The Marmotte Diary : Day 1

Oh God. I’ve done it. Well, I’ve not actually entered it yet. But only because entries don’t open for a while. But I’ve done everything else. Booked the accommodation (well, Jon did, our base in Bourg D’Oisans). I’ve booked the flights. I’ve looked at bike boxes. I’ve decided how to get to Heathrow. And in making this diary public I can’t back out. Well, not unless my GP decides against giving me a medical certificate. Perhaps if I tell him just how hard it is, he’ll oblige.

I did back out last year. For a variety of boring and mundane reasons but also a bit of fear. But, well, screw you fear. I mean, it’s only 174km and 5000m of climbing. Post Brexit remember that’s only a shade over 100 miles and 16,000 feet. Jon’s Strava has his Marmotte at 18,300ft this year. That’s more accurate it would appear. But, hey, I did 1000ft of climbing on my 20 mile commute to work today, how hard can it possibly be?

The answer is, brutal. Brutal in isolation, brutal depending on the weather. And, really, the weather is as the weather is. Wet and windy and it’s going to be horrible. Cold? Well, at least that’ll keep you cool. Warm and dry? That presents its own problems. The ideal conditions for the Marmotte do exist, but you’d have to be very lucky to get them. It’s been wet, it’s been baking. No to either I say, but you can’t choose. All you can do is hope.

But, I’m in now. No backing out. So an autumn and winter of hill repeats and upping fitness beckons.

The Marmotte is a challenge. Unlike the Etape du Tour, it remains the same year on year. It starts in Bourg D’Oisans at the foot of Alp d’Huez. The “route is considered to be one of the hardest of any cyclosportive and comparable to the most challenging high mountain stages of the Tour De France.” So says Wiki and, why the hell am I doing this again?

Climbs? Iconic. Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier, Alp d’Huez. F**k. I mean, just look at that. If you know cycling you know that four. This isn’t a ride with some random Tour now and again climbs chucked in. It’s the iconic stuff. Being done by a 45 year old bloke who’s never cycled outside Wales. That, in itself, is odd. I’ve done absolutely loads of cycling of many different disciplines but never ventured out of the country on a bike. Probably because Wales has pretty much all you need on a bike. Apart from that romanticism, apart from that draw, it’s France, it’s the Alpes, it’s the Tour.

So, the Marmotte.

Starting in Bourg D’Oisans, the first climb begins about 8km in. Since we’re abroad we will be using the metric system. From there the climbing starts. Le Rivier becomes the Col de Glandon. 700 metres at the start to 1920 metres at the 35km point. Then it’s downhill for, well, ages and ages before the hard(er) stuff starts in earnest.

At the 80km-110km mark it’s the business end. The climbs of the Telegraph and Galibier. A climb of almost 2000m in 30km. Which should tickle the legs somewhat. Then back downhill into Bourg D’Oisans (with some bumps along the way) to prepare for the climb to Alp D’Huez. Nowhere near the height of the Galibier or Glandon and you start from a higher place. But, at that point, I am reliably informed that you’re done in. Switchback, switchback, rest, switchback, throw self in river, get on, finish. Oh, there’s a cut off too, if you don’t get to the Alp d’Huez by a certain time then you’re done. Well, they will let you finish, but your chip gets removed and you’re into the realms of DNF. But, if it’s on Strava..

So, training begins in earnest. Alcohol will have to go at some point and be cut down some time soon (though not on holiday). Food will have to be carefully considered, weight will have to be dropped. I intend to be the lightest I’ve been on a bike before we kick off. Sub 80kg if possible. One of my riding partners, who got a gold time last year, will recommence his low (to no) carb diet. That’s not for me. Moderation is key. And there will be equipment choices, what stuff to take, what to wear, refuelling strategy, etc etc.

But it’s the training that will make all the difference. I’ll keep the commute, that’s base miles, keeps you going. It’s not flat, that helps. But there will have to be some serious investment in climbing. Stuff in the 10,000 ft range to even think about preparing. The Dragon Ride route should sort that out, 132 miles, 10,500 ft. But doing it once isn’t going to be enough, it will have to be done a few times. Perhaps even adding some more mountains at the end. CX over the winter will stay, it’s good for anaerobic and digging in for those extra minutes, but it’s short, 45 minutes, so I’ll need to be better at it to improve generally. Come winter and I’ll have to ignore the weather and climb mountains. Stay close to home, climb them multiple times. I’ll need a plan though, this is all too ad hoc. I’ll see what’s out there and keep updating the diary. I expect I’m going to learn a lot about myself.

But what’s really got me is the focus of actually booking stuff. I’m in now. There’s no turning back. This is a public statement of intent. Just under a year to go. It starts now.

 

Giro Republic LX Shoes

Following on from my reviews of the rather excellent Giro Empire VR90 MTB shoes and the equally superb Giro Privateer R I’ve been testing Giro’s Republic shoes. They’re not far from being the middle choice between the full on raciness of the Empire and the more languid approach of the Privateer. And spot on for a bit of cycle touring or commuting.

It’s yet another entry into the lace up market. And they work just as well as the Empire MTB and Road shoes in that regard. If you’re yet to try laces on a cycling shoe then I can assure you that they are a very good choice, depending on your discipline. Indeed, there are really only two drawbacks, getting them tight in the first place, which can be sorted with a bit of practice, and getting them wet. The latter is something difficult to avoid but, in practice, you won’t really notice wet laces unless you’re tying or untying them.

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The Republic range is MTB pedal only and the range is divided into the LX (brown leather or the grey pictured here) and the stock Republic (black ‘leather’ and black or green ‘canvas.). In terms of RRP they range from £139.99 for the Republic to £159.99 for the LX version. But shop around and you’ll generally find all but the grey ones for less than £100 and often less than £90. The grey hover around the £110 mark, and we’ll get to why that is a bit later.

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The sole isn’t carbon. It’s merely nylon. So you do lose that bit of stiffness that you get with the Empire (which are full carbon) but you gain a lot more of the ‘being able to walk without looking like an idiot.’ And that’s pretty important because these are aimed at commuting, the road less travelled and not falling over in coffee shops when getting cake. The walking sections are all replaceable, the quality is top notch so these should last for ages. You can buy spare laces and, if you want, go for an individual look by contrasting the colours. Grip is good, and while you won’t be getting traction on a cyclocross mudfest you will stay upright in the Cafe when your SPD-SL mates are all walking like ducks.

In terms of comfort they are great. Not quite the slipper upper of the Empire (which is in my view one of the most comfortable shoes ever made) but they more than make up for it with the overall feel of the upper and sole. If you do run MTB pedals on a race/sportive bike I’d say you’d lose very little on your average sportive and, frankly, you’d probably gain something by way of comfort. My size 45 is perfect and compares very well to the Privateer in terms of toe box wiggle. The Empire are slightly smaller in that area but not awfully so.

Once again, using the laces is a joy. They tie up well and sit in the little lace garage half way down. As I noted with the Empire, the laces aren’t abrasive so they can slip a little as you’re tying them up. But as long as you tighten each section methodically then you won’t need to stop to do them up again. In use there’s no heel lift and they feel controlled.

But if the brown leather LX are undeniably more sexy and the green army canvas certainly more cool, why the bog standard grey ones? Well, because of this.

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No officer I don’t have reflectors on my MTB pedals, but just look at my shoes. The effect is a startling one and adds that little extra on a dark commute or through the night audax. Indeed, I can’t think of a better shoe to wear over huge distances.

They’re pretty breathable as well, given all those micro perforations. Though, of course, that is going to let some of the cold and wet come in come winter time. Stick some overshoes over though, and you’re sorted. Indeed, sticking overshoes over the top of a pair of lace up shoes is considerably easier too than a pair with buckles and boas. Something to think about.

Another day, another great pair of shoes from Giro. And now that the steel bike with the rack has arrived, they’re just the thing I needed. Good stuff.

The Ornot Bar Bag

I did it. Steel bike incoming. Ditto a Brooks Cambium saddle, nice thin mudguards and a rack. There’ll also be a rear rack bag on the way and, maybe, some panniers. But, in the meantime, I’ve been playing around with bar bags because I’m utterly fed up with rucksacks of any kind whatsoever.

And the Ornot bar bag, while being a long way from the cheapest, just seemed to be so damned stylish that I just had to. And, so far, three other mates have one too. Might be the start of something.

Let’s start with getting one. It’s not awfully easy. So I clubbed together with a chap from bikeradar and we ordered direct from Ornot. After using the initial 15% discount code, free postage because we ordered enough to take us over $150 (took about a week to come) AND being hit with customs charges, we paid around £67 each. Not too bad. Without customs it would have been closer to £50. Alternatively, if you want to avoid all that hassle then Always Riding are knocking them out for £105. Which, I think I have to say, is quite a lot of money for a bag, stylish though it is.

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Currently the bag is available in the blue/plum colourway and all black. Mine was bought when the spotty version was all but sold out and I think we nabbed the last two. Sorry. In terms of litres, I have no idea. I suspect the answer is not many. Probably about 1.5 litres capacity or 2 at the most. And no, I’m not pouring some liquid in there to find out. But I could because, as you will note, it is utterly waterproof both outside and inside. Don’t worry about the seemingly non waterproof zip, I’ve used this in torrential rain and nothing gets in. Short of dunking it in the river, you’ll be fine. It might even survive that, useful if you’re into some canal side riding.

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It’s a pretty easy thing to install, just wrap the velcro straps round the bars. It sits where it should, there’s no sag, the straps are long enough for even the most difficult bars and any excess tucks neatly out of the way. There’s a bungie at the bottom to wrap round the bar tube. Installation is a piece of cake, see here.

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There’s even storage on the sides as well. Enough for even the biggest mobile phone of phablet. Stick it in, put the bungie over the top to keep it all secure.

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Capacity is small but it’s pretty easy to get what you want in there. Sandwiches, phone, wallet, you can stick your spare tubes etc in there too. Cameras fit, just as long as it’s not your biggest SLR. I even got a pair of trousers in it this week, though they did need a pretty good iron when I got to the other end.

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It’s EVEN cured my OCD. So, here is a red, white and blue bag on a lime green Supersix.

So, the question is why. And the answer is, why not? In this world of Garmin, Strava and Power meters it’s easy to forget that riding a bike is more important than breaking every record all of the time. Riding a bike should be about the journey and not how fast you get to the destination.

But, short of racing a crit or doing cyclocross, you could leave this on all the time and still do all those other things. It doesn’t get in the way of your hand position on the hoods or drops and you get used to it on the tops of the bars. All I would say is that if you have 42 or 40cm bars you may need to slide your hands further out than normal. And, those straps do take up a little bit of real estate on the bars meaning that the addition of lights, bells etc is that little more difficult. But not really insurmountable.

I did a 110 mile charity bike ride the other day and, if I’d had this, I absolutely would have taken it. It’s become ever present on my commute. Would I use it on a sportive in the Alpes? Maybe not. Would I use it on something like the Dragon Ride 200 miler on a blustery damp Welsh day? I think I would. Why not, it allows more supplies and it has no effect at all on speed. So why not.

Other bar bags are available. Other bar bags maybe cheaper, depending on how you buy. But I do think that the Ornot has the style edge on many of them. It’s easy to install, looks good and I have little doubt it will last a very long time. Recommended, but it’s a good idea to club together with like minded individuals to get the very best deal.

Craft Featherlight Jacket

That’s a Mac keyboard, And that jacket right there, rolled, up, occupies about half its length. The Mac keyboard is very small. There are other jackets that pack up perhaps a little smaller but we’re talking one of the smallest footprints around. And featherlight? Well, hyperbole naturally, but, all told, 99g. And that’s next to nothing in terms of volume and weight.

RRP is £50. Which is pretty good for a lightweight windstopper from a premium brand. Though, of course, it is hard to get your head round paying so ‘much’ for something that weighs so little. Flip that around, and we know that those weight weenies will pay a considerable amount to save weight, so that doesn’t really figure. What matters is whether it works.

It’s a pretty straightforward jacket in terms of construction and concept, so 100% polyester with a DWR treatment. It’s not waterproof, just water resistant. So you might ask, why not pay a similar amount for a budget rain jacket? Well, yes, if it’s going to be raining and cold. But that rather misses the point of this. This is for those cool days for an extra layer which you can remove. It does rain showers. It keeps the wind off and it’s generally pretty breathable. And you can stow it away when you no longer need it.

Mine is a large which Craft say is good for 41 inches or so. That’s about right. You could probably get away with sizing slightly down if you’re on the margins. But even with a large there’s little flap.

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For a start it’s very orange indeed. There’s also a fluoro yellow and a black version too. Each of them has quite a lot of reflective silver trim so the black version will be equally visible to the others in a car’s headlights. Even in bright daylight the camera flash picks up those details below.

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The zip is good, the waist duties taken up by a simple thin elastic material. Those same terminations deal with the wrists.

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The neck merits a mention. It’s micro fleece lined. That’s something that’s often omitted on cheaper equivalents. When you get damp it’s important to keep chafing to a minimum.

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While polyster itself tends to be pretty waterproof the real reason for the lack of any water proof claim is in the mesh sections on the side of the body and the back of the sleeves. These inserts aim for maximum breathability and they work very well. It’s still possible to get a little bit of moisture build up on the inside if it’s damp outside and you’re working hard, but it’s kept to a minimum.

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Round the back there’s more reflective detailing and one single rear pocket. That rear pocket doesn’t store very much but it’s not really intended to carrying stuff per se. It’s primary purpose is storing itself, so the entire jacket folds in then you pull the elastic tab to seal it all in.

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And that’s the result. Which is small enough to store in a jersey pocket and it will also fit pretty easily in a storage bidon too. You could even wedge it under a seat if you wanted to.

It’s a good piece of kit. It’s well priced, visible and works exactly as advertised. It’s good for cool mornings. It’s good for days when showers threaten and it stows away very easily indeed. It’s well priced against the competition and it fits really well. It’s a very useful addition to the wardrobe. Recommended.

There are a few good places to buy this one:

  • For the orange and black click here
  • There are some limited (cheap) sizes of the yellow here

Craft Verve Glow Jersey

Click here to buy

It’s been hot. Then not. Then a bit hot. Today was resolutely not. Changeable in a way that only the British ‘summer’ appears to be. Next week looks nice.

And when it’s hot it’s nice to have a selection of hot weather jerseys to go to. And the Craft Verve Glow jersey is a quite brilliant addition to the other jerseys I’ve been looking at this summer, all at a very reasonable price indeed.

There’s probably not a lot of magic to making a warm weather jersey. Make it light. But certain choices have certain outcomes. The Craft Verve jersey is well thought out and has a number of quite excellent details that mark it out as being a bit special. It’s not just a good warm weather jersey either. It would make a good aero jersey, it would make a good climber’s jersey. If you’re going off to the Etape or Marmotte I’d really recommend taking a good close look at this.

Let’s start with the RRP. £60. That falls somewhere between budget and premium but given the number of technical features, I’m happy to call this budget premium, i.e. you’re getting a lot for your money. Size wise, take your pick. It looks fairly small in my pics but that’s a good race fit for a 39″ chest and is a medium. If you fancy it slightly looser, size up. In that respect Craft’s guide is pretty much spot on.

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It’s a nice understated jersey in my view. It’s available in blue, orange or black. The zip is good quality, the neck mid high, the arms mid length and it’s very light indeed. But it’s when you take a closer look at stuff that you really get an idea of the nature of the construction.

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So, we’ve got a combination of things going on. A lightweight front panel, a very meshy and lightweight underarm panel and a lycra esque sleeve with comfy terminations. And it works. It’s super breathable and those underarm sections really do ventilate very well. I’ve come to be a big fan of the lycra esque sleeve on both the Chapeau and Rivelo jerseys that I’ve recently reviewed and we have another winner in that respect here.

And, Glow jersey? Well, take a look for yourself. That reflectivity is repeated round the back of course. It’s useful, it’s dramatic. I guess you might ask what value it adds given the intended nature of the jersey. Well, why not. If you’re caught out late on a balmy summer evening it’s just the sort of extra detailing that might keep you safe. And when it doesn’t glow it’s still a nice contrasting feature.

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Neat little design touches flourish elsewhere too, the embossed Craft logo being both subtle but adding that little something. The quality is good, the stitching first rate.

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The waist section is your traditional silicone band, and none the worse for it. The length of the jersey overall is normal, it won’t ride above your shorts when standing, doesn’t bulge when riding.

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Round the back? Three good sized pockets (with reinforcement), a tidy little zipped central one, and that reflective detailing again.

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This is a very good jersey. It’s a spot on fit, it ventilates very well indeed. And I think it’s a bit of a bargain overall. Given the colour choices you could easily stock up on another two and rotate then on the warmest days. Those scandinavians eh, they do the winter stuff brilliantly and really get the summer market too.

Next week I’ll be rounding up my summer Craft reviews with a look at their windproof lightweight jacket and a pair of their bibshorts.

 

Rivelo Pembridge Jersey and Honister Bibshorts

I’m seriously considering a steel frame bike for commuting and touring. With disc brakes, naturally. I’ve an Ornot bar bag on the way too. I’m considering a rack, panniers, doing the Cambrian Way and buying some Giro Republic LX leather shoes. There’s a mix of the retro, the cool, the bang up to present. But it leads me to some issues. I mean, I can’t really do Assos on a steel tourer with mudguards. It’s incongruous. So, inevitably, an entirely new type of wardrobe will be needed and I will write about that in due course.

But, actually, perhaps I don’t need to worry. For, in my view, the Rivelo range does seem to be a range which is capable of being, if not all things to all men (and women), then most things to most men. The look is both modern but stylish, understated even. At home on the lurid green Supersix as it will be on the Condor Fratello disc.

When Rivelo contacted me about this review they asked whether I’d be happy to review the green Pembridge jersey and their new blue Honister bibshorts. And, I have to say, I tried to steer them away from that. I had the old “blue and green should never be seen’ phrase running through my head. I cogitated, and relented. My thinking on reflection was that there’s too much black short going on, so, why the hell not? And, you know what, it was a pretty wise choice.

The Pemridge Jersey (rrp £90) Click here to buy

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“Made with super soft Italian fabrics for comfort & breathability during those long summer rides. Understated design but loaded with technical and performance detailing and ergonomic panelling, giving the best possible fit whilst in the riding position.” That’s what Rivelo say. It’s sage green, if you’re interested. There are 3 other colours too, navy, black and grey.

Mine is a large, cited as being for 39-41″ chest and it’s spot on. It’s race fit and, given the “High stretch Xtra Life & Sport Energy Lycra” it fits like the figurative glove. Indeed, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider the construction. This isn’t our traditional mesh like jersey. Indeed, it’s got more in common with your lycra bibshort than a jersey. It’s a super soft material that clings to every part of you. Now, of course, that might not be the best look on everyone but even I have lumpy bits, and it’s fine. It’s actually one of the most comfortable jerseys I’ve ever worn.

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Round the front it’s all very traditional, an all round elastic gripper keeping everything sorted at the waist. And on that score, it’s a medium length jersey, long enough to cover what it should when you’re standing, short enough not to bunch when you’re on the bike. The zip is quality being made by YKK. The collar is Goldilocks. I like the branding, I like the contrast arms, I love the fit.

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The arms benefit from a supersoft gripper and that meshy panel which aids breathability. It works. It’s quick drying when it’s hot. It’s probably a little warmer than a full on climber’s jersey but it’s still entirely appropriate for the hottest of days. On that score there’s also UPF 50+ treatment so it’ll protect you too.

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It’s the back that I particularly like. The mid pocket is raised to take larger items. The other two graduated slightly shorter. The white elastic trim keeps everything in place. Inside there’s a black fabric strengthener to make sure that you won’t pull it all apart when stowing loads of stuff. There’s reflective trim, at the bottom, and a zipped valuables pocket. That pocket has some water resistant lining.

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In use it’s just spot on. Off your body it tends to wrinkle a bit, especially once washed or scrumpled up. But on your body it’s all flat and smooth. And, as I say, extremely comfortable. It makes you feel good wearing it, and that’s a real plus.

As with all of Rivelo’s kit it’s currently available through Sport Pursuit. The RRP is £90 though, at the moment, the blue version is on sale at £39.99. If you keep an eye out I suspect that the other colours will rotate through that price at some point.

And that begs this question. Is this worth £90 when it’s sold at £39.99. Normally I’d say, wait and, if you like, you still can. But, for me, this is a jersey which is worth the £90. And, if you really want to know how much I like it, I took advantage of the price reduction and bought the blue one too.

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Rivelo Honister Bibshort (RRP £120) Click here to buy

So, blue bibshorts. I took a whirl because they are different and, I have to say, all the better for it.

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You may recall that I tested the Rivelo Headley 3/4 Bibknickers last autumn and came away impressed. They’ve been used for winter rides, commuting and some frankly horrifically muddy CX races and they’ve stood up well to everything that I’ve thrown at them.

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Starting with the most important part, the pad.  Once again, it’s from elastic interface. who make pads for many of the premium bibshort manufacturers. I understand that it is once again the Bastogne Race pad good for rides of about 5-6 hours or so. Having used the shorts for rides of just short of that I can attest that it’s comfortable and gets on with the job well. It falls perhaps just short of the very best at that price but it’s still very good indeed.

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The leg grippers are of the giant elastic band type. Don’t worry, the interior branding doesn’t stamp itself onto your skin. It’s a comfortable affair. They stay in place very well.

The upper is a traditional mesh design. The belly part is pitched quite high so provides a good level of support for any cake induced baggage. The lycra is exceptionally comfortable and reassuringly premium feeling. If I had to be picky I’d say that these would be good for warm temperatures but if you’re climbing the Alps at midday they might be a little warm. That said, that slight additional thickness does mean that these are a very good all year round option too.

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There is brading present, but in a good way. The contrast black trim of the leg grippers is a nice touch, avoiding blue overload and tying in very well with the contrast trim on the arms of the jersey if you’re wearing them as an ‘outfit.’

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The leg length is pretty much mid. None of this almost at the knee business (which I’m not awfully keen on). In use they’re very good indeed. The feel is excellent.

On the subject of wearing them as an outfit…..well, that green and blue combo is, in my view, a bit of a knockout and certainly different. My wife is now a little blase about all of my kit reviews but when I appeared in the kitchen wearing this combo she actually stopped to say that the whole thing was very nice. She’s probably angling for me to get her the women’s equivalent. So I may well do. But that is a pretty good measure of this being a very good combination.

At £120 there’s a lot of competition. The Assos Mille at £100 are probably a benchmark for how good a bibshort can be. The Rivelo aren’t far off being as good but the look is certainly a little more eye catching and there are sufficient differences to be able to justify having both of them in your wardrobe.

And, if you don’t fancy the blue there are a few colours reduced to £49.99 at the moment which is, frankly, an absolute steal. In addition if you fancy one of their Hartside jerseys then you can pick up a Honister and Hartside combo for a mere £69.99.

Anyhow, I’ve settled on a green Fratello disc frameset. And once it’s built I don’t really have to worry about finding a suitable combo to ride it, because it’s already in my wardrobe.

Chapeau jerseys 2017: the Tempo and the Club

I first reviewed a selection of Chapeau kit last year and was impressed. That continued to be the case when I looked at their winter thermal jersey. They’ve refreshed their range of jerseys for 2017 and I reckon they’ve come up with a winning selection of kit.

In fact, I think that they’ve a long way in a short space of time. I was walking through a Cycle Surgery branch the other day and came across some of their jerseys from two or three years ago. They were well made, subtly styled but perhaps a little plain. Last year’s jerseys were a big improvement to something more memorable. But, I have to say, with this years refresh I think they’ve hit upon something which cements a little bit of individuality in a crowded market.

In terms of jerseys I’ve been wearing the Tempo and Club jerseys. But there’s also a new Etape jersey for those ‘special days.’ You can take a look at that here. I reckon if I were doing something like the Etape or Marmotte this year, that might be just the thing. But let’s get back to the other two.

The Tempo Jersey (RRP £49.99)

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The Tempo is available in a staggering 9 colourways! Three striped, three plain and three patterned. So there’s something for all tastes there. I opted for a medium on my 39.5″ chest as the cut of the Tempo is a little more relaxed overall. But you still get a nice fit from it.

It’s a pretty straightforward jersey overall but don’t think that means run of the mill. It’s constructed entirely of polyester and the overall effect is of a nice, meshy, airiness. It has a top quality zip and the cut is very good. So you don’t get any sagging or bulging. It wicks well, dries quickly and washes very well too. It might be simple but it’s well executed.

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The back continues the diagonal stripe theme over the three individual pockets. They’re reinforced inside and sufficiently deep for most kit. My Galaxy S7 Edge fits in the middle pocket with no issues at all. They’re elasticated at the top too so everything you carry should be held with some security.

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The waistband is pretty straightforward and works very well. For the price this is a really good jersey. It’s well made, comfortable and very good at the price. The fact that there are 9 different styles is a real plus so there should be something for you to choose from.

Chapeau Club Jersey (RRP £69.99)

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On the face of it the Club jersey doesn’t seem all that different. There are horizontal stripes instead of the diagonal ones on the club. The club ‘only’ comes in five different colourways. All are striped and there are no plain versions this time. But there’s a colour for all tastes too including a rather nice looking grey version.

The main part of the jersey is, again, polyester. But it’s the arms of the Club jersey that get a little more interesting.

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They’re essentially a very thin piece of lycra type material and they are super stretchy. The arm length is mid long which is very on message right now. It’s among the most comfortable sleeves I think I’ve worn on a jersey. So I used this one on a recent 110 mile charity ride and it performed brilliantly. I particularly like the striped branding on the sleeves and that changes according to the main colourway.

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The back is essentially the same construction as that on the club jersey. The stripes only appear on one pocket. If I were being super critical it would be nice to see the stripes continued around the back (from the chest) or along the pockets as a whole.

In terms of sizing the club is cut a little tighter than the tempo so I went up to a size large. They are all sufficiently stretchy but, with this colour, I found that the medium changed colour ever so slightly when fully stretched,  whereas the still close racy fit of the large had no such issues.

The club has fast become one of my go to jerseys simply because it does what it says on the tin. It looks good and feels good. It’s very reasonably priced and those sleeves are outstanding.

It’s great to see Chapeau developing as a stylish and good value brand. If you’re a lady reading this too I’d urge you to have a look at their women’s collection which is, arguably, even more stylish than the men’s collection! Hats off to them.

Bax Carbon disc wheelsets

The disc wheelset has pretty much arrived now. The dearth of choice is finished. Regardless of discs ability to cut through skin, shoes and hardened steel they look like sticking around for a while. And they’re not just the preserve of the commuting or CX bike now. No, the premium and even super hyper premium disc brake bike really is a thing. Whether they make their way into the Peloton again (and in, and out, and in, and out again) remains to be seen. But discs make an awful lot of sense in the UK. And, if you care for them, they should last for ages given that you’re not sanding down a rim constantly. Last for ages, hmm, I wonder if the manufacturers have thought that through?

Choice? Well, yeah, there’s a lot of choice now. But there are still gaps. So, the CX, commuting and general purpose wheel is alive and well. Pay more, get lighter. My Fulcrum Racing 5 Db are still going strong. Those are circa £300 now and not especially light. Up the price a bit, get to £450 or so and you have a 1500g aluminium wheel, jump to £900-£1000 and you have the Fulcrum Racing Quattro disc and the Hunt Aero Carbon. So, despite the existence of the premium disc brake sportive or aero bike, there’s not really much in the middle of the market.

When I reviewed the Bax Carbon 60mm wheelset last year I was impressed. They came in at sub £500, were in the ballpark for weight at that price and made my bike quicker and better looking. They were durable, good on the mountains and the flats, and very effective at what they set out to do. In terms of value, they were excellent.

In thinking about that review and considering what to write for this one, I started to consider what the best depth of wheels is. Can 60mm ever be said to be an every day wheel? Almost certainly not, though they look very fine. 50mm is probably a better balance overall. Slightly lighter, almost certainly as fast, a little cheaper. And, if you’re climbing all the time, then 38mm might make a better choice. But it’s complicated, because if that all transfers quite well to a rim braked road bike, is it equally applicable to a disc braked bike?

Well, there are different considerations. It would be easy for Bax to offer the 38, 50 and 60mm rims that they already did and just add a disc hub. But we need to consider the type of bike they’re being used on. And while the rocket ship aero disc bike does exist I do think that limiting choice, for now, to 38 and 50mm is probably right way to go.

I’ve been testing the 38mm version. These are a pre production model. If you pre order then the 38mm will be £575 and the 50mm £595. Deliveries start in June. After that the prices go up to £699 and £729 respectively. Even after the price ‘rise’ these will be cheaper than similar offerings from the established brands. There will be some changes so, for example, the slight ridge that appears in the photo (where the brake track would have been) will be deleted and the graphics will extend to that section as well. Other than that, they will be the same.

So you’re getting the following spec:

  • Material – Toray T700 Full Carbon – U-shaped Aerodynamic Profile – UD Matte Finish
  • Width – 25mm
  • Depth – 38 mm or 50mm
  • 38mm Wheelset Weight – 1674 +/- 30g 50mm Wheelset Weight – 1745 +/- 30g
  • Rear Hub – 135mm axle, Shimano/SRAM 11 speed freehub, 24 straight pull, Pillar,Aero bladed spokes.
  • 6 bolt disc standard. Front Hub – 100mm axle, 24 straight pull, Pillar, Aero bladed spokes. 6 bolt disc standard. Spacer provided for 9 & 10 speed compatibility
  • Free 5mm Quick release skewers
  • Free 12mm Through Axle converter end Caps, to convert from 5mm quick release set up to 12mm through axle.
  • Free Rim Tape
  • Free Valve extenders
  • Warranty – 1 year

The rims are full carbon and, as discussed, on the production version that brake track will go. So they’ll be a smooth U shaped profile with no bumps. It’s a wide rim so you’re going to get a better profile with wider tyres. In terms of fitting on your disc brake frame, given the nature of most of them, clearance should not be an issue with 25c tyres.

They’re compatible with 10 and 11 speed cassettes. A spacer is supplied for 10 speed along with a shed load of other bits and pieces such as valve extenders etc. QR skewers are supplied and the wheels are QR as standard. But they are convertible to thru axle and all the necessary parts are present for that, though you will need to obtain some thru axle skewers if that’s your thing. They’re also tubeless compatible. You will need to fit your own tubeless rim tape. They still have a hooked rim but that’s fine. There’s a move now towards hookless rims on some tubeless wheels. We’re a way off from that being a new standard.

The hubs are Powerway CX32. That’s a 24 hole straight pull hub with 4 seal bearings. There’s the option, if you wish, of sticking some ceramic bearings in there but, really, they spin ‘forever’ as it is. Spokes are once again supplied by Pillar and are made by Sandvik. As I previously noted those are the same spokes as on my Pro Lite Revo and, 1 1/2 years later, they are still going strong. Out of the box the wheels are true and spoke tension appeared uniform. I’ve used them for over 1000 miles to date and they’re still in the same condition as they came out of the box. In the event that you break a spoke, sourcing a new one should be relatively straight forward. Bax have now branded the hub with their own design which adds a little to the overall look. Aesthetically they are  good looking hub.

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The weight is pretty much as expected. My pair came out at 1681g. I’d imagine the production version will shave a few grammes off that. In terms of weight, that’s not bad. My Fulcrum 5 DB are 1715g and only 27.5mm high. Fulcrum’s similarly profiled Racing Quattro save you about 75g but the RRP is £1199. These are even lighter than my Racing Quattro which, despite being in excess of 1700g are very rapid indeed. In short, weight isn’t everything.

I’ve fitted three types of tyres to the Bax and they’re a pretty normal wheel in relation to fit. Conti Gp4000ii S went on by hand, ditto Schwalbe S-One (now the G-One speed) with only the Schwalbe Pro One needing a little teasing, fluid and the use of a lever (that’s pretty much the case with all wheels I try them on). Obviously you will need to use the adapters to extend the valves or buy longer inner tubes. If you want to go tubeless you will need to look at your tubeless valve length. I’ve not tested these with tubeless tyres (I ran inners in the Schwalbe) mostly because a) they need to go back and b) it was easier to keep swapping the tyres over to get a sense of what the wheels were like with a larger variety of tyres.

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And, once they’re all happily set up. It’s time to add the discs, of course. These are the 6 bolt standard so I partnered them with a set up Shimano XT rotors in 160mm diameter. With all that done, let’s take a look at how they look, for that is, surely, for many, a very important consideration!

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They’re a pretty purposeful looking wheel. Obviously, if you plump for the 50mm version then the effect is a greater one. For me, given what a disc brake is generally all about, I think that the 38mm version makes the most sense. But, if you have an aero disc braked bike (and yes, that’s fast becoming a thing) then the 50mm version adds a mere 75g. From my experience with the 60mm rim brake versions I have to say that overall weight is far from the issue that you might expect. I set one of my fastest climbs up the Rhigos on the 60mm versions. Much depends on what you plan on doing. For every day riding the 38mm are probably the sweet spot but without testing them back to back with the 50mm, it’s hard to say. Given that the 50mm add very little weight, are probably slightly faster and will look exponentially nicer(!) I might be tempted to plump for those.

The wheels arrived about 2 weeks ago with the express purpose of doing an 85 mile sportive around the hills and dales of Newport and Monmouthshire. I don’t have a disc ‘sportive bike’, but two CX ones, the SuperX and a CAADX. Now, clearly, for such an ‘endeavour’ one must put the good wheels on the good bike. This presents an issue of comfort. CX bikes really aren’t intended to be comfortable for such long distances given their aggressive set up. But it’s a tidy test to carry out nevertheless, given the mixed nature of the surfaces and, most importantly, some pretty steep descents. I wanted to test a number of things really, comfort, climbing, durability. The sportive provided all of those things so it was a very useful introduction.

So, we had the short, sharp climbs, the flaky surfaces but also some of the good stuff too, long sections of fresh, black tarmac. And the wheels coped with everything that I could throw at them. They were sufficiently fast on the flat, easy to keep up to a very decent speed. Good on the hills with no sensation of being held back, good when out of the saddle with absolutely no perceivable flex. In terms of comfort, very good indeed. The SuperX is a bit crashy, where my Supersix has a much plusher ride. So the wheels took a bit of a sting out of the ride overall. I hit about three hidden potholes with no issues caused. On the downhills, naturally, they fly and where those downhills really pitch steeply there was no twisting or torque of the wheels under pretty hard braking. They did what they said on the tin, stiff but comfortable. Oh, the freewheel is a loud one too. Campag level. Very useful on shared paths for telling people you’re coming. I finished the day with a number of Strava PR’s (the previous ride having been carried out on a Canyon with Ksyrium wheels).

With that ride done, I put them to other uses. Over my 18 mile each way commute with 25c tyres on, they were fast and comfortable. Swapping them out for the 30c Schwalbe S-One saw comfort levels increase further, the vibration damping combination of the carbon wheels and greater volume tyre working well. There was still a little bit of harshness with the SuperX over the absolute worst surfaces but less than with comparable aluminum wheels and the same tyre setup. They’re probably not the last word in outright dampening but still good overall. Then I swapped the wheels onto the CAADX to see how they dealt with the aluminium frame and that created a very nice setup indeed. In some ways the CAADX is a less harsh frame than the SuperX so the added damping was welcome. I’ve used them in the rain too, with mudguards. It does create a very interesting looking bike, particularly since the wheels are worth more than the bike!

I’ve not tried them for CX. The conditions don’t warrant it (it’s absolutely bone dry) and there are no events at the moment to try them on. I have tried them on some short off road surfaces and they handle that too. But, here’s a thing. There’s no reason, cost aside, that you couldn’t use these for CX. Being tubeless you can run tyres at a lower pressure so the only issue is whether you’d ding or dent the rims if you hit the inevitable stone. Being laterally stiff they will be very effective for CX. There’s also the added advantage that deep section rims may track better through mud and sand, chiefly because the section will remain above the surface of the mud or sand and cause less drag. I say may because there are competing theories that the added weight and the greater surface area to which mud can stick, will slow you down. On this matter, the jury is out. For CX I’d probably say no. But for a long, off road gravel type event? Yeah, I don’t see why not. But, as I say, if you do take a chunk out of them, you might be a bit upset. I think the natural home for them is as the sportive disc brake wheel.

Overall? They’re very good, particularly at the current price. So if you want to jump on that, jump on now. They’re still very good at the more expensive price but that does move them into the territory of other brands there. Still cheaper, clearly, but verging into “for £200 more…” I’ve stuck a very decent amount of miles onto them and they’ve come out well. As a sportive wheel, they’re excellent. If you’re TT’ing on a disc brake bike then the 50mm are well worth the investment. Sure, you’re still getting drag from your disc brakes, but you’re offsetting what the previous wheels did or did not do. And, quite clearly, the 50mm are very sexy beasts.

 

Assos ij.Tiburu insulator jacket

As I was finishing this bit of writing another website ‘got there first.’ Their conclusion was that the Tiburu was great, but limited in the wind and rain, ergo 3 1/2 stars. And that got me thinking about how such things are reviewed. I’ve made no apologies for putting pieces of kit through more than they were designed for in the past. Where they pass, that’s to their credit. But, if they fail at something they were patently not designed to do, does that diminish them?

And if it seems that we’re all reaching for our Alpha jerseys, Gabba jackets, rain repellent wear or water resistant summer jerseys because, well, they do everything, does that mean that the place for the traditional piece of kit that does one thing is under threat? Should our cycling wardrobe essentially be 3 season with a few additions for the very hottest and coldest of days. I can see some merit in that. But it would also be oh so very boring.

Part of the ‘issue’ of reviewing Assos’ tiburu jacket is just that. Jacket. But Assos are not alone in declaring that a winter weight jersey is a jacket. So that preconception of heft should be jettisoned. The Tiburu is simply, if one can call Assos kit simple, a roubaix jersey. And I like those things so very much.

It’s worth adding that I’m testing the ‘old’ model. But the new one differs very little other than ditching the arm patterns and, crucially, coming in at a much more reasonable price. For where this tested version has historically sold in the region of £180 despite having a £145 rrp (I paid £90 in the sales) the new one starts at £145 rrp and is available for quite a bit less. Obviously, that’s not cheap, but it’s worth noting that it’s high quality and Assos will try and fix it if you try too hard and end up breaking it.

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It is a striking thing. I actually own two. The python green above and a black front version. The new model adds orange, yellow and an all black version, profblack even, but the new model ditches the asymmetric sleeve design.

It’s made of proprietary fabrics much like its ‘matching’ Tiburu bibshort.  In this case the tech is Assos’ RX607 low volume, high permeability, thermal fabric, flat on some parts and raised/patterned on others. The idea is that you get something warmer than a regular thermal jersey, hence the jacket moniker. But also something that won’t overheat you. For something that weighs so very little, that’s a huge challenge.

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The collar is mid height and also made from the waffly RX fabric. For me the height is spot on with just the right amount of protection awarded. The zip is high quality and the grabber makes it easy to operate with even a decently thick winter glove.

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The sleeves consist of two types of material. The outward facing section is the waffly type and the inner facing a smoother fleece type. The theory here is that what you ‘lose’ in windproofing you gain in warmth. It’s not just theory, it does just that. Like the Bonka jacket this older design, with it’s geometric shapes, is very useful for catching the eye when moving and, crucially, when indicating.

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The back is the usual setup. So you get Assos’ structural support down the back which makes sure that things don’t sag. There are three open pockets. The middle one is slightly thinner than the other two so that makes a good mobile phone pocket. They’re all sufficiently deep. There’s a zipped valuable pocket which is fairly easy to access on the go. It’s not waterproof, but it’s still an effective ‘filter’ for your goodies if wet. There is a lack of reflective material, the only concessions being two small tabs at the side.

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Like a lot of Assos gear, the Tiburu is very versatile. Because Assos take great strides with their ALS approach (Assos layering system) you can be sure that the other bits of kit that Assos offer will integrate. So, chuck this under a Falkenzahn or a Team Vest and you can be sure that it will fit and operate seamlessly. Alternatively, on those very cold days, you could wear a Tiburu under the Habu jacket turning the ensemble into something very warm indeed, though perhaps that’s overkill. The lengths of the arms, collar and waist sections will always mesh.

But, in general, you’ll be wearing this with a long sleeve base layer in spring and autumn or, at the most, with a gilet in winter. And in the absence of windproofing, is it realistic to recommend the Tiburu when something like the Mille jacket with a heavy base layer could do a similar job? Well, that’s a question.

It’s nice to have a choice. It’s nice to be able to put this on when it’s chilly and get warmth. And in that respect it’s very effective indeed. When do I wear it? Well, overcast days, chilly days, breezy days. Much like the Castelli Potenza Long Sleeve Jersey it’s useable in a wide variety of conditions providing it’s not wet or damp. The lack of windproofing isn’t an issue. In terms of value, is it worth more than the Castelli? Well, actually, it’s priced less at RRP, quite a lot less actually. It’s just that the Castelli ended up at around the £100 mark, similar to what I paid for the Assos. It’s not quite as warm because it’s much less bulky. But there’s only a few degrees in it.

One of the great features is just how comfortable it is. There’s a little bit of pulling when standing upright but, that usual but true cliche, on the bike it snaps into position. No bulging, just a bang on fit.

It’s another great piece from Assos. It’s not quite a jacket on a figurative construction but pretty much there on any literal one. Sure, if it’s cold, windy or damp, get the Habu. If it’s freezing, get the Bonka. But for all those other days this and the Mille are nice things to swap around. It does the job that it’s intended to, no point moaning about the stuff it’s not intended to do.

Giro Privateer R

I own three pairs of Giro shoes, the Privateers being the most humble of the trio. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete. These are my do everything shoes, be that commuting, cyclocross, a bit of XC MTB stuff, that kind of thing. I also opted for a slightly different colour from the ‘norm’ and, so far, I’ve had a lot of positive comments about them. They’re nice, a bit different, and there’s some orange. Orange is good.

Let’s start with price. These are £124.99 rrp. And that’s pretty good for a pair of premium shoes nowadays. Shop around and you’ll take a bit more off. Opt for the grey, from Wiggle, as I did and you can get that down to £87.99. And that is very good indeed.

These are not the first iteration of the Privateer. The previous models were a little more ‘traditional’ overall, multi panel upper, lugs on a nylon outsole. The new Privateers follow the fresh Giro approach of being, well, a bit more walky and a bit more useful. More useful than previous Giro iterations and more useful than most other shoes. We’ll come back to that in a bit.

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They’re not beautiful, a la the Empire VR90. But they are a good looking shoe in my view. The weight is pretty reasonable to 375g for a 42.5 and mine getting on for 400g. You don’t feel that weight for some reason, chiefly down to the fit. The upper is a microfibre, the sole is moulded nylon and the outsole high traction rubber. The insole isn’t the fancy supernatural fit system but it’s still a good insole with an anti bacterial treatment.

It’s all pretty standard really. Ratchet plus velcro, some bash guards, a decent toe protector and some perforations for ventilation. The bash guards deserve a bit of a mention. They’re welded to the shoe and are, in my view, an improvement on the earlier versions attached to the original Giro Code, for example. These are a bit more abrasive and hard wearing and don’t look like they’ll scuff up to badly. The upper really is wipe clean and that black interior lining means it’s easy to keep these looking as new. Even the orange outsole wipes clean too.

They’re available in black or if you’re particularly daring, blue. The outsole colour changes according to the upper colour. Fit wise, it’s all pretty normal. They do come up slightly wider in my opinion than the Empire VR90 but mostly in the toe box area. There’s also an HV (high volume) fit if you struggle to get a proper fit. The velcro strap and ratchet work very well. They’re easily adjustable on the fly. There are no hot spots or pressure points.

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In common with all Giro shoes there’s no heel counter mechanism at the back. Instead you have a high section that cradles the ankle very well. There’s no issue with heel slip assuming you get the right size.

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And then there are the soles. And you kind of wonder why everyone hasn’t gone down this route. It’s an all in one outsole bonded to the nylon base. It makes everything much easier to walk in as it’s a little more normal shoe like. But the rubber is also more, well, rubbery, than shoes like the Sidi Dragon and Shimano XC70 that I’ve tested previously. The result of that is a bit more safety walking on damp surfaces, rocks or even just walking on shiny surfaces when you reach the office on your commute.

There are other pluses as well. You know that thing where you midfoot strike your pedal, you slip off and bash your shin? That’s not really an option here because of the grip of the rubber. If you hit the pedal with the midsole you just stay there. Indeed, these make a pretty excellent CX shoe because you can hop on, cock up your pedal entry entirely and just pedal on the midfoot until you’ve sorted yourself out. The lugs aren’t hyper aggressive for mud but they do clear very very well indeed. And, as pictured, you can add toe spikes as well. What minimal traction they give away they more than make up for it in sheer runability.

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Downsides? Well, the outsole is not replaceable. But you could walk the figurative 500 miles and 500 more many many times and these wouldn’t show much, if any, wear. Because there’s so much outsole the surface area is greater and wear is less of an issue. Crucially, it contributes very little, if any, additional weight.

I got these a few weeks before Battle on the Beach. So I started off just using them commuting, a bit of social riding etc. The one thing that they are is invisible in terms of comfort. They’re just like a pair of comfy shoes, trainers even. And you don’t always get that, even with the high end stuff. Even with the Factor and the Empire VR90 you do know that you’re wearing them, comfortable as they are. Some of the comfort comes from their stiffness or, rather, lack of it. These aren’t measured on any stiffness scale but if you compare them, by hand flexing, with the uber stiff Empire VR90 you’re left with one which is unmoved and one which is slightly flexible. But don’t think for a moment that translates to any lack of power, far from it. There’s a lovely balance to just how much spring and power Giro have got from a humble nylon sole.

So when Battle on the Beach arrived I had a choice to make, these or the Empire? The damn sexy ones or the slightly more dowdy do it alls? Given the potential for sand, a bit of abrasion, tree roots and falling off I plumped for the Privateers. And over both days (Battle in the Dark and Battle on the Beach) they were immense. On my lengthy commute, they excel. When walking on slippery surfaces, they are surefooted. You can do as many miles in them as you want with no issues. And that’s kind of what a shoe should be all about.

I’ve tried to think of what drawbacks there are. They lack a bit of weatherproofing, clearly. But, I think that’s about it. And, despite my reference to being dowdy, I’ve grown quite attached to keeping them clean and tidy. So, when the CX season comes, that’s a bit of a quandary. So I think I’ll solve that in a quite simple way. Use these for CX, give them a brush down and a clean, the nature of the upper makes that really really easy. And, for commuting and winter riding, get the blue ones for ‘good.’ Mind, I’m also eyeing up some Giro Republic and some Factor Techlace. I know you can’t have too many pairs of socks but, can one person own too many pairs of shoes? S+1 surely. Yeah, always +1.