Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Reviews of the Year

So Good

KCNC Roller Bearing BB – A great bit of sensible engineering. The trouble with ball bearings is that when they wear, they then rattle around in the shell, and there’s nothing you can do to tighten things up again. The clever people at kcnc have realised that this is a huge disadvantage with conventional HTII bottom brackets, which is where their roller-bearing BB fills a fantastic niche. When the roller bearings wear, you can use the HTII bolt to tighten up the BB spindle slightly, and take up the slack in the bearings. Et voila! A much longer-lived BB. Sadly, it doesn’t get the KCNC treatment in terms of weight, coming in at a pretty 130g, but i’d imagine that it’s only a matter of time before a ceramic version appears. Available here:

Simple Strap – Another neat little solution to a simple problem, the simple strap is brainchild of ByeKyle, and consists of a Velcro strap with a stitched-on grip pad to keep hold of your stuff. The strap itself can be fitted to your seatpost (although annoyingly the Velcro will clip your shorts and quickly wear through them – embarrassing!), or better still under your saddle, and is big enough to comfortably hold a spare lightweight tube, tyre lever and gas canister. The strap is lightweight, easily removed quickly with gloved hands, and offers a more secure grip of your things that the conventional black insulating tape approach. Particularly good for lumpy races, or long marathons where spares are essential. Available here:

Ergon GR2-SL Grips – Another godsend of engineering, this time hinging on smart biomechanics. I went through a phase a couple of years ago of always racing with lightweight foam grips (the 20g ritchey ones are a particularly weight-weenie choice), and wondered why i often felt like my arms were tense and pumped after long rides and races. In anticipation of my first 12hr solo at 24-12 last year, i bought a lightweight set of ergons, and they haven’t come off my bike since! No hanging on for dear life on rough descents, once you get used to them you can just rest your hands on the bars, and the bar ends are great for steep climbs or giving your hands a change of scene.

Sportful Base Layer – A neat bit of clothing, perfect for keeping you cool and dry even on the hottest of days. Designed with a bit of Italian flair, and i know it shouldn’t make a difference, but the neat little logo on the collar makes it look so smart. Some wicking layers can cause, ahem, issues around the nipple area, but these fit just tightly enough to not move, but loosely enough that you don’t feel constricted. Sportful kit can be a bit hit and miss, i’m no so impressed with their “No-rain” knee warmers, but these are just excellent, and less than half the price of the equivalent offerings from the likes of Castelli.

No Good

Shimano XT Chainrings – they seem to be made of cheese! Work well for dry racing, but rack up the miles in dusty environments (i’m thinking Gran Canaria here) or spend the summer racing in the UK (e.g. Margam this year) and they will soon wear to the point where chainsuck becomes an annoying and unavoidable fact of life. Middleburn do a great alternative in the slickshift hardcoat rings at a similar price point, which will outlast and outclass the shimano rings.

Schwalbe Furious Fred Tyres – There’s a reason they’re known as “balloons”. Okay, so i should admit that perhaps putting them in the “no good” category is unfair. Like everything, these tyres have their place – on dry, smooth, preened courses where there is no danger of the rider in front blowing their nose and dampening the course, they’re worth quite a few watts of resistance. Try, foolishly, to use them outside of this environment, even tubeless and filled to the brim with latex, and await the inevitable...

Michelin Latex Tubes – I have to admit i was a little disappointed with the durability of latex tubes – whilst they feel fantastic when they’re in the tyre from the off (giving that “tub like” floating feeling that we all aspire to), they seem to be all too fragile when carried around as spares. The final kick in the groin of Kielder was discovering that the tube that had been stuck to my seatpost for 8hrs had somehow picked up a puncture when empty of air. Cue a lot of cursing, a long walk down the hill and a dislike of green latexy things...

Superstar Bottom Brackets – Just terrible, they last two or three wet rides before they give up the ghost and start rattling horribly. A cursory inspection of the inside of the BB shell reveals that the bearings are not sealed from the outside dirt and grit at all, as there is a big open lip on the inside, meaning that if anything gets in through the drainage holes more frames have at the BB, it will seize in double-quick time. Customer service is not a phrase that the people who run this company are particularly au fait with – if you’re foolish enough to complain, you will be sent an email telling you that it’s all your fault and even a monkey could fit their products better than you. Avoid.

Endless trips to Germany – Guaranteed to screw up your plans, your form and your sleep patterns. Strangely, my co-workers seem somewhat unsympathetic to the impact on my much more important training day, one day!

Well, all that remains is to dust off the cross bike, check that the tyres are properly glued on at that the brakes still don’t work, and get ready to get muddy. Now where did i put that vanish...

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