Schwalbe X-One ‘Bite’ CX tyres

You know how much I am a fan of the original X-One tyres from Schwalbe. And now we have a hardcore version which at the moment are available at £17.99 each.

It took a while to get round to using these. The CX season has been uncharacteristically dry. That said, of the rounds I’ve done in the past 3 years we’ve been pretty lucky with rain ON the day. But, often, pretty ‘lucky’ with lots of rain leading up to the day, this is CX after all. And this year was just mad. Even the bog that is Carmarthen was lacking any real mud. Other rounds were practically dust bowls. So the ‘normal’ X-One saw me through every round with a minimum of protest. Abergavenny was slightly tricky. It was dry but the clay like mud did clag the tread of the original versions a little bit. On balance they were still probably the right tyres to run but I’d like to have seen how these new versions performed.

I ordered these late in the season because that was when they become more widely available. I decided on normal clinchers rather than tubeless. Why? Well, I wanted to leave the normal X-One (tubeless) on one set of wheels and be able to take these on and off my Fulcrum 5 DB at will. If you shop around they’re only £17.99. That’s not just cheap for CX tyres, it’s bonkers cheap for tyres full stop.

These are part of the performance rather than Evo line but that just means that this variant isn’t tubeless, that variation being saved for the Evo line. You still get the same tread, a slightly different TPI but the same overall puncture protection. And despite the lower TPI they still feel pretty supple overall. Indeed, they feel, like the rest of the ‘One’ range, quality.

In the week that they arrived I was thankful because, come race day, these were the scenes that greeted us.

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Proper, full on cyclocross. The first round in an age to have any snow. Indeed, the Welsh league finishes pre Xmas so it’s been quite a few years since this happened at all. And the Tredegar round had it all. Snow, slush, deep mud, claggy mud, shale, off camber, hills, deep hole hiding puddles, tarmac, grass, snow and slush. Yeah, I know, snow and slush twice. But there was a lot of it. And the temps were brutal. So what better test could there be of the X-One bite?

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As you can see they really are chunky. The knobs are considerably higher than the stock X-One as you can see below (original on right).

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The central studs are 3mm and the outside ones 4mm. Believe it or not that’s an increase of only 1mm over the normal versions but they do seem more pronounced. They’re less in number across the tread, clearly, but overall there’s a lot more area covered by them. The side knobs in particular stand out as being significantly more grippy. They’re directional as well but, for the life of me, I’m not really able to pick out a discernable difference in any direction.

In terms of mounting these were a piece of cake. Obviously these are mere clinchers rather than tubeless but mounted on my Fulcrum Racing 5 DB they really are hand install only with no need for levers at all. I’ve noticed that this year’s Schwalbe range are considerably easier to install all round whether tubeless or not.

In use there’s no doubt that this tyre has a niche. You can use the original version on tarmac if you want to. Not for any considerable distance, but you can. With the new version this really is just a ride across the car park jobby. It’s not uncomfortable. It’s just that those high shoulders won’t work at all well cornering on the black stuff. Neither is this a tyre for those dry off road conditions. Mostly because it’s likely to offer less than Schwalbe’s other tyres such as the G-One and X-One. No, it’s mud where these come into their own. Or snow.

And it was those conditions that faced me mere days after the tyres arrived. Those were the conditions above. The car park was covered in snow, the course full of sludge and mud with the occasional foray into under tree barren wastelands. It really was a winter all conditions course. The only thing missing, I guess, was grass. There was literally nothing to get caught up in the gears (or tread) other than varying consistencies of mud. Slimy mud, claggy mud, snowy mud, you get the idea. Not only do the X-One Bite offer considerable grip in all of those conditions but they’re also very happy to shed that mud whenever the conditions allow. Indeed, I find that they shed mud easier than the original X-One.

There simply wasn’t a point where I wanted more speed or more grip. They tore through the course as much as my (lack of) ability let me. They were even great on the technical bits where there was no mud and powered up the rock infested uphill off camber switchbacks. They’re pretty easy to run at some low PSI’s as well.You can get them down to around 30psi with no effect on the rims. You could probably run them a little lower but, if you want to do that, the tubeless version are undoubtedly a better bet. They are good when the conditions are ‘hard.’ But that’s not their forte so if the race is going to be a grass crit, these are not the tyres you’re looking for.

It’s been an interesting CX season. A lot of the time I could have run on G-One speed and got away with it. But the rest of the time the X-One and X-One bite have performed really well indeed. With a sensible choice on the right day the only thing holding me back is me.

Sadly the season is over now. Or, at least, it was. There’s a ‘fun’ only round on the 15th January. The long term forecast is cold. The race is close to the snowy round. We might see something just as or, hopefully, even more extreme. Something with even more bite. Well, the X-One bite are ready and waiting.

Lusso Aqua Extreme Repel Jacket

Click here to buy from Lusso, RRP is £139.99

Don’t let that Aqua in the title fool you. This isn’t just for wet weather. You could actually call it the Lusso Extreme Winter jacket and just deal with the aqua bit in the technical description. For implying that this is about water repelling, which it does extremely well, is actually selling it a bit short.

The Aqua Extreme is made from our old friend Windtex Storm Shield which regular readers will know that I rate highly. It forms the basis of the Mossa and Mossa.2 and a lighter form of windtex can be found in the very excellent Lusso Corsa Repel jersey. It’s a waterproof softshell membrane with very breathable qualities. And, in this jacket, like the Mossa.2, it’s the heaviest version of all being backed with a polyurethane ‘fleece,’ which gives it it’s winterised wearability. Lusso claim that this has a water column of 10,000mm an hour and breathability of 10,000gr/m2 x 24hr. So, that means this is good for heavy rain and that it shouldn’t boil you in your own sweat either. And those things were true for the Mossa et al so there should be no reason why they shouldn’t be true here either.

What you essentially have is a toasty winter jacket that you can wear out in the nastiest storms and still come back comfortable. There’s always a bit of a quandary in that statement. Personally, I’d not set out in such conditions but if I was caught in them I’d be glad of the protection. And, to that extent, that’s how I see this type of jacket. It’s a winter jacket, good in the cold but adds in that extra protection where the conditions demand it. So, to that extent, it could be named better. On Lusso’s site it appears in both the rain and thermal jacket categories but for me sits happiest in the latter.

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It’s a very bright jacket indeed and, currently, orange is the only available colour. It will be available in black soon if that’s the look you want but, of course, orange is the new black. I’m happy with being seen this time of the year and it’s very visible. The waistband is cut in a shaped manner as you can see. The front sits where it should when you’re on the bike and the rear is tail-esque. More of that later. It’s a fairly thin fabric (and I’ll return to why in a bit) so it does have a tendency to fold ever so slightly. But it’s still sufficiently grippy to keep everything in place.

In terms of being waterproof you can see what I mean in the following photos. It holds the water there and, once you get rid of it, there’s little left bound to the fabric. That’s due to the innate properties of the fabric itself but also the DWR coating. It may wear out eventually but the fabric will remain waterproof.

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Now, the achilles heel of such fabrics is seam placing and, in this respect, Lusso have got this one right. There’s no forward facing seams on the sleeves so water won’t get in that way. The shoulder seam is placed on top of the shoulder rather than forward facing but, in practice, there seems little difference between that placing and the dhb aeron softshell in terms of penetration, i.e. both seem to work equally well. There are a few more panels present here on the front but because of how you’re angled on the bike there’s minimal risk of ingress in that respect.

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The back is equally bright and noticeable. There are 3 main pockets and a fourth zipped pocket for valuables. They’re pretty voluminous overall so there’s plenty of space for carrying around anything that you need. You’ll see that there are two sections underneath the pockets, a continuation of the main shell and a ‘dropped tail.’ The length of that tail is mid bum so if that’s something that’s important to you then great. Again, the fabric of the waist section is a little more prone to movement and requires initial placing but, well, you’ll see why that fabric has been chosen in a moment.

Elsewhere the cuffs are comfy and the neck is lined with fleece. It’s not double lined like the Mossa.2, which is a very similar jacket overall, but still warm and toasty. The zips are first rate and there’s a storm flap behind the zip to help with water ingress in that area.

Fit is, well, normal. I take a large in this at a 39-40 chest. It’s slightly smaller than the equivalent Mossa or Mossa.2 but not a size down. So if you want a more relaxed fit, and this is still a race fit jacket, then size up. If you are between sizes then do so. When it’s on you’ll have something second skin like but with enough space to factor in your relevant base layer.

So, onto the party piece. If you thought this thing was bright in everyday use you wait till you see what it’s like after dark.

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Good isn’t it? That reflective fabric forms quite a lot of the jacket and the overall effect in headlights is excellent. That’s why this particular fabric has been chosen for the waistband so despite it not being quite as initially placeable as a Castelli alpha waistband it more than makes up for it with its light display. This is easily one of the best visible jackets out without sacrificing day time looks.

In practice it’s more than lived up to its promise. It’s useable at sub zero temperatures with an appropriate base layer (something like the Helly Hansen) or at milder temps with something a bit thinner such as Lusso’s Compression top. It’s breathable as well even if you’re pushing on a bit. And, of course, it really is waterproof. There’s always going to be some ingress in really heavy rain because it’s going to get through the seams in the end and may come down your neck a bit. And there will always be a bit of dampness inside but that’s the thing that warms you up after all. I still prefer jackets like this in the rain to your usual run of the mill rain shells. The only issue is that you need to choose to wear this for the entire ride rather than being able to stow it away. But that’s what this jacket is about.

The price? £139.99 but a few places have it for as little as £125. And I think that’s an excellent price for a winter jacket that can cover most days. Easily visible in the day, visible from space at night, warm, waterproof and comfortable. What more can you ask for at Christmas? Another top jacket made in the UK by Lusso. Tidy.

Giro Foray Helmet

Click here to buy it at an insane price

Or, if you fancy the MIPS version

The Giro Synthe is £200. The Rapha ‘Giro Synthe’ is £240. The Giro Foray is £27.99. Do the math(s). The Synthe is a very nice helmet, well received, well reviewed, light, aero and, of course, the MIPS version is worn by quite a few of the pro peloton teams. So, is the Foray a cut price Synthe or just a cheap Synthe wannabee?

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Well, it’s pretty much the same shape. But it is lacking a few features. You’ll note that the side aerofoil is missing from the Foray, so you don’t get that hole to stick your sunglasses in. The moulding is slightly different being ‘all in one’ rather than being made up of separate pieces of construction. So, the transverse structures on the Synthe are joined to the foam base rather being one pressed shell as in the Foray. The interior pads are washable but aren’t Giro’s x-static antibacterial treated ones. The base is a bit more exposed. But, other than that, and about 40g or so, they’re very similar indeed. Crucially, if it’s important, they look the same. And the look is a good one. Giro have moved away from the mushroom look of the Aeon and Ionos and achieved something much sleeker. It sits lower on your head and bulges out less at the sides. So, enough of what it doesn’t have, let’s deal with what it does.

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The Foray has 21 vents. And that’s a lot. It’s one of the aeriest helmets I’ve tried on but it’s also a pretty quiet one. It’s undergone the same wind tunnel testing to maximise through put and I think that’s evident from the rear ‘exhaust port.’

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The weight of the helmet is approximately 280g in size large, mine actually comes in at 296g. That’s not light. And I suspect you might be able to perceive if not feel a bit of that weight if you’re coming from a lighter helmet. For me, not an issue, as my Mojito weighed around 255g in size large. You won’t feel that type of difference. I’ve seen it suggested that if the extra weight bothers you, take 80g less in your water bottle. I don’t accept that argument, head weight is felt rather than something holding you back. But it’s a non issue at these sorts of weights. Indeed, given that my Lumos is over 400g and that doesn’t bother me then I do think these things are overstated.

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The design is a good one, subtle and, in my view the matte black and white is something which is likely to go well with most kit choices (these things being far more important than weight!).

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The retaining job is carried out by Giro’s Roc-Loc dial system, you have to dial up and down to get the right fit. It’s easy with one hand, easy with gloves. It’s not quite as easy to get a great fit as with the Kask helmets which allow that up and down movement. It’s also the case that the very basic fabric strap is not as comfortable as the Kask’s leather but, people, £27.99. It does the job and it does it with no fuss.

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The interior padding is sufficient if a little sparse. It’s all above and to the front with little at the back. You can see the exposed base here which is prone to being knocked about but I always take good care of my helmet! It’s also worth noting that the Foray MIPS is slightly better endowed in the pad area. It’s also worth noting that the Synthe has this exposed foam as well whereas the Kask Mojito continues the plastic coating over the top of the foam.

The helmet is certified to CE EN1078 standard  and without commenting on how protective it will be it’s unlikely to be any better or worse than any other similarly certified helmet. The MIPS version is probably a good investment but the jury is still out on whether MIPS does offer that additional protection. Have a look at my piece on helmets for a discussion on that.

I’ve been using the Foray for a few months now and it’s pretty great actually. Nice helmet, good looking, fits me well enough. And cheap. It’s available in loads of colours and three sizes. So you should be able to find something to fit. Mine is now my main road helmet and, of course, my main cyclocross helmet. There may well be better helmets out there but, in my view, there’s simply nothing to touch this on price.

Helly Hansen ‘warm flow’ base layer

Those Scandinavians know how to make outdoor gear. Indeed it’s a bit of a shame that Helly Hansen haven’t really made inroads into the cycling market, I’d imagine they’d knock out a pretty good collection of winter clothing. They actually do make some short sleeve cycling jerseys but they’re not that easy to come by. Anyway, that’s beside the point. They’re also one of the oldest outdoor clothing companies having been founded by, yes, Mr Helly Juell Hansen, in 1877. They’re innovative and have developed a huge amount of new outdoor clothing tech over the years. Fun fact as well, they’re majority owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, who, it seems, only choose ethical companies to invest in. So you’re doing some good when buying a Helly Hansen product it seems.

They make a load of kit, as you’d imagine, sailing, skiing, outdoor. But their base layers are the stuff of legend.  And you don’t build a legend by just selling loads of cheap tat. You build it by being legendary in the first place. Not just legendary in performance but, well, iconic. The Helly Hansen stripe on the Lifa series of base layers marks it out instantly as being Helly Hansen. They’re versatile as well, pop along to an off road running race or a fell run and you’ll see Lifa base layers being used as outer layers. And why not, they work astonishingly well.

Helly Hansen do four types of base layer at the moment, the deployment of which is broadly as follows:

  • HH Dry: moisture management and layering, so use this for the cool or cold days. 
  • HH Active: the all year round ‘activity’ base layer or, because it’s a relaxed fit, a casual piece in its own right
  • HH Warm: the cold one with the combined moisture management of the Dry
  • HH Wool: the wool one that relies on the properties of merino

In truth there’s a bit of an overlap there so it’s worth trying on a few just to see what kind of feel you want and deciding what temps you want to use it in. I’ve got a few Dry versions, one in short sleeve which works even on mild summer days and a long sleeve one which I use as a cool weather base. In terms of choosing between Warm and Wool much is about feel with the latter feeling a bit silkier next to your skin.

I’m very lucky to have a Helly Hansen outlet a few miles away which means access to cheap base HH gear all year round. Choose wisely and you can pick up your winter base layers very cheaply. And that’s pretty much the story in this review. It does mean that this review is partially redundant because the Warm Flow base layer doesn’t appear to be widely available outside the outlets. But the tech is essentially the same in a variety of their winter layers so consider this review about the tech and the versatility of that tech. At the end of the review I link to some similar versions which are well worth investing in. The great thing about Helly Hansen kit is that it will last for years.

The base layer on test today is a Helly Hansen Warm Flow long sleeve. The composition is 68% merino wool and 32% polypropolene. That composition is pretty much the same in the Ice versions but the merino to polypro proportion is slightly altered. Don’t get hung up on that, the performance is pretty much the same.

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This base layer combines their Stay Dry and Stay Warm technology, essentially the Lifa inner is ‘bonded’ to the merino outer. So, to that extent, the outer is actually pure merino wool. Merino is a great insulator and wicker of moisture so the addition of the Lifa tech inside should, in theory, increase moisture flow and provide a bit more insulation. As a winter base layer then, this should really hit the spot.

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You can see the Lifa (interior) patterning on the picture below which, to my eyes, does rather look like a shoal of Piranha.

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There’s nothing really controversial or magical to write about base layers. And in terms of when I use this one it’s for the really cold windy days. We’ve had quite a few of those recently though, as we’re now entering meteorological winter, the mild muck looks likely to return. I’ve an off road running race on the weekend, about 6 degrees is forecast, somewhere between cold and mild. I might actually run in this as a long sleeve jersey, it’s that versatile. I often wear it casually though the Mrs does claim it makes me look like an extra in Star Trek. And, of course, it’s red, meaning I’m more likely to be killed when beaming down to the planet than not.

So I’ve been using this base layer underneath Parentini’s excellent Mossa.2 and the new kid on the block, the Lusso Extreme Repel. Expect a review of the latter shortly but, at least on a preliminary basis, it’s up there with the Mossa.2. At sub zero temperatures, combined with the proper outer layer this is the ultimate winter base layer. It’s about the warmest base layer I’ve ever worn but none of that comes at the expense of moisture management. It wicks superbly.

It’s also very versatile. Stick it under a lighter jacket such as the normal Mossa or even under something like the Chapeau thermal jersey and that product is then transformed into a colder weather product. Indeed, with a base layer like this under a Mossa you could pretty comfortably get to sub zero on a reasonably tempo ride. And still stay dry.

I’m a big fan of Helly gear and their base layers are, in my view, world class and probably class leading. They’re not cheap though, this one retails at £60 rrp. Save that I paid £25 for it back in the summer. So, if you live close to me, get along there and get one for that price. Or find a Helly outlet close to you and see what they’ve got.

And that’s not very helpful, so I’ve done a bit of searching for you to see what I can find. Ignore the terminology, the Ice versions are pretty much identical to the Warm versions save for a little tinkering with the overall composition. The effect is generally the same (I’ve owned Ice versions in the past as well). If you come across any other bargains then let me know and I’ll update the list.

Evans Cycles, Helly Hansen Warm Ice Long Sleeve

Sportshoes, women’s Ice half zip, large only but £14.99!

 Wiggle, Helly Hansen Dry at £20 and Warm Ice at £47.99

Barrington Sports, Helly Warm Ice at £41.99