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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zipp 303 Carbon Clincher Firecrest - One Month Review

After only a month it's hard to make a definitive review, but I do feel that I am starting to get an idea of what these wheels are all about.  The marketing data from Zipp says they are almost as aero as the 404 at low yaw angles, but as the yaw angles increase the 303 becomes better and better.

With that out of the way, what I've found from comparing the 303 Firecrest to the 404 Firecrest, is that the 303 is everything the 404 is, just slightly less.  Slightly less weight, slightly less aero, slightly less deep.

This would be a killer wheel for a lighter or smaller time trialist as it's been very easy to handle in cross winds.  The 404 exhibited that same trait, but again the 303 was slightly better in that respect.
 In many instances the difference between the 303 and 404 will be a wash with their performance so similar.  I would recommend the 303 to a smaller customer, someone more concerned with weight, or someone new to deep-section carbon wheels.  I would also recommend the 303 over the 404 for a customer who is likely to run a 25c or greater tire as the 303 is even wider than the 404.
After a month of fall riding, which includes a few rides in the wet, the brake track looks brand new.  I've been using the Zipp/Swiss Stop Platinum pads that came with the wheels, which are replacing my favorite TRP carbon compound pads.  The Platinum pads have produced a little whistling on extended braking, but nothing major.  Also on the up side, the platinum color doesn't leave a residue on the rim like Yellow King or TRP pads can.

So far I'm impressed with the wheels and they seem to fit my style of riding.  I like to spend time out in the wind and taking pulls when my legs and lungs allow.  The wheels are plenty stiff for a sucker like me, and with the new Beyond Black colorway, really look at home on every bike we've mounted them to.

I plan to log plenty more miles and will report back with the findings....

Independent Fabrication XS with SRAM

I'm going to keep the words to a minimum on this one.  It's pretty simple here, XS, carbon tubes, Ti lugs, SRAM Red, Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers, Quarq, Thomson Masterpiece/X2.

A work of art that's as much fun to ride as it is to look at.  Enjoy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 Felt Z85 Review

This time we had a review come in from our resident "junior". And I only say it that way because he's adopted the loving nickname we've given him. Christian is a new racer to our team who picked up his Z85 immediately upon joining us. The balance of performance, comfort, and price made for a perfect match. Below is what Christian had to say after the first few months on his new ride:

In April of 2011 I was left with a pretty crappy commuter and no other road bike. I took a stroll into Iron Cycles and there I met the Felt Z85. Felt’s typically get better as the numbers go down (i.e. 75, 45, 1), but what I found with the Felt Z85 is that you truly do get the most bang for your buck.

Personally, working non-profit isn’t a huge money market, yet if you are as into cycling as I am and need a reliable start the Z85 is your pick. The Z85 is outfitted with Shimano 105, a UHC (Ultra Hybrid Carbon) Felt fork, carbon seatpost, replaceable derailleur hanger and a FSA Vero crankset. This and a 7005 butted aluminum frame will cost around $1200.

The Shimano 105 drivetrain is the third tier in Shimano’s line up of gearing (just stooped by Ultegra and DuraAce). With the redesigned 105, you get hidden gear routing and an overall smooth feel when shifting. I will say that the FSA Vero crankset is a must to replace, if racing, to something stiffer, I myself have put an FSA SL-K Light crankset on the bike. With this combination you are basically shifting with systems that are found on $2000 and $3000 bikes. What’s remarkable is that the drivetrain itself would cost almost as much as the complete bike if purchased separately.

Being 7005 Butted Aluminum and having a carbon fork puts the frame a little over 1200 grams at my estimate, but for the price any frameset will weigh that much. Adding in the carbon seatpost, the ride is stiff enough for a sprint, yet comfortable enough for a gravel road. With the sloping top tube, being comfortable comes naturally, but a tucked position is still easily achievable. The flexible geometry of the Z-series frames allows more upright riding for added comfort on long rides or a low-rise stem for aggressive positions.

The bike is outfitted with Mavic CXP22 rims laced to Felt-branded hubs. The CXP22 only weigh 50 grams more than a Mavic Open Pro bringing each rim to 500 grams. Sure, this isn’t the ideal weight one is looking for when racing, but talking to Brandon and getting a set of HED Ardennes make the wheels outfitted perfect for training or getting started into racing.

All and all the Felt Z85 is the perfect starting point for an up and coming cyclist, like me, or anyone looking to get interested in the sport. The bike rides smooth, rolls great and has an overall good feeling to it. And looking at the price tag makes that feeling even better. The bike’s price even puts it in the range of a higher end commuter. You’re shifting will be perfection and you’ll be able to take turns like a pro. Anything is really achievable with the Z85. Please take it from my experience!

Christian seems to be quite pleased with his Z85 so far. With some nice race wheels, this bike is a true contender. It's a great base to get into competitive racing, an excellent road bike for training, and even ready for triathlon with some clip-on aero bars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Continental Grand Prix 4-Season - A Few Rides In

With about 100 miles on the 4-Seasons I picked up for my Club Racer, I'm getting a feel for what they were made for. My suspicions were correct in the ride, not as plush as my old Challenge Parigi Roubaix, but not as far off as I expected. They do ride quite well, especially at 80-85psi that I've been riding them at.

More important to me than the ride quality has been durability, or at least perceived durability. With 100 miles on them, I'd hope for some good luck, but I did find myself avoiding a pedestrian walking toward me on the wrong side of the path that pushed me into some broken glass on wet roads. No damage from that, not even a cut that I can find. That's positive.

The other characteristic that I noticed this morning was wet weather grip. I'm not a daring rider in the wet, especially when commuting. I'd much rather slow down than lean hard into corners and end up on the pavement, but these tires seemed to grip exceptionally well on the damp pavement today. It's hardly enough of a test to be definitive, but a good sign for this tire and the intended use.

Moving forward, I'm hoping to get these tires on more wet pavement, maybe some gravel, and possibly even some snow. More information to come...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Endura Deluge Glove Ride Review

This review came in from one of our team riders, Mike Campbell. He picked up a pair of these from us a few weeks back, so they were purchased with his own funds. Keep that in mind when reading this review:

I recently stopped by Iron Cycles to pick up the perfect pair of gloves to get me through the nearly freezing temps at the Iceman Cometh Challenge in Traverse City, MI. The forecast this year was for a slightly warmer race than usual. I have gloves for below freezing, and in the 50's my full finger mtb gloves do the trick, but I needed something for that elusive 35-45* F zone. The shop was able to hook me up with the Endura Deluge glove.

They have a soft, breathable inner liner, and are waterproof. The palm has comfortable gel padding, and the seams, especially around the thumb don’t cause any pressure points as some other gloves have had the tendency to do. They have an ample cuff with a Velcro closure that helps keep the cold off your wrist and the wind from running up your sleeves. And of course there’s the full forefinger terry sweat wipe. A final added touch if you’re commuting, the reflective print and knuckle panels!

I wore these gloves to pre-ride the course the day before the race, and they dried quickly and completely prior to my race the next day. It was right at 35* F at start time, and my hands were still relatively comfortable right from the get-go. Once the blood was pumping, my hands stayed toasty warm for the entire 2 hours I was out on the course! I was extremely happy with these gloves. I’ve had a handful more rides with them since, and I’m actually looking forward to getting caught in the rain with them to see how they perform when wet!

We'll get a followup from Mike once he's able to log a few more miles in these gloves. They are currently in stock in most sizes at the shop if you want to try a pair for yourself!

Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 700x28 On Test

After about a year on the Challenge Parigi Roubaix 700x27 clinchers, I've decided I need something a little more durable. The Parigi Roubaix wasn't terrible, don't get me wrong, but it seems to give up some durability for it's amazingly plush ride.

Enter the Grand Prix 4-Season from Continental. With a Vectran breaker under the tread, this tire is designed to resist punctures. A special carbon compound is said to provide greater wear resistance and grip in cold and wet.

Mounted on a HED Belgium rim, the same rim found on Bastogne and Ardennes wheelsets, the tire measures 27mm wide at 80psi, a little disappointing for my use. Since these are going on an Independent Fabrication SSR Club Racer with clearance for 32c tires, or 28c with fenders, I was hoping for a full 28. I'm curious what the width would be on a more standard 19mm rim?

Out of the box, they weighed in at 268g and 270g, only a few grams heavier than their claimed weight.

After about an hour on them, I could immediately tell the difference in ride between these Conti's and my old Parigi Roubaix. With both sets at 80psi, the Challenge rode more like a Dugast or FMB tubular (though of course not THAT nice), providing a ton of comfort. The Conti rides like, well, a Conti. Which isn't to say it's bad, but you won't mistake it for a $150 tubular. If you've ever ridden a Vittoria EVO CX back to back with a Michelin Pro3, you'll realize the difference between the Parigi Roubaix and the 4-Season.

Assuming all goes as planned, this tires will see a solid winter of use. We'll see if Continental hit the mark of a high-volume road/touring tire that rides nicely, but most importantly, provides grip in the cold and provides plenty of puncture resistance.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Independent SSR Club Racer

With the chance to ride a huge array of bikes, I'm afforded the opportunity to get very specific with each bike's purpose. This one is no exception, though it's purpose is quite wide. It was built to train on, in any weather, comfortably, for any distance.

With those details set, I started with stainless steel. You get the comfort of a steel bike, without the worry of rust. So why not Ti? Aesthetics, actually. I love the shine of a brushed stainless frame. Ti would have also done quite well for this bike's intended purpose.
Being that this bike was going to be ridden in good weather and bad, we opted for cantilever brakes for the added clearance for larger tires. Even on the wide HED C2 rims, there is plenty of clearance for 27c Challenge Paris-Roubaix tires. I haven't tested the chain stays yet, but I think there may be room for 32c smooth tires.
Chris King R45 rubs were chosen for their durability and good looks. Because let's face it: this bike still has to look good when getting those long miles in. King hubs are easily serviced as well, so if something does happen, we can take care of it in house with our hub service kit. The rear wheel has 24 spokes laced 3x.
SRAM Force drive train takes care of the gear changing. Red is on all of my other road and CX bikes, but I figured with the abuse this bike will see, and the fact that it won't be raced, made it a perfect candidate for Force. Plus, this bike needs to fit a certain aesthetic, and the red accents on Red weren't quite right.
The obligatory stainless steel King Cage will soon have a mate. Perfectly designed, made in the US, durable, light, and beautiful, King Cages are the only way to go.
A working man's handlebar, home to a bright light and computer. The NiteRider 350 cordless is enough for the city, but when going further a Pro1500 will be mounted. The Garmin EDGE 800 is the ultimate cycling computer, bar none.
King headset and a silver head tube badge at the front of the bike. The badge is a luxury, but a king headset is mandatory.
R45 front hub to match the rear. light, the right color, and built with 24 spokes laced 2x in the front.
Quarq, the perfect match to a SRAM drive train. 50/34 chain rings make for extra flexibility in gearing. Again, this bike won't be raced so I didn't feel the need for a 53, and on easy rides a 34 might be just what I need.
Yes, there is a platinum panel under there. Classic painted panels on stainless steel.
The down tube panel housing classic Independent Fabrication logos in silver.
This bike combines a healthy dose of comfort with a little bit of speed and classic good looks. Relatively low-spoke-count wheels laced in a durable pattern have classic looks with modern performance. If I were building this bike for someone who weren't in a shop everyday we'd probably want to look at 32h laced 3x front and rear, but let's not forget that I work less than 2 feet from a huge spoke collection and a truing stand if something were to go south.

The steel fork is quite a bit heavier than anything I'm used to riding, but after only 60 miles on this bike I can tell it's going to be the right fork for the job. It rides so smooth, and coupled with the stainless frame and plush 27c tires this bike is just oh-so-smooth even on crappy roads.

Once the weather really turns foul this bike has braze-ons for fenders, a rear rack, and front low rider mounts to carry just about anything. But for now, I'm going to enjoy it in it's current "sport mode" and just go as is.

We usually photograph our bikes clean, but that felt so wrong for this bike. Dirty made sense, don't you think?

Monday, November 7, 2011

2011 Iceman Cometh Race Report

With Iceman done and behind me, and with time left to reflect on how the race went, I think it's due time I share a race report:

The morning started off well, I woke up early, got in a solid breakfast of two waffles, some fruit, coffee, a ton of water, and a hard-boiled egg.  Knocked out a few emails at breakfast, then it was time to prep.  My bike was ready, I got dressed, started loading my car with the stuff I wasn't using for the race, when I realized my shuttle was leaving in 10 minutes!

Rushing down to load my bike into the Uhaul, I forgot I was still wearing running shoes!  I darted to my car to grab my Giro's when I saw the shuttle pull out of the lot.  CRAP!  Luckily the Uhaul was still in the lot and they let me sit on the floor of the truck to the start line....crisis averted.

Once at the start I went into race mode.  I had all of my gear in line, got my warmup in, and was lined up front row for my wave.  As we were slowly let up to the start line I made some chit-chat with the other guys near me, only 2 of which seemed there to "race" rather than "ride".  I thought this race would start like a CX race, maybe I thought that since I've been in CX mode for a while now.

As the whistle blew, I gunned it.  Only 4 other guys came with me, none of them interested in going around and taking a pull.  I led us out onto the road, made a left onto another stretch of road, then as we came to double-track I picked it up a little more.  

At this point, when we came into our first taste of sand, there were only 3 of us left.  A guy on a Specialized came through and took a pull up the first couple of mini climbs, but I could tell that even small inclines were gassing him.  We rode together through the first few climbs, but when we hit our second somewhat substantial climb I attacked him and he was gone.

Now I'm only about 5 miles into a nearly-30 mile race and I'm solo.  A typical mountain bike race that may be fine strategy, but with roughly 2000 people who started in waves ahead of me and a course perfectly suited to drafting I wasn't loving my position.  Luckily I had my PowerTap Pro and used it to the best of my ability to pace on the long open fire roads and not attack too hard on the longer climbs.

At mile 7 we came to a longer steady climb, so I shifted down into my little ring and spun like crazy up it.  My hope was to keep my legs fresh as long as possible, and to this point it was working.  As I crested the hill I pushed the left lever to shift into my big ring and got nothing but grinding.  "Curious".  So I released the cable, and tried again, though this time I got no grinding and the trigger just kept rotating around.  Once the big lever had made a complete 360* rotation, I knew I was in trouble.

With a fast 22 miles left, I was stuck in my 26t chainring, and had to spin a 26/11 as my biggest gear out on the roads.  I was routinely seeing 130+ rpm to keep whatever speed I could, but was losing time and losing it fast.  My guess at this point is that I had passed about 300 people, maybe more.  If I wanted to have a chance I had to put as much time between myself and the guys I had previously dropped when in the big ring.  

I started attacking climbs, and taking more risks.  On downhill sections I was tossing my bike off the trail and bombing through bushes.  On climbs I was forced to dismount a number of times for slower riders and run around them.  I came to one particular climb that was so backed up I dismounted at the base and ran the entire thing through the woods, passing I would guess about 50-60 riders.

Singletrack sections were the worst, with riders all over their brakes poking through, so I was forced to either wait or find separate lines through the woods.  Some riders were extremely cooperative about letting me pass, others not so much.  By mile 20 I was in extremely heavy traffic and passing people 10 at a time.  Many of the passes were done in the sand using CX skills that have been given to me by teammates and guys much faster then I.  Drifting through sandy corners, taking really poor lines, and riding outside my comfort zone were the only tactics I had to keep moving at my pace.

With about 3 miles to go I was getting really gassed, and was trying to focus on riding smooth.  With about a 1 left I got caught behind a tandem in singletrack that wasn't letting me through, so I was stuck behind them for an entire section, my guess is about 2-3 minutes and I'm thinking I lost at least 30 seconds.

Into the final two climbs I gave it all I had left and watched my heart rate soar.  I knew I was almost there, I knew with all of the spinning I had done my legs were OK, I wanted to pass as many people as I could.  Into the finishing chute I went around 6-7 people sprinting to salvage what I could from the time lost behind other riders.

In the end I finished 1:57, 2nd in my wave and 5th in my division.  I'm not sure when I was passed by the rider from my wave, sometime in traffic I assume.  The other 3 that beat me had preferred starts and killed it.

Conditions this year were perfect.  Rain mid-week packed much of the sand down, temps were in the high-30's to start, the sun was out, there was little wind.  My tire choice was great, though the rear 40c Happy Medium probably didn't save me much over a 2.0 Furious Fred since the Freds do well in sand.

Next year with a preferred start, or maybe even shoot for the pro field, I think I can pretty easily knock off 10 minutes or more.

Traffic or not, the race was amazing.  Totally my style of course, great people all over, a festive atmosphere, I couldn't have asked for more from the race.

I will be back for sure, and I will be faster.

My ride, post-race:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Time to race...Iceman Cometh Challenge Ride

What does one do when it's time to recover before a race, but has all of this extra energy stored away? Well, I dink around with lights and backdrops, and usually end up with a bunch of stupid-looking photos that no one should be forced to look at.

Rather than just deleting them, I'll share a few. Most of them aren't much to spend your time on, but some of them share the bike I am planning to ride in the morning for my first attempt at The Iceman Cometh Challenge....

The lines of the Air9 Carbon really help a lack-luster photographer. Swooping and leading to a stiff ride, the bike screams fast.

With a little light actually on the bike you get a better idea of what this one is packing. SRAM XX, Sid World Cup XX 29er fork, Thomson stem and post, EDGE carbon bars.

And a new addition, the recently-released PowerTap Pro disc hub. PowerTap has had the SL+ disc hub for a few years, but the newly designed option has shaved a ton of weight (this one was 492g to be exact) and looks a lot better with the matte and gloss black hub rather than polished silver with carbon windows.

A shot of the fork that shaved a couple hundred grams off of my bike. The carbon-crowned SID.

A wild card for Iceman, Kenda Happy Medium 700x40 rear tire. A robust file tread in the center with a tall shoulder, total casing measures 41.9mm on the Stan's Crest 29er rim. These are set up tubeless, of course.

The obligatory wide angle. She's coming in at 21.2lbs with pedals and Garmin 800 mounted. Nothing super-special to make that weight, or at least not easily attainable with a good credit card.

Let's see how these choices play out during the race tomorrow.....

Giro Gauge Mountain Shoes, 2 Weeks In

The Giro Gauge is an interesting shoe, and if you go back to my previous post on them, you'll see I was impressed out of the box. The stiffness was off the charts compared to the Sidi Spider I was used to, and the finish quality was right there with Sidi as well.

That's all good and well, but if the shoes don't feel right the point is moot. Through this week I now have 2 weeks of training in these shoes. Yes, I specified "training", as I haven't raced in them...yet. Superstition maybe, or maybe just nerves, but I'm still racing in my Spiders. That's going to change tomorrow.

With cyclocross you have to be able to remount quickly, over and over. Part of that quick remount is a fast clip-in, and it helps to be totally comfortable in your shoes and with their cleat placement below your foot. In the last 2 weeks I have been fiddling a lot with cleat placement on the Gauge, and now that I think I have it right it's time to give these bad boys some race time.

Starting tomorrow morning around 10 am EST, the my pair of shoes will see their first big test: Iceman Cometh. It's my first time out there, and from what I hear is all about pedaling. Hard. The stiffness of the Gauge I think will be on my side.

These two weeks have proven my initial assessment of incredible stiffness to be correct. The shoes are no worse for the wear, but they shouldn't be as they only have about 30 hours on them. The velcro straps are quite nice as the d-ring on the middle strap is off-set to the outside of the shoe, moving it away from the medial cuneiform (the big bone at the top of your foot) to reduce pressure.

Give me about 48 hours and I'll tell you what I really think about these shoes.....