Category Archives: Review

A New Year, A New Bike and hopefully some more words…

Ok, so it’s been a really long while since I last posted, I guess that’s what happens when life happens.  Fortunately for me, I always have cycling to keep me sane.  This time last year, my goal was to eclipse 5K miles on my road bike.  At the time  I’d been thinking about yet another career reset, but wasn’t all that serious.  A variety of events conspired to accelerate these plans and off I went.  Since then, my plans have changed more than once and will probably change again.  All of this has seriously impacted my ability to get out and ride, especially lately.  Between travel and inclement weather when I was home, I managed to get out about every 10 days in the last few months of 2011.  I was tired, I was grumpy and honestly, I really didn’t feel like riding.   I now know that I get really grumpy when I don’t ride enough, however, I had a hard time motivating myself to get out there again.

Trek Marlin 29er

Enter a Trek Marlin 29er.   I’d been thinking about trying out a 29er ever since John at Lake Travis Cyclery told me I just had to try one because it’s more fun than you should be allowed to have on a bike.  With its over-sized wheels you can pretty much roll over anything.  I used to ride my mountain bike off road quite a bit, but honestly, I never felt all that comfortable because balance was always awkward on an over-sized frame and 26″ wheels.  The 29er totally changes this.  It’s like riding a Schwinn Cruiser, except it has gears and better off-road manners.

This year I volunteered for Bikes for Kids and while waiting around at Mellow Johnny’s, a couple of 29ers caught my eye: the Trek Wahoo and Trek Marlin.  The frames were pretty much identical, but Marlin had better components.  Having replaced and rebuilt the components  several times over on my 16+ year old mountain bike, I’ve learned to appreciate the value of decent quality components.  It’s no fun when you’re off-road and you’re having trouble finding the right gear while climbing an incline or negotiating a bunch of loose rocks.  Being a big guy, I tend to be a little hard on the components anyway.  The Marlin had SRAM X4 rear derailleur, Shimano Altus front derailleur and SRAM shifters.  The rear cassette has plenty of range which is important for a bike as heavy as this.  This bike isn’t the lightest bike, but this isn’t as much of a problem on a 29er  as you might think, especially when you’re riding trails.  Momentum seems to carry this bike quite a ways up the next hill before you even have to pedal.  The larger wheels allow you to coast downhill at higher speeds with more stability than a regular mountain bike.  All this translates into a blast on some pretty technical trails.  Stumps, no problem.  Loose rocks, again no problem.  The 29er is pretty much the Honey Badger of off-road bikes.

Shimano PD-M324

But the fun doesn’t stop when the trail ends.  This bike is very versatile.   Having commuted on my mountain bike quite a bit, this bike takes commuting to a whole new level.   It’s locking front shocks, frame geometry, quick adjustable seat post and handlebars give it surprisingly good around-town manners.  I opted for Shimano PD-M324 pedals that allow me to ride it both with or without bike shoes.  After riding off-road a couple of times, I really appreciate these pedals because I don’t have to clip in to restart on technical sections, something that was always a bit of a challenge with the Shimano 540s I had on my other mountain bike.  The bottom line is that if I just want to go, it’s not a production because I can just grab the bike and go.

My family will tell you I’m a difficult person to buy gifts for.  I make matters worse because I hate shopping so much that when I actually get out shopping,  I buy things just to get it over with.   This year, my wife and I helped out with the final preparations for the Bikes for Kids giveaway at Mellow Johnny’s so I showed her the bike I had been looking at (hint, hint).  Surprise, surprise, that’s what I got for Christmas.  I still had my 16+ year old mountain bike that I used to use for commuting to work and off-road riding, but when I tried to get it ready to ride the last time, I discovered I would need to rebuild the shifters yet again.  I finally gave up.  I sent a message to my friend Tim to see if the Yellow Bike Project took bike donations.  He said absolutely and told me they’d even provide me with the IRS form for a charitable contribution.  When I dropped off my bike, the coordinator was thrilled even after I told him what work would need to be done on the bike.  It was in pretty good shape with solid components so I’m sure they’ll find a good home for it.  If you have an old bike you don’t know what to do with, why not donate it to the Yellow Bike Project.  They’ll make sure it ends up on the road somewhere with someone who could use it.

As for my new 29er, it’s given me the motivation to get out and ride more often.  Tomorrow I’m riding with a group from the Austin Mountain Biker’s Meetup Group.  Just the start I needed for the new year.

The cool gear channel

You won’t find it on the array of channels offered by your local cable company. If you’re a regular reader or follow me on twitter/facebook you know I spend a fair amount of time on my bike, much of it riding solo.  It’s not that I’m anti-social or don’t like riding with others, it just works out that way.  It’s hard to find a group of riding buddies that ride at exactly the same pace as you do and have exactly the same training needs or goals.  Even when I ride with a group, we often ride at apart for a portion of the ride.  The larger the group, the more likely it is that I’ll find someone who rides at my pace, or reasonably close to it.  That’s one of the reasons I like organized rides.   Other reasons include seeing friends I don’t get to ride with very often, meeting new friends and getting the opportunity to check out the gear other cyclists use.  The last reason is pretty important because there are many options for cyclists and limited local channels where you can find gear.  This isn’t a knock on the local bike shop (I’m a huge fan), it’s simply a matter of economics.  The shops can really only afford to stock items that most people will buy, which limits the number of specialty items they can carry.

The internet has created the channel for these specialty items.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine how a product will work on your bike by just looking at a picture.  Sure, Youtube videos have enhanced the ability of the makers of specialty items to demonstrate their wares, but there’s never a substitute for being able to see the product up close or, better yet, see  it being used on the road by a cyclist.  That’s where a large organized ride provides vendors and riders to experience these specialty products first hand.  There’s lots of time to check stuff out as you’re riding in a group for miles and miles and miles.  Sure, the scenery is nice, but after a while, your mind wanders and that’s when I use this time to see what gear others are using.  Here’s a couple of things I saw on the Austin Cycle Camp / Bicycle Sportshop Resolution Ride a few days ago.

Tim and I at the start of the Resolution Ride

It should no secret that I like unique and somewhat outlandish jerseys, after all, many of my cycling friends find me wearing a jersey that looks like something from the movie Close Encounters of the 3rd kind.  But that’s exactly the point. Unless you’re part of a team, why wear the same jersey or kit everyone else has? It’s important to me that my jersey is easily visible and that it stands out.  I ran into my twitter friend Tim and he was sporting his Test Dummy jersey.  I love this jersey.  I can also relate to the sense of humor that resulted in him getting this jersey.  We both recently experienced crashes that required a visit to the emergency room.  However, this jersey is probably more appropriate for my youngest son, who’s got preprinted forms at the local ER.

Velovie Vitesse SE

On the ride I spent a fair amount of time riding behind a bike I’d never seen before.  While many bikes look alike to most folks, I’ve come to appreciate their subtle differences and this one caught my eye.  It was a Velovie Vitesse and I’d never seen one of these before.  I asked the rider about their bike and she described it as a Cervelo competitor.  I’ve always thought Cervelo bikes were cool, but some of that probably had  to do with the fact that their designer’s name, Gerard Vroomen, just makes them sound fast.  Anyway, I checked out Velovie and found out that they only sell their bikes online.  In fact, they have a rather interesting program where you can purchase a previously owned Velovie at a discounted price to make it more reasonable to try one of their bikes.  These bikes are all less than 2 years old and are often bikes that other Velovie owners have traded in for different Velovie models.  I like this concept because it’s a smart business decision.  It allows the company to build up brand loyalty and differentiate themselves.  It works because the rider I spoke with was very passionate about how much she liked her ride.  Although it sounds French, Velovie is a US company based in Arizona.

The Italian Road Bike Mirror

On the way back from Andice, I rode with a group of riders for a few miles until they dropped me.  I like to ride fast, but this group kicked it into another gear about 5 miles in and I decided I wasn’t willing to hurt myself to hang with them. It’s always a bit unnerving to ride in a tight bunch at speed when we’re 3 or 4 abreast.  One thing I’d noticed on the way out was that the group tended to decelerate rapidly at the base of every climb.  If you’re not paying attention, this can be a disaster because invariably, someone will clip a wheel and all of a sudden it’s mass carnage.  Sure enough, this happened just after we passed FM 3405 on our way back.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. Shortly thereafter I passed a rider who had one of these mirrors that was apparently part of his handlebars.  I slowed to ask him about it and he told me it was The Italian Road Bike Mirror.  What’s cool about this mirror is that its barely larger than your bar end and doesn’t get in the way.  Yet it provides you critical visibility to what’s in your blind spot on that side of the bike.  This is crucial when there’s a crash in the group you’re riding with because you won’t have time to turn around to see if you have room to go left or right.  That’s why you often see a bunch of riders go down in a race after one of them falls.  The results are never pretty.  I really like this product and will probably get one.  I thought I’d wait until I need some new bar tape because you have to wrap your bar tape around the mirror to fasten it to your handlebars.  Very cool!

I think if I owned a local bike shop, I’d give riders an opportunity to suggest products they liked on a ride that I sponsored.  What a great opportunity to find out what my prospective customers would buy.

Have you found an cool gear on any of your rides that you’d like to share?  Let me know.

P.S.  Thanks Ray for that great picture you snapped of Tim & I.

Review: Bib Shorts and Gloves

I got some sorely needed cycling gear for Christmas this year, literally.  I’d torn my favorite Pearl Izumi Elite Bib Shorts in my crash. Fortunately, my clever wife was able to repair them.  There’s two clothing items you never want to skimp on: shoes and shorts.  Riding is never any fun when your  feet or butt are sore.  With shorts, it’s all about the chamois and let me tell you, chamois has come a long way.  The chamois in the Pearl Izumi Elite Bib Shorts is top notch and you find this out on rides longer than 25 miles.  I have some other bib shorts and the chamois isn’t nearly as good a quality and I only wear them on shorter rides, otherwise my butt gets sore and we can’t have that.

I got one pair of the Performance Elite Bib Short.  I really like these shorts on long rides because they have pretty good core support and the chamois is first rate.  They also provide a fair amount of compression for my legs which helps me ride longer at a higher average heart rate without cramping.  I was surprised how much of a difference these shorts made on a recent 60 mile ride.

The other pair of shorts I got were the Hincapie Performer Bib Short.  I had made a suggestion for these because I’d seen that they had gotten good reviews.  They were a bit thinner in terms of material and the chamois didn’t seem as thickly padded as the other shorts I got, so I was a bit skeptical at first.  However, that skepticism quickly faded when I rode the Dam Loop in Austin.  It was a nice day for a ride with temps in the low 70s.  These shorts are very comfortable and I like the fact that they are light weight.  This will be important when I ride in the Texas heat.  The chamois is very well designed and provides just the right amount of padding in all the key areas.  They don’t provide as much compression as my Performance Elite shorts.

The other item I got was a pair of Spenco Classic gloves.  These are old school crocheted gloves that are very comfortable.  I was pretty bummed when I destroyed my Pearl Izumi crocheted gloves in my crash.  I’d had them for almost 10 years and they never got stiff or wore out.  The Spenco Classic gloves have the same suede-like palms as the Pearl Izumis, except with more padding.  They appear to be very well made.

Last, but least, I got my all-time favorite jersey: the Primal Illegal Alien jersey.  I have no idea how my wife managed to find this gem since Primal stopped making them years ago.  My last one suffered greatly in my crash and at the hands of the paramedics who worked on me afterwards.  There was no repairing that damage. This jersey had special meaning for me since it was a birthday gift from my wife and boys many years ago.  It’s a very recognizable jersey and I’ve only ever seen it worn by one other person.   Primal’s made some of the most distinctive jerseys over the years.  I wish they would bring some of their older designs back because they are pretty unique.

We’ll see how the gloves and shorts hold up over time.  All three were very reasonable and a  good alternative to the higher-priced standard set by Pearl Izumi.  So perhaps you can save some money without sacrificing performance.

Creative Thinking Saved My Week

Well, this week was an interesting week, especially with the time change.  On Monday I managed to sneak out after work in time for quick ride along one of my favorite routes along Lake Travis: Lime Creek Road.  I got eleven miles in and started hearing an awful clicking sound coming from the area of my bottom bracket.  Looking down I realized my crank set was wobbling enough to rub against my front derailleur.  I still had the big hill to climb so I knew I was done.

Not exactly the way I wanted to start out my week.  I was a bit down about the prospect of losing the use of my bike.  One of the downsides of owning my Trek Madone 5 series bike is that repairs usually involve ordering parts and waiting a while for them to arrive.  I called Bicycle Sportshop’s Parmer location based on advice from my friends at Lake Travis Cyclery and spoke to their service manager.  He said they could transfer some bottom bracket bearings in from their other store that day, so I dropped it by their store.  Later he called and asked if using a set of bearings from one of their new floor models would be ok because they weren’t able get a set up to their store.  I hadn’t really said anything to him about getting my bike back quickly, so I was pretty happy with  his creative solution.  Three hours later after I had dropped off my bike he called to say it was ready.  Suddenly my week was starting to look a lot better.  It seems a bit silly thinking about it now, but I was really surprised how the prospect of losing the use of my bike affected me even though I have my trusty backup ’97 Lemond Buenos Aires.  I guess I really love my Madone that much (wait, did I really just say that?).

I managed to sneak in another quick 20 mile ride to check out the repair.  My bike seemed to pedal smoother and my ride that day and the next were noticeably faster.  This made sense to me because the service manager who worked on my bike indicated that the crank set seemed a bit tight when he pulled it apart.  Over time, this caused the bearings to fail.  He recommended I keep an eye on how loose the crank set was over my next few rides and bring it in for an adjustment if needed.   Since I had a training session with Austin Cycle Camp today, my plan was to stop by after my ride and have him check it out.  Sure enough, there was the tiniest bit of looseness and he was able to get me in an out in under 10 minutes.  I really appreciated his explanation and willingness to come up with a creative way to get me back on the road.  It’s customer service like this that will help them develop loyal customers.  Their location is very convenient because it’s only 5 miles from my house and easily accessible on my bike.  They’re also right near a route I ride regularly, which is a nice bonus.  Now if they would only sweep debris off the side of the road on Ronald Reagan Blvd/Parmer Lane…there’s only one bike shop that goes that far and only one Green Mamba.

Your (really) friendly neighborhood bike shop

So you might have read what I wrote about one of my pet peeves.  Well, today I experienced the other end of the spectrum.  Today’s ride started out a little cold even though we’d pushed our start time back by an hour and ended up waiting for one of our ride buddies who got caught in the traffic backup caused by the tanker truck fire on Hwy 183 earlier today.  The plan was to do the Dam Loop starting out at the Arboretum.  Normally, we stop at a Texaco station across from Lake Travis High School because they are always friendly and you get a spectacular view to enjoy while you’re scarfing down an energy bar.

Today, I recommended we stop by Lake Travis Cyclery because they had promised a taste of their Belgian ale.   I learned about this on the #bikeschool tweet chat that happens every Thursday evening at 9 PM EST.  Now I can tell #bikeschool professors Loving the Bike, Bikerly and Old Singlespeed that I actually learned something, but that’s another matter entirely.  Back to the guys at Lake Travis Cyclery.  We pulled up and they told us to just bring our bikes inside and park them there.

We introduced ourselves and quickly started chatting.  The Dam Loop is a very popular bike route in Austin and you’ll always see lots of cyclists out riding, especially on days like today where we started at about 50 degrees, but quickly warmed up into the 70s.  One of the things the guys at Lake Travis Cyclery do is offer free water to any cyclist who rides by.  But wait, it gets better.  They have a shop van, the Green Mamba, that they use to provide SAG support for any cyclist riding the Dam Loop.  Sometimes they’ll even set up shop in the Green Mamba just south of Westlake Drive on Loop 360 for anyone needing a repair.  How awesome is that?  As a cyclist, I really appreciate having a local bike shop that supports our sport the way these guys do.  Not only do they provide service, but they bring the service to you.

While we were there, John offered us a taste of the Belgian ale he had brewed himself.   Boy, was it tasty!  Eying the couches and big screen TV they had in the back of the shop, I immediately began thinking of ideas about how I could bring some food back and spend the rest of the afternoon watching football or something on their TV.  Maybe if bring them some Rudy’s or something they’ll offer me some more of that killer beer?

Any way, it’s going to be a regular stop whenever I do the Dam Loop from now on and I encourage you to make it yours as well.  One last thing, if you let them service your bike, they will actually come pick it up in the Green Mamba.  So go on, stop by and say hello.  You’ll probably end up staying a while longer than you planned, but you’ll be glad you did.

Tire Review – Vredenstein Fortezza TriComp

I’ve been thinking about posting this review for a while now, but never got around to it.  I’ve been riding on Vredenstein tires for about 13 years now, pretty much ever since I shredded the set of Continentals that came with my Lemond Buenos Aires.  As a heavier rider, I was looking for some tires that would hold more pressure than the standard tires so I inquired at my local bike shop and the person I spoke with suggested the Vredenstein Fortezza tires because they would handle 140 PSI.

What surprised me about these tires was that even pumped up to 140 PSI, they were still smoother riding than the Continentals they replaced.  These tires were also fold-able tires, so they are easier to get on the rims than tires with wire beads.  The also had a lower rolling resistance, so they felt faster as well.  The Fortezza TriComps are a step up from the Fortezzas, handling pressure up to 160 PSI without sacrificing the smooth ride.  They’re extremely grippy and handle extremely well with an overall rolling resistance that’s even lower than the Fortezzas.  I get about 2500-3000 miles on a set, so they are fairly durable.  When purchased my first pair of Fortezzas, they were about $30.  Recently, I’ve been able to find the Fortezza TriComps for about $30 at my local Performance Bike store.  At that price, they’re a great value.

So, if you’re looking for a smooth riding tire with low rolling resistance, I highly recommend you try the Vredenstein Fortezza TriComps.  You won’t be disappointed.