Doc’s All-Natural Chamois Cream–A Review

What do you use down there? Guest poster Jeff Hemmel has some stuff you might not have heard of.

I used to ride sans anything slippery in my shorts, then followed my local bike shop owner’s suggestion to try chamois cream as I began to put in more and more miles. Now, spending a LOT of time in the saddle every month, I’m a believer in that weird glop known as chamois cream.

I’ve tried quite a few, even did a little “chamois cream shootout” for this blog a year or two back. But my new favorite is a lesser-known brand dubbed Doc’s All-Natural Chamois Cream (www.docscycling.com).

All you Texans will probably appreciate the fact that Doc’s is actually made in the Lone Star State, but what I liked about it is that Doc’s is made by, you guessed it, an actual doctor. A practicing physician who is also a Cat 2 racer, this Doc wasn’t thrilled by the price and questionable effectiveness of chamois creams he found on the market, so he decided to whip up his own. Doc’s All Natural Chamois Cream lists no artificial or petroleum-based ingredients like so many chamois creams, but instead relies on stuff like Witch Hazel and a strong concentration of Tea Tree Oil to fight grunge, and Aloe and Coconut Oil to prevent chafe and keep your skin happy.

I found Doc’s while looking for a product similar to Dave Zabriskie’s DZnuts, which I like but find too expensive for regular use. Doc’s follows a similar all-natural route, but gives you an 8-ounce jar for about $20, less than half the price of DZnuts and on par with bike shop standbys like Chamois Butt’r. At first glance Doc’s product seemed just a tiny bit thinner in consistency than some lubes, but after months of use I’ve had no problems with saddle sores, even at the height of the summer, so guess I’m a believer.

Yes, I realize there are cheaper alternatives, from Bag Balm to Aquaphor. But I like the natural ingredient idea, particularly on something I use often, and appreciate that Doc’s appears to wash cleanly out of my shorts. A jar has also lasted me quite a while, so my “cost-per-ride” has been pretty cheap.

Currently the product seems to be available at a few Texas bike shops. The rest of us can find it on Amazon.

Review: The Jersey Bin

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel likes to review things, and he’s found something he likes.

Noob or not, cyclists like their baggies. I’m a little nutty about losing one particular worn, zip-style bag that’s just a little bigger than my iPhone. Inside I tuck my phone, a credit card, ID, and some cash. The small bag fits perfectly in my jersey pocket and keeps things — namely my phone — safe and dry.

Or at least, kept things safe and dry in the past tense. As handy as baggies are, they’re ridiculously thin. After repeated use, mine features multiple tears that no longer allow it to get the job done. And while I’m sure there are people who will now jump in and remind me that baggies are cheap (a whole box for a few dollars!), I like my small, pocket-sized baggie, not some oversize sandwich bag that I have to fold up in my pocket. And even if I didn’t mind the excess, it just seems kind of silly to keep going through sandwich bags repeatedly, let alone trust them to save your pricey smart phone from rain and sweat.

What I’ve really wanted is a heavier duty zip-lock bag little bigger than the contents I wanted to carry in it. That’s when I spotted a tweet from pro rider Ted King featuring that exact thing — a thick, tough, phone-sized, zip-style bag with a Strava logo. Turns out it was a privately labeled “Jersey Bin.”

Like a Ziploc on steroids, the Jersey Bin (www.jerseybin.com) is made from a 10-gauge vinyl that resists the pokes or tears that would bring a standard baggie to its knees. A sturdy zip closure seals everything up inside. Better yet, that “zipper” runs lengthwise. No more trying to cram my phone, and its grippy rubber case, down through the slim widthwise opening of the bag or struggling to extract some cash at a convenience store. The sideways zipper provides easy access. Sizes include mini, trim, and big. The mini nicely fits my iPhone, cash and cards, without excess. Go bigger if you’re the type who wants to carry more.

I’ve ridden with the Jersey Bin for about a week now. Positive marks include the fact that everything within has stayed absolutely dry. You can also easily use a touchscreen phone interface right through the vinyl (in fact, it seems to work better than my old thin baggie), you can make and receive calls with the phone still in the bag, and the bins — available in three sizes — all seem to fit comfortably in a jersey pocket. An unexpected side benefit is that the stiffer bag lays flat against your lower back; my old-school baggie often let items “sag” to the bottom of my pocket.

Downsides? They’re few. Personally I like the suppler feel of the frosted vinyl version, but the clear is easier when you want to view your phone’s screen. And yes, critics will bring up that whole “box o’ baggies” cost issue, but at only about $6 (including First Class or Priority Mail shipping), that’s kind of a silly argument.

A simple idea? Certainly. But one I’ve been looking for a long time…

Vredestein Fortezza SE Update

Back at the beginning of the year, I put a new set of tires on my bike — Vredestein Fortezza SEs. I wrote about the change from the Continental Gatorskins I had been riding, and promised an update once I had some miles on them. So here goes.

The update isn’t pegged to any specific mileage number or ride number, but rather, to my first flat on these tires. One of the things that has impressed me about the Vredesteins has been their puncture resistance. I’ve noticed that even with seven months’ use behind them, the tires have just a few miniscule cracks in the tread. Compared to some tires I’ve run in the past, these fill me with confidence, and I don’t even think about the possibility of a flat when I’m on a ride anymore.

Maybe that’s what contributed to my incident Sunday. I was leading a B ride with the club, and just a mile and a half from the start, I rolled over something. I think it was a twisted piece of metal, about six inches long. I was riding directly into the morning sun at the time, and didn’t see the thing until it was too late.

So I pulled over, and the group had to wait for the leader as I replaced the tube. The metal left a deep cut in the tread, but it’s less than a quarter-inch long. I had a chance to run my fingers around the tire to make sure there were no other problem areas, and I noted that the rest of it was still fairly cut-free.

After 2,015 miles on these tires, the verdict is in: I like them. I was a little concerned at the beginning, because they seemed to be a bargain brand for Performance Bike, where I bought them. Vredestein makes a Fortezza model, and the SE is supposed to be slightly heavier than that one. (SE stands for Special Edition, and I presume it is made specifically for Performance.) Vredestein is made in the Netherlands, and since that’s where my ancestors came from, that’s another (flimsy) reason I was attracted to them.

I took a look at the Vredestein website to see if the claims they make for the tire hold up.

Very low rolling resistance. True. I typically pump these up to 120 psi. The sidewall says they’ll take pressures from 115-160 psi — much more than the 100 pounds I was used to running in my old tires. The harder pressure does make the tires roll easier.

Outstanding ride quality. True. These things can transmit the feel of bad road surfaces up to the hands, but they also have a cushiony feel over bumps — evan at that high pressure. I hadn’t expected that soft sensation with these, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Protection layer. True. I know there’s a flat in every tire, and I found the flat in this one. But for routine riding around city, suburban, and rural roads, these have been the most trouble-free tires I’ve owned. And if I could have seen past the glare Sunday morning, they would still be flat free.

Vredestein says the Fortezza is a dry-weather tire. I have not had much occasion to ride it in the wet, especially with the extraordinary drought Texas is experiencing this year. The tires come only in 23mm widths, and I would have preferred the option to put on 25s, but because of the nice ride, it’s not that big a deal.

Vredestein makes a model called the Fortezza Tricomp which they claim is a four-season tire with good traction in both wet and dry conditions. When it’s time to replace these, I might look around for the Tricomps, although the difference in price might just be enough to send me back for another pair of SEs.

Bike Comparison Tool

If you’re shopping for a new bike, the choices can be overwhelming. Even knowledgeable bikers can get tangled up trying to call up different bike manufacturers’ websites. There always seems to be one nifty model that gets missed — and it might have been just the one you were looking for.

There is a tool that can help. It’s a website called “Find the Best,” which describes itself as “an objective, socially curated comparison engine that allows you to find a topic, compare your options and decide what’s best for you.” It’s not solely limited to bicycle comparisons — you can compare all manner of things, from universities, to laptop computers, to investments. So I was somewhat skeptical when I clicked on the link to their road bike tool.

Just a sample of the comparison page for entry-level bikes.

I was pleasantly surprised. Users can customize their search to match some broad criteria. Under road bikes, you can search for “Racing,” “Sport,” “Entry-level,” “Triathlon/TT,” “Track,” “Fixie/Single Speed,” “Touring/Commuting,” “Women’s,” and “Kids.” Let’s say you want to compare entry-level road bikes. You can specify frame material — carbon, steel, or aluminum. You can limit the price range, the gearing, the manufacturer — and even limit the finds to those top-rated by either Bicycling magazine or Bike Radar, the British biking website.

If we limit the entry-level price to a top of $2,000, the tool still turns up 53 different makes and models. From there, you can select specific models and run a comparison on them — similar to the kind of comparison available on some bike retailers’ websites. The difference is that on those sites, you’re stuck with just the brands the store carries. Here, you’ve got them all.

I’m not in the market for a new bike now, but it’s still a fun way to kill a little time late in the evening. You can find the road bike comparison tool at http://road-bikes.findthebest.com/. Oh, and if you’re interested in mountain bikes, there’s a tool for those, too: http://mountain-bikes.findthebest.com/

Disclaimer: Although I was introduced to this site by an email from their business development director, I received no compensation or other perks for posting this information.

These Shoes Cook! Bont ctt-three Review

Guest poster Don Blount’s search for the perfect bike shoe took him to the Antipodes – in a manner of speaking.  He likes what he found.

I had never heard of Bont. Ever.

Now the company is like my new best friend.

I began searching for new cycling shoes for a simple reason – my feet began to hurt after rides. The Cannondale RS3100 cycling shoes I had worn for two years were great for getting me into biking but I was riding harder, longer and farther. The results I was getting were not the same. I figured the shoes, which were actually free with the discount I received from Performance Bike when I bought my bike in 2008, had just run their useful life.

So I began looking for replacement kicks.

From a fit issue I needed a shoe with a wide toe box and a narrower heel. And I wanted something better fitting and stiffer than my outgoing shoes.

I looked off and on for a few months. I was off the road for two months because of injuries from a fall, so I was not in a hurry. I also took time to get over the sticker shock of upgraded shoes.

Then on a late Saturday night someone in my bike club’s e-mail group excitedly mentioned Bont and how the shoe was being made available in the United States. I had never heard of this 36-year-old Australian company that outfits Thor Hushovd and the Cervelo Test Team among others.

The Bont ctt-three

I settled on the ctt-three. The deal with a Bont shoe is that it has a “fully heat moldable carbon monocoque fiberglass chassis.” Seriously, pop these babies in the oven at low temperature for a bit, put them on, stand in them for a few minutes and they will mold to your feet. In other words, it becomes a custom fit shoe. They were perfect for someone with my shoe-fitting issues.

Chef Don.

I have ridden about 950 miles in the Bonts, I think they are great. They are much stiffer than my old shoes, yet lighter at 295 grams. They flex little and transfer power well. And I really like the look too.

The downside? They took some breaking because the entire shoe – sole and upper were much stiffer than my old shoes.

I purchased my pair online in October for $207, a price comparable to other shoes that interested me. Since then I have found them online for as low as $150, including shipping. This is considered the company’s entry-level model. The top of the line shoe in this category, the ctt-one is a fully carbon shoe that costs about twice as much. I did not have to spend nearly that much and am quite pleased with the Bont ctt-three.

Tires Make a Difference: The Vredestein Fortezza SE

After more than a year’s worth of riding on my Continental Gatorskins, I decided to retire them.  One tire had over 3400 miles on it, the other a little under 3,000.  They’ve been pretty good, although they’re not as puncture resistant as I would hope.

So the question was, what to replace them with?  Some years ago, a friend recommended the Vredestein Fortezza SE, a tire sold through Performance Bike.  He said the puncture resistance was good, and if the price was a determining factor, I should give them a try.  Then, my friend Torsten reviewed another Vredestein model, the Fortezza TriComp, and spoke very highly of them.  I figured I’d try the SEs out.

I was pleased to find them in an end-aisle display at the local Performance shop, with a sale price of $29.99.  Performance says the regular price on these is $49.99, but honestly, I’ve never seen them go for anything higher than $30.

The Fortezza SEs differ in two big ways from my old Gatorskins.  They come only in 23 mm width, and I had been running 25s for almost three years.  And, they inflate to a much higher suggested pressure – between 115-160 psi.  I used to inflate the Gatorskins to 100, so I was interested to see what the SEs would feel like.

I’m pretty impressed.  I inflated them to 120 psi, and they’re noticeably harder than the Gators were.  However, after 10 days worth of riding on them, I find it’s not that big a deal, unless you’re on chipseal pavement.  Then the jarring is unpleasant.  The hard ride also has a benefit in less rolling resistance.  These things make you feel like you’re gliding along the roads.  My average speed for my last six rides is a full mph higher than it had been on the Gatorskins, and two of those rides were with my wife, so I wasn’t exactly pushing it.  The grip in tight turns is good, although I have not yet ridden them in wet conditions.

I’ll be experimenting with pressures over the next few weeks, gradually increasing over 120 psi to see what I’m most comfortable with.  Now, I know some folks who know say you should really ride at slightly lower pressures.  Fred Matheny of Road Bike Rider says riding at 90 lbs won’t make you any slower, and will increase the comfort of the ride.  Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly is even more adamant about lower tire pressures, and maintains that for optimum performance, tires should “drop” about 15 percent when a rider is on the bike.  That drop requires lower pressures.

But for now, I’m enjoying the perception of low rolling resistance.  I’ve ridden the tires across one of the rattiest routes in the area, and they came away without any problems – not even any cuts.  Maybe that’s just because they’re new.  I’ll post an update on these tires later this year, once they’ve gotten some real miles on them.  In the meantime, I gotta admit that the blue stripe on the Fortezza SEs makes a nice match with my blue and black bike.

Saddle Review – Bontrager Affinity

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel is still trying to find the perfect perch.

Saddle reviews seem to be a popular item on the web. Obviously, a lot of us are still searching for the ideal interface between butt and bike. This year Bontrager introduced a new saddle for your consideration — the Affinity. I’ve been quietly evaluating one for several months this fall, and after plenty of miles I’m ready to offer my impressions.

The Affinity RL. Click to enlarge.

Like the InForm saddles introduced the year before, Bontrager’s Affinity line has the requisite science behind it. It uses the InForm “Science of Comfort” design, which basically means it was designed using a lot of data like pressure mapping and 3-D motion capture. That info was used to create a seat that comes in three different sizes and curvatures to match a rider’s skeletal structure. The InForm theory is basically that riders don’t really sit on their sit bones, but instead their pubic arch. Support that arch properly and you take some of the pressure off the pudendal nerve and artery, alleviating the numbness and pain that makes many of us squirm after a few miles have passed under our tires.

The original InForm neglected to feature a cutout, but rather featured two densities of foam, stiffer in areas that supported the skeletal structure and softer in those areas that came into contact with the more tender parts of a rider’s anatomy. The Affinity also uses that dual-density foam, but it adds a gender-specific Contour Relief Zone, essentially a subtle lengthwise divot at the saddle’s midpoint to provide a little more pressure relief.

Like the previous InForm, riders get sized in a local shop by sitting on a simple bench with a gel top. The indentations of your buttisimo reveal a color-coded indicator below the gel that corresponds to the correct size. In the previous InForm I was sized for the “medium” saddle in the three-size lineup. Bontrager reps indicate the same sizing applies to the Affinity, although the corresponding metric measurements of the Affinity line are a bit smaller.

I used to think I could find the perfect saddle by reading reviews. I now know that everyone is different, and one person’s holy grail of a saddle is another person’s unholy nightmare. But I can pass along some details that might help you decide whether the Affinity might be a saddle you’ll want to try.

For starters, Bontrager alludes to the fact that the original InForm was designed for a race-like riding position, rather low and aggressive. The Affinity targets a wider audience, riders who according to Bontrager “prefer a slightly higher hand position.” In other words, if you ride bent over like an elite pro, the original model should work best; if you ride like the rest of us, a little more upright, the Affinity should be more to your liking.

As I mentioned, I dedicated myself to riding with this saddle for an extended period before giving my impressions. At first I wasn’t immediately thrilled with it. As time wore on and the saddle broke into my butt (or vice versa) I began to find it rather comfortable. I haven’t experienced any significant numbness (an occasional problem with my previous InForm), and the saddle has proved more than tolerable on extended rides. The only times I’ve found it uncomfortable is when I’ve really pushed the pace for extended periods. That probably makes sense; it’s at these moments that I’m typically more bent over in an aggressive riding position.

If you’re tempted to try the Affinity, keep several things in mind. For starters, Bontrager offers an Unconditional Comfort Guarantee. If you don’t like the saddle, you have 30 days to return it. The catch? It’s not a money-back deal, but rather an exchange.

It’s also important to position the seat properly. The tried-and-true method is to measure the distance from the center of your crank to the top of the seat, as well as the distance from the nose of the saddle to the stem bolt. The Affinity rails are “taller” than the original InForm, however, so I had to lower my seat post to achieve the best position. The Affinity’s rails also are positioned further forward than the Affinity. To duplicate my fore-aft measurement I had to push the seat as far forward as possible. A Bontrager rep suggested that I consider running a 5mm offset seatpost rather than the more common 20mm, as it would likely better fit my body no matter what saddle I chose.

Final verdict? It’s not the perfect saddle, but I’m beginning to think nothing is. I’m still riding it, however, after almost 90 days and 1,700 miles.

That must say something…