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Mihai's Product Reviews

Added a product review for Xpedo Baldwin Clipless Pedal 10/24/2013 8:56 PM
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Tested: Xpedo Baldwin Clipless Pedals

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Mihai Moga

Pedals are a crucial part of your bike setup. They are the most important contact points you have with the bike other than your handlebars, and mediocre contact points can ruin the best of bikes. So, when given the chance to try out one of Xpedo's latest offerings I jumped at the opportunity. The brand has been making bicycle pedals for over 30 years, and they have an incredible number option to choose from. I'm always on the hunt for great clips, and the Baldwin pedals looked solid. With that said, let's shed some light on their latest offering geared towards anything from XC to Enduro style riding.

Baldwin Pedal Highlights

  • Body: 6061 CNC Al
  • Spindle: Titanium or Cro-Moly (tested)
  • Bearings: 3 Cartridge
  • Springs: SWP
  • Cleat: XPEDO XPT (6° Float)
  • Colors: Black, Gray, Gold, Pink
  • Weight: 292g Ti; 332g CrMo
  • MSRP: $189 Ti; $119 CrMo

Initial Impressions and Setup

At first glance the pedals seemed small and the Cro-Moly spindles felt smooth as they rotated on three cartridge bearings per side. They weigh a scant 332-grams, which is really light. Most pedals with any resemblance of a cage hover over the 400-gram mark. A titanium axle option is available as well, which drops the weight into the high 200-gram range. As with most SPD style pedals, the entry/exit tension is adjustable. The retention system, dubbed “posi-lock,” is attached to the main body via four torx screws on each side. The main body of the pedal is CNC'd from 6061 aluminum into a square shape with sharp corners.

After installing the pedals, I attached the included cleats to my Shimano DX shoes. Xpedo's cleats were identical in size to the cleats they replaced (Shimano SPD cleats), so I decided to install them in the same exact spot. Xpedo's cleats required a little more torque to keep them from moving out of place (more on that later).

I was now ready to go ride, or so I thought. As I was trying to clip-in initially, I was having a really hard time. I took a closer look, and noticed that there was not enough room for the shoe to clear the crank arm. There simply wasn't enough space to clip into the pedal. I use a size 10.5 US / 45 EUR Shimano DX shoe. To attempt to remedy the problem, I adjusted the cleat to the very inside of my shoe, allowing my shoe to be as far away from the crank arm as possible. At this point there was enough space to clip in, but the shoe was still rubbing on the crank arm slightly, which certainly wasn't ideal. For reference, Xpedo lists the Q-factor (or at least the amount they contribute to it) as 52mm per side - that's the distance from the center of the pedal to the center of your bottom bracket, which is influenced by the pedal's spindle length.

On The Trail

Time to ride. Clipping in was predictable. Clipping out on the other hand was more inconsistent. Mechanically the “posi-lock” clip-in mechanism worked well, but again the main issue I had was not having any space between the crank arm and the shoe. The shoe was rubbing on the crank arm with every pedal revolution. This made the pedals very difficult to ride with. I found that it hindered my ability to freely unclip (which is why I had to really crank down the cleats), especially when my foot was between 2 and 9 o'clock. The shoe would be slowed or stopped by the crank arm, and that would prevent my foot from rotating inside enough to clip out. Through all of this, I've learned that I tend to like a wider Q-factor - the Baldwins were just too narrow for me. That being said, the narrow Q-factor could be something someone else would really like, as pedal feel is a very personal choice. At the end of the day I didn't feel like I had enough leverage or stability on the pedals, because I kept catching myself pushing my feet to the outside of the shoes in order to get a better position.

To try to give these pedals a fair chance, I swapped out my shoes. I had a brand new pair of Shimano SH-M162 shoes available that I transferred the cleats to. These were XC shoes, not the type with flat rubber on the bottom. Even then I had a similar issue, and I still had to mount the cleat inboard on the shoe to provide enough clearance with the crank arm.

A design highlight of this pedal is the small 'platform' around the clip that is meant to provide extra stability or even help with standing on the pedal if not clipped in. However, it was very hard to tell when riding if I was just standing on the pedal or the platform, and it was not the most confidence inspiring feeling either when compared to similar style pedals. The platform isn't shaped in a way that will allow it to make constant contact with the shoe, which you can see below. Even so, I didn't once slip off of them, but I fear the day as the small cage is pretty sharp. The pedal cleat does have a small amount of float at 6-degrees, which provides a decently snug and secure feel by itself.

Long Term Durability

I have not had any durability issues thus far, and the pedals are holding up well after a few months of use. They've been subject to a few rock strikes and assorted glancing blows, and everything has remained straight and still works as it did on day one.

Things That Could Be Improved

With an ever-increasing number of "hybrid" clipless shoes on the market, driven by a need for more stability for the aggressive rider, the Baldwin pedal needs a longer axle to allow it to accommodate these types of shoes. As it stands, it really only functions with small and narrow shoes. Additionally, a wider platform capable of providing more contact with the shoe would be a welcome improvement, as would slightly smoother corners.

What's The Bottom Line?

Xpedo made what seems like a decent pedal that clips in and clips out well with the correct shoe. However, lots and lots of pedals do that. Furthermore, at a $120 price point, there are many similar or even less expensive offerings that function as well or better. By adding a cage around the pedal, it seems like Xpedo is trying to encourage riders to be aggressive, have fun, and ride more like a mountain biker and less like a roadie. The problem is that these pedals don't work well with the new-school, aggressive, and more forgiving mountain bike shoes. That said, if you happen to have narrow shoes or very small feet, the lightweight simplicity of Xpedo's Baldwin pedal can be a good match. They're functionally solid and have proven to be quite durable.

For more details, check out www.xpedo.com.


About The Reviewer

Mihai Moga has been attracted to bikes since before he can remember, but got his first real taste in 1995 and quickly picked up downhill racing. He has competed at three DH World Championships, won some State and Regional titles, and is an overall mountain bike addict. His favorite places to race are Mont Sainte Anne, Val di Sole, Vermont, Snowmass and SolVista. He’s calculated but aggressive, while at the same time as smooth as possible. You’ll find him on his trail bike more often than not, and he prefers fast and rough trails over slow and tight. Not a fan of changing things just for the sake of change, he’s very analytical, but also practical, and if he thinks something could be better he’s definitely not afraid to modify or rebuild it to suit his needs. These traits have made him ideal as a tester, and he’s often found riding pre-production products for this reason. Moga also dabbled in frame design at one point, and his design was used to produce DH and all-mountain bikes. One of his biggest passions is building trails, and today he makes a living traveling the world to do just that.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Crank Brothers Iodine 3 Wheelset 10/22/2013 9:11 PM
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Tested: Crank Brothers Iodine 3 Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Mihai Moga

Mountain bike equipment is currently evolving at an unbelievable pace. In the last few years, featherweight full suspension frames have appeared and proven themselves to be far tougher and hardier than their much heavier alloy predecessors. Suspension designs have become incredibly efficient and reliable. Bike weights have plummeted and durability has increased in almost every area of the bike. However, this evolution has come at a price, namely, the price. If you try just a bit, you can now spend more on an all mountain trail bike than on a brand new motocross bike. The Crank Brothers Iodine 3 wheelset we’ve been testing for the last 6 months certainly qualifies as part of this wave of high tech, lightweight, and high-priced equipment. Which begs the question that most riders might have to ask themselves with many a purchase these days; what am I paying for, and is it worth it?

Iodine 3 Wheelset Highlights

  • Rims: 6061-t6 aluminum
  • Joint: welded
  • Interior width: 21mm
  • Recommended tire size: 2.3- 2.5”
  • Spokes: 24 stainless steel
  • Nipples: Elongated hollow 7075-t6
  • Front Hub: 20mm thru axle with 2 cartridge bearings (QR 15 or 9mm QR also available)
  • Rear Hub: 135x 10mm QR (142x12mm thru axle also available)
  • Weight: 1765 grams total
  • Warranty: 2 years
  • MSRP: $950 US

It wasn’t long ago that it was almost impossible to spend $950 on a wheelset, without resorting to silly things like titanium spokes or Randy Jackson autographed rims. With the advent of carbon rims it is now easy to spend quite a bit more, but since these are alloy hoops we’ll compare apples to apples and evaluate them only among other wheels made from the same material. So then, how did they do?

On The Trail

I’ve been running this wheelset exclusively on my Santa Cruz Nomad for the last 6 months. These were the only wheels used on this bike in that time. The Nomad is my most frequently ridden bike by far, typically being used for several rides a week. With these wheels I also raced several times, sometimes on smooth jump trails, but also on some trails that would qualify as quite rough on a 6” bike.

First of all, these wheels bring the bling. They feature a totally unique look, with machined sections in the rims and CNCed elongated alloy nipples mated to short stainless steel spokes. It is impossible to mistake these wheels for any other, and they give a singular and racy look to any bike they are mounted to.

It was a joy not to have to mess with tubeless rim strips, since these rims have no holes drilled through them except for the 6.5mm valve hole. Mounting tubeless tires was a flawless procedure requiring very little sealant. I also suspect the lack of holes in these rims has something to do with their level of toughness and durability.

Riding the wheels for 6 months has proven them to be plenty stiff, strong and impressively reliable. The unique 24-spoke lacing pattern and proprietary spokes may not seem all that confidence-inspiring the first time you lay eyes on them, but on the trail they were nothing but solid. I have yet to resort to truing them which really says it all.

Things That Could Be Improved

The hubs are the only major point of concern on this wheelset - specifically the freehub. It is not that it has been problematic, but simply that Crank Brothers is demanding a higher price for the Iodines than many hand built wheels that feature some of the best hubs money can buy. And in comparison to those hubs, Crank Brothers’ rear hub features a very standard 3-pawl, 24-point ratchet freehub, which admittedly never failed but also does not offer the number of engagement points nor the solid feel of any of those competitors.

While the freehub is not a deal-breaker, as rapid engagement may not be on top of every rider's must-have feature check-list, it is certainly something we feel Crank Brothers should address.

Long Term Durability

Overall the structural integrity of the wheels has been outstanding. In fact as previously mentioned, after all that riding they have never been trued or tensioned in any way, and still do not need to be. I was skeptical about Crank Brothers’ unique twinpair 24 spoke system that is laced in a low dish mirror pattern with only 12 points of contact at a vertical rib on the rim. Would it provide an adequately stiff and durable wheel? And of course there's the potential hassle of dealing with proprietary parts in the event of broken spokes or wobbly rims. Well, I can’t really comment on how easy or difficult these wheels are to true or service, simply because they have never needed it. In that respect I think it is safe to say these have been an extremely durable set of wheels, and that the design is viable. The hubs have been reliable as well, with the rear needing tightening just once.

What's The Bottom Line?

In summary, these wheels are stiff and durable, and the hubs are reliable if a little pedestrian. The wheelset is pretty average in weight, which these days means that they are quite light and that to go significantly lighter would require cashing in your now borderline worthless 401k and getting carbon wheels. So is it worth spending your hard earned $950 on these wheels? I would say it is, if the uniqueness and looks of these wheels are worth something to you. Plus the 2 year warranty is also a great incentive. There’s no question they look cool, and I wasn’t able to expose any glaring flaws in their operation. If you are looking to maximize your rear hub performance per dollar, I think you can probably do a bit better, but you won’t get something with the same exotic bling factor that these wheels have.

Fore more details, visit www.crankbrothers.com.


About The Reviewer

Mihai Moga has been attracted to bikes since before he can remember, but got his first real taste in 1995 and quickly picked up downhill racing. He has competed at three DH World Championships, won some State and Regional titles, and is an overall mountain bike addict. His favorite places to race are Mont Sainte Anne, Val di Sole, Vermont, Snowmass and SolVista. He’s calculated but aggressive, while at the same time as smooth as possible. You’ll find him on his trail bike more often than not, and he prefers fast and rough trails over slow and tight. Not a fan of changing things just for the sake of change, he’s very analytical, but also practical, and if he thinks something could be better he’s definitely not afraid to modify or rebuild it to suit his needs. These traits have made him ideal as a tester, and he’s often found riding pre-production products for this reason. Moga also dabbled in frame design at one point, and his design was used to produce DH and all-mountain bikes. One of his biggest passions is building trails, and today he makes a living traveling the world to do just that.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for POC Trabec Race MIPS Helmet 2/1/2013 7:56 AM
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Tested: POC Trabec Race MIPS Helmet - Unique Style Meets Safety Innovation

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Mihai Moga

POC, a fairly young and very successful Swedish company known primarily for high quality ski helmets, has made waves in the world of mountain biking over the past few years. Their unique designs and innovation are quickly gaining recognition. The new Trabec Race MIPS is their top of the line trail helmet for 2013. This helmet stands out for several reasons, including the use of the radically different MIPS technology.

POC Trabec Race MIPS Highlights

  • Inner Aramid filament reinforced EPS core
  • Outer PC shell with seams in the areas of least exposure
  • Equipped with the patented MIPS system
  • Aerodynamic channel system and 16 vent slots
  • Fit is designed to be around the head versus on top
  • Polygiene anti-odor treatment
  • Sizes: XS/S, M/L, and XL/XXl
  • Colors: Black/White, White/Black, or Radon Blue
  • $200 to $220 MSRP

Initial Impressions

The reason I wear a helmet is to protect my head in case of a crash. With that in mind, safety should be the number one reason when determining which helmet to purchase. Comfort and style would follow, and then of course the price. Having said that, let’s have a closer look at this new lid.

At first glance, the helmet looks and feels well made - it feels like it could take a hit and protect the head that occupies it. The outer shell is made with an Aramid (similar to Kevlar) bridge. POC claims, “By using the extreme strength provided by the Aramid fiber in bridges in the helmets shell, the structure is reinforced and at the same time, the impact energy deforming the helmet is spread over a larger surface.” The Aramid bridge also helps to increase the helmet's resistance to penetration.

While many POC helmets use an EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) type of foam, which does not deform permanently on impact and is therefore suitable for multiple impacts, the Trabec Race MIPS is made with EPS (Expanded Polystyrene). EPS is used in many traditional bike helmets and permanently deforms after just one impact. Unfortunately that means for the Trabec Race MIPS helmet, it's a one and done affair.

Everything is wrapped in a very smooth, shiny, shell with a contrasting patch of color on the back of the helmet. It's definitely unique looking, for better or worse.

POC's distinctive style is very smooth and free flowing. There are no sharp edges or corners anywhere on the helmet. This might make it less likely to snag on anything on impact. Fourteen large vents plus two smaller vents located under the somewhat flexible visor provide good ventilation.

The chin straps are very neatly molded into the helmet, eliminating the chance of fraying at one end.

As you flip the helmet over and look inside, you will notice there is a thin yellow layer between the pads and the inside shell. That's the MIPS Technology, short for Multi Directional Impact Protection System. According to the creators of MIPS, the system is designed to reduce the rotational forces to the brain in the event of an oblique impact. MIPS utilizes a low friction layer on the inside of the helmet liner to absorb much of the energy created by both unilateral or oblique blows to the head. This is achieved by allowing a controlled rotation of the shell relative to the liner. To see the MIPS system in action, take a look at this brief video:

The helmet is very comfortable, feels secure once it’s on, and the retention system and straps are intuitive and easy to adjust. My head is round shaped head and a little on the larger size, and this XL/XXL sized Trabec Race MIPS fit very well.

On The Trail

On the trail, the Trabec Race MIPS feels comfortable while climbing. There are no noticeable pressure points anywhere, and I never felt that I needed more ventilation. On the descents, the helmet moved around more than I'm accustomed to. Some of the movement is can be attributed to the shell floating on top of the MIPS system, which I was able to get used to very quickly. However, on slightly longer and more aggressive descents, the helmet migrated slightly forward on my head. I cinched down the retention system at the back of the head as tightly as I could while still being comfortable, and that seemed to help, but it did not fully resolve the issue. This was a very slight movement and not a significant issue - more of a nuisance than anything.

Things That Could Be Improved

The plastic retention piece in contact with the back of the head at the bottom of the skull is very slick. This sometimes causes it to slide out of place unless the retention is very tight. If that piece was made with a grippier material it would help keep the helmet from moving without having to cinch it down so tightly.

Also, a better mechanism to adjust the visor would be greatly appreciated.

What’s The Bottom Line?

It’s great to see companies like POC going beyond the minimum safety requirements, developing high quality helmets with increased protection for riders.

The Trabec Race MIPS offers some of the most researched and innovative protection available in a trail helmet, and all the comfort that you would expect from a high end helmet is there. The style on the Trabec is unlike any other helmet on the market, and definitely unique to POC.

All that innovation and comfort comes at a price, though, and in this case it's $220. That's roughly half the cost of a full face downhill helmet and twice as much as many traditional mountain bike helmets. We can see how some people would be reluctant to spend the extra money on the Trabec Race MIPS, especially when there are many other options available that offer good protection and great style for a lot less money. But if you are looking for the latest in safety and innovations, then the higher price tag might not surprise or deter you. Considering all the above, this is an excellent helmet that offers some of the best protection, and is definately worth considering before you purchase your next mountain bike helmet.

For more details about the Trabec Race MIPS, or to find out what the heck POC stands for, head over to pocsports.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Dainese Oak Pro Knee Guards 9/17/2012 11:27 AM
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Tested: Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads, Innovative Again

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Mihai Moga

It’s a great time to be a mountain biker. Recent innovations in the sport are simply amazing, and they’ve come in almost every facet, including body protection. There are several companies making body armor these days so finding suitable protective gear shouldn't be a problem. If you want something more advanced than the run of the mill gear, though, then the new Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads might be the right ones for you.

Dainese has been around for a long time, and they have a strong reputation for making some of the best protective gear for MotoGP racers and street bikes. Drawing on their experience in these areas, they also made some of the highest quality protective gear for mountain bikers. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, during the era of Nico Vouilloz’s domination, Dainese was hands down the most popular brand amongst downhill racers, and for good reason. The gear they made was innovative.

Now in 2012, the company is innovating once again. Dainese went farther then most when creating their new Oak Pro Knee Pads. The pads are soft-shelled and feature a multi-impact shock-absorbing material derived from F1 applications. That’s not new in the protective gear world, though. What is new, and the thing that is most innovative and unique that really sets the Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads apart is the retention system. Dainese uses the Boa Lacing System, which is essentially a small cable lacing system that is tightened with a ratcheting mechanism. Originally developed for use on snowboard boots, the Boa System is also on many high-end cycling shoes. Imagine no velcro straps to get snagged on the lining of your pants or shorts, no elastic that will eventually stretch, and virtually infinite adjustment by simply turning a round dial to tighten or loosen the straps for a perfect fit. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well then, you'll want to meet the new Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads.

First Impressions

At first glance the pads look, and feel, expensive. After a close inspection of the details on the pads, it is definitely apparent that much thought and a great deal of work went into creating them. All the materials are very high quality, they feel soft to the touch and are comfortable, the stitching looks great, the seams are flawless, and the Boa System’s steel wiring seems well placed and secure.

The pads slide over the leg, so shoes have to be off in order to pull the pads into place. Sliding the pads up the leg is a bit sticky, but not too difficult, which turns out to be a good thing - when the pads are in place they feel very secure, even without tightening the Boa System. That said, the straps need to be tightened before riding. As the straps are tightened down by simply tuning the Boa System’s ratcheting dial that is placed on the front of the pads, you feel the pads wrap around your leg in a very secure fashion with no obvious pressure points. For those wondering, the Boa System’s control knob never got in the way or snagged, even while wearing pants.

On The Trail

Does all this equal safety and comfort on the bike? Let’s go ride and see. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for testing purposes, we never crashed while wearing the pads. However, based on Dainese’s reputation and experience, and our attempts to move the pads while stationary, we feel that the pads will provide adequate knee protection in the event of a crash. Coverage is more than adequate, and rubber grippers inside the pads help keep them in place. The pads come about half way down the shin and several inches above the knee.

The first thing we noticed on the bike is that they hinder movement quite a bit, more than expected. The pads feel like they have too much material around the knee area, which seems to resist movement of the knee. When the leg is bent and close to 90-degrees, the pads bunch up on the sides of the knee. They also bunch in front of the knee when the leg is close to fully extended. This did not change with more use, and made the pads uncomfortable to walk in. At first we didn’t think this was a big deal, and it would be something that we could get used to, but the pads became uncomfortable to wear. They simply felt too stiff and bulky as a result.

Do they stay put? They don’t slide much while riding, but they do slide a little when walking. We found that they require a few seconds of readjusting before a downhill run, especially after hiking up to the start. This movement while walking could be aided by using less of the shock-absorbing pad material, and by making the pads slightly lower profile in the front and sides of the knee. That said, we firmly believe that the pads will not slide during a crash - arguably the most important aspect of any knee guard.

Are they breathable? Not as much as we’d like. While Dainese has definitely considered the breathability aspect of the pads with the hollow hexagonal shapes on the front, they are still very hot when you’re really getting after it.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Like most innovations that are not perfect on the first go-around, with a little refinement and willingness to see what needs improved, the Dainese Oak Pro Pads could be great - and they should be with a price tag of $149.95. Through the use of the Boa Lacing System and the high standard of quality Dainese is known for, they are well on the way to making the best, most secure, and most comfortable knee pad on the market. We just wish the breathability and fit was improved, especially while riding.

For more information about these pads or the rest of Dainese's lineup, visit www.dainese.com.

This product has 1 review.