December 31, 2013

Craft Zero Extreme Base Layer Top Review

This top has become my normal base layer for cross on colder days.  Of course I use it for lots of other riding too as it is a versatile piece of outdoor wear. It's a very simple concept - a synthetic knit top with an added nylon layer over the body on the front only. It's the nylon layer that makes it a winner. Now they make a few different versions of this, but basically the same thing as my pre-windstopper version. Just make sure you get the nylon windbreaker-type material on it. Basically, you are putting a modern equivalent of newpaper under your jersey, just lighter and more comfortable. And it goes through the wash better. As the old-timers knew, keeping the wind off your body makes a big, big difference, even if the legs and arms are not quite as well protected. When I race cross, this layer under my cross skinsuit is good to a little below 0C (hence the name?) or 32F and that's with bare legs (with embrocation). Of course on the road bike the temperature feels a bit colder due to the higher speeds, so those temps would be a bit extreme (hence the name?). Very functional.

December 26, 2013

Try This Weird Old Trick to Rejuvenate Velcro

Note the sewn in velcro, just above the sewn in fleece.
Velcro 15 years old, looks 2! Couldn't resist the junk ad intro, sorry. But in my defence, it's all true! I have these ancient winter cycling boots - Lake MXZ 300 version. These are quite old, so old I have no idea how old they are, but 15 years is about right. I do remember they were recommended by John Stamsted, the pioneer uber-endurance cyclist of the 1990s and he used them in the Iditarod. So they are old, no doubt. Possibly vintage even.

I have revised these shoes a few times to make them warmer and replaced the velcro once. Had a shoemaker fix the sewing that was rotting out once as well. Over the last 6 years I used them quite a bit for winter commuting in Canada. Lots of days, lots of cold. And dang, the velcro was losing it's stick again this winter. I didn't feel like re-sewing it again. Looking at the velcro, it was the loop part that was all fuzzed out. The hook part, having a lot of hair and fuzz stuck in it, was otherwise in good shape. So being the lazy, cheap bastard inventive, financially-responsible person I am, I thought I might as well simply trim the loop part off to see if I could get down to where the loops weren't all fuzzed out. And wow, about 3 minutes later, success. Stickiness rejuvenated about 13 years. If only I could do that to my legs....

Anyways, I just had to share. Now to go for a ride in them. It's kick-ass warm today.

December 25, 2013

Scott Foil 10 Bike Frame Review

In the fall of 2012 I was able to buy a Scott foil frame because I was able to hand-me-down my Cervelo. Nothing wrong with the Cervelo really, just had an itch that I needed to scratch. Fall is always a great time to buy as well as the LBS is very accomodating. I didn't like the parts on the bike, but I did like the frame. The bike sales guy had no problem stripping the bike and giving me a good deal.

So, why did I pick this particular frame? I looked at aero and non-areo frames. The Cannondale seemed pretty nice. But non-aero and there were no good deals on Cannondale in my neck of the woods that fall. You may remember the Velo review of aero frames that gave the Scott a high rating. That piqued my interest. I did want some aero benefit, but I prefer a bike that looks like a bike. Plus I found my Cervelo to be a problem in high crosswinds to the point where I had to cut rides short a time or two as I just couldn't handle the crosswind. On those days you go into the wind until you can't stand it anymore or the knees start to give, then go home in the 53x11. But I hate out and backs - too much deja vu on my training rides as it is. So I didn't want to go crazy wide aero tubing again.

The top three models of the 2012 Foil have the same frame - HMX carbon. But not currently - the new Foil 10 is an HMF carbon frame. So buyer beware. The new one should be cheaper though.

I did test drive the frame a few times before buying. The concern was the stiffness and harsh ride comments that Velo made. However, I never noticed any undue harshness and despite riding to evaluate that particular aspect, I kept forgetting to pay attention to the ride and just rode the bike. So I considered that a good sign and bought the frame.

Here are the critical statistics:
  • Fork weight  - 350 g with top cap nut
  • Frame weight - 940 g with hanger, bottle bolts, chain catcher, 900 g with nothing but carbon and upper headset race
  • Seatpost - 190 g
  • Made in Taiwan
  • No issues with fork or rear dropout spacing - unlike Velo review
It is a very light frame. Not the lightest, but spending many thousand more dollars will only get you another 200 g or so. You can get this thing down to about 14 lbs with 1200 g wheels, Sram Red, and an aluminum handlebar/stem like I did. Nice parts, but nothing all that special for components. So you can get even lower if you go crazy. The seatpost is light and proprietary, but a typical high-end Ritchey carbon model. I don't really like the one-bolt seatpost binder as they are hard to get just right. But eventually I did get it just right and I don't mind it now as long at it doesn't act up. No choice really as it is proprietary - a special shape to fit the frame. The built in chain catcher on the frame doesn't work half the time either. I use the Sram version that comes with the front derailleur. That one does work nicely.

The ride on this bike is not unlike the Cervelo as far as harshness. At least I can't tell the difference. Which is to say I ride it for 100 km and its no big deal in terms of comfort. Full disclosure - I ride tubulars at all times - Tufo tires with sealant for training. But again, both bikes are comparable in comfort. I do notice that the Foil handles a bit better than the Cervelo. It rides better no hands for sure, but some of that is the difference in frame shape. The wide tubes on the Cervelo catch the wind, making things wobbly in a crosswind. The Scott works much better in a crosswind. I can use deeper section aero wheels in the same wind and I don't get tossed around like the Cervelo. I haven't seen anyone evaluate this real-world ride aspect quantitatively, but increased countersteering and wind buffeting will eat into your energy reserves and speed, of that I am convinced. Plus you get a sore back if you ride too long leaning over against the wind. I sold the Cervelo to a bigger guy (40 lbs bigger than my 155) and the wind is much less of an issue for him, including riding no hands. So maybe I was a bit overmatched on the Cervelo. The Scott suits me better.

Of course Strava is the true arbitrator of all things speedy. I beat all my Cervelo Strava PRs at will really. This bike is faster. Most of the time you don't subjectively feel it, but on a hill climb you do thanks to the overall stiffness. It is a step up from the Cervelo just as the Cervelo was a step up from my previous Trek 5200.

Looking at the new crop of aero frames, they are more aero and even stiffer than the Scott Foil. But they may have gone too far in that regard. Reading between the lines, the uber-stiff aero frames have now reached pretty uncomfortable levels of ride. And yes they are more aero, but they look too space age for my eyes. I suspect that crosswinds, of which we have lots, push them around more too. So, one model year later, I'm still happy with the Scott and don't cherish the new bikes. The combination of light weight, comfort, aero, looks, climbing/sprinting stiffness, and performance in cross winds makes it an overall winner in my books. Even though it doesn't win any of these categories.

December 15, 2013

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tire Review

Lame Duck
It's hard to review the worst-constructed tire I have ever seen in my life. No, really. How do you find superlatives that just don't sound whiny? How do you make people truly believe in the total crappiness of the product? How do you convince them to buy any studded tire but this particular tire? I really don't know.

But here's the problem. You see a foldable, lightweight studded tire with those pointy carbide spokes that costs a lot of money and you think "Holy Crap! This must be the ultimate studded tire!". Well kind of - the ultimate studded tire fail. I have never ever seen a tire that was constructed so poorly that it wobbled like that. Even installed with a tube.

I initially tried tubeless. HAH! Wobbled like a one-legged duck. Then I decided to use a tube. The duck was equally lame. This is the first tubed tire I ever soaped to try to even it out. That didn't work either. I'm still riding it as I spent the money. Lucky I only bought one for the back because looking at that wobble on the front wheel would have driven me crazy. At least on the back I don't have to look at it. And it will wear out faster - maybe I will leave it on for summer.

Traction - same as any knobby studded tire. But give it a pass unless you are desperate. Soul-crushing, what-am-I-going-to-do-I-can't-ride-my-bike-and-this-is-the-only-tire-within-3-days-of-here-and-I-need-a-bike-fix desperate. Kinda figures though. What do they know about studded ice and snow tires in Taiwan? The children in those factories need to learn to make better tires.

Note the rim is straight,
the tire not so much, @40 psi

December 08, 2013

A Not-So-Special Bike Company

Cool Logo - Mark of Satan?
Specialized went after one of our local bike shops because they used the name Roubaix as in Cafe Roubaix. Of course a small shop is easily intimidated financially by the threat to sue. Lawsuits are kind of the American way of resolving disputes. It is also a great way for large corporations to bully small companies. Not-So-Special Ized is suing over a term they didn't invent or have any part in developing. They also didn't have any part in developing the Paris-Roubaix race, the only reason most of us have heard of Roubaix. All they did was trademark it. Not exactly original or a work of genius.

But what retarded government official let Not-So-Special Ized trademark a place name? Can I trademark United States? Or even Santa Cruz (love their bikes by the way)? Doubt it. Did said government official never hear of Roubaix and think Not-So-Special Ized invented it? It is from some foreign land and who follows that kind of thing anyway? That may be it.

Anyways, so glad I don't have any Not-So-Special Ized bikes in my holdings although I did have one that I used as a commuter until it rotted away. I came close last spring on a mountain bike, but the brain, being one more component requiring frequent maintenance, was the killer for me. Instead I bought a Santa Cruz in my quest to become a mediocre mountain biker. And I don't believe they are sueing a single war veteran over the name Santa Cruz.

This isn't the first time Not-So-Special Ized has tried to screw with a bike shop, although that one was a while back. Definitely another tenuous infringement and more bullying tactics. Here's another more recent one. Apparently "Epic" belongs to Not-So-Special Ized and no one else. Does this mean that if I have an "Epic" ride on my Santa Cruz, I can't tell anyone about it?

Even Leonard Zinn thinks they suck on yet another lawsuit, although he is too polite to use that word directly. A one-dollar settlement does prove that they file spurious lawsuits to bully smaller companies. Hilarious statement from the Not-So-Special prez:

This lawsuit was a matter of principle and about protecting our culture of trust and innovation. We respect the ruling of the court in our favor. We are very satisfied with the outcome and the damages set at $1.00.

I bet, because it cost Volagi $400,000 to fight back. I guess bullying the little guy is their corporate culture.

Live forever Cafe Roubaix, Epic Wheel Works and Stumptown Bikes. Sorry about the lawsuit Volagi - hope you got your court costs back. Go suck a cobble, Not-So-Special Ized. Don't buy from the Big S. Don't buy from the man. There are lots of choices out there these days. And Not-So Special Ized is 49% owned by Taiwan. I wonder where those counterfit Specialized products are made?

Update: 11/12/13 - cool date
Well, Fuji actually owned the trademark after all that. And having the benefit of seeing what happened to Specialized, took the high road - allowing Cafe Roubaix to use the name. Of course a blind monkey could have gotten that strategy right. Then Specialized, realizing their blunder, made a not so carefully crafted apology days later and let Cafe Roubaix use the name too. Even flew up for pancakes and bacon or something.

A cynical person (like me) would say the apology is BS. They only apologized because of the tremendous cost of the bad advertising and they waited days until it got so bad there was no other corporate option. If they were actually sincere, they would also apologize to all the other folks they screwed with their bullying tactics over the years and pay their court and other costs (e.g., rebadging your store, tossing your old stuff). And they wouldn't make excuses for their bullying. "I'm sorry but....whine, whine, whine" doesn't work when I do it, doesn't work here. Cafe Roubaix wasn't counterfitting anything, apologize like you mean it - without excuses. Although it's too late now.

Hmmm.  In retrospect, Lance did a much better job of apologizing. So who do you like better Lance or Specialized? Mellow Johnny or the big S. Whose apologies are hypothetically more sincere? Hmmm. Think I will continue to pass on Specialized bikes and paraphernalia, indefinitely. And Lance is more entertaining, even now.