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Straightshotmtb's Product Reviews

Added a product review for Specialized Atlas XC Pro Short 7/28/2014 9:29 PM
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Tested: Specialized Atlas XC Pro Short

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by AJ Barlas // Photos by Jon Anthony

We recently tested the Specialized Atlas XC Pro jersey and some keen eyes will have noticed that there was a matching short in the images from the article. That matching short was the Atlas Pro XC short and like the jersey, it's not your usual XC labeled bit of riding apparel. In fact, the short is closer to what others may label a trail short.

Much like the jersey, the short has been designed to be worn all day, keeping out of the way and remaining comfortable on the trail, without being a skin tight piece of lycra. As an added bonus (for those interested), it also comes with the new SWAT equipped bib liner that we tested not so long ago, which we think is great both because the SWAT bib is an excellent bit of kit and because it beats the cheap liner that can often be found included with a pair of shorts. Read on to learn more of our experiences with the Atlas XC Pro short.

Specialized Atlas Pro XC Short Highlights

  • VaporRize™ moisture transfer stretch woven fabrics
  • Two zippered pockets
  • Bonded Seam Construction
  • Removable bib liner short with SWAT and Body Geometry Mountain Chamois
  • Laser perforated venting
  • DeflectUV 50+
  • 14-1/2'' inseam with tapered leg fit (size 34'' waist)
  • Size: 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42
  • MSRP: $150.00

Initial Impressions

As with the Atlas XC Pro jersey, the short is lightweight, possibly the lightest short we have ridden in. This makes it immediately comfortable once on, but that isn't only down to the lightweight material. The short has been developed with a four-way stretch fabric that allows it to move in almost any way required. When in the saddle this is a very nice feature to have!

Also in a similar fashion to the jersey, the short comes with laser perforated venting, well positioned on the inner portion of the thigh. The use of bonded seams and the 'rubber' portions strategically placed on the outside of the short helps keep them moving where they need to, while holding some form where it is necessary. The adjustable velcro waist tabs are simply done and some of the best we have used of late, making it clear that it's often beneficial to follow the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple, stupid). There is no expandable waist panel in the back, something we did not miss.

On The Trail

Setting out for the initial ride in the Atlas XC Pro short, it was quickly apparent that barring any catastrophe in construction, or any unforeseen problems, this would be a new favourite short. More than 8 weeks later that remains fact! The short has been ridden in varying conditions, but with most of the riding coming during the hotter time of the year and while traveling to some stinking hot places (like Moab in July) we have been very impressed with the level of comfort afforded. A lot of this can be put down to the light weight of the short and the great, flexible fabrics used, which in turn meant the short never stuck to us, nor got in the way.

The lack of an expandable panel in the back of the short meant that it stayed in place far better and never caught on the saddle - an attribute we often find with these stretch back panel 'features'. Besides, the shorts four-way stretch materials and cut meant that a panel of this nature was not required, with the short being able to stretch and move as much as necessary without getting all saggy. The cut and placement of the seams we also found to be incredibly accurate, adding to the short's great shape for riding. Unlike some shorts worn recently, the Atlas kept the length just right whether in, or out of the saddle.

The velcro waist tabs have never caught on the jersey and thanks to the simple use of the same material as the rest of the short on the outside of the tab, it moulded very well to the shape formed around the waist. The pockets are well positioned on the outside of the thigh at an angle that works well for cycling, allowing easy access to the contents while on the bike or even sitting on a bench, without having to worry about losing your belongings. They aren't the largest pockets, but they will fit most smartphones comfortably and the position will leave you unaware that you are carrying something of this weight in there.

Long Term Durability

The light blue colour of the short requires the use of some heavier washing cycles if you often ride in muddy, or slightly dirtier conditions, with ours seeing a little discolouration in the seat, where they spend a lot of time grinding dirt into our bike saddle. We don't see this as a 'no go' problem, but if you are looking to keep the short looking as good as new for as long as possible, then perhaps the black option would be a better choice. Aside from this, there have been absolutely no issues of any manner with the short.

Things That Could Be Improved

The shorts come with a velcro fly, and while we personally haven't had any issues with it, it was initially a turn-off. Despite not having had an issue to this point, anyone who chooses not to wear a chamois will have a tougher time taking a toilet break. The use of a regular fly would be an improvement from our point of view.

What's The Bottom Line?

Specialized don't do anything by halves and have come out with some fantastic new riding apparel in the form of the Atlas XC Pro range! The short is now our go to, and most worn piece of apparel thanks to its great, light weight and relaxed fit - it feels good to ride in and looks pretty tight as well. If you're after a new short that has little in the form of bells and whistles, but hits it out the park through the use of great materials and a well-designed cut for everyday riding, then you can't pass up taking a look at this short.

For more visit www.specialized.com


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Specialized Atlas XC Pro Jersey 7/26/2014 9:29 PM
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Tested: Specialized Atlas Pro XC Jersey

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by AJ Barlas // Photos by Jon Anthony

It seems the days of limiting 'XC' labeled apparel to lycra is drawing to a close, and that can't come soon enough if you ask us. Companies like Specialized have created entire lines of XC gear, none of which are revealing though all are made to breathe well, to be comfortable for trail bike use and technically capable of being ridden in all day.

The Atlas XC Pro jersey is Specialized's answer to a garment that stays out of the way, while keeping you cool on those long rides. We've been ripping about on the trail bike for a couple of months in this jersey to see whether it meets its goals and exactly what crowd it works best for.

Specialized Atlas Pro XC Jersey Highlights

  • VaporRize™ moisture transfer knit fabrics
  • One zippered side pocket with sunglass wipe
  • Partial chest zipper with sunglass loop
  • Laser perforated venting
  • DeflectUV 30
  • Relaxed fit
  • Size: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • MSRP: $98.00

Initial Impressions

Upon receiving the Atlas Pro XC jersey the first things noticed were its light weight, quality materials, and the details. The materials used are top shelf, and the laser perforated vents look pretty trick. In addition to the laser vents, there is a mesh section down the side and up under the arm to provide plenty of airflow for when the going gets hot.

The little pocket on the lower part of the front of the jersey is an interesting feature, though it's hardly big enough to fit even a driver's license in and apart from the sunglass wipe in the pocket it saw little to no use throughout the review period.

On The Trail

Riding in the Atlas XC jersey feels great! The fit is very comfortable, not baggy and not too tight, and the use of high quality materials adds to the comfort while out on the bike. It's worth noting that although the jersey is labeled as a 'relaxed' fit, this refers to XC and is not to be confused with a relaxed fit in DH.

Despite riding in some extremely hot and dry conditions, the Atlas jersey kept us as cool as can be, while never sticking to our skin or getting uncomfortable. The short zipper on the front often aided with added airflow to keep the core temperature down as much as possible on hot rides and was particularly appreciated on a very recent ride in Moab.

The bonded seams along the sides of the jersey are well positioned, and the added, almost rubber like sections on the outside of these seams enable the jersey to hold some form when riding, rather than sagging out of shape thanks to the 2-way stretch materials used. This also helps the jersey remain in shape after many wash cycles. The bonding pieces over the shoulders also aid with holding the jersey's shape, despite us thinking they were nothing more than a bit of flair initially.

Long Term Durability

There have been no issues with the Atlas XC Pro jersey we tested. It displays no signs of pilling, no threads have pulled nor have any seams come apart and after long days in the saddle and many wash cycles, it still looks as good as new.

Things That Could Be Improved

The functionality of the pocket on the front, lower right of the jersey is pretty limited. If it were capable of comfortably holding a drivers license or credit card then it would perhaps be much better, but in its current state, cramming anything of this nature in there is less than convenient (leaving us wondering what use if any was actually intended here).

The sunglass hook on the zipper is another feature that was never used through the review, as we prefer to tuck them up into our helmet whenever not wearing them. The option is there for those that like to carry their glasses on the front of their chest (perhaps while climbing), or who prefer not to use the helmet option.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Specialized Atlas XC jersey is great for the rider looking for a lightweight, breathable, general purpose jersey to spend a lot of time in. It's fuss free, can be purchased in unassuming colors for a low key appearance and will do a great job of keeping you comfortable on the trail. For most the front pocket will be of little use, but that certainly isn't a reason not to look into adding this jersey to your collection.

For more info visit www.specialized.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Specialized Mountain Bib Liner with SWAT 7/17/2014 12:54 AM
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Tested: Specialized Bib Liner with SWAT

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony

One of the best aspects of mountain biking is creativity. It can be found in how a rider will approach a section of trail, how a builder will interpret and utilize the terrain they are crafting in, all the way down to how an individual will dress. Some choose to wear what they feel comfortable in, while others will wear what they think they are supposed to (and then there's the #sh*tmtberswear).

When Specialized released their SWAT range of gear there was a definite split in the armchair critics, but a surprisingly large number of riders were actually excited about the prospect of being able to carry extra water, food, or spares without having to don a pack. Yes, there were those who cried, "why not just ride with a pack?", and the rest that piped "why not just wear a jersey with the pockets on the outside?", and both are valid arguments if that's what you prefer, but thanks to brands like Specialized riders have more options to choose from.

We first lay eyes on SWAT apparel when riding with a friend in Santa Cruz late last year and could not wait to try the system out. With the ability to carry extra items without the dreaded "sweaty pack-back" or squeezing into lycra, it seemed like a no brainer. After riding in the bib version of the under layer for upwards of 8 weeks now, we've formed some thoughts around this 'new' system.

Specialized Mountain Bib with SWAT Highlights

  • VaporRize Moisture Transfer Mesh Fabrics
  • Fold-Over Leg Cuff
  • Body Geometry Mountain Chamois
  • 10" Inseam - Size Medium
  • Five SWAT Integrated Pockets
  • Patent-Pending Construction
  • Sizing: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • MSRP $88

Initial Impressions

The SWAT bib in this review came with the Atlas Trail Short (review to come) and we were impressed with each once we got them out of the packaging. The bib is made of a material that felt very light and at a glance seemed like it would breathe remarkably well, even on hotter days. Once on it was comfortable, with no odd catch points or areas that stood out as potential problem spots for chafing.

The chamois is very comfortable without feeling like wearing a big baby diaper. The folded over leg cuff was also a great addition and something other bibs we've recently worn did not have - a welcome feature. The bib tested was a medium and although the sizing chart on the Specialized website indicates a large or xl for this testers height, the waist on the medium is ideal (#ectomorphdilemmas). Despite this sizing oddity, the bib fits perfectly with no discomfort experienced (unlike other bibs in the closet), even after multiple 5hr rides in the garment.

On The Trail

The first couple of rides were done with a large (24oz) water bottle in the middle back pocket of the bib - something that was coincidentally forced upon us, due to a new bike and no water cage. For the first few minutes of the initial outing the bulge of the bottle was noticeable, but once warmed up and on the move it was no longer noticed unless focusing on it. The true test was whether it would stay in place and to our surprise, it did. The bottle and any other gear that is placed in the SWAT bib pockets, whether on the front of the legs or on the back, is held in place so well you can eventually forget it's there, until you need to grab for it.

A swinging load is common with backpacks, no matter how well they fit. With the SWAT bib, even when stuffing the various pockets full, we noticed that the cargo you carry does not move around. Generally we have been utilizing the pockets on the thighs for small bars, or shot block type fuels, while the back pockets have been utilized for everything from a water bottle to a well wrapped burrito. Car keys are another item that can be placed securely in the thigh pockets, but be aware that falling on a key can do some pretty good damage to the leg beneath it. If it's a risk you're willing to take, or need to, the SWAT bib provides a secure and capable way of doing so.

When it comes to accessing the gear in the pockets, we noticed this was best done when stopped. Fishing around for things while in strange and somewhat awkward positions with your arms doesn't go over too well while moving. It's not that it can't be done, it's just quicker to stop, or to grab your stuff when you're on a break. As a result this bib is not the best choice for XC racers, unless you utilize the pockets for some nice-to-haves rather than things you will be wanting to access regularly during the event.

The bib breathes really well, even on the hot days. The last ride these were tested in involved 35ºC heat, no breeze and a good number of hours in the saddle. We'd be lying to say there was no sweat and that we wouldn't have been a little cooler had we not been wearing a bib, but the fact of the matter is it was cooler than the more common full blown lycra bib and had we worn a pack, well, ol' sweat back would have ruled over the ride. Without a doubt, the SWAT bib was more comfortable in these conditions than donning a pack.

Long Term Durability

There have been no issues with the SWAT bib tested. No loose threads, no stretching out of shape, and it even holds back the pheromones keeping the bib from getting too scented and your riding buddies from getting to know you a little too well. Once washed the bib looks as good as the day we received it and it is every bit as comfortable on the trail.

Things That Could Be Improved

It would be nice if it was easier to access the back pockets while moving on the bike, though this would likely result in less secure storage. We did notice that when wearing slightly baggier tops, the air whisping by as you descend picks up the back of the jersey and leaves you showing off your underwear. Other than those two minor niggles, Specialized have done a great job of bringing an alternative to the riding pack for riders looking to carry supplies while out on longer rides.

What's The Bottom Line?

Specialized aren't the only brand producing an undergarment to store extra gear in, but they've certainly produced a quality option for anyone interested. Whine all you want about riders not dressing how you would, we're up for giving almost anything a try and if someone has a different idea of what works for them, go for it - it's likely they aren't the only ones. This is the case with the SWAT gear and we're happy that it's available. Not all riders want or like to carry a pack, and wearing tight lycra isn't for everyone either. The SWAT bib is a great piece of apparel for anyone looking to carry some extras on their person without being overly concerned with what the norm has dictated up until now. If you're open to change and looking for a different way to carry some gear, dislike packs or lycra, we highly recommend you take a look at the SWAT range.

For more visit www.specialized.com


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Enve Composites M90 Ten Wheels 6/29/2014 1:48 PM
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Tested: ENVE M90 Ten Wheels

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

By A.J. Barlas // Photography A.J. Barlas & Brandon Turman

There is no shortage of wheels for mountain bikers to choose from and we've tested a number of them over the past couple of years - some we've been pleased with while others have been less than ideal.A large number of these are focusing on the trail/AM segment of the sport, but what about DH? Designing a wheel that meets the rigors of today's downhill riding, while remaining light enough to keep the weight conscious happy is a tricky situation. Throw price into the equation and you complicate it even more. Light, strong, cheap; pick any two is an old golden rule of the bike industry, and although we've tested wheels that claim to tick all three of those boxes, ENVE's no-holds-barred approach promises to deliver the ultimate experience when price doesn't matter. To find out if their new M90 Ten wheels are indeed the Ferrari of downhill mountain bike wheels, we've been putting them through the wringer in Whistler Bike Park and beyond.

ENVE M90 Highlights

  • 26" and 27.5" (650b) wheel sizes
  • Rim weight: 26" = 487g // 27.5" = 509g
  • Internal width: 25mm
  • External width: 34mm
  • Rim height: 34mm
  • Available in 32 hole configuration
  • Full wheel built on DT240 hubs: 1,707g (in 26")
  • MSRP $2,718 (DT 240 20/150 built wheelset, as tested)

Initial Impressions

As with the M70 wheels we recently tested, when these arrived we were a little excited. We'd never really had a pair of them in our hands, only pawing at them on other people's bikes and more often than not, those were of the trail bike variety. The M90 rims felt light but solid, and we proceeded to mount a set of Maxxis Shorty tires to them and get out on the trails as quickly as humanly possible. The Shortys, despite not being a tubeless specific tire, seated easily on the rim. The beads are tight on the M90 wheels, just like the M70 wheels were, mostly thanks to the hookless technology incorporated and tighter tolerances afforded as a result. Initial rides on the loamy trails near home found the wheels to give the bike more zest, adding life in the corners and on the rougher sections of trail. It wasn't until we hit the bike park though that the wheels really began to shine, and shine they did.

ENVE's wheels are a top shelf product, make no mistake about it. The proprietary processes in place for development and the technology being utilized throughout the range is all about providing the rider with the best possible wheel on the market. The M-Series wheels pushed to further improve the rider experience with a focus on a wheel that gives a little as it mows over terrain, filtering trail feedback and further increasing impact resistance. An alloy wheel will do this at the spoke interface, which creates a lot of stress on the spokes and often results in breaks, or more time spent adjusting spoke tension. ENVE have designed the layup and the wall of their M-Series wheels to provide this give and it is a quality noticed as soon as you bomb down a section of rougher trail.

In addition to this technology, ENVE utilize a specially designed conical shape spoke face, allowing the nipples to pull at the same angle at which the spokes meet the rim. This method creates a stronger, more reliable interface and also allows ENVE to use less material in this area, saving more valuable rotational weight. They are also one of a few that remove the internal layup bladders from their wheels, removing more weight and avoiding issues with spoke installation down the line. All of ENVE's recent technologies and processes have resulted in a wider, lighter, stronger wheel, but how does that translate to the trail?

On The Trail

Within a quarter of a run down the Whistler Bike Park, the light weight and lateral stiffness of the wheels became incredibly evident, throwing us down the hill out of each corner and springing out of rough sections of trail - it was as if some adjustments had been made to the suspension, but nothing had changed there at all, the tires were the same as what was on the bike previously as well. Many might think that a stiff carbon wheel means you will get pinged off lines and feel the abruptness of the added stiffness when rolling through sections of trail, but ENVE have gone to great lengths to improve the way the wheels 'give' when hitting terrain features straight on, while retaining the lateral stiffness qualities in order to better support riders through corners. Did they achieve it, heck yeah! The wheels track well in all terrain, with even lighter riders being able to control where the bike goes and keep it there.

The lateral stiffness combined with the light weight of the wheelset really adds to the slingshot feeling out of corners—the harder you load these bad boys up, the faster you will be slung down the next section of trail, so long as you're ready and getting on with it. Our first run of the year was down Ninja Cougar, a trail known for some incredible berms with some serious g's and the benefits of the wheel under pressure were made very apparent. From here the wheels have been down everything from the full Oriental Express, Afternoon Delight and Tech Noir, to the Canadian Open, plenty of classic old school with Joyride and Schleyer, and everything in-between. They have not disappointed anywhere.

In rough terrain expect to hear a slightly different and at first disconcerting sound when the tires bottom to the rim. On more than one occasion the sounds from the carbon hoops had us frightened for what we might discover the next time we stopped to take a look, but to this point, nothing. Not a lick of damage on hits that would have resulted in substantial flat spots on a good quality alloy rim. We haven't been shy with these wheels, rallying them down the nastier, rockier trails on offer, and on more than a few occasions letting the bike (wheels) take the brunt of impact as our tired and weary bodies hung on for the ride. These experiences have left us quite impressed as to the impact resistance and durability of the M90 wheels.

Long Term Durability

After beating on the M90s in the Whistler Bike Park and some local trails around home for a good amount of time we're baffled by the lack of maintenance required, "lack of" here translating to zero! Other than a few scuffs on the walls of the rims and on the stickers, the wheels are as good as the day we received them. We can't wait to see how they last out a whole summer of abuse, but if the Santa Cruz Syndicate did indeed run the same set on their DH bikes during their first race season as reported, then it's fairly safe to assume that bar a ridiculous accident, these will last a lot longer under us. It is also worth mentioning that the ENVE's come with a five year warranty, so if you do bust 'em, you should be covered for some time.

Things That Could Be Improved

We mentioned a couple of things that initially had us question them on the M70 review (mainly the internal spoke nipples that necessitate removing tires and rim strip to adjust spoke tension), but the rationale from ENVE coupled with having zero issues meant these concerns were moot. The M90s are no different and after having taken more of a hiding than other wheels tested and needing zero work thus far, we're really impressed.

Some will no doubt have issues with the pricing, but some things simply cost more, like a Ferrari or a Mercedes AMG, and like these, the attention to detail from ENVE is impeccable and as a result, the product very desirable. In more relative terms, a DVO or BOS fork is going to cost you more than the SR Suntour or X-Fusion equivalent. To our point earlier, if it is out and out best-in-class performance you are after, then you unfortunately cannot have all three; light, strong, and cheap. In terms of bang for your buck, the ENVE M90 wheels are as light and as strong as they come, and they offer a genuinely unique ride experience.

What's The Bottom Line?

The ENVE M90 wheels are an exciting bit of bike technology to ride. To be honest, we're surprised that we have not had a single issue with them after weeks of rat bagging them down the Whistler Bike park and through our local trails. They inspire confidence on the trail and add more life to the bike than we expected to notice. Despite there being no problems with them to date, we're still a little on the nervous side whenever we do hear the tires bottom to the rim. With more time on the wheels, we hope to only further our confidence in their abilities. If money is not an object when your happiness is involved and you're after the finer details from a wheel, I highly recommend you get after a set of these wheels to adorn your downhill sled. They will knock your socks off from the moment you drop into that first, aggressive run.

For more details, visit www.enve.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlasstarted riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Maxxis Shorty Tire 6/14/2014 12:36 PM
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Tested: Maxxis Shorty Tire

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas

Inside of most mountain bikers is a little kid that loves dirt bikes. Some of these little inside kids even get lucky enough to ride one, while others watch in amazement, taking some of what they see into their riding approach - at the very least letting out the occasional 'braaap' while ripping a fun trail.

We definitely have this little kid in us, from the attempted whips and scrubs all the way through to the sound effects out in the woods. So when the new Maxxis Shorty tire showed up the little guy started 'brapping' with enthusiasm thanks to what was apparently a slimmed-down moto tread that we now held in our hands.

The Shorty is a brand new tread design from the folks at Maxxis that features an aggressive, square block knob pattern throughout, 2-ply downhill casing and Maxxis' 3C MaxGrip compound. It's designed with loam, medium mud, or deep soft dust in mind, and with each of those being a favourite of ours to rally through, we eagerly mounted up a pair and set out to see just how moto things could get.

Maxxis Shorty Highlights

  • Available in 26" x 2.40" (61-559 ETRTO - European Measurement)
  • Wire bead
  • 3C MAXX GRIP Compound
  • High-Volume, Dual-Ply Downhill with Butyl Insert, Black, 60 TPI, 65 Max PSI sidewalls
  • 2 lb 10.9 oz (1.2 kg)
  • MSRP: $87 USD

Initial Impressions

The Shorty features a lot of the usual Maxxis downhill tire traits; solid two ply construction with a great, soft tread and a 'channel' between the center and cornering knobs (though not as clear here as in some of their other offerings). The big square blocks are soft and there is a substantial amount of space between them, allowing the tire to shed any material that may cling to a regular tread. They are aggressive and just looking at them had us giggling like school girls. With too much excitement to contain, we began setting them up on our downhill bike.

The Shorty's mounted quite easily with tubes, though not so easily tubeless with difficulties obtaining a good seal. No biggie here though, given that the tires we tested were not tubeless specific. We were able to set them up tubeless on a different set of wheels later in the test, with no issues. With the tires mounted and the downhill bike now looking like a total monster, we headed out to the trails.

On The Trail

With the Shorty's cut spike tread designed for deep loam, slight mud and even deep dusty conditions, we decided to build a new, short loamer line to really test them out. The trail was totally raw, with just the bare essentials removed from the surface, leaving behind a thick layer of duff and moss. A series of lips into hardly supported corners, some flat corners and a completely off-camber corner gave us a little of everything to see how they would perform.

Given the loam conditions we could have had a good time on just about any tire, but the ability to rail in it would without a doubt be compromised with a lesser tread. From the first run, the Shorty was nothing but inspiring, gripping like velcro in the damp loam, leaving a trail of roost slinging high into the treeline as we fell down the hillside and Jon, who was shooting photos, screaming with excitement as the dirt flew. When the trail wore in the tire continued to grip, and we pushed it more and more in an effort to see how much it could handle. Flat corners began to show large roots, but they went unnoticed other than while hiking back up, as the soft tread of the Shorty took it all in its stride.

We spent a good amount of time in a variety of conditions on the freshly built trail, from damp, to wet and then bone dry, as well as on older trails in close proximity to the new line - the Shorty performed exceptionally well in all these situations. In an attempt to really round out the test, and despite them not being specifically designed for loose over hardpack, we spent the remainder of the test blasting them around the Whistler Bike Park.

Initial rides in the park resulted in similar impressions as the soft rubber compound produced amazing traction on the damp rock slabs of the park. Conditions in the park were damp during these first few days, producing hero dirt conditions and as a result, plenty of grip on most tires. What we did notice was that the cut spike knobs of the Shorty were short enough that the tire wasn't too squirmy under these distinctly heroic conditions.

Since those early days the conditions in Whistler have significantly dried out, resulting in the classic "Whistler Bowling Alley's" return. The fine dust over hardpack conditions shone a light on the tire's first weakness, with the big square blocks unable to grip the surface in the same way as those with more siping do. The Shorty's still rode well, but left us a little more on our toes with them losing traction and breaking into some unexpected drifts.The soft rubber combined with the large square blocks also resulted in some noticeably slower acceleration in these hardpack conditions, but we were admittedly well out of the tire's intended use by now.

The tires have also really begun to show signs of wear after roughly 40 laps in the park, especially once the conditions dried out. There are some interesting elements to the wear, with what appears to be the knobs tearing directionally down the tire. A lot of tires will start to show wear after this amount of riding in Whistler, though in our experience, not quite as much as these have at this point. There is still loads of life in them, but the tearing we are experiencing is something we've not seen so consistently in a tire before. We wonder if they were to be ridden exclusively in the conditions they're designed for, if they would wear in this same fashion.

The tears in the treads blocks go almost to the base of the tread and continue around the tire.

Long Term Durability

In the conditions that the Maxxis Shorty was designed to excel in, they should last a rider a good amount of time, possibly even a couple of seasons depending on the amount of use outside of their intended purpose. If, however, you're a fit-and-forget rider who plans to put tires on the bike and then 'run what you brung' including on hardpack surfaces, expect to see them wear down a little quicker than say, a Maxxis Minion would.

Things That Could Be Improved

We haven't experienced a lot of issues with the Shorty's and have thoroughly enjoyed riding them. However, it would be great to have a tubeless ready version available and we would love to run a set in a lighter version on our trail bike through the winter. Perhaps these options aren't too far off…

The sidewalls are covered in sealant that is released when cornering hard.

What's The Bottom Line?

For its intended purpose and conditions the Maxxis Shorty is a no brainer, allowing riders to get away with murder on the trail and ride out of some ridiculous lines with confidence. They're not the greatest in loose over hardpack, but this is not what they were intended for in the first place. If you're a park rider in Whistler or have similarly loose dust and hardpack conditions, there are more suitable options out there, but if you ride loam, muck or softer dirt, or if you race and need a cut spike, we highly recommend these tires for your collection. They will inspire confidence and see you push loose corners to new speeds and induce loads of sound-effects on your way down the trail!

For more on the Maxxis Shorty be sure to check out www.maxxis.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Enve Composites M70 Thirty Wheels 6/2/2014 12:04 AM
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Tested: ENVE M70 Thirty Wheels

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas

Technology in mountain biking has been progressing at an alarming rate the last 5 or so years. 10 years ago carbon on a mountain bike was often thought of as a scary, testing-fate kind of scenario to enter into, but now it's all over the place and if you aren't riding a plastic frame many won't even look twice at your rig. When carbon hoops first came to market, the one name that really caught many riders' attention was ENVE Composites. Under the Santa Cruz Syndicate's riders, on their downhill race bikes no less, we really began to take notice of the material's potential capabilities.

Fast forward a number of years and there are a lot more options for carbon hoops on mountain bikes, and a lot more people (at least in Whistler and the surrounding areas) running rims made from the fantastic plastic. ENVE has also grown a lot in that time, releasing the second iteration of their carbon hoops earlier this year, with a large number of options to cater to any rider in what is touted as a more robust, refined version of their very desirable wheels. We've been rallying the M70 Thirty version since it was released - do these bad boys live up to the hype?

ENVE M70 Highlights

  • 26", 27.5" (650b) and 29" wheel sizes
  • Rim weight: 26" = 433g / 27.5" = 453g / 29" = 481g
  • Internal width: 25mm
  • External width: 32mm
  • Rim height: 34mm
  • Available in 32 and 28 hole configurations
  • Full wheel built on DT240 hubs: 1,560g (in 26")
  • MSRP: $2,718 (DT 240, 650b, 15/142 builtwheel set, as tested)

Initial Impressions

We received a pair of M70 wheels for review in their 650b, 32 hole incarnation, and when they arrived it was certainly better than Christmas! These are the mountain bike version of the BBS wheels on that sweet sports car you're dreaming of - total luxury and function combined. There is a reason they are so lusted over; the finish is top tier, from the internal spoke nipples and the hookless technology to the clean rim bed on the inners of the rim, everything is well executed giving a very purposeful and clean appearance to the wheelset. When you pick them up the first thing you are likely to notice is how light they are, especially for such a burly wheel. The M70 is built to take a hiding, but weighs far less than a wheel built for this intent should ever be allowed. ENVE makes 4 versions of this new wheel, ranging from the 90% Descend/10% Climb heavy duty bomber to the 50/50 AM/trail option - the 70/30 we tested is the second most burly option on offer, yet it weighs in at traditional trail/XC wheel weight.

The wheels come with a cool little zip 'pouch' that houses the tubeless valve stems, if you choose to run tubeless (would anyone not with these?) and a roll of rim tape, specifically matched to the internal width of the associated wheel. We grabbed a fresh set of treads - a Maxxis Minion DHF EXO and a High Roller 2 EXO for the rear and after taping up the rims, proceeded to mount the new tires. Having changed many tires over the years and being of the mindset that you shouldn't need a tool to put tires on, I continued to fight with the tires until my thumbs were bruised, and still lost. These are tight! Perhaps my tape job wasn't as dialed as it could have been, or I should have popped the valve up out of the rim bed for that tiny bit of extra space? In either case I was forced to resort to the tire levers. Once armed with levers the battle continued, but it was clear that the tires were going to lose, and after a couple minutes the first tire was mounted! Seating the tires was easy with a floor pump, with such tight tolerance between rim and tire leaving little room for air to escape, and they popped in completely at around 40psi. The internal rim width of 25mm resulted in a nicely shaped tire, perfect for plenty of traction on the trail - only yourself to blame if you lose that front end with these bad boys.

On The Trail

Many may have heard that the best place to save weight is at the wheel. Not being one to run thin, flimsy tires, this often means looking at better wheelsets, but in the past that wasn't all that feasible either, unless you were prepared to ride on a pair of wet noodles. These days there are a lot of good options for strong wheels that come at a reasonable weight, but the M70 wheels are in their own league. They feel as stout, if not more, than a number of downhill wheels ridden in the past, but save hundreds of grams on even more recent trail bike wheelsets. This amounted to great acceleration once the hammer went down on the first climb and when getting on it down flatter sections of trail, but also makes it easier to move the bike around on the trail. It wasn't until we stopped pussyfooting about though that we were really treated to the full extent of the M70's abilities on the trail. Coming into one of the best corners in Squamish, the bike was prepared and loaded up in the corner with everything we had - but were never ready for what happened next. The lateral stiffness in the wheels resulted in the bike being spat out in such an unexpected manner that we ended up running off the trail, and all without any hint of breaking a bead (with 22psi in the rear). A few more rides in and getting familiar with how the wheel feels when placed under full pressure, this is something we don't want to go without.

Another key benefit noticed in the M70s was through rough, chundery sections of trail. The wheels take it all in their stride, extending beyond the propulsion normally experienced off every little backside of trail encountered. This helps incredibly with acceleration through the trail and the more aggressive you get, the more they give back. The ride is smoother, more compliant and more precise than anything else we have experienced from a wheelset, leading you to believe in getting away with more than you probably should try, but often do… hucks and all.

Long Term Durability

We've had absolutely no structural issues with the M70 wheel set, they've been flawless! The most important elements are the ride they provide and the strength and durability, which are all covered by the truckload! As mentioned above, there has been no need to tension any spokes yet and they do nothing but continue to exceed our expectations as we push them harder and further on every ride.

We've heard quite a number of rocks bounce off these hoops but have noticed little more than a bit of damage to the stickers, which are thin at best, so expect this to happen. The main point is that there is no damage to the rims yet with multiple fairly solid rock strikes in recent weeks as the trails have been drying out. The DT hubs that our test set were built on have been solid as well and make for easy maintenance with DT's simple and well thought out internals. We have had issues with bearings dying in DT's earlier than expected recently, but they are fairly simple to replace and besides, the hoops are what you really care about, right?Nevertheless, these wheels exhibit no problems in this department.

Things That Could Be Improved

Not that we've had any issues with spoke tension thus far (which is a really good sign), but if we did, having to take everything apart to twist a spoke half a turn here and a quarter there would be a royal pain! Carbon hoops tend not to have issues with running out of true, but I would imagine that at some point the spokes will need tensioning. You would think that having the ability to give a couple of tweaks to the spokes while the wheel is on the bike, or without taking the tire and rim strip out would be advantageous.

The spoke nipple being internal actually has some sound rationale, with a smaller hole being stronger than a larger one (spoke hole as oppose to nipple) and ENVE adopting a patented technology to create the holes for the spokes and the valve stem. This process sees ENVE mold the holes into the rim during construction rather than drilling through the fibers of the rim after it is built, resulting in completely intact fibers around the rim and in turn adding to the wheel's durability. The potential awkwardness of the internal nipples for many will no doubt be outweighed by the durability and strength afforded by this construction process - they have been for us so far.

A final point - it sounds kind of lame, but when you throw down $2,700 US for a wheelset, you want everything to be dialed, everything. The stickers on the wheels are cheap and thin, tearing and ripping with ease and after 8 weeks use, our rear wheel especially has started to look a little ragged. It's unfortunate they're starting to look this way after such a short period of time and while nothing will stop every bit of damage, a more robust sticker or a different method of getting the graphics on there would keep your expensive wheels looking tight for longer. We can only imagine the thin vinyl is to help keep the weight down, which to be fair, is a far more important selling point.

What's The Bottom Line?

ENVE wheels are lusted over for a reason, they're simply amazing on the trail, adding to the ride in a way we honestly weren't even convinced we would notice. They have added subtleties to the way the bike handles that only increase the experience on the trail, making every ride more fun than the last as you push to see what else can be gotten away with. The M70 wheels are burly, so if you're on a trail bike and are at all nervous about carbon hoops, these may well be the best and most confidence inspiring route to go. They are by no means a budget item, but what's more and more apparent in this day of technology is that you get what you pay for.

For more information visit www.enve.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2015 Esquire Shorts 3/30/2014 8:48 AM
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Tested: Royal Racing Esquire Short

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas

Riding apparel over the last number of years has changed. Gone are the long, baggy items, replaced with more form fitting clothing, a move that we feel is an entirely good thing! This isn't to say we should ride in skin tight clothing, in fact, I'm an advocate for the 'no lycra necessary' movement, but wearing gear so baggy that it would catch on your bars, seat, and tree branches as you whiz by is not only ridiculous, it's highly impractical.

Having said that there are still baggier fits available, if you so desire. There are also close to lycra tight cuts available and then there are the items that fall in the middle. Royal Racing's Esquire short positions itself right in this category, with a comfortable, functional fit that will appeal to the majority of riders, not because they're boring, but because it makes the most sense. We've been rallying the trails in the Esquire for the entire BC winter and have now had more than enough time in it to share our thoughts.

Esquire Short Highlights

  • 4-way stretch water repellent
  • Sweat wicking polyester fabric
  • Spandex lower back expander panel
  • Mesh vents for maximum air circulation
  • Dual 'hook and loop' waist adjusters
  • DWR coated
  • Non rattle snap lock zippers
  • 2 open hand pockets
  • Waterproof stash pocket
  • Heat transfer logos
  • Detachable padded pro-level pant liner
  • Bar tacked stress points
  • MSRP: $119.95 USD

Initial Impressions

The Esquire short is a high tech piece of apparel. The materials are top tier, with 4-way stretch fabric making for an incredibly comfortable fit. The vents are well placed down the legs, with some finer exhaust vents appropriately positioned around the back of the short. The lightweight mesh material used for the vents together with the 4-way stretch polyester fabric over the rest of the short result in a very lightweight item - very close to the weight of modern boardshorts (surf or swim trunks to some).

The stash pocket is well placed on the side, up by the waist, and is waterproof (which presents its own problem, more on this below). Unfortunately, this is the only sealable pocket in the short, with the other options for stashing things being the regularly positioned open hand pockets. We've mentioned in the past our issues with the lack of ability to secure anything in these and though very nice for standing around with your hands in your pockets, they're perhaps not the most functional in cycling.

Sizing on the Esquire short is good. The very flexible qualities of the short can leave you wondering if perhaps a size down would be better in some cases. This will depend on the fit that you seek, though generally if you are on the lower end of the size range it may be more desirable to jump down. The waist adjusters are great, they don't get in the way nor do they create pressure points and they allow you to fine tune the fit quickly and easily.

On The Trail

The lightweight materials and flexibility of the short make for one heck of a comfortable item to ride in. We can't comment on breathability in warm conditions, as we were riding it through the winter months, but it certainly seems adequately vented and should not present any issues when the mercury rises. In the wet the short performs well, postponing the dreaded full soak thanks to the use of light polyesters and the (temporary) DWR coating. The 'spandex lower back expander panel' is the only part of the short that presents an issue when riding in the rain. The panel soaks up moisture and starts to sag under its own weight when it gets saturated. For me personally this type of panel is not and never has been a selling feature on shorts, and could easily be left out.

The stash pocket was made a little larger this year (compared to the previously tested Signature short) and now easily fits your phone, your multi-tool, or even both items together! The pocket is also waterproof, which keeps the elements from affecting your valuable piece of digital technology; however, with the heat generated from the body, condensation forms within this space, effectively wetting your phone anyway. It may not be as bad as pouring rain, but it is something to keep a close eye on.

The short is comfortable enough for hours in the saddle and can be worn for trail riding or DH, with the fit being just right for all disciplines. We never had the Esquire short get in the way on technical sections of trail that required awkward moves, and it most often went unnoticed, an indication that it was just doing what it was supposed to.

Long Term Durability

The Esquire short has seen a full winter of riding in BC and still looks as good as new, after rolling around in the mud and countless wash cycles. The only weak point where we see this short potentially breaking down is the spandex back panel, which could lose its elasticity over time. Otherwise, short of snagging it on something (due to rider error/hack skills) the rest of the short will no doubt charge on for years.

Things That Could Be Improved

As mentioned above, the expandable back panel is a waste of material. Shorts without this panel remain equally comfortable in the dry but shoot straight into the lead when comfort in the wet is thrown in the mix. The panel adds weight, soaks water quicker and in our opinion is a weak point in the short's design. The waterproof pocket is a great idea, addressing the fact that many riders will want their phone on them while out on a ride (after all, we can't post blurry photos to Instagram without it). We're interested to see if there is a way to retain the waterproof aspect without creating a pocket full of condensation, once the rider has warmed up. Also, the waterproof waist pocket being the only sealable pocket is a shame, leaving little room to stash items securely when out riding. If you ride with a pack, this is no big deal, but for those that find packs uncomfortable, it could be a problem.

In summary, there are a couple of items that could be improved; however, none are issues that we see as reason enough not to pursue this product, we are merely being picky, OCD, mountain bikers.

What's The Bottom Line?

We're big fans of the Royal Esquire short. Its flexibility and light weight make for a very comfortable item to ride in and we see many hours of saddle time in its future. When being picky, it is not without its flaws, but these are very minor gripes and to this day we have yet to come across the perfect riding short. Simply put, if you require a comfortable short with a small amount of storage, the Esquire is something to include on your wish list.

For more visit www.royalracing.com


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2014 Stage Jersey 3/10/2014 8:58 PM
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Tested: Royal Racing Stage Jersey

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by AJ Barlas // Photos by Jon Anthony and AJ Barlas

Royal Racing has hit the trails with more new apparel for 2014, and a number of these items are targeted specifically at Enduro. Input from Enduro racers around the world, including Justin Leov, Neil "the Don” Donoghue and Steve Peat, has resulted in the birth of items like the Stage jersey. But don't worry if you're not racing Enduro, this collection is really well suited to general mountain biking use, or trail riding as it was commonly referred to prior to the Enduro craze. We've spent the winter riding in some of this gear and have had more than enough wash cycles to give you our thoughts on the jersey.


Stage Jersey Highlights

  • Active moisture management T-Dot fabric
  • Large micro mesh vents
  • Zip neck
  • Lycra edged push up cuffs
  • MSRP: $59.95

Initial Impressions

The Stage jersey is a pretty good looking number! The cut is simple, but the off axis split in colors on the body and the sleeves gives it a dynamic look that has its own identity among the other lines available from Royal. We found the fit to be quite good, with just the right length in the arms and body, without being overly baggy. We did mention in our review of theStage jacket that the overall length on this jersey was longer than the jacket, and we feel that it's the jersey that is bang on (the jacket could be longer).

The jersey features mesh venting down each side and under the sleeves, keeping the weight down and the airflow high on those warmer days. Materials are fairly standard, and in a similar fashion to the Stage jacket, the jersey is a no frills item focused on value. Taking some stylistic cues from the XC trail riding scene, it includes a zip down the front, enabling it to be opened right up when overheating - useful on those long transfer stages. One point we found interesting was the lack of pockets on the back, and while it isn't something we would personally look for, jerseys with a front zip do commonly include this. Maybe it's not deemed “Enduro?” Either way, some trail riders may find the lack of rear pockets a problem on a jersey such as this.

On The Trail

The jersey's sizing and cut strike a good balance. The fit allowed us to move around freely when riding while still being tight enough for the jersey to remain in place even when things got a little wild and exaggerated body language was required to pull the reigns back in. The somewhat tighter fit also reduces the risk of tagging a passing tree branch, something we have experienced in the past, unfortunately with pretty new items as well.

The back panel of the jersey is a tad longer than the front, providing perfect coverage when hunched up over your bars during those painful climbs, but is not so long that you end up with a beaver tail flapping away behind you as you blast your way down your favorite trail. Dialed!

Things That Could Be Improved

We don't see any real need for improvements when considering the price point Royal Racing targeted with the Stage jersey. Sure, some more technical materials could be utilized, but they would only increase the price while potentially still going unnoticed in the performance category. The lack of a pocket of any sort on the rear panel is a little bit of a surprise considering the overall styling of the jersey, but while some may find it frustrating that it is not there, we actually enjoyed the clean look sans pockets.

Long Term Durability

After a full winter of riding almost exclusively in this jersey, we can quite confidently report that there have been no issues. It has been washed a lot, with the mucky conditions resulting in a filthy jersey almost every time we were out on the bike. It has taken it all in stride and still looks as good as the day we pulled it out of the packaging, ready for more of the same.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Royal Stage jersey is a fresh take on a common trail riding garment from Royal. The comfortable fit, edgy graphics, and good choice of colors should appeal to most riders. The zippered front may throw some riders off, but you really don't notice it once in the saddle and riding, and it's a welcome addition when you get hot under the collar. For the money, you can't go wrong with the Stage jersey, and you will stand out from the rest of the pack too - unless they're wearing the same kit.

For more details visit www.royalracing.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2015 Stage Jacket 2/4/2014 9:14 PM
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Tested: Royal Racing Stage Jacket

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas

A riding jacket that works well is a tricky piece of gear to find - both for the consumer looking for the ideal jacket, and the designer developing it. Depending on where you do most of your riding, water repellence, warmth and breath-ability become prerequisites of varying importance, and striking the perfect balance between these attributes is key.

In Squamish, we generally need all of the above for a jacket to work well. Our 'off-season' involves plenty of wet, cold rides, with the body working hard enough to really generate some heat. The Royal Stage jacket is a soft shell jacket developed specifically for riding in cooler, damp conditions, and we've been putting it to the test for the better part of winter thus far, in conditions ranging from -10c to mild, wet days around +10c.

Royal Racing Stage Jacket Highlights

  • Technical DWR fleece faced double weave Nylon fabric
  • Oversized front double opening vents/pockets
  • Rear venting strategically placed above hydration pack positioning
  • Internal storm flap
  • Lycra cuff and waist trim/taped neck seam
  • MSRP: $109.99 USD

Initial Impressions

The Stage jacket is without doubt a no frills jacket. There are no fancy waterproof zips, venting or stitching. The styling is simple and all business - similar to that of a base model Ford Focus, its sole purpose is function without any glam. But this is what Royal set out to achieve when setting out to develop a jacket that would keep you warm during cold days on the bike. The vents work out of the same zip as the pockets, running vertically up each side of the front of the jacket. The rear vent works in a fairly common 'exhaust' fashion, though it is positioned higher than most average riding packs will reach, resulting in a jacket that still vents with a pack on.

The rear vent is always open and covered with a logo adorned flap of extra material to hold the elements out. Sizing for the jacket was a little odd, with a large fit - the recommended size for my height - being a little short in the body. It was actually shorter than the exact same size of the Royal Stage Jersey (review to come). The result was the jersey hanging beneath the waist of the jacket, a minimum of an inch. Tucking the jersey in, the jacket is long enough to work, but this is not ideal and worth noting.

On The Trail

In the past I've personally avoided soft shell jackets when it comes to riding. They're great to wear casually, with the soft material being more comfortable than the rigid nylon shells out there, but riding in them always seemed like a bad idea… until now. This soft shell breathes better than other (nylon) jackets I've ridden in and despite the added warmth of the material, often resulted in less sweating. When it was a little milder out, the vents on the front of the jacket did a great job of pushing the warm, stagnant air out through the vent in the back.

Colder days and the Stage jacket were a great match, the intended use case for this jacket. On the warmer days, up to around +10c, the jacket was a little hot, but anything below that and it was great. Th jacket also saw a number of wetter rides that resulted in the it being soaked through by the end, though only just enough to get the closest layer beneath it wet. If we're talking about a light drizzle the jacket keeps you dry, but any more than that, or if you stay out for an extended period of time, the soft shell is not the best option. It is also worth noting that the material gets heavier than your regular nylon shell when it begins to really soak up the water.

Long Term Durability

After a few wash cycles the reflective logos on the sleeve and other areas of the jacket have begun to wear off. But with the jacket being positioned as mountain bike clothing, are the (small) reflective details even all that functional? The Stage jacket is coated with DWR, which gives it its water repellent qualities. While we haven't spent enough time in the jacket to comment on the life of the coating, it is known that it doesn't last forever, especially when used regularly in wet conditions. If the jacket is used for warmth and to keep the occasional light drizzle off a rider, the coating should last some time.

Aside from the above, the jacket has been flawless, with zero zip malfunctions or excessive wear to any of the materials on the jacket to report, despite the particularly abrasive winter conditions it has had to endure.

Things That Could Be Improved

Under the conditions it was developed for, the Stage jacket worked really well and was comfortable to ride in. The jacket's material does cause dirt and mud to cling to it, which isn't ideal for riding in really mucky conditions, but realistically this is not a surprise on a soft shell. It would also be nice to see sizing consistent across Royal's range, a point made especially clear with the same model jersey, in the same size, being longer than the jacket.

What's The Bottom Line?

Colder, less damp conditions were when the Royal Stage jacket shone and on these days I would forget that I was wearing it, indicative of it doing its job well. The jacket was really comfortable, and I appreciated the light weight and the simple, to the point design and functionality. Riding in these colder, drier conditions is what Royal design the Stage for and under these circumstances, it rates very highly. While it also does a good enough job of keeping you dry on wetter, muckier rides, it's not ideal, and if it gets a little milder, many will find it a little warm. Both these points are worth noting, despite the jacket's intent not falling directly inline with either scenario.

For more information visit www.royalracing.com.

Bonus Galleries: 35 Jon Anthony Action Shots and 9 Detail Jacket Shots


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Kenda Nevegal X Pro Tire 1/10/2014 12:03 AM
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Tested: Kenda Nevegal X Pro Tire

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

A few years ago, partially from boredom and partially thanks to new developments from manufacturers in the industry, I decided the time had come to try some of the different tires that were hitting the market. Today the waters are still being tested. There have been some great tires in that time and some new faves, so when the chance to skid about on the updated Kenda Nevegal came up I figured, why not? Maybe they've improved. After all, quite a bit has changed since the original version was introduced.

The original Nevegal was a popular tire, though not so much with those that, shall we say, have high expectations of their tires. This new tire, labeled the Kenda Nevegal X Pro, is a downsized version of the original Nevegal DH tire that is 150 grams lighter and also features more aggressively ramped knobs to improve rolling resistance. An interesting touch is the optimization of the knob size for different tire sizes, with the 29er version getting smaller knobs to compensate for the larger tire contact patch. Made with Kenda's Dual Tread Compound (DTC), the Nevegal X Pro is aimed at the Enduro, Trail, and XC market, and is available in all wheel sizes with a range of widths to suit most applications.

Nevegal X Pro Tire Features

  • Available in all 3 wheel sizes: 26, 27.5 and 29-inch
  • Available in 2.1 (26 & 650b), 2.2 (29), and 2.35-inch (26 & 650b) widths
  • Designed for use in "rough and rocky terrain, light mud, hard pack, and dry terrain"
  • UST compatible
  • DTC (Dual Tread Compound - 60A durometer center and 50A on edges)
  • Weight: 787g (650b x 2.35 - tested)
  • Price: $64.95

Setup & Initial Impressions

Fitting the tires tubeless proved to be one of my most difficult yet. The SRAM ROAM 50 wheels they were fit to have had new and old tires installed with nothing more than a track pump and minimal effort, but the Nevegal X Pro treads required some time with an air compressor, two sets of hands and removal of the valve core in an effort to get as much air in as fast as possible. In the end, we got them, and perhaps with a different wheel/rim this would be different? Still, it's worth noting. Once installed it was clear that this is a rather svelte 2.35 tire, with a low profile and less volume than a number of treads that have been on my bikes lately.

The use of intermediate knobs are often a little concerning for us. On the X Pro they appeared to stand out quite prominently, which together with the round tire profile left us to wonder how well the cornering knobs would be able to hook up in the dirt. The rubber also felt firmer than the indicated 60A center knobs and 50A corner knobs suggested, but can you really feel that, especially on a tire that hasn't been broken in? We gave these tires the benefit of the doubt and decided to let their performance on the trail do the talking for them.

On The Trail

The Nevegal X Pro tires were tested in a large variety of terrain and conditions. From the always fun, dry, dusty hardpack of Northern California to the frozen solid velcro traction of the North Shore and everything in between. The first thing we noticed was an obvious improvement in the sidewall. Gone are the droopy, mushy sidewalls of old - no more squirming about, a welcome improvement. Not only did this assist in preventing flats in rough terrain or at low pressures, but it also increased the stability of the tire.

This tire rolls very well for one of this size and intended purpose, getting up to speed easily enough when the time came to put the power down. Climbing traction was good too, but that's nowhere near as fun of course. Braking traction was fine, and the X Pro tracks well while on the anchors. In wet, rooty conditions it would tend to scatter about a little too erratically while trying to slow down, but others can do similar unpredictable things in this situation. The same cannot be said for cornering traction, with the X Pro exhibiting a very vague feeling while cornering or rallying across off-camber terrain. This faint feel led to some very near misses and were it not for some dumb luck and awareness of running a tire I didn't know, it would no doubt have resulted in some spectacular offs.

The X Pro performed best in 'tacky' conditions, though even then it would lose traction sooner than others when pushing hard into corners. We tested with varying air pressures, and while some adjustments bettered the performance, the X Pro never truly inspired confidence. This lack of cornering stability seems to come from the imposing intermediate knobs, which due to the very round nature of the tire did more of the cornering than the outermost blocks. The DTC compounds also felt firmer than many others ridden. These attributes created traits we never overcame in the tire.

Long Term Durability

The Kenda Nevegal X Pro tires remained on our bike for roughly six weeks, during which time they showed little wear. Despite being ridden in dusty NorCal, damp PNW and frozen B.C., the majority of the riding they saw was damp and wet, which doesn't wear on the tire as much as other conditions. They did make it through the abrasive conditions of frozen B.C. relatively unscathed, conditions which often see tires begin to shred a little. No flats were experienced, even when testing at silly low tire pressures, and no issues with burping or deformities were observed in the tire either.

Things That Could Be Improved

The elephant in the room is lack of traction, or more to the point, cornering traction. Today's riding style requires a tire that almost makes you feel like you're cheating for using it, and as a result sees riders pushing hard and fast into every section of the trail. I would definitely welcome Kenda taking this tire in that direction, especially given the intended rider demographic of the Nevegal X Pro. I would take slower rolling, faster wearing in return for better cornering abilities any day of the week, as I'm sure many would!

What's The Bottom Line?

Kenda have made a few good improvements to the Nevegal in this newest iteration - they roll much quicker, are more stable, long-wearing, and tubeless compatible. Unfortunately for the serious crowd of riders - those looking for the most traction and the confidence garnered from it - Kenda have more work to do. The X Pro just doesn't like being pushed hard, especially while cornering, which is a quality expected of something billed as the "ultimate tire for all conditions." If you're looking for a tire that will give you confidence to hit sections of trail fast and aggressively, leaving you to wonder how you keep cheating death, this may not be the best option for you. If you're an intermediate, less aggressive rider and would like something with a little more meat on it while still rolling well, the Nevegal X Pro could be worth a look - it's a decent 'big-ish' tire. The X Pro is due on shelves in early February, 2014.

For more details, visit www.kendatire.com.



About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset 12/13/2013 11:19 PM
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Tested: SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by A.J. Barlas // Photos by A.J. Barlas and Jon Anthony

There's a lot to consider when seeking a new wheelset for your favourite bike: weight, lateral stiffness, durability, tubeless ready, UST compatible or not, looks, just to name a few. And nowhere is the competition as strong across all of the aforementioned aspects as in the 'all-mountain', 'trail', or dare I say, 'Enduro' segment. In addition to requiring wheels to be light, stiff, and strong, this segment also has to cover anyone from the weekend warrior through to the semi- or factory-sponsored professional racer, all of which add to the complexities and challenges facing the product.

The folks at SRAM don't appear to be afraid of a challenge and ever since the 2011 launch of their first mountain bike wheel, the Rise, their wheelbuilding has come along in leaps and bounds. This is readily apparent in their Roam and Rail wheel options, with the latter of the two a little wider and stiffer than it's Roam (aluminum) counterpart and the subject of this long term test.

SRAM Rail 50 Wheelset Highlights

  • Available in all 3 wheel sizes: 26, 27.5 and 29in
  • Lightweight aluminum rim with asymmetrical TAPER CORE profile
  • WIDE ANGLE profile: 23c, 28mm outside rim width
  • UST compatible
  • Available with 11-speed XD™ Driver Body, 10- or 9-speed driver body
  • Aluminum nipples with nylon lock ring
  • SOLO SPOKE design with double butted, stiff steel spokes
  • Durable hub internals with Star Ratchet system
  • SIDE SWAP easy conversion to all axle types
  • DOUBLE-DECKER hub shell design
  • Weight: 1690g (26in), 1750g (27.5in), 1830g (29in). Wheel pair in lightest configuration
  • MSRP: $1072

Initial Impressions

The Rail 50 wheelset is available in all 3 wheel sizes, can run any axle configuration (except for 150mm and 157mm DH) and features a 23mm internal rim width. It's proving more and more difficult to get hold of a wheel that has the adjustability to swap the front axle for the 20mm standard, something I think we should thank SRAM for providing here. The finish of the rim is a black anodized number and one that left many thinking I was testing out a carbon hoop. Intentional? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not really.

The wheels look great. From the cutting edge graphics to the finish of the rim, the hub and even the spokes used make this one bad-ass looking wheelset. The bladed spokes give the illusion that there are more than 24 in each wheel, a tactic employed by a number of wheel manufacturers in recent times. The rim also features an asymmetric profile to help regulate spoke tension, since more even tension results in a more stable wheel. To that end, the spoke bed has been pushed toward the non-drive side of the rear wheel. The use of a disc brake which requires room for a rotor has created a similar issue on the front wheel, and a similar design approach was taken here too. It's obvious that the intent from day one for these wheels was to be strong, stable and durable.

Durability will be put to the test by many though, so making a wheel that is easy to work on is equally important. The Rail wheel utilizes DT Swiss rear hub internals which are well-known for their serviceability and reliability - a good choice by SRAM here. Something that many may miss, and a clever additional reason for the use of bladed spokes is the fact that the flat surface gives you something to grab onto when truing the wheel. Anyone who has tried truing a wheel built with straight-pull spokes before can attest to how difficult it can be at times.

On The Trail

These wheels are the first 650b wheels I have ridden. I had my concerns over going to a slightly larger wheel and how that larger diameter would affect lateral stiffness. To be completely honest, these were stiffer than both sets of 26" hoops I was riding previously, the DH bike included. Some could argue this reflects the negligible differences between 650b and 26" hoops, and I would happily agree, but there is more to it than that, in this case at least.

The focus on creating a wide stance at the hub flange is the real secret sauce here, achieved in part because of the 'double decker' construction which allowed the inboard spokes to be positioned even wider apart. These subtle differences, which translate to the flange moving outward less than 2mm on the drive side of the rear wheel, can increase the lateral stiffness of a wheel by 15%! In the end, the wheels felt stiffer than others on the trail, but never in a bad way. I never found myself pinging off obstacles, at least not through any fault of the wheels. Continuing down the trail I soon welcomed with open arms the comfort and confidence obtained through the ride quality of the Rail 50 wheels.

Of course, stiffer isn't always better, and people do have their preferences. Nicolas 'The Alien' Vouilloz actually prefers the Roam wheels, opting for the slightly softer flex over that of the Rail 50. If you're quite confident that you enjoy a little more flex in your wheel, rest assured that the Roam series can meet those needs with the same technology, quality and reliability I have found in the Rail 50.

The test wheels were wrapped with some good ol' Maxxis rubber in the form of the High Roller II, thankfully in their new tubeless ready Exo version. The tire profile with the Rail 50 wheels was great and when pushed into corners the tires remained predictable, conforming well to the terrain, without rolling off the rim. We set them up tubeless with nothing more than the track pump and some sealant. There have been no issues with burping, even with the low pressures I prefer to run (18–20psi front and 22–24psi in the rear), the wheels assist in holding off camber and root riddled lines with confidence and add zest to the cornering and acceleration of the bike.

Long Term Durability

While the trails are not currently running as rough and ragged as they can in the summer months, we still have a few different elements that can test a product's durability in the form of water, grit, muck, surprise holes left from the summer and freezing temperatures. These wheels have not needed a single twist on a spoke key to date, and while that is not to say there isn't a slight wobble in the wheel (I can get a little lazy when it's cold), there is nothing alarming that has warranted a check and the spoke tension feels good and even to the hand.

The use of DT Swiss internals for the hubs was a great decision, this is one of the more reliable freehub systems around. They are quiet, but do start to make more noise as the hub wears in. If you're into loud hubs, they can be made to meet those needs with a little fine tuning too. I also really have to once again commend SRAM on the adaptability of the hubs, especially the front.

Adaptability may not sound like something that has anything to do with longevity at first, but if you purchase these for a 20mm axle, only to update your fork to the ever more dominating 15mm standard in the near future, you will be thankful for a wheel such as the Rail 50 and its ability to easily accommodate different axles. Even more to the point would be riders on a 15mm axle currently but looking at the likes of the BOS Deville or the X-Fusion Vengeance HLR, both of which sport 20mm axles. In either case, given how solid these wheels have performed so far, there is no reason you wouldn't keep them around long enough to meet a new fork or forks in the future!

While on the subject of longevity, replacement parts have been a concern with pre-built wheelsets in the past. SRAM have replacements available should you taco or crack a rim, and any straight pull spoke of the appropriate length will work as a replacement as well. 650b wheels are still a bit harder to find parts for, but the spoke lengths on this particular wheelset are fairly standard. If you wish to keep that sassy, flat-spoke look the wheels had when new, you can have your local bike store order original replacement spokes too.

Things That Could Be Improved

After the time we've spent on the Rail 50 wheels so far, we don't really see much room for improvement. The only very minor gripe we have is more aesthetic than anything and borderline neurotic at that. But given the attention to detail and the effort made to produce a wheel that not only functions well, but looks great on the bike too, I need to mention it.

As you look over the wheels and drool over the quality and attention to detail throughout, you will no doubt catch something that is off compared to the rest. The weld sits beneath a black piece of tape that also serves to highlight the wheel's UST compatibility, and without removing the latter, it appears that the weld could have been polished up a little better. This is not uncommon with welded rims, but I think with so much attention going into every other aspect of the wheel, both minor and major, cleaning up this joint would have been a really nice touch.

At the end of the day, does it really matter? Not at all! Unless you're an obsessive compulsive design dork like this reviewer and really tweak out on the finer details, chances are it would go unnoticed. In the end, everything else is so well done and these wheels have performed so well thus far, that the smiles induced from the snappy cornering and instant acceleration on the trail will soon have you forget this minor flaw.

What's The Bottom Line?

I really appreciate that SRAM joined only a small number of other manufacturers in thinking outside the box when designing the Rail 50 wheelset. It can be a daunting task to do something a little different but here SRAM have mixed it up with the best, utilizing DT Swiss internals and a number of new techniques to bring to market a wheel that can go the extra mile without adding unnecessary grams.

The Rail 50 wheelset in 650b configuration is lighter, yet stiffer than my previous 26" trail bike wheelset, which was also a quality build. There have been zero issues from the outset and the Rails have provided a lot of good times on the trails thanks to their excellent characteristics. They're not carbon, nor are they available in the fantastic plastic, but they may well be the next best thing!

The Rail 50 wheels thread the needle between the durability and functionality required for the weekend warrior yet cater to the factory pilots with stability and pro looks. Although I haven't been able to test them in conditions similar to the ragged summer months here, I have been very impressed with them to date. They will leave your ride looking fresh and riding with zest, which is a great touch to add to any bike.

For more details, visit www.sram.com.

Bonus Galleries: 46 Jon Anthony Action Shots and 11 Up Close Shots of the Wheels


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Easton Havoc UST Wheelset 9/25/2013 12:15 AM
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Tested: Easton Havoc UST 150 Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

The lightest aluminum downhill specific wheels on the market?! That should be enough to pique your interest, as it did for this individual just over a year ago when Easton announced their latest DH wheel. Now add in the fact that these are being raced all over the world under the likes of Steve Smith, Sam Blenkinsop and Loic Bruni, and these wheels certainly deserve your attention.

When the opportunity presented itself to attempt to crush a set by ripping about the classic Whistler Bike Park trails for a few months, you can bet that I jumped at the opportunity.

Havoc UST 150 Wheelset Highlights

  • Easton's EA90 Alloy Material
  • Internal Rim Width 23mm // External Rim Width 28mm
  • Front Wheel: 24 3X Sapim Double-Butted Spokes
  • Rear Wheel: 28 3X Sapim Straight-Gauge Spokes
  • Front Hub: 20mm Axle
  • Rear Hub: 12x150/157mm Axle Compatibility // 3-Pawl Design with 32 Points of Engagement
  • Seal Cartridge Bearings with Adjustable Tension
  • Weight: 1,870 grams
  • MSRP: $1,000 ($555 rear, $445 front)

It should be noted that Easton offers the Havoc wheelset in two versions. One with 24 spokes per wheel made for trail and all-mountain use known simply as the Havoc, and one with the same 24 spoke front wheel and a beefed up 28 spoke rear wheel with 150mm axle spacing known as the Havoc UST 150.

Differences between the Havoc and Havoc UST 150 are in the rear hub, rim and spokes. The obvious difference is the wider hub spacing, and visually you can see that the flanges are larger as well. What's not obvious is the increased size of the 12x150/157mm rear hub allows the use of larger cartridge bearings. Easton also uses straight-gauge spokes on the Havoc UST 150 rear wheel instead of double-butted spokes, prepping it for DH use and abuse.

Initial Impressions

Right out of the box it was easy to see that Easton isn't messing around - these are indeed light! Much like many of Easton's high-end wheels that came prior to the Havoc UST 150, straight-pull spokes are used to lace the classy looking wheels together. The spokes wind through a unique large diameter hub body, which allows for nice, big bearings for longer life.

The Havoc wheels come with eyelets in the rims too, which can be a critical feature for many riders (myself included, in the past). These are no ordinary eyelets though - because they are UST (Universal System Tubeless), there is no way to push a nipple through the bed of the rim. Instead, Easton developed double-threaded nipples that are wound into the eyelets, with the spoke then wound into the nipple as usual, allowing for an air tight rim. Concern were had with how this would work once it came time to true the wheels, but more on that later.

Slapping these bad boys onto the trusty DH sled was a breeze. The disc rotors paired up well with the anodized hub interface (no facing or removal of uneven paint/surface blemishes necessary), and the cassette body slid on easily and locked into place well. Being a UST wheel, it would be a shame to test them with anything other than a tubeless setup - so I did. That said, they were not setup with UST specific rubber. 2.3-inch Specialized Butcher DH tires (equivalent to 2.5-inch Maxxis tires) were used with two scoops of tubeless sealant. So far there have been no issues. Thanks to the UST rim profile, seating was easy to do with a floor pump and the tires sealed up fine. Win, win!

Aside from the light weight being immediately noticeable, wheel bearing quality was also clear. Spinning these wheels in your hand will have you waiting quite some time for them to stop! Overall quality of the wheels seemed fantastic, showing great attention to detail, some great machining and what appeared to be a super well built 'stock' set of wheels.

On The Trail

Once on the trail, a lack of noise from the rear hub was quickly noticed, especially compared to the Hope Pro 2 EVO hub I've grown accustom to. It's not dead silent, but it is mellow like a DT Swiss hub, or perhaps a tad quieter even. There are ways to make hubs louder, if that's your thing. Engagement when getting on the gas has been nothing but reliable, with no slips, skips or faint moments with the quite standard 3-pawl, 32-point system.

Another thing I noticed was the improved acceleration offered by the lighter weight hoops, especially when compared to the old beaters that were on my DH bike prior. At just 1,870 grams, these get up to speed faster, regardless of whether you're pedaling or pumping out of corners or slower spots on the trail. Not everyone will care too much about this - after all, we're not all racers - but the benefits of lighter wheels can lead to more fun on the trail with the bike being a little easier to maneuver, pick up and throw about.

The Havoc UST 150 wheels are quite solid, though not as stiff as some of the others I've ridden recently. A downside to a wheel having more flex is the possibility of not holding lines well and not providing an adequate amount of snap out of corners. Often people overlook the ride quality of products, choosing to focus solely on weight and stiffness. Wheel flex is an attribute that I think will begin to be meddled with much more in the future (or we'll at least be more aware of it), as riders play about with spoke tension to help dampen the roughest of trails, then perhaps firm them up for more smooth, high-speed trails. Personally, the Havoc UST wheelset is great in terms of stiffness/flex, providing a happy medium. This quality shone through in the rough and ragged conditions we have had in Whistler this summer, yet they've been stiff enough to hold lines and provide sufficient snap out of high speed, bermed corners.

Long Term Durability

Being such a light wheelset, we'd be lying to say that we didn't have our concerns about durability. The wheels made it through a month of the roughest conditions the Whistler Bike Park has seen all year - possibly even to date - before requiring any attention with a spoke wrench and truing stand. Once in the stand, a couple of flat spots were noticed in the sidewall of the rear. It's been a while since I've done that to a set of rims. Even so, it was as straightforward as usual to true the Havocs, with nothing odd happening due to the dual-thread nipple. They straightened up very well and were ready for more abuse. This lasted another few weeks in the park, and at the time of writing the rear wheel requires a little love again. The rear rim may not last a full season of consistent riding in the Whistler Bike Park (or similar environment), but then again, what will? Most of the regulars up there go through two hoops a year in the rear (40+ days/year), so it's nothing out of the ordinary.

The rear hub has been faultless, despite many whips gone wrong and bouncing off all sorts of obstacles on the trails. Also, the previous woes with the old hubs appear to be gone, with no issues or play after months of abuse.

The front rim has remained straight as an arrow, with the spokes only requiring a quick twist during the initial touch up. The front hub, however, worked its way loose. Although it needs a tool similar to the Mavic hub tool, it was successfully tightened with a couple sets of circlip pliers.

For some, the Havocs should last for a couple of summers. I don't see why this set won't roll into next summer, possibly the whole season with the right kind of affection.

Things That Could Be Improved

Weight savings on a downhill bike are hard when you seek durability from your products as well. Moving some material around in the rim could result in a stronger sidewall and potentially a stiffer wheel (for those seeking extra rigidity). Nevertheless, the dents currently in the sidewalls are small, and the rims still hold a seal.

We also have to wonder, would using 32 double-butted spokes, as opposed to 28 straight-guage spokes, keep the weight similar while potentially being stronger?

What's The Bottom Line?

The Havoc UST 150 is a great, lightweight wheelset. They ran true after many days of abuse on some of the roughest, most ridden trails on the planet, with only a little more than typical attention. Personally, the flex is pretty much dialed - enough to make it comfortable while stiff enough to hold a line. There have been no issues with burping, despite not running UST specific tires, and the tire profile with the 23mm internal width is just right. The weight is admirable and the wheels feel great on the trail as a result.

If you're normally quite hard on your hoops and ride a lot, these may not be for you, but if you're seeking a lighter set of wheels to make your bike more lively, or are a racer looking for that extra second or two, then the Havocs are definitely worth a gander.

For more details, visit www.eastoncycling.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 3 reviews.

Added a product review for Sombrio Shazam Mid-Top Shoes 7/17/2013 11:34 PM
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Tested: Sombrio Shazam Shoes

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

Roughly 10 years ago, a couple of Australian rippers showed up to races with a unique looking, bicycle-specific shoe on their feet - something that hadn't been seen before. Back then the shoe of choice for flat pedal riders was often the Vans Caballero, at least Down Under anyway, but this new shoe intrigued everyone. Maybe it was simply because riders like Chris Kovarik and Nathan Rennie were winning races on them, or maybe it was the fact the shoes were unattainable for the average Joe? No matter what it was, the first Intense flat pedal shoe, a kick developed with the folks at Five Ten, was a game changer. The combo of a "sticky rubber" sole and purpose-built uppers worked very, very well for mountain biking.

Fast forward several years and a number of other bike-specific shoes have entered the ring. Almost two years ago to the day, Sombrio decided it was high time they put their design twist in the mix, launching a range of FlyerSol rubber shoes with a skate-inspired look to them. After a few months and hundreds of miles of use, it's time to weigh in on the second version of the Shazam, Sombrio's mid-top flat pedal riding shoe.

Sombrio Shazam Highlights

  • Gusseted and reinforced self-centering tongue
  • Functional heel pull-tabs
  • Ultra-durable liner
  • Triple needle construction toe box
  • Innovative laser de-bossed lace cover system
  • Proprietary FlyerSol rubber compound
  • Aeriole EVA midsole
  • Super kush Dura4rm insoles
  • S-Foil progressive rocker, and positive cast logo lug design
  • Reinforced waxed action leather uppers (White)
  • Reinforced waxed canvas/suede uppers (Electrocuted Lemon)
  • MSRP $119

Initial Impressions

Out of the box I was impressed with the Shazam shoes. They felt light and minimal, and the materials appeared durable. Trying them on gave a similar sense of satisfaction when my size 11US foot fit like a glove into the fresh mid-top. One of the key features that stood out upon initial inspection was the intelligent and functional placement of durable leathers where the shoe is most likely to see the scuffing and heavy abrasions from general use - notably the heel cup and toe box.

For comparison, the sole of the Shazam is thinner than Five Ten Impacts, providing more pedal feel and flexibility while holding a little more rigidity over similar shoes like the Vans Gravel. The logo tread pattern looked like it would grab pedal pins nicely, adding to the traction of the sole.

Concerning fit, the shoes aren't super wide, and are best matched with narrow feet. With minimal padding throughout they fit snugly. The mid-tops are a true mid-top, reaching up the ankle far enough to add support and help prevent smacking ankles on the crank arms (or whatever else in the event of a crash). The shoe is also well-sealed with the addition of the lace cover system.

On The Trail

First ride for these bumblebees was straight to the Whistler Bike Park. The shoes took all of one day to break-in with the help of a chairlift and the occasional hike-a-bike back up the trail to right some wrongs. At the end of the day I was happy to take the Shazams off my feet, but did not have any pressure points or blisters. One immediately apparent issue was a slight rubbing on the back of my bony heal (but whose isn't?) while hiking. However, there have been no issues when wearing them casually, or when remaining on the bike. Given that hiking with a downhill bike is quite common, this may be something to consider and is something I will keep note of as I kick these shoes in the dirt more throughout the summer. Why this is happening I can't be to sure - the shoe is tight enough to avoid any heel lift, leaving me to go back to the lack of padding as already mentioned.

Initially the Shazam shoes were mated with DMR Vault pedals, a combination that I personally was not a huge fan of - then again I'm not sure the Vault pedals are right for me, but I digress. Once standing tall on a pair of trusty Easton Flatboys I was a happy fella, as the smaller pins seemed to play quite well with the many little indentations available in the sole between the miniature Sombrio logos. Grip was great, even in the super dusty, loose and rough conditions we are currently experiencing in British Columbia. The sole has remained comfortable while rallying down the trail, with just the right amount of flex and feel. This can be viewed as an incredibly personal part of footwear choice for mountain bikers, so I won't go to far into it, but will say that they have more pedal feel and are less stiff than Five Ten Impacts, but a little stiffer than a Vans Gravel (another favorite flat pedal shoe of mine).

The shoes saw some testing in semi-damp conditions early on (think hero dirt with occasional puddles thrown in), but between feeling out the shoes and not enjoying the contact with the aforementioned pedal choice, it's hard to comment on their wet weather capabilities. Given the experience thus far, I would be surprised if they offered anything but great grip with a decent pedal.

The shoes have kept my feet dry when splashing through puddles while keeping a good amount of trail debris out, something that has been a problem with other shoes. This is likely thanks to a combination of the close-fitting style, mid-top height, and lace cover system.The lace cover could be seen as a love/hate thing for some, but to be honest, they didn't appear to be noticeably hotter than similar flat pedal shoes. The lace cover also keeps the laces secure without needing to tie double knots.

Things That Could Be Improved

The close-fitting style isn't all good, though, with the seam along the perimeter of the tongue causing some discomfort on top of my foot if sufficient attention wasn't paid while lacing up. It's easy enough to adjust when fitting the shoes, but a little more padding in the tongue and a more refined seam around the tongue would no doubt increase the level of comfort.

The only other gripe with the shoes has been a strange lump under the heel of the left foot. Initially it was thought to be something that had made its way into the shoe and under the sole, but upon close inspection nothing was found. I can only assume that it is an irregularity in the sole of the shoe and that it would be unlikely to come across a similar problem in another pair. It doesn't affect the riding experience and is not noticeable until walking on level ground, so it's no big deal in my mind (so long as it's a one-off issue).

Long Term Durability

After a couple of months of downhill in the bike park, regularly hitting the trails after work, plus the random pumptrack session here and there, the Shazam, aside from a little dirt, looks just like when I first pulled it out of the box. The sole shows the usual wear from the pins, though even this is quite minimal. There are no loose seams, tears, or lace loops that have failed. Sombro's durable materials make for a reliable and enjoyable shoe to ride in.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Sombrio Shazam shoes have become one of my favorite pairs to hit the trails with. They offer great pedal feel and traction, mid-top support, and keep your feet happy, dry and clean. They aren't perfect however, and Sombio has a few minor problems to work out of the relatively new shoe. That said, the more I ride in them, the more I enjoy them. They continue to offer enough comfort while causing no problems on the trails. If you're looking for something a little less tacky than Five Tens while still offering great grip, the Sombrio Shazam offers exactly that in a sleeker, more casual package.

For additional details, visit www.sombriocartel.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Urge 2013 EndurOmatic Helmet 6/4/2013 11:38 PM
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Tested: Urge EndurOmatic Helmet

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

There are some crazy and great things going on in the world of helmet technology right now, seemingly coinciding with the recent popularity of Enduro racing. Maybe the fact that riders want more coverage from a lid has been a large part of the shift, though to be honest I think more coverage is a good thing no matter what style of riding. For far too long we as mountain bikers were stuck with helmets designed for road but had a visor thrown on and labeled a "mountain bike helmet."

A number of years ago there was a shift when companies like Giro began to add helmets to their line that moved away from the road bike wings and flares to a more integrated, mountain bike style and functional design. A number of helmets have continued to push this shift but up until a short while ago, they were still quite similar to what was already out there.

That's not to say that these helmets didn't function well - they met the safety standards put in place by the powers that be and surely saved many from injury. There still remained room to garner more coverage, though, in a style unique from the rest. Step into the limelight, Urge. Urge came forward with a range of interesting and unique designs, among them the EndurOmatic, an extended coverage helmet that blurs the line between cross-county and gravity. Arguably the first real step from the rest of the field, they seemed to push coverage and styling to a whole new level.

For the last couple of months I've been sporting this somewhat strange looking helmet to see how it measured up in everything from short DH races to XC and enduro events, in addition to day-to-day trail rides.

Urge EndurOmatic Highlights

  • CE1078 Certification
  • In-mold construction
  • Eight vents positioned to create internal Venturi effect
  • Flexible anti-crash visor
  • Gangsta pad anti-sweat system
  • Available in two sizes (S/M, L/XL)
  • Weight: 319 grams
  • MSRP $109.95

Initial Impressions

Surely the first thing anyone notices when they lay eyes on the Urge EndurOmatic is its odd aesthetics. This helmet is funky! Some will be totally into it and others won't - this is a completely personal thing and you'll likely either love it or hate it. Personally, I don't mind the look of it, especially when on my head. A lot of helmets tend to form a sort of muffin atop my dome and are exaggerated by my narrow face. The Urge didn't do this and is the closest any trail helmet has come to my old fave, the classic skate lid. It's actually really close in many design elements as well, though with a visor attached.

The second thing anyone is likely to notice is the weight. At 319 grams it's pushing into the weight range of full blown XC race lids! This light weight definitely aids with the comfort of the helmet. After getting used to the initial feel - as it does feel a little different to the usual - it is so comfortable that I almost never remove it from my head while out riding. Almost.

The helmet is adjusted by swapping out pads for one of two included sets of two pads, each pair of varying thickness. One pad takes up the back of the helmet and the other, the Gangsta Pad, takes up the front and leads up onto the top of the head. This doesn't allow a great deal of adjustability but is seemingly enough for most people. The Gangsta Pad helps with the comfortable fit too, and works well to soak up sweat that builds while out riding.

The lack of an easily adjustable 'cranial support' at the rear of the helmet is apparent when first fitting the EndurOmatic, which leaves it feeling as though it is not hugging onto your head, but rather sitting over it. Once the chin strap is adjusted and done up this is nearly forgotten, but it took some getting used to this on the trail. Even the classic skate lid I mentioned earlier had more of a hugging, supportive quality at the rear than the EndurOmatic. The strap mounts into the EPS shell also contain less maneuverability than most, making it difficult to set up a proper fit without the straps irritating the ears, perhaps a detail that only a few will notice or find a nuisance.

On The Trail

The EndurOmatic, despite taking a little getting used to, felt great on the trail. The light weight and comfort of a few simple pads makes for a lid that feels like you're close to wearing nothing. Despite concerns with the lack of support around the rear of the helmet, I never really noticed it moving about - maybe a little in the roughest sections of trail, but these sections would no doubt have resulted in similar movement in a more traditional fitting helmet.

For many, the largest draw to this style is the added coverage, and the Urge has no shortage. In fact the EndurOmatic comes pretty close to the coverage that a full face helmet contains in the rear, though in a thinner package. The sides of your head are also well covered, with the helmet coming down pretty close to your ears. These elements make for a helmet that feels like it has you covered, so long as it stays on in the event of a good digger.

The lack of the cranial support on the EndurOmatic leaves the helmet relying on the chin strap alone to keep it in place in the event of a spill. Without the strap buckled the helmet can fall off with the shake of your head. Even with the straps done up, pushing on the lower rear of the helmet creates a fair amount of movement - more than I personally am comfortable with. Even so, I think the helmet would remain in place in the event of a good crash, at least long enough for it to do what it is supposed to. The helmet remained in place during the few minor diggers that I had while testing.

When most first see this helmet they often ask how warm it must be. "That looks warm" and "where are the vents" comments are quite common, and while they can get tiring to hear, they are warranted. In earlier Spring and on cooler, wet days the lack of vents is not noticeable and actually favorable. However, once milder temperatures arrived, I found myself sweating more that I am used to on the trails. Urge says the eight 30cm round vents are strategically placed to create a Venturi effect, which forces cooling air to flow through the helmet. In practice, for this to be really effective, you need to be moving quickly on the trails.There is just no denying that the vents in this helmet are not the most fitting for the intended application. When grinding up steep climbs this becomes obvious, especially on hot days. The inners of the helmet also do not help the situation, with minimal extrusions to help promote air flow across a the scalp.

Long Term Durability

The helmet has held together well, with admittedly only minor knocks throughout the testing period. The straps have not frayed, the clips still work very well and the visor has remained solid and in place thanks to its flexible design. The pads have packed out a bit, leaving the helmet fitting a little looser than it did originally. This is something that has brought up a small issue for me personally, as the helmet was initially fit with the thickest set of pads. This is also a contributing factor to the helmet starting to move a little on rough sections of trail.

Things That Could Be Improved

While incredibly comfortable, in spite of initially feeling odd, the EndurOmatic is not without its problems and could benefit from a few improvements. An important update to the design of the vents, allowing more air to flow through the helmet and keeping the rider cooler on long rides, steep climbs, or even flat out sprints is an obvious one. While the Gangsta Pad does a great job of keeping sweat out of your face, it is almost outweighed by the amount of sweat produced as a result of the rest of the helmet's design.

The other update, which would make the EndurOmatic fit and stay in place better, would be to move in the direction of a more traditional support at the rear. Done well, these updates could make this helmet one of the most secure, best fitting, and most comfortable lids on the market.

What's The Bottom Line?

The EndurOmatic model name really says it all for the European helmet producer - this helmet is for the trail shredders and Enduro racers among us. It's best for those that are more focused on the descents, but can be overly warm while climbing to the top. If you don't mind taking it slow when the weather is warm, or live in a wet or cooler climate and want a comfortable, lightweight, unique looking lid that offers a lot of coverage, the Urge EndurOmatic may be for you.

For more details visit www.urgebike.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Smith PivLock V2 Sunglasses 5/31/2013 5:59 PM
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Tested: Smith PivLock V2 Glasses - Convenient Clarity and Protection

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

A number of years ago a buddy of mine rolled up for a ride wearing a pair of glasses with yellow lenses, and as is common among our group he was lovingly mocked and given a new nickname: "Cross Country Steve." He doesn't ride cross-country, but I guess the yellow tint glasses made him look a little like an XC racer boy. The nickname didn't stick around for long and neither did the glasses (he claims to have lost them now…), but as I have gained more experience and grown wiser, I realize now that he may have been the only smart one in the group back then. He was looking after one of the vital organs that assist us day after day and are key when riding bikes, his eyes.

This winter a friend nearly lost his eye when a branch whacked him firm enough to cause damage to the muscles in his eye! Thankfully he is a strong fella, because had those muscles been weaker he would be in a much worse place. After this horrible incident and discussions among others who had similar experiences, I decided it was time to take eye protection for the trail rides more seriously. I began dragging goggles out and pulling them up onto my face whenever the trail headed down. The only problem, in addition to bugging me while around my neck, was that during extra sweaty rides they would often get foggy. And so, in search of a better solution, I became the new Cross Country Steve.

Smith has vast experience in the eyewear field. If you haven't heard of them it's possible that you may have just arrived from Mars. They're known for top quality optics and hard wearing materials, especially in their lenses. They have also been at the top in performance eyewear for some time, and the release of the PivLock V2 is their latest foray into this area. After a couple months of use in a range of conditions, it's time to report on how well the new glasses work.

PivLock V2 Highlights

  • Upgraded Photochromic NXT Lenses Available
  • Impact Resistant Carbonic Lens Material
  • PivLock Interchangeable Lens System
  • Three Position Adjustable Nose Pads
  • Hydroleophobic Lens Coating
  • Slide-On Temple Tips
  • Hydrophilic Megol Nose and Temple Pads
  • MSRP $239
  • Also Available in a Larger V2 Max Size

Initial Impressions

The Smith PivLock V2 impressed me before I even took them out of the box. Yes, the packaging was cool (I'm a bit of a packaging nerd). They also come in a custom storage case that houses the glasses plus an additional three lenses. This hard case is a great little bonus and helps make it easy to take care of your investment. Lens options include the already installed clear lens, a dark 'blackout' lens, and a 'rose' photochromic lens. I also tested a second clear, photochromic lens. For those that aren't in the know, photochromic lenses get darker or lighter depending on the light conditions. The lenses are also anti-fog coated and protect from UVA/B/C rays. While the glasses themselves don't look like anything I would wear casually, they are anything but - these are a performance tool.

After scanning the directions on how the removable arms and nose piece work, I began taking them apart to see how simple it is. I was baffled. It's almost too easy. With this sort of simplicity I questioned how they would hold up and whether they would stay in place on the trail, then proceeded to swap out lenses and see how they fit with the helmet on. It's hard for me to find a pair of glasses that sit how I would like on my face (thanks to a few broken noses). The adjustable nose piece definitely helped here and is a super handy feature!

As with most Smith products, the workmanship and clarity through the 'Carbonic' impact resistant lenses was great. In fact, the clarity and lack of a frame put me off the first few rides, causing me to notice the black nose piece in my field of view. It didn't matter anyway - you forget it's there after a little while.

The clear lens has been my go-to lens, and I've used them in a range of conditions without being overly concerned for their longevity. The photochromic clear lens is a close second, often opting not to wear them when the conditions are less desirable (muddy, wet etc) in an effort to keep the lense in better condition. The rose is great too, though I prefer to keep any color adjustments out of the picture. I found the blackout lens too dark for mountain biking in the Pacific North West and Sea To Sky (where I commonly ride),thanks to the heavy tree coverage. They would work great in areas with little to no tree coverage or on a road bike.

On The Trail

It didn't take long to become accustomed to wearing the PivLock V2 glasses on the trail. Aside from the nose piece bugging me a little the first couple of rides, I often forgot they were on my face. Their minimalist design is light and offers a great, uninterrupted field of view, leaving you to get on with what you enjoy, riding your bike! The benefits are fairly obvious - you decrease your chances of damage to your eyes and no longer need to squint when flying down the trail.

In addition to protecting your eyes, the PivLock V2 glasses let you clearly see the trail coming, eliminating watery eyes on cool or dusty days and ridding almost any chance of getting dirt or mud slung up into your eye. I even had a bee bounce off the lenses one sunny afternoon! While wearing these glasses I have not had anything get in my eye, but without them I almost immediately have issues that make it difficult to see. I guess I've already become accustomed to not squinting.

Surely any glasses will protect you from most of these elements, right? Perhaps, however, the impact resistant lens of the PivLock V2 glasses create an extra comfort barrier. Knowing that the lens will not crack or shatter when a branch smacks you in the face at speed is reassuring. That, the clarity of the high end lenses, and the lack of a frame are elements that I'll admit I may not have been concerned with before, but don't think I can do without now.

The glasses have remained in place during all of my rides, even when trying to save myself during minor crashes. The adjustable nose piece helps establish a good fit, though is a set and forget element. The photochromic lens is an absolute treat, and can change from almost 100% clear to ~60% tint unbeknownst to the rider. Actually, that pretty well sums up the PivLock V2 glasses, they do their job so well you have no idea they're there!

Long Term Durability

They PivLock V2 glasses have seen action on daily trail rides, a few cross-country races, enduro stages, and even on a couple of downhill runs. During the two months I've had them I've only had one minor issue. The basic clear lens has begun to fog on hot and steamy rides, which is likely a result of cleaning the lens and gradually wiping away the anti-fog (hydroleophobic) coating. While this is unfortunate, it's somewhat expected with use, as no-one seems to have mastered this element and I'm not sure that they really can. It is a coating, after all.

The mounting hinges ('pivlock') for the arms haven't warn and seem tough enough to last the test of time. I've even dropped them multiple times and can't notice any scratches on the lens, a great attribute when you consider the number of branches and sticks you encounter as a mountain biker.

Did I mention they come with a lifetime warranty as well? Yep, lifetime warranty on defects to any part of the glasses. Pretty sound.

What's The Bottom Line?

They may not look the coolest, but as a tool the Smith PivLock V2 glasses outperform most other options out there. The ability to change lenses in seconds is makes them incredibly versatile and convenient for any ride, regardless of the conditions. Clear vision, adjustability, customization, protection, and quality materials make them hard to ignore if you're in the market for a pair of riding glasses.

For more on the Smith PivLock V2 glasses, visit www.smithoptics.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for DT Swiss FX 1950 Tricon 26" Wheelset 5/29/2013 12:10 AM
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Tested: DT Swiss Tricon FX1950 Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

Wheels. The simple round devices that bring so much joy into many of our lives. It doesn't really matter how light, what size, material, or even whether they're perfectly round, so long as they allow us to rally down the trail with a grin on our faces most are none the wiser! Most. At some point just having hoops that work becomes the need for hoops that are in a certain weight range and can withstand a large degree of punishment. We all have, or will, arrive at one or more of these conclusions some day, but the most important element is what advantage they garner over the terrain and the riders around you (whether competing officially or in your group of mates) and the ability to successfully do so day after day.

DT Swiss is well aware of this and with good reason - they've been involved in the industry for several years, and have seen their own riders push for multiple World Cup Championships and more. There are a lot of unique technologies in the wheel world now, each with their own claimed advantages, so what exactly do DT Swiss's wheels bring to the table? Itook to the trails with their latest gravity wheelset to find out.


DT Swiss Tricon FX 1950 Highlights

  • Tricon Wheel Technology
  • Tubeless Ready
  • Ratchet System Freewheel
  • 6-Bolt International Rotor Mountain Standard
  • Bladed DT Aero Comp Spokes
  • Torx Spoke Nipples
  • Open Crow Foot Lacing System
  • Weight: 4.4-pounds (2.0kg)
  • MSRP $1,455

DT Swiss isn't afraid to shake things up, and one quick look at the Tricon wheels proves it. The open crow foot lacing pattern and unique hub flange instantly set the Tricon series of wheels apart. Rather than a set of evenly spaced holes on either side of the hub, the Tricon flange contains five areas per side where three 'prongs' form, creating a 30 spoke wheel. The spokes are bladed, providing some aerodynamic advantage, and are threaded both at the tail (into the rim eyelet) and into the hub flange where you would normally find the spoke head.


Even the spoke nipple is a change from what is commonly seen on a wheel. Rather than the square brass or aluminum nipples, DT Swiss used a torx nipple. The rationale behind this choice is quite sound - the torx allows for more contact surface between the nipple and the tool, aiding in the prevention of rounded nipples.

Also new and interesting is the method required to place the spoke nipple into the rim. Because these are a sealed tubeless rim, dropping the nipples in through the rim bed is not an option. Instead, DT Swiss uses a rim insert that differs from others on the market. The DT Swiss nipple is supported on two sides within the rim wall, creating an airtight fixture for the spoke.

All other features contained in this wheelset can be found in most of DT Swiss's wheels, including their patented and reliable Ratchet Freewheel system, ProLock liquid on the spoke nipples for longevity in tension, and high-quality machining throughout. They are also convertible to SRAM's XD standard, for those wishing to run XX1 or similar, but with the weight being more suited to that of a DH wheelset (claimed 2,025 grams // 4.5lbs), I don't imagine many will opt for these on their trail bikes. Regardless, they're ready for the conversion if SRAM develops a DH specific XX1 style drivetrain, which we've seen hints of recently.


On The Trail

Dropping into the first trail I tested them on, the benefits of a new wheelset rung through immediately. The FX1950 was considerably stiffer than what I previously had on my DH bike. They felt solid ramming through rock gardens, over roots, and while laying them on edge through rough terrain, continuously displaying the benefits of a solid, strong wheel section after section, trail after trail. They helped hold some very interesting and fun lines on trails where previous wheels would have left me wandering or sliding down into a rut or brake chatter, another welcome benefit.

There's no doubt that many are aware of DT Swiss's previous rims, which were commonly found to be very soft. With that in mind, I decided early on to really mash on these wheels only to come up empty handed. Even after some solid days in the Whistler Bike Park - a riding location that has notoriously dented and flat spotted my rims in the past, some of which on day one riding them - the Tricon FX1950 wheels remained dent free and true. It would appear DT Swiss has drastically improved their rims in this regard, which is a welcome update.

As with many other tubeless setups, the use of an air compressor will very likely be required to get a seal before setting the tires to your desired pressure. Having sealed and pumped the wheels on my trail bike without a compressor before, I thought I would try my luck with these, only to fail, miserably. Floor pump = 0, air compressor = 1. In the end, I decided to run these with tubes. There were no problems with rolling tires off the bead or even flats, and my low pressures caused no concerns (often around 22psi front, 24psi rear).

It's easy to forget about the wheels because they get on with their job and do so well. The hubs roll smoothly, the free hub is quiet (if you're into that sort of thing) and reliable, and the rims are strong enough to take a beating.

Long Term Durability

The Tricon FX1950 wheels have presented no issues in the reliability department. That said, I remain wary of the double threaded spokes and the nipples built into the hub flanges, as once something does go wrong there you could be MIA for a little while. My concern here lies in the proprietary nature of the double threaded spoke, especially in a gravity wheelset, as a rider can easily bust a couple of spokes any given day and finding a quick replacement can be problematic, especially if its race day. I can sense the privateers squirming in their chairs… In spite of this concern, we haven't needed to worry ourselves as the spokes have remained solid throughout testing.

The brake rotors mounted easily with no strange threading problems, the hubs ran smooth as can be, and the rims remained dent free, even after some serious rock strikes. Perhaps with more time on them and a full summer in the Whistler Bike Park, issues will begin to arise, but in the eight weeks these have been ridden there have been none.


What's The Bottom Line?

The DT Swiss Tricon FX1950 wheels have impressed me. They hold a line, take a beating, and do so all in their stride. In fact, they do their job so well that you often forget about them, especially when combined with the almost silent rear hub. While it would be great to see a more common straight pull spoke utilized in the design of this wheel, if for nothing else but to keep the user riding more than waiting for parts, I never even needed to re-tension the wheels and the rationale for including this style is great.

If you're not afraid to jump onto newer standards and be prepared with a few spare parts of your own, the DT Swiss Tricon FX1950 wheels are worth a look. There are some interesting components in the package, but they all work together seamlessly for a wheel that is stiff, strong, and quite capable. I don't imagine we will see a lot of racers sporting these (though the Specialized team ran them in the Sea Otter Slalom), but park rats, downhillers, or freeriders that are prepared to include a couple of unorthodox pieces in the garage will thoroughly enjoy rag dolling these wheels down the local trails with big grins on their faces.

For more on the Tricon FX1950 wheelset, visit www.dtswiss.com.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Santa Cruz Blur TR Carbon Frame 5/28/2013 7:59 PM
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Long Term Test: Santa Cruz Blur TRc

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

At a time when the majority of industry chatter is around 'new' wheel sizes, frame materials and Enduro - testing anything that doesn't check all the appropriate boxes can result in it appearing a little lackluster and obsolete. Thankfully I'm not really one to concern myself with the rumor mill and e-spec too much, at least not without looking deeper into the product being speculated about before forming my own opinion. Nevertheless, everything I had discussed and heard from trusted, respected riding buds and others regarding the Santa Cruz Blur 4x left me very intrigued to throw a leg over the updated and more trail friendly version, the Blur TRc. The Santa Cruz Blur TRc was in part brought into the Santa Cruz lineup to fill a gap that the 4x had tried to, though ahead of its time, only now it would be pushed more directly into the path of the trail riding audience, incorporating new technologies to seal the deal.

The trail riding market has come a long way since the original Blur 4x. Riders that were formerly dedicated downhillers and who'd rather not be seen dead out on 'XC' trails now spend equal amounts of time, or more, on their smaller travel bikes. Personally, I feel this change has been a great marriage in timing - the bikes evolved as more people wanted to spend more time ripping trails, day in day out. Then again, it could just be that I'm getting older… In either case the market is full of great 'small' travel bikes with confidence inspiring geometry numbers that are capable of handling high speeds. Coupled with updated construction techniques they can handle the beatings taken on an average trail ride. The Blur TRc stands tall in this category.

As for the check boxes, the TRc covers two of them. It is constructed from carbon, using Santa Cruz's proprietary and proven process, and it is an Enduro racing machine. Just hit any of the Oregon Enduro series events to see for yourself, they're everywhere! Does not checking the wheel size box make it any less worth talking about? Not at all! In fact, it's quite the opposite. This bike raises the bar, all the while sticking with 'boring' 26-inch hoops.

Blur TRc Frame Highlights

  • Full carbon fiber construction
  • 26-inch wheels
  • VPP suspension
  • 125mm (4.92-inches) of rear wheel travel
  • Tapered headtube
  • 68-degree head angle
  • 72.5-degree seat tube angle
  • 13.1-inch bottom bracket height
  • 16.9-inch chainstays
  • Threaded bracket shell
  • 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
  • Weight (frame + shock): 4.69-pounds (2.13kg)
  • Sizes S, M, L, and XL
  • $2,698 MSRP with FOX Float CTD (+$205 for upgraded FOX Float CTD Kashima shock)

The Frame & Build

When pulling the frame out of the (well packaged) box, it was easy to see that the design is well thought out. Seemingly minor elements have been executed well, in a market where many either ignore the small details or simply don't get it. One favorite element is the lower bolt configuration for the rear suspension linkage opposing the chainrings, making it simple to check the torque or take out if necessary - there's no need to remove cranks here. Another is running the cables along the top of the downtube. It's somewhat surprising that some of the largest companies in the industry continue to put out frames with the routing below the frame. Don't see this as a problem? Why do some of the worlds best racers have their mechanics jimmy rig the cables to the top of the downtube?

The test frame arrived in early December 2012 and has seen trail use most days since. The bike was built to be a durable, yet sensibly light number, with a slightly beefier fork than standard to ensure confidence from the front of the bike. Was this overkill? I don't think so, but more on that later. The TRc frame weighs in at a rather svelte 4.69-pounds (for a Medium) and being on an XL, its safe to assume this frame is right around 5-pounds - still light! The light weight can be concerning for some trail thrashers out there, but rest assured, it can handle. This lighter weight is thanks to the experience Santa Cruz's design and development departments are gaining with each model. It's plenty strong in all the right places. Find and watch Santa Cruz's frame testing videos and you'll see there isn't much to concern yourself with in regards to their carbon frame strength. Carbon done right can be incredibly strong. For the weight conscious reading, all said and done this fully built bike (as pictured) weighs in at just 27.8-pounds - we think thats pretty impressive!

Our Rockshox Lyrik was initially lowered to ~140mm for this build (Solo Air can be lowered via internal adjustments), leaving it with an axle to crown of approximately 530mm, roughly 11mm above Santa Cruz's recommended max height of 519mm. To be honest, the bike rode well at this height, but once lowered down to 130mm of travel (an axle to crown height right around the recommended 519mm), it really came to life. This put the bike right around the specced 68-degree head angle, and with our tire combination, the BB height reads bang on 13-inches (spec is 13.1-inches). The 68-degree head angle was a little concerning before riding the bike, having not ridden anything that steep on the trails in my hometown of Squamish, BC, but the overall geometry inspired confidence on the gnarliest rides. I don't see an Angleset going into this frame anytime soon.

Setup of the rear shock is made extremely easy with the accompanying booklet. If you want to nerd out (as I did), do yourself a favor and download the FOX iRD app - a super clever piece of software that will help you setup any bike that has a FOX shock (or fork) with an ID number on it. The best part about this app is the ability to store your setups, ridding your garage of the oily, grease stained sheets of paper with chicken scratches that are supposed to represent your bike settings. At 155-pounds and with wet, semi-casual winter riding originally on the menu, the shock was initially set a little softer. Although fine for this initial break-in period, once the spring drew closer and more hours were spent on the bike, the higher speeds meant a need to firm it up, at which point the shock was set to 139psi - right around 30% sag. Being a bit lighter, running a slightly slower rebound is commonplace. The TRc is currently set at 6 or 7 clicks (dependent on conditions) and feels pretty money.

Somewhat surprised that the underside of the downtube came bare, clear tape was put in place to make us feel better about it - knowing full well it wouldn't do much in the event of a rock strike or ramming into something in awesome hack style. Despite these concerns, we are yet to be convinced that it actually needs more protection, having thrashed it for the better part of 5 months on a variety of trails and conditions in the PNW, British Columbia, and Santa Cruz, CA. Santa Cruz does provide a carbon deflector at an extra charge if you feel it's necessary.

The frame does not come with ISCG mounts, something many were hoping to see on this updated version. It does have the trusty ol' threaded bottom bracket, allowing for the use of a BB-mounted chain guide or an ISCG adapter plate. This does mean that you may end up with a spun guide after a big hit, but it's a small element to deal with and probably means you need to either a) stop hacking and work on being smoother (as we were reminded of once or twice) or b) its time to do some work on the bike, and what better excuse? The upper link was updated from a carbon version on the first incarnation of the TRc to aluminium and the rear was changed to a 142x12 through axle, rather than a 135x10mm quick-release.

With the bigger fork some may be curious why I didn't just jump on the Blur TRc's bigger brother - the Blur LT. The answer to this is simple. The TRc has three things that are somewhat prerequisites in a frame from a guy who digs numbers more than wheel sizes and materials - a steeper seat angle for climbing (especially with slacker head angles), a lower bottom bracket, and a longer reach/top tube length. Add to this my preference to lead towards shorter suspended bikes. Finding a bike with all of these attributes can prove difficult, even with the variety of small travel rippers out there. The TRc achieves these requirements.

Enough on the build, how does the Blur TRc ride?

On The Trail

Because this was the first carbon frame I'd ridden for any decent chunk of time, the advantages of the "fantastic plastic" were something I was focused on seeking out, and they shone through early on. The frame is stiff, allowing you to hold some ridiculous lines with ease. Suddenly off-camber sections of trail became even more fun, as I danced across them, pushing to see what could be gotten away with. Where this Santa Cruz's unique material, geometry, and the construction process excited me most though was in the Blur TRc's ability to change line in a section with minimal effort and the speed it can exit corners with. The bike, while incrediblyagile down the trail, is also exceptionally stable at speed thanks to its longer length and lower height. This has made for some of the most enjoyable riding in some time - allowing me to get out of trouble when needed, or simply add to the experience, placing the bike wherever I wanted on the trail.

It's not all thanks to the carbon construction and frame geometry though. The TRc's suspension characteristics are not shy in this area, and Santa Cruz achieved a ride that tracks like a serpent, yet remains 'poppy' and 'snappy' like a Ritalin infused jack russell - controlled, but awesome. This suspension results in a bike that exhibits exceptional climbing abilities while holding its own in loose, rough terrain. There is very little pedal bob with a single ring 1x10 setup (34-tooth ring in the front), and we experienced no discernible pedal feedback.

Although the bike climbed amazingly well, I feel like the seat angle, while decent, could get an extra half to one-degree steeper from the static 72.5-degrees and it would climb like a bloody mountain goat! The 68-degree headtube was more capable than I gave it credit for, and although I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of these setup with an adjustable headset and riders pushing the front end out to 67-degrees, it really isn't that necessary and will most certainly hinder the TRc's climbing abilities. You have to go up to get down, after all. The Blur TRc is completely capable with the current numbers and slays any trail out there, but these two angles are something to consider when looking at the bike.

The 'downhillers trail bike' comment is the one I was most interested in, and the bike gave me a glimpse of its brilliance from the first descent in the depths of winter on Vancouver's North Shore. Pointing this carbon animal down the mountain it became evident why it aids so well in getting up - it wants to rip back down the other side sooner rather than later! The traction displayed by the Blur TRc's refined VPP suspension makes this one hell of a capable descender. Rough sections of trail become nothing more than a couple of bumps, with the bike gliding across them, accelerating through such sections rather than getting hung up and ultimately slowed down. The amazing traction has made for a confidence inspiring, thrilling ride and ultimately, faster times (look out Strava…). The only downside was an apparent inability to utilize all the travel, even on the roughest of trails, hucks or "Dear God, I'm going to hang on and hope the bike rides me out of this" moments. I continued to very rarely use all the travel, even while running the bike with extra sag, leading to discussions on more efficient use of the bike's travel, which we'll touch on in a moment.

The frame's ability to take large hits in rough terrain is the reason we feel the slightly bigger fork is totally justified. At no point have we felt like one end of the bike is overwhelmed by the other's ability. The rear is extremely capable for trail use, and to be honest, sits in a modest package in most builds. Although the Blur TRc can be set up as a lightweight XC race machine, it is incredibly capable as a downhiller's trail bike, completely living up to its latest moniker. It is for this application that I was interested in the bike and this application that I decided on the (lowered) beefier front end - a decision I don't regret in the slightest, happily taking on the weight penalty. In spite of these successes, I have found myself at the bike's limit on a few occasions - something I have been working on overcoming, though cognizant of the fact it is the nature of a smaller travel bike.

The TRc supports 'lazy' riding quite well, but really shines when you get aggressive, pumping and working every last bit out of a section of trail. If you're looking for any backsides you can find, this bike will reward you, gaining momentum from every one you plant the wheels into. However, if you get it wrong, or fatigue and become static, you will notice the trail becoming quite rough all of a sudden - a common attribute when not working the trail well. With the shorter travel and firmer suspension than say, a Nomad, it is pronounced. After some time I noticed that the trouble was not always mistiming sections, and that the roughness in areas of the suspension's travel, most notably beyond 3/4 of the way through the stroke, could probably be improved. After chatting with some FOX suspension ninjas in Vancouver, I learned that inefficient use of travel was a common complaint with the TRc. More discussions led to some great information from a member of the Nomad's Race Team, who have raced the TRc all over North America in 2012, and I sat down to take notes.

The Nomad's discovered that the 2012 TRc, (which came stock with a FOX RP23), performed better with the pressure in the shock's IFP (Boost Valve), lowered to about 150/155psi (stock is 175psi). This meant upping the air can approximately 20psi to compensate for the sag, but overall afforded them more efficient use of the travel and more traction, especially at the low end due to a lower break off, creating a more supple ride. Given that our test frame has the updated FOX CTD, we did note that it felt slightly more compliant in the low end with the stock tune, but still had trouble gaining efficient use of the suspension through the entire stroke. This, and the fact that I think an air shock needs all the help it can get for a supple low end, led me to test out this tune on the FOX CTD, even with the fear of losing mid-stroke support.

So where am I now? The IFP has 155psi and the can is set to 168psi - slightly less than 30% sag. It has made for a more exciting ride, with increased traction, higher speeds and smoother trail. I did lose a little firmness in the mid-stroke, and flicking the compression dial to Trail or Climb displayed slightly less noticeable changes. However, it has remained quite solid and a completely capable, strong climber. Although I haven't had the same amount of time on this shock tune, I don't feel that this was a bad move and will likely continue to run it this way. The bike still maintains all of the exceptional characteristics noted above, only traction has improved more! It's still poppy and agile, but without the occasional spiking (unless left in trail mode on particular sections of singletrack). Stock, the TRc will get you out of trouble and rides fantastic, but this update to the IFP will grant you more confidence in the bike's handling and allow you to get away with riding a little more on the edge for longer sections of the trail.

Long Term Durability

After more than five months of beating on this frame through a nasty, wet, and at times snowy winter in the PNW, to ripping dry dusty trails in Santa Cruz, we have yet to develop any issues. The occasional check (three) on the torque of the VPP links has shown bolts loosening off ever so slightly, but a half turn at most has gotten them back to the recommended specs. The pivots also needed grease once while in California, and thanks to the built-in nipples and supplied grease and gun the process was simple. These elements are totally acceptable for a bike that has seen over 1,200km (750 miles) in the time it has.

The finish of the matte frame results in a little bit of muck sticking to it more than a gloss finish would, but the upside is that any small blemishes it does get will hardly be visible. It helps to spray the bike down with some special cleaners that help deflect the mud and muck if keeping it fairly clean without washes after every ride is key for you.

The only issue with this frame has been from the FOX Float CTD shock, which has a bit of play internally between unweighted to weighted - a common trait with the TRc and apparently due to the leverage ratio of the frame. This isn't noticeable on the trail, nor does it affect the bike's performance. We have also gone through a DU bushing, opting to replace it with a needle bearing under the recommendation of our LBS - a tidy recommendation and one where we noticed a little improvement in the initial actuation of the shock. We'll report back later on the length of service from that upgrade.

Final Thoughts

Yes, we fell in love with the Blur TRc the moment we built it up, but riding the bike sealed the deal. Nevertheless, there are some elements we think could improve the ride. For some it won't be an important factor but as mentioned, if the seat angle were 73-degrees or even 73.5-degrees it would be an invincible climber in this category (and likely challenge pure XC machines). The rear shock could see more testing in an effort to achieve the ultimate tune - one that will grant efficient use of travel while remaining zesty.

Should it come with ISCG mounts in newer incarnations? Perhaps, but for us it isn't a big deal. It may be something we see in the future, which would be great for those that wish to run a full guide or a bash to protect their chainring. Ultimately something along the lines of SRAM's new XX1 would sit on this bad boy, perhaps with a top guide like e*thirteen's XCX for safe measures - dialed!

What's The Bottom Line?

Santa Cruz has pre well hit the ball out of the park with an incredibly versatile frame that can be built up as anything from an exceptional XC race bike through a mini-DH sled. They've also done it with a weight that leaves others blushing. Some won't dig it because it doesn't contain a half breed wheel size or some fancy new press fit bottom bracket, but what it is, in addition to its versatility, is a reliable, consistent, exciting and pretty darn close to bombproof weapon. The refined VPP is a great system that requires little more than the periodic bolt check and squeeze of a grease gun (which they give you). In the stock configuration it's still supple enough to soak up small chatter via the rearward axle path (through to the sag point), but this controlled path is not so rearward that it will have your chain screaming with every compression.

The carbon construction is amazing and it without a doubt improves the quality of the ride. Despite the fancy plastic, the frame is available now in a stout aluminum package, which most definitely carries through most of the characteristics of its fancy older brother, but with ISCG mounts to stand up to its sibling. No matter which material you go for, know that the geometry and suspension work amazingly well - the really important elements of a frame.

Forget all the banter and hype over wheel sizes, frame materials and whether it's an "Enduro" bike or not. If you're in the business of riding bikes as much as possible, on machines that reward an active character more than being sat in a dark corner sulking, the Santa Cruz Blur TRc is hard to pass by.

Visit www.santacruzbikes.com for more on the Blur TRc.


About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2014 Domain Pants 5/6/2013 11:17 PM
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Tested: Royal Racing Domain Pant - For When Conditions Get Gnarly

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

Jeans for biking? Let's start with a confession: I wear jeans almost religiously. I have no idea how it started, but pretty much on a daily basis I rock denim. Denim to lounge in, work in, dig in, when riding the pumptrack, dirt jumps and cruising the streets. When it gets warm I rock cut jeans. Simply put, I'm not at all adverse to donning the material in order to cover my legs. So why not ride downhill (or freeride) in a pair of jeans? To be honest, even though I'm clearly a big fan, I never thought jeans had a place in the woods on the bike.

Curious about the Royal Racing Domain Pant—a waterproof, lightweight (compared to common jeans), functionally cut pant, designed to be ridden in through the most adverse of conditions—I donned my first pair of jeans for a ride. If you're keen on wearing jeans while riding but not enthusiastic about getting soaking wet from the elements, the Domain Pant may be a piece of apparel that will interest you. Read on to see what we found with this hybrid clothing item.

Domain Pant Highlights:

  • Canopy 10/10 H/S Denim look polyester
  • 10,000 DPI waterproof and 10,000 MVP breathable
  • Suede trims
  • Loose fit to go over knee and shin pads
  • Reinforced hems to prevent fraying
  • Belt loops or internal adjusters to keep them up
  • Clip and double snap closures
  • Mesh liner
  • MSRP: $109.95

Initial Impressions

It's safe to say that Royal has their quality control fairly down pat. Our Domain Pants, as with their other products that have been tested this winter and spring, came out really well. The pant has some great attention to detail, pulling through traits commonly seen on a good pair of denim jeans. The difference is that these are waterproof. This feature came at a slight cost where feel is involved, though, with the pant being a bit stiff and 'noisy' initially.

Traditional denim isn't designed to be ridden in, and the cuffs can hook onto cranks, chainrings, and whatever else they whirl by while pedaling a bike. This, and the fact that denim doesn't breathe well and soaks up water, makes tradition jeans less than ideal for riding. Skinny jeans, like them or not, cover the clearance issues quite well, but it remains to be seen where a pair of jeans can be functional on the trail and not just ok at the dirt jumps. To aid with this, the Domain Pant has a slightly roomier knee, allowing ample room for pads, and a slight taper towards the ankle in order to keep the cuffs away from your cranks and drivetrain.

Clever design elements like these sound great in theory, but how do they measure up on the trail?

On The Trail

The fit of the Domain Pant was a little funky while walking and lounging about, and we found the swollen knee and thigh area to be a strange contrast to the slimmer, tapered lower leg. However, our opinion changed after swinging a leg over our downhill bike. The tapered legs, with room for the knee pads, made for a comfortable and functional pant once on the bike. This allowed us to focus on the trail and not be distracted by the tugging feeling at the knee or the catching of a pant leg, if even for a split second, on our cranks or drivetrain.

Most days we rode in the Domain Pant were misty and cold with the occasional sunny afternoon thrown in for good measure. We found the pant to keep us warm and dry. When new, water was visibly beading on the pant, but after a while the beads stopped. Even though the beading isn't as prevalent as when new, the pants have retained decent waterproofing to this day, keeping us dry underneath most days. However, it was pretty obvious that the material doesn't breathe exceptionally well when hiking, allowing some unwanted moisture to build up underneath.

Things That Could Be Improved

While the pant has a cut that functions well while riding, we found that the material lacked the right flexibility. The initial stiff feeling, while not as noticeable now, is still there and something that we are not the most enthusiastic about riding in. Jeans, especially the newer stylings with lycra in the material mix, allow more movement in a tighter package. We'd also appreciate a softer, less noisy material, ultimately making for a more comfortable pant to ride and lounge around in.

We also found the regular pockets to be somewhat of a downer and had no confidence placing a wallet, set of keys, or a phone in them due to their open nature. Additionally, we have historically found it to be less desirable to have open pockets on the back of a pair of jeans when riding, especially if the seat of the pant is a little baggier, as is the case with the loose fit of the Domain Pant. The last thing you want is the nose of your saddle catching on your pant, usually at the most inopportune of moments on asteep section of trail. While jeans on a dirt jumper or BMX is a common sight, the jeans worn are commonly a tighter fit and the seat is usually a lot further away than on a downhill/freeride bike, and both of these factors take part in keep the seat away from the back pocket. It would be nice to see some form of closure on the back pockets to prevent hooking on the nose of the seat, but more so, a sealed pocket or two would also be a welcome and very functional benefit.

Long Term Durability

Riding in nasty conditions regularly has resulted in plenty of trips to the washer, but to this day the Domain Pants are fray free and the stitching has remained solid throughout. The waterproof bead on the pant has dwindled since fresh out of the package, a result of the coating wearing, but the overall waterproof characteristics remain. From what we can tell, these will continue to keep us dry on the wet days for quite a while.

The polyester material appears to be pretty hard wearing, with no visible scuffs from rubbing up against trees and undergrowth. A few spots have seen dirt almost bed into the material around the seat area, remaining visible after a wash (think about sitting and squirming mud and grit between your backside and bike seat). This may be amendable with a stronger wash and some powerful detergent. Not a major issue, however, as the pants are built to get dirty and are dark enough to hide the grit well.

What's The Bottom Line?

Given their waterproof coating, we're fans of the Domain Pant on lift assisted days when conditions are nasty. They kept us dry from the elements and stayed out of the way, most of the time.Although not something we'd ride in daily, when the weather calls for it, they will likely be the first thing we go scouring through the closet for. They do feel nicer than a cheap pair of plastic rain pants, are more flexible, stay out of the way of your drivetrain, and let's be honest—they look better too.

If you love wearing denim but are tired of getting soaked or cold and having to call your ride short, the Domain Pant may be worth a look. They look like jeans, are lighter, and will keep you dry while busting out laps.

For more on the Domain Pant visit www.royalracing.com



About The Reviewer

AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2014 Signature Shorts 3/10/2013 6:41 PM
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Tested: Royal Racing Signature Short

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

Up until a few years ago, the majority of the Royal range was aimed at downhill riders, but the range has grown alongside the sport. Their riding short range saw the introduction of the Matrix a couple of years back, then came the Hexlite and MW365, and for 2013 the Esquire and Signature shorts were added to the list—all with a goal of being lightweight, comfortable and functional.

The Signature Short is specifically aimed at the Trail rider—the guys (and ladies) that just want to ride bikes, whether it be a shuttle, pedal, hike-a-bike, whatever. The premise for the short is to keep you comfortable and not feel as though you have a couple of pounds of cardboard wrapped around your waist.

Did they succeed? Is the short durable and up to the challenge of rubbing up against trees, rocks and terra-firma day in day out? We've done our best to wear them out, so lets see...

Royal Racing Signature Short Highlights

  • Ergonomic, strategically arranged directional stretch paneling
  • Dual hook and loop waist adjusters
  • Non rattle snap lock zippers
  • Two open hand pockets
  • Waterproof stash pocket
  • Detachable padded pro level pant liner
  • MSRP $119.95

Initial Impressions

Like most of the Royal gear we've reviewed, pulling the Signature short out of the box had us impressed. The finish is dialed—no loose threads, great color, quality zips, TPR dual hook waist adjusters, and low key branding—solid!

The Signature Short is the first trail specific short we've worn, and we have to say, we're impressed. These feel a little heavier than a pair of boardies (swim trunks for the American crowd), but significantly lighter than your regular DH/FR short. The material is super flexible as well, allowing you to move freely and despite the slimmer fit of the short, there is less restriction than in a baggier DH/FR short. Two thumbs up.

On The Trail

The fit of the short is great, with a length a little less than that of DH/FR shorts, which was welcomed when having to pedal more. The slimmer fit meant for a lot less chance of tagging on the seat when things got wild (we're yet to experience it with these), but isn't so slim that you feel like your next move will be to lycra. Having said that, these would suit the rider that wouldn't mind the occasional XC race but would rather not don the lycra, and would be perfect for any enduro racers. The comfortable fit is certainly helped by the flexible, directional stretch material (mostly vertical).

The shorts remained fairly water resistant through some wet winter rides, but being DWR coating, it does wear and on a real wet day after a few months, you will notice water getting through. The lightweight material of the short doesn't seem to soak up it's weight again in water and remains quite light on the waist when it is wet, staying comfortable. We also never noticed it clinging to our legs and restricting movement when wet, as others have in the past—another bonus!

The lightweight material (and these are light), combined with the ergonomic cut only solidifies our opinion of the short. With the weather warming up and it now being possible to put in some miles under the sun, these continue to keep us cool and comfortable, remaining our go to short. You really can ride all day in these shorts and simply go about it, not having to worry about any readjusting, or pockets opening up and so on. The 'stash pocket' is a little bonus to stick your phone, a small multi-tool or some food in and is waterproof too. We were looking forward to stashing the iPhone in it—especially given its waterproof qualities, but it is too short by a couple of millimeters—a bit of a bummer.

Long Term Durability

We're quite confident in saying that these shorts will last a good amount of time in rugged trail riding conditions. We've crashed in them and there are no tears or even scuffs apparent in the material. Snag them on a solid tree branch and they may tear, but anything would—the Signatures are good to rumble!

The DWR coating will wear off, but we don't consider it a big deal, as even with it warn, the material properties of the short allow them to remain comfortable regardless—wet or dry.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Royal Racing Signature Short feels great on and off the bike and has stood up to a wide range of weather conditions over the course of the winter (and now early spring). The pockets hold your bits and pieces without fail, the waist adjustment remains in the position you set it to and the bright green looks sweet as on the trail.

We would like to see the stash pocket made a tad taller, if only to fit some of the most popular phones on the market in there. We'll admit, this is being pretty picky and by no means a deal breaker. We liked our testers so much, we actually bought another pair!

If you're in the market for a solid short to spend a lot (or a little, it does't matter) of time in, then you will want to try on a pair. They're great value for the top end materials and design that you get, and comfortable in a wide range of conditions. There is enough adjustability andfeaturesto have even the most picky of clothes shopper covered too. Royal really seems to have the comfort and functionality dialed in this latest range. Oh, we think they look pretty good as well.

For more on the Signature Short, visit www.RoyalRacing.com.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Royal 2014 Matrix Jacket 2/23/2013 7:26 PM
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Tested: Royal Matrix Jacket - Double Duty Rainwear

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by AJ Barlas

Jackets for mountain biking are quite often super cheap rain jackets that we either purchase knowing that at some point we may wreck and cause it damage, or old casual wind and rain jackets that are no longer suitable to an individual's swagger. In either scenario, they are often, in one way or another, inappropriate for riding in.

So what makes a jacket appropriate for mountain biking? The features included on the Royal Racing Matrix jacket certainly help! Do these features add up to a comfortable and functional riding jacket, and can a mountain bike jacket double as a casual? If so, then the logical step would be to purchase a mountain bike jacket like the Matrix and rock it on your bike as well as out for Sunday brunch.

Royal Racing Matrix Jacket Highlights

  • 1000 DPI/10000 MVP breathable water proof polyester fabric
  • TPR molded hook and loop cuff adjusters
  • Waterproof zippers
  • Moisture wicking lining
  • Toggle adjustable hood and waist
  • Mesh vent at the top of the back panel
  • Large enough hood to fit over your helmet
  • MP3 pocket
  • MSRP $129.95

Initial Impressions

Upon first receiving the Matrix Jacket, it was hard to believe that I was going to be riding in some of the most horrific conditions of the winter in it — the jacket is really nice! Perhaps it was just the subtle pinstripes in the material that gave it that feel, but one thing is certain, everyone will be blown away by the quality of this 'cycling' jacket. Royal went all out to create a garment that was going to look good on and off the trails and they didn't fail.

The jacket is designed around Royal's all-mountain/freeride fit, which paints a fairly clear picture at the target audience it's aimed at. The fit, while loose-ish, is so in all the right places thanks to the tailored cut. The size we tested was an XL, based on past experiences, and although it felt great and comfortable, probably could have been a large, especially for riding in (though the larger size never caused any issues on the trail).

The pockets are not 'real' pockets in the true sense. Similar to Dakine's and a few others, they seamlessly double as ventilation — unzip halfway down and keep whatever is stashed in your pocket concealed while allowing for some extra air — but be careful, pull it down too far and you will not only open the vent, but lose a pocket full of stuff. The reverse-taped zips are top quality and move smooth and freely, but will remain wherever you leave them — no phantom shifting from these suckers.

Rag Dolling Through The Woods

Hitting the trails in the Matrix was equally as impressive as the initial impressions of the styling. The jackets first journey was arguably one of the worst days to ride this winter in Vancouver. Temperatures around zero, 50mm+ of rain throughout the day and upwards of three hours of hammering trails in North Vancouver — the jacket took it all in stride, making the ride so much more enjoyable for me!

The larger hood, while admittedly not a key feature for us initially, soon became something much appreciated. Upon setting off for the initial (horrific) ride, the hood was thrown up over the helmet and left there… the fact that the hood was on was forgotten for at least half of the ride. It kept me dry and comfortable, while not letting me know it was on as many do — tugging away at your lid whenever you turn your head and restricting movement. Any wet weather trail rider should add this feature to the list for any possible purchase.

The jacket's 10,000/10,000 waterproof and breathability stands true. To this day, we are yet to get wet inside this jacket and we've tried. Regardless of how gnarly the weather is, the Matrix will keep you dry. The huge surprise for us was that this jacket actually breathes! No, its not a $400 Goretex jacket, but it does the job well at a fraction of the cost. When temperatures reached the low to mid teens (Celsius), it did get a little warm on longer climbs that required more effort, but the surprise came in the fact that it was still comfortable and didn't act like a garbage bag wrapped around your core.

The vent at the top of the back panel is always open — which honestly doesn't need to be shut — and a flap prevents you from getting wet. Even on the bitter cold days, the fact that there was an open vent did not hinder the comfort level—after all, it is trailing you. When seeking cooler temps and a little more airflow, unzipping the pockets/vents and lowering the main zip a little was all that was required.

Things That Could Be Improved

The only nag we had was with the slack bungee chord cinches that hold the waist and hood adjustments in place. The plastic cinch struggles to hold the elastic in place, effectively leaving the jacket looser than preferred around the waist or hood. This could be just an issue with our jacket, but it is worth noting if you like to tailor the waist or hood of your jackets a little more. Add to this dedicated pockets and making the MP3 pocket waterproof and it would only benefit the overall outcome of this already great garment.

Long Term Durability

Its safe to say that this jacket is going to stand the test of time. Our review jacket has been through a cold, icy, wet hell and back, rolling around in the mud and crashing into rock gardens throughout the winter months, yet it still looks the part. Given the conditions met by the Matrix, an inordinate amount of cycles through the washing machine were also warranted — it still goes strong. So strong it still looks like the day it was pulled out of the packaging — a testament to the quality materials and construction used to create the final product.

Reliability with this garment should be a non issue. There are no loose threads, still no leaks and it's still fancy enough to wear out to brunch (as long as you remember to give it a rinse).

What's The Bottom Line?

Spend a little extra on your riding jacket and double it up as a casual versus repeatedly going the other way — you will save money, not only because you are effectively getting two jackets in one, but also because the Matrix is great value for money, with the functionality of jackets priced well above and similar capabilities.

The fit is great, it keeps you dry and breathes well. Slightly warmer rainy conditions will require a lighter piece and less layering, but for those that ride in conditions similar to the Pacific North West, or that want to get a jacket for all-mountain/downhill/freeride days, you can't look past the Matrix to meet your needs on the trail.

For more on the Matrix Jacket, visit www.RoyalRacing.com.

This product has 2 reviews.