Category Archives: reviews

New Bike Day! The GT Grade

Hi all. It’s been a while. So long, in fact, that I couldn’t even remember how to log in. I’m hoping for more consistent posts in the near future.

Anyway–last Saturday was new bike day. A GT Grade, carbon fiber, Ultegra group with HYDRAULIC BRAKES (more about that in a moment).

Margot  was kind enough to drive me up to Saugerties, where I picked up the bike at Revolution Bicycles. Normally I’d go with my local shop, the Bicycle Depot in New Paltz, because I know and trust them and they have provided nothing but excellent service, but they are not a GT dealer. In any case, Revolution Bicycles was great. We did the final set up of the bike while I waited, which included removing the crappy tires it came with and putting on Compass Stampede Pass Extralight 32 mm tires and switching the seatpost to something more suitable.

Once set up, I set out on a planned 51-mile ride back home. Yeah, I know it’s dumb to ride an untried bike in an isolated area without a proper shakedown cruise, but that’s what I did. And the bike turned out to be so good that I took a few detours and ended up riding much farther–and climbing many more feet (~4300) than originally planned.

Revo-Home Map

Here’s the bike.

The only issue that cropped up was that the saddle was set way too far forward, which I didn’t really notice until about 20 miles into the ride. Of course, I ignored it for another 10-15 miles and ended up with terminal crippling ass pain. I got off the bike and slammed the saddle back to where it should have been, and things improved greatly.

Now, the bike: Spectacular. I’ve been a Campagnolo proponent for a long time, and I begrudgingly use SRAM on one bike although, I have to admit, I really hate it. So this was my first time on modern Shimano, and my first time with hydraulic brakes. Can I say HOLY SHIT HYDRAULIC BRAKES! I’ve been riding a bike with mechanical discs and I hated them. When they weren’t rubbing they weren’t braking, and vice versa. Hydraulic discs truly change the riding experience.

Like most of you with caliper brakes, I rarely touch the rear brake except in 3 situations: 1) When I’m riding on icy roads (to avoid a front washout and a crash); 2) when I’m riding on gravel (again, to avoid locking up the front); and 3) when I’m descending something long and twisty to give the front brake a break before the rim turns cherry red. Hydraulic brakes, on the other hand, provide a perfectly functional rear brake that, if you hang your ass off the back of the saddle, is nearly as functional as the front. That means much faster, more confident descending. I’m actually surprised the pros haven’t switched yet–it’s that much better and a hell of a lot safer than caliper brakes.

Only one picture from this ride:

John F

medicalwriter.net

Lake MX331 Review Continued: Half a Pair is Better than None

Alas, not all is perfect with my new shoes. Thus far, I’ve ridden about 350 miles in them and there is some bad and some good.

The right shoe is very comfortable. I spent some time heat-molding it, and the really great thing is that, once appropriately molded, the retention can be left relatively loose (meaning, still tight but not as tight as would be otherwise necessary). This has a very clear benefit: On longer rides I experience none of the suffering that comes with tight shoes cutting off blood supply. The soles are extraordinarily stiff–precisely what I was looking for: A combination of the stiffness of a road shoe with some degree of walkability when absolutely needed.

That’s the right shoe. The left shoe, while it has potential, leaves something to be desired. There’s a manufacturing defect in the sole that results in an uncomfortable bump right under my toes. I suspect it would be less unpleasant in summer socks, but in winter socks it squeezes my toes into the top of the toe box. While not outright uncomfortable during the shorter (<70-mile) rides I’ve been doing over the last few weeks, it is very irritating and is likely to become a major issue during longer rides. In fact, I can sort of feel an incipient blister from yesterday’s piddly 30-mile ride.

So, I’ve contacted bikeshoes.com* to see if they can send me just a new left shoe. I don’t really want to return the current pair until I have a replacement, as that would leave me switching back to road pedals–and I’ve been rather enjoying the capability of being able to hike-a-bike through mud and snow when needed.

So, that’s the report so far. Based on the right shoe, I suspect this will be an amazing pair of shoes–I just need a left without a manufacturing defect.

…And tonight I’ll get around to reporting on my adventures so far this season.

John

medicalwriter.net

*Whenever possible, I try to buy stuff from my local bike shop, The Bicycle Depot. Bike shoes are just one of those things that are almost impossible to buy locally due to the need to stock a broad range of sizes for multiple models.

Lake MX331 Review (Part 1)

After 5 years of slipping and sliding around on road shoes with Look cleats, I’ve decided to switch back to mountain bike shoes. The original impetus for switching to road shoes was that I was developing hot spots on long rides, which the Look pedals and stiff road shoes solved completely.

However, I’ve found myself avoiding certain routes, particularly those that require some off roadin’ and/or hike-a-bike. Those routes are some of the best. There’s a picture of me somewhere on this blog leaping a log in a single bound in road shoes on one of my rides; what it didn’t show was me falling on my ass half a dozen times or the 10-minute process of completely removing my shoes to clean the mud out of my cleats and pedals.

So I’ve decided to switch back to mountain bike pedals. The great thing, though, is that over the last 5 years cross has increased in popularity dramatically, and now there are shoes that provide a hybrid of road stiffness and mountain bike traction.

These came in the mail yesterday:

They’re Lake MX331s. I chose these because they are made of leather. I had great success with the Rapha road shoes because my feel are oddly shaped, and the leather allowed them to, ultimately, form themselves to my feet. They are more comfortable than my regular shoes, and they still get my highest recommendation if you’re looking for a road shoe (and don’t mind looking a little silly; I still think they look like golf shoes).

The Lake MX331s are moldable, so of course the first thing I did was pop them in the oven at 200 degrees for 5 minutes. Then I put them on and formed the heel cup, which appeared to make a substantial difference in heal retention. Supposedly the arch is also heat-formable, but I didn’t have much success in changing the shape of the arch.

The great thing about these is that they are stiff as hell. I can’t get any flex whatsoever out of the sole, which is good news in terms of reducing the risk for hot spots over long rides.

Now all I need are pedals. I ordered these:

Hopefully they will arrive before my 2015 debut on Monday.

John

medicalwriter.net

Mr Bates

Coming soon. My new winter bike.

I’m building it with modern components, including mini V’s. Campagnolo, of course (I’ve had quite enough of SRAM, and Shimano is sadly difficult to shift in winter gloves). Apparently has enough clearance for 32-mm tires–perfect for a winter bike. I should mention that it has been respaced, and the brake bridge moved, for 130 mm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Short Review: Giordana Exo Bib Shorts

Part of being a dedicated cyclist is putting together kit that works for you. For years, I’ve ridden with Assos bibs–the old ones with the orange insert, and jerseys from various companies, including Rapha, Giordana, and others. I’m especially fond of the “Body Paint” jerseys from Castelli. I won’t wear Assos jerseys because (ready for some TMI?) they chafe my nipples horribly.

There, I said it.

Plus, I’m officially boycotting Assos since I went online to buy my annual two pairs of my favorite sock.

Assos Sock

They used to be $28. Ridiculous, I know. But two pair a year isn’t going to break the budget. Now? $61. Combined with their ridiculous marketing I’m done with Assos.

Once you put together something that works for you, it’s tough to deviate from the tried and true. I mean, who wants to put on a new pair of bib shorts for the first time before a 50- or 100-mile ride?

I’ve had a pair of Giordana Exo bib shorts in hanging in my “bike closet” for a few years, but I’ve never gotten around to wearing them. On Saturday, I ran out of clean bib shorts–tough to do since my 8-year collection now consists of about 10 pairs. I had to choose between some ancient Assos half-shorts and the Giordanas. I put on the half shorts and couldn’t deal with the lack of shoulder straps. So I put on the GIordanas. I’ll spare you a picture of my magnificence in bibs, this’ll have to do:

Giordana Exo

I set off on a 50-mile ride, expecting serious pain, especially since the pad on the Giordanas is paper-thin. That turned out to not be the case. In fact, they worked beautifully. Not even a trace of an ass-ache, even after 15 miles of bumpy gravel and tree roots on a road bike. The grippers gripped and the shoulder straps held everything nicely in place (unlike the newer Assos bibs with the blue pad. One word: wedgie). I should note that they are considerably longer in the leg than most bib shorts; if you’re vain and place a high value your razor-sharp farmer’s tan (ahem, I mean cyclist’s tan), this may be an issue.

The lesson to be learned here is more padding does not necessarily equal greater comfort. My old Assos orange pad and newer Rapha bib shorts all have thick diaper-like pads, and they are somehow less comfortable than the Giordanas.

Off for a few days of meetings. I’ll have another route written up for you shortly by Sunday, though!

And finally, Macs would like to say hello.Mix

John

medicalwriter.net

Miscellany

You’re allowed to do this on a blog, right? A grab bag of unrelated bits of information that might potentially be of interest to somebody? Anyone?

I’d better put a photo near the top so this doesn’t just look like a wall of words:

ridge

John F is moving house and shedding stuff he doesn’t want to move, so he bequeathed me a nice pair of studded winter tires. As well as an unashamedly cheap wheelset. (There’s something almost embarrassing about disc wheels with a rim brake track. And labeling a 2100+g wheelset “zerolite”, well, I actually have to admire that.) But everything has its use, and I was delighted to have the wheelset and tires. Thanks, John F!

It snowed about 4 inches on Monday. On Tuesday I mounted the tires on the wheels, and mounted the wheels on the cross bike.

(By the way, if you ever mount studded tires, be mindful of your muscle-memory habits, like sliding your hands around the tire as you seat the bead. Ouch! Also, after changing out the wheelset I was reminded of how much more I like the bomber Hayes mechanical discs on the single speed, compared to the fussy BB7s on the cross bike.)

The tires are Schwalbe Marathon Winter 35s, and they are impressive. Heavy of course, but well made and tough as hell. I started out with about 20 miles on plowed, paved roads, as per the manufacturer recommendation, to bed in the studs. The tires are noisy, but roll much better than I expected on pavement. Noticeably worse than a similar sized file tread tire, but not hugely worse than a mud tire, and way better than a 2″ MTB tire.

“Plowed” is a relative term, especially here in my town where we have a new highway superintendent who’s still figuring out how things work, and there was a lot of packed snow on the roads. The studs certainly helped. I was washing out regularly, but the studs near the sidewall helped arrest the washouts before the bike went totally sideways.

Riding up toward Mohonk I noticed another set of cross bike tire tracks through the snowpack and wondered who else was dumb enough to be out riding around. When I got to the ridge I figured I might as well get a little work in before hitting the trails, so I did a couple of hill repeats up to the Mountain House gatehouse. Halfway up the climb, the tire track mystery was solved: my teammate Christian was also doing laps on the hill. We were exactly 180 degrees out of phase, meaning one of us was always in the middle of the effort as the other was descending, so we never actually spoke, just nodded like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf punching the clock. (What? You thought it was Wile E. Coyote in that series? Philistine. I suppose all obsessive-compulsive canid customers of the Acme Corporation look alike to you.)

After a couple of hill repeats, it was off to the trails.

snowy trail

The tires did OK, but it turns out that fresh snow is not really the ideal application for studded 35c tires. The 40c version might have fared a bit better, but there just wasn’t much to grip on. It did feel like excellent cross bike handling practice, not that anyone needs to be doing that in February. Putting studded tires on a cross bike doesn’t make it a fat bike, that’s for sure.

The tires are definitely best on ice, rather than snow. They would be perfect for a winter paved-road commuter. Still, it was fun to ride around the snowy trails to see what would work and what wouldn’t.

Say, were these deer drunk?

deer tracks


Before I set out on the ride, I wrung hands for a bit over whether to run the Stages power meter, or take it off. Back story: Stages is a new entry into the bike power meter market, and their product fills the “simple and cheap” ecological niche. It’s just a single crankarm with an instrument pod epoxied onto it. There are some passionate Stages haters out there, who feel that the lower power measurement accuracy, and the fact that it’s only measuring your left leg, make the device worthless. On the other hand, it’s half the price of any other crank-based power meter, and more versatile than the more accurate but similarly-priced Powertap.

There are good points on both sides of the ledger, and if you’re thinking of getting a power meter, you should do some internet research to understand all of the issues. Personally, I think it’s a fine device as long as you acknowledge what it can and can’t do. If you need more accuracy, you need to pay more and get something different. For base/build training, I think it’s appropriate, and it is very convenient that I can swap the meter onto any of three different bikes, including the single speed, in about 60 seconds.

I bought the Stages at the start of cross season last year, and rode it hard on a lot of rough conditions and singletrack. After a couple of months, I cracked the instrument pod, probably on a rock.  You can see the small crack at the right-hand edge of the pod.

stages

The power meter continued to work, but battery life became terrible, maybe a week at best. The crack was letting water in. Stages overnighted me a free replacement.

The replacement worked great for another few months, then batteries started their tragic dying-young routine again, especially if conditions were wet. It turns out that water infiltration is a major problem for this first iteration of Stages power meters. Stages overnighted me another replacement, and also comped me a 3-year warranty. (They are certainly not cutting any corners on customer support.)

The third Stages had a slightly different battery compartment seal. I taped up the crank arm as well, to try to seal the whole device. So far, I’ve had no additional troubles, and this week alone I rode many hours in the rain. But I wasn’t sure if riding through deepish snow would be a good idea. I did end up using the Stages on this ride, and it was completely fine, despite being covered in snow for most of the ride.

So, bottom line, if you have a Stages, tape it up.


A couple of weeks ago I went out for a longish ride.  I expected to be back after dark, so I brought lights.  While I was out it started snowing heavily.  It was a great ride, in a sort of epic hard-man way, but on the way home I made a poor tactical decision to head home down Clove Valley Road, a beautiful but poorly maintained narrow winding road.

I had only brought a headlamp, not the bars-and-helmet setup I use for night MTB, and having a single source of light is really not ideal for seeing the topological detail of what’s in front of you.  I had to pick a slow, careful line down the snowy, sandy road, and when cars approached I just got off the bike and stood well off the road until they passed.

As I worked my way home, later than expected, my phone rang, no doubt my wife calling to see if I was still alive.  I stopped, but my hands were too numb to even get my phone out of my pocket, much less operate it.  It rang a couple more times, but there wasn’t anything I could do; I just pushed on, trying to get home so she could stop worrying.  I did eventually get home without incident (unless you consider an upset worried wife to be an “incident.”).

For yesterday’s ride, I thought I’d try out Road ID’s phone app, which would allow my wife to see my location in real-time via the phone GPS and a map server.  She absolutely loved this.  She only checked it once, but it gave her peace of mind to know that she would be able to see where I was if something bad happened.   During the 3-hour ride, the app drew down my phone battery from 100% to about 60%, which is better than I expected.  For a very long ride, I’d always want to be sure I had some battery left to make a call if I needed to, so I’d wait until I was heading home before turning the app on.

The app has a couple of other features that I didn’t use, such as alerting people if you stop for more than 5 minutes — who would use that?  But it worked exactly right for what I needed.  And it’s free.


Hey, yesterday a bald eagle parked itself in our backyard for about a half hour. I guess it was digesting, because eventually it took a majestic crap and then soared off.

eagle

Today, it’s just juncos and goldfinches.

birdfeeder

And with that, I shall conclude this experiment in free association.

sunset

(That is actually a different sunset from the one I posted at the end of my previous  post.)

– John S, aka globecanvas

A Review (Sort Of): Giro Empire Mountain Bike Shoe

We all make mistakes. These shoes were my latest.

My trusty Sidi Dragon mountain bike shoes have seen better days. I’ve replaced the treads and buckles at least once, but the uppers were starting to fall apart. I got four years out of them, though–I think that’s impressive.

To replace the Sidis, I decided to try something completely different–the Giro Empire shoe. Even better, I managed to snag a pair in camouflage! I reasoned that on long rides, the part of my foot that starts to hurt first is the top–and that laces are the best way of distributing pressure across the top of my foot. They arrived last week, and damn they are beautiful shoes. I wish I could get some regular shoes like this.

giroempiremtb1

When they arrived, I immediately put my Crank Brothers pedals on my English 650B, and went out for a 50-mile ride that included some double track, a stream crossing, and a few occasions that required me to shoulder my bike and hike. Not something I’d want to do in road shoes (although, frankly, I have on many occasions!)

The aches set in around mile 25. The top of my left foot–but not my right–started to hurt. I tried to ignore it, but by mile 35 I couldn’t stand even one more minute. I hopped off the bike in the middle of the road, ripped off the shoe and hopped around for a while. Then I struggled home with the laces on the left shoe almost completely undone.

Not a good result, right? It’s clear that my left foot and my right foot are slightly different in shape, because my right foot was fine. Please note that, like all other cycling-related accessories, whether a shoe or bib short or chamois creme or anything else works is a very individual thing. The shoes are extremely well constructed and very light (perhaps because of the lack of buckles and straps). And they are beautiful.

If nothing else, I think my experience with these shoes highlights the value of the Rapha Grand Tour shoes. Like any other leather shoe, the Rapha shoes started out tight and uncomfortable, but after 10-15 hours they molded themselves to my feet. I can easily spend 18 hours or more on the bike without foot pain in those shoes.

So…just because they didn’t work for me doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. If you’re in the market for some Giro Empires–and especially if you want the camouflage version–let me know (my contact information can be found via the About page). Worn once, size 10, $200 ($100 off retail). I even have the original box. Only 400 made! Sold.

John

medicalwriter.net