Bringing back the Cycling Cap one Domestique at a time

Showing posts with label Road Cycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Road Cycling. Show all posts

Review: 2014 Reynolds Assault SLG

January 2013 - Fresh off dipping my toes into carbon clincher waters via the Reynolds 46C, I immediately went to look for something more modern. I wanted a wheelset with a toroidal cross section, light weight and the requisite wide track. These wheels need to be priced far enough from Zipp and Enve to make sense not getting the after-mentioned wheels. 

With Reynolds really making a fresh, good impression I didn't hesitate to pull the trigger (or rather push the Buy Now button) on a pair of 2014 Reynolds Assault SLGs. 

Indeed, the spec sheet was impressive. Toroidal - check. Wide - check. Lightweight - check. Affordable - hmmm okay, check. 

A few emails to my USA shipper and a few days later, the Assaults have arrived.





Tech

There is much to like about the 2014 Reynolds Assaults. 

First, the depth. The Assault SLGs come in at a very very sexy 41mm rim depth. I would like to say that for a Roadie like yours truly, this depth is just PERFECT. It looks deep enough to be aero yet thin enough to suggest rapid acceleration. Who would have imagined that just shaving off 5mm from the 2013 Assault depth would make much of a difference. 




Reynolds 46 C and Assault SLG - 46mm and 41mm

Second, the width. At 25mm wide. The assault SLGs give you width and then some. When paired with our staple 25mm GP4000s', we were presented with a very clean tire-rim profile without the lightbulb shape which would have been present in the case of 25mm tires and 21mm> rims. This would surely please a lot of aero geeks (oops....enthusiasts) out there. Aerodynamics aside, we were surprised at how low we went with our air pressure. More on this later.

Third. Weight. Our sample came in exactly at the manufacturer's claimed 1475g (Front: 649g, Rear: 826g - no tape and skewers). The Assault SLGs do not really stand out from the crowd in terms of overall weight. But - the listed weight is not bad at all, given the 25mm width.  




Straight pull hubs are by Reynolds Racing and spokes are DT Swiss Aerocomps. Twenty radial spokes in front and 24 in the rear mounted in a two cross-drive side pattern.

The Cryogenic Glass Transition (CTg) brake surface which is present in our previous 46C clinchers makes is also incorporated into the Assault SLGs. CTg is a series of different compounds and materials which are designed to better withstand the heat produced by braking. And of course, the system requires the use of Reynolds' Cryo Blue pads which are solely to be used with the CTg surface.

Reynold's Swirl Lip Generator (SLG) is also featured in the Assault SLG :). SLG is a very small protrusion on the inner edge of the rim which disrupts passing air enough to replicate the airflow of a wider rim. The effect of which is smoother, and therefore faster, airflow.

Spoke nipples are external; this should please a lot of cyclists who do their own truing.

Graphics are thankfully subdued, with the logos and names printed in thin white outlines.


Veloplugs

This was our first time to try Veloplugs as well. In an effort to keep the set weight below 1.5kg, we used these marvelous contraptions to keep the weight down. And they worked! At an estimated 5g per wheel, we saved somewhere in the region of 30-40 grams compared to the supplied tapes. 

Weight weenies rejoice!

Oh, and just so everyone knows, we used the Red Veloplugs for the Assault SLGs.


My sincerest apologies for using an Instagram pic of the plugs
.

On the Road


During our first time out with the Assault SLGs, we experienced a very loud squeal coming from the front brakes when applied at medium to high speed. While disconcerting, we easily remedied this by toeing in the pads. Although recommended, this was something we never had to do with the 46Cs. 

Almost Immediately the 25mm width's advantages made itself felt. While we typically run 95/100 PSI front/rear. We purposely pumped in 90/95 during our first ride. It made a bit of a difference. Subtle but noticeable. And after several more rides and a few pounds of rider weight loss, we now run the Assault SLGs with a tire pressure of 75/85. 

The ride at this pressure is simply amazing! 

Acceleration is very good and so is the handling. The stiffness of the 46Cs is still there, but fortunately, much of the bite from road bumps are taken out by the tires. 

One thing that these new aero shapes do well is handle crosswinds. The Assault SLGs are no exception. Although you still feel sudden sideward gusts, they are a lot less noticeably felt and you can easily power through constant sidewinds from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock.

We really like the Assault SLGs and it seems these will be mounted on roadie for quite a long time. 


Looks perfect on the Foil


Verdict


Equipped with the latest in wheelset tech. Not exactly cheap but the money feels well spent.

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Review: 2013 Reynolds 46 Clincher

December 2013 - I have always stuck to rims with aluminum brake surfaces as they allow me to brake as I please and as hard as I please without much thought about delamination or warping. Indeed, the internet is filled with such horror stories due to failures related to brake surface overheating.


This was until I test rode a friend’s generic 50mm carbon hoops.  I was immediately blown away by the weight... or rather, the lack of it.  After rolling on 1700 gram Shimano C50’s for the better part of the last year, riding on sub 1500 gram wheels was difference as distinguishable as night and day.  


Hill climbing became less of a chore and we went through said uphills a tad faster than normal.


That said, I still hesitated on getting a set. What if it rained? Carbon wheels are notoriously poor in stopping in the wet. What about long descents where you had to sustain constant brake pressure?  Conditions which are reported to be the cause of warping?


Pass.


One day, on a random visit to my favorite brick and mortar LBS, the Godmother herself saw me looking at some carbon hoops and gave me an offer I can’t refuse.


I went home with a pair of 11-speed compatible 2013 Reynolds 46C's.






As much as I hate to admit it, I was pretty excited to leave my alloy brake surface comfort zone and put on new wheelsets. I suppose any Cyclist would feel as giddy whenever such a new equipment scenario presented itself.


On a side note, I would have gone for a more popular and affordable offering from the Reynolds stable, but to be frank, I didn’t quite warm up the graphics on the 2013 Assaults. But subdued graphics, DT hubs and better spokes were enough, in my mind, to pay extra for the 46 C’s.  


Tech


Sporting a more traditional 21mm width and regular V-shaped cross section. The 46C does not sport the now de rigeur toroidal shape nor the 23+ mm width of its newer competitors. Be that as it may, doing so has made the 46C’s innately light without delving into exotic carbon layup territory. And for more than a few cyclists, light weight is an advantage in itself. Although based on what we would now call old tech, the 46C is not without its own aero tricks. Reynolds have incorporated their SLG (Swirl Lip Generator) technology to the inner edge of the rims. This, Reynolds claim, reduces drag on the 46C by approximately 20% at 10 deg yaw,  


The wheels came in at a listed 1440 grams, roughly the equivalent of the Shimano WH-9000-C24’s we’re so fond of. But of course the 46Cs come in a more aero-friendly 46mm depth profile. As an aero road frame user, it makes perfect sense to mount aero wheels to match. The 46C's Simple, smart graphics is always a welcome bonus.  





To address the extended braking scenarios, Reynolds integrated their CTg braking system in the 46 C. The CTg (Cryogenic Glass Transition) System is Reynolds’ patented rim-pad pairing that enables so equipped Reynolds wheels to run up to 53% cooler compared to standard carbon-pad combinations’. In effect, CTg uses different kinds of carbon laminates to transition from the brake surface to the rim itself. This creates a heat sink effect wherein the brake surface passes heat onto other areas on the rim surface where passing airflow helps dissipate the it.  


This ensures smooth and predictable braking performance and dependability. As a system, users are required to use the included Cryo Blue pads else the warranty is void.


Handling mechanical duties are DT Swiss straight pull hubs. Spokes are DT Swiss Aerolites. The front is laced radially with 20 spokes while the rear has 24 in two-cross config. This configuration, like it or not, utilizes internal nipples. While we are sure this aids with smoother airflow, it’s certain to turn some off from doing frequent DIY truing.  


For 2014, reynolds have replaced the 46 C with the 46 Aero model. This updated wheelset sports a whopping 26.2mm width with aerodynamic features similar to the current 58 Aero. Weight has grown to 1505 grams though. 

All in all we were very satisfied with the 46c's.  


On the Road


The first thing we noticed about the 46's other than weight is the stiffness.  The wheels give the impression of immediately transmitting pedal input to the road where it belongs. Spinning these wheels up from a standstill is very very easily accomplished. At speed, the wheels hold speed quite well.


We used the 46C’s with our favorite 25mm GP 4000s’ without a problem. Although this produced a pronounced ‘lightbulb effect’, we felt the immediate benefit of a smoother ride due to the reduced air pressure possible with 25mm tires.


The DT Swiss hubs are smooth and quiet. Perhaps too quiet as we frequently had to call the attention of pedestrians and fellow cyclists as we went freewheeling.


We had the chance to test braking performance on a winding 8km descent from Bugarin. We have to admit that carbon braking takes some getting used to in terms of technique. However, the change is not that far off from alloy as it involves anticipation, timely deceleration and alternating between front and rear brakes. We do miss the ability to gun the brake levers all the way down though.


Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I was not able to test the brakes in the wet. Though it’s something one should prepare for, it’s not something I’m looking forward to personally.



Verdict


Not the most modern of carbon clinchers but still plenty light and stiff. A great value if you get it at a discount!


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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. 

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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.

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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)





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

~Armand 

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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!


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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.

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