the center of gravity putting more pressure on the scale's strain gauges. Again, only a theory. Regardless of this, the 4000s' are adequately light.

700x23 - Mysteriously overweight
Mounting

For people of moderate hand strength, the tires can be mounted without levers. In our experience, initial fitting (and dismounting) requires at least one lever to get that final inch or three of bead over the brake surface. Subsequent removals and mounts required only light-moderate hand strength and no tools.  These tires were meant to be mounted a certain direction. A vague direction arrow may be found somewhere in the sidewalls. Directionality aside, we have actually mistakenly ridden the tires backwards to no ill effect.

23c vs. 25c 

Perhaps the bigger question is 'which tire size to go for?'. We have been using 700x23 GP4000s' for quite a while. For a week or two, we had two 700x25's mounted purely for testing.

Lacking any sort of scientific testing equipment or data, what we can report on is subjective ride feel.

With fresh legs, what size tires you're on doesn't really matter. You have enough strength to spin either tire size equally well.

But.

Over a long ride, we found that the wider tires are somewhat harder to spin as the kilometers pass along.  Net effect is feeling a bit more tired after a ride on 25's than on 23's. During the course of testing, all pressures were constantly maintained at 8 bar (116 psi). Going wider, even by 2mm, would also produce a less aerodynamic wind profile compared to a thinner tire (if those things matter to you).

But.

Over rougher asphalt, the 25's are noticeably more comfortable than the 23's. This can be substantiated by the 'bounce' you feel when going over road imperfections. On 23's these can be jarring but 25's take the sting out of the same ruts and pits. If you take a look at the images below, this all makes sense as the 25's stretch out to almost 30mm (28mm to be exact) once mounted.
  
 When mounted, 25's round out to 28mm

23's round out to 25.5mm when mounted

In the end, we decided to make the most of the situation and go staggered on the tires. 23's in front 25's at the back. We get the most support in the rear where we put the most weight.  And we have a more responsive, lighter and more aerodynamically sound tire at the front.  

On the Road

Size differences aside, Continental's Grand Prix 4000s delivers a performance worthy of several Tour Magazine comparo awards. Indeed these feel spin easily, grip extremely well and have adequate puncture resistance. That said, we did have one puncture where a safety pin (which looks awfully like the ones used on runners' race bibs) hung on to the tire and eventually penetrated the casing through to the inner tubes. Compare this to more than two years of puncture free performance we had with Conti's own 4 Seasons tire. However, we would readily trade the 4 Season's armored hide for the 4000s' slick and light rolling performance any day.

Getting back to the 23 vs. 25 choice. Ultimately, it's up to the rider and the road. If your'e a Clyde or  frequent rough asphalt, go for the 25's; your butt will thank you for it. If you're a lighter weight rider who prioritizes weight and performance over vertical compliance, by all means go for the 25's.

.... or maybe be like us and get the best of both?

Vedrict

With so many things going for it and virtually nothing going against it, the GP4000s gets top marks and top recommendation from us.

Read more »

Review: KMC X11SL Silver on Dura Ace 9000

For no particular reason, we decided to go monochrome on the Foil and replace the KMC X11SL Gold links on my bike to the more more color-appropriate X11SL Silver. To no one's surprise, the Silver chains performed exactly like the Golds.

Features

Feature wise, the Silver version X11SLs is exactly equal to the Gold, except that instead of the Titanium Nitrate coating, we have a less highfalutin coat made from plain old Nickel. That said, we felt no difference whatsoever between Silver and Gold. Both of which feel smoother and are quieter that the stock Shimano links.

Full featureset and corresponding advantages as follows:


  • Hollow Pins - Reduced weight compared to Solid Pins
  • Mushroomed Riveting - Increased Pin strength vs. Straight Pins
  • Inner and Outer Plate Chamfering - Smoother shift action
  • Bushingless Construction - Lighter weight, Greater durability
  • Noise Reduction - self explanatory
  • Double X Stamped Outer Plate - Faster Shifting 

Cut down to 105 links, the chain weighs 218 grams. 1 gram heavier than the X11SL Gold we had installed. We wouldn't make too big of a deal of this as that single gram difference falls within an acceptable 0.5% margin of error.   


Master Link

Supplied with the kit is a color matched KMC Missing Link 11 master link. Unlike the 10-speed version, this is a one-time use item. Measured weight is 2 grams. 



Installation

Apart from a chain breaker to cut the chain to the proper link count, installation may be performed without any specialized tools. Both ends of the chain should expose 'inner' links as the Missing Link is an outer link. Simply route the chain through the proper channels along the crank, jockey wheels,cogs and back, insert the halves of the Missing Link to the opposite sides then align the pins properly. Once aligned, we have to lock the pins in place by putting on the brakes and giving the cranks a good whack! A strong click sound would indicate that the pins have properly seated in the groove. 

The chains are well lubricated from the factory so your'e all set! 

However, while fairly easy to install, they're quite hard to take off. Unlike our past experience with 10 speed Missing Links, these were not hand-removable. We had to get specialized tools in order to properly uninstall the Missing Link on the Gold chain we were replacing. No issues for us since the pliers were inexpensive. 

Once removed, the old chain was cleaned with some Cylion branded chain degreaser (which worked particularly well), lubed and stored for future action. 



On the Road

As previously mentioned, we found no perceptible difference between these Silver X11s and their blingier brothers, the Golds. Shifting action is smooth and the chain is very quiet. 


Verdict

Top performers! Smoother, Quieter and 7 grams lighter than stock. Slightly cheaper than the Gold version.  


Read more »

Review: Fizik R1 Uomo

By Joachim Rayos

 I bought a pair of the 2012 Fizik R1 Uomo early November. After about a dozen plus rides on them, I would like to share my impressions. Please note that these are the outgoing R1 Uomos. For 2013, Fizik has revised their shoe line so this does not apply to the new ones as seen on their website now. Thus, you may be able to find the outgoing R1 and R3 shoes at a discount (like I did at an LBS).

Out-of-the-box, the shoes present themselves to be a really premium item. Even the box itself looks posh. Highlights are the kangaroo leather outer material, sailcloth straps, multi-material composite sole, and SIDAS flash-fit moldable insoles. The SIDAS insoles themselves cost around $90 and it is a bonus to have them included with the shoes, so consider that when comparing prices with other shoes.


Fit

The shoe's fit is can be tuned in two ways. First is via the moldable SIDAS insoles and secondly, by removing a foam insert on the tongue. Sizing was true to my Sidis, I picked the same 40.5 size for my Fiziks - but this may be slightly different from other shoe brands. Toe box room is very roomy compared to Sidi and was my main reason for trying out the Fiziks.  The contentious part is the arch/foot volume. On my first ride I encountered unbearable hot spots on the tops of my feet. Stopped mid-ride and removed the tongue foam insert - problem solved instantly. 

Over the next few rides I did get various hot spots on the ball of my feet, after a few rides and moving the cleat around slightly to find the sweet spot this has cleared up. The shoes will also take a while to break in as they are real leather. I did notice a bit more arch support and less heel cup support with the R1 Uomos.  An added bonus is that the SIDAS insoles can be flash-fitted more than once, and I may return to the LBS to get these re-flashed now that the shoes have been broken in.

Aesthetics

The R1 Uomo looks killer in white, very fashionable in that Italian sense. I get compliments almost every ride. The downside is that they are, well, white and are a bit of a dirt magnet. Another guy I know has the black version, which I wouldn't really recommend from an aesthetic point of view. With black socks on, he looks like he is riding in dress shoes. I do prefer the aesthetics of the R3 better, white but with a black toe area.

On-the-bike

Stack height is a bit higher, so raise your seatpost ~5mm to compensate. I still placed my wedges in between the cleats and the shoes. Once you nail the cleat position and saddle height, there is not much to say. I can't tell if it is the shoes or the insoles but they seem to damp more vibration coming through your feet. Standing up, they feel stiff and have a nice rebound. I was told the muti-material sole is designed to be stiff in some areas and compliant in others; maybe it is that but I do like the road feel.


Verdict

I do recommend them but test them out before you buy, preferably with an LBS with a good return policy. The fit takes a while to dial in.

Positives: Premium materials and construction throughout, premium moldable insoles, excellent toe room. Discounted now that they are being replaced by redesigned 2013 models.

Negatives: Fit can be finicky, high stack height. These are the same feedback points Fizik has addressed with the 2013 redesign.


Notes: 

  • Compared to the R1, the R3s use Microtex instead of kangaroo leather and do not have the SIDAS insoles. Both models use the same sole though, so the feedback on fit would apply to both.
  • Potential buyers should try both the 2012 and 2013 models side-by-side to see if one fits better than the other. 


~ Thanks for sharing this excellent review, Joachim! - RoadieManila








Read more »