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Nic Cotton's Product Reviews

Added a product review for iXS Sinister II BC Elite Jacket 7/19/2012 1:42 PM
C138_42689

IXS Sinister

Rating:

The Good: Waterproof, windproof and breathable; Looks great; Price; Lightweight; Packs up small

The Bad: Occasionally breathability, especially on the arms; Smallish hood

Overall:

First of all, this is my only jacket. Therefore, it has to do everything, from its primary use in mountain biking, to going to the pub, the occasional cold or wet road ride, walking, trail building and nipping to the shops if its pissing with rain. I own the black version and it actually looks really smart, a lot nicer than the brown one appears in the picture above.

I set out to buy a soft-shell, as I dislike the feel of a hard shell and prefer to be able to wear a jacket over a t-shirt, a bit more like a jersey than an outdoor garment. It needed to not only work in a mountain environment, where it would be covered in mud, rain and anything else a bike ride could throw at it, but also in a casual setting. The IXS sinister is not a true soft-shell, sitting somewhere between a soft and hard-shell.

When looking at different jackets I had three main considerations:

  1. Technical ability (Waterproof, Windproof, Breathable)
  2. Looks (Both on and off the bike)
  3. Price

Other features were an added bonus but realistically finding a jacket with all of the above at the correct price was hard enough. I had looked at ski jackets, bike jackets, running jackets and general outdoor jackets but nothing seemed to suit my requirements. And then I stumbled upon the IXS sinister.

Technical Ability:

Unless you are spending serious amounts of cash on the most technical materials available, one or more aspects of waterproofing, windproofing and breathability will suffer to get the best out of the others.

1) Waterproofing: 10,000 WP

On paper, 10,000 WP is pretty good for a jacket of this price, with a lot of other jackets coming in at 5,000 WP (The higher the number, the better the waterproofing). Certainly there are jackets that have higher WP but these either lack the breathability, areobscenelypriced or are a basic hard shell, not a soft-shell.

In reality I have found the waterproofing to be excellent, having been kept dry in torrential weather. The material has a natural ability to shed water, rather than absorbing it, so dries very quickly. In prolonged downpour the material canoccasionally get a little overwhelmed but still fares better than most soft-shells.

The main zip is not waterproofed (however, one of the four pocket zips are, which will be covered later). It would be a nice addition if it was, although I have not found it to cause any problems during use, so perhaps this is a null point.

2) Windproofing

Again, windproofing is great. I wouldn't expect it to deal with gale force winds, but how often is that going to happen? I wouldn't consider this as a warm jacket. On cold days it pays to have a base layer as well as normal riding top underneath, but that has more to do with lack of layers and insulation rather than its ability to keep the wind out.

3) Breathability: 8,000 MVP

Similar to waterproofing, the higher the MVP the better. This is one area that does not quite live up to the rest of the jacket. In the majority of cases, the material does a fine job of wicking away sweat and keeping you cool. However, there are times (pushing up tracks, hotter days etc) when I do find it lacking slightly. This is especially the case on the forearms. The temperature of the torso and upper arms can be controlled through the pit-zips or the main zipper, but the forearms have little temperature control (save rolling up the sleeves). This, of course, is personal experience and I have suffered the same from nearly every jacket I have owned. Whether this would be an issue at 10,000 MVP I don't know, but I expect it would. In all, it is a minor problem and one I am willing to forgive as the rest of the jacket more than makes up for it.

Other Features:

1) Pockets:

Four in all, of which all are zipped. The two hand pockets are a good size but do not feature waterproof zips. This is not a problem in my opinion. The pocket on the breast features waterproofing on both the zip and the seams and has a hole in which to thread an earphone cable for an MP3 player, which is a nice feature. I would have no worries about storing valuables here to keep dry, and have done so on numerous occasions. The pocket on the left upper arm has taped seams too, but does not have a fully waterproof zip (although it does have more protection than the hand pocket zips). I have never used this last pocket, though it is nice to have and breaks up the looks nicely.

2) Hood:

This is detachable via a zip (again, not waterproof but doesn't need to be in my opinion). The edges velcro into place to keep it attached securely. It has 3 adjustable toogles (two on the sides, one on top) to change the shape and fit. It would be nice to see the hood a little larger as it would not cover a helmet and sometimes feels a bit short.

3) Main zip:

This has a material overhang at the top to stop the edge of the zip rubbing against your neck/chin. Nice touch.

4) Pit zips:

Do what they say on the tin. Occasionally the zip will get caught on the material when doing them up, which can be a bit annoying.

5) Cuffs:

Nice, big velcro straps around the cuffs make it easy to adjust them with gloves while on the move. They seem to be purposefully overbuilt which gives a sense of security that you aren't going to rip them off if you are a little hasty when undoing them.

Conclusion:

Very pleased with this jacket. It is exactly what I was looking for and although it may have some slight drawbacks, the positives by far outweigh the negatives. It seems very well built and has lots of small, but very well thought out features that make you realise a lot of effort has been put into the design of this jacket.

Some may think it's a lot of money to spend. To justify the expense, I fully expect it to last me for the next five years or so. Buy once and buy right.

A note on sizing: I am usually a small, more out of slimness than length. This jacket is a medium and fits perfectly. It is naturally quite slim fitting so be aware.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Continental Rubber Queen Tire 7/14/2012 12:34 PM
C138_62975

Rubber Queen...not king of DH

Rating:

The Good: Grip; Weight

The Bad: Puncture resistance; Price

Overall:

Background:

The tyres in this review are 2.4 Rubber Queen (RQ) in Continental's most advanced, grippy and expensive compound,black chili.

I should point out at the very start of the review that these tyres went on to a bike used mainly for downhill, yet, according to Continental, these tyres are designed for freeride/all mountain use. Where do you draw the line between freeride/all mountain and downhill? I would certainly have difficulty answering that, yet it is important to consider when reading the rest of this review.

Initial Thoughts:

First of all, the tyres come up large compared to Maxxis. Or, as is more likely the case, Maxxis are smaller than their size suggests. Basically the 2.4 RQ is easily comparable to a 2.5 Maxxis so bear this in mind when purchasing.

They create a nice rounded profile with a tread suitable for medium to loose packed dirt. The ones mounted on my bike claimed to be 820g per tyre, so pretty light. They certainly felt it when riding having come from 2.5 dual-ply maxxis minion/high roller combo. As I am sure many of you will already know, reducing rolling weight makes a much larger difference than a comparable weight saving in any other place on the bike.

Positives:

The grip provided by the RQs was great. Yes, they tended to clog up a bit when it got really muddy but no more than any other dry tyre. On their designated surface of loose and hard pack I cannot fault them. Quick rolling, yet they provided consistent support through corners, over rocks and roots. If they did slide, it was predictable and easy to control.

As previously mentioned, their weight allowed for acceleration, speed and a lightness that I had not experienced before.

And that's where the good feelings end.

Negatives:

Punctures.

Punctures, punctures, punctures. More than I have ever experienced from any tyre previously or since. For clarity, I ran these with tubes, inflated to 30-35psi (in line with Continental's advice of higher than normal). A weeks riding holiday resulted in at least one puncture everyday, with a maximum of five in one day. Now I would say I am neither particularly hard on tyres, nor the smoothest rider out there. I suffer the very occasional puncture, like most people and having now swapped back to Maxxis, I have not punctured in a year of racing and riding. Take from that what you will.

The amount of punctures I suffered made riding my bike a pretty tiresome experience at times. You can have the best tyre in the world but if you spend so much time off the bike trying to fix the punctures, it just doesn't make it worth it. Now, you could argue that I was using the tyres outside of their designated use and to be honest, I perhaps was. This is where my point about the blurred line between all mountain/freeride and downhill comes in. At what point should you stop using such a tyre? It should be noted that I suffered punctures on tracks I would have been perfectly happy taking an all mountain hardtail down.

Price may be an influential factor when deciding on these tyres too. They are expensive in comparison with tyres from other manufactures. From what I have heard, this may be negated by the Black Chili compound which is supposed to last longer than other compounds, enabling you to run the same tyres without having to change them so often. I cannot comment on this as I got rid of them after only a few weeks.

Conclusion:

For downhill, I cannot advise strongly enough against these tyres. For all mountain use, if you are a smooth rider then maybe give the UST versions with a thicker sidewall a shot. Based purely on my past experience I would never put these tyres on a bike again, I just can't see the point when they suck enjoyment out of biking!

Disclaimer: If you run these on an all mountain bike and have no trouble, great! I currently run single-ply tyres on my hardtail and have had no problem with them so maybe it was just the type of riding I was subjecting the RQs too that caused them to be so useless. Who knows?

This product has 3 reviews.

Added a product review for Formula 2011 TheOne Brake 7/12/2012 11:07 AM
C138_theone_pinza_0066

Formula The Ones

Rating:

The Good: Weight; Power; Modulation; Feel; Looks

The Bad: Torx key bolts to tighten the lever; Possibly price

Overall:

I was first introduced to Formula The Ones back in 2006 by a friend who had recently attached a set to his DH bike. These were the first generation brakes and I remember being in awe at how good they looked due to their minimalist design and how amazing they felt out on the trail. The lever seemed just right, they had so much power and yet the control was superb. Needless to say, I was very jealous!

Fast forward a few years (well, five...) and it came to building up a new bike. Even though times, and brakes, have changed quite dramatically, there was only one set of brakes that would suffice for the new ride. No surprises what they were....

On went the updated Formula The Ones, with a slightly different lever design and some other small changes. I am pleased to say all those feelings that I had about the first generation brakes were still present with these brakes!

I am really particular about my brakes, probably more so than any other part of the bike. I prefer a short amount of lever movement with a definitive feel when applied. The Formulas provide this perfectly. Modulation is great, but pull hard and the power surpasses pretty much anything else I have tried. There is no spongy feeling from the lever when pulled full on either (which is present on most Avid's I have owned).

Brake fade doesn't appear to be an issue, having endured many long alpine descents. They are reliable to a tee. Pull the lever, slow down...no matter where you are or how fast you are going they just do the job, and they do it well.

Their durability has been great too. Minus the obligatory pad changes, I have barely touched them, which says a lot considering the conditions present in Scotland for most of the year. Unlike avids, they don't suffer from sticky pistons either, which is a relief! They could do with a bleed, not because they need one, more out of routine servicing to make sure they continue to last.

Pricing might be a bit of an issue, as they are certainly far from cheap. I tend not to compromise on brakes and so prefer to spend the extra to get the best available product. I have been using these with shimano XT floating discs as they were considerably cheaper than the formula alternative with noperceivable decrease in performance.

The only negative aspect to these brakes would be the T15 Torx bolts holding the lever to the bar. It was not a size of Torx that I had in my toolkit and required a separate purchase. A similar sized hex-bolt would have been preferable in my opinion. This also became a bit of a problem when I snapped one of the bolts in a crash (Nothing to do with the brakes, the lever went straight into a tree...) as finding a replacement at short notice so I could complete my race run was no doubt a lot more difficult than finding a similar avid/shimano part.

All in all however, I can only sing Formula's praises for making what I believe to be the best DH brake on the market. I would be willing to change my brakes (I can't say I have too much brand loyalty, which is good when it comes to writing honest reviews) but it would have to be a pretty damn spectacular brake to make me do so!

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Troy Lee Designs Moto Shorts 6/28/2012 11:00 AM
C138_sp267b47_black

TLD moto shorts

Rating:

The Good: Sizing, Adjustability, Pockets, Strength

The Bad: Maybe a bit heavy duty for more AM/XC type riding

Overall:

I am very impressed with these shorts. They have survived multiple crashes into trees/rocks/roots/other riders with no sign of any wear or tear. In fact, they almost look new still after over a year of use!

There are two things I love about these shorts.

  1. The pockets. Yeah, pretty simple but I am always surprised to see how many MTB shorts have pockets without zips! Zips are vital (no pun intended) if you are mountain biking in my opinion! Luckily the TLD ones have three such pockets, one on each leg and another (that I have never actually used) at the back. Each pocket also has a flap that is secured by a popper to cover the zip,presumably to stop the water getting in. Have kept phones/keys/etc in the pockets in torrential scottish rain with no problems.
  2. The waist adjuster. This consists of a ratchet type system that allows you to adjust the waist size by a small amount. It works brilliantly to give perfect fit...so long as you pick the correct waist size in the fist place.

The shorts also include removable padding (attached via velcro) to protect your thighs. Not too sure how much difference this really makes, but its nice to have it! The pads can get a bit churned up if washed with other bits of velcro so best to remove them before washing and wash separately.

The only down point about these shorts is that they are a bit heavy and hot for AM riding. They are, however, designed as a DH short and so this is not really a problem if used the way they were meant to be.

Overall, brilliant and a worthy investment that I can see lasting years!

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Answer ProTaper 780 DH Handlebar 6/28/2012 10:42 AM
C138_99727920_1267162626

Answer Pro taper

Rating:

The Good: Weight, Strength, Stiffness, Feel

The Bad: Finish/anodizing

Overall:

The bars I have on my current bike are 25mm rise.

To mirror one of the comments below, the vast majority of bars of this price seem similar in build quality. No doubt there are a few manufactures that produce bars that are either exceptionally heavy or too weak, however, the answer pro tapers certainly do not fall into either category.

In over a years use their performance has been flawless. They are very comfortable, with nice up and back sweep angles. The bars have markings/guidelines to enable the user to shorten the bars from their original 780mm length. I personally found this very useful, having now settled on 760mm.

The only slight criticism I have of these bars (similar to other users) is their finish. The anodizing appears to scratch very easily. Yes, it is only cosmetic, but if you are a bit OCD like me then you can appreciatethat looks are still important! No doubt the scratches are a result of user error, either through crashing or turning the bike upside down.

Overall, they are light, strong and perform as well as I could ever need a set of bars to. I think the best compliment to these bars would be to say they are nice and forgettable. Stick them on your bike and they do exactly what they were designed to do, no fuss!

When picking bars I reckon most manufactures are on a similar performance level and that appearance and price will most likely dictate the type of bar used by most riders. Needless to say though, I would fully recommend the pro tapers to anyone based on my experience.

This product has 5 reviews.

Added a product review for Renthal Strata Duo MTB Stem 6/28/2012 4:44 AM
C138_49156

Renthal Stem Review

Rating:

The Good: Light; Looks great; Strength

The Bad: Pain to put on and take off; twists easily

Overall:

I had quite high expectations of this stem before buying it. It looks great and the attention to detail in the machining is superb. However, it really is ahassle to attach to the bike and to the handlebars due to its two piece design. This would not be a problem if you never need to remove the stem, although packaging the bike for going on holiday in a bike bag highlights that a normal stem is infinitely easier to remove from the bike.

The other downside to this stem is that it seems to twist on the steerer far too easily. Having tightened it to the suggested torque initially, I have since had to tighten it a substantial amount more and it still appears to twist given enough force (more so than the thomson stem I run on my other bike)

On the plus side, it is nice and light. Overall though, I would not buy this product again. Instead I would stick to thomson if I was ever to be in the market for a stem again.

This product has 4 reviews.

Added a product review for Morewood Bicycles Kalula Frame 6/28/2012 4:32 AM
C138_kalula_black_frame

Morewood Kalula

Rating:

The Good: Agility, Cornering, Jumping, Fun-factor, Suspension design, Stiffness and longevity

The Bad: Cable routing, Shock spring rub, Rear axle requires both 10mm and 12mm alan key

Overall:

I have owned this bike for around a year now. It has been taken to the Alps, many local DH trails in my home country of Scotland and has been raced. In fact, I even took it on a number of xc rides before getting a dedicated XC/AM bike. Here are my thoughts of the kalula so far:

Background:

When I first bought this bike, I decided it was going to be with me for a long time and that I didn't really want to go changing parts often. So I built it up with a pretty dream spec and intend to leave it that way until parts wear out/break. Initially expensive but I hope it pays in the long run.To give you an idea of the build, it is BOS front and rear, american classic wheels, shimano drivetrain, formula the ones, maxxis rubber (changed from the rubber queens which punctured if you meerly looked at them wrong) and other bits and pieces.

Morewood Kalula

Initial thoughts and findings:

A few points to note before riding the bike. The sizing is slightly odd. I am 182cm and opted for a large, though I am normally a medium. I was told I am exactly in between a large and a medium, although having ridden a small makulu (same TT length as the medium kalula) I went for a large. I am happy with this choice - I have never felt compromised whilst riding as a result of the size although I do always wonder how a medium would have fared. Worth checking before buying though.

The second point to note is the spring. Firstly, weighing in at 62kg, or around 70kg fully kitted, I am pretty light. With the bike having such a long leverage ratio, I use a 250lb BOS spring. I also have a 225lb Cane Creek spring though find this a little soft. Trying to get hold of such long and lightweight springs can be slightly difficult but not impossible. Secondly, the BOS spring rubbed slightly on the frame where the shock passes through the cage that attaches the seat tube to the down tube. This was only on the left side and is due in part to the BOS spring being quite a wide diameter and, from what I can gather, the bushing tolerances on the shock not being exactly perfect. When fitted with the smaller diameter CC spring this was not a problem. As it is, I have taped the frame and pushed the bushings in as far as possible which has given the BOS spring thenecessary gap to compress without fouling.

Lastly, the rear axle. The axle itself requires a 10mm alan key and the bolt that it screws in to requires a 12mm alan key. Not too much of a problem in itself, although a 12mm alan key can be a bit of a pain to get hold of. Both alan keys can be quite bulky/heavy and are a bit annoying to have to carry around. Of course, you don't need them all the time, but if you ever get a puncture that requires you to remove the rear wheel, its not going to happen unless you have at least the 10mm key! I would love if there was a way to have the rear axle as some sort of 12mm QR...I can but wish!

First ride impressions:

I realise that the above may come across as slightly negative. Well, that all disappears when riding the bike! I remember my first proper ride feeling immediately comfortable; the handling was great, there were no strange sensations or suspension characteristics and it was just really easy to get on with. It quite honestly is one of the easiest bikes I have ever tried in which you can just get on and ride without having to spend time getting used to the bike.

Other things that I noticed on the first ride were how easy to corner and jump this bike was. Again, it felt very natural and easy to control, both on and off the ground. On the more DH style courses it also performed brilliantly.

Longer term impressions:

I am happy to say that the playful, fun nature of this bike is still inspiring a year down the line. It really is a lot of fun to ride! Unfortunately I am probably unable to compare the kalula to a full on DH race bike, having never spent much time on them (short of borrowing friends' bikes, which are never ideal due to personal set ups). Sure, the kalula isn't a full on DH bike and I guess if you were looking for podium race results then it may not be perfect for you. For me, someone who is unlikely to ever win a DH race and who would probably not notice much difference between a mini-DH bike and race-DH bike (either physically or in getting a quicker time) then it is a good compromise. It is a beast on the DH, coping with fast rough section as well as the more technical sections of DH tracks, yet it also puts a massive grin on my face when taking it down tamer tracks.

Hitting up Les Gets, France.

The kalula has even been taken around the fort william world cup xc track. And yes, its a bitch on the uphills but thats a bit like complaining that an F1 car is crap at the dakar rally. It was never designed for that, so it is never going to excel in that environment. Given enough leg power, the kalula can be ridden up most stuff at a steady pace, but uplift is an infinitely better prospect if its available!

Cable routing isn't great. It passes through the shock cage and when the suspension compresses, it can become bunched and push out to the side. Not noticeable when riding but it does rub pretty badly and will require taping to stop this rubbing.

I cannot imagine needing to replace this bike in a long time. It is solid, stiff and reliable. I have had no problems with the frame, bearings or any other part of the bike really (minus a few transmission problems which are unrelated to the kalula). It will stay as my DH bike, being ridden and occasionally raced. I doubt I will ever find its limits and cannot imagine a track that it would not cope admirably with. I am really very happy with the bike and would whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a bike that is fun, quick, stable, really easy to manoeuvre and copes well on full on DH while not being a barge like some race bikes.

Summary
  • Fantastic at cornering, jumping and ensuring you end each ride with a massive smile
  • Very easy to get on with, no unnatural characteristics.
  • Works incredibly well in a DH environment, the only time I could ever think I would want a full on race bike is if I was chasing the podium.
  • The suspension just works. Probably a combination of the linkage and BOS damper.
  • Its damn quick! Quicker than me anyway.
  • A few minor drawbacks, although these really are observations rather than true disadvantages
  • Did I mention it was fun?


This product has 2 reviews.