The Well-Equipped (Colorado) Cyclist

C_catalog_13Had a chance today to spend some time with one of my favorite items of cycling literature — the Colorado Cyclist catalog. I’d been missing it — after getting it regularly for a couple of years, it stopped coming. I’m not sure why it started up again, but I’m glad it did. It gives me the opportunity to see just what kind of gear I, who considers himself one of the top B-level riders in the country, should be sporting on club rides (or any other ride, for that matter).

For those of you not in the know, Colorado Cyclist is an online (and brick and mortar) cycling shop based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Its large (80-page), full-color catalog is full of gear to drool over — both hardware such as bikes and components, and soft goods, such as clothing. Here’s what the well-dressed cyclist is wearing this year.

Oakley sunglasses. The XL Black Plaid are particularly cool. They come with a G30 lens for bright days, and a VR50 lens for low light. A steal at $279.00.

Sidi Wire Carbon shoes. They have a new closure system “utilizing low-friction line material that doesn’t bind.” In white or yellow (which is really screaming hi-visibility green). $499.99.

The Kask Vertigo helmet. This can be adjusted for fit by using either a dial or a finger push system. I guess you pay extra for two systems. This goes for $299.99.

I’ve always liked the European flair of Assos cycling gear. This year, their SS Mille jersey has two types of breathable fabric, and the three traditional pockets across the back are placed in an “innovative” manner — but they don’t have a picture of them so we can see the innovation. This, and several other Assos jersey models, goes for $199.99. But their “intermediate” long-sleeved S7 jersey will set you back $369.99.

To further deck yourself out like the pro cyclist you could be, pair the jersey with a pair of Assos tk.607_S5 Bib Knickers. $339.99.

Now that you look the part, be sure to saddle up the appropriate mount. I see that Colorado Cyclist is selling Focus bikes now. The Izalco pro 1.0 goes for $4,800.00 — not bad, by premium bike standards. And what do I find on the back cover? A Focus Cayo 1.0 for a mere $1,699.00. Okay, it’s the 2012 model, but still…

I do like the way the catalog displays shorts. They have large color pictures of the chamois pads for all their shorts, and you can get a sense of how the padding might work for you. It’s something I wish all sellers would do for this crucial piece of equipment.

But really, for the kind of riding I do, and my level of ability, this catalog is simply a compendium of high-end stuff I either can’t afford, don’t need, or am unworthy of. But it’s fun to go through it — kind of like my wife poring over the jewels in the Ross-Simons catalog. Those aren’t going to see the inside of this house either — but it’s fun to dream.

Editor’s Choice — Essential Cycling Gear

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is back, and he’s got the results of an informal survey.

HemmelsRide2Let’s face it, the title of this blog may be Bike Noob, but it’s a description that no longer really fits Ray, its creator. Nor does it really describe occasional contributors Don Blount or myself. Between the three of us, we’ve logged tens of thousands of miles, including multiple centuries, big charity rides, serious mountain ascents, races…and even changed a cassette or two. And along the way we’ve learned, often through trial and error, what kind of stuff helped us to better enjoy the ride.

So I emailed both Ray and Don and posed this question: What five items were your best purchases, or do you consider most valuable? My thinking is that the answers just may improve the ride for both noobs and experienced riders alike…not to mention save the expense of a drawer full of unused gear. (Don’t ask me how I know about that last one.)

As you might expect, there were several shared answers. Both Ray and I gave the nod to quality tires, specifically Continentals. “I run 25 mm, because I like the extra little bit of cushioning they give,” notes Ray of his favored Gatorskins. “They’re 100 psi instead of the 120 I had run on my 23s. Earlier this week, a club ride had a whole mess of flats rolling over grit left after a rainfall. Me, no problems.”

I wholeheartedly agree, although my favorite style is the GP4000S in the 23mm version. Before I switched to the Continentals, flats were a little too common. In the years since, they’re a rare occurrence. Hope I didn’t just jinx myself.

Ray and I also agreed on the merits of a good base layer in cooler weather. Base layers provide some warmth, but perhaps more importantly, wick away sweat so it doesn’t stay against your skin and chill your core. “Let me sing the praises of a base layer t-shirt I got last year,” comments Ray. “It’s a polyester T from Performance that fits loosely, and I think the air that gets trapped in the folds helps insulate me. It’s never as soaked with sweat as my clingy base layers.” Me, I like clingy, but agree most “polyester-feel” shirts leave me soggy. My runaway favorite is the Pro Zero from Craft. It’s pricey (I waited till I had a credit at Performance and the shirt went on sale), but I can honestly say it’s worth every penny. Something about the material feels more like a cozy cotton, or maybe even a nice, non-scratchy wool. It does a fantastic job of wicking away the moisture, keeping me feeling dry on those cold days.

Ray recommended two more pieces of clothing — a long-sleeved jersey from Performance, and a pair of wool socks, specifically Wooleators by D-Feet. “I’ve had the jersey for years, and I still look forward to wearing it,” says Ray, noting the lightly brushed fleece lining. “Great by itself in the 60s, with a base layer in the 50s, and under a windbreaker in the 40s.” As to the socks, he notes they do what wool does best — keep his feet warm in cold weather and cool in the heat.

Don and I agreed upon the benefits of a professional bike fit. “I rode my bike for a few months with the setup I received at the bike shop before going to a professional fitter,” says Don, who has had a fine-tuning since and plans on getting checked again before Spring. “A good fit goes along with a good ride.” I, too, received an initial fit with the purchase of my bike, but later fine-tuned it with a professional fitting. My fitter put me into a far more comfortable, efficient, and dare I say faster position on the bike. Fitters can also take into account previous injuries or limitations.

Don and I also tout the merits of a comfortable saddle. “Ever ride with a sore bum?” asks Don. “Enough said.” Don favors the Selle Italia SLR Gel Flow saddle. I’m still looking for my preferred perch. Along the same lines, Don and I both recommend a quality pair of cycling shorts or bibs. If you ride a lot, this isn’t a place to scrimp. Cheap alternatives are available, but pricier shorts typically feature far better chamois pads and more comfortable materials and cuts. Well worth the investment.

Don also suggests choosing the correct gearing. “I did an all-time high of more than 90,000 feet of climbing in 2012,” he says. “I rode with a 50-34 compact chainring and an 11-28 cassette. I know folks who switch out their rear cassette depending on the terrain. I am too lazy to do that, but this combo works pretty well for me for the riding I do.” I stick with my stock 11-28 when I get the chance to go into the mountains, but have added a 12-25 for the everyday flat conditions here in Florida as I feel it gives me more choices in my typical range. Truth be told, a cassette is actually a pretty simple thing to swap, although you’ll need a couple inexpensive tools. It’s also a good idea to match a chain to each cassette to prolong the life of both.

Other personal favorites? Don pegs comfortable shoes. His Bont ctt3 shoes are heat moldable, better to accommodate his “platypus” (wide across the ball, narrow at the heel) feet. He also likes to wear something under his helmet. “Even with padding, a bicycle helmet can feel like sandpaper on my shaved head,” says Don. He has proper headwear for every season — a breathable, sweat-absorbing skullcap for hot weather, a wind-blocking style for cool to cold temps, and a Walz wool cap (with earflaps) for really cold days.

Me, I’ve grown pretty attached to a sports drink, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix. Adequate fluids are essential while riding, but I’m sick of syrupy Gatorade and hate those fizzy tablet drinks. All-natural Skratch (formerly Secret Drink Mix) tastes great, is flavored by real fruit, and has some sharp, science-minded bike nerds behind it. It’s pricey, but hey, I don’t drink that other bicycling staple — coffee — so guess that’s how I justify the expense.

One last item? Don suggested a bike computer, specifically his Garmin Edge. “It helps me keep track of time, distance and vitals such as heart rate, elevation, cadence and speed. In short, it provides great feedback for my riding.”

If there’s one common thread throughout all our picks, it’s comfort. “I believe comfort goes a long way in helping a rider’s performance,” suggests Don. “If one is not comfortable on the bike, then you won’t spend time on the bike.” Ray also notes that, with perhaps the exception of his tires, most of his must-haves are pretty reasonable in terms of price. “Not a lot of expensive stuff (on my list),” he says. “But I’m not the gearhead some of my fellow riders are. You can have a great cycling experience for a modest outlay.”

Agree, disagree, or have a few suggestions of your own? Let us hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Discontinued Products

I wanted to replace my worn out Vredestein Fortezza SE tire with another exactly like it. It had exhibited excellent ride and wear characteristics during the time I owned it, but eventually it wore out — after well over 3,000 miles — and it was time to retire it.

I had bought it at a Performance store in town, so I headed over there again. But in the aisle with the tires, no Fortezza SE to be found. Performance doesn’t stock them anymore. They’ve got a higher-end Vredestein tire, the TriComp Road, at twice the price of the Fortezza SE. Okay, certainly I could find one somewhere else.

I hit the Vredestein Tire website, and navigated my way past lots of contemporary music and nifty videos to their tire listing. Sure enough, there was the TriComp — but no Fortezza SE. The TriComp looks to be a great tire, with an advertised excellent grip in both wet and dry weather, and very good puncture resistance. But I wondered what had happened to my Fortezza SE.

I gave up, and put a Continental Gatorskin on the back of my bike. I still have a Fortezza SE on the front, and it should be good for another thousand miles or two.

But have you ever noticed that whenever you find a great product, it gets dropped from the company’s product line? Runners know this. When I used to run, I found a great pair of shoes that cushioned my feet and provided excellent support at the same time. I ran in them until the black outer sole wore through. When I went to get a replacement, the line had been discontinued.

The replacement product is always touted as being an improvement, and it just might be.  But very often, it doesn’t work exactly like the item it replaced. Some runners used to buy two or more pair of a favorite shoe, knowing the model would be discontinued, and wanting to make sure they would still be able to enjoy it well into the future.

Or golf clubs. My wife started building up a collection of Ping hybrid clubs several years ago, when we were still regular players. She had two, but when she looked for two others of different lofts to round out her set, she found out that Ping had dropped the G5 line, and added a G10 or something. I was able to find the two additional G5s she needed, but I had to go on EBay to do it, and battle through a couple of different auctions, losing twice, before I was able to land the coveted clubs. What I thought was funny about that was that the G5 had replaced the G3 line just a few years before.

(“What’s the difference between the G5 and the G3?”  “Two.”)

Obviously, some of that goes on in the biking industry too. Bikes, of course, are always changing. My bike is a 2008 Specialized Allez Elite Compact, which means it came with upgraded drive train components — Tiagra front and 105 rear — over the base Allez. The current Allez is offered in six different versions, including an Elite Compact. But the current Elite Compact is different from mine. It has a 10-speed cassette instead of my nine — improvement. Both front and rear are Tiagra — slight downgrade. It also has alloy chainstays and seatpost — mine are carbon fiber. The wheels are probably better than mine. All in all, my four-year-old Allez is a good match for what’s rolling off the Specialized line now.

I know one constant in life is change. But it’s still frustrating when change makes you rethink your cycling situation and moves you in a (slightly) different direction.

Have you ever been flummoxed by the discontinuation of a cycling product you really, really liked?