Bontrager Men’s RXL Bib shorts review

Last year I tested the Bontrager Race Thermal bib shorts and I liked them so much, they became one of my favourite pieces of riding kit. As I said at the time, I still think these are the best shorts I’ve ridden for less than £100. In fairness, I’ve now worn them so much that the lycra on the chamois where it meets the saddle has “bubbled” a bit but I’m still happily riding them – they’ve worked hard.

After testing the Race Thermal’s I couldn’t help but wonder what the next model up the range would be like? So with that in mind I arranged for a pair of the £100 Bontrager RXL bib shorts to try.

Now after a few months of regularly riding in them, I think what you get is an excellent and higher performance bib shorts option over the Race Thermal. For those of us, who struggle to pay into three figures for a pair of bibshorts, I reckon you can buy these and be very happy.

DSC02152Compared to the more affordable Race Thermal bib shorts there are a number of upgrades for your extra money. These include a higher spec chamois pad, the Inform RXL, which Bontrager describe as multi-density, 3D seamless, with 4 way stretch and an anti-microbial top sheet. In practice, I’ve been very pleased with the pad, it’s a sensible thickness, giving a firm and comfortable ride. I’ve happily spent 3-4 hours out in these shorts without any discomfort. The colouring of the pad is a touch “unusual” with a red and white colour, but out on the bike – it works very well. If you can ride without even thinking about your shorts or comfort, as I did with these, then things are as they should be.

As with the Race Thermal bib shorts, Bontrager describe the fit as “fitted – streamlined for all round cycling performance” and I think this  is a good and fair description. They are fitted and streamlined for performance but they’re very comfortable on.

DSC02156The RXL do feel more like a “race” short than the thermal as they have more of a compression (higher performance) fit (including leg grippers) thanks the combination of Profila Power(compression) and Profila cool fabrics work well for warmer riding conditions and hold their position well when you’re riding. The seamless lightweight straps also work very well and add to the feeling of comfort. In fact you’ll probably not even notice them whilst riding. The Profila fabrics seem to wick well and also dry quickly after rain showers when you’re out riding.

The shorts are topped off with reflective elements for greater visibility. Additionally there are two colour choices available black (whichI have and has some white elements on the straps) and white, which is still largely black apart from bands at the base/gripper ends of the shorts and straps for greater contrast … or to match your other riding gear.

DSC02157Last but not least, Bontrager offer a 30 unconditional guarantee, so if you buy some and you don’t like them, you’ve got 30 days to return them for exchange or store credit. I think it’s unlikely you’ll want to do that – but it’s great to have the option.

DSC02147The RXL bib shorts are another winner from Bontrager, making it two out of two for my experiences with the company’s bib shorts in the last year. I happily recommend these if you’re in the market. They’re a higher performance short than the also excellent Race Thermal’s and are perfect for long or short rides and are excellent for days where the temperature is high enough that you don’t need a thermal element.

More information on them here: http://www.bontrager.com/model/11505

Thanks for reading

Rose Bikes Bike Town Munich visit

On our way to the 2016 model year “press camp”, Rose took us to their own shop in Munich. Launched late in 2014 it’s designed to help customers who would like to see a Rose bike in the flesh before ordering it online, to get help ensuring they’ve chosen the right spec – or simply to have their bike delivered and set up in the shop or getting their bike serviced. In fact for any Rose bikes order, local customers can choose to collect it for free in the Munich store.

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A wide selection of Rose’s bike are on display at Bike Town Munich

Rose have a massive showroom at their Bocholt headquarters and the Munich Bike Town is relatively small in comparison. It features a selection of Rose’s most popular models each with a dedicated iPad enabling customers to choose every aspect of their build, either on their own or with help from the store’s staff. Once the build is chosen it gets transferred to a big screen for final review and ordering. The order then gets sent to the Bocholt HQ and the big is built as production schedules allow and then either shipped back to the store for collection or directly to the customers house.

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The small workshop space that prepares customers new bikes prior to collection or undertakes servicing

The store manager told us that they had been surprised at how far customers are travelling to the store including Austria and Switzerland. As you’d expect, many of the visitors had arranged a trip to Munich around visiting the store and ensuring they were choosing the right size and spec before placing their order. This is particularly attractive for less experienced cyclists and I’m not surprised to hear that the store is doing well.

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One of the biggest sellers at Bike Town Munich – the Rose X-Lite CRS
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The other big seller at Bike Town Munich – the Rose Pro SL

The most popular sellers via the store are the entry level Pro SL, which is also extremely popular in the UK and the X-Lite CRS carbon road bike.

Bike Town Munich also features accessories and it was interesting to see a range of dynamo lights on display. Rose also feature their own clothing, saddles and shoes. They had a very cool 3D foot scanning system that measured your feet in all dimensions and then can choose the best fitting model of shoes (also digitally scanned into the system) from every model Rose stock (from all brands).

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Learning about the 3D modelling of feet for choosing the best shoes for you. (Not my feet on screen!)

I think stores like this for direct sales brands are an excellent idea and it was nice to see how Rose have interpreted it for their own customers. You can find out more about the Munich Bike Town here: http://www.rosebikes.com/content/about-rose/the-rose-stores/rose-biketown-munich

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Bike journalists mid shop tour

Thanks for reading

Dynamo lights - not something you'd expect to see in your average UK bike shop!
Dynamo lights – not something you’d expect to see in your average UK bike shop!

 

6 Great reasons to ride more Sportives

As the days have got longer and warmer, many of us are spending more time on the bike and riding new roads.

One of the easiest ways of doing this is riding a Sportive.

Whilst there may be some readers who are “sniffy” about Sportives, I reckon for beginners and experienced riders a like, they have a lot to offer and are well worth considering adding to you schedule.

Here are 6 reasons I recommend considering adding a sportive or two to your calendar:

  • Ride new places:

Sportives are a great way to get out of your routine and ride in different parts of the country without having to spend time guessing your route. Sportive courses tend to favour quiet and scenic roads that help you find the best spots in an area,  allowing you to simply get on with enjoying the ride, whether you’re simply trying to get round or go as fast as you can.

  • Easy social riding:

Sportives can make the most fun if you’re riding with a group of friends. None of you need to know where you’re going (you’ll all follow the signs) and being somewhere different can be a leveller as you’re all riding new roads. Bikes are great for camaraderie whether you’re going for a course record and smashing out a chain gang pace or simply spending quality time together in the great outdoors.

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WLONG02
  • They’re good for perspective…

It doesn’t matter how fit, slow or fast you are – on a sportive there will always be someone faster or slower than you. In fact even if you’re not feeling that fast, you’ll probably pass loads of people. If you’re slow on the flats, you might well find you pass people on the climbs but even if you don’t there’s always someone else to ride with, say “Hi” to or chase up a climb. It’s hard to be lonely on a Sportive.

  • Don’t discount the short route….

Even when I’m riding at my best, I have some friends who are fast and experienced riders that deliberately choose the short course rather than the “Epic” route. We ride as fast as we can for 2-2.5 hours – it’s fantastic fun and even better on roads we don’t know. Some of these rides have been highlights of my riding year.

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  • Just focus on riding

The course is signed, there are feed stops, mechanical support if you need it, timing chips, it’s all there. Sportives are some of the most hassle free riding you’ll do. Turn up and ride at whatever pace you like, on your own, or with some friends, learning new parts of the country on roads that have been hand selected for your enjoyment. To me, it doesn’t get much better than this. The hardest part is getting up early in the morning to get there on time.

  • Ride some of the most iconic rides in the world

Some of the world’s greatest races also run Sportives the day before, allowing you to ride the course on Saturday then watch the Pro’s race it on Sunday. Examples are the Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and there’s the Etape de Tour each year as well, so you can try a Tour de France stage. Italy has Granfondos, which are high speed rides over stunning terrain, or if you want more climbing there’s the Marmotte or multi-day event’s like the Haute Route. Adventures of a life time are out there if you’re ready for them.

Have fun and enjoy!

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girodilento interview: James Olsen bike designer

For me, part of loving great bikes also involves being interested in how they are designed. I’m fortunate in that thanks to this site I’ve met a number of the UKs leading designers over the last few years and I thought it might be of interest to find out a bit more about the some of the people behind the bikes we ride.

Pre-production Pinnacle bikes ready for sign off
Pre-production Pinnacle bikes ready for sign off

With this in mind I reached out to James Olsen, who is currently the man responsible for the design of Evan’s cycles increasingly well regarded Pinnacle range and Sir Chris Hoy’s Bike range. Prior to Evans, James spent many years at Genesis bikes and was responsible for the terrific Genesis Equilibrium and Croix de Fer, which have been big sellers and loved by owners since their launch.

Early days and Genesis

I began my discussion by asking James how he ended up designing bikes and he told me that it was being in the right place at the right time when he was working at Madison. James had already had a couple of custom frames made and was interested in frame geometry. He was given a chance to design a frame as a side project for the Ridgeback brand around 2006/07. This work led to the creation of the Genesis range, which launched with around 6 models. Interestingly, James’s current employers launched the Pinnacle brand at around the same time.

Genesis was originally focused on mountain bikes and the Equilibrium came a little later. The idea of Genesis was to compete for a different buyer than the traditional Ridgeback customer. James explained that he put together bikes he wanted to build and ride. Then when they got dealers and their staff to try them, they liked them and bought them. In fact a number of the early models quickly sold out, which helped give Madison and the team confidence to move forwards.

James told me that the Equilibrium and Croix de Fer were big surprises in how successful and popular they were. Neither were the first steel bikes with drop bars, and the Croix de Fer wasn’t a typical Cyclocross style bike as it was more designed for exploring rather than racing. The Croix de Fer has gone on to be a big seller and a well-loved bike for Genesis but it polarised people in the early days who either loved it or hated it.

The Equilibrium emerged from some of the custom frames James had previously had made for him. Whilst James liked the idea of a titanium frame he was also keen to see if they could produce a cheaper steel frame that could ride just as well and offer comfort at a lower price. The 520 Equilibrium was the second design and launched in 2009 at the same time as re-launch for the Genesis brand.

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The Genesis Equilibrium 20 I reviewed in 2014

James’s view is that brands like Genesis and Pinnacle have benefitted from the growth in cycling in the last 5-10 years bringing new riders into the sport. Not only that but the recession helped brands like Genesis and Pinnacle thanks to good price points, the cycle to work scheme and cycling being an escape from the day to day for many people. There were also more people looking for second bikes or touring/commuter bikes and this was all good for the UK cycling industry.

James sees the UK cycling market as becoming less race oriented over time. Wider tyres and disc brakes are helping people see that they don’t have to a have bike like pro racer to have fun, go fast, be comfortable and have adventures on. James advice to us all is to buy a bike that works for you than necessarily what you see pro cyclists racing on.

Sportives also continue to increase demand for non-race bikes and whilst the race side is still there, there is a big swing to making great bikes for people focussed on enjoyment rather than pure speed.

Pinnacle

Pinnacle Dolomite 6
Pinnacle Dolomite 6

Pinnacle had begun back around the time of Genesis’s launch with a big range of bikes and had perhaps brought a different mindset to the Genesis strategy. James said that after moving from Genesis where they’d designed bikes they wanted to ride, he had to get his head around a different approach at Pinnacle. This meant looking through the range and designing bikes for other people.

Pinnacle were working on a re-brand when James joined the business and his first focus was to simplify the brand, which is also reflected in how the bikes look now – with strong colours and simpler aesthetics.

James focussed on designing Pinnacle bikes that are fun to ride, good value and suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced riders. Once again, as well as making them fun, James worked on making the Pinnacle range bikes that he wanted to ride too.

Proof of the success of this, James told me that there are now a large number of Evans staff personally buying and riding the Pinnacle bikes and that they don’t get extra discounts over other brands the shops stock – they’re simply liking them enough to buy and ride them.

James told me that working with Pinnacle has got him enthused about aluminium as a material and the quality of ride and comfort they’re able to engineer into the bikes now. Pinnacle frames for 2015 feature more extensive butting, with thinner walls and lighter weight but also have an enhanced ride quality.

2015 Pinnacle Arkose 4
2015 Pinnacle Arkose 4

It used to be that it was more expensive to build with aluminium than steel but that’s now reversed and with aluminium James says that they’re able to produce a lot of the comfort of steel but at a lighter weight.

James told me he’s been very pleased with the reviews the Arkose and Dolomite have been receiving from the press and customers and that he’s very happy with how these bikes ride and are specced now. The model that suits James own riding preference is the Arkose and he told me that he happily has these in his garage and that he chooses to ride a lot more miles on them than he expected.

Hoy Bikes

James told me that he felt it had been a real privilege to work with Sir Chris Hoy to design the range of Hoy bikes. He also said that it was the first time he’d felt like a custom builder as his task was to take what Sir Chris wanted for the bikes and create designs that brought this to life in the riding. Sir Chris’s key criteria was performance and one particular aspect was getting the bikes to corner just right.

One of the memorable moments of working towards the launch was taking some bikes to a track and riding with Sir Chris and following him to learn how to corner as they made sure that the bikes were exactly right for the Hoy name.

Hoy Fiorenzuola track bike
Hoy Fiorenzuola track bike

Sir Chris’s attention to detail went as far as making sure that each size frame has a level of stiffness right for the size of rider and that the resulting bikes are something that James is very proud of.

Hoy Kids bikes

Designing bikes for children was hard as James had no personal point of reference. They started with the 650B bike as a scaled down adults bike. The goal was to make the best kids bikes they could and do them in the way that they believe will be best for the kids who ride them. An example of that thinking was using push button shifters as they felt these would be easier for kids to use. Feedback so far is that this is the case.

James said that they feel that Evans should be a great family bikes retailer but the success of the Hoy children’s range has surprised them in a good way as parents have really taken to the products. Great kids bikes help kids feel good about riding, so it was a satisfying part of the range to design for. The Hoy childrens bikes are made to the same quality and in the same factory as the adult bikes, which is something a lot of potential customers will be interested to know.

A photo from Jame's solo ride to Eurobike last year. Better than flying!
A photo from Jame’s solo ride to Eurobike last year. Better than flying!

I asked James what bikes he was personally most fond of and he told me that he’s really enjoying the current Arkose 2 and 4 with the Equilibrium a high point back in 2010. James also told me that he’s been really pleased to find that the Evans Cycles senior management are all keen cyclists and have completely supported in him in building quality bikes at good price points rather than solely focussing on profit. High quality is key to the growing success of Pinnacle and Hoy and James is delighted at how the staff at Evans have also got behind the product, choosing to buy and ride the bikes themselves and becoming enthusiasts too.

Interestingly, Evans Cycles have just released a video featuring James as well:

Islabikes Beinn 26 Small Review

As I did more cycling, I soon realised that it was much more fun to ride on a good bike than a bad bike. I also learnt that within reason you get what you pay for and that buying better may not cost you more over the lifetime of the investment.

I’m far from wealthy but I take this same approach to bikes for my family as I know that better bikes will mean they enjoy cycling more and that we as a family will ride more.

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When my son got big enough for his first bike, my searching for the best kids bikes led me to Islabikes. They had a reputation for being light, easy and fun for kids to ride, well-proportioned including the controls and appeared to have terrific resale value.  We duly placed an order for a CNOC 14 back in 2009 and it was a tremendous kids bike. Our son learnt to ride on the CNOC and it became one of his prized possessions.

When he outgrew it, I worked out that I should get around 70% of what I paid for it back thanks to the popularity of Islabikes, which I was over the moon about. I ended up selling it to some family friends and we reinvested in a new Islabike, this time a Beinn 20 Large, which again provided sterling service and in fact still is, as this bike has recently been passed onto my daughter. She moved to it after beginning on a Specialized and she tells me the Islabike is much, much better to ride. Sadly we lost 2/3 of the money we’d spent on the Specialised when we sold it on too, which was a big disappointment.

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My son is about to turn 10 and this time I did look around the marketplace and saw that there are some more good choices out there. We were quite impressed and tempted by the Hoy bikes for example.

However, there were two key reasons that helped us decide to buy yet another Islabike.

  • We know they’re great bikes: light, well designed, relatively light and the kids have loved riding them. For our family, they’re well proven.
  • We know that resale values are high, so we can buy with confidence knowing we’ll get a decent chunk of our money back (Islabikes will even do a buy back). This means they don’t cost nearly as much over time, especially if you reinvest back into another Islabike each time.

Using the sizing chart and a quick confirmation by phone with Islabikes customer service, I placed my order for a new Beinn 26 Small.

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Yes it’s a big investment in a kids bike but I’m confident I’ll get at least half my money back and maybe as much as 70%, so the cost of what should be two years riding, won’t be that much. We know this is true from our previous Islabike purchases.

My son is nearly 10 and around average or just above height for his age. Whilst the size chart says from age 8, he’s got plenty of room to grow and actually I wouldn’t have wanted to try him on a bigger size as he found the change up from 20 inch wheels to 26 inch, a little tricky as it was. He loves this new bike though.

Most other bikes we looked at for his age were 24 inch wheels and the only other 26 inch bike we tried (a Trek) was just a little too big.

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This bigger bike certainly weighs more than his old one at just over 9.5kgs but my son is very happy on it and for him it’s really just a scaled up version of his old bike. The gears and brakes work the same, the bike look similar, it’s just much bigger.  This made it a learning curve of about 20 minutes to adapt to the new bike.

As a parent, I’m delighted we’ve made the investment in another Islabike, it’s nice to support a specialist company that’s a big part of why kids bikes are improving in quality each year. Islabikes started that move and all three of the ones we’ve bought have been completely trouble free to own. I take great pleasure in knowing that I’ve invested in great bikes for my kids (as I do for me). I couldn’t imagine not choosing bikes as good as I want to ride for my family, even if it’s meant saving up to buy them each time.

You can find out more here: http://www.islabikes.co.uk/

Any questions, please leave me a comment and thanks for reading.

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Trainerroad first look review

Last year was a revelation to me in that I discovered indoor training. Thanks to the folks at Wattbike, I trained indoors consistently and rode better than I ever have (you can read an overview of that story here: http://girodilento.com/learnt-2000km-wattbike/).

Until that point, my turbo was just an expensive thing that gathered dust in my garage. However now I’m a convert to indoor training all year round and a little while back the folks at Trainerroad got in touch and asked if I’d like to try using their system. Obviously I said yes.

I already knew of Trainerroad and had friends who are using it and I think it’s a clever idea.

Trainerroad is a computer training platform that allows you to take speed, cadence and heart rate information from your turbo trainer (or power meter) and it then gives you a dashboard with power output and cadence targets to ride using one of their now hundreds of training sessions.

It’s a clever idea to create an online platform for this, but even better they’ve gone and measured the power curves of lots of common turbo trainers to give you a proxy power output when you train. So this means you can train with a power meter even if you don’t have a power meter, or the funds to buy one.

Some of the nearly 1,000 workouts available on Trainerroad.com
Some of the nearly 1,000 workouts available on Trainerroad.com

To get started with Trainerroad, what you need is:

  • To sign up for an account (US$10 per month or $100 per year)
  • A computer or iPad/iPhone
  • A turbo trainer or Power meter system (like a Wattbike in my case)
  • A speed and cadence sensor
  • Optionally a heart rate monitor
  • An ANT+ dongle to read the data from the sensors above for the Trainerroad application to use.
  • An appetite for suffering indoors to go faster.

You’ll need to download the Trainerroad software or app once you’ve signed up and created your account to run when you’re riding.

Given that many of us have most of the items on the list above, all I needed to buy was an Ant+ dongle (amazon link) to get my data from my sensors to my laptop.

In practice you can either choose a pre-selected plan, base or build, triathlon or…. Or choose from any one of around 1,000 workouts.

If you have sufferfest videos you can drop them into the Trainerroad app and it will enable you to  ride them to power outputs, which is cool and probably a more precise way to train for greater benefit.

The strategy I had in mind for trying Trainerroad has not gone to plan so far. I had been going to use it to train for the first quarter of the year to ride the Paris Roubaix sportive but two back to back chest colds that each took me off the bike for 3+ weeks at a time, ended my training and saw me lose almost all of my fitness.

So now I’m trying to get fit again and am using Trainerroad as part of this process. For the cycling training plans there are low medium and high volume plans for how much time you can commit to each week. For base training there is traditional base (longer, lower intensity) or sweet spot base training (higher intensity based around your FTP threshold) – you choose your preferred approach.

To begin with you need to do a fitness test to establish your FTP. If you’ve not done one before, they’re pretty horrible. You right as hard as you can maintain for the duration of the test. Not pleasant but it establishes the baseline to train with.

You then work through your chosen plan doing workouts each week to start building strength, power and fitness.

When I trained with the Wattbike, it uses both power and heart rate zones, which in simple terms begins with workouts that are relatively low intensity to try and equalise your heart and power zones. I started off riding in zone 3 or 4 heart rate when riding zone 2 power. If I droped my intensity to bring the heart rate down to the right level, my power dropped out of the zone it was supposed to be in. It was frustrating but over 4-6 weeks everything aligned and I noticed that I was already faster on the road.

A peak into a training plan but you can also create your own from the workout library
A peak into a training plan but you can also create your own from the workout library

Trainerroad somewhat surprisingly to me after that experience ignores heart rate completely. It’s just about riding to the power output and cadence required by the session. In that way it feels more like a blunt instrument and now that I’ve lost fitness, I’ve had situation where riding a sweet spot session (based around intervals at 88-94% of my FTP (not max power) where my heart rate is at 90% of max (or more). I think I got to 93 or 94% or Max heart rate on one base training session.

To me this has felt a bit too full on, given my lows levels of fitness so I’ve been mixing it up (and going off programme) by also putting in some of my zone 2 equaliser rides, where I’m riding at the top of my zone 2 power output and trying to keep my heart rate in the vicinity of where it should be.

I suspect that Trainerroad would say that my heart rate should come back down as I get fitter and I would agree that this should be the case. I just haven’t expected to feel beaten up by base training.

In fairness to Trainerroad I should probably re-test my FTP which has no doubt dropped, so I’m probably riding to a power output above where I physically am right now.

My patchy progress to date, showing the career views each rider gets
My patchy progress to date, showing the career views each rider gets

So my first impressions are that it’s a fantastic idea and the platform itself works really well for me. Now that the platform is up and running there’s no end of the kind of programmes they can add (and I hope they continue to). If you’re not fit, you’re going to find it hard though. Even the base training can be very demanding.

When you’re riding, most workouts have a text commentary telling you to what cadence to aim for when to ride one legged etc, etc, there seem to be quite a few drills within workouts. Personally I find the drills a bit annoying but that could just be me. I’m working hard enough just to keep up, I don’t need the extra brain teasers.

A friend and colleague who’s also using it has also moved to mix up his workouts too. This decision maybe slowing down or reducing the gains we make but my body isn’t in a place to try harder or hasn’t been. I’m struggling a little to get my head around high intensity base training.

In summary, in the early days or my time on Trainerroad which has been stop/start, I love the platform and how it connects your turbo time to a data system, I’m just not as won over by the actual training plans personally, but the sheer volume of workouts is fantastic for the USD$10 per month. I have no expertise as a trainer, so my thoughts on the plans are just an opinion. Regardless, I’m going to stick with it and update you as I go.

Any questions or comments, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.

Trek Domane 4.5 Disc First Look Review

Trek have been kind enough to send me a Domane Disc to review and it’s a bike I’ve been looking forward to riding. It’s the first time I’ve tried the Domane with it’s now well known IsoSpeed Decoupler, designed to soften the ride over rough surfaces whilst still ensuring sufficient stiffness and responsiveness in all riding conditions. The 4.5 Domane Disc I’m riding also has what I expect to be a fantastic spec in the form of Shimano’s excellent R685 hydraulic disc brakes, combined with Shimano’s well proven Ultegra 6800 mechs front and rear.

Top tube detail
Top tube detail

The Domane Disc I’ve been sent to try also features through axles front and rear for greater stiffness, with in this case a 142x12mm rear axle and a 15mm front. By combining the post mount disc brakes with the through axles  the result offers, according to Trek, maximum stiffness, steering precision and rigidity – something my 68kg weight and skinny legs will find difficult to prove to be frank. It’ll be interesting to ride them none the less, as they might well make a difference that I can notice in cornering and descending.

IsoSpeed Fork and cable routing details...
IsoSpeed Fork and cable routing details…

The IsoSpeed fork is another interesting aspect of the Domane design with a curve and shape designed to increase compliance and smooth the ride quality, with a dropout design and positioning to “optimise wheelbase”. Given the smoothness effect the IsoSpeed Decoupler offers in the seat tube, the fork has a challenge of providing an equivalent enough smoothness through the front of the bike so that the ride feels balanced between front and rear.

Plenty of rear tyre clearance. Shod with 25mm as standard
Plenty of rear tyre clearance. Shod with 25mm as standard

The Domane features Trek Endurance geometry but this is not a sit up and beg sportive bike, it’s still designed to be fast enough to race. Fabian Cancellara loves his and seems to do pretty well on them. In the 56cm size I’m riding the stack height is only 7mm higher than the Kinesis TK3/4S that I used to own, or 1.4cm higher than Trek’s H2 geometry. The stack height is just over an inch higher (27mm) than on my “race” bike.  The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not a super high front end and it’s designed for endurance racing/riding over rough surfaces whilst looking after you and your back. Yes, it’s higher than an out and out smooth surface race bike but it’s quite a bit lower than a Specialized Roubaix (which is 15mm higher again in a 56cm) and for most of us, higher is most likely better than lower for comfort over long rides. One of the upsides of a higher front end is you don’t need any spacers and I’ve already rearranged the stack on the bike I have to test.

Also big clearances for tyres under the front fork
Also big clearances for tyres under the front fork

The 4 Series Domane is made from Trek’s 400 series OCLV carbon. In simple terms this is towards the entry end of Trek’s carbon range and the next step up for disc bikes would be the Domane Disc 6.2 which costs £1,700 more as a result of the more expensive 600 Series OCLV carbon and a few other spec upgrades. The more expensive OCLV variants offer lighter, stiffer and more compliant frames according to the information on Treks own site but perhaps lose the bang for buck of this 400 series bike.

Downtube view into bottom bracket... chunky!
Downtube view into bottom bracket… chunky!

For those of you interested in weight, this bike (size 56cm) straight of the box weighed 8.95kgs on my ebay scales of semi-truth and 9.35kgs with my pedals, a bottle cage and Garmin mount. It’s not light, there’s no hiding from that and there are a number of other Domane options including the 5.2 at around the same price that weigh quite a bit less ( circa 1.5kgs).

However, even for a lightweight like me, weight isn’t everything, it’s getting out on the road and riding it that’s key. Working out how the bike feels through the seat of your pants.

In the flesh, I really like the look of the bike. The matt carbon with red highlights works really well and personally I’ve already been won over to the look of disc bikes. Some of my riding companions have been less effusive (I’m being diplomatic) about the look, particularly of the rotors and disc brakes – especially at the front of the bike. Me, I like it, but I know that’s also influenced by the time I’ve already spent riding the Shimano disc brakes and I think they perform fantastically.

Front Shimano disc brake and rotor
Front Shimano disc brake and rotor

The specification of the bike is solid, with good dependable kit and components from the bars and stem down to the tyres (25mm by the way, although there’s loads of clearance for 28mm or perhaps even wider). You can tell this is a bike designed and specced to last well, from the through axles to the choices of most components. Strength, toughness and durability are, to me, writ large on the spec sheet. It’s a bike that in just looking at, you know that you’ll break well before it will. It’s a bike that looks like it’s ready smash some cobbles or what we call road surfaces in the UK in this age of Austerity (some local roads make Flanders cobbles look good).

Initial riding impressions:

In action on the Domane Disc 4.5
In action on the Domane Disc 4.5

I’ve put in a couple of rides on the Domane 4.5 Disc so far, totalling in around 150km. So these observations are first impressions only and I’ll write more once I’ve got more time in the saddle.

This is definitely a smooth bike, you still feel the big hits when you ride over rough surfaces and potholes (and I’ve aimed for quite a few so far), but the impact is definitely dulled and more by the rear than the front. That being said the fork still does an impressive job of smoothing rough surfaces.

There’s no question either about the IsoSpeed Decoupler, it works, you can feel the seatpost move a little as you ride across rough ground and it definitely makes for a more comfortable ride. The movement is just enough to not make it feel like it’s too much or that your position is shifting too far. Obviously when you get out the saddle, the bike feels very stiff as you’d expect as you remove the impact of the IsoSpeed Decoupler.

The disc brakes and through axles give a real feeling of solidity and strength through the platform and seem to work well together.

Ultegra mechs, 105 cassette and chain with non-series R500 compact cranks
Ultegra mechs, 105 cassette and chain with non-series R500 compact cranks

Ultegra mechanical works as well as you’d expect and is easy to adjust, should you need to. The brakes are fantastic unsurprisingly but I’ve had some pinging from one of the rotors coming out of bends, so I think I’m going to need to tweak the front disc brake position a touch.

The bars are comfortable as is the Bontrager Bar tape, the saddle perhaps a touch overpadded for me, has been absolutely fine to ride so far.

Wheel detail
Wheel detail

The wheels, whilst not super light roll wheel and are shrugging off me riding them over most of the roughest ground I can find. The tyres too, whilst far from the top of the range that Bontrager make ride nicely and grip well.

The only negative thing I can find to say so far is that at 9.3kgs all in, for me, the bike doesn’t feel especially spritely or snappy as the relatively heavy build dulls the performance a touch. That being said I did manage a gold time on a sportive on the first ride but I found the extra weight over some of my lighter bikes felt like it made it a little harder to ride fast. Heavier bikes of course bring more training benefit  and as I said, weight’s not everything.

Early impression are that the Trek Domane 4.5 Disc is a smooth, comfortable and strong bike, that’ll shrug off whatever poor road surfaces you encounter. However, it’s carrying a little extra weight compared to some of the rest of the Domane family and this has an impact on liveliness and the general feeling of the bike on the road.

I’m off to get more mileage in and will write more once I have.

Any questions, please let me know and thanks for reading.

You can find out more about the Domane Disc 4.5 here: http://www.trekbikes.com/uk/en/bikes/road/endurance_race/domane/domane_4_5_disc_compact/

Another view of the bottom bracket area and rear tyre clearance
Another view of the bottom bracket area and rear tyre clearance

The next big news in road disc brakes is here – Shimano Flat Mount!

On March 31st, Shimano also announced the next big step forward in the move to the road disc market – the first flat mount hydraulic disc brakes.

Shimano released their first generation post mount disc brakes to the road market in 2013 with the Di2 only R785 hydraulic disc brakes. In 2014, the company released the same brakes with mechanical shifters (R685). Both of these brake combinations work amazingly well – they’re the best road brakes I’ve ever used by some way.

However, on the downside they were:

  • Expensive
  • Bulky
  • Heavy
  • Really just an adaption of Shimano mountain bike technology.

But – they work fantastically well. I have a set of the R785 on my Stoemper Darrell Di2 disc (reviewed here: http://road.cc/content/review/138483-stoemper-darrell-disc-frame). They’re an absolutely joy to ride – particularly in the most expensive Di2 guise.

In a way the original disc brakes were a touch over engineered for the road market but completely reliable (unlike some others we could mention!) as Shimano’s not a company to take risks on product reliability or performance.

The game changer for disc brakes was always going to be when they slimmed them down for better packaging (and aesthetics), lighter weight and created something more specifically suited for road bikes.

Shimano Flat Mount BR-RS805 front Ultegra level disc brake
Shimano Flat Mount BR-RS805 front Ultegra level disc brake

This is where the new flat mount products announced come in. They’re designed for road bikes from the beginning and are going to help disc bikes (running smaller 140mm rotors) look a lot cleaner but still offer fantastic braking in a lighter package.

Here’s another thing, flat mount is neater for bike designers too – not more need for sticking out bits on the back of you carbon fork because the mounting is now ….. flat!

Shimano BR-RS505 105 level flat mount front disc brake - note how much cleaner it mounts to the fork
Shimano BR-RS505 105 level flat mount front disc brake – note how much cleaner it mounts to the fork

This also means that for some manufacturers (e.g. Kinesis as mentioned here: http://girodilento.com/core-bike-show-highlights-2015-kinesis-ale-tifosi-effetto-mariposa/) will be able to design a frameset that you can run either caliper or disc brakes on giving us as consumers maximum versatility.

The New 105 level hydraulic brake, mechanical STI ST-RS505
The New 105 level hydraulic brake, mechanical STI ST-RS505

Don’t worry about the differing standards either as in the short to medium term there’ll be plenty of adapters available to run 140 or 160mm rotors using either Flat Mount or Post mount disc brakes. However I expect the number of frames being made for post mount disc brakes will rapidly decrease over the next year.

This is very good news for those of you considering making the jump to discs but had been hoping for something slimmer, lighter and more discreet. They’ll be here around July.BR-RS505_zz_F_STD_S1_draft

Shimano’s new Tiagra 4700 groupset is important and here’s why

Shimano’s road groupset evolution strategy is one of trickle down that starts with Dura Ace at the top of the tree. The trickle down effect sees ideas and designs from the top tier work their way down the price points. Since Dura Ace 9000 was released, many of the same features and benefits have been incorporated in Ultrega 6800, 105 5800 and now to Tiagra 4700.

The now superceded Tiagra 4600 was an excellent groupset with 10 speeds and super light shifting. It was reliable, easy to use and maintain … and cheap enough for almost anyone to afford. In fact to me, it shifted better than 105 the next level up and I always enjoyed riding it more than I expected.

However it wasn’t perfect and the new Tiagra 4700 address most of my personal issues with the old version.

New Tiagra 4700 STI shifters
New Tiagra 4700 STI shifters

Firstly it now has internal cabling from the shifters, so no more cables getting in your headlights at night. The catch is that the old external cabled shifters were what gave Tiagra 4600 such a light and easy gear shift. Shimano has made big steps forward on internally cabled shift quality so this should be resolved in the new version.

For me the ugliest part of the older Tiagra was the cranks, which I always thought looked “cheap” even if they worked well. Tiagra 4700 brings the striking four-arm crank design to a new, even more affordable price point and this is very welcome. It’s also great as it brings the very sensible 110mm chain ring standard, which means if you want to switch front gear rations from say 50/34 to 52/36 (a very welcome new option on Tiagra 4700) or to 53/39, you simply buy new chainrings not a totally new crank. This is a big step forward in functionality as well as looks.

New Tiagra 4700 rear mech
New Tiagra 4700 rear mech

The new rear mech has an improved cable pitch for better shifting and can work with up to 34 tooth cassettes – great for your trip to the Alps and perfect for the many beginner bikes this groupset will be specced on.

Braking is also improved with a nicer looking new caliper design boasting 30% improvement in braking performance – which is always welcome.

30% improvement in braking performance
30% improvement in braking performance

To me, Tiagra 4700 looks like a great and very welcome upgrade for budget bikes or people who want to stay 10 speed. This is also an important aspect to note, Tiagra remains 10 speed. Shimano have decided not to make the change to 11 speed with Tiagra, most likely to keep clear differentiation with 105 (which is the entry point for 11 speed shifting with Shimano road).

New Braze on Tiagra 4700 front mech
New Braze on Tiagra 4700 front mech

As much as I like high end kit, I’m excited about this new Tiagra and am already looking forward to riding it. If it’s as good as I think, it’s going to be a home run for customers looking for affordable bike builds.

If you’re ok with remaining on 10 speeds and don’t mind a little more weight than the more expensive Shimano road groupsets, Tiagra 4700 looks like a terrific upgrade. There’s never been a better time to ride Shimano.

Thanks for reading

New band-on Tiagra 4700 front mech
New band-on Tiagra 4700 front mech

Hestra Tracker Gloves long term review

Anytime it’s got cold or cool in the last year, the gloves I’ve reached for without fail have been the Hestra Tracker. I’ve now had these for around 12 months, have spent hundreds of miles riding in them and have no hesitation is saying these are some of the best cycling gloves I’ve ever used.

The Hestra Bike Tracker have performed exceptionally well for me in temperatures down to about 3 degrees celcius and I’ve not over heated when the temperature has risen to double figures.

They’re a two and half seasons glove – Autumn, Spring and all but the coldest winter riding. If you suffer from cold hands, once you get to 5 degrees Celsius you might want to use a liner or go for something warmer like the Hestra CZone Gaunlet (which I’ll cover another day). I can happily use the Hestra Trackers to a bit colder than 5 degrees but I don’t typically struggle with cold extremities.

Hestra only make gloves, so they have a big incentive to get them right. They’ve obviously got a good track record of doing just that too as they’ve been in business since 1936. The company’s based in Sweden and the products are imported into the UK by Nordic Life.

The Tracker are a very well made glove with a neoprene cuff, Gore Windstopper outer fabric and an inner fleece lining for extra warmth and comfort. I chose the neon version to help visibility when indicating and the gloves also feature reflective piping. There is also a white option.

The palms are moderately padded using Chamude synthetic suede, the thumb has soft fleece fabric to wipe sweat or such like. There’s a nice tab to help pull the gloves on on the inside cuff (with a Gore Windstopper logo on it).

DSC01186The thumb and first two fingers feature a pad which I wondered if might be for touch screens but to me it doesn’t seem to really work with those. It does give a bit of rugged protection for the end of those fingers.

When riding, I’ve found them to be first class. I did have to size up and also be reminded that it’s the air around your fingers that keeps you warm, so you don’t want gloves to tight and squash the air out. They’re handling regular washes well and I’m completely smitten.

The Hestra Bike Trackers are a terrific full finger riding glove for all but the coldest conditions.

You can find out more about the Tracker here: https://hestragloves.com/sport/intl/gloves/mtb-bike/windstopper-tracker/441100/

If you’d like to order some, they’re imported by Nordiclife:  http://www.nordiclifeuk.co.uk/, so please contact them for more information. At the time of posting this review, they’re not on the site as a recent Bikes Etc review has sold out all of the stock both here in the UK and via Hestra’s world wide stock. I’m sure they’ll be more stock on hand soon.

Thanks for reading

Road cycling equipment, reviews, fitness & riding