Vitus Zenium L (ladies) road bike, long term test..

So, my wife really wanted to get in the game. This is, frankly, a scary prospect for a number of reasons. First, look, this business can be dangerous, it’s hell out there and notwithstanding her life insurance policy I really would miss her and would have to have at least some of the kids adopted if she died. But, worse, she now knows how much things cost and has an interest in them. So, this was £20 in Lidl won’t fly. And eventually she’ll aspire to Assos or Castelli and much pain lies that way….. Fortunately for me she’s been super pleased with her Lusso kit so we’re ok for now. I just hope she never starts reading cycling magazines. Or websites, full of weirdos like me.

I’m really looking forward to her getting into it though. She wants to commute as well and, in a timely manner, Bridgend Council have just built a rather lovely new cycle path which will provide safety for at least some of the way. Her commute will only be 6 miles each way but I really hope she gets into it. My eldest has been using this bike as well as he’s not far off his mum’s height. But a new bike for him also beckons. He quite fancies cyclocross as well, and mountain biking. Dear God.

Anyway, for Christmas, after a massive amount of research I took the plunge and got her a Zenium L from Chain Reaction Cycles. I’d considered every damn model out there, didn’t want to spend too much but was conscious of the fact that N+1 or even N(upgrade) takes hold very quickly. So, I set myself the minimum entry level of Tiagra (10 speed) or Apex. I missed out on a few eBay deals, ummed about some discount Boardmans and then this showed up.£699 down from £999 then 10% off for British Cycling members. Delivered on Xmas Eve, under the tree on Xmas day.

Sadly, for about 4 months it pretty much sat in the garage. When you’re starting off the last thing you need it to be put off by rain, wind and cold. It’s fine for me, I’m hardened to it and my N+1 means I have other bikes to fall back on. But not her. So she’s only recently been able to test it out. Before we get to that let me tell you a bit about it.

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Vitus are Chain Reaction Cycles in house brand. So they cut out the middleman and, in theory, you should get more bang for your money. And in this respect that is certainly true. It’s an alloy frame mated with a carbon fork, Shimano 105 and Racing 7 wheels. The original rrp was £999 but we were lucky. It was sale time. Luckier again in fact, as I used paypal’s 0% option to spread the balance (£629 after BC discount) over 12 months.

The alloy market is very crowded indeed. Root around at the bottom and you’ll end up with Shimano Claris, perhaps Sora. Fine groupsets but they will limit your climbing (because of the range of gears they offer) and will almost certainly prohibit cheap upgrading. Move a little higher and the SRAM Apex and Sora/Tiagra start to appear. Move up again and you start to get into the realms of Shimano 105 and SRAM Rival. I’m ignoring Campagnolo here as, by and large, they’ve pretty much disappeared as OEM kit on most bikes now. Move up again and things get more complicated, in comes carbon but the kit gets downgraded as a result of the cost. The truth is that £999 for an alloy bike might be considered at the upper echelon. And it’s alloy. The thing is, as Cannondale are clearly demonstrating at the moment, there’s a lot of life left in alloy yet.

What makes this different? Well, for a start, the spec. It’s very easy to make grand claims about bikes and their components and they don’t always stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, I’ve seen manufacturers claim a bike is equipped with 105 when only the shifters and chain were so. But this bike is equipped with a full Shimano 105 11 speed 5800 groupset. Take some time to consider that, a groupset that pretty much retails for £300. There are no shortcuts here, brakes and chainset (two of the areas often skimped on) are 105. And 105 is brilliant. Sure, you can prefer SRAM, choose Campag, you can justify why Dura Ace is as it is. But 105 is a superb groupset and you don’t get where you are today by producing rubbish.

And because it’s 105 11 speed there’s a wider range of gearing and better climbing gears. Not the last word perhaps, the cassette being “only” a 11-28 with a compact 50-34 up front. But good enough. Some might argue that a 30t cog on the back would be better for a ladies bike. I wouldn’t count myself amongst them. A 30t cog is related to fitness, not gender.

That carbon fork is better than you’d usually expect as well. Very often that description is given to the carbon legged, alloy steerer versions. But, no, this one is full carbon, saving weight. Indeed, the overall weight of the 54 version is a fairly lightweight 8.86kg. This 52cm version a little lighter. Look, it’s no CAAD12, but it’s only 0.5kg away. And that’s actually really impressive. If we accept that some of that is tyres and finishing kit then this is actually a reasonably lightweight alloy frame.

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It’s a beefy and rather racy looking affair. It’s not as thin as that of my Supersix but matches well with the rest of the bike. While 25c tyres are standard I suspect it may well be possible to sneak some 28c in there if need be. There are no mudguard or rack options on this bike so it may not make for the best commuter out there. It’s one for spring to autumn perhaps. But it’ll do for now.

There are some nice touches on the frame including internally routed rear brake cable. All of the cables are provided by Jagwire and there are a load of inline adjusters present. That’s pretty much obligatory given how tricky 105 front mechs can be to set up. It arrived in a massive box that you could probably move into. Once the handlebars were on I checked out the build and every single item was absolutely spot on.

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The headtube is a pretty stocky affair but the branding is nice.

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Similarly the wheels (Fulcrum Racing 7) are shod with decent rubber, Conti Grand Sport tyres in 25c. Now, these aren’t the latest Racing 7 LG with their bigger internal space, but good nevertheless.

Contact points?

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It’s all pretty decent in house offerings from Vitus. It’s an alloy post rather than carbon so that might be a decent upgrade. The bars are 42cm and the stem 10cm. Perhaps a little wide for female specific but ok given the 52″ frame size. The saddle is female specific (their description rather than mine). The chainset is a 170mm crank, certainly edging towards female specific but not overtly so.

And that might be my only criticism as a whole. Geometry is a very personal thing and female specific frames are, arguably, not always necessary. Indeed, the geometry of this is virtually identical to the equivalent male model. Perhaps that’s the reason for the reduction? Not as many sales as anticipated? Have a google, it’s an interesting area. The brand manager for Specialized claims that such things are necessary, whilst Cervelo reject this claim. It’s hard to discern the truth but the crucial thing in all of this is bike fit. If the bike fits you will want to ride it. Stuff like saddles can be sorted later though, of course, saddle type can have a bearing on that initial fit. We got lucky here, the 52″ is a good fit for her and there’s tweaking that we can do if necessary.

So, the sum of the parts is clear. This is a very well specced bike indeed. At £629 it’s a steal, at £999 it’s competing against some stiff competition. So, is it any good?

Well, it’s not really for me to say. It’s for my wife and my son to comment on that. Both are better qualified to talk about it than me, though, saddle hoisted high, I have taken it on a few spins round the block. My experiences of it have been very positive. It’s suitably light to get up to speed quickly and feels pretty damped overall. Much of that has to do with the 25c tyres, squishy handlebar tape and nice padded saddle. It may be that the saddle has to change in due course but we’ll see.

It’s a bit small for me but everything works very well. In terms of overall feel it’s quite a plush bike. Not quite as direct feeling as my old Focus Variado alloy or Ritchey Road Logic but nicely damped overall. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as an endurance bike per se, there is a GT like feel to it in its current spec. The Gran Sport tyres are pretty good but I reckon a change to something like the Schwalbe One, Michelin Power or Conti GT would be a tidy upgrade. There’s not a lot of rocket science in making a bike. Provided you get the frame and forks right then hanging proven kit on it will get you a really great bike. That’s pretty much the story here. Good frame and fork, well executed, with kit that wouldn’t look out of place on a £1500 carbon bike.

So far my son has used it more extensively than my wife. On one of our long rides he reported it to be a “very nice bike” but that he preferred my flat bar bike “because of the position.” That’ll change, I may even manage to convince him that chamois pads in shorts really are necessary as he thinks that they are “just weird.” What was interesting was that despite me being a) considerably faster than him and b) on my Supersix, he had no issues with getting the bike up to speed or keeping it that way. Everything worked well and he reported the ride to be very good.

My wife’s experiences were similarly positive though she did report that “the bumpy bit” gave her a headache. I wondered whether comfort was an issue but realised that the bumpy bit was a section down the back lanes where you can experience what the Paris Roubaix might be like. There are no bikes capable of taming that though the Supersix does tend to show you its magic on such sections.

This is definitely a crowded market place. When something like the Planet X RT with Apex is being knocked out at £549 and the Merlin bikes look absolutely excellent then you need to perform. At £629 I’m fairly confident that this bike offers exceptional value. The frameset is good, the equipment first rate and the ride quality very tidy indeed. At £999 it faces much more difficult competition. Indeed, up at that price it’s against stuff like the Eastway Emitter with its full carbon frame and 105 (I’ve ignored female specific models here as I don’t believe that there’s an awful lot of female specifics on display). And if you want discs then something like the Giant Liv Avail 1/Defy Disc 1 looks like a cracker.

What will also be interesting is to see how the brands of Eastway, Vitus and Verenti mesh when the merger of Wiggle and CRC is complete. Vitus is a very good and often overlooked brand.

Anyway, so far, so positive. As she/he/we get more miles under our belts I will be sure to report back.

Oh, if you’re a bit taller than my wife, then it’s currently £599. At that price it’s pretty much an unequivocal recommendation.

Lusso Summer Collection, his and hers!

The lovely people at Lusso have sent me some of their summer kit to test but with a twist! I wanted to write about my wife’s experience of getting into cycling so asked Lusso whether they could provide her with some kit as well. And they duly obliged. Full review a bit later but, safe to say, she’s a bit made up by it.

Anyway, Everesting. I’d vaguely heard of it. Nutters doing hill reps to ape the ascent to the summit of Everest, all 8,848 metres of it. Nutters. There are some rules as well. Essentially you have to do it in one day and on the same hill/mountain and, it appears, the same slope. So, up, down, up, down etc. Nutters. But people do it. Me? Nah. But if I did I think I’d pick a big one and do it less times rather than doing the Bwlch 30+ times. Some people do it on small hills hundreds of times. Nutters. Besides, it’s a bit arbitrary. I mean, not even Everesters do Everesting. It takes on average 17 days to ascend to base camp, let alone the summit. So, it appears, cyclists are harder than people who have climbed Everest. Who knew?

So, what about wearing an Everesting jersey? It’s an interesting one, a friend asked had I earned it? And the answer to that is no. And I’m unlikely to. But I take the general ethos of the jersey to be “let’s go climbing” so that’s all ok. And in terms of what it sets out to be, it’s a good quality, reasonably priced, summer weight jersey for a variety of conditions. Let’s see if it meets that brief.

Lusso Everesting Jersey (£49.99)

Lusso have an extensive range of jerseys to suit most aesthetic demands and pockets. There’s even a rather exciting looking Corsa Rain Jersey (with arm warmers) in the mix at considerably less money than the competition.

The Everest jersey is your standard summer jersey, made from mesh rather than a more silk like material (for that see their Classico, Evolve, Legerra etc).

The one thing that really struck me about the Everesting jersey was the fit and how bold it looks in the flesh. And whilst I don’t normally do body shots I thought I’d treat you!

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That’s an XL on my 41″ chest. It’s pretty race fit but is supremely comfortable. Indeed, it’s actually one of the most comfortable jerseys I’ve put on this year. It’s a bit different and I was pretty taken with it straight out of the bag. It’s going to be getting a lot of use. I might even have to enter it as kit on Strava so I can see how much climbing I’ve done on it. And, to be fair, my commute takes in 1500ft of climbing on any average day. I shall have climbed Everest in a mere 19 commutes…….

Whatever your view of earning it, I think that this is a cracking looking thing. It’s available in a long sleeve version as well. But I think what’s really important is that the printing is superb. So if you’d ever want any Custom Kit then you could be really sure of getting a sufficiently eye popping design.

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Belying it’s very reasonable price the arm ends are a nice bit of high tech. They’re the new fangled rubber band thingies and set off the end of the sleeves well. The stitching is perfect and laser straight. The seamstresses of Manchester can once again feel very proud.

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And at the back, 4 pockets. No really, they’ve hidden one round the side! So if you need somewhere with a zip to keep your keys, that’s the place. There’s a tiny bit of reflective at the bottom so, when you’re 16 hours into the 32nd ascent of that little hill, you will still be seen.

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There’s not a lot to say about this jersey other than I like it an awful lot. I don’t give marks, but if I did, I can’t see anything to take any marks off for. It’s very well priced, it’s bold and the fit on me is exceptional. If you can’t run to £49.99 then the slightly less techie Lusso Team has a similarly bold graphic but will only set you back £34.99. If the design doesn’t grab you then take a look at the rest of the extensive range, there really is something for everyone.

This is a great summer jersey. It’s cool, it fits very well indeed and it ticks all the right boxes. I promise to get that 8848 metres done by the end of May. Come on, I need to acclimatise first.

Lusso Peloton Pro Bib Shorts £94.99

Ok, we’ve got a problem here. I need to deal with this up front. Lusso, you need to make more of these on your website. The pictures (graphic) make them look like black bibshorts. There doesn’t appear to be anything all that special about them. The reality is different. And when you ask £94.99 for shorts it’s important to ensure that your buyers realise that these are a bit special.

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At first glance it’s all fairly straightforward. Nice leg length (I’d rate these as mid length, slightly longer than an Assos Mille regular, on a par with the dhb Aeron). The straps are silky soft and comfortable. The leg grippers are “old school” just as I talked about last week with the Assos tk.607. A large matte elastic band with internal rubber bits. But it works, indeed I’ve generally found that type of approach to be the most comfortable for me. There are Lusso embroidered logos running all the way round. And everything is really well put together. I’ve yet to make a dent in the Lusso Nitelife bibtights. No abrasion, no stitching issues. Although I’ve not worn these over many hundreds of miles (yet) there’s nothing to suggest that they won’t be utterly durable. That’s to be expected as these are, arguably, pitched at a premium price bracket.

When you see the bibs up close you begin to realise that they are that bit different. There are two types of lycra design being used. The majority is a dimpled affair. Here the dimples are recessed rather than proud so I won’t make any aero claims for them. Mind, I’m dubious making aero claims for bibshorts generally but that’s another story. And the outer thigh sections are a lined fabric. What this does mean is that they should be more breathable than other shorts. Now, I don’t make a huge play of this either. Lycra is pretty breathable to start with and I’ve never really sweated a huge amount out of my upper thighs, but it’s a thought. Whatever the practical benefits they are distinctive in a sea of plain black lycra and all the better for it.

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Round the back there’s even a nice little pocket for your race radio! The bib straps become a central section round the rear. The fabric is super soft.

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The pad is, as common with most manufacturers, sourced from outside. In this case it’s a TMF chamois produced in Italy. It’s a multi density foam which varies in thickness according to need. It’s quite a big pad and, when walking, can feel slightly ungainly, but there are no such issues in the saddle where it’s just a very comfortable thing. It sits where it should and gets on with doing what it needs to.

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While the top of the pad is sculpted the underneath is a little more so. You can’t picture it but if you feel underneath there’s a twin raised central channel which compresses. When on the bike it’s a really nice chamois. It is quite high on the front section so there’s a little more protection for your special area. The front is perhaps a little wider than other chamois I’ve used (what’s the plural of chamois?) but it should provide a good amount of comfort for whatever race, or plodding, position you find yourself in. It’s definitely a chamois for the longer ride but that just means that you’ll still be comfortable after many many miles. There’s no issue using it for the shorter rides either.

So far I’ve used these over short distances but there’s simply nothing to note. They are super comfortable, you don’t know that you’re wearing them. They’re nicely compressive without being super tight. The grippers make sure that they stay where they are. The straps are super soft and don’t pull down when you’re seated on the bike.

For Lusso this is an expensive product. A halo one perhaps at the top of their range. And, truthfully, there are some super premium products lurking nearby in terms of price. But I do think that the quality of fabrics used, the pad and the general premium feel of them are factors which should mean that they should be on your list if you’re spending this kind of money. And if these aren’t for you then there is an extensive range of alternatives ranging from the Carbon pro shorts down to the sub £50 Aero-50. There’s even a thermal option at £69.99 and you can see why you might be wearing them most of the time at the moment.

Layla Women’s Short Sleeve Jersey (RRP £49.99) RRP £49.99

I didn’t ask for this colour. It was a very pleasant surprise at it picks out the colours of my wife’s Vitus Zenium road bike. More on that soon. I gave Doreen at Lusso my wife’s measurements and she picked out a large top (my wife is generally a size 12) and a medium pair of shorts (she is usually as size 10). Usually, of course, means normal clothes. That said the measurements provided for my wife’s chest and hips correspond perfectly with the measurements on Lusso’s website for the sizes provided. In that respect, if you are buying, you should be able to do so with some confidence.

While this is still a mesh type material it’s on a more micro level than the Everesting jersey. Aesthetically she was extremely pleased with it even if we ignore the colour matching! From my perspective there are some pretty nice touches.

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The arms aren’t terminated with any rubber bands this time around, Lusso instead opting for a material termination. What’s particularly nice about this is that it’s a double layer, not too tight and reported as being very comfortable. Stitching is first rate as I’ve come to expect from Lusso.

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I’ve taken a photo with the shorts here so that you can see the matching dots. More on them later. Like the Everesting jersey there are four pockets including a zipped valuables one.

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The waist has a full circumference elastic gripper to keep things where they should be.

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I’ll save how it performs till the end and that’s for a very good reason.

Lusso Layla Waist Shorts (£59.99)

First things first. Most of Lusso’s shorts, bibs and tights feature the dot design of the Layla jersey but the dots on your lower half are always purple. So, if you opt for the green or pink short sleeve or the pink long sleeve with their green or pink dots you will have contrasting dot colours on your bottom half. This, of course, is fine. Different colour dots will not mess with your OCD. Had they been different shapes and different colours then we may have had words. I showed my wife Lusso’s range and she thought it well considered, subtle and stylish. There should be something for everyone in there. And I’m pleased to say that, whilst the range isn’t quite as extensive as that for men, most items are replicated. There’s even an Aqua Repel jacket in there which is well worth a look if you’re out in the pouring rain.

Second thing. I didn’t specify what type of shorts that she wanted to test. So she ended up with waist shorts. I’ve always eschewed them on the basis that, you know, bib shorts keep it all in. So I wondered how she’d get on given that she already has bibshorts.

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Anyhow, nothing dramatic here. Good quality lycra, well stitched. Like the Peloton shorts above the leg gripper is old school. The pad is once again provided by TMF and is multi density. The entire shorts are flat seamed externally though there are some internal raised seams. I’ve talked about this before. Some people have an issue, I don’t and, we’ll come to it, but my wife does not. The main thing was the fit. I can assess that by looking and my wife can assess it by feeling. We both agreed that the fit was excellent.

So, onto performance.

My wife is a beginner. She does not have a wealth of experience in cycling and has virtually none in relation to testing, if experience is even really a thing. My “experience” comes from having spent far too much money on cycling kit over the years. I know what works and, generally why it does so. It is fair to say that she will gain that experience as she rides. In my view that does not temper this review. As a human being she is well capable of telling me what she thinks of something that is designed to perform. And what we talk about in terms of the performance of cycling clothing is really about specific tasks. A rain jacket should keep you dry and be breathable. Bibtights should keep you warm. Shoes should avoid hot spots. But that performance can ultimately be boiled down to comfort. Are these things comfortable?

I sent her out on her rides with no brief. Though we did add a base layer underneath the jersey as it was a tad chilly. Such is the nature of testing summer kit in “spring.” My son accompanied her and off they went. She’s still building up her distance so consider this an initial review. Like all my reviews I will report back in terms of things like durability.

And, when they came back I asked her for her views. I started with generality and intended to move onto specifics. She said to me, “I don’t really know what to say, but the overwhelming thing was that I didn’t once think about what I was wearing, only that it felt like nothing. I just thought about the cycling.” I’ve not really told her what my ethos is but despite that she nailed it in one. That is the test. Is it comfortable? What annoys you? Were there any issues? If you can’t remember thinking about anything other than the cycling it tends to suggest that the kit is doing its job. Everything else is gravy, choose your aesthetic, choose your price, choose your brand. Some will do better in some conditions, some will do better in others. We’re all different and things can vary. She will need to get some more miles in, certainly in some warmer temps. But, so far, this is very good kit indeed.

A lot of my mates have been very positive about their experiences of Lusso over the years. If you search the internet there’s a hardcore base of loyal and vociferous supporters. And on the evidence that I’ve experienced to date you can see why. It’s just great stuff, as I concluded in my earlier reviews. There really is something for everyone on their website and you can kit yourself out for a reasonably decent outlay. It’s UK made and made very well. It gets on with the job of being cycling kit very well indeed.

Right, I’ll shut up now. I need to shake off this lurgy that’s suddenly come on. And once I do I need to man up and get out there, apparently I’ve got a mountain to climb…….

The trouble with discs…….

When I wrote Crime and Punishment I expected a torrent of disagreement and outrage. I was pleasantly surprised. I moved onto helmets and had a lot of excellent feedback. I did lights and no one called me out. Perhaps it’s the nature of wordpress rather than an un-moderated forum but, so far, I’ve avoided controversy. I did contribute to a thread on road.cc about discs and it was suggested I get back to my “competing website to review some more ropey kit.” At last some negativity. You can’t really arrive on the internet till you get that.

So I approach this topic with a little energy and some trepidation. These past few weeks have been a watershed in relation to the use of discs in the pro-peloton and, it seems, one of the more polarising topics in relation to cycling ever. Who would have thought that it would have been more controversial than helmets? Certainly not I.

So, you’ll be aware of the history. At the Paris Roubaix race a few weeks ago Fran Ventoso got a rather serious looking injury when he crashed in a bunch. You may have seen his letter, http://movistarteam.com/news/2016-4-13/open-letter-fran-ventoso, it’s well considered and emotional. You have to feel for him. His claim is that a disc brake caused his injury. As a result of this the UCI moved swiftly to suspend disc brakes in professional racing. Just professional road racing though. Not mountain biking, not cyclocross. It was only a trial anyway, it hadn’t filtered down to road racing generally.

So the suspension is the suspension of a trial. Not the biggest issue ever but the ramifications are potentially huge. The investment in the disc brake industry is there for all to see. Wander down to your local bike shop, particularly if it’s a big old chain, and you’ll see the clear evidence of what the manufacturers want you to buy.

There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of sitting on the fence when it comes to disc brakes on road bikes. The against camp believe, for a variety of reasons which we will come onto, that disc brakes should not feature on road bikes at all, ever, period.

But, what is a road bike? I asked that and was told that it involved 700c tyres, skinny tubes, drop handlebars. When I asked what brakes I was accused of stirring. There was no attempt at an agenda from me in that respect. Think of it as a nudge to discuss the issue, what exactly is a road bike? It seems fairly obvious, it’s a bike used on the road. But we can use any bike on the road. The road is not a preserve of the 22 speed carbon, deep section racing bike. Is a gravel bike a road bike? Does it remain a gravel bike even when being used on the road? Does a road bike become a gravel bike if it ventures off course? Surely the type of bike being used by the audaxer is a road bike. And, perhaps the biggest question of all, “we don’t need no stinking discs,” who on earth is “we?”

Perhaps that’s my pedantry. Perhaps the real issue is that we don’t need discs on the types of bikes that the professional riders use. We don’t need them because they don’t need them. And, even if we need them, for the reasons we will come to examine, perhaps they still don’t need them.

Throw another question into the mix as well, and maybe this one is the bigger one, whether we are about to see the consumer industry in a divergence from professional sport. Where once the tail wagged the dog and later the dog wagged the tail, it’s possible now that the tail is going to go off on its own. The dog is going to look a little less pretty perhaps, but it’s still a really nice dog. We stand at a crossroads, in the fascinating world of consumerism and its relationship with the pro peleton, why are we now seeing professional riders being asked to ride what the manufacturer wants us to buy when there is little, or no benefit to them? Is that a reversal of the norm? Or just the norm being modified slightly.

There are so many issues. So many views. I like discs. I have them on two bikes. I use one, a flat bar, for commuting. It has hydraulic brakes and I use it on the road. It’s exceptional in the wet. I have cable discs on my CX bike. They’re not quite as good because they don’t have the “feel” of the hydraulic ones. But they work perfectly well. And my Supersix is a road bike, at least in the sense that I think that people are generalising the term. It has rim brakes and a braking surface. There’s nothing controversial about it. You could use it in the Tour tomorrow. No, really, you could. It has a nice little UCI sticker on it.

I’m fascinated by bikes. All of them. I walk past bike racks in town and look at each and every one of them and yes I know that’s weird. I find something to like in each bike I look at. Even the bike shaped objects have something that I find interesting. I think that the Cannondale Slate is a wonderful thing. I want a Colnago C60, Tomassini X-Fire or Epoca R60. I’d like another single speed. I want to try a fat bike. If I won the lottery I’d have more bikes than Jay Leno has cars. Bikes are the most amazing form of transport that we’ve ever created as a species. Perfection. And since the safety bicycle came along not a lot has changed. They’re still that diamond shape. They still have two wheels and a saddle above them. There are massive variations but, at heart, they are all the same thing.

The march of technology grows pace. The complex relationship between consumerism, real world usage and what the manufacturers want to sell us becomes ever more complex. For a time it was an easier world. The STI lever, carbon, the demountable tyre. They added something, the manufacturers saw an opportunity to get the professional riders to use them because they wanted us to buy them, but the truth was that there was a benefit, even if that benefit was slight. For a long time what the pro rode was aspirational for the amateur but the amateur could still derive that benefit from it. Probably. It rather depends what that thing is.

A friend once suggested that index shifting was a solution in need of a problem. I take his point, but indexing is certainly likely to be more reliable in terms of being in the right gear most of the time. Of course, if your gears are out of whack there’s something to be said for the fine tuning of friction. I think it’s probably hard to argue against the demountable tyre. And electronic shifting? It’s certainly very lovely, particularly when it’s wireless, but necessary? But hey, electronic shifting never hurt anyone. Deep section wheels? Yeah, you go faster. Tri bars for TT? Check. But we’re getting into the specifics now. Things intended for certain tasks, things intended for gains, marginal or otherwise.

So what is the truth about discs? Is it even possible to say anymore? Well…….while they’ve been around on CX bikes for a while now, and MTB’s since, well practically the dawn of time, their explosion into the road bike scene has been a bit of a revelation. It does seem that every manufacturer now has a plethora of disc bikes in its range, virtually overnight. And there are some noted inclusions. Cannondale only make a disc version of their carbon Synapse, the fact that Colnago even make one is staggering, Storck have one, Cervelo have one, Team Sky have access to them. I’d wager that, had the recent accident not occurred, the Tour de France would have been full of the things. But now? They’re likely to be absent, certainly this year, maybe for good?

What price progress? What price technology? Imagine it this way. The bicycle was never invented. Someone gives you a diamond shaped frame and all the bits that you need. But, they say, there’s a problem. We don’t know how to slow it down. So you think, and you consider, and you look at the transport solutions around you. And you decide to use some rubber blocks to create friction on a machined surface on the outside of the rim. You think, that’ll do.

And the truth about discs is that most forms of transport use them with a minimum of fuss because, frankly, they are better. Better, it’s like road bike. It over generalises. The truth about discs is that it requires some further examination. Of all the bikes I own the one that gives me most pleasure to brake on is the Supersix. Provided that the road is dry, the blocks have not been contaminated with GT85 and there’s little dust build up on the rims then the braking experience is heavenly. It’s tactile, powerful and effective. With aluminium brake tracks, it’s sublime. But it’s not always that way. Introduce some dirt and you can feel it, it nags at you, makes it feel less than perfect. Introduce some rain and it becomes a little bit of a lottery. Is there enough grip between these pads, these wheels, these tyres, this road? Which bit is going to cause me to come off? Was it the brakes……

And the theory is that discs are better. At least equal in the dry, much better in the wet. And if something is at least equal and better then it must be better. A mathematical conclusion based on interpretation of language. But, again, it’s not that easy. Discs are great in the dry. You might hear that they add more modulation, more variation allowing you to control the braking force easier. That’s an over generalisation. Some do as do some rim brakes. Poorly set up disc brakes can have poor modulation. Better in the wet? Almost certainly likely to be the case. As long as you can live with the potential for squealing and don’t imagine that you can’t hear the grit either, don’t imagine that it’s a digital experience, don’t imagine that it’s sanitised. And that exists in the dry as well. The setup on my Ritchey Swiss Cross with TRP Hy Rd was sublime. In dry weather braking the discs hummed. In wet weather? No idea. Not my wet weather bike. How about the Shimano SLX on my Bivio? Superb power, superb one finger modulation, often a bit gritty feeling in the dry, sometimes squeal in the wet. More power than my rim brakes? Undoubtedly. More power in the dry than rim brakes in practice? No.

For me the jury is out. I do think that they are better, but that over generalises type, pads, discs, setup, weather, rider, frame, fork. I could go on.

And I’ve been a proponent of the disc brake. If N=1 then, insert sad face. But if N=1 then the most important thing is riding your bike. Discs do inspire a bit of confidence, you’re more likely to go out in the wet. Your wheels are likely to last longer. If N+1 then don’t worry about it. Get one with discs for those days, get one without for the others if you want.

And beauty? Well, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Apparently the purists believe that discs ruin aesthetics.

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That’s a Colnago C60 disc. No, really, the discs are there. Is that what you looked at? Or did you admire the lugging first? Or shudder at the presence of Dura Ace on a Colnago?

How about a Kuota? Spot the discs? I had to look twice. I don’t find it particularly nice, but it’s not the discs that are killing it.

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What about the Dogma? Ugly because of the discs? Or ugly because it’s a Dogma?

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They might look better with rim brakes, the C60 certainly, but it’s pretty hard to understand the “kill it with fire” response that disc brakes seem to provoke.

So far, so meh. Probably a bit “better,” possibly a bit uglier. What else is there? Well, weight for a start. Yes, they add weight. Yet many of them still make the UCI 6.8kg limit. Indeed, adding discs is possibly preferable to adding lead weights under the bottom bracket. It’s quite easy to meet that limit in the pro tour. And, for you and I, a 7.5kg disc equipped super bike is still fairly good……

It does rather limit your wheel choices. Or, at least, there just aren’t quite so many. But the explosion in those has been fairly radical in the last year. There’s something for every budget, hell Zipp have one in their range as well.

And then there’s the safety. We’ve bolted chain saw blades onto wheels. It’s asking for trouble and that trouble is now here. Of course, discs have been there for years in the MTB scene, but we’re told that road biking, whatever that is, is more dangerous as a result of discs. That’s possibly true, the mere addition of one more factor must, on any risk assessed basis, just be that tad more unsafe. And the straw man of “what about motorcade riders, helicopters, neutralised stages and people with dogs,” is rather beside the point. Those things are unlikely to go away because they are necessary or, at least, a rare inconvenience. But do we need discs? Can we make them safer?

The mailbags of the big sites have been full of people asking the questions to which, currently, we can only guess the answer to. But Lennard Zinn is a pretty good guy to ask so it’s worth having a look at this.

Lennard Zinn on the tech of discs

It’s fair to point out, of course, that all sorts of things have caused accidents over the years. The disc question goes beyond that and asks whether/whatever accident causes a crash, would an injury have followed with calipers? The manufacturers have been asked to consider whether the edges can be rounded off. The jury is out on that too. Some think it might work, others think, at those small thicknesses, it may make matters worse. Is the answer to install fairings? It’s an interesting idea. And, of course, much of this contributes to one of the bigger issues relating to professionals using discs, standardisation. What size rotor is best? What size is likely to cut flesh the least? What about thru axles? What about alignment? What about wheels from the neutral service car? Give me back my simplicity. The peloton want to go old school.

And then the knee jerked and jerked again

And that’s that for now, it seems. If you’re planning on a trip over the channel or, it seems, doing the Tour of Cambridgeshire, you way want to check whether you can use your disc brake bike. It may be that we see Sportives in the UK follow suit. You may want to get your dusty old rim brake equipped bike out of the shed. It may be that you’re about to be marginalised based on anecdote.

That’s where we’re at. It’s actually a pretty sorry tale. We’re at the point of divergence. What does the dog and/or the tail need to do?

So, I say this. Let the peloton do what it wants and, for the love of whatever deity you follow, don’t aspire to them. Do what you want. And, to the industry, give them what they need, give us what we want. We’re at a crossroads now. It’s going to be fascinating to see how demand drives design and how fear drives de-evolution. I’m not sure the norm has been reversed. The pro peloton is a testing ground and always has been. The crucial difference this time round is that the thing that they’re being asked to sell to us may not be to their benefit and, it seems, may well be to their detriment.

Discs have a place in road riding because road riding and road bikes defy categorisation. They are many things to many different people. If discs have no place in racing, so be it, ban them. Just don’t let the disc “experiment” die because the professionals are put at risk by it. Let them get on with their rim brakes, they’re welcome to them. Let those of us who want discs keep them.

In 50 years we’ll look back and laugh at this blip. We’ll certainly have moved on. Sensory electronic shifting, wireless brakes, nano tech puncture proof tyres. That frame though, bet you it’ll still be diamond shaped.

UPDATE: 3rd May 2016. So, it seems that the TDF will feature discs then after a Doctor seemingly concluded that the injury to Ventoso was a chain ring rather than a disc. Oh dear, and oh well. Looks like it was all a little premature then.

COMMENT

My good friend Jon posited this after I wrote the piece. I won’t add too many comments here, this isn’t road.cc but it’s a good perspective to have.

“The UCI gets a lots of things wrong but last week they made the right decision. Indeed, that decision ultimately righted the wrong decision they made in introducing a badly thought out trial at the behest of bike manufacturers. I can’t think of any other example of consumer-level tech being imposed on the elite levels – it doesn’t happen in any other sport or any other area of cycling kit. It’s a sales strategy by manufacturers. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but let’s be honest and open.

Even Brent Copeland, whose Lampre team are all on discs and is a long-term advocate, thinks they shouldn’t be used in their current form in elite racing and should have covers. As for the Etape etc ban, it’s unfortunate but understandable. The front of these events is propbably just as competitive and quick as some lower UCI races. More importantly, they’re protecting themselves against potential legal action until the UCI make a final judgement.

So I really don’t understand why there’s a fuss (unless you’re planning to do the Etape and have disc brakes, in which case I sympathise). Ride your chosen bike, in your chosen way, and enjoy yourself!”

And, I agree, at least in part. I think the question over who leads who, and who should lead who, is deliberately left open. And I’m not convinced that the wet commute analogy is a separate issue, see yesterday’s (Liege) race for example. I think what’s ultimately fascinating is that your point about transference is correct, on no other occasions has the amateur sales drive pushed the pros into this position. Safety and classicism aside that’s not without some humour.

Prendas Ciclismo Reef Windproof/Rain jersey

Before I begin, I’m asking for this for Father’s day. Just because. The evolution of the cycling jersey is a wonderful thing to read about and Andy’s worked hard on that. I’m fascinated by cycling kit generally, if you hadn’t guessed. Glossy pics of cycling jerseys on the coffee table? I’d take that over that Madonna book any day. It can sit alongside my Europe’s best climbs (which I still yearn to do).

Anyhow, the new Prendas Reef jersey dropped through my letterbox on Wednesday during the mini heatwave. And then today, as if by magic, it rained. By God it rained. The thing about rain is that it’s not just wet, it depresses the temperature, and boy was that the case today. The ride into work was cool and a bit damp, but essentially ok. The ride home was horrible. I didn’t even realise how cold my hands were until I tried to take my gloves off (I’d chosen the wrong ones today). So today was a good opportunity to test some foul weather gear, a really good opportunity indeed.

The Reef jersey is made for Prendas by Santini. The description on Prendas’ website references the venerable Gabba. Such comparisons are hard to ignore when you’re dealing with foul weather gear. Regular readers will know that I rate the Gabba, but not as highly as I rate Parentini’s Mossa. But the thing about foul weather gear is that some are designed for fouler weather than others and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to figure out which is which. So when faced with descriptions of “foul weather”, comparisons are inevitable. This isn’t a Mossa because the Mossa is waterproof. The Mossa is also a little warmer overall and probably better suited to the century ride in the rain. So we will talk no more of the Mossa, it’s a different beast in my view, though a short sleeve version is available. So, if comparisons need to be drawn, then the Gabba it will be. Remember that the Gabba was ubiquitous in the pro peloton. But do note that the Reef jersey is being used as well, first by the Belkin team (then Jumbo Lotto). Now it’s being used by the Drops Racing Team which is sponsored by Prendas.

For some reason, when testing Prendas kit, I seem to have been a little unfair in what I ask it to do. It’s not deliberate, just a case of circumstance. So, when I tested them, I ended up wearing the spring weight gloves in the cold driving rain. Ditto the socks. I wore the sleek jersey without a base layer to see how low it would go (very was the answer). They all did what Prendas claimed of them and that little more. And, today, with no idea how the day would pan out, I thought I’d better stick a base layer underneath this Reef jersey because, like all such garments, you should wear one. The base layer I pulled on was the Assos Foil summer vest thingy that came with my Rally jersey. That meant that the arms of the Reef were sans base layer. I also pulled on the dbh rain defence arm warmers and set off into the world.

Anyway, the Reef jersey is made from a Tempo fabric described as being “a breathable and water-repellent membrane, it’s perfect for when you are training or racing hard and don’t want to resort to a full waterproof.” It’s not really described as being commuter wear, or even for a Sunday club run. It’s a tempo piece, if you slow down too much then you will lose some heat, so keep your speed up, work with it. Let’s see if it fulfils the brief.

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It’s a striking thing. It shares the same design aesthetic as the Prendas Sleek Jersey that I reviewed very positively back in February. On this occasion only one colour is available but, given this is foul weather gear, it’s a good colour choice. If you don’t like fluro, tough. I like what Prendas have done here. It’s bold and a bit different. You can see the drop tail here as well, pretty standard fare for kit of this type. It’s a nice elongated affair and, should you ride without mudguards, will keep your bottom dry. If you’re not a fan of the drop tail then you can easily fold it up inside and the lines of the jersey remain the same. The waist section is fully elasticated and has rubber grippers all the way round. It’s quite a long piece so does provide additional protection in the belly area. The zip is excellent quality with a nice big tag to grab onto when wearing gloves. On each side of the zip is a small rubberised strip which seals off the zip section when done all the way up. Water won’t get through there easily and it provides for additional windproofing.

The side section is made from a slightly stretchier material than the main membrane and provides for a bit more breathability in that area (though the garment is pretty breathable in the first place). There are only a few front facing seams, the arms being an entirely new section of fabric. They aren’t sealed so, eventually, water will find a way in at those points. But a lot of water will be needed. Ideally, cost being the prohibitive issue, I’d imagine that someone will eventually find a way of cutting one whole section of fabric to make the entire front end of a jersey such as this. The issue is that it’s a pretty wasteful process. There will also be a knock on effect on fit. So, for the time being, seams it is. They’re kept to a minimum as I say. They’re all very closely and tightly stitched so minimise the chance of water getting in.

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There are three pockets at the back. There’s no additional waterproof one but that’s pretty much the story across most of the foul weather range of clothing that I’ve written about and while there is no drainage at the bottom of the pockets I didn’t find that any water made its way in. The pockets aren’t the deepest but, in practice, they swallowed my Samsung Galaxy S6, Wallet, Keys and Tools with no fuss (top tip, keep your phone in a sandwich bag, even when it’s not raining). There are a lack of reflectives but given that this is the short sleeve version I can’t really see it being a winter night piece. The fluro more than makes up for it in the day.

The collar is lined with fleece and it’s the only part of the jersey that is. It’s a really nice collar and isn’t constricting in any way. It’s also a good height.

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Given the lack of any fleecy lining you will need to ensure that you create your own heat by riding quickly and by wearing the appropriate base layer. I averaged around 17 mph on a pretty grim commute on my “slow bike” and remained warm and comfortable in most areas. Most, the only cold area being the upper arm/shoulder where I’d picked the wrong base layer and the fabric was next to the skin rather than having an insulating layer. It’s fair to say that a summer base layer was also a poor choice. It would be much better partnered with the Prendas Black undervest for example. Or something from the Craft range (also at Prendas). Obviously you can play with this partnership as suits your ride, warmer base layers will add warmth and cooler ones will allow you to wear this into higher temps.

You might wonder why I draw attention to this fact, why not just re-test it and write about that, more positive, experience? There are a number of reasons. The first is that that is how it was. I made a poor choice and that must be noted, it’s the story of the ride. The second is that despite my poor choice the jersey still performed extremely well indeed. I repeated the test in cooler conditions the following morning with a more appropriate base layer and the difference in warmth was notable. So, get that base layer right and this will perform very well indeed. Get it wrong and you’ll just be slightly colder that’s all, still comfortable, but not as comfortable.

The temperature range of this would appear to be around 5 or 6 degrees up to about 12 or so. Obviously I’d recommend arm warmers, particularly such as the dhb rain defence ones. But, I think that there might be a little more versatility here. If you don’t particularly like being wet in the summer, say at 15 degrees or so on a training ride, then I think you might get away with using this with a vest like base layer (such as the one I used) or, possibly, even without one. Much depends on how hot you run, what type of riding you do and what feel you like next to the skin. So whilst the Reef may not feel as luxurious as a roubaix lined spring jersey it’s not uncomfortable in any way.

So, what’s it like in the really wet weather? Bear in mind that it’s not really for the really wet weather. It’s for the showers and the dampness, for riding fast. Yet I tested it in some truly nasty rain. Well, I took it off immediately following the rainy commute and you can see the results here.

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If you stare VERY hard indeed you can just make out where the water is in the fabric. It’s not coming through, indeed, most of it is my sweat getting out. An hour in the airing cupboard and it was dry and ready to go again. Now, clearly, it wouldn’t be a great idea to go out for a full on wet 100 miler in this jersey. Eventually the fabric and seams would succumb and you’d find it very hard to dry out for as long as it continued raining. But Prendas don’t make that claim for it. Instead they describe it as being water resistant and windproof. And in that respect it succeeds. Indeed, given the nature of the membrane (i.e. a windproof one) describing it as a water resistant is always erring on the side of caution. In practice it’s more breathable than a rain jacket and far more aerodynamic.

The size guide appears spot on for this one. I’ve lost a bit of weight recently and am about 40.5-41 inches and took an XL (40-42). I think had I been slightly less in the chest front that I might well have got into the Large (38-40). It’s a fairly stretchy affair and cut generously (i.e not super slim) in the midriff so if you did want a racing snake fit and were at the bottom end of a range then you might get away with it. The arms are a good length and come to just above the elbow. Fit around the stomach was ever so slightly loose but with no flappiness.

RRP on this is £99.99 and you can buy it from Prendas here. That’s pretty good value for a garment of this type, particularly against the inevitable comparison. And that comparison isn’t awfully cheap at the moment.

Comparisons then. Well, you have to make them. And I was trying to figure out why this was actually a bit different to the Gabba despite the Gabba being referenced. I wasn’t trying to make them different, just that they felt a bit different and, for a while,  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was specifically.

And then I realised that it was the weight, and that the weight backs up the description. This is actually a lightweight race/training jersey rather than a more laid back jacket like the Gabba. Though, of course, the distinction of jacket and jersey is often an awkward one. The XL Gabba (2) comes out at about 320g whereas the Prendas Reef comes out at 260g. That’s a considerable difference and confirms what I thought. It’s a little bit stripped down, a little bit quicker and a little bit racier. In some ways it has the feel of a rainjacket made into (more aero) jersey form. So it’s hard to say that it’s better than the Gabba, indeed I think we’ve become a little obsessed with needing to say that things are better than the Gabba. But it’s at least as good as the Gabba in some circumstances and, in those for which its brief is made, probably a little better. If you’re a quick rider who likes to get out there and get the job done in damp conditions then this is for you. It rewards that speed and will keep the rain out for a pretty decent length of time. It offers really good value compared to the competition and should be in its element for the next few months, perhaps even longer if we get another “summer” like last year. Though this particular marketplace is getting a little crowded this is a great little jersey that should be up there for your consideration, especially if you like to go fast.

Oh, and, Prendas. Ordered around lunch, despatched 30 minutes later, came the next day. I’m not convinced it’s being sent in the post anymore. Some type of teleportation I reckon. Spooky.

Oh, stop press, if you’re an ickle person and take a small, medium or large, you can even save £20 and get the Drops Team Version!

Assos, Tk.607, Intermediate S7, Falkenzahn, the Holy Trinity?

See, I wrote this, then I edited it. Then I came back to the beginning because, it seemed to me, that this reads like a love letter to some cycling clothing. Perhaps it is, perhaps that’s what I meant to write. I wondered whether it was even a review or whether you’d read it as such. So yes, it’s a tribute. A tribute to three pieces of cycling clothing that I own and that I love. That doesn’t mean that the other stuff I write about is any less worthy of my love, or yours. It may be that in the years to come I’ll write a love letter to some of them. And if this is a tribute do remember that these garments work for me and the type of riding I do. I’m pretty confident that they should work for you but we are all different.

Anyway, that’s a really long title. It would be even longer if I put the proper descriptions in, as I’ve done below. For Assos ones they’re not really all that bad. Numbers and letters, a description of the conditions of use and, umm, Falkenzahn. I’m pretty sure it means Falcon tooth or the tooth like protrusion on a Falcon’s beak. Anyway, it’s a gilet and I have absolutely no idea what connection is being made by the use of that term. So let’s tag that one under bonkers. But, hey, at least it’s not Assos Gilet, that would be far too boring.

So, the trinity. A mid condition jersey, a gilet, some 3/4’s. I got to wondering, if I could keep three items of cycle clothing what would they be? Would it be these? Are they perfection? Well, let’s have a look at each of them. All of this is owned by me.

Assos tk.607 S5 bib knickers

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Sorry, they’re discontinued, but please don’t think this is a pointless review. Far from it. They are still fairly easy to find, depending on your size. They have been replaced by the Tiburu and I’ll talk a bit about them later.

So, bib knickers. They are a polarising thing. Some people swear by them and some think that they are neither one thing or another. I fall into the former camp. Indeed, I can get by in the winter most days with 3/4 length and, to a very large extent, they carry over well into the summer months. They key to a good pair is thermal management. In theory it shouldn’t be possible to wear something that will protect you at zero when the outside temps are 20 degrees. But some manufacturers have found a way to ensure that you can use them in as many conditions as is possible.

That said, Assos themselves used to market two pairs of bib knicks. The more snappily titled tk.434_s5 were the “spring version,” essentially Mille bibs with longer legs and slightly more insulation on the knees. The tk.607_S5, pictured above, are a more heavyweight offering with more substantial insulation. Then there was a tk.607 bibshort which you could partner with knee warmers to turn them into, well, bib knicks. The 434 got discontinued a little while back or, it seems, stock ran out of those well before the 607. My experience of them was that they were lovely, but, really, bib shorts and knee warmers were just as successful. The 607 stuck around for a lot longer. That range has now been replaced by the Tiburu bib shorts and bib knicks. There’s no “lighter” option.

So, why are these good? Well, of course, they really should be given that the RRP was around £180. Yes, you read that right. And, of course, I didn’t pay that, always look for the deals kids. Don’t forget though that Assos kit really does last forever and they offer a free repair service. I’ve used that service myself. I came off in a CX race wearing some Assos Mille shorts (I did think I should have been wearing something cheaper). Took out a big hole in them. Sent them back to the Assos HQ in London (they run things themselves now) and back they came in a week, duly repaired. Essentially they took a run of lycra, cut the old section out and added the new one in. It wasn’t as good as new. It was repaired. But in operation it was as good as new and unless I showed you, you’d never have known.

So, on these the usual s5 pad is all present and correct. It’s a good one, perhaps not the best one any more, but it’s a versatile one and suits my bottom just fine. You can see that the inside of these knicks is fleecy, roubaix even. Fleece is perhaps underselling it, it’s an Assos proprietary fabric, two of them in fact, though you may not be able to discern a difference at this distance. It’s that fleece that is really at the heart of why these work so well.

There is absolutely not wind proofing here and no water resistance. Yet I’ve used these at below freezing. I’ve used them in the rain. I’ve used them at 20 degrees. And in each of those conditions I’ve never once thought that I should be wearing something else. Now, that’s not to say that wearing bib shorts is not better at 20. Or that wearing tights is not better at freezing. But it’s just that you can do all those things in these and not have to worry. In the UK, they’re a great option to have, particularly when, as I do, you set out for work in the damp or cold at 6.30 am and return in the heat of the afternoon or early evening.

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So, in the picture below you can see that there are two types of panel here. The more traditional looking lycra and a patterned fabric. The traditional looking one is fleece backed and placed in the less prone to weather areas. The patterned fabric is placed at the leading edges and at the back of the knees. It’s that 3d structure that provides the warmth and insulation. Is it overkill? Others manage with “fleece” but perhaps its the nature of the fabric here that makes them so versatile.

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The leg grippers are a very traditional elastic band sewn onto end. A few rubber grippers are inside. It’s old school. It was high tech once I suppose. Thing is, of all the terminations on any bib I’ve ever worn they remain, so far, my favourite. They’re Goldilocks; for me they fit just right. Whilst I have no experience of how they fit others I’d say that they’re sufficiently elastic to fit around whatever type of legs you have.

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The area at the back of the knees is a separate panel rather than being one piece of lycra and I’ve always found that they sit where you position them. No slipping, no bunching. They just work. They work in all conditions. You’d never know you were wearing them. They last forever. But they’re not cheap. You could buy others for less. The Castelli Sorpasso are about £50 less. And they’re nice. But not as nice, and certainly not as robust.

When the tk.607 were released they were class leading. And they stayed that way for an awful long time. Right until Assos replaced them with the Tiburu. If the reports about those are true then they take the lead. I hope to be able to try some in due course. Those bibs above are 2 years old. Washed without any real care (though always at 40 degrees), rarely in the supplied wash bag, dried in the airing cupboard. I’ve never really taken obsessive care with them. They still look like that. No pulled seams, no wear, nothing. On a £ per wear basis they cost me pennies. They are wonderful things.

But, if they’re the second favourite thing I’ve ever owned, let me tell you about the first.

Assos IJ.Intermediate S7 windproof long sleeve jersey

Or intermediate jersey for short. If you know Assos, you know the intermediate. The old one was great. But it was a little S&M. The new one is sharp, clean and modern looking. It’s been out for a few years now and I really don’t think it’s aged. It’s not classic cycling clothing, Assos don’t really do that, indeed, it’s very Assos. But I think that the design stands up well. Though, perhaps, the ALS symbols are not for everyone.

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You can get it in three colours. All that actually varies is the inside of the sleeve, side and back section. The black front is present on all of them. Personally this is my favourite colour. It’s pretty good for being seen. It’s absolutely terrible if you don’t ride on dry roads or don’t have mudguards, though the black or red one is much better in that regard. You need to take some care washing it as you might turn it a different colour, that’s white for you. Don’t get oil on it as it might be difficult to remove. Be nice to it. This doesn’t sound good so far.

What is it? Well, it’s a niche. It’s not really something that anyone else makes. Yes, people make windproof long sleeve jerseys but not like this. The only windproof bit is the front. The rest? Well, the rest is something that you might find on a long sleeve summer jersey. It’s insubstantial, lightweight, insignificant. Gore make something like it, but their version has windproof arms. Rapha’s winter “jersey” is similar in that it has windproof front and no windproof arms but it’s an all together more “jackety” option. Assos recommend their Habu jacket (full wind proofing) for the poor days.

On every conceivable level this should not work and should not exist. Strip away that front and you’re left with something that cannot possibly protect you from the elements. In fact, strip away the front and you’re almost left with a Mille long sleeve, which is for summer days. And, what if you flip the temperature to a summer day? Isn’t that black bit at the front going to make you too hot? How can something that isn’t one thing or another work across a wide variety of temperatures? It’s a quandary.

And yet I adore it unequivocally and without measure. It’s hard to explain why save that, for me, and the riding I do, it is perfect. And, regardless of what conditions it should or should not work in, it’s range is fantastic. This week alone I’ve used it with a vest base layer at 10 degrees in fierce winds. I’ve used it to try and beat my long time average speed (home) at a temperate (and still) 18 degrees. In the past I’ve used it with a long sleeve base layer at 2 degrees. It fits perfectly, the design flourishes are actually useful. It’s actually devoted to function. There’s even a little loop tag on the arm. For ages I wondered what it was. I couldn’t see any good reason for it to be an earphone wire run. And then I twigged it. It was for holding your sunglasses temporarily, genius.

The front panel is utterly windproof. It’s a proprietary fabric that Assos call stratagon airblock ultra. It works, nothing gets in, not even through the zip. It’s very light and quite stretchy so getting a good fit is a piece of cake.

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Away from the airblock are the other fabrics. The leading edge is smoothed off and the inside arm/side is a more patterned fabric. In use it seems to offer thermal properties. Assos actually describe this as RX “fleece.” If it is it’s on a micro level. I’d not recommend cycling at zero with no base layer. That would be silly. But in spring temps you can do away with one and remain relatively warm. Crucially, if it does warm up it lets your heat out. If anything could be said to possess magical properties it is this. The inner is their VX.121 material for “light insulation.”

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Once again the arm grippers are pretty old tech. One might even call them loose! Yet, they are my favourite arm grippers ever. Weird eh? It all just fits together really well. Ok the lettering is probably a bit garish but no one really sees it when you’re wearing it.

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Round the back and you have some reflectives, 3 pockets, a zipped one and a lot of white! This one’s pretty good at keeping you seen on the roads. That central Assos strip is actually quite wipe clean. The zippers are, of course, first rate.

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Nice little features continue to abound like this insert behind the neck section which provides a bit more wind proofing at the collar area. You can also see the backing of the windproof section here, it’s a ribbed vertical structure that stretches readily then springs back. Because of the structure behind the wind proofing there’s an element of thermal insulation here as well.

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It’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn though a few other pieces of kit run it close. It does tug a bit when you stand up, but that’s deliberate and it goes away on the bike. It’s as light as some summer jerseys but it protects you from the elements very well. You do need to work with it, figure out what base layer for example. You can open it when climbing and it still sits nicely.

Sometimes you can’t explain why a piece of cycling kit is as it is. Arguably this defies logic and categorisation. But the acid test is how good it is in use. While I’d never wear this in the rain I reckon that it would suffice on 90% of the other days. It’s utterly versatile and when partnered with the 607 you have kit that will get you through so many days of cycling in the UK. love it and I refuse to apologise for my love for it.

Assos Falkenzahn

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It’s an “insulator gilet.” Who does that? I mean, there are windproof ones, waterproof ones. There are ones that do insulate because they are a bit like your duvet. But no, Assos make, in essence, a knitted gilet. No weather proofing, at, all. So, there you are, freezing cold winter’s day, why the hell would you choose this? How on earth can it work?

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The front is made from yet another Assos proprietary fabric, RXQ specifically. Ignore any perfections in the photo above as I’d had it folded in the drawer. The upper portion is a heavier fabric and the lower a little lighter. That might seem counter intuitive in some ways but it’s fine. You do need a lot on the chest and it’s likely that, when in a tuck, your belly is out of the way. But you need to see the inside to get an idea of what’s going on here.

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This is the inner layer. It runs the entire length of the waffled outer section and it’s loose. By that I mean that it’s allowed to move and flex. It’s a second layer inside and traps the heat. So, whilst the front of the jersey eschews any form of wind proofing it just keeps you toasty.

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The back is thermal as well. Again, like the S7 intermediate, there are three pockets, a zipped one and reflectives. It’s actually a quite substantial affair back here and, central spine aside, not dissimilar to the Assos Habu jacket sans sleeves.

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There are also some reflective panels on the shoulder sections round the front.

This piece if part of the Assos Advanced Layering System (ALS). So, the theory is that you can partner it with another of the ALS products, such as the Intermediate, and get something seamless. Collars should be the same height, ditto the waist. The zips should line up etc. See for yourself as to whether it works. If I didn’t tell you that was a gilet and jersey you’d probably never really see it. Everything is cut in the same way and these pieces fit each other like the figurative glove.

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The Falkenzahn has another party piece as well. Assos say that you can wear it with just a base layer (short sleeve) as a “warm jersey.” Or you can use it underneath something like the Habu to give you more insulation. And you can, because it’s a thermal jersey and feels brilliant when next to the skin. Also the cut, whilst very racy indeed, means that it fits well over something but disappears equally well under something. I can’t think of any other vest that does that.

With the combination above, and a suitable long sleeve under the Evo, you can get down to some pretty low temperatures. Now, clearly, they need to continue as, if the mercury rises, there’s no way of stowing this gilet at all. It’s far too big for that. It is something that you go out in and come home in. And you might wonder why therefore. Why choose this over a windproof jacket? Why over a heavyweight jersey? I think that’s a fair point. One argument would be that it protects the core and allows your arms to let some heat out to keep you temperate. And you don’t have to partner it with an intermediate at all. Arguably the best combo here is with a short sleeve jersey and some arm warmers. Assos jersey and warmers, naturally, to maintain that blended design ethic. No, I only say wear it with the intermediate as if you have that piece, why not?

It’s possibly one of the more niche offerings from Assos though certainly not in the league of the Rally Trekking jersey that I’ve recently reviewed. I guess you could call it marmite. But, even if you do that, give it some respect. It’s not often this level of thought goes into cycling kit. It’s not often that something is perfection even if you might think that its usage is limited. Perhaps, if we were to run that train of argument then it cannot ever be perfect. But that argument applies to so many garments.

I love these three pieces. I love them because they work. I love them because there’s a passion in them. That the passion comes from exhaustive R&D and over engineering is besides the point, it’s still passion. It’s still a search for being the absolute best possible thing. Whether it is an important question. Whether it’s better than what else is out there is the most important question. I’ll leave those unanswered because it doesn’t really matter. This is a love letter, not an affair.

Fuelit, packed with energy (and love!)

This sport of ours demands energy. You can feel like an Olympian going out but, for any reasonably distant ride, you do need to hydrate and you really should take something with you to eat. Jam sandwiches are actually great, but they can be messy. Water is fine, but it’s good to have something more. You really don’t want to be bonking. Unless you’re not riding in which case……..

So, how do you prepare? Pop down to Tesco the day before a Sportive and pick up whatever is on offer? Perhaps get some inner tubes from your online retailer and chuck in whatever’s cheap in the energy drink section? Do you stock up on a load of stuff you like in advance and hoard? We’re all different. I tend to leave it till the last minute and make do with whatever’s available locally after finding out that the stuff in my drawer has expired.

And the other thing is, well, variety is the spice of life and all that. We’re all stuck in our ways and, I guess, that means that we have those who swear by SIS, those who would never eat anything other than a Clif bar and those who espouse the virtues of Nectar. And we stick to what we know because it’s folly to try anything else. Wouldn’t it be good to be able to go to one place for all your needs and to be able to choose something new and different, or just have one place to go to for all the stuff you already like? What if you want a variety of things and don’t want a box of 24 things? Well, Fuelit have all that sorted for you.

I’ve been doing food recipe boxes for a few years now. I have a Gousto subscription because the variety of food is excellent and it’s just brilliant getting that box on a Monday. Above all it’s really nice discovering something new. I had a Graze box delivered for a while. So something that combines sport, and getting something new and exciting through the post is a nice combination. I’m surprised it’s taken until now for somebody to come up with the concept.

Enter Fuelit. Founded by experienced athletes Huw and Jon they aim to cut out the confusion and provide a one stop shop for all your energy needs. It works like this. They sell you complete boxes of nutrition that will get you through your training or your big event.

If you pop over to their website you can see that you have two choices of box type available to you. You can either choose from a Discovery box, and let them do the the choosing for you, or you can opt for a Custom selection. If you choose a discovery box then you can have one with all bars, or all gels, or have a mix of both. Obviously, if you choose a custom one you can choose as many products of whatever type you want. Before I get into it I’d say this, get a Discovery box first. Hell, get two, one of bars and one of gels because, as you’ll see later, you might actually discover something new that you’ve not tried before.

Once you’ve decided what you want, you can then decide how often you want it. Perhaps you just want it to be a one off or, instead, set your order to recur at regular intervals (for which you get a 10% reduction in the price). It’s pretty flexible actually and you can use the drop down selection to get something which should fit your personal circumstances. The other great thing is that when you order a second, or recurring discovery box, then the products in that box change each time. That’s pretty cool and enables you to discover new and interesting products. You may hate some of them, that’s the nature of the market, but you’ll love some of them and those will become your go to products for your custom box!

The cost of a discovery box of 10 items is £9.99. Postage is £1.50. The cost of each box is claimed to be equivalent to about £15. I did a bit of maths and, yep, that’s pretty much spot on for the products I received.

In terms of the ordering process the website is pretty easy to navigate. My only slight criticism is that to find the custom box selection you need to click the three straight lines up by the shopping cart. That takes you to a side-bar with all of the other options you need. Provided you order by 4 then it goes out that day. I selected £1.50 second class postage and everything was with my exactly as promised 2 days later. That’s important. If you need something in the days coming up to a Sportive then you don’t want to be waiting.

And it’s not just about you. It’s about supporting some up and coming athletes as well. If you click on this link you can have a look at the bios for the Fuelit ambassadors. If you order and put their code in then you get 10% off your first order. Seriously, £8.99, what is there to lose? Incidentally, Russ Best came 9th in the Cardiff IAAF World Half Marathon Mass Race which is seriously impressive.

What I won’t deal with in this review is the energy that each product gives you. That’s a very personal thing. We all work differently. There’s a link to each product. Some will work quickly, some will work over time, some are to hydrate, some are to give you a bit of a buzz. All the info is out there on kj and protein etc. Much of it is in the links below. I won’t pretend that Xmas cake isn’t excellent. But it’s good to have a variety of stuff in the armory.

So, you’ve ordered your box. What if you’re not in? Does it fit through the door? Check. So there are no issues with waiting in for the postman or needing to go down the sorting office. Everything is recyclable as well with on annoying landfill waste. Huw and John are perfectionists. They were worried, in the pics below, that some of the products had slipped to one side. When I opened it I thought it looked beautifully presented! So there’s a lot of love going on at the other end. It’s great to see that passion. They’re great on facebook and twitter, respond quickly to emails and are just nice chaps. Get in touch, give them a suggestion if you want to see something added. Just don’t get them to add that SIS Whey2o stuff. Please.

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So, what’s in the boxes? Let’s take a look. I’ve added some brief tasting notes so far. I roped the eldest and the Mrs into the testing so consider it to be a consensus. Let’s just say that much of this was either as expected or a really refreshing change from the norm!

One really important thing to note at this point is that Fuelit are the sole UK supplier of 32GI energy products. And that’s a good thing because my experience with those particular products was very good.

What I’ve not done here is to comment at the moment on how long everything lasts whilst exercising. The nutritional info is there in all the links so you can decide which suits your particular task. Clearly some will have more energy than others. I’ve concentrated on taste and, where anything more needs to be said, pointed that out to you. What’s great about this is that I’d not experienced about 70% of the stuff that Fuelit sent me. Some of the boxes are still blank because there’s a load of things to get through and I haven’t yet tested each and every one. But eventually all my comments will be in there along with my comments on the xug

Discovery Box (Bars)

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 AM Sport Energy Bar  Good consistency. On the right side of chewy. Good overall taste.
 Beet-it Sport These seem a bit polarising. Myself and the eldest liked them. Mrs wasn’t quite as keen. They’re in between sweet and sharp so a nice addition to have to the sportive wardrobe.
 SIS Go Energy Bar  Cherry vanilla. Really nice, easy to chew, easy to stick back half eaten in your pocket to get to later on.
 9 Bar Nutty  I like 9 Bars. They’re great and one of my existing favourites.  I’m fairly sure much of what they produce is also gluten free as well. So if you need to addition (or omission!) then that’s something to bear in mind.
High 5 Coconut Bar  Welsh word, lush. It’s a nice consistency, tastes like coconut, which I love.
Mule Bar (Eastern Express!)  What a surprise. It’s like a curried mule bar. But with nuts and a hint of other things. It’s actually lovely. A real contrast to constant sugar on a ride.
 32Gi Foodbar  Mine was the fig and cashew version and this was another product which doesn’t over do the sweetness. Easy to swallow and not sticky.
 OTE Anytime Caramel  Really nice flapjack. Moist and goes down easily. Stays soft and won’t break your teeth. Which is nice, my teeth are awful!
 OTE Vanilla Energy It’s alright actually! It tastes like vanilla. I don’t generally rate non fruit drinks where you add water to a powder but this is very agreeable. Different. I’d probably opt for the orange if pushed to make a choice but this was really nice.
 32Gi Endurance Drink  Nice. Mine was the raspberry flavour and it was a lot closer to raspberry than generic fruit flavour than most. In fact it reminded me of the flavour of a raspberry ice lolly and was pretty refreshing. No grit, dissolved quickly. I’ll be ordering some more of this!
  • I missed the Firestar out of my box. Tasted like sherbert. Went down quick. Seemed to work! I took it when I got home one day and it perked me up for a bit.


Discovery Box (Gels) 
Discovery Box (Gels) 

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 My Protein Ener Gel  Yeah, definitely orangey again. Bit like Fanta. Again, one of those gels that’s more drink like (pour in) than gel like. Don’t take the fanta thing as a criticism, it’s nice and orangey. Nice amount as well. Very easy to open.
 High 5 Energy Gel  Usual High 5 standard. Though not the biggest of the gels, easy to drink down.
 SIS Isotonic Energy Good taste, more of a medium consistency.
 Nectar Fuel Gel Much like the High 5 a smaller gel but easy to ingest.
 OTE Orange Gel The OTE stuff was new to me and, like the sports chews below, I liked the real fruit flavour of this one. Quite a lot of gel and pretty easy packaging. It’s quite watery as well so it’s a cross between pouring and having to suck it out. That’s a plus in my view.
 32Gi Sports Chews These are really interesting. They’re massive for a start, 4 in a pack. The orange ones are really orangey (and taste quite natural IMO). Consistency is like the inside of a jelly baby with none of that hard to chew nature. The aftertaste is, well, orangey. Really impressed by these. Zero stickiness, easy to carry.
 32Gi Sports Gel  Interesting one. No teeth required. To open this one you snap the packet backwards then apply pressure to the front. You may need to slide up from the bottom to get all of it out but it works. Flavour was pretty good overall for something which claims to be coffee but which is not a flat white!
 AM Sport Competition Energy Gel  These are really easy to open and on the right side of watery for easy consumption.
Truestart Coffee Really liked this. Offers a controlled dose of caffeine. Really good for an instant coffee! I’ve been drinking it before commuting and it does give you a real buzz. And whilst I said above I wouldn’t necessarily concentrate on performance I was zinging every time I drunk it. I will be ordering some more. (Note, this was a freebie by now but I’m sure it will make its way onto the site as a regular if you ask!)
High 5 Energy Source Drink  It’s High 5. It’s utterly dependable and tastes good.

Custom Box (Custom!)

So, I ordered the Custom box with no issues at all. I chose variations on the products that I was impressed with first time round and duplicated a few because they are a) so good or b) I’ve always found them really effective. Ordering was easy and, as expected, posted before 4 pm and then came two days later (2nd class post).

I’ve added the links and will update the missing taste tests soon!

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32GI Orange Drink (x2)  I’ve been using these for all my long rides and they work really well. They dissolve easily and are very easy to drink.
AM Energy Sport Gel (wild berries)  See above.
9 Bar Carob Hit  Really good new discovery. Not too chewy but substantial. Could quite happily snack on these off the bike.
My Protein Ener Gel Blackberry  I think these may be my favourite gels. There’s a lot in there and they are very easy to open and, essentially, drink. Good hit overall. Very digestable.
Mule Bar (Apricot and Walnut)  A consistent and favourite performer. A bit chewy sometimes but good energy and easy to eat on the move.
Mule Bar (Choc Orange)  It’s a chocolate mule bar. It’s lovely!
SIS Gel (Lemon and Lime)  Tidy. Good quality and decent amount.
32GI (Apple Bar)  Coming Soon!
32GI Sports Chews (raspberry)  Just like the orange ones, these are really raspberry ish. Nice.
SIS Go Bar (Chocolate and Orange) Good amount, easy to eat.

Conclusion

Brilliant idea, well executed. I definitely fell into the category of getting whatever was on offer. I’ve quite a few big events coming up this year and will be making sure that all my mates know about Fuelit. It all seems such a simple idea and it’s great to see someone doing it well.

None of this is overly complicated but, here’s the thing, these guys have done the tasting and the testing so you can be sure that the goods available are great and that they work. But it’s the approach that’s refreshing.

Good old fashioned excellent service. So, Fuelit goes to the top of the class with Prendas. You order it, it gets sent out, it arrives. No fuss, no drama, just a great old fashioned approach in a high tech world.

 

Chapeau! Part 3, (the other stuff)

So, welcome to the last round! I’ll be looking at the last of the kit that Chapeau sent me to review and some of my stuff as well. I’m grateful to Chapeau for sending this stuff. They’re a brand that I was aware of but didn’t necessarily automatically go to. That’s changed and if you’re in the market for simple, classy kit, just have a look at their site before you go elsewhere.

Chapeau Leather Track Mitts (RRP £34.99)

Like the Cafe Jersey, the Welsh expression for these is lush. They ooze class and take care of every single little detail, mostly. They’re constructed from Pittards leather (on the top section) which is beautifully soft. They come only in the colour that you see here. The thumb section is a micro fibre material which is useful for wiping the sweat off your brow. Underneath is a perforated mesh section. The material between the fingers is a little lighter and assists with ventilation.

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These gloves don’t have any velcro fastening so it’s a case of, initially, squeezing your hands in and letting them close over your wrists for a snug but never uncomfortable fit. The under wrist section is elongated and reinforced making them really easy to pull on.

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Chapeau have gone for a quite deeply padded double mid section and a lesser padded forwards section. It’s a very shock absorbing set up. The remainder of the mesh is springy and provides some cushioning as well. The construction of these is superb. They look bombproof.

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In fact, there’s only one omission, a finger pull loop to get them back off again. It’s a slightly weird one but, looking round the ‘net, it’s not uncommon, even with the most premium of manufacturers. They’re a little bit harder to get off as a result but it’s a minor point.

In use they’re really nice indeed. Again, they look best partnered with the club bib shorts and cafe jersey on your nice steel bike. But, these are actually pretty versatile and wouldn’t be out of place on your sportive or, of course, on the track! Inevitably they’re not quite as breathable as a mesh backed pair it’s only marginal and the perforation does provide more ventilation than you might otherwise expect. The leather is also resistant to rain and sweat and stays dry.

The RRP on these is £34.99 and I think that’s actually great value. The detailing and construction is first rate. They’re a superb addition to your summer wardrobe, whatever your road cycling discipline.

Chapeau! Chamois Cream

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Being a cyclist means that you have to explain all sorts of weird stuff to people. No, you don’t wear pants underneath. your shorts Yes, that is a pad that looks like a giant internal nappy. No, it doesn’t chafe. And then we volunteer the information that on longer rides we first slather our bits in cream to keep everything feeling good. Some of us rub it on us first, some of us rub it into our shorts (pad only guys, don’t rub it on the lycra!). It’s no wonder that we are viewed with the suspicion normally harboured for the deviants.

Chamois cream is an essential armament for the long distance ride. It does work. And there are many brands to choose from. The question you need to ask yourself is what consistency do you want and how do you want it to smell. I started years back with Assos. It’s great stuff and smells fairly neutral. It has the consistency of hard cream and has a tendency to harden when left in the drawer so you might need warm it slightly so that it doesn’t have to be rubbed in too hard. I’m wondering how many of you are reading this with some sort of innuendo now. Anyhow, I also have some Rapha cream as well, it’s a bit gloopier and smells like the flowers at the top of the Ventoux. No, seriously, look that up. That’s the claim they make. It smells quite nice actually, but I’ve never been up the Ventoux. That said, my wife confirms that it smells of geranium and lavender, so if they’re up there then they’ve nailed it. I also have some of their winter embrocation. Same tin design. Best not to confuse the two.

Chapeau’s offering comes in a tube. It’s a different way to approach the issue, easy to get out but, like toothpaste, you may struggle to get the last bit out. They do an original “flavour” and a menthol one. I didn’t test the latter but I’d imagine it might be more tingly as described. Menthol cream to rub on your bits. Cyclists.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of chamois cream and, to be honest, I use it for all sorts of things other than cycling (as I read that back it sounds awful). But it’s good for running (and chafing) for a start.

How does Chapeau’s offering compare? Well, it’s really nice actually. Smells good, doesn’t try to evoke any particular flora, goes on well, then works. It has a really nice consistency to it. I’m not going into detail of whether it’s silkier than the rest, it works. Price wise it’s a little better value than some of its competitors. Whilst the market is not especially crowded it’s fair to say that we’re talking about a few quid difference and variations in the volume of cream provided. The amount provided here marks it out as especially good value in that segment. Tube’s recyclable as well. It’s good stuff.

Chapeau Lightweight Socks (RRP £10)

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There’s not a lot to say, other than, at the moment, they are three for the price of two. So I bought a variety of colours in the urge to be a bit different. These are the “above ankle” version and there is also an ankle length as well. I opted for this one because I do like a longer sock most of the time. Most of the time I end up wearing them for all sorts of other things as well including under my work suit (but only the pink ones on this occasion).

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They’re polyamide and have coolmax in them. I found them a nice and airy sock overall. The sole is padded and they provide a nice snug fit with no slipping around. If you do want to go for a shorter sock then I found that you can fold these down and make them look shorter than they are. Obviously you will need to ensure that your folding skills are a match on both pairs!

Above all they seem pretty durable. I’ve been wearing and washing them and they come up just fine afterwards. The only shame about socks is that they lose that out of the box folding that you get on the new ones and instantly get bunched up in the sock drawer. I might get the cool iron out. In terms of value, given the present offer, I think they’re pretty hard to beat.

Chapeau Polo Shirt (RRP £34.99)

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Chapeau aren’t alone in providing “lifestyle” wear alongside the rest of their range but it’s still good to see manufacturers doing this. It fits within the brand ethos so I was quite happy to dip into my own pocket and pay for it (along with the socks). As much as I love Assos, for example, I don’t think I’d want an Assos Polo shirt. Indeed, I struggle with polo shirts generally. I have some Joules ones which seem ok but don’t wash well at all. Great initially, get to look a bit rubbish. I have a Crew one which seems a little better. And some Next ones which are comfortably better, in terms of care, than the rest. So when I saw a nicely designed polo shirt from a brand I’ve come to really like I wanted to give them a whirl.

There’s nothing overly complicated here. Just a nice, clean design and 100% cotton as you’d expect. Fit IS relaxed, as stated on the website, and the medium is a good fit on my 41″ chest (though my chest does, finally, appear to be shrinking with the summer cycling regime).

Three colours are available and I opted for the red and petrol. Black doesn’t work on me I am afraid. They’re comfortable and seem as well made as the pricier options in my wardrobe. So far they’ve washed well and resisted shrinking (I tend to take more care with polos now though).

They’re on offer as well. Buy two and you get them for £52.49 rather than £69.98. That’s not the cheapest polo ever but it’s a good price for a nicely designed, good quality one. They’re also, in my view, a smart looking polo and partner up well with a pair of chinos and some boat shoes. Wow, I’m into actual fashion advice now. I should probably stick to cycling kit I guess. But, anyway, good polos in my view. Indeed, I’d like to see them offer a few more colours. I think they’d do really well.

And there you go. That was Part 3. It’s not quite as in depth as the rest as it doesn’t need to be. Please don’t think it’s cursory either. This is top quality stuff and I hope that Chapeau have a really successful summer with this kit. They deserve to. And with my writing Chapeau on, thoughts turn to their winter range, I’m really looking forward to what they come up with!

Michelin Power Competition 25c, fun with maths.

Right then, let’s get serious and talk about tyres, clinchers specifically, none of that glue nonsense here. Everyone has their favourite tyre. The truth is I quite like very many of them. Indeed, I’ve only ever had issues with a few tyres (Conti 4 Season I am looking in your direction). Tyre choice can be very personal but, at the end of the day, you need them to go as fast as you can make them, grip well and ward off the puncture fairy.

It’s a weird one. For an age it seemed that every rider just bought Conti 4000’s. There were some other choices. People with tans, lithe long legs and rake thin figures bought Vittoria Open Corsa. People with beards and leather saddles bought Veloflex tan walls. People who wanted something mainstream but different started to get into Schwalbe. And, silently in the darkness, some people talked about how good Michelin stuff was.

From my perspective of wandering around the internet people occasionally chucked in Michelin as “oh and you might also want to look at” rather than being up there among the best. The thing is they were producing the Pro 3, and that was very good. They followed up with the Pro 4 and I can’t speak highly enough about how they were. They produced the legendary Krylion which people bought in volume when they discontinued it. They made an Endurance version of the Pro 4 which did replace it, and that too was well received. Yet, the battle, it seems, became Conti v Schwalbe. Indeed, the rise of Schwalbe is one of the more interesting stories of recent years.

Look, Michelin didn’t invent the tyre. Depending on your viewpoint that honour goes to John Boyd Dunlop or Robert Thomson, and probably the latter. But they did invent the removable one. Charles Terront won the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris on Michelin’s prototype pneumatic removable tyres in 1891. Michelin are the biggest tyre manufacturer in the world. They should know a thing or two. So perhaps it’s a bit surprising when they don’t get the first shout out when the matter of which tyre comes up.

I have to say the Pro 4 were brilliant tyres. They rode well, made a swooshy sound and I never got one to flat. I had the 25c version and they ballooned up to a quite massive 27c on 15c rims. A good and a bad thing depending on whether you have clearance. They lasted for ages. I confess, I have no idea why I changed away from them other than the fact that the competitors (GP4000iiS and Schwalbe One) looked sexier. #shallow

Enter the Power Competition. I’ve opted for the 25c version once again to provide that bit more volume. This time they don’t come up quite as over sized despite them being fitted to a 17c rim (more on that later). I’m left with a few mm of clearance in the bottom bracket area of the Supersix.

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First things first. Consider this to be an impressionistic review or, if you like, a commentary on the data that’s out there. For that is all I am currently equipped to give. I have no power meter so I can’t measure my watts in order to confirm whether the claims made about these tyres are true. It’s also quite impossible to construct a test, myself, where I compare them against specific other tyres in specific situations. But, I’ve ridden and lot of tyres and can tell you how I feel about them. I’ve added quite a few links in so you can decide whether you feel that these are a tyre that’s worth considering.

Anyway, sciency stuff first. Michelin are the world’s biggest tyre manufacturer (after Lego, seriously, look it up!). An enormous amount of research each year goes into the properties of tyres and how those properties affect fuel consumption. Clearly getting a tyre to be perfect is a hard task. One of the matters that most greatly affects fuel consumption is rolling resistance. Better rolling  = better MPG. And that translates quite well to the cycle setting. It’s pretty straightforward, less rolling resistance  = easier to move. So if you put the same wattage into your ride in given circumstances then you will be further ahead at any given point. It’s not the whole story, as alluded to earlier. A tyre might be more or less grippy in the corners. There might be a trade off in ride quality or puncture protection. It may be the world’s fastest tyre but otherwise rubbish.

Michelin’s Claims

Specifically they claim that you will see the following improvements.

– 10 watts 1 min 25 secs gained over 40 km at 35 km/h

– 25% rolling resistance

It sounds grand. You’re going to be faster, it seems. The problem is, faster compared to what? Anyway, I have no way of testing this stuff. But here are some useful things to have a look at. If you ever want data on a tyre go to those who know what they’re doing. In that respect the place I always look first is Bicycle Rolling Resistance and here’s a link to the actual review Rolling Resistance Review of Michelin Power

It’s definitely a site worth bookmarking. They have the kit. I’ve stuck a few (25c) tyres into their drop down and this is what we get. (Full Credit goes to Rolling Resistance for this data). I’ve added in some popular tyres, some with the addition of latex and also stuck in the venerable Conti Gator Skin in as well for a laugh. I’ve put the “winner” (at 100 psi, given that we are dealing with 25 tyres) in each box.

Rolling Resistance Test Results (Speed: 29 kmh / 18 mph, Load: 42.5 kg)
Model Grand Prix 4000S II Power Competition One V-Guard
Rolling Resistance 120 psi 12.2 Watts 10.9 Watts 12.3 Watts
Rolling Resistance 100 psi 12.9 Watts 11.8 Watts 12.8 Watts
Rolling Resistance 80 psi 13.7 Watts 13.6 Watts 14.0 Watts
Rolling Resistance 60 psi 15.5 Watts 16.6 Watts 16.6 Watts
Rolling Resistance Test Results (Speed: 29 kmh / 18 mph, Load: 42.5 kg)
Model Grand Prix TT Pro 4 Service Course Pro One Tubeless
Rolling Resistance 120 psi 9.9 Watts 14.9 Watts 11.0 Watts
Rolling Resistance 100 psi 10.5 Watts 16.0 Watts 11.6 Watts
Rolling Resistance 80 psi 11.8 Watts 17.6 Watts 12.8 Watts
Rolling Resistance 60 psi 13.9 Watts 20.1 Watts 14.8 Watts
Rolling Resistance Test Results (Speed: 29 kmh / 18 mph, Load: 42.5 kg)
Model Gatorskin Grand Prix 4000S II Latex Tube Open Corsa CX III Latex Tube
Rolling Resistance 120 psi 19.3 Watts 10.6 Watts 11.7 Watts
Rolling Resistance 100 psi 20.2 Watts 11.1 Watts 12.2 Watts
Rolling Resistance 80 psi 22.0 Watts 11.8 Watts 13.0 Watts
Rolling Resistance 60 psi 26.2 Watts 13.3 Watts 14.6 Watts

There are some interesting conclusions which might be drawn from that set of data.

  • The Michelin Power are the leaders of the next gen clincher + butyl inner crowd.
  • At high pressure (120 psi) a tubed Michelin has less rolling resistance than a tubeless Schwalbe Pro One.
  • Replacing a butyl tube with latex has a massive effect on rolling resistance.
  • The Michelin Power has not been tested with latex tube but the site claims that “I’ve tested a lot of tires with latex tubes already to know the difference will be 1.5 watts lower RR @ 120 psi / 8.3 bars compared to the 100 grams butyl inner tube used for this.
  • With that in mind a latex tube should see the Michelin drop to 9.4 watts at 120 psi.
  • The Grand Prix TT still has less rolling resistance overall. (Though playing with latex will affect this result as well). 
  • The Gatorskin should be a good winter training tyre to give you a proper workout!

 

Chain Reaction Cycles have also produced a video of their experiences and you can see that below. Power meters were used and, it appears, Michelin’s claims are borne out. That said, in the CRC test, at Michelin, they are borne out against the old Pro 4 and not their competitor tyres.

My experiences

So, it appears that there’s some fair justification for Michelin’s claims. Let’s talk about my experience of them, namely how they feel and how they ride, how easy they are to put on and, you know, whether they avoid the fairy.

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Michelin claim 215g for a 25c tyre. That’s pretty good actually. I weighed both mine before putting them on and both were in the ballpark. Indeed both were actually a few grams lighter than claimed. There’s an initial protective coating on them as well and it may be that a further gram or so might be saved when that wears off. Their weight compares very favourably with the GP4000iiS and One which are notionally 225g each. Every little helps.

Installation wasn’t particularly hard though I did manage, through ham fisted impatience, to wreck one tube. I have a BBB easy tyre lever on the way which should help with installation of tyres. It was much easier than a G-One onto a Revo. My recollection of the old Pro 4 was that they were a pretty easy fit but that the Endurance (Pro 4) were virtually impossible. It will be interesting to see how the new Endurance fair in that respect.

Once one they measure up as quite wide/high on my rim. In the ballpark of 26mm wide to be exact (my caliper isn’t the best). But, visually at least, well down on the balloon tyre exploits of the Pro 4 at 25c. Those things were massive. You get a nice, decent shape on these on my 17mm internal Quattro wheels.

The labelling isn’t great. It’s not awfully sexy (Conti and Schwalbe are much better looking). Also the printing of it was a bit squiggled on one of the pair. But I don’t care too much about this. In common with Schwalbe but less so with Conti the tyres aren’t awfully black and come up very slightly grey. Given how quickly they get covered with road dust this isn’t massive.

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I paid a shade under £30 (once I’d factored in British Cycling discount) at Chain Reaction Cycles They do seem to be one of the only stockists, along with Merlin, at the moment.

How do they feel? Well, as I said earlier, they went straight onto the new Quattro wheels. That does make back to back comparisons with the already excellent Schwalbe One quite difficult. They do feel a little faster mind. Whether it’s the aero quattro or the lack of rolling resistance I do find it’s that little bit easier to get everything going and then to keep it all going. They feel, for want of a better word, swooshy. The Pro 4 were like that. They make a nice swooshing sound as they move along which I don’t tend to experience with the Conti or the Schwalbe. I’ve no idea if swooshiness is a fair measure of performance but I quite like it.

Puncture resistance, to date, has been excellent, i.e. I have not had one. My route to work is pretty good in places, very poor in others and the last 4 miles along the Taff Trail sees various bits of detritus and tree debris waiting to pounce. I’ve had no issues yet. Grip in the dry is excellent. Grip in the wet is untested and, I am sorry, it’s likely to stay that way. I don’t anticipate anything other than being on a par with other similar tyres in this respect.

So far these appear to be very good tyres. Consider this an introduction to them and to a really rather excellent website that deals with these things properly. Too often there are reviews on the big sites which say no more than my own, i.e. they appear to be faster. Don’t take my word for it, or Michelin’s claims, the figures appear to be borne out by independent data. If you’re still in the world of clincher tyres you really should take a look at these. They deserve to be mentioned every time the question comes up and not just because a few lone posters claim that they’re worth it.

I’ll report back at regular intervals to tell you about my experiences with them.

UPDATE 21st APRIL. I had a puncture, oh dear. Sidewall as well and, frankly, I am not not keen on repairing those. Was it bad luck? Possibly. I was on the outside of traffic and it may have got caught on a cat’s eye or something. What to do? Doesn’t look like it can be fixed and perhaps the sidewalls are a bit fragile. I will report back soon.

So, I decided that, for the type of riding I do a more robust “race” tyre might be better and returned to the Schwalbe One. I think that the Power is an incredible full on race tyre but there may be a trade off in puncture resistance. That’s to be expected. I say this on the evidence of a single puncture but, the thing is, it’s the first one I’ve had on road in 6 years. In addition the view of bicycle rolling resistance was that this version is down on the previous one and the nearest competitors. I reckon if you’re doing a crit (on clinchers) or are happy to take the risk on a triathlon etc, these are just the ticket. They are incredibly fast. Add a latex tube and you’re at the upper limit of what clincher technology can currently provide!

Fulcrum Quattro, budget aero?

Fulcrum. It’s a noun.It’s the point against which a lever is placed to get a purchase, or on which it turns or is supported. Hang on, that can’t be right, you’d not name a company after that. How about, a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation. Better. That sounds like what they were going for. Wheels meet that criteria.

According to their website Fulcrum (established in 2004) was founded “based on the idea of three aerospace engineers who are passionate about bicycles. The strong points of this young company include the use of unique patents, ongoing technological research, and the attractive and young-spirited design.” Nice. But we know different, don’t we? Fulcrum is owned by, and is a subsidiary brand of, Campagnolo. They don’t really shout about it, it’s like a dirty little secret. What’s it all really about? Well some have referred to Campagnolo’s desire to not pollute the brand with the provision of Shimano compatible wheelsets. Others say that it’s more about the owners of Shimano/SRAM based bikes not wanting to have Campag wheels on their bikes. Perhaps a little of both. It’s a bit confusing as Fulcrum wheels are available in both Shimano/SRAM and Campag flavours. And, today, Campag’s wheel range is the same. Clear as mud. Anyway, that’s your potted history.

Fulcrum provide wheels for the entire spread of budget and for a multitude of disciplines. Their naming conventions aren’t awfully transparent but, broadly, the aluminium clinchers range from 7 (at the bottom) to Zero (at the top). Their more exotic offerings are called things like Speed and Red. Red being, of course, the fastest colour after green 😉 There’s a carbon version of this wheel as well, the Racing Quattro Carbon (natch).

The Quattro sit towards the bottom of the range. You might even call them budget.I’ve read that this Quattro slips in between the 3 and the 5. Numerically that makes sense. But I don’t agree that it’s true, not quite.

And while the number 4 is a pretty mundane thing it’s fair to say that the Italian for it, at least in the English speaking world, is far from it. Quattro adorns the fastest of the Audi ranges and is steeped in history. Mind, it was also the name of a failed soft drink from Coca Cola in the early 80’s. And what is it about Italian? We get all misty eyed about Quattro, Cinquecento. Meanwhile the Italian’s are saying 4 and 500. Do they have that emotional attachment? I suspect not. The emotionalisation of Italian numbers is a marketing masterstroke. Quattro. Just say it.

The Racing Quattro was introduced to Fulcrum’s range in 2012. It’s been a fairly static presence in Fulcrum’s range but, last year, was updated to the Racing Quattro LG. Fulcrum’s “budget” offerings, that is to say the 7, 5 and Quattro all now come in LG flavour. LG is short for large, I think. Essentially the formerly narrow (ish) rims have been increased in width. So where they were 15mm internal they’ve now grown to 17mm. It may not sound a lot and the reality is that it is not. But it’s a step change to a better world of better shaped tyres. It’s not the widest of rims and it’s possible that the LG moniker is not ultimately deserved, but it’s a start.

So, Quattro. The thing is, the 5 is lighter. So it’s pretty hard to say that the “4” is better and that it slots between the 5 and 3. No, the Quattro is a bit of a misnomer in my view. Consider it instead the Racing 5 “Aero” LG and you get an idea of what it is.

The Racing 5’s are a pretty decent and light wheel, coming in at around 1658g. The Quattro are a little heavier and come in at around 1725g. Lighter wheels are available for the same or less money. Heavier wheels are available for more money. The Quattro aren’t particularly light, you might even call them particularly “average.” But they are, arguably, cheap, or, better still, good value. £184 at Wiggle currently or, if you have British Cycling discount, knock another 10% off that price at Chain Reaction, a shade under £170.

Let’s have a look at what you get for that.

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What you get is a fairly nice looking wheel actually. The stickers aren’t that great close up but you can take them off, if you really want to.

As I’ve stated earlier the width has increased to 17mm internally. The outer rim width is 23.2 mm. The main feature of the Quattro, quite clearly, is their depth. The rims are 35mm deep. Let’s call it semi aero? By contrast the Fulcrum 5 has rims of 24.5 and 27.5mm (front and rear) respectively. So, it’s a big jump on the front wheel, less so on the back. There has been a trend towards the deeper rim. Whereas 35mm would once have been considered deep it’s just deeper now. There’s a sweet spot apparently, 40mm claimed by some, but much depends on the use you’re putting your wheels to.

There are 16 aero bladed spokes on the front wheel and 21 on the rear. Odd number. Weird. Fulcrum utilise 2:1 technology so there are 7 spokes on the non drive side and 14 on the drive side. Fulcrum claim that this equalises forces and provides rigidity when you’re pedalling. Certainly my experiences in mashing the pedals uphill (and my weight) were that there was no discernible flex.

The hubs are pretty basic looking affairs. Actually blank with a rather cheap looking sticker. Again, it can be removed.

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Here’s a close up of the actual rim. The graphics are actually quite nice. Much depends on whether you like shouty graphics or not. I think they work well here. I’ve avoided removing them for now but it might give a cleaner look.

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The quick releases are quality items. They’re pretty easy to close and feel really secure.

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So, 35mm height. It’s not just a number, Fulcrum say, instead “Developed to strike the perfect balance between aerodynamic efficiency, handling and lightness, the 35mm rim profile increases torsional and lateral stiffness compared with a conventional profile, for improved high speed stability.”

Reading between the lines Fulcrum aren’t really selling the aero dream here. It’s a bit of everything. Jack of all trades, master of none?

So, here’s my thought process, laid bare. There were Aksium’s on there. They were good wheels. Nice wheels. Reasonably light, spun well, nice ride. They even looked pretty good. I decided to “upgrade.” But, hang on I hear you say, this isn’t an upgrade. It’s a sideways step, at best a marginal gain. And I agree. But, the thing is, I don’t know yet what I want this Six to wear permanently, the choice is bewildering. Cheap carbon? Expensive clinchers with narrow rims? Handbuilts? There’s a load of choice and I am undecided. So these are a stop gap.

But, you know what, quite a nice one as it transpires. It’s quite difficult to get a sense of how much better or worse things are without a point of reference. And, sorry, I removed the control as well by replacing the Schwalbe One tyres that I had on the Aksium with the new Michelin Power tyres which claim a much lower rolling resistance. So getting to the truth of the situation is a tricky one.

I haven’t had the best week either. Bit tired. One day I lacked lung capacity, the next day that was all ok but the lactic was clearly in the legs. And whatever I say will be anecdote. So, the thing is, a few weeks back I set one of my faster commutes home on the Six. Not the fastest, some way off that fitness yet, but creditable. It took all I had. So, not feeling it, I set out to see how much faster the bike was with the new wheels and tyres. Result? Tad slower. 20 seconds slower than the 53 minutes, 25 seconds I’d put in a few weeks earlier.

That seems fairly clear then. Slower. End of review. Mistake. Well, it’s not quite the case. There are lots of traffic variables on my route, different weather, different things. And, honestly, I wasn’t feeling it. But the overwhelming sensation I got was that the new combo was much, and I mean much, easier to maintain higher speeds for longer. Eventually I got a bit tired and backed off, but once I’d recovered getting back to that speed was easy, maintaining it was easier. I’m actually fairly convinced, so far, that these might be a very good budget aero option. Climbing on them is fine, they present no weight disadvantage over my old wheels. Comfort is excellent with 25c running at 110 psi. The Six still glides. Handling is a little more assured which I ascribe to the wider rim. The bearings are smooth and completely silent. There’s none of that old school early warning system clickiness that you either loved or hated on the older Fulcrum models. No one will hear you coming.

And, in the rides subsequent to the above, I concentrated on some KOM’s and knocked out several on the first go, on one of them holding a respectable (for me) 29mph average over a quarter mile section. Thing is, I think they, and I, could have gone even faster.

Budget wheels are that. Budget. When these wear out there’s nothing to be gained in replacing a rim. It will cost as much as new pair. Ditto the hubs. I should add that the hubs are of the sealed cartridge type and replacing them should be a straightforward affair. They’re only about £15 as well, which is a bonus. If you REALLY want to you can actually buy ceramic bearing kits for these, though it’s difficult to see how that could be justified. These won’t be used in the wet because I don’t use the Six in the wet. They should last an age. A mate of mine has just replaced a pair of Fulcrum 7’s on his bike. It was previously my bike. Those wheels were 8 years old. The rim was worn but they were still true. Fulcrum do have a good reputation for building solid wheels that last. It may be a good idea to source some replacement spokes when you buy the wheels to ensure that, if you do snap one, there are no delays waiting for parts. And, bear in mind, with this low spoke construction, that it may well be difficult to ride home if you do suffer an issue. But those are mostly budget/low spoke specific problems and not necessarily unique to Fulcrum.

So, consider this an intro. So far these seem to be very good. They are absolutely true and appear completely round. They’re sufficiently light, for now, and don’t hold me back on the hills. They appear to fly on the flat. They look good. They were cheap. As stop gaps go they will absolutely do until that special thing comes along. What that is I don’t know yet. I still keep looking out for it. I wonder though how special it needs to be given how good these are. Mind, the Carbon version keep whispering to me. Deeper, wider, lighter and sexier. Stop gap not only stopped, closed and sealed.

Guest Review : A weekend with the Rapha Core range

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to fellow blogger Dave for his insights into Rapha’s new core range. It’s quite exciting calling myself an editor though I’ve only formatted Dave’s thoughts and added some more pics! It’s interesting to see Rapha get back to basics, as it were, after their range has exploded over the past few years. And while it’s not possible to call this budget clothing per se it’s refreshing to see them offering clothing that’s a little more reasonably priced for an aspirational brand. The core range is quite small at the moment, one jersey and shorts for girls and boys, and it will be interesting to see if the range is grown to take into account other items of clothing and accessories. One of the things that this site is about is real world experience of actually using kit. Too often major websites use something and move on. I use everything that this website has featured on an almost daily basis (with rotation of course) so it’s good to have some perspective on some other kit from a regular user.

For 2016, Rapha have released their ‘Core’ range of clothing which is a set of shorts and jersey for both men and women. In a new move for Rapha this range was intended to be a less expensive, dare I say budget, option for people that could or would not buy the full price Classic (mostly wool based), Brevet (designed for long distance/travel) or ProTeam (designed for Team Sky) ranges. Having worn through a pair of ProTeam softshell gloves and overshoes in a few months I returned them to Rapha who in recompense sent me a voucher with which I purchased the Core Bib shorts and Jersey (plus an extra 50Eur).

I used them for the first time on a 100km ride on a dry but cold and windy day in the Netherlands. Rides in the Netherlands may be flat but the dutch attitude to sport means that they are often done at a good pace and so it was a hard ride. I also went on a short 40km smash through the sand dunes on the coast to calm down after the recent fantastic edition of Paris Roubaix. It is only fair to say that I am a Rapha fanboy. I find the cut and materials in the jerseys and shorts extremely comfortable and given that I do not have a Pro cyclists physique, the wool jerseys and quieter designs than our friends in Europe offer suit me a lot better. On the road bike I tend to use Rapha clothing (though the accessories are more of a mishmash) but when I’m on the mountain bike or cross/adventure/travel bike I use cheaper stuff as these sorts of rides throw up more possibility of crashes, thorns or other potential damage. I am a man so, obviously, this review is on the men’s kit.

 

Rapha Core Jersey (RRP £75)

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The jersey is a nice, soft feeling, thin fabric which matches very well with Rapha’s other synthetic base layers. You get a choice of 4 colours but I went for the dark navy blue. Unlike most Rapha clothing it is a single colour with no characteristic white armband. However, for reasons I can’t understand, this band is stitched into the sleeve nonetheless and does have a thick piece of white fabric on the inside of the jersey arm. The best explanation for this is that it is some kind of sweat mop you could use but this doesn’t really seem likely. Labels on the jersey are also very subtle and comprise a simple Rapha logo at the base of the lower pocket. Speaking of the pockets they are well designed and top of the pockets sit relatively high up the back and so swallow a modern smartphone in a waterproof case with ease. As usual with Rapha there is a zip pocket on the left hand side which is big enough for a set of keys and a card holder or a banknote for the coffee stop. One departure from the more expensive jerseys, both in material and message, is the cheesy label which adorns all Rapha kit. In the core jersey it is merely printed on as opposed to a separate label and instead of being a message from a bike racer of old is a message from Mr. Rapha himself, Simon Mottram extoling the virtues of riding with friends. Whilst I agree that (and I quote) “the best rides are rides shared”, the rest of the message about taking turns on the wind, sharing bidons and waiting for people who are dropped seems at odds with the #epic message that Rapha is notorious for. Obviously this has no bearing on the performance of the jersey though.

On the bike they jersey feels great and I struggled to really notice any difference between this and the ProTeam jerseys. Obviously the feel and performance is different to the sportwool jerseys which are a different kettle of fish. The fit is similar to the ProTeam but maybe a tad looser. I found it would flap around my shoulders a little bit but not so that I would really notice unless I had a blog post to write. My Proteam jersey doesn’t do this. The base of the jersey has a wide gripper which keeps everything in place. The sleeves are a modern length (i.e. long) and have no gripper but stay in place perfectly well. In short, without doing a back to back test with a (non aero) ProTeam jersey I don’t think I could’ve told the difference. When “just riding along” I quickly forgot that I was wearing a “budget” option.

Rapha Core Bibshorts (RRP £100)

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If anything the shorts are where you can tell that the Core range is more “budget”. The fabric does not have the same premium feel of the ProTeam shorts. Although I don’t own the classic shorts I remember testing some and the fabric on the classic shorts was much thicker. That said this does not make the shorts feel any less comfortable. The pad is the same as in the classics shorts and in my tushy’s opinion is the best pad available. Obviously this is entirely personal but if you get on well with Rapha’s other shorts you will find the same level of comfort here.

One notable difference with the Core Shorts is the cut. I take a size down in the classics/Core range shorts than the ProTeam shorts but the fit is still much less “compressive” than the more aero/more muscle supporting ProTeam shorts. Whilst the UCI ban full on compression wear I’ve yet to see a pair of modern “race” shorts that don’t claim to have some compression benefit. This is not the case with the Core shorts. The other difference is that the front of the bibs comes much further up than on other models, well above my navel. Again this is a personal thing but I don’t much like this. If, like me, you’re a cyclist that enjoys Belgian beer as much as Belgian Classics, the high front tended to get trapped below my belly and pull on the bib straps a little. I found I had to keep puling the front of the bibs up to stop the straps digging into my shoulders. Hopefully as I get closer to racing weight (ahem!) this might stop happening. Perhaps a size up would have helped but then the shorts would not have fitted so well everywhere else. I suspect the problem is with the rider here and those with more traditional cycling physiques will not suffer with this problem.

When in place the bibs are comfortable enough to be forgettable. As with the arms I find the legs relatively long compared to some manufacturers but they are no longer than Rapha’s other options. Another thing to note is that the leg grippers are very wide. When on the bike they are well behaved but they tended to stick to my hairy leg when putting the shorts on. When looking stuff up for this write up this was something I noticed another user had commented on the Rapha website. (In case you want to know the message on the shorts is much more typically Rapha, some nonsense poem about wind and mist and sweaty pores). All these niggles disappeared on the bike and the shorts settled in place quickly. Assuming they last as well as other Rapha kit, I’ll be very happy.

Summary

In short Rapha have done a good job with the Core kit. Unless I really concentrated on it I could not notice any difference between the Core range and the other, usually significantly more expensive, Rapha kit. To be able to get such a good pad for a relatively low price is a real boon. In my opinion it’s the most important part of cycling clothing. The jersey is certainly the best bargain of the pair as the performance it offers is basically as good as the more expensive options, fit aside. The shorts will also keep most riders happy and it will be up to the individual to decide if the thicker classics, or more racy ProTeam options are worth the extra expense if they are doing longer rides or for those special days. One of the best things about my other Rapha kit is that unlike almost all other manufactures, my oldest kit still looks as good as it did on the day I bought it (and on the few times I’ve used it, I’ve found Rapha’s after care to be outstanding – see above!), on that note, I will be certain to let bender know how the kit stands up to a few weeks and months of club runs, long rides and bike packing trips.