Bringing back the Cycling Cap one Domestique at a time

Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Review: Fizik Infinito R1 Knit


A totally unexpected aftereffect of my KT was a decrease in shoe size. Whereas I was previously a size 10 US before, I found out that I was now a size 9.

While this doesn't matter much for real world shoes, it matters a lot for cycling shoes. After all, no one wants unnecessary movement in the drivetrain. Yes, that includes YOU, the motor. All the leg movement you produce must transmit to the pedals, not back and forth nor side to side within your shoe! 

So on to the For Sale pages went my old cycling kicks. Ah, R1B Uomos, I shall remember thee fondly. A unique combination of lightness, comfort and minimalist style, these are great shoes, and they are indeed missed.

Shoe sentimentality aside, now came the delightful dilemma of choosing a new pair. I didn't have to look far as Fizik has recently revamped their stable. I came across something very very interesting.

I came across the Fizik Infinito R1 Knit. Knitted cycling shoes...Fun times.

I definitely had to try these. Fortunately, my ever-reliable LBS had them in stock....in Cebu (sad face emoji here).  EQ issues aside, I had them ship several samples in different sizes to Manila.

After three full days of waiting, I got the much awaited Viber saying the goods were here. Going through several sizes, and quite unsurprisingly, I confirmed that I had size 9 Fizik feet - Fiziks are true to size like that; quite unlike Sidis where you often had to order half a size larger. I was very pleased that they fit as great as my size 10's on my pre KT feet.

Sold!


Pre Ride

In typical Fizik fashion, the shoes came in a tidy black box with gloss black lettering. And typical for cycling products these days, some motivational statements on the inside. I love Marketing.

...for regular people.

Motivated yet?

The first thing you'd notice about the shoes is the construction. A good portion of the shoe is made of knitted fabric. Not all of it but major portions of the front and sides, all the way back. This black knitted fabric forms a top layer over another layer of red fabric underneath, peeking in between the knits. There are sections where the knit feels like knitted cloth in the same manner as an Adidas NMD. However, there are parts where knit does not, namely in the front and tops. Here, they feel firm and solid. The very top flap seems to be made of Microtex (reaching out to Fizik to confirm).

Presenting: The Infinito R1 Knit
The harder portions seem to be imbued with a resin which gives it its shape. On top is where you'll find Infinito closure system. Compared to the Fizik R1B Uomo, the Infinito closure is a bit more complicated in shape. Fizik says that this figure 8 lacing was meant to reduce pressure points. Making yet another appearance are two Boa dials (almost defacto in top-line cycling shoes) which are used to micro adjust the shoe via a series of steel wires and guides.



The front and the rear of the Infinito Knit are coated with what seems like rubberized paint which hides the resin-like material. Unfortunately, mine were scratched in an unfortunate run-in with my front wheel. At least we have a sneak peek of what it looks like underneath.

Ouch!
The underside is once again made of UD Carbon fiber which looks like a carryover from the R1B. In fact, I was able to transfer the heel of R1B over to the Infinito Knit as it wouldn't hurt for some red to break the monotony of the predominantly black shoe.



Heart and Sole made out of Carbon Fiber

Like a Ferrari!


Three scooped vents line the front of the sole with one large exhaust vent and two smaller exhaust vents at the middle-rear. The large middle intake vent feeds air directly into the shoe; you can see through it from the inside.

A new feature which makes an appearance in the Infinito series is the Dynamic Arch Support. Basically a sliver of fabric located on top of where the arch is. I don't yet know if I like it or not, but you can definitely feel it hugging your arch.



You may expect a knitted shoe to weigh less than its full faux-leather counterpart but you'll be surprised that the Infinito Knit weighs a bit more than the plain Jane Infinito. At 299.5 grams per shoe for size 9 (measured: L-301g, R-298g), the Knit is 23 grams heavier than the plain Infinito but an estimated 10-15 grams lighter than a similarly sized Sidi Shot.


On The Road

Compared to the R1B, the Knit is oh so slightly more difficult to get into and out of. This owes to the shape of the Infinito system. It's not like the two simple overlapping layers of the R1B Uomo. The  more complex 'lacing' of the Infinito series makes the opening much smaller. That being said, the opening is still quite generous compared to other shoes we've tried, and this might be just nitpicking.


Not Louboutins
The overall Fizik shape remains the same with a generous toe box compared to same sized Sidi models. The good news is that the Infinito system grips tighter or should I say, more accurately than the R1B. Where the R1B just hugs your feet, the Infinito closes in and tightens more in areas which have greater room. And remember the Arch Support, you can feel it once you slip into the shoes but quickly forget about them.


On to the ride!

The carbon sole does its job conducting the watts you generate onto the pedal. They're quite stiff, as can be expected from a modern carbon-soled shoe.

The ventilation is top notch! The central front vent has a lot to do with this as you can clearly feel air tickling your toes at speed. What's most impressive is the lack of heat buildup. This is where the Infinito Knit really stands out as there's porous fabric material over your toes which don't restrict heat and moisture from flowing out.

This is definitely top of mind for summer shoes but I probably cant say the same for wet weather scenarios. Overall, they feel like the previous range topping R1B Uomo. If you didn't know it, I'd bet you'd be hard pressed to tell these were knitted.

Care should be observed apres velo as the sole is very very slippery. There are no soft rubbery surfaces underneath for the shoes to grip with so cleat covers are a must.

Are knitted shoes the next big thing or just the latest Cycling gimmick? Who knows? Giro's came out with the Empire E70, and maybe other manufacturers will follow suit.

Is it for everyone? Probably not. Then again, no shoe is.

Is it for racing? Nah, lot's of weight weenie shoes out there much lighter than this.

But if your'e looking for all day comfort and cooler toes, you'd definitely want to check these out.


Verdict

Top notch all day ventilation at the cost of a bit of weight and a lot of pesos.

-A

Image from fizik.com


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Riding on 28mm Tires

Back in February, I came upon an article which told how Alexander Kristoff used the Canyon Aeroad for the 2015 Paris-Roubaix.  For the uninitiated, the Roubaix is a punishing road race run containing several sections of cobblestones (really big rocks used as pavement). Under the circumstances, most riders would select an endurance/comfort frame rather than an aero frame for this particular race with the hopes of mitigating the effects of the harsh cobbled surface. Kristoff 'only' finished 10th, but this is actually decent considering that cobblestone races punish the best of riders, many of whom do not even finish the race. This after taking top honors with the Aeroad in the 2015 Tour of Flanders, another cobbled classic.

One thing the Katusha mechanics changed in the bike setup were the tires.  They used 28mm tires on the Aeroad.

Nearly every road cyclist now is aware of the advantages of using wider tires, of how rolling resistance and ride comfort are improved at the expense of gaining a few grams of weight. Manufacturers now are steadily pushing 25mm's over 23mm tires in their product lineups, even in budget setups.

Indeed, 25's are becoming mainstream. So how does the next step up perform compared to the new standard?  The fact that someone shoehorned a 28mm tire on an Aeroad sent me scrambling to get one and try it out myself.

Is there really an advantage to riding on 28's? 

Going through a roll call of local shops, the best I could find were some Continental 4 Seasons and some steel wired Kendas. Nothing against these, but these aren't the tires I was looking for.

To the internet I went and after a few days I had a pair of 28mm GP4000S2's on my work table. Everyone has their tire preference and this is mine. The GP4000's are a staple at the Roadiemanila stable (!).

Anyone who's worked with the GP4000 will be right at home with the tires. The all too familiar tread pattern, the directionality. All that's changed is the weight and girth of the thing. The 28mm Continentals weigh in 35 grams heavier than their 25mm brethren. Ours weighed in four grams below the manufacturer specs (this is always a good thing).

Weight Weenies wold shed tears at the ~35g weight gain over 25's

Despite the extra width, mounting was uneventful. When inflated to 90psi, the 28mm Contis expand to 29.4mm as mounted on 25mm wide rims (Reynolds Assault SLG). Clearance is something you would definitely want to check before purchasing a tire of this size for your bike. 


29.4mm @ 90 psi

I only mounted the 28 on the rear and transferred the previously installed 25mm to the front. This would place toughness on the rear tire while retaining steering agility up front. I also wanted to avoid the full weight penalty of a full 28mm setup (a potential ~70g).


The Ride

As we don't have scientific equipment to measure rolling resistance, we'll recount how our experience went with the wider tire.

I dropped the pressure to 85 psi and rode. I am quite familiar with how a 25mm tire feels at this pressure simply because this is my default.

Remember the feeling when you first swapped your 23mm tires to 25's? It's that exact same feeling all over again!

The 28's roll a bit better than the 25's at the same pressure. Again, the effect is similar to moving to 25's coming from 23's. More noticeable is the comfort provided by the wider tire. While you can still feel bumps as you roll over them, they are much more muted.

Weight? Although the 35 gram rolling weight penalty might sound like a lot, it only makes its presence felt at the scales. In-ride it was hardly noticeable... it did not matter that much in the hills.

As seen in the image below, mounting 28's on the Aeroad removed the wheel well gap behind the seatpost.  While this looks good aesthetically, downside is when the tires pick up some sticky debris, there's a tendency for this to scratch the inner side of the seat tube. I managed to remove those scratches with some automotive wax. Owners will have to decide if this is a deal breaker in pursuing 28's.


Flush.


Compared to thinner tires:

1. 28's have lower rolling resistance at similar pressures
2. More comfortable ride quality at similar pressures
3. Meatier tires are bit thicker and should last longer if made from similar compounds

The only downsides are:

1. Should be less aerodynamic due to the lightbulb effect - more so if mounted on <20mm  rims
2. Weight

Ultimately, it's up to the individual cyclist to decide whether to go with the upsize or not. In my case, the advantages outweigh the cons. I'm happy with the switch and consider 28's a good upgrade.



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Review: 2015 Canyon Aeroad 8.0 CF SLX

Canyon isn't exactly a household name in the world of cycling. With its origins dating back to the mid eighties, the German brand was formed in 2001 in the city of Koblenz; a relative youngster in an industry where some players boast of being established in the 1800s. While not exactly a mass market name, the Canyon brand is a familiar name for those in the know as it supplies frames to professional powerhouse teams Katusha and Movistar.

Canyon is known for its direct sales business model. Customers order their bikes via Canyon website and expect direct to doorstep deliveries in a few weeks (or a few months). By eliminating the whole distributor-dealer chain and commissions, Canyon able to offer their products at an exceptional value and with equipment levels several rungs up their competitors' offerings.

And a few months is what it took to get my hands on my current road bike and subject of this article, the Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0 Di2.

Author's Canyon Aeroad CF SLX 8.0 Di2 (upgraded to 9.0?)
Unfortunately, the Philippines is not among those countries Canyon serves. Acquiring this bike required a bit of creativity but we managed to pull it off. A few months into ownership, I'd say the whole exercise was well worth it!

The Aeroad 8.0 spec sheet is pretty impressive. Full Ultegra Di2, Reynolds Strike SLG full carbon wheels and a finishing kit worthy of bikes more upscale.


The Frame


The aptly named Aeroad is Canyon's entry to the ever expanding aero-road niche. Unlike other brands which offer different carbon layups of the same frame design in the hopes of upselling, all aeroad frames from the bottom range model to top-of-line feature the same carbon composites and differ solely on bundled equipment.

On its second iteration, the current Aeroad is a thoroughly modern design with the expected aerodynamically optimized tube shapes and profile. If there's one thing which the Aeroad screams, it's the word "Fast". The frame features Canyon's Trident 2.0 tube cross-sections which are a varied mix of different Kamm style shapes; some feature longish truncated foils like the down tube and some are much shallower like that of the seatpost.



As in almost all modern aero-road bikes, the rear seat stay is mated to the seat tube well below the top tube level. The overall look is very sharp, with the top tube itself almost horizontal. The rear wheel is shielded from the wind by the lower seat tube which was reshaped to double as a cowling. The top of the forks blend smoothly with the headtube, again for aerodynamics.

Aero moderne: shielded rear wheel and low mounted seat stays

Smooth Fork-Frame transition
Adding to the overall sharpness is the Aeroad's electronic integration. The Di2 battery is tucked inside the downtube, nowhere to be seen. The junction box is also cleverly hidden, this one under a small compartment underneath the handlebars, resulting in one of  the cleanest full electronic installs in the market. 

Also worth mentioning is the adjustable rake feature of the Aeroad. By repositioning aluminum shims at the end of the fork, users can set the rake (fork offset) to two positions: Agile or Stable. The shims did not feel flush when mounted in Agile mode so back they went to the default Stable.

The body is finished in matte black, accented with gloss black accents and logos. While I'm all for the "murdered out" black look, I felt there was nothing wrong with a little brand recognition, hence the sticker job.

The choice of sticker color was deliberate. We wanted to offset/match the Dura Ace cranks, hence silver.

The Components 

Groupset

The Aeroad 8.0 comes with full Ultegra Di2 components. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this as we immediately replaced this to Dura Ace Di2. I was hesitant to go electronic as I found nothing wrong nor room for improvement with the Dura Ace 9000 mechanical group. But seeing how prices and components were laid out in the Aeroad lineup, going electronic was almost a no brainer. (not to mention I wanted the H11 handlebars and the Reynolds Wheelset).

Di2 is indeed better than mechanical. Consistent shifting, front and rear, every single time. Auto trimming on smaller cogs, programmable long press behavior and shifting speeds.... This is not something a mechanical 9000 user would exactly crave for but once you go Di2, it's very very hard to imagine going back to mechanical. Another bonus: you will see your mechanic less for tuneups. A lot less.

Another first for us are Direct Mount brakes. Arriving at the same time as the bike were a pair of Dura Ace BR-9010 front brakes to replace the Ultegra Direct mounts which came with the bike (the Aeroad does not use the rear-specific design). The only difference we see with the direct mounts versus regular brakes are the two mounting screws versus only one on regular brakes. I can't really comment on how well these work compared to the run of the mill Dura Ace brakes since it has been a while since I was on regular BR-9000s but they compare well to the TRP aero brakes on our Argon 18 Nitrogen. And those have a lot of stopping power and good modulation.   

Contributing to stopping power are the updated Reynolds Cryo Blue POWER brakepads. These are a whopping 44% larger than the regular Reynolds Blue pads. Indeed, carbon braking has come a long way and these parts already perform no different from their alloy counterparts.




Wheelset

As with the group, the Reynolds Strike SLGs which came with the Aeroad were likewise replaced with Reynolds Assault SLGs before ride number 1. While the Assault SLGs are a modern design featuring a 25mm width which mates perfectly to 25mm tires, its 62mm depth is a bit too deep for all around riding. The 42mm Assaults, however, are just right. They also weigh 120 grams less at 1515g. Tires are GP4000 S2's from Continental. These come in staggered configuration with 23mm for the front and 25mm for the rear.


Cockpit

While certainly not the first implementation of an integrated bar and stem, the H11 Aerocockpit CF may be the first to do so for aerodynamic purposes. Frontal area is reduced by flattening the bar and airflow improved by rounding out the shape.

As previously mentioned, the Di2 junction box B is housed in a groove underneath the stem portion of the bar. Canyon claims 5.5 watts of aerodynamic improvement over a conventional rounded bar and stem. We'll have to take their word for that. What we can tell is that this is a beautifully crafted piece of carbon fiber. And while we'd rather have shallower drops, found the 128mm drop on our bike quite workable.

Junction B feels cozy in there


Worth mentioning are the minor design details which show the Germans think of everything. The "stem" cutout is diagonal to more evenly distribute clamping stress and the aero shaped headset spacers have pegs which keep allow them to stack like loose lego bricks.



Optional Bits & Other Pieces

We also got a couple of optional parts specific to our needs. First is the 9mm seat clamp for carbon railed seats. We needed this to mount our SMP Compost CRB. Next is the Garmin Edge mount for the H11 cockpit. Why give up all those aerodynamic gains by using the Garmin rubber band mount? Do we need to mention it looks really snappy?

1Also installed was our incumbent SMP Composit CRB saddle, KMC X11SL DLC black chains and KCNC Skewers.

H11 with the optional Garmin Mount



On The Road

Believe the hype: The Aeroad is a legit race bike.

Ride leisurely and the Aeroad behaves like any other carbon bodied bike. Stable, compliant and dare we say... almost borderline comfortable considering the bike's primary mission. Pile on the wattage and the Aeroad comes to life. Whether it's the frame's stiffness or the aerodynamics, the Canyon will keep up with your best effort; rewarding you with more and more speed the more you put into it. The 23mm front tire turns quicker than when using 25mm tires. A small advantage, but it's there.


Finishing off the build with a Stages Power Meter and Keo Blade 2 Ti Pedals


And it's not just an aero-road bike but a talented all rounder.

The bike weighs in at around 14.9 pounds with Look Keo Blade 2 Ti pedals installed and while not a dedicated climber, it does adequately well in climbs and is perfectly stable in fast descents. More proof of the Aeroad's flexibility: Alexander Kristoff of Katusha opted to use one for the torturous 2015 Paris-Roubaix instead of Canyon's all rounder Ultimate CF SLX. He finished a decent tenth place in a field of 133 finishers and 67 DNFs and OTLs. Oh, and he used an Aeroad to win the 2015 Tour of Flanders, a race with cobbles, climbs and sprints and everything in between.

Alexander Kristoff's Aeroad - Photo c/o Bikeradar
The Aeroad is almost universally acclaimed by the world's press, and personally I find it hard to fault. As of the end of 2015, this may not only be the best bike for the buck...but possibly the best bike out there.




Verdict

We're in love! It's hard to think of any negatives for the Aeroad. Acquiring one, if Canyon does not service your country, is another matter altogether.




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Review: Selle SMP Composit

                     
27 Oct 2015

Saddles take time to figure out. We all have our anatomic differences and personal preferences and finding the right one requires a fair bit of research and a little bit of luck. Once you settle on a certain saddle shape, it would usually take a lot to convince you to shift and move to another shape/brand.

Such was my current experience with the Fizik Antares. The shape such a good fit that I did not consider looking for another saddle.  At least not until a chance conversation with a cycling buddy brought to light a saddle which, according to him, gave his rear end less issue than the Antares on long rides.

Enter Selle SMP.

This Italian saddle maker has been in business since 1947 and their products are based on a unique shape. They have a wide range of products which cater to different pelvis widths and padding preferences.

Browsing through their catalog, I settled on a carbon railed, carbon bodied, leather wrapped contraption called the Composit CRB. My first new saddle in almost half a decade.


                     

The Saddle

First things first. The Composit, and most SMPs in general, are not as photogenic as a Fizik Antares. Where the Antares is looks very sharp and simple, the SMP is curvy and somewhat out of place on an angular, modern race bike. The look takes a bit of getting used to, but as previously mentioned, these design details give the SMPs their identity and their functional advantages.


Let's take them point by point:

1. The Eagle Beak nose - May as well be SMP's defining design detail. Their press materials state that this is supposed to prevent urogenital crushing. Yep, we certainly don't want our urogenitals crushed. Seriously, though, this feature is much appreciated on the drops as there is less pressure on the groin area leaning forward. Another observed plus is it's a lot easier to return to the sitting position coming from off the saddle standing efforts.

2. Curved Top -  The upward curve of the rear keeps you secure when pushing hard on the saddle. Depending on the amount of lean you take, the curve contacts different parts of the sitbones, offering relief where needed. The Composit is a one position saddle.

3. Central Groove - Prevents nerve and blood vessel pinching and provides ventilation. More than anything else, this keeps you riding longer.

The Composit CRB is made with a carbon fiber body wrapped in leather. Padding is nonexsitent. Rails for our model are also in carbon fiber, saving 50 grams from the stainless steel version. The all carbon Composit CRB weighs in at 160 grams.

The leather cover is adorned with brand embroidery. While I prefer plain all-black, this is something we can with.



On The Road

What can we say? Those features combine to make one very comfortable saddle...shape wise that is.  One thing that immediately stands out is the lack of padding.  Of course, that's by choice. Selle SMP offers a whole range of similarly designed saddles in different widths and different levels of padding.  If you're decided on getting the Composit, make sure you have a decent set of bibs with a great set of pads to take the sting out of road bumps.

Getting back on the subject of shape, the Composit's features really allow you to ride longer. It feels as if  only the sitbones make contact with the saddle as thigh rub is kept to a minimum and the sensitive bits have minimal contact thanks to the large groove in the middle.

As mentioned, getting your pelvic measurements is key as it will point you to  the right saddle model within the SMP range. The Composit range is suited for riders of Extra Small to Medium built.


Verdict

This curvy piece of handmade Italian goodness is definitely something to try. Saddles are a personal thing but in our experience, using the Composit CRB was rewarding. Make sure you have a decent set of shorts though.



That Made In Italy thing ain't going off anytime soon.






















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Review: 2015 Argon 18 Nitrogen

   
1 Sep 2015 - Sometime March 2015, after 9,167.3 blissful kilometers with the road aero pioneering Scott Foil, I gave in to upgraditis and decided to get a new frame.

Being an early adopter of road aero, any and all equipment I decide to purchase must be as aero as possible. It goes without saying that my next frame should be as well. To be honest, I am not really sure if it makes any difference in making my cycling any faster, but aero looks fast....and if it looks fast, it looks good. Just like a fighter plane. The aggressive looks of an aero bike is a quality in itself.


Superficial, yes. But if we want to be technical about it, aerodynamic benefits work at any speed, albeit exponentially the faster you go. The bicycle makes up 20% of a cyclist's surface area, with the cyclist himself taking up the rest of the 80 percent. Any aerodynamic efficiency against the bike's 20 percent contribution to drag should enhance performance. Yes. Memorize and repeat....memorize and repeat.

So off I went to that happy place somewhere in Pasay. In one of the shops, as if written on a movie script, I looked up to find an Argon 18 Nitrogen in my size just hanging from one of the shops' ceiling. Luck.

The first full on roadbike I had was an Argon 18 Radon and I'm quite familiar with the Canadian maker's products and quality. Getting another Argon made sense and was like a coming home of sorts.

2015 Argon Nitrogen,  Most likely in Medium/Large - Photo credit: Argon 18

The Frame

Argon 18 has extensive experience in designing aerodynamic frames. In fact, they several time trial bikes currently on offer which, along with the UCI approved Nitrogen, benefit from this experience.

Unassembled, one would be forgiven for mistaking the Nitrogen as a TT frame. It's certainly easy on the eyes. With aero features like a thick seatpost, rear wheel cutouts and aero brakes, the Nitrogen certainly has that 'fast even while on the bike stand' look. That being said, the Nitrogen looks better from sizes Medium and up. Small and Extra Small have this pinched head-tube look and the rear seat stay goes up until nearly the top tube. (We prefer it connecting to the middle of the seat tube-a la modern 2015's bikes, thank you).

The Author's Nitrogen. Right at home in the living room. Note where the seatstays start.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Argon 18 pursued a different path in designing the Nitrogen. Argon 18 decided to use more traditional shapes in its choice of tube cross sections. Unlike most of its aero road competitors, it does not utilize a truncated airfoil or Kamm-Tail tube design. Bikes such as the road aero pioneer Scott Foil, the Trek Madone and the Canyon Aeroad all utilize the Kamm design to marry the opposing requirements of stiffness and aerodynamics.

The Nitrogen, instead, goes with long and thin teardrop airfoil shapes which can be seen in the slender seat stays and the seatpost. Curiously, the downtube cross section is neither Kamm-Tail nor teardrop but is of oval shape. The seatpost is reversible; you get either 72-76.5 degrees or 78 degrees.

Aero setback seatpost.

That's an Italian Flag there. Just saying.
Other wind-cheating features include the TRP v-brakes which are flat and are hidden from the wind by virtue of being mounted on the aft ends of the fork and chainstays. Keen observers will note that the rear seatstays no longer connected by a bridge as the brakes are mounted directly on the stays.

Front V-Brakes. Hidden from the wind.

Rear TRP V-Brakes. No seatstay bridge.

Also, aerodynamically shaped headset spacer caps are provided in several different heights to help guide air around smoothly in this area. Brake and shifter cables are internally routed; de facto nowadays for any modern top tier bike. The rear wheel arc eats into the lower rear seat tube section, shielding the anterior wheel edge from the wind. We used 25mm Continental GP4000S' tires there without any clearance issues.

Headset spacer cover. Aerodynamic, of course.
Wind tunnel test results from Argon suggest that they have created an aerodynamically sound frame. Second only to the Cervelo S5 in terms of overall performance at multiple yaw angles. Of particular note is the Cervelo's performance at 0 degrees (head on wind), and how both the S5 and Nitrogen both leave the rest of the pack behind at this angle.


A Nitrogen frame in Medium weighs in at 960 grams.  It's not gonna win any weight weenie contest with this figure but it's still far from being considered porky....just don't challenge an Emonda at the scales. Unfortunately, we were not able to put our XS size frame on the scales because of the rush to upgrade.

Rear wheel eats nicely into the lower seat tube. 25C tires shown.
On The Road

The first thing which stood out with the Nitrogen was its comfort. Having been used to the Scott Foil, whose ride may be described as harsh, riding the Nitrogen is a welcome relief.  Enough so that it brings back memories of the Cannondale Supersix HM which was (and still is) my bike of choice for rougher road surfaces.

Handling is right about average for a modern carbon bike which is good. Yes, bikes have progressed to that point where they all mostly track like a diving falcon on steroids. Compared to the Foil though, the Nitrogen gives up half a point on this category. So too with stiffness. Whereas the Foil was designed to cut and thrust, the Nitrogen is more of a cruiser, happier with zipping along at high speed than engaging the next chicane. But this does not at all mean it can't!

What did surprise was the braking power. Yes, it's that good. Even better than the Dura Ace BR-9000 units we had installed in the Foil, the TRP-Argon units grip so strong that you almost feel scared that your carbon wheel brake surface might just light up and flame away.

As usual we do not have any professional equipment to measure aerodynamic efficiency. We'd avoid using that oft-used cliché of feeling like continuous tailwind was behind us and just say that the Nitrogen zips along merrily, comfortable and confidently at speed.


Verdict

The Argon 18 Nitrogen is a serious aero contender for your hard earned money. With the features you get vs. the price it's a steal! Bonus Fact: This exact frame design is used by the Bora-Argon18 Pro-Tour Team. Therefore, this has street cred.

-A

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Review: 2013 Reynolds 46 Clincher

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


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


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


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


Pass.


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


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






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


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


Tech


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


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





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


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


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


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

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


On the Road


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


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


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


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


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



Verdict


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


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Review: Giro Air Attack

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

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

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

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



Impressions

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

Only six vents present on the Air Attack

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

Two of the vents are actually dedicated for exhaust

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

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

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



Features

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


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

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

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

Internal grooves help channel air over the head

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

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

As weighted: 312 grams


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

The Air Attack Shield with the magnetic visor

On The Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Words

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



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

Verdict

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

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Mid-Compact Rising (on the FC-9000)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Enter: The Mid-Compact

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

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

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

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

The Numbers

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

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

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

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


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

In other words:

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

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


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

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

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

Shimano FC-9000 52/36

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

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

On The Road

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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

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