Seven Shimano Successes (And Seven Aspects They Can Improve On)

Shimano are by far the dominant groupset manufacturer out of the ‘Big Three’ (Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM) and their products occupy the widest range of the market, with options catering from the low end to the very pinnacle. Both SRAM and Campagnolo’s lowest offerings start at a higher price point and comparable with Shimano’s mid-range options. Here are seven items where the Japanese manufacturer succeed and seven aspects that the brand are lacking in. 

SUCCESS: The Hollowtech Standard

The Hollowtech standard is Shimano’s patented standard where the cranks attach to the frame via two 5mm pinch bolts and a proprietary Hollowtech cap fitting. Shimano have been very stubborn in keeping this standard and haven’t really experimented with using carbon cranks, but the standard is probably the best one of attaching cranks to a bicycle frame. Most other manufacturers cranks attach via single larger bolt which requires a lot more effort to remove as it has a higher torque. With Hollowtech, the age old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ saying comes to mind and no other manufacturer’s system is as straightforward to work on as this. 

FAIL: Free Stroke Adjustment 

Shimano’s mountain bike brake levers have a free stroke adjustment which adjusts the contact point of when the pads touch the disc rotor. A nice idea but the problem is it doesn’t do anything… or if it does, the difference is imperceptible. Shimano have been stubborn in keeping on to this technology for years and they should just get rid of it if they can’t do it right. Compared to SRAM’s brake contact adjust that actually works, this is something that Shimano need to improve. 

SUCCESS: Front Shifting

Yes, the cycling industry keeps setting itself on 1x, but Shimano make a strong argument for 2x with the quality of their front shifting, that far outweigh its rivals. Shifts are light and snappy and their front mechs are far less temporal than SRAM’s Yaw design, which relies on perfect set-up for it to work properly. 

FAIL: Road Rear Derailleur Barrel Adjusters

This shouldn’t be a thing. Shimano barrel adjusters have been serviceable but specifically on Ultegra R8000 and Dura-Ace R9100, they have changed to a new design of barrel adjuster. The problem is it isn’t very good! The cheap plastic feel of the adjusters doesn’t feel nice and it is easy for them to round out. The amount of times I’ve resorted to adjusting the gears by manually pulling on the cables. This shouldn’t be a thing. 

SUCCESS: Di2 Ecosystem

Di2 is not flawless (the eTube app is rather reminiscent of a Windows XP program) and SRAM AXS boasts some advantages in that it is wireless, but Shimano’s system is far more refined and slick in its operation. The latest generation of Di2 is a very hard system for them to improve on and it is virtually impossible to fool the system. 

FAIL: Dura-Ace Cables

There’s no doubt that these top-of-the-line offerings sure feel nice when they’re installed and offer superb shifting and braking feel. Shifting and braking is silky smooth. The ugly side to these cables rears its head when you are trying to remove them to change for new cables. As you remove the inner cable, it likes to leave snakeskin so be prepared for having to pick this out and have fun if you’re going to reuse the outers! 

SUCCESS: Di2 Hydraulic Lever Hood Shape

It’s impressive how on Shimano’s current Di2 hydraulic offerings, that they have been able to get the size of the hood to be the same as their mechanical offerings. Both SRAM and Campagnolo’s hood shape for hydraulic shifts feel much larger in the hand and whilst this is good for some qualities, having a nice small sleek hood is excellent. 

FAIL: Chains

Shimano chains are noisy and just don’t last very long. Their stubbornness to use a quick link and rely on a joining pin is annoying and whilst they have brought out a quick-link on the latest group sets, it’s still not worth it. Switch to a KMC for a longer lasting and quieter experience. 

SUCCESS: Pedals

Shimano’s pedals are bombproof. I have serviced my pedals once in about 7 years and they still feel like new. If you do need to service them, servicing is straightforward and intuitive. Their SPD system is also great and no other off-road cleated system comes close. Other than for bike fit purposes, why would you choose to run anything else? 

FAIL: Road Disc Brakes 

A whole topic in itself. Shimano’s road disc brakes are just not very good. Where does one even start with their flaws? How about the on-off feel of the brakes and lack of precise modulation? Or the ceramic calliper pistons that are very easy to damage? Or the bleed screw made of chocolate that is easy to round out? Or how about if you take one look at the brake and it will choose to squeak and squeal and make all kinds of noises. I really hope Shimano focus on their disc brakes in their next updates of groupsets as this is the biggest thing holding the brand back. 

SUCCESS: Rim Brakes

Conversely, Shimano’s rim brakes are superb stoppers. The feel and modulation is phenomenal and they are easy to set up. If only they could apply this methodology to their disc brake offerings! 

FAIL: I-Spec

There’s nothing wrong with the standard per-say but it is fiddly when you have one hand with the Allen key trying to undo the clamp and another hand trying to push the release pin. I-Spec also does not play nicely with SRAM. 

SUCCESS: Adjustable Clutch

Shimano are the only manufacturer to offer an on-off switch on their clutch rear derailleurs. This is a good thing, particularly for gravel riding and makes wheel removal nice and straightforward as it’s far easier to flick a switch than to turn off the cage lock on SRAM. 

FAIL: Availability 

A bit of an unfair one in the current pandemic situation but let’s face it, even in conventional times, Shimano have always been poor on availability. They will release a product and it just won’t be available for months. Think about XTR for example where they announced it and then had to omit a certain technology before it could be released. SRAM are much better here in that when they release a product, it is pretty much immediately in stock. 

Review: Does the Sidi Shot hit the bullseye?

Note: This review was submitted as part of a test article.

Italian manufacturer Sidi’s range-topping road shoes, the Shot, was first spotted by eagle-eyed fans being worn by Chris Froome during the opening stages of the 2016 Tour-de-France. He would go on to ride them to victory that year and then again in 2017. The Shot superseded the brand’s previous range-topper, the Wire. The main difference between the two is a redesigned closure system (more on that later), otherwise there is very little to distinguish the two coveted kicks. The Wire remains in the line-up at £20 cheaper than the new offering. 

Weight is down slightly and for my pair of size 45’s, these came in at 711g on my digital scales of truth (Sidi quote 580g for a size 42, so this is probably about right). They’re certainly not the lightest out there. Specialized S-Works 7’s come in at a claimed 450g for a size 42 and Giro report a 440g weight for their Imperial shoe in the same size. But Sidi have never been one for chasing those that are weight conscious. At a somewhat eye-watering £359 RRP, something has to be special with these shoes, right?  


The ‘Microfibre Techpro’ upper material has a premium look and feel.

The key selling point of Sidi, compared to other brands, is that many of the small parts on the shoe are replaceable. This simply isn’t the case with most other shoe brands. Although the asking price for this is high compared to top-end offerings from brand such as Giro and Fi’zi:k, it’s in line with the Specialized S-Works 7 for example. With the (potential) extra investment, longevity is a key advantage for Sidi and with the right care and occasional replacement of parts, these could be fit for purpose for a very long time.   

The upper of the shoe is composed of Sidi’s ‘Microfibre Techpro’ material, which they claim is ‘not only durable, stable and light’ but ‘also repels water and has been treated to prevent the growth of bacteria and mould so your shoes remain odour-free’. This is coupled with their Vent carbon sole. The Vent carbon sole is optimised for a balance of optimal power transfer and comfort. I found these shoes are stiff but not overly so. Heck, if it’s stiff enough for Chris Froome, it’s stiff enough for us mere mortal riders! Sidi claim they use a ‘specific carbon weave’ to improve comfort. However, they haven’t elaborated on the weave or how it makes the sole more comfortable. 

Whilst I’ve been lucky not to be rained on with these shoes yet (I don’t actively seek to go out when it’s wet!), out on the road, I can certainly attest to their stable and durable feeling. As for the weight, when you’re riding, you don’t feel it and they certainly feel lighter than what they are. There are other places to minimise weight – shoes are a contact point after all and comfort should be the deciding factor. 

I also found their ventilation to be impressive. There is a small tab that with a small flathead screwdriver, you can open or close the vent depending on the weather conditions you’re riding in. This makes a big difference and riding in the couple of weeks heatwave in July here in the UK, I never had hot feet and could feel a cool breeze permeate its way through the shoes. Both the Shot and the Wire come in an ‘Air’ version if your riding will be in hotter conditions. This would be ideal if you are constantly riding in higher temperatures but I would otherwise stick to this standard version. No complaints here though. 

Fit is something that really impresses with these shoes. As with their previous Wire and other range-topping shoes, the Shot comes with an adjustable heel retention device. One can adjust this to stop your foot from slipping, helping to achieve the optimum fit. I’ve really got on with the ‘locked-in’ feel of some top-end shoes recently. I love the Specialized S-Works 6 for example, which although you have to fight a little to get your foot in, when it’s in, it’s superlative. On the Shot, having this adjustability a great idea as it can cater to a number of different shaped feet. However, I did find with the Shot that I can’t quite get it to close tight enough and there is a bit of lift.  


The gloss red rigid heel cup beautifully contrasts the matt red upper. The Italian flag by the reflective strips is a subtle nod to Sidi’s heritage.

Other features of this shoe include a ‘replaceable anti-slip polyurethane heel pad’. It’s meant to aid with walking but who really walks in road shoes for long periods? I can’t say I noticed the benefits. That said, the fact it is replaceable can only be a good thing. There are still far too many shoes out there where once you wear down the heel pad, it’s game over. Sidi also include reflective strips on either side of the back of the shoe to help with visibility when riding in lower light conditions. This security feature is a nice touch as anything that makes a cyclist a little more visible at night must be a plus.   


Two ‘Tecno 3 Dials’ on a single base work in tandem to fasten your foot in and out of the shoe. But is the positioning ideal? 

Sidi use their proprietary dial system to lock your feet in. The Shot has a ‘Double Tecno-3 Push’ closure system. It is basically as described. It consists of two Tecno 3 dials on one base that act as a pair to fasten the shoes on. The idea of this double system is to create the perfect tension to achieve supreme comfort. To fasten the dials, you simply press the ‘Push’ button on both dials which opens the dials up for you to adjust. You then interchange tightening up the dials to your liking. If you need to loosen them a little, there are two release clips on either end of the double dial where you can make minute adjustments. To get your foot out of the shoe, just hold the two releases down and lift your foot out of the shoe. 

I’ve always got on with Sidi’s Tecno system on previous models of theirs and it’s a suitable alternative to other systems like the eponymous BOA which is found on the majority of high-end shoes. I’ve had BOA wires kink on me before or outright fail, but luckily they are backed by BOA’s very useful and super-efficient lifetime warranty. I’ve not had this problem with Sidi before so haven’t tested their warranty program and hopefully I won’t need to! Ultimately, it’s swings and roundabouts. They both perform the same function using a slightly different method. 

I do have a problem with the location for these dials on the Shot’s though. They are right in the middle of the tongue. I feel like you can’t really get them that tight enough and I think a side-loading mechanism like on the Wire would be a lot better. The Wire could be a better pick if you agree with the positioning of the dual dials as it has one dial in the middle and a ratchet covering the span of the shoe. You are definitely best comprehensively trying both pairs of shoes before you buy! 

Finally, aesthetics of a shoe are important and this ‘Matt Red’ option looks, quite simply, amazing. As is course with Sidi, there are a plethora of colour options you can select from which perfectly match your frame and the rest of your kit. No excuses here. 

Ultimately, the Sidi Shot represents more an evolution rather than revolution in the brand’s current line-up of shoes. The price may be high (premium shoe prices seem to be ever-increasing at the moment) but the craftsmanship here is top-notch with their robust, ski-shoe like quality and their varied fit should suit a lot of riders, with the numerous adjustments one can make. I’m looking forward to getting many more miles on these Shot’s and I’m confident that these will be up to the task for a very long time.  

Ten Products I Loved In 2018

2018 was an interesting year in the cycling industry, with many interesting new products and developments. These included an influx of aero bikes from many different bike brands, the continued rise of disc brakes and more road bikes geared to venture slightly more off-road to name but a few trends.

Here I will detail ten products that I loved last year, products that are well designed and that I will use for years to come. In no particular order, here are my picks for the products that I loved most in 2018.

11060366-1874654347078348

Image from Castelli’s website.

Castelli Inferno Bib Shorts

I’ve always got on well with Castelli bib shorts as the padding in them is generally excellent and they are well made but last year year, I bought an Inferno for hot weather and it really comes into its own in hotter conditions and has become a favourite. The best compliment I can give these shorts is the cliched argument that you forget you are wearing them. They fit perfectly and after many uses, have proven to be impressively durable given the lightweight materials used.

1447291-n2

Image from Osprey’s website

Osprey Syncro 15

This bag is excellent both for commuting and for riding. With well-placed pockets and clever integration of storage, it feels excellent when commuting. I used the bag on a 70 mile ride down to the coast this year and whilst I could still tell I was wearing a bag, it’s better than a lot of other options out there that would be far more cumbersome.

BMC Teammachine SLR01 Disc

I upgraded to (one of) my dream bikes last year and I am very impressed with this bike. Aesthetically, this is one of the cleanest looking bikes on the market and the red paint job is just stunning. BMC have cleverly focussed on integration and there is barely a cable in sight. Whilst this is a hard bike to work on mechanically, at least BMC have designed the bike to be fairly logical to work on. The Teammachine SLR01 is a perfect blend of lightweight, stiff and aerodynamic and has proven to be an excellent all-rounder.

maxresdefault

Image from BikeRadar’s first-look at the Shimano Ultegra R8000 series groupset

Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8070

This one is a bit of a cheat seeing as it’s part of my BMC but I have been equally impressed with this groupset. Although more an evolution than revolution of the outgoing 6870 series, Shimano have integrated the hydraulic reservoir into the shifter impeccably and the shifter feels like a normal road cable-actuated shifter. It works very well and gear changes are more noticeable than on previous models, which was a common complaint for feeling a little vague.

Silca-T-ratchet-ti-torque-tool-kit-review-1-2

Image by Dave Rome, CyclingTips. Original article – https://cyclingtips.com/2018/03/silca-t-ratchet-ti-torque-tool-kit-review/

Silca Ti-Torque and T-Ratchet

The first (of many) Silca products that I bought last year when I discovered this brand. Silca are a brand whose ethos I strongly get behind who take a pride in engineering exceptional quality tools with no corners cut. This T-Ratchet set with the Ti-Torque beam is a masterclass as it combines pretty much every single bit you’d need on a beautifully crafted ratchet and has a torque bit to boot which displays live torque as you are tightening bolts. I use this day in day out where I work at a bike shop, it gets taken with me on every ride for any eventualities and it’s perfect on holidays when I hire bikes and don’t need to worry about working on carbon components. A masterpiece.

kalf-flux-short-sleeve-jersey-red-EV288919-0000-3

Image from Kalf’s website

Kalf Flux Jersey

Kalf, exclusive to Evans Cycles, are a clothing brand that launched in 2017 and for the reasonable prices for their kit (generally everything is less than £100), it’s all really well-thought out items that rival other clothing brands that target the same demographic. This Flux jersey is their more race-focussed product (Club products are a more relaxed fit) and it is brilliant – great on hotter days due to lots of ventilation and the fit is spot-on.

TireLever4

Image from Pedro’s website

Pedro’s Tyre Levers

The only set of tyre levers you should own. Perhaps a rather boring item to pick, these are perfectly designed and get most tyres off with ease or with relative ease if a difficult tyre. No tyre lever I have used compares to this. The shape is just perfect for real world conditions. And what’s more, they have a lifetime warranty to boot with no quibbles if you break them.

91pFFvbGi4L._SL1500_

Image from Clif’s website

Clif Energy Bar

The only food I look forward to eating when on the bike, these always hit the spot. They’re an impressively big portion so you could have one bar in two goes when on the bike and they taste very nice. The best compliment that I can give is I would be happy to eat these off the bike! The ‘Crunchy Peanut Butter’ is my pick of the bunch with the ‘Cool Mint Chocolate’ hotly contesting second place.

30757_kmc_x11_sl_11_speed_chain_silver

Image from KMC’s website

KMC X11 SL Chain

I was fed up of having to replace Shimano chains after not a lot of mileage so I thought I’d give this uber-lightweight chain a go. This chain is sensational and you can really feel the difference when you ride. I’ve also found it a lot quieter to ride than Shimano and shifts remain silky smooth. The only chain to have!

castelli-arenberg-mitt-red-white-EV228282-3090-3

Image from Castelli’s website

Castelli Arenberg Gloves

Whilst now updated in 2019 (and now not quite as good), the previous version of the Arenberg gloves were excellent. The padding is in the right place, they fit very well and these are very comfortable to use on the bike, combined with quality bar tape.


What kit have you enjoyed using on the bike? Let me know your picks in the comments. 

Five Most Exciting Road Bikes For 2018

The 2018 model year bikes are now pretty much firmly released, so what better time to have a look and see what are the most exciting ones. Here, I will list my personal opinions of which bikes are the ones to have a look out for. This list will include a range of road bikes and some more off-road offerings.

Here we go:

Trek Emonda SLR Disc

This is a particularly significant bike as Trek have just proved that having disc brakes on a bike isn’t necessarily a weight disadvantage. The disc frame weighs a scant 665g, just 25g heavier than the rim brake SLR and 25g lighter than the first generation rim brake model. How Trek have done this is nothing short of amazing and it will be very easy to get one of these frames built up under 7kg. My only gripe with it is that Trek have decided to route the hose for the front disc brake externally down the fork with a zip tie – on a premium bike, despite the mechanical hassle, internal would look so much better.

Specialized Tarmac SL6 

The newest iteration of the Specialized Tarmac doesn’t really boast any big claims in the weight or aerodynamics department, but it does promise to do everything well. I’ve previously ridden the SL5 and own an Allez DSW SL which is based off the SL5 geometry so if they’re anything to go by, then the SL6 must be a winner. Even more exciting to look forward to is the imminent release of the new disc model – it’s been on the UCI approved list and there is talk of it being released during the Tour Down Under.

BMC Teammachine SLR01

I love the previous iteration of the Teammachine SLR01 and the new one looks even better. It borrows a lot from the Roadmachine, a bike billed as the ‘One-Bike Collection’ that released last year, such as the integrated cockpit and lack of exposed cables. I tested the Roadmachine and whilst it’s an ambitious bike, I don’t think it quite manages to accomplish what it set out – I have my problems with it. That said, I think my problems with it would work in the Teammachine’s favour. My only gripe with the new SLR01 is it is obscenely expensive.

2018-norco-search-xr-adventure-gravel-road-bike-10

Image from Bike-Packing.com

Norco Search XR

Moving away slightly off-road, the new Norco Search XR is a radical departure from the previous model. An adventure road bike, the Search XR is capable of taking both 700c and 650b wheels, is suitable for bikepacking with a plethora of mounting points for bags and racks and as well as carbon models, also comes in a luxurious steel edition too. My only issue with it is the size of the Norco logo on the downtube, which just looks a little out of place.

2018-s-works-crux-frameset_11106

Image from Specialized website

Specialized CruX

Now onto full-on mud, Specialized make a second appearance in this list with their revamp of the CruX. The CruX has gone on a significant weight diet for 2018 and is now a dedicated cyclocross machine instead of the all-rounder the previous CruX was – the Diverge now fills in the gap. For me, this is easily the best looking bike of 2018 and the S-Works frameset with the hydrophobic paint job is a work of art.


What would your picks be? Let me know in the comments. 

Road Bike Buyers Guide

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2a60

If you’re in the market for a road bike, there’s a lot to consider. Here, I will take you through everything I feel is important when looking at a new steed. I will explain my experiences in my years of cycling and also through working part-time in a bike shop and all the knowledge that I have accumulated. This will be an honest guide and I will explain what areas are best to prioritise on and what areas are best to upgrade in the future. I also intend for this to be an article that I will regularly update as time goes by, so do feel free to check back once every so often.

When looking at a road bike (or any bike for that matter), I feel there are 4 main areas to look at and in order of importance, here they are:

  • Frameset
  • Groupset
  • Wheels and Tyres
  • Finishing Kit

Frameset

bmc-teammachine-slr01-disc-2018-road-bike-frameset-red-black-ev302692-3085-1

Image from BMC’s website

The frameset consists of the frame and fork. In my opinion, this is most important because unless you buy a new bike, you’ve got this frameset for a while. (Or alternatively, if you’re mechanically able, you could buy a not-so-great frame with brilliant parts and upgrade the frame in the future and put all those parts onto it…) You can upgrade the parts that hang off the frame if they are not up to scratch. There are two important things to look at when you’re looking at a frameset in my opinion – frame materials and intended use.

There are generally four main types of materials used in a frame – aluminium, carbon, steel and titanium. Aluminium and carbon are the most prevalent in the bike industry and account for most mainstream bikes that are on the market. Aluminium is generally much cheaper to manufacture and accounts for bikes mainly around the £1000 mark. Carbon is generally the exotica material people crave for in a bike and can generally be found from £1200 upwards. Carbon is generally regarded as a better material as it dampens road vibrations and is much lighter and with carbon, manufacturers can create more complex tube shapes. However, it is extremely important to note that there are varying levels of both of these materials. Higher-end aluminium is much better than a lower-grade of carbon and I’d generally argue that if your budget is less than £1500 on a full RRP bike, go with aluminium as you’ll get a much better specced bike and it will feel more lively and ultimately, be a better ride.

ares-sl-fork-red_3k

Image from Dolan Bicycles

On aluminium bikes at entry level prices, it’s important to have a look at the material the fork is made from. I would only ever buy a frame with a carbon fork as carbon will dampen the vibrations on the front end before you feel those vibrations at the handlebars. I would personally steer clear of a bike with an aluminium fork – the difference is night and day.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_34b6

This example is a Specialized D’Aluisio Smartweld frame – note the welds near the head tube. The welding on this bike makes the frame stiffer and lighter. Specialized even have an S-Works level of the Allez, so this proves that you can make wonderful frames out of what is generally regarded as a lesser material.

Make sure you have a look where the frame material used in a particular bike ranks in a brand’s hierarchy. Specialized, for example, have two grades of aluminium – E5 and D’Aluisio Smartweld and their carbon bikes range from FACT 8r carbon all the way up (9, 10, 11) to 12r carbon reserved for their S-Works level of bikes. I would always say get the best frame you can, for the reasons I stated before, you’ve got that frame generally until you buy a new bike.

The next important thing to consider frame-wise is style of frame and then geometry. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “a road bike”. There are many different sub-categories. This guide will exclusively be dealing with road bikes, not cyclocross / adventure / touring / TT bikes (which I may write about in a future post).

With road bikes, I would split them into four categories:

  • Endurance
  • Race
  • Climbing
  • Aero

specialized-roubaix-elite-2017-road-bike-red-ev279856-3000-1

Specialized Roubaix – this is an example of an endurance bike. The Roubaix has a taller head tube and shorter top tube so you’re more upright. It also has a FutureShock which is a cartridge in the head tube that offers a little suspension, the seatstays are dropped to offer more comfort as the seatpost can flex and the seatpost has a Zertz pad at the top, also to take some sting out of the roads. Image from Specialized’s website

An endurance road bike (people also refer to these sometimes as sportif or granfondo bikes) are bikes that are designed for comfort or longer distances. They are generally taller on the front end so you’re not in a very low and aggressive position and the top tubes are generally shorter, again so you’re not too stretched out. Many brands build in specific compliance features to aid comfort in the frame for the rider – for example, Trek and their use of IsoSpeed decouplers in some of their frames.

cannondale-supersix-evo-hi-mod-team-2014-road-bike-team-ev198012-9999-1

Cannondale SuperSix Evo – this is an example of a race bike. Compared to the endurance bike, it has a shorter head tube, longer top tube so you are in a more aggressive position. There is no fancy suspension here like on the Roubaix either! Image from Cannondale’s website

A race bike, I would argue, is the nearest definition to a road bike. These are bikes that are comfortable enough for any riding you want to do, generally lightweight but in comparison to an endurance bike, they are more aggressive in position.

trek-emonda-slr-8-2018-road-bike-black-ev311917-8500-1

Trek Emonda – this bike is purely designed for its light weight. The frameset weighs an astonishing 640g. With this particular bike, the geometry mimics more of a race bike than an endurance bike and there are no aero features as such. Image from TrekBikes

A climbing bike, not as prevalent as the other three categories, is a bike purely designed to be as light as possible for you guessed, climbing. In terms of geometry, these borrow mostly from a race bike.

bmc-timemachine-tmr01-dura-ace-di2-2014-road-bike-team-red-ev192652-3000-1

BMC Timemachine – this is an example of an aero bike. Note the aero tubing, in particular how close the tyre comes to the frame to minimise drags. For futher aerodynamics, this bike also has integrated brakes within the frameset. The head tube will be shorter than a race bike generally and the top tube longer as well to put you in an even more aggressive, aerodynamic position.

An aero bike is a bike purely designed with aerodynamics in mind, for maximum speed. These types of bikes will quite often use aero / kammtail tubing which often means that they compromise on comfort although with bikes like the Trek Madone, this is not always the case. If you want to go as fast as possible or race and don’t mind sacrificing on some comfort, this is the bike for you.

02-img_6571

The BMC Roadmachine caters for all of these disciplines as its frame is fairly lightweight, you can use the different spacers to control how high or low the handlebars for comfort. For comfort too, it has dropped seatstays to allow the seatpost to flex and wider tyres. It is also a bike you could race on with its slight aero profiling and by putting it in its lower position. Image from RoadCycling UK – https://roadcyclinguk.com/gear/bmc-roadmachine-rm01-ultegra-2017-road-bike-review.html

Of course, road bikes aren’t strictly confined to these categories and you will find many that will fall in different places on the spectrum or even with a bike like the BMC Roadmachine, a bike that BMC envisage as ‘the one-bike collection’, designed for all of these types of riding.

I would have a good long think about what it is exactly you want to do and achieve with this new investment and go for the frame that best suits your needs. There’s no point of you buying an aero bike when your goal is to complete a 200km sportive for example, likewise if your looking at racing, there’s no point getting something more for endurance.

That said, if you buy a bike and want to adapt it to another style of riding, there’s nothing stopping you. For example, if you bought an aero bike but then found you wanted to ride sportives on it, in order to make the bike even more comfortable, you could look at sticking some wider tyres on, fitting thicker bar tape, upgrading to a carbon handlebar / seatpost. Just because you have a road bike that doesn’t quite match your riding needs, it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed. But still, if you’re in the market to purchase a new bike, you might as well get the style of bike that initially matches what you want to do on it.

To make things easier, I have created a table with many of the big brands and their different models and what categories they come under.

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 22.48.48

Groupset

shimano-105-5800-5236-1128-groupset-black-ev237773-8500-1

The groupset are the parts that hang off the frame, as it were, and is the collective term for the shifters, brakes, chainset, front and rear mechs, chain and cassette. I will go into more detail on a future post about groupsets but in essence, all of the major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo) have different levels of groupset to suit different price points hence why I’m going to go straight in with using all of the jargon.

The most important thing as of writing is the braking due to the rim brake / disc brake divide at the moment. This is due to the fact that the frame needs to be specific for the braking system. I’ve previously written a detailed post on the evolution of disc brakes which you can read about here and this will hopefully help you make a decision.

With any groupset, I would urge you to go to 11-speed (11 gears on the back) with regards to gears if you can as it means the jumps between each gear are much smaller and you still have the same range. You can generally find Shimano 105-equipped bikes from about the £1000 mark and what it means is that in the future, if you are to upgrade to a presumably better bike and want to interchange wheels between them, you haven’t got the headache of incompatibility. That said, if your budget doesn’t stretch, you can always look to upgrade in the future, particularly if you do get the cycling bug.

1405660732338-bjwr9s9ekbus-630-354

Image from Road Cycling UK

Shimano tends to be the groupset manufacturer that tends to be sold on most bikes. It’s all very good stuff and works very well. SRAM and Campagnolo aren’t quite as common but all three manufacturers all offer intuitive shifting and braking at different price points. Again, stay tuned for a future post where I will go through these in more detail.

01

Two different size chainsets together. Image from BikeHugger.com – ‘ The Rise of the Compact Crank’

Pay attention to the gear ratios that are specced on the bike as well. The gear ratios correspond to the number of teeth on the chainrings and cassette. When it comes to the chainrings, most bikes typically tend to have 50/34 (50 teeth on the bigger chainring, 34 on the inner chainring), which is good for climbing and most people are comfortable with this configuration. Race and aero bikes and pro riders often have bigger gearing with 53/39. 53 means you can reach a higher speed, but you’d need to really be going some to spin out a 53-11. To accommodate in between, race bikes can also come with a 52/36 which is a nice compromise – you’ll spin out a 52 less easily than a 50 but then the climbing gear isn’t as tough as a 39.

p-025-sl-k-mosular-adventure-bb386evo-crankset_0

A 48/32 example Image from FSA’s website

Adventure Road bikes and even some endurance bikes may either have a sub-compact (which is a 48/32 or 46/30) to give you an even easier climbing gear and Cyclocross bikes are often 46/36 as the gear range that you need to cycle off-road is much closer – you wouldn’t need a 50 for example.

Some cheaper bikes or touring bikes may still come with a triple chainset which is often a 50/39/30 to give you an easier climbing gear. Bear in mind though that triples are not as efficient as you have a lot of duplicate gears.

Image from FeedTheHabit.com

Some bikes, particularly Adventure Road and Cyclocross are now coming with single chainsets and a wider-range cassette at the back. This offers a cleaner look, less weight as you ditch the front mech, cable and shifter and systems such as SRAM 1x incorporate additional measures for chain retention such as clutch derailleurs and narrow/wide chainrings to better hold the chain and stop the chain slapping on the chainstays.

cassettes

Different cassette ratios

Speaking of the cassette, this is the other thing to bear in mind in conjunction with the chainset gear ratio. Most bikes come with an 11-28, offering a good fast gear with the 11 and a nice climbing gear with 28. Race and aero bikes may come with an 11-25 or 11-23 which aren’t as easy for climbing but it means that the jumps between each gear are smaller. Endurance bikes and adventure bikes may come with 11-30 or 11-32 which is a nice, wide range as you get an easier climbing gear but remember that the jumps between each gear will be bigger. With 1x groupsets, it’s not uncommon for the single chainset to be combined with a 11-36 or 10-42 cassettes to give you that wider range. However, you cannot fit these onto a normal 2x groupset as the derailleurs’ cage isn’t long enough to reach those bigger cogs.

shimano20ultegra20di22068702011spd20groupset20-20montage

Image from Shimano’s website

If you see yourself in the future wanting to upgrade to electronic gears such as Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS, you need to make sure the cables in the frame are internally routed as the battery for the groupset sits inside the frame.

1436839377267-4d49g6mexhu2-630-354

This bike has specced a non-series Shimano RS500 chainset as opposed to the 105 one. It is a little heavier compared to the 105 one, but this is an easy area for the brands to save costs. Image from BikeRadar

Also, when looking at bikes, have a look and see what you’re not getting. A particular bike may advertise itself as having a Shimano 105 groupset but on closer inspection of the spec sheet, you may only be getting the 105 shifters and mechs and the rest of it isn’t 105. Brands do this, most of the time (there are some exceptions), for cost-cutting purposes. A bike might have an FSA chainset for example, or a KMC chain or Tektro brakes. I wouldn’t worry too much about these, particularly for a chain for example as you’ll end up replacing that at some point anyway after it’s worn. However, I would be a little weary if the brakes were downgraded, such as Tektro as these typically won’t offer as much stopping power and may lack bite. You could change the pads out for some cartridge pads once they’ve worn out and that will dramatically improve them or perhaps upgrade in the future.

Wheels and Tyres

gp4-1465440856138-nlyb8jh7xpkk-630-354

Image from Mantel.com

Wheels and tyres are paramount to how your bike rides and a good set of wheels and tyres is a vast improvement compared to a shoddy set. With most bikes, the wheels and tyres are unlikely to be up to par with the frameset and groupset and this is often deliberate. What would be the point in buying a bike with deep section, aerodynamic wheels when you’re after a really shallow, lightweight set?

Unfortunately this logic doesn’t quite translate with tyres and tyres are in my opinion, even more important, than wheels as they are your main contact point with the ground. Unless the tyres that come on the bike really are pants, I don’t see any need in upgrading straightaway as you may as well wear out the tyres that came on it and then subsequently upgrade. However, when it does come to buying new tyres, do not skimp – even the ride of an utterly rubbish bike can be transformed with good tyres as is the case the other way around.

When it comes to upgrades, the wheels and tyres should generally be the first thing you do as it will make the world of difference to your bike – tyres, again because they are the main contact point with the ground but also wheels because it reduces rotating weight. You’re far more likely to reap more benefit upgrading your wheels as opposed to a stem for precisely that reason.

trek-emonda-alr-6-2018-road-bike-black-ev311998-8500-1

The wheels on this Trek Emonda ALR are in line with the rest of the build on the bike. Image from Trek Bikes

I have noticed a couple of brands such as Trek, for example, are beginning to offer consumers the option of the same bike but with an upgrade in wheels for a nominal cost. If the wheels suit the type of riding you want to do, this is probably a brilliant deal and saves you the job of upgrading down the line. But for I’d say 90% of cases, the wheels are always sub-par in comparison to their respective frameset and groupset they’re paired with.

Finishing Kit 

The finishing kit is essentially the rest of the bike – the seatpost, saddle, handlebars and stem. These aren’t as important as the frameset, groupset and wheelset but are still something you should have a look at.

However, what is important is I would set some money aside (included in your budget) for potentially, a new saddle, handlebar and stem. It is impossible for manufacturers to spec these parts perfectly for you as everyone is so different. I wouldn’t rush with changing them straightaway (except maybe for the stem as this aids in bike fit) but after a few rides, you’ll know whether or not these parts work for you. I won’t go into what saddles or handlebars you should look at here but don’t be surprised if you find you need to change these.

Whilst not essential as well, it would be worth having a look and seeing what material these parts are made from. Most of the time, they’ll be aluminium but carbon is a nice upgrade in these areas (not always for saddles though) as it can aid in comfort as they dampen vibrations from the road.

A Note on Prices 

I just wanted to highlight as well that you really don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a bike. From experience of working in a bike shop and from my own personal riding of riding bikes at different price points, the biggest differences in spec come towards the comparative lower end of the market. The minimum I would spend on a bike would be £400 (as of present) as generally but not always, anything lower is likely to be majorly flawed in some way – I’ll reiterate a point I made earlier on in that I would never buy a bike which didn’t have carbon forks on it.

The biggest differences come as you go up to the £1000 mark and I would say £1000-1200 would be where you could find a brilliant Shimano 105-equipped high-end aluminium frame. Notice that in the space of £500-700ish the lengths of difference from comparative Shimano Tourney or Claris-equipped bikes at the beginning of the range. Of course, you need to take every single bike you look at for its own merits but I have found this generally to be the trend.

I personally wouldn’t bother with carbon unless you want to spend upwards of £1500 as generally but not always (unless there is a sale), it will be inferior to its higher-specced aluminium alternative both in frame and components. As you spend even more venturing into the £2000-2500 category, you then get better quality frames and higher end components. And then after that, you then access the best frames with the best components but I personally see no need to spend more than £3000 as you then start to spend a lot more money for not all that much difference.

Summary

I hope everything here makes sense to you and if you have any questions at all, please feel free to leave me a comment and I will get back to you promptly. It can be a daunting process buying a road bike but I’m of the philosophy that I’d much rather you know what you’re buying than just blindly head down to the bike shop  or press the ‘order’ button online and pick out the first thing you see. After all, a good bike could be the make-or-break if you choose to pursue cycling or not.

I must stress that it is difficult to find the perfect bike that ticks all of these boxes. You may find you need to compromise somewhere, but with your own research and from my experiences that I have detailed in this article, hopefully you can work out what would most suit you.

Happy Cycling!

First Bike Build Project

It’s taken a while but I’ve finally managed, for the first time, to build up a road bike from a bare frameset. This has been one of my bike-related dreams for a while and I feel very proud to have fulfilled it…and I’d happily do it again.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3112

First, a bit of context behind this build. As a Winter bike, I’ve been riding a B’Twin Alur 700 for several years which has mostly been fine and has made for a reliable Winter / university workhorse. It’s fairly light and comfortable and has served me many miles, embarking on many club rides, sportives and the odd TT here and there. However, the rear brake is chainstay-mounted which has caused many problems particularly in the Winter months with all the mud and dirt getting caught into it and odd headset bearings. So I have been looking for a while for something that will do the job a bit better and also who doesn’t always envy a new bike?!

However, I managed to find a Specialized Allez DSW SL frameset, brand new too, for a very reasonable price. If that all sounded completely confusing, the Allez DSW SL is Specialized’s higher-tier aluminium frame featuring their D’Aluisio (named after the designer) Smartweld technology making for a lighter, stiffer and stronger frame.

I bought the frame around Christmas time last year but as I had my B’Twin up at uni, I didn’t get a chance to bring the old bike home until May. I then managed to transfer a lot of the parts over from the B’Twin and changed a couple of other parts in the meantime as to me, it made sense to. I ran into a couple of snags though, for example when I broke a stem bolt and had to wait ages to get a replacement and also holidays and work got in the way. I have only just completed it earlier this month and went out on my first maiden voyage the other day. I’ll do a full review and write up once I get to know the bike more but so far, so good. Here it is:

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_34b6

Here’s a full list of specs for those interested:

Frame and Fork: Specialized Allez DSW SL

Groupset: Shimano 105 5800, 50/34 chainset, 11-32 cassette (I will change this to an 11-28 when it wears out)

Wheelset: Mavic Aksium Race (these are still going strong from my original bike, once these are worn, they’ll be replaced)

Tyres: Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons, 700x25c

Pedals: Shimano 105

Saddle: Fi’zi:k Aliante (this will probably be changed at some point)

Seatpost: Specialized S-Works Carbon

Handlebar: Specialized S-Works Carbon Handlebar, 42cm (I upgraded this from the 3T Ergosum Pro handlebars I originally had as they were the wrong shape for me and I was so impressed with the carbon handlebars on another bike, I thought I might as well bite the bullet now if I have to tape them and mount the shifters / sort out cables etc…)

Stem: Bontrager Race Lite 100mm (this will be changed soon as well. Part of the reason why this post is so late was because I broke a bolt on the original Deda stem I fitted to the bike but I need to see how the bike works size-wise before upgrading.

Headset: Tange Seiki, 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 (these will be upgraded when they wear out)

Bottom Bracket: Unbranded BB30 (this will be upgraded when it wears out)

Handlebar Tape: Specialized S-Wrap Roubaix Wide (Black)

Bottle Cages: Elite Cannibal

I’m not sure on the weight yet but I would imagine it to weigh in the low 8’s region. I’ll update this article when I know.

I would definitely recommend building up your own bike if you get the chance as you get to pick and choose all the components you want and also it means that you haven’t got to buy something you don’t want (ie. if a bike you buy is not specced how you want it and then have to spend money to upgrade). I would definitely do it again and over the years, as I have worked with bikes and know a lot more of how they work, I can upgrade or change sections at a time rather than just buying new bikes. I’ll say it again, building your own bike is an EXTREMELY rewarding process.

 

The Evolution Of Road Disc Brakes

1449186738232-nvl28sa4ulhi-1200-80

“Disc brakes”, I hear you say, “not this petty argument again.” You would be right and I cannot agree enough how sick I am of people complaining that they don’t need them and that they are fine with rim brakes and vice versa. This isn’t what this article is about – instead, I am going to highlight how I feel they have evolved over the last couple of years and how we are getting even closer to a better set of standards. Rim brakes are still brilliant in their own right as they allow you to have a generally lighter bike and still offer excellent braking and it’s good to see brands such as Trek, who offer consumers the choice rather than forcing you into one type of braking. Looking at a lot of the 2017 model year bikes and the majority of bikes for 2018, it is clear that disc brakes have evolved a lot since their inception into road biking. Let’s take a look at this apparent path of evolution.

bicycling-brakes

When disc brakes were first announced on road bikes, many of them were mechanical disc brake systems (operated by a cable, not hydraulic fluid) which in my opinion, are lacking. I can see the benefits to mechanical for those who tour in that it is easier to get hold of a cable as opposed to specific hydraulic fluid. However, mechanical disc brakes are subject to cable stretch and require a lot more maintenance than hydraulics which self-adjust as the pads wear. You don’t get as much modulation and feel or bite compared to hydraulics. In my opinion, they’re not really good for anything and brand such as TRP introduced the Hy/Rd which is a part hydraulic system but to be honest, I would agree with Matthew Allen’s assessment in a recent BikeRadar article that this is a solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Of course they’re cheaper than going the whole hog to a hydraulic system but as you will see, as is the case in the bike industry, now that disc brakes on road bikes are no longer in their infancy, they have been subject to trickle down to lower levels.

Hydraulics were introduced onto road bikes by SRAM and Shimano which instantly propelled this technology and improved the quality of braking on these various road bikes that came equipped with them. However, hydraulics were still in their infancy. Both Shimano and SRAM’s levers were considerably more bulbous in order to house the reservoir for the hydraulics.

Shimano weren’t confident from the outset of their hydraulics and didn’t incorporate them into their groupset line, instead labelling their levers with part numbers – R785 for the electronic-hydraulic lever, RS685 for the mechanical-hydraulic lever that was aimed at the Ultegra level, RS505 for 105, RS405 for Tiagra. The latter two are perhaps the most ugliest shifters I have ever seen (although this is personal opinion) and also affect fit of the bike as it means that your hands are further out on the hoods. As I work part-time in a bike shop, these two models do complicate the fitting process as you have to account for this. These later models have been introduced throughout the years and it’s refreshing to see Shimano offer hydraulics at the Tiagra level. Whilst these systems all worked well, it was interesting to see that Shimano weren’t confident enough to incorporate these levers into their official groupset line.

95558_02_d

SRAM did however incorporate hydraulic braking into their line of groupsets but then famously suffered a widescale recall in late 2013 due to some quality control issues. Although the replacement was still considerably more bulbous, it was a lot smaller than the original iteration.

It is very interesting to note Shimano’s recently announced Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets and Shimano have now totally revamped the levers, rotors and callipers and have branded them into these levels. It is astonishing to see, the Dura-Ace version in particular, maintain the same shape as the cable-actuated version and this is proof that you can get these levers to the same size in order to get the same feel. If you’re going to go for Shimano disc brakes, I would say now is the time where you can finally feel confident.

SRAM haven’t yet announced their next generation groupsets but I am confident that they will follow suit with the way that Shimano have done. This just leaves Campagnolo alone in the water, who are only just beginning to bring out their own hydraulic systems.

The actual brake itself though isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to disc brakes. You also need to consider the size of rotor, how the calliper attaches to the frame and how the wheel attaches to the bike. This is why disc brakes have been quite a complicated affair over the years and why they haven’t yet been introduced into the pro-peloton. If you needed a spare wheel from neutral service, how would you know if the wheel you were getting would fit the same standards as your bike?

When it comes to rotor size, the bigger the rotor, the more powerful the brake. With road bikes, you don’t need anywhere near as big a rotor as you would on a mountain bike and at first, the standard seemed to be 140mm. However, other brands spec 160mm and some brands spec 160mm front, 140mm rear such as my Norco cyclocross bike. This standard still isn’t set in stone but with brands releasing adaptors to convert between the two, this certainly helps and I suspect 160mm will be the preferred size as time goes on.

In terms of mounting, the two types are flat-mount and post-mount. Post-mount pretty much follows the IS standard it replaced from mountain bikes whereas flat-mount discs sit flush against the frame and make hose-routing (particularly when the hose is routed internally through the frame) better. Again, you are able to convert between the two depending on what standard your frame is but in my opinion, this makes the bike look quite ugly. Each to their own though.

fullpage_3

(Left) Post-Mount, (Right) Flat-Mount             Images from BikeRadar

Keeping in tune with how disc brakes have evolved over the years, it looks very much like flat-mount will be the main standard and is much more predominant on 2017/18 bikes than it has been before. Shimano, who invented the standard, only sell callipers for their new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupset in a flat-mount configuration.

The final thing to consider is how the wheel attaches to your bike. At first, quick-releases (QR) were used which are good enough but there is always an element of adjustment with them which means you need to position the wheel perfectly so your disc rotor doesn’t rub. There is also the very small risk that the forces exerted by the disc can cause a QR to loosen.

scott-bikes-2015-road-disc-flat-mount-12mm-thru-6

Image from BikeRadar

Thru-axles (TA), carried over from the mountain bike world, are now popular on road bikes with disc brakes as it makes the frame much stiffer as TA’s only go into the frame in one direction and it also reduces the risk of disc rub. It is also more difficult overtighten them as a lot of them come with a preloaded torque. Systems such as Focus’ RAT system make this process even easier – the RAT system requires a quarter-turn to undo which makes wheel changes even quicker.

In terms of standards, at first there were many. On the front, 100×12 and 100×15 for example (and on the back, 142×12 and Specialized’s infamous 135×12 (more on that in a minute). These dimensions refer to the size of the thru-axle and the frames that manufacturers released were also specific to these sizes. You can’t change between them because the thru-axles need to be specific to the frame. Looking to the present, it now looks as if manufacturers have settled on 12mm front and 12mm back. However, wheel manufacturers such as Zipp give you different end-caps with their wheels so you can swap between them all and also QR.

You also need to consider how the thru-axle is removed from the bike. Some have a lever-design with a ratchet, some require an allen key to remove them, some such as DT Swiss’ lever can do both. Carrying around an allen key to take your wheel off is a bit of a faff but it does make the bike look cleaner and of course, the industry is always chasing for integration and aerodynamics. When you look at how this aspect could be a dilemma in the pro peloton, it could mean that certain riders can get their wheels changed quicker than others which is a little unfair. But for the likes of you and me who presumably don’t race professionally, surely the added security and stiffness of a thru-axle is a better benefit than a faster wheel change.

So taking all these standards into account, it looks like the industry will go for 140/160 disc rotors, flat-mount disc brakes with 12mm thru-axles front and rear. This would make sense and would mean that because these are all the same, if neutral service were to carry wheels of this spec or if you were to buy or swap your disc-brake wheels from bike to bike, they would interchange together.

Now that we’ve looked at the actual disc brakes, the models and the various standards that go with them, we finally need to have a look at the frames that manufacturers have made to accommodate disc-brakes.

Frames in most cases, need to be specific to the braking. A disc frame needs to be able to react well to the different forces a disc brake exerts compared to a rim brake. Generally, they are a bit beefier and a little heavier to accommodate this. When you look at geometry charts, it’s often quite telling to see how in most cases, manufacturers need to change the geometry to suit.

Have a look at chainstay length for instance. Generally, the shorter the chainstay, the more nimble the bike will handle on the back end and it’ll mean a shorter wheelbase too (distance between the axles, a longer wheelbase means a more stable bike, a shorter wheelbase means more nippy). However, this affects the chainline and the groupset brands specify a chainstay length of 420mm needed to ensure good performance of the gears. You don’t really need to worry about this on endurance bikes as they tend to have a longer wheelbase anyway as they are designed for comfort. However, when brands such as Specialized made disc-brake versions of their Tarmac and CruX for instance, typically bikes designed for racing, you don’t want to change the properties of the frame as if you have longer chainstays than their rim-brake counterparts, this then affects how the bike handles as it’ll have a longer chainstay which will mean more stable.

Specialized infamously tried to combat this by introducing SCS (Short Chainstay System) and to do that, it had to change the rear thru-axle size to accommodate this to 135x12mm. This received uproar as it meant that many wheel brands didn’t support this size and you were only tied to Roval (Specialized’s in-house brand) and a few others for wheels. Cannondale have managed to do this in a slightly more friendly way and additionally create further mud clearance on their cyclocross SuperX bikes by redishing the rear wheel 6mm to the right.

As you can probably tell, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the method of braking you go for when it comes to picking a road bike. But I now feel that with a solid set of standards seemingly set, now is a much better time to make the jump if you’re unsure as it looks like you will be supported in the years to come. My next road bike will certainly be disc as I feel that the manufactures have reached a high-enough level. The manufacturers will only further improve and now that they all seem to have more confidence in their own product and have managed to make the levers an almost indentical to their cable-actuated counterparts, it shows that this technology is being taken seriously.

Norco Threshold C Rival (First Look)

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2da3

So it’s finally happened… After planning on giving cyclocross a go, I’ve finally managed to get myself a bike that I think is going to be perfectly suitable. Although cross season is pretty much done for, in-between and after finishing studying this year at university, I’m going to try and prepare myself for some cross races and perhaps some off-road sportives or adventure-style type of riding. We’ll have to see how things go as I’ve got some road riding plans too but that’s the plan thus far.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2d9d

The bike is a Norco Threshold C Rival, Norco being a reputable Canadian brand that are exclusively stocked by Evans Cycles in the UK. They tend to be great value for money and the bike was actually a lot cheaper for me than a lot of lower-spec aluminium offerings, specifically from BMC and Specialized. For cross, I was looking more at aluminium-framed bikes as they can be chucked about a little more but do bear a weight penalty so this was quite a nice surprise to see. The frame is made of what Norco call, ‘mid-modulus’ carbon and their top-end frames are made of ‘high-modulus’ or in some cases, ‘ultra-high modulus’. This means that the frame is a little heavier than other carbon offerings by this brand but I think Norco have done a lot of interesting things with this frame to fully utilise it for cyclocross. The seatstays are what’s called ‘ARC-Race’ which from the image, you can see arc a little to provide a bit more comfort and the frame is what is built around a particularly beefy PF30 bottom bracket – I’m not a fan of press-fit bottom brackets but so far this has been problem-free. The frame also has an ‘Armor-Lite’ coating which supposedly protects from stone chips and the like so as not to ruin that lovely frame and the internal cabling implores a technology called ‘Gizmo’ which stops the cables rattling inside the frame and stops dirt attracting into the cabling. I absolutely love the paint-job of this bike – Norco have decided to employ a chequered black and red and I think it really stands out from the crowd. Weirdly though, the bike has a whole host of eyelets to fit mudguards / racks etc… but seeing as this is designed as a race-ready cyclocross bike (the Search is their adventure model), it is a little strange but doesn’t detract from the ride.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2e2e

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2e2d

The groupset is a full SRAM Rival 1x groupset, something which I really wanted to have on this bike due to the added security of the clutch-mechanism in the rear derailleur and the narrow-wide chainrings to perfectly match the X-Sync PC1130 chain. For cross, I don’t think Shimano are even remotely near the level that SRAM have come to, they’re onto a winner with their CX1 systems. The levers are a little bulbous as they contain the reservoir for the hydraulics but I actually quite like the look of them and they feel very snug and secure when handling the bike. In terms of gear ratios, the bike came with a 42t chainring which is a little on the big side but at least it means that you get a harder gear with 42-11. Cassette-wise, an 11-32 is specced but I instantly changed this to an 11-36 so the bike is more suitable for road-riding. Off-road a 32 would have been fine but it would have been hard work getting up the short, steep climbs of the Chilterns on the road.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2e2f

The wheels are Alexrims A-Class CXD4’s which are pretty unremarkable but roll nicely and they don’t weigh too much. It’s a shame they’re not tubeless-ready but I might have a go at converting them to ‘ghetto-tubeless’ at some point by using electrical insulation tape and sealant which seems to work. Clement MXP tyres are specced which I’ve been impressed with off-road so far but I have punctured already and this is why I think tubeless is ultimately the way I’ll go on this bike as not only will it reduce the risk of punctures but also I can run lower pressures off-road. You can’t really do this with inner tubes as if you go too low, you could pinch-flat. A feature that I was very keen on having was thru-axles as opposed to quick-release skewers for added stiffness and better disc rotor alignment and Norco have specced DT Swiss Thru-Axle’s front and rear. You really can tell the added stiffness they bring and after riding my road bike after this, it’s very noticeable to perceive this added benefit.

The stem and handlebar are own-brand Norco which again are unremarkable but have a good anatomical shape. The bar tape is nothing special but easy to replace in the future. I also instantly changed the seatpost and saddle, the saddle to a Fabric Scoop as I get on with this and it’s very easy to clean which is always a bonus. The seatpost is a Specialized S-Works COBL GOBL-R which has a Zertz-insert at the head of the post which gives it a cobra-like shape but I’ve been mightily impressed with it so far. The bike came with a Norco carbon seatpost which I will put on another bike.

unadjustednonraw_thumb_2e30

So that’s the bike and over my Christmas holidays, I’ve managed to get a few rides in around the local trails and even went on a club CX ride. Unfortunately I won’t get a chance to do any more until Easter as I’m at university but once I have put the bike through its paces, I will fully review this bike but so far on a handful of rides, I’ve been very impressed. It handles very nicely, the Rival 1x groupset is excellent and it has ample clearance for mud which it has certainly experienced so far. It may lack technical features such as Trek’s IsoSpeed or Cannondale’s SpeedSave technology but this is an unashamed, Canadian-flavoured off-road powerhouse that I am very positive about so far. In terms of cyclocross as a sport, I think it may even be more fun than road riding as you can take the bike just about anywhere and it will handle it. The only downside is constant cleaning of the bike if I head off-road and I would suspect the bearings on the bike will need to be serviced / replaced more frequently. But in terms of the ride, it’s potentially the best fun you can ever have on two wheels!

Stay tuned for my full review soon

Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 Ultegra (Review)

 

thumb_IMG_3150_1024

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

+ Great all-rounder
+ Flawless groupset and great wheels
+ Surprisingly good finishing kit

– Quite generic in the looks department
– White hubs!
– Poor tyres
– Inability to test-ride before buying

Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 Ultegra (£2000)

It’s been rather a long time since my holiday so apologies for the delay in getting this review up for the Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 Ultegra road bike that I rented for just over a week.

Canyon’s Ultimate  is a race proven road bike that has been wildly popular and is its race bike in its road bike line-up with the Aeroad being its aero offering as the name would suggest and the Endurace for the endurance / comfort category. It’s a great all-rounder that is suitably light (unfortunately I didn’t have scales to hand but Canyon have this listed at 7.1kg but I would estimate it to be in the mid-to-high 7’s as it didn’t feel quite as light as my Trek Emonda) for a Large frame. The model that I rented was the CF SL which is its second-rung frame with the SLX being its lighter frame made of a higher-grade carbon fibre and having a one-piece handlebar/stem combo. It is specced with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 mechanical groupset and Mavic Ksyrium Pro Exalith wheelset with finishing kit being provided by Canyon and a Fi’zi:k Antares saddle.

I was extremely impressed by this bike – it is suitably light, very comfortable and feels quite fast when out on the roads – it does have some aerodynamic features in its seat tube towards the bottom bracket shell which is a little truncated. There’s nothing screaming out in terms of interesting tube shapes here – it’s just a great all-rounder that is a good climber but equally fast when on the flats. The bike felt very planted on the road and I was never uncomfortable on it. It’s even capable on gravel – there were a few times where I found myself on gravel tracks and the bike managed to handle it ok.

The Shimano Ultegra mechanical groupset was as expected, flawless and the 52/36 paired with an 11/28 cassette was adequate for the Sardinian hills which were long but never too steep – I normally ride a compact. The wheels supplied by Mavic are the Ksyrium Pro Exalith and I was extremely impressed by the Exalith braking surface which gave me plenty of confidence when descending down twisty roads. Just a shame that the hubs are white which get dirty very quickly and detract from the bike’s stealth black colour scheme. The tyres supplied by Mavic not so much though, I would upgrade them once they’ve worn but at least they were 25c so they were fairly comfortable however I understand Canyon’s need to spec this as the tyres will have came with the wheels from their stock.

The bike is finished with a Canyon-branded stem, handlebar and carbon seatpost which were all surprisingly sublime – the handlebars had a really nice shape to the, the stem felt plenty stiff and the carbon seatpost helped improve comfort. The Fi’zi:k Antares saddle was decent as well but for me, a little long in the nose –  I personally prefer an Aliante.

For the money (£2000), this bike is extremely well-specced and to have wheels of this calibre at this price point is testament to Canyon’s unique online selling model and I suppose that is the real downside to this bike, you can’t really test-ride before buying it (unless you travel to their German headquarters).

The bike is also a little Germanic in look and doesn’t really offer much in the way of an exciting paint job – it’s plain black with its logo’s in white. I suppose if you are after the stealth look, the bike’s a winner but I am a little bored with the bike industry and particularly the Germans sticking to black.

Other than a few cosmetic quibbles, with an upgrade in tyres the Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 Ultegra is a versatile all-rounder that can be used for anything. It is a great blend of comfort, speed and aerodynamics and if you wanted to adapt the bike for either these needs, you could do. If you wanted an endurance rig, stick some wider tyres on it and perhaps some thicker bar tape likewise if you wanted to make the bike more race-orientated, stick some deep-section wheels on and slam that stem! I was really impressed with this bike and I didn’t want to give it back!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

 

Cycling In Sardinia

thumb_IMG_3238_1024

Despite cycling for three and a half years now, this Summer was the first time I ventured abroad and had the opportunity to ride on foreign roads. Earlier on this month, I went to Sardinia for 2 weeks and managed to rent a Canyon Ultimate CF SL 9.0 (I’ll review it soon) in the middle of the 2 weeks for a week. Now Sardinia may not be as famous for its cycling as say, France or Spain are but looking online beforehand, many cyclists were shouting praise for the cycling on this island for its smooth tarmac and variety of climbs. I have been to Sardinia before about 10 years ago but that was just on a holiday so knew that the country had some beautiful views but was unaware of what the cycling scene was like there.

Cycling in Sardinia is stunning. The main roads are generally much smoother than in the UK but when you go off the beaten path, some of the roads can turn into gravel rather quickly which luckily the Canyon was more than up for! There are plenty of long climbs with an awe-inspiring view at the top but nothing that’s ever too steep – the UK’s hills are a lot shorter but the gradient is much bigger. One particularly impressive climb was the SP3 / 50 out of Siniscola, a town between Olbia and Nuoro which had an elevation of 600 metres followed by the best descent I have ever done into Torpé.

My favourite place to ride in the area that I was staying was a small town called Posada between Siniscola and Olbia which had some great roads circling the old town which was on a hill – I went through here on all of my rides bar one. There is a great café in the main square which is always moderately busy but keenly priced and has a great atmosphere. The old town is also nice but on a bike, all the roads are cobbled which is interesting for an experience but is sketchy when descending back down into the main town.

Italian drivers are notorious for being rather erratic but I actually found them to be nicer to cyclists than they are to cars and they give you plenty of room when overtaking. In terms of other cyclists, I didn’t see that many but most people who passed me would always greet me so the impression I got was that the cyclists are quite friendly. Of course, Italy wouldn’t be Italy without the café’s and the coffee on offer was stunning. My two joint favourite café’s was the one in the main square in Posada and the other one was in Bodoni about 5 miles north of Posada which not only served a range of coffee’s but also ‘cream di café’ which the best way to describe it would be a coffee-flavoured Mr Whippy that was amazing.

I was very downhearted when I had to give the bike back as cycling here is just so wonderful and the atmosphere is great too. I suppose the only negative for cycling here was that I did get chased by two dogs in the space of 6 rides but you can’t have everything! I would definitely recommend cycling here if you can as the views are spectacular and there is a bit of everything for everyone – mountains, coastal views and roads off the beaten tracks thrown in with excellent café’s. I suppose the only negative for cycling here was that I did get chased by two dogs!