Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Real-World Review: Rapha Grand Tour Shoes

Some filler while I’m in Amsterdam, land of 10 million bicycles, 99% of which are squeaky, creaky pieces of shit. Understandable, because the local residents use them strictly as transportation and lock them outdoors 24/7. They don’t have the kind of attachment we do to our finely tuned road machines, at least not to the bikes they use for riding around town.  This is my first time here in 6 or 7 years; in fact, the last time I was here it was before I really paid attention to bicycles, so it is shocking to see bicycle traffic jams.

I am happy in my corner of the Catskills, and I was also happy in New York City, but Amsterdam is one of the few other places in the world in which I could happily live, and not just because of the bicycles. It is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. The Dutch are awesome, and—I don’t know quite how to put this—they seem happier and better adjusted than the people in other major cities I’ve visited worldwide.

If I moved here, though, I’d have to start a campaign to encourage them to oil their goddamned chains.

Before I begin, some perspective on my reviews:  I’m an average athlete, and I am not an expert in anything bicycle related. However, since I started the blog I have received many e-mails asking for “expert” advice on bicycle-related topics. My favorite was a guy asking for advice on nutrition: as the people I ride with will tell you, I sometimes forget to eat until I’m shaking and almost falling off the bike.

My reviews might be useful for the average cyclist who rides longer distances, or one who wants to. Those of you have been reading along know that I like to ride long. I’m not necessarily fast, but 12-, 14-, and even 18-hour days (or more) in the saddle are an at least weekly event for me. Even during the week my rides average 2 to 3 hours. I don’t have to sell ads, so I won’t give you any Bicycling-style bullshit. Please remember, however, that there is an inherent bias in my reviews, in that I will take the time to write a review only if I really like something.

Now, the review:

There is a lot that can go wrong at the interface between the body and the bicycle on a 200+ mile ride. A rough seam combined with a poor fit on a bib short can saw a bleeding gash in your thigh. A pair of sunglasses that clamp too tightly can cause intolerable headaches. A pair of shoes that is acceptable for 6 hours can cause long-lasting nerve damage after 18 hours in the saddle. All issues that need to be avoided, particularly if you don’t want to take a week to recover between rides.

That brings me to Rapha, which is often the subject of considerable derision among experienced cyclists. However, I’m a fan. I love almost everything I’ve ever purchased from them. Not only does it fit well, but it lasts under extreme conditions. I still have jerseys from when Rapha had, if I recall correctly, 4 or 5 products on their website (maybe that was 2008?). They’ve been washed hundreds of times, and still look good and fit well.

I’ve also heard complaints about Rapha’s clothing being sized for, um, bigger gents—you know, recreational cyclists who aren’t serious. I don’t know how the people doing the complaining are built, but I am 6 feet tall and 145 pounds on a (very) fat day, and a standard Rapha medium fits relatively closely. It is not an aero race jersey, and it isn’t meant to be.

I’ve used Sidi shoes almost exclusively since early 2008. I’ve also had brief, tragic experiences with Shimano and Specialized shoes. The Sidis are great shoes, but they caused numbness after 6 or 7 hours of riding. I could never get the ratcheted strap to a tension that retained my foot properly but didn’t cut off circulation. They provided excellent power transfer and I had no issues riding short distances, but it was always a relief to take them off at the end of a ride.

I was looking for something better. I flirted with getting some custom-made shoes, but the molding process put me off—it would be fine if there was someone local to do it for me, but doing it myself seemed like a recipe for an expensive disaster.

Ultimately, I decided to try the Rapha Grand Tour shoe. Here’s what the Rapha website has to say about them:

Rapha en Giro presenteren de beste wegschoen ter wereld, die ongeëvenaarde comfort, duurzaamheid, kracht en stijl biedt. De handgesneden bovenlaag is gemaakt van exclusief jakleer en is gecombineerd met de beste pasvorm en onderdelen – allemaal ontwikkeld en getest door Giro in Californië.

No, I don’t know what that means either. But if they are “de beste wegschoen ter wereld” they have to be good, right? Anyway, I frequently fail to understand even the English-language version of the Rapha website.

I wanted black, but they flew off the shelves so fast that they only had white pairs left in my size. When they showed up, I opened the extensive (and wasteful) packaging, unveiling something that resembled a rather dumb-looking golf shoe. Yeah, I knew what I was getting myself into, and anyway cycling is the new golf, you know.

Grand Tour

I purchased them in my size (according to Rapha’s sizing guide) and they were WAY TOO TIGHT. They felt like they were at least half a size too small, maybe a full size too small. So I returned them and sized up half a size—still quite tight, but acceptable. At that point, I was riding 300 miles a week and didn’t feel that it was the time to try something new, so I put them in the closet for a few months to age like a fine tubular tire, only breaking them out when I had worn out the cleats on my Sidis.

When I tried them on the second time, again my impression was that they were quite tight. I wouldn’t say that my first rides with them were a revelation. They provided adequate power transfer, but I still ended up with numb toes after about the 6- or 7-hour mark. No worse than the Sidis. No better, either.

Did I just purchase really expensive golf shoes?

As it turns out, after 20 or 30 rides, including many in the rain, they began to stretch. The stretch was easily quantifiable because of the ratcheting mechanism on the buckle—every week or so, I had to tighten them a few notches. Eventually, they stretched to the point where I bottomed out the strap. No more clicks. I was annoyed, but I came up with a solution: aftermarket footbeds have considerably more volume than the supplied footbeds. So, I put in SuperFeet, and the shoes fit well again.

In fact, they are now among the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, including regular street shoes. Am I perfectly comfortable after 16 hours? No, but I have yet to experience any numbness, and there is a little room to ease off on the straps to accommodate my feet as they swell. I think that’s all you can ask from a shoe, right? The stretching has stopped; with the aftermarket footbeds I have 2-3 more clicks left on the ratcheting mechanism.

In summary, I really like these shoes, and—apart from getting customs—I do not see much room for improvement. The looks do take some getting used to. If you decide to try them, I’d suggest you either 1) buy according to the Rapha size chart, and accept that they will be extremely tight for a dozen rides or 2) size up half a size so that they are more comfortable initially, and then after 20 rides put in some aftermarket footbeds. If you need orthotics or aftermarket footbeds, definitely size up. I’d also purchase them in the late fall or early spring, so you can break them in as your mileage increases. You don’t want to try breaking them in mid-season!

Update December 2013: Still great!



Around the Gunks: A Report

Work. Work. Work. August is supposed to be the month when all my European clients take off and relax at the beach. Let me tell you, Europeans–at least those in my industry–work just as hard as their American counterparts. No month-long vacations!

For me, that means that my month has been jam-packed with 70+ hour work weeks, and not as much riding as I’d like, particularly long-distance rides that take all day. I have, however, been on the bike every day for an unprecedented 9 days straight. Mostly 30-40 mile rides, but I did manage time for one 70-mile ride, even though it meant starting near dusk and coming home late at night. No pictures, unfortunately.

Now, I’m off to Holland for a few days for meetings. In the meantime, read Geo’s report on his ride around the Gunks. Here’s the route I created for him.

If you’re planning to ride out here don’t hesitate to contact me; I’m happy to develop a route for you. I have a long-standing obsession with maps, so it’s a pleasure to put something together to fit your needs. Or just start scrolling down, if you’re in the market for something in the 80- to 120-mile range, there’s plenty here.


Peekamoose Times Two

You may have noticed that I am not adhering to my twice weekly posting schedule. There are a couple of reasons for that. This blog is not meant to be my personal diary; instead, it’s meant to first be a resource for intermediate- to long-distance cycling routes in the Catskills, and second to provide real-world reviews of cycling products from the perspective of a rider who likes distance, dirt, and inclement weather (yes, I actually enjoy riding through rain, sleet, and snow!) There are very real differences between brands of bib shorts, shoes or even tires that don’t become evident until you ride a century with them. A great example of this was some Pearl Izumi bib shorts that seemed fine until a 150-mile ride, when poor fit and a rough seam conspired to saw a bleeding hole in my thigh.

I am especially careful about random posts because so many people are now getting update e-mails every time I post, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. That said, you will be getting a few pet picture posts over the winter. No complaints, please.

I’ve spent considerable time over the past few weeks reprising the old standbys. Yesterday marked my twentieth time over Peekamoose since we moved here last year–that’s about 1200 miles on this route alone. Next week I’m planning to ride Slide Mountain again. I will document that trip and write a full post since I haven’t yet been over Slide in the summer.

Over the next week, I’m going to review Rapha’s Grand Tour shoes, bib shorts for distance riders, and follow up on my long-term review of the Rivet saddle. And, if I can find my chain tool to shorten my chain on the English 700C, I’ll provide some initial impressions of the new Grand Bois Extra Leger 26 mm tires. And of course you’ll get the Slide Mountain post.

Until then, here’s the GPS for a new 72-mile Peekamoose route and a few pictures.







Grand Bois Extra Leger 26 mm Tires

Since riding the Grand Bois Extra Leger 32s on my winter cross bike, I’ve been waiting for a 25 or 26 mm Extra Leger tire to fit the English 700C. True, the 23 mm tires were available, but 25 mm is the minimum I’ll ride on the crappy roads in my area.

A few weeks ago I got my wish, and I installed them today.


If you’re wondering why my rings are silver: I recently geared down–34/25 wasn’t a useful low gear for my usual rides, which generally include 10,000+ feet of climbing with extended 12% to 22% segments. Although the climbs were survivable, I was wrecking my knees. I couldn’t get the rings I wanted in black, so I’m making do with silver.

Back to tires: The fit is tight in the THM Scapula fork, which is only rated for up to a 25 mm tire. Nevertheless, there is some room to spare.


I’ll report back after a few hundred miles, starting with the 72-mile Peekamoose route, which I’ll be riding tomorrow morning with new companions who haven’t been out that way yet. Peekamoose is a great ride, because you suffer like hell for the first 16 miles; thereafter, it’s high-speed downhill for the next 30 miles.


A Review of TRP Spyre Disc Brakes

Edit Dec 7 2013: TRP “has identified a potential safety issue in the lab with the Spyre and Spyre SLC mechanical disc brakes and, as a responsible company, has issued a “stop sell”  notice to our OEM customers and distributors until we have a solution in place. We are working hard on the issue and anticipate a solution very shortly. More information will be forthcoming as soon as possible.”

I’ve removed my Spyres from the English for now. Back to BB7 hell.

This summer has been tough. Lots of work and travel, and not enough time on the bike. I like to put in a minimum of 15 hours a week on the bike, but I’ve been in more of the 10 to 12 hour zone, and a lot of that hasn’t been quality time—just quick dashes around the neighborhood. Good for exercise, but not a lot of fun.

A bright spot, though, was the delivery of my English 650B bike in June. Since June 20th, I’ve put 1375 miles on the bike, and it has revolutionized my back-road riding experience. It handles precisely like a road bike, it is much more comfortable on the rough stuff and no slower on the flats. An unexpected bonus has been being able to descend more quickly. Instead of panic braking and hopping over obstacles—and slowing down because that shadow on the road might be hiding a pothole, I just sail over everything.

Have doubts? Just try a 650B bike, if you can. The only thing that might be difficult is that most are built as vintage reenactment machines, so if you’re used to a modern road bike, it’s a different experience. (I want to note that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with vintage reenactment bikes—I have a few myself and love them. But I realize they’re not for everyone, or even the majority of riders).

Anyway…this wasn’t supposed to be about my English. Instead, I’d like to tell you about my experience with TRP Spyre brakes. Keep in mind that this is an honest, unbiased review–I’m not paid for posts, nor do I reprocess press releases like so many other bike blogs do.


I’ve always been of the opinion that disc brakes confer no benefits on a road bike. As many have argued before, the rim of a wheel represents the largest possible rotor, and thus offers great braking performance. I support that position: there is no rational need for disc brakes on a road bike. At least not mechanical disc brakes.

However: If you’re riding a nontraditional road bike—say something with fat tires, like my 650B, or even a cross bike with 32s or 35s, disc brakes are a handy solution. The long-reach brakes that are available now are heavy and not very high quality. Thus, disc brakes represent a reasonable option.

My previous experience with disc brakes was with mechanical Avid BB7s on my winter cross bike, a Lynskey Procross. Awful. Truly awful. They went out of adjustment every other ride, they shuddered and shook, and squealed like crazy when they got even a little bit wet. I guess if you’re a professional mechanic they would be okay, but I don’t have the time or skills to adjust my brakes every few days. Like many other mechanical tasks on a bicycle, I can adjust the brakes to perfection, it just takes me forever. I’d rather be riding my bike, y’know?

Enter the TRP Spyres. After some initial frustration getting them set up right—I like my brakes relatively “stiff”—they have performed admirably. They are simple to adjust, and they do not squeal even when wet. They offer at least equivalent braking performance to BB7s; in fact, on average they offer better braking performance because they don’t require continuous readjustment. Keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone who flies down mountains almost daily, often in inclement weather (a blessing and a curse, because I also have to climb up those mountains!)

One word of advice: Toss the rotors they come with, or at least hold them in reserve for an emergency, and buy some Shimano Ice Tech rotors. The braking performance is improved considerably and there is little to no squeal. With the Ice Tech rotors, the braking performance is, dare I say it, even better than well-adjusted rim brakes. Again, I’m riding in extreme conditions, the stock rotors may very well be okay for regular use.

The best part? The only adjustments they require is an occasional tweak to make up for pad wear. A matter of a few seconds.

The “power curve” for these brakes is different from rim brakes. I’ve now had a chance to ride this bike, with the Spyres installed, in a paceline with people using conventional rim brakes. I’m happy to say that the modulation is good enough for the occasional feather touch when soft-pedaling or sitting up won’t do. Don’t run out and ride in a fast paceline the day you install the brakes, though.

So…have TRP Spyres made me change my mind about disc brakes on a road bike? No, not really. If you’re buying a new conventional road bike, you don’t need them and, even though the Spyres are low maintenance and perform well, they are still more trouble than a rim brake for not a lot of additional benefit.

If you’re buying a cross bike or any other type of bike that may not fit regular road brakes without going to long-reach calipers, they are an acceptable alternative. If you insist on ordering a bike with mechanical disc brakes, insist on Spyres. OEMs would be crazy to specify BB7s instead of Spyres–they are that much better!

I’ve purchased a set of the HY/RD hybrid hydraulic brakes for my winter bike to replace the god-awful BB7s. I’ll report on those later in the year.



Four-County Ramble, Courtesty of Henry

I apologize for not posting more frequently over the past few weeks. Truth is, work has been draining all signs of life from me, and it shows no sign of letting up any time soon. That said, I’ve still been able to get in 100 to 150 miles every week, although they have not generally been quality miles.


We did manage to get out for a 104-mile adventure out of Woodstock. My companions: Doug and Henry. The initial plan was to do the flattest possible 200k, starting from Doug’s place in Woodstock and riding far into Dutchess county, which–believe it or not–is much flatter than Ulster, Greene, Delaware, or even Sullivan. But as I was putting my front wheel back on, Henry asked if we’d like to take a “real” ride, which around here means climbin’ mountains.

With some trepidation, I agreed. The trepidation was because I had absolutely no idea what was coming up; thus, I had no idea how to pace myself, how long the ride would be, or whether I’d be home in time to do some work. It all worked out fine, in the end.

I don’t have a lot of energy to write, so let’s make this post more about pictures than words, shall we? Here’s the route.


Simple. Start in Woodstock, ride up 28, and then head for the hills. And there were some good hills! The two best climbs on this route are Vega Mountain Road and Dimmick Mountain Road, the later of which is a pretty decent climb, even for out here in the Catskills. It isn’t long, but it is steep.

So, some pictures and I’ll leave it at that. I’d suggest clicking on some of these for full size, some are quite lovely.





L1020818_pe_DxOFP L1020817_pe_DxOFP  L1020814_pe_DxOFP



This, in case you are wondering, is Cross-Mountain Road in Delaware County. Magical dirt road.









Henry was the only one brave enough to cross this bridge. The boards on the bridge deck were actually popping out. I’m surprised that the county doesn’t either repair it or block it off.


Some cross-country action.


L1020783_pe_DxOFP    L1020774_pe_DxOFP

And finally, a baby goat. I don’t think nature has made a cuter creature. It might even be cuter than a puppy.



And that’s all for now. Off to California, and then Holland. I thought, when I moved out here to the Catskills, that I’d maybe work a little less, enjoy life a little more. As it’s turned out…well, let’s just say I’m burning the candle at both ends!