The Evolution Of Road Disc Brakes

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

 

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (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

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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!

Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons (Review)

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Image from Mantel.com

So now that I’ve pretty much put my Winter bike away and bring out the Summer steed, the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season tyres that I have used all Winter also go away and I have to say that I have generally been pretty impressed. Previously on my Winter bike, I have used the stock tyres that came with it, Hutchison Equinox which proved quite a sketchy ride and Vredestein Fortezza TriComp tyres that were fantastic but unfortunately not available in a 25c format. So the 4 Seasons were quite a big upgrade but after having them constantly recommended to me and also as my Vredestein’s had completely worn out, I thought I’d give these a go. I went for the 25c version to see what all the fuss was about with wider tyres bringing more comfort and now that I have used 25’s, I will never be reverting back to 23’s.

The 4 Season’s roll extremely well and are very reliable tyres. You do lose some speed as they are more heavy duty than the Vredestein’s but for the puncture protection, it’s a drawback I’m willing to accept. However, my rear tyre was completely ruined after about 3,000 km which is a bit of a shame considering the fact that they were quite expensive but there is a lot of flint in the Chilterns and I do ride on some pretty bad road surfaces so I think this is more down to pot luck than the quality of the tyre. However, the front one is still fine so come next Winter, I’ll just replace the rear one. The tyres are pretty easy to fit but I do have fairly wide rims on my wheels and the 25c size is perfect – there is a noticeable increase in comfort from the 23’s but I don’t think I’d go up to 28’s as they would probably be a little sluggish.

A lot of people that I know or ride with also swear by Continental Gatorskins and the GatorHardshell’s which are even more durable and offer better puncture protection. I might try these in the future but my initial thoughts are that I did feel a decrease in speed on the 4 Season’s so I would hope that the decrease in either of those tyres wouldn’t be too dramatic.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the 4 Season’s – apart from me ruining the rear tyre, they have been pretty much puncture resistant (1 puncture before multiple ones when the rear tyre was worn) but they do lose a star for the price of them – only buy these when they are on offer. £49.95 is an absolute rip-off and if you’re lucky, you can find these for slightly under £30 if you know where too look. They are brilliant for using in the Winter and you won’t regret making the change.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

New Releases for Campagnolo

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Campagnolo have certainly had quite a good day today releasing 3 new products to the cycling world. They have announced a new groupset to rival Shimano Ultegra, an update to its Shamal wheelset and have finally announced prototypes for their entry into the disc brake world. I won’t go into too much detail as that is all online but here I’m just going to explain the most important aspects to these systems and offer my views on them.

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Hmmm, Shimano pedals with a Campagnolo groupset…???          Image by Matt Wilkstrom, CyclingTips. Article – https://cyclingtips.com/2016/12/campagnolo-potenza-mid-range-groupset-review/

New Groupset

Campagnolo have announced a new groupset that sits above Veloce and Athena but below Chorus, Record and Super-Record. It is called ‘Potenza’ and as you would expect is 11-speed. It’s mostly made of aluminium and now has the option to be used with an 11-32 cassette, something which Shimano and SRAM have offered for a while. The complete weight of the entire groupset is 2,303g which is pretty competitive. However as a groupset that is designed to rival Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force, it costs £200 more. In terms of performance, I doubt this being able to beat its competitors in this respect and both groupsets perform fantastically. I like how Campagnolo are sticking with the four-arm spider used in Chorus, Record and Super-Record to give it more exclusivity into the upper regions of their groupsets and of course, looks are very aesthetically pleasing. However, if I were to build a bike up I would definitely opt for Chorus over Potenza simply because you get a lot more (namely carbon exotica!) and its performance is similar to Shimano Dura-Ace.

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New Wheels

First developed more than 20 years, Campagnolo Shamal’s have been a popular wheelset and the upgrade to this latest iteration is the increase in rim width to 17mm to better accommodate 25c tyres to increase comfort when riding, similar to what Mavic have done with their wheels recently.

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Image from Campagnolo copy

Disc Brakes

Campagnolo have finally unveiled prototypes for their disc brakes which they are going to be trialling. Unfortunately for all you Campag lovers, you won’t be able to get your hands on this just yet but it’s reassuring to know that it will be released in the not-too distant future. Of course, it’s hydraulic (would you ever expect Campagnolo to release a mechanical disc brake?!) and Campagnolo have been able to preserve the ergonomics of their existing shift levers although they are slightly taller like Shimano and SRAM to house the hydraulic fluid reservoir. Whilst I am happy that Campagnolo have finally entered the disc brake market, I was expecting the shift levers to look a little nicer aesthetically. Although it’s only a prototype at the moment, it looks a little bit like a MicroShift shifter (pictured below) and that’s not a compliment!

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Mechanical Doping

Although mechanical doping has been hinted at for many years, now there is finally a case. Belgian Cyclocross rider, Femke Van den Driessche has been caught using a motor at the World Championships although at the moment, she denies having used the affected bike in the race. The motor was found in the bottom bracket region of the bike. Ironically, she abandoned the race due to a mechanical fault. Whilst we will see if she is telling the truth and if she ever will be allowed to race again, this is very serious for cycling as a sport.

I don’t understand why people feel the need to cheat. Cycling is a sport, and sport is something that can be done recreationally or competitively but cheating makes the sport look like a business and isn’t a testament of natural talent. Undoubtedly, the UCI will be cracking down on checking bikes and will hopefully catch anyone else cheating. But the notion of motorised cheating has been something that for years has been dismissed now is very much a reality.

Rapha Festive 500 – DONE!

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So, it’s all over and done with – 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve and boy was it hard! The ‘Rapha Festive 500’ challenge has tested cyclists since 2010 and after being caught up at work last year, I thought I would give it a go this year. I knew it was going to be hard but the last couple of rides really did put pay to my legs. It works out at 40 miles a day which in itself is manageable.

As I knew I would have problems to ride 40 miles on Christmas Day and Boxing Day respectively, I decided to make up the mileage and rode 80 miles on Christmas Eve which wasn’t too challenging. I was planning on a short ride on Christmas Day but the weather looked less than appealing and ended up putting it off and rode 25 miles on Boxing Day – already behind! Luckily, I managed to make up the mileage on Sunday with a 55 mile ride in what was originally meant to be another 80 miler, but I just didn’t have it in the legs.

At this point, I was at the half-way mark (250km) but plan-wise, behind due to not riding the 80 miles on Boxing Day. This was going to be tough! From this point onwards, my legs ached on each and every ride and the average speed of each ride plummeted – this was really tough! On Monday, I rode another 25 miler as I didn’t want to push it after putting in a big ride on Sunday. This was followed by a 65 miler on Tuesday which completely wrecked me. At this point, I had 95km left and was a little stumped how to finish this challenge. As my legs were finished, I contemplated finishing in two rides splitting the distance or just doing it in one ride with Wednesday as a recovery day. This was what I ultimately ended up doing although I did plan on riding on Wednesday but the weather was especially foul. So a final 60 miler on New Year’s Eve and challenge completed and boy, do my legs now ache!

I’m glad I’ve completed this challenge as I’ve proved to myself that I’m capable of doing the distance but in all honesty, it took up a lot of my Christmas as I had to dedicate lots of time to it and I don’t think I’d be willing to do it again. But as a challenge in itself, I’m proud that I  completed it.

The lengths us cyclists put ourselves through just for a roundel!

ABLOC Bottles – First Look!

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‘ABLOC’ are an American company based in San Francisco that have recently brought out the  ‘Arrive S’ water bottle which reportedly has antimicrobial technology embedded in the body which means it is resistant to mold, bacteria and odours. A bottle may be a trivial thing but the amount that I have gone through where they have got dirty after 5 or 6 rides or so – I am hoping the ‘Arrive S’ is able to buck this trend.

The ‘Arrive S’ is a 550ml water bottle which isn’t the biggest when it comes to cycling but is certainly manageable. It weighs approximately 65g.  ABLOC are reportedly intending on releasing a larger model in Spring 2016. It come in various colours but I have chosen red to match my bike. It will set you back $12 (just over £8) however ABLOC are keen on marketing this, so look out for special offers!

I will be using this over the next couple of weeks and will review it afterwards.

There is more information on the ABLOC website.

Winter-Proof Your Steed

Winter really will take a toll on your bike, so it’s a good idea to either have your bike ready or get it ready now as the weather takes a turn for the worst. Here are my tips on how to winter-proof your beloved steed:

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Image from Dolan Bicycles

Winter Bike

If finances allow, invest in a Winter bike. This will prove economical in the long run and there’s no better feeling than jumping on the nicer bike in the Spring and having a morale boost. Opt for aluminium in a winter bike rather than carbon and go for a lower down groupset such as Shimano Tiagra / 105, Campagnolo Veloce or SRAM Apex / Rival. Put the carbon Cosmic’s away and have some reliable, steady Winter wheels such as Mavic Aksium’s or Fulcrum Racing 5’s. Websites such as Ribble (www.ribblecycles.co.uk) or Dolan (www.dolan-bikes.com) offer Winter builds with full-length mudguards fitted as standard. A cyclocross bike would do the job well too.

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Mudguards

This will keep not only your bike cleaner, but also yourself and fellow riders. Full-length mudguards work best but are a pain to fit, but even a set of clip-ons will suffice.

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Image from Mantel.com

Tyres

Stick some wider, more puncture resistant tyres during Winter for added comfort and less likelihood of having to fix punctures. Opt for a 700x25c or 700x28c tyre for more comfort. Unlike a winter bike where you go for a cheaper build, winter tyres are an aspect where you should get them right. I really like the Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons as they have the perfect balance between speed / puncture resistance and comfort. If you look around, you’ll quite often pay much less than the full RRP.

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Image from Exposure

Lights

The days are shorter in Winter, so have a good pair of lights permanently mounted onto the bike just in case you get caught out. I like to have 2 on the front, 1 flashing and 1 static so I am better seen.

Saddlebag

It’s a good idea to free up some space in your jersey pockets for other Winter essentials so stick your tools in a saddlebag. Winter’s not a weight contest, so the extra weight here is worth it. Never use a frame bag!

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Image from TheHub

Bar Tape 

Not an essential but it’s a good idea to wrap some thicker bar tape to reduce vibrations from the road and improve comfort. I really like the Lizard Skins DSP 3.2mmm Bar Tape

Image from Park Tool

Servicing 

It’s a good idea to either service your bike or get a bike shop to service your bike before the Winter season and after to ensure your bike is in the best condition it can be. There’s nothing worse than having a mechanical during the pouring rain and freezing temperatures. Also, make sure you clean your bike regularly (I clean mine every ride in the Winter) to get rid of road spray and grit on the icy roads. This will also prolong the life of your drivetrain components, particularly your chain and cassette.

Your bike now should be ready for Winter!