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Added a product review for Troy Lee Designs Ace Riding Jersey 7/29/2015 9:40 PM
C138_tld_ace_jersey_alpine_ice_blue

Tested: 2015 Troy Lee Designs Ace Jersey

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by Chris Christie

Troy Lee Designs’ Ace kit caters to riders looking for a high performing, lightweight, more pedal-friendly option without having to rock a skin suit. Advertised as premium, high performance gear for gritty XC riders, the updated Ace series features lightweight, wicking materials and all of the technical features we’ve come to expect from TLD. Can the kit handle daily abuse and frequent mistreatment, or is it meant purely for dainty XC rides? We spent a few months doing our best to find out.

Troy Lee Designs Ace Short Highlights

  • 4-way stretch, highly durable 90% polyester / 10% spandex mix material
  • Close to body performance fit
  • Full waist and hip height adjustment with bonded rubber adjusters
  • Permanent inner thigh ventilation via welded intake and exit vents
  • Welded, vented rear pocket with air mesh padding
  • Welded seams enable close to body fit without chafing
  • Includes premium removable chamois liner short
  • Laser cut side stash pocket perfect for easy access
  • Pedal friendly side pockets with welded side pocket and mesh pocket bag
  • Premium single snap fly closure
  • YKK brand zippers
  • Colors: Solid black, elite cyan (tested), elite red
  • Sizes: 28-38 (even sizes only)
  • MSRP: $165 USD

Troy Lee Designs Ace Jersey Highlights

  • Performance fit cycling jersey with 10" front zipper
  • Breathable, moisture wicking 50+ UPF material
  • 3 rear open pockets and 1 zip stash pocket
  • Reflective detailing on drop tail
  • Colors: Alpine ice blue (tested), alpine fire orange, elite red, elite concrete
  • Sizes: S-2XL
  • MSRP: $68 USD

Initial Impressions

Much of Troy Lee Designs’ 2015 lineup features bold color options. The elite cyan shorts and alpine ice blue jersey are bold enough to get noticed, but not so much so that they’re an eyesore. Closer inspection reveals that TLD didn’t take any shortcuts with quality either – attention to detail, finish, and materials are all top shelf. The checkered design on the shorts is subtle at first glance, as the TLD logo on each thigh panel attracts most of the attention. The Ace shorts feature an adjustable waist, a padded rear pocket, a Velcro and buttoned fly and permanent ventilation on the inner thighs. The welded seams are of the highest quality – no inconsistencies, wrinkles or weaknesses. The shorts feel extremely light and include a removable chamois. The jersey is equally as stylish with horizontal stripes and relatively subtle branding. Jersey cut is meant to be close to the body, has a built in zipper in the front, and a drop tail. Three rear pockets can stash all of your gear, in addition to a central zippered pocket. The material is thin, without feeling fragile. Sizing is accurate and consistent with other TLD products. One should note however that the Ace series features a performance fit and sits much closer to the body than the enduro oriented Ruckus and Skyline products.

On The Trail

Things That Could Be Improved

Similar to the Ruckus short, the elastic band was exposed if the shorts were tightened down significantly. In reality, this was only an issue in theory, as the shorts fit well and we only had to make micro adjustments so the elastic bands were never exposed.

The right hip pocket access is a little bit tricky due to the minimalist opening. Some riders might find this a hassle, but we still found this storage option was great for CO2 or a snack.

We would have liked to see the addition of rubber on the rear seam in order to keep the jersey from riding up. This was never an issue unless we were carrying a spare bottle, however in that scenario a full bottle would bounce around more than it might have with additional traction that rubber would provide.

Long Term Durability

After a solid beating the Ace kit remains unscathed. All of the seams and welds have held together perfectly. Although we didn’t cheese grater across any rock slabs, we were pleased that the jersey and short were resistant to snags and abrasions, in spite of the thin material. Blatant disregard for washing instructions hasn’t bothered them either – numerous wash cycles later and they’re going strong. We have no reason to believe that the Ace series will fail prematurely.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Striking a balance between all-out performance and style is tricky. The outstanding cut, material selection and features are bang on. The refined Ace series from Troy Lee Designs meets the performance needs of a racer, but won’t have you looking like a goon at the après. Whether you consider yourself XC, all-mountain or enduro, this kit has you covered.

More information atwww.troyleedesigns.com.

This product has no reviews yet

Added a product review for Troy Lee Designs Ace Riding Short 7/29/2015 9:35 PM
C138_15_tld_ace_shorts_elite_red

Tested: 2015 Troy Lee Designs Ace Shorts

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by Chris Christie

Troy Lee Designs’ Ace kit caters to riders looking for a high performing, lightweight, more pedal-friendly option without having to rock a skin suit. Advertised as premium, high performance gear for gritty XC riders, the updated Ace series features lightweight, wicking materials and all of the technical features we’ve come to expect from TLD. Can the kit handle daily abuse and frequent mistreatment, or is it meant purely for dainty XC rides? We spent a few months doing our best to find out.

Troy Lee Designs Ace Short Highlights

  • 4-way stretch, highly durable 90% polyester / 10% spandex mix material

  • Close to body performance fit

  • Full waist and hip height adjustment with bonded rubber adjusters

  • Permanent inner thigh ventilation via welded intake and exit vents

  • Welded, vented rear pocket with air mesh padding

  • Welded seams enable close to body fit without chafing

  • Includes premium removable chamois liner short

  • Laser cut side stash pocket perfect for easy access

  • Pedal friendly side pockets with welded side pocket and mesh pocket bag

  • Premium single snap fly closure

  • YKK brand zippers

  • Colors: Solid black, elite cyan (tested), elite red

  • Sizes: 28-38 (even sizes only)

  • MSRP: $165 USD

Troy Lee Designs Ace Jersey Highlights

  • Performance fit cycling jersey with 10" front zipper

  • Breathable, moisture wicking 50+ UPF material

  • 3 rear open pockets and 1 zip stash pocket

  • Reflective detailing on drop tail

  • Colors: Alpine ice blue (tested), alpine fire orange, elite red, elite concrete

  • Sizes: S-2XL

  • MSRP: $68 USD

Initial Impressions

Much of Troy Lee Designs’ 2015 lineup features bold color options. The elite cyan shorts and alpine ice blue jersey are bold enough to get noticed, but not so much so that they’re an eyesore. Closer inspection reveals that TLD didn’t take any shortcuts with quality either – attention to detail, finish, and materials are all top shelf. The checkered design on the shorts is subtle at first glance, as the TLD logo on each thigh panel attracts most of the attention. The Ace shorts feature an adjustable waist, a padded rear pocket, a Velcro and buttoned fly and permanent ventilation on the inner thighs. The welded seams are of the highest quality – no inconsistencies, wrinkles or weaknesses. The shorts feel extremely light and include a removable chamois. The jersey is equally as stylish with horizontal stripes and relatively subtle branding. Jersey cut is meant to be close to the body, has a built in zipper in the front, and a drop tail. Three rear pockets can stash all of your gear, in addition to a central zippered pocket. The material is thin, without feeling fragile. Sizing is accurate and consistent with other TLD products. One should note however that the Ace series features a performance fit and sits much closer to the body than the enduro oriented Ruckus and Skyline products.

On The Trail

TLD did their homework with the Ace short. The streamlined fit is spot on, and the materials are extremely lightweight and flexible. The shorts are perfect for trail riding – they don’t move, flop or pinch anywhere while seated or standing and there are zero instances where the shorts tried to snag the saddle. The short length is appropriate; they sit mid-knee while standing, and slightly above while seated. Long enough to avoid a gap between kneepads and short enough that they’re never an obstruction. On long rides the thin material and permanent ventilation were much appreciated as was the high quality chamois, a major feature that companies overlook far too often. The streamlined nature of the Ace short might have one believe that storage options would be limited, however we found that there were more than enough options for carrying a phone, multi-tool and CO2 without worry. The tighter fit also meant that they were held in place and never shifted while riding.

The Ace jersey doesn’t pack as many features as the short; however the performance is just as solid. The material is thin and breathes very well – without a doubt the coolest jersey in the TLD lineup. The open pockets and single zippered pocket on the jersey meant that we could stash all of our necessities without needing a pack. Also of note is that we never found the rear pockets irritating when we did run a pack for longer missions. We found the collar to be as comfortable as anything we’ve ever tried, with or without the use of the front zipper. As mentioned, the cut of the Ace lineup is tighter, which we found very comfortable. The jersey moves with the body, rather than around it and never felt constricting due to the highly flexible fabric and well-designed cut. No room for armor here though.

Things That Could Be Improved

Similar to the Ruckus short, the elastic band was exposed if the shorts were tightened down significantly. In reality, this was only an issue in theory, as the shorts fit well and we only had to make micro adjustments so the elastic bands were never exposed.

The right hip pocket access is a little bit tricky due to the minimalist opening. Some riders might find this a hassle, but we still found this storage option was great for CO2 or a snack.

We would have liked to see the addition of rubber on the rear seam in order to keep the jersey from riding up. This was never an issue unless we were carrying a spare bottle, however in that scenario a full bottle would bounce around more than it might have with additional traction that rubber would provide.

Long Term Durability

After a solid beating the Ace kit remains unscathed. All of the seams and welds have held together perfectly. Although we didn’t cheese grater across any rock slabs, we were pleased that the jersey and short were resistant to snags and abrasions, in spite of the thin material. Blatant disregard for washing instructions hasn’t bothered them either – numerous wash cycles later and they’re going strong. We have no reason to believe that the Ace series will fail prematurely.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Striking a balance between all-out performance and style is tricky. The outstanding cut, material selection and features are bang on. The refined Ace series from Troy Lee Designs meets the performance needs of a racer, but won’t have you looking like a goon at the après. Whether you consider yourself XC, all-mountain or enduro, this kit has you covered.

More information atwww.troyleedesigns.com.

This product has no reviews yet

Added a comment about slideshow Lay of the Land - Enduro World Series 3, Tweedlove, Scotland 5/30/2015 6:59 AM
C138_day2a

Everybody races the same track, plus fitness is a factor at the top of any sport. Professionals shouldn't be complaining in the media, but some always seem to when races don't suit their strengths. Looks bad on them, not the course.

I thought there was a discipline of racing that had fall line, sub 5-minute, single stage only...

0 1 1

This slideshow has 4 comments.

Added a comment about product review Tested: Fi’zi:k M3B Uomo 5/17/2015 8:43 AM
C50_photo_1382538210

We didn't experience any issues throughout the test and we're still happily JRA.

0 0 0

This product_review has 3 comments.

Added a product review for fi'zi:k M3B Uomo Shoe 5/7/2015 1:11 PM
C138_fizi_k_m3b_uomo

Tested: Fi’zi:k M3B Uomo

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

According to their mission statement, "Fi’zi:k is a racing brand." A quick glance through the product lineup validates that statement. Every saddle, component, and shoe is built with a specific discipline and performance in mind. While many of Fi'zi:k's competitors blur the lines between riding styles, Fi’zi:k’s M3B Uomo is pointedly XC in terms of aesthetics and features. Mountain biking isn’t necessarily as compartmentalized as marketing gurus would have you believe, however, so we decided to strap a pair on for everyday shredding, occasional racing, and frequent skidding.

M3B Uomo Highlights

  • BOA IP1 closure system for performance fit
  • UD carbon fiber outsole with a removable skid plate
  • Fi’zi:k cycling specific insole
  • Microtex lazer perforated uppers, anti-scratch leather
  • Weight: 350g per shoe (size 43)
  • Sizes: 39-48
  • MSRP: $275 USD

Initial Impressions

The M3B Uomo is definitely an XC shoe. Zero compromises have been made to blur riding genres. One quick glance and the intention of the M3B Uomo is clear – trail riding performance.

Straight out of the box they’re comfortable. The stiffness of the outsole is immediately obvious, but not so much that walking is awkward. The use of the IP1 BOA closure system provides a performance-oriented fit and ensures that there is no dead space within the shoe. The perforated uppers are well ventilated and contour the foot snugly. Fit is true to size, although the toe box might be on the narrow side for those with wide feet. Cleat adjustment is adequate, although riders hoping to run the cleats in the same spot as their DH shoes will likely be let down. Cleats are recessed deep enough that pedal contact won’t be an issue.

The general style of the M3B Uomo is uncluttered and elegant. The solid black uppers are notably less busy than most other XC shoes, with fewer seams, colors, and knickknacks that could be susceptible to damage. Subtle Fi’zi:k branding on the toe and heel isn’t overwhelming, nor is the red outsole. Most XC shoes seem to be all about flash and flair, so the simple and classy styling of the M3B Uomo is refreshing.

On The Trail

The first thing that impressed us was how the stiffness of the outsole helps transfer energy to the pedals. While they might not be your favorite shoe for hiking around in the woods, there is no debate about pedaling performance: the M3B Uomo is a better tool. In spite of the stiffness, they were comfortable enough for long days and short hike-a-bikes.The interface between the outsole and the Crankbrothers Candy pedals we used for the test was solid. The absence of any gap between the two made for a solid, confident feel. Clipping in and out was easy, which surprisingly isn’t always the case depending on the pedal-shoe combination.

The IP1 BOA closure is a fantastic addition to any shoe. Our initial experience with the BOA system had us worried that it might be susceptible to damage, but after a few different pairs of shoes we are convinced that the BOA is a better closure than ratchets or velcro. Adjustability was easy at the trailhead or on the fly.

Aggressive riding didn’t bother the M3B Uomo. The cleat placement was just far enough to the rear of the shoe to prevent our calf muscles from getting worked and the shoe left us confident in just about every situation. The XC outsole means they require more accuracy when re-clipping on the fly, but it wasn’t a nuisance or liability when getting rowdy.

The perforated leather uppers provided outstanding breathability. There is no use comparing them to all-mountain shoes, they’re simply better in this regard. Compared to XC race shoes, they’re extremely breathable and as good as anything we’ve tried. All of the perforations mean that water has an entry point and they’re not as water resistant as some shoes, but this is a worthwhile compromise for a performance oriented shoe.

Things That Could Be Improved

The fit of the M3B Uomo was outstanding; nevertheless we question whether the Velcro strap on the forefoot is a necessity, as it didn’t seem to add to the fit of the shoe. We also wonder if it could potentially be replaced by just extending the BOA system.

Be warned, the outsole of the shoe provides little traction for hiking. Not that the Uomo was meant to excel here, but we found it less confidence inspiring than certain other XC shoes we’ve used.

At 350 grams per shoe they're certainly light enough for long days and racing, however shaving grams is the name of the game and some of the competition have managed to outperform the M3B Uomo in this regard.

Long Term Durability

As always, we did our best to put the M3B Uomo through the wringer. Plenty of JRA abuse and they still look and perform like new. The BOA system has shown no wear, the soles remain relatively unscathed, and the uppers are free of major scuff marks. Unfortunately, we did manage to put a ¼” slice in the leather at some point. The odd location had us scratching our heads and we can’t remember any crashes or bushwhacks where it was likely to have happened. It hasn't grown, and otherwise the shoe handled all of the abuse we put it through.

What's The Bottom Line?

Enduro products are all the rage these days and while all-mountain shoes have found a solid balance between pedaling and hiking, XC shoes are simply a better tool when it comes to putting power to the pedals. The fashion might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but when it comes to function, the M3B Uomo has you covered. Whether you’re wearing lycra or baggies, the Fi’zi:k M3B Uomo oozes Italian style and backs it up with world-class performance.

Visit www.fizik.it for more details.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 8 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at Straightshot.

This product has no reviews yet

Added reply in a thread 2015 Racing Rumours - MTB Musical Chairs 4/23/2015 6:01 AM

It'd be a bummer if the MTB division goes too. Some great products recently and they've provided a huge amount of support to up and coming racers in BC.

Added a product review for Easton Haven 35 Stem 4/5/2015 6:02 AM
C138_easton_haven_35mm_stem

Tested: Easton Haven 35 Handlebar and Stem

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

Getting comfortable on a bike is a tricky one. It can easily be argued that one of, if not the most important factors is cockpit setup. Stem and bar combinations are just about limitless when one considers length, rise, width, and sweep. Recent advancements in carbon fiber technology and as of late, an increase in handlebar diameter have made the choices that much more convoluted. The general trend in the mountain bike industry is shorter stems and wider bars, but the 31.8mm clamp diameter is less than ideal according to some manufacturers. The creation of 35mm diameter handlebars has not only allowed for bar widths to increase, but for stiffness, weight, and compliance to be refined further too. Easton has always been at the sharp end of the pack when it comes to product development and recently overhauled their all-mountain Haven lineup with a 35mm clamp. Is it worth the upgrade or just another standard? Read on to get our impressions.

Haven 35 Stem Highlights

  • Finish: black
  • Weight: 138-g (50-mm)
  • Rise: 0⁰
  • Clamp diameter: 35-mm
  • Steerer: 1 1/8”
  • Available lengths (mm): 32, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90
  • Material: CNC machined aluminum
  • MSRP: $100 USD

Haven 35 Carbon Bar Highlights

  • Finish: matte UD carbon
  • Weight: 188-g
  • Width: 750-mm
  • Bend: 9⁰, 5⁰ upsweep
  • Rise (mm): 20 or 40
  • Clamp diameter: 35-mm
  • Material: EC90 carbon
  • MSRP: $160 USD

Initial Impressions

At Vital we get to geek out on bikes just about every day of the year. One of the biggest disappointments is when a bike arrives with a long stem and narrow bars. Thankfully, Easton has answered the call. Haven stems begin at just 32mm in length and while the Haven bar is only 750mm wide, its bigger brother the Havoc comes in at a full 800mm.

Hot damn is it light. The Haven 35 cockpit weighs in at 326 grams for bar and stem. With the use of the 35mm clamp, Easton has not only dropped a few grams from the setup, but they’ve also increased strength. Good news considering the amount of force going through the front end of a mountain bike.

Aesthetics are no doubt subjective. The matte carbon finish of the Haven 35 bar is easy on the eyes. Likewise with the gloss finish on the stem. Both the bar and stem have subtle Easton branding. Whether you’re after stealth or flashy, the new Haven lineup has you covered. Four colors are available.

It's important to note that the faceplate is directional. When installing, tighten the top bolts first to torque, which will bottom the stem and faceplate out. This makes it easier to install and also makes the stem stronger, something Easton calls Top-Lock Technology. (Note: There should be no gap between top of the faceplate and stem as shown in the photos above.)

The Haven 35 carbon bar ends are labeled for riders looking to trim them down. There is plenty of room for controls to be run well inside of the grips, even if the bar has been cut. The bend and sweep on the handlebar aren’t a departure from what Easton has done in the past, but we’re happy about that. We feel that the Haven 35 has bend, upsweep and rise nailed.

On The Trail

Since we ran the Haven 35 primarily on a wagon-wheeler, we opted for the 20-mm rise option to keep the front end low. The stem had identical dimensions to the one it replaced at 50-mm, while the bars were slightly narrower. We’re pretty fussy about bike setup and worried about bar width at first, but we forgot about it quickly and we were up to our usual shenanigans within a few pedal strokes.

Stems are one of those components that we like to set and forget. Once we had our stack height where it needed to be and the bolts torqued appropriately, we didn’t need to address the stem once. The Haven 35 stem is much the same as the previous version, which is just fine with us. It was plenty stiff, creak free, and looked good. Full points.

The real difference with the new 35mm Haven series is with the handlebars. They feature Easton’s trademarked TaperWall technology, which allows them to add material in some areas for stiffness and use less material where compliance is the goal. Sure it’s light, but we are more concerned with ride quality and the Haven 35 carbon was a noticeable improvement in back to back testing versus a 31.8mm carbon bar. The bar is stiff enough that we felt no flex, yet compliant enough that perceived trail chatter was reduced. The improved performance was most obvious in off-camber sections. The Haven 35 carbon handlebars were much the same as the stem. Set and forget.

Easton was also kind enough to toss in a pair of their carbon friendly lock-on grips. It’s worth noting that Easton uniquely covered the screws and flanges with rubber which improves grip for riders who overlap the edges of their bars. They provided plenty of grip both wet and dry, even when we chose to ride without gloves.

At the end of the day, we admit that unless you’re testing products back to back for the sake of comparison, it’s pretty tough to tell the difference between 31.8-mm and 35-mm setups. No question that in the lab there is a clear winner and given the choice we would go 35-mm, but we see the wider diameter as a refinement rather than a revolution.

Things That Could Be Improved

Even though the Haven lineup is geared towards the trail riding crowd we were a little bit disappointed that the Haven 35 bar is only 750-mm wide. We mentioned that the loss of width didn’t put us off, but we’d go wider given the option. If the bar is strong enough, why not make it a full 800-mm and let the consumer decide where to trim it? Even though it’s a minor difference and still an increase over the previous Haven bar, it could be a deal breaker for prospective buyers. We suspect Easton went this route since they have the Havoc 35 carbon too.

Long Term Durability

Easton’s impact and fatigue testing videos look far more abusive than anything that we’ve managed to do throughout the test. Nevertheless we did our best to use and abuse Easton’s Haven 35 cockpit, but we had zero success. We are certain that we’ll break ourselves long before we break this particular cockpit.

What's The Bottom Line?

No doubt that $260 USD for a bar and stem is a pretty penny, but when many trail bikes are north of $5K why shouldn’t they come with ‘the perfect handlebar’? The new Haven 35 cockpit is nearly flawless, especially if you preferred bar width is 750-mm or less. It is a definite improvement over the previous generation of Haven products and over 31.8-mm in general. Beyond our little gripe about width, the Haven 35 front end performed soundly, weighed shockingly little, and looked great.

More information at: www.eastoncycling.com.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

This product has no reviews yet

Added a product review for Easton Haven 35 Carbon Handlebar 4/5/2015 6:00 AM
C138_easton_haven_35_carbon_high_rise_green

Tested: Easton Haven 35 Handlebar and Stem

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

Getting comfortable on a bike is a tricky one. It can easily be argued that one of, if not the most important factors is cockpit setup. Stem and bar combinations are just about limitless when one considers length, rise, width, and sweep. Recent advancements in carbon fiber technology and as of late, an increase in handlebar diameter have made the choices that much more convoluted. The general trend in the mountain bike industry is shorter stems and wider bars, but the 31.8mm clamp diameter is less than ideal according to some manufacturers. The creation of 35mm diameter handlebars has not only allowed for bar widths to increase, but for stiffness, weight, and compliance to be refined further too. Easton has always been at the sharp end of the pack when it comes to product development and recently overhauled their all-mountain Haven lineup with a 35mm clamp. Is it worth the upgrade or just another standard? Read on to get our impressions.

Haven 35 Stem Highlights

  • Finish: black
  • Weight: 138-g (50-mm)
  • Rise: 0⁰
  • Clamp diameter: 35-mm
  • Steerer: 1 1/8”
  • Available lengths (mm): 32, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90
  • Material: CNC machined aluminum
  • MSRP: $100 USD

Haven 35 Carbon Bar Highlights

  • Finish: matte UD carbon
  • Weight: 188-g
  • Width: 750-mm
  • Bend: 9⁰, 5⁰ upsweep
  • Rise (mm): 20 or 40
  • Clamp diameter: 35-mm
  • Material: EC90 carbon
  • MSRP: $160 USD

Initial Impressions

At Vital we get to geek out on bikes just about every day of the year. One of the biggest disappointments is when a bike arrives with a long stem and narrow bars. Thankfully, Easton has answered the call. Haven stems begin at just 32mm in length and while the Haven bar is only 750mm wide, its bigger brother the Havoc comes in at a full 800mm.

Hot damn is it light. The Haven 35 cockpit weighs in at 326 grams for bar and stem. With the use of the 35mm clamp, Easton has not only dropped a few grams from the setup, but they’ve also increased strength. Good news considering the amount of force going through the front end of a mountain bike.

Aesthetics are no doubt subjective. The matte carbon finish of the Haven 35 bar is easy on the eyes. Likewise with the gloss finish on the stem. Both the bar and stem have subtle Easton branding. Whether you’re after stealth or flashy, the new Haven lineup has you covered. Four colors are available.

It's important to note that the faceplate is directional. When installing, tighten the top bolts first to torque, which will bottom the stem and faceplate out. This makes it easier to install and also makes the stem stronger, something Easton calls Top-Lock Technology. (Note: There should be no gap between top of the faceplate and stem as shown in the photos above.)

The Haven 35 carbon bar ends are labeled for riders looking to trim them down. There is plenty of room for controls to be run well inside of the grips, even if the bar has been cut. The bend and sweep on the handlebar aren’t a departure from what Easton has done in the past, but we’re happy about that. We feel that the Haven 35 has bend, upsweep and rise nailed.

On The Trail

Since we ran the Haven 35 primarily on a wagon-wheeler, we opted for the 20-mm rise option to keep the front end low. The stem had identical dimensions to the one it replaced at 50-mm, while the bars were slightly narrower. We’re pretty fussy about bike setup and worried about bar width at first, but we forgot about it quickly and we were up to our usual shenanigans within a few pedal strokes.

Stems are one of those components that we like to set and forget. Once we had our stack height where it needed to be and the bolts torqued appropriately, we didn’t need to address the stem once. The Haven 35 stem is much the same as the previous version, which is just fine with us. It was plenty stiff, creak free, and looked good. Full points.

The real difference with the new 35mm Haven series is with the handlebars. They feature Easton’s trademarked TaperWall technology, which allows them to add material in some areas for stiffness and use less material where compliance is the goal. Sure it’s light, but we are more concerned with ride quality and the Haven 35 carbon was a noticeable improvement in back to back testing versus a 31.8mm carbon bar. The bar is stiff enough that we felt no flex, yet compliant enough that perceived trail chatter was reduced. The improved performance was most obvious in off-camber sections. The Haven 35 carbon handlebars were much the same as the stem. Set and forget.

Easton was also kind enough to toss in a pair of their carbon friendly lock-on grips. It’s worth noting that Easton uniquely covered the screws and flanges with rubber which improves grip for riders who overlap the edges of their bars. They provided plenty of grip both wet and dry, even when we chose to ride without gloves.

At the end of the day, we admit that unless you’re testing products back to back for the sake of comparison, it’s pretty tough to tell the difference between 31.8-mm and 35-mm setups. No question that in the lab there is a clear winner and given the choice we would go 35-mm, but we see the wider diameter as a refinement rather than a revolution.

Things That Could Be Improved

Even though the Haven lineup is geared towards the trail riding crowd we were a little bit disappointed that the Haven 35 bar is only 750-mm wide. We mentioned that the loss of width didn’t put us off, but we’d go wider given the option. If the bar is strong enough, why not make it a full 800-mm and let the consumer decide where to trim it? Even though it’s a minor difference and still an increase over the previous Haven bar, it could be a deal breaker for prospective buyers. We suspect Easton went this route since they have the Havoc 35 carbon too.

Long Term Durability

Easton’s impact and fatigue testing videos look far more abusive than anything that we’ve managed to do throughout the test. Nevertheless we did our best to use and abuse Easton’s Haven 35 cockpit, but we had zero success. We are certain that we’ll break ourselves long before we break this particular cockpit.

What's The Bottom Line?

No doubt that $260 USD for a bar and stem is a pretty penny, but when many trail bikes are north of $5K why shouldn’t they come with ‘the perfect handlebar’? The new Haven 35 cockpit is nearly flawless, especially if you preferred bar width is 750-mm or less. It is a definite improvement over the previous generation of Haven products and over 31.8-mm in general. Beyond our little gripe about width, the Haven 35 front end performed soundly, weighed shockingly little, and looked great.

More information at: www.eastoncycling.com.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

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Added a comment about product review Tested: Five Ten Kestrel Clipless Shoe 3/4/2015 10:53 PM
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I don't have a pair of Impact VXi shoes in the garage at the moment, but they have just as much as the Maltese Falcon LT. You can also see from my cleat position in the photo that I have tons of room to move further back.

Even folks that want to run the pedal nearly in the middle of their foot should have enough range.

This product_review has 11 comments.

Liked a comment on the item Tested: Five Ten Kestrel Clipless Shoe 3/3/2015 2:58 PM

Ed Masters shreds in crocs. They might be onto something…

Added a product review for Five Ten Kestrel Clipless Shoe 3/3/2015 1:31 AM
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Tested: Five Ten Kestrel Clipless Shoe

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

Five Ten was founded by rock climber Charles Cole. In 1985, Cole created the Stealth S1 rubber compound, which quickly became the gold standard within the climbing community due to its tenacious grip and durability. In the early 2000’s racers like Kovarik and Hill were dominating DH and helped to make Five Ten the go-to shoe among flat pedal riders. When Greg Minnaar came on board, he asked for a SPD-compatible shoe with the advantages of stealth rubber. The Impact Clipless VXi and the Maltese Falcon LT are their most recent shoes that have not only won the hearts of the DH community, but the trail riders too. We’ve been hoping for an even more pedal friendly shoe for a while now, and Five Ten let them out of the bag at Crankworx last summer.

Five Ten Kestrel Highlights

  • BOA closure system for performance fit
  • Dual Compound Outsole
  • Stealth Mi6 rubber on heel and toe for great grip and shock absorption
  • Stealth C4 rubber where pedal contacts shoe to increase power transfer
  • Ortholite sock liner
  • Carbon infused shank for increased sole stiffness
  • Uppers are polyester synthetic and textile
  • Synthetic toe for splash resistance
  • Perforated upper and tongue for breathability
  • Rubber toe bumper
  • Weight: 403g per shoe (Size 9 US)
  • MSRP: $180 USD

Initial Impressions

At first glance it is clear that the folks at Five Ten took a new approach with the Kestrel. Compared to the Maltese Falcon, Hellcat, and Impact VXi clipless, this shoe was built with all day epics and efficiency in mind. The Kestel upper is more streamlined than other Five Ten models, although still more robust than a typical cross-country race shoe. The heel and toe areas feature synthetic materials and rubber for durability and water resistance, while the tongue and uppermost portion are ventilated for heat management. The sole of the shoe is pre-cut for cleats and allows for plenty of adjustment with ample cleat room regardless of brand. The Mi6 and C4 rubber are seamlessly bonded.

The most notable feature is the BOA closure system. The system is comprised of steel lace, nylon guides, and a mechanical reel located on the outside of each shoe. It is meant to provide a more precise fit, eliminate pressure points, improve adjustability, and reduce weight. The BOA may be a first for Five Ten, but it has been successfully utilized in a wide variety of applications, including cycling shoes. Functionality aside, it also adds to the sleek aesthetics of the Kestrel.

The general style of the Kestrel parallels that of the Impact VXi and Maltese Falcon Race. Black, grey, and red highlights are stylish without being over the top bright. Style is subjective, but we dig the look of the Kestrel.

To help you position the Kestrel in the Five Ten range, here is a comparison chart of the different clipless models on offer:

On The Trail

This ‘winter’ the Pacific Northwest has seen mild temperatures and a healthy dose of rainfall. The shortage of good skiing (unless you enjoy boilerplate and avalanche debris) has meant plenty of riding and in the worst conditions imaginable, perfect for product testing.

Shoe fit is accurate and consistent with other Five Ten models. We were a little concerned about sizing at first as the BOA system and performance fit prevented us slipping them as easily as others, but once we had our feet in we were reassured that not only was the sizing accurate, but that the Kestrel contours the foot better than just about anything else available.

The BOA can be easily adjusted to personal taste. On our first ride it took a few attempts to get things dialed, due mainly to our inexperience with the system. Once we found the sweet spot, the advantages of the BOA became more and more apparent. The steel cable and nylon guides spread the load evenly across the foot without any pressure points. The system allowed us to tighten and adjust the shoe very precisely for a snug fit – no energy is wasted by gaps within the shoe. Traditional laces will always attract riders looking for a certain style of shoe, but in our opinion the BOA simply performs better.

For a number of weeks now the Kestrel has suffered through wet conditions. Although it isn't 100% waterproof, the Kestrel sheds water easily. The thin uppers absorb very little water, they dry out quickly and mud can easily be wiped off. We haven’t experienced sweltering temperatures, but breathability is improved over the Maltese Falcon LT, which we happily use during the summer months.

The Kestrel is Five Ten’s stiffest shoe to date. The carbon infused shank definitely improves power transfer, yet the sole hasn’t been made so stiff that pedal feel is lost. We like the Maltese Falcon LT, but we were hoping for a little more stiffness which the Kestrel has in spades. Too stiff? We don’t think so. The compromise between the improved pedaling efficiency and flat pedal security is bang on.

Part of the reason Five Ten chose to use a dual compound sole was to improve the interaction between clipless pedals and the Kestrel. The Stealth C4 rubber is meant to make clipping in and out easier, in addition to improving energy transfer to the pedals. The ease with which we could clip in and out was indeed slightly improved depending on the pedal tested. Small cages had more than enough contact with the sole of the shoe, but the Kestrel truly shone when paired with larger bodied pedals. In particular, we had great success with Shimano XT Trail and Crankbrothers Mallet 3 pedals. The Mi6 rubber on the heel and toe ensured that we still had the grip we’ve come to love when things get wild or when hiking.

We did our best to avoid crash testing the Kestrel, but a few roosted rocks found their way to our instep throughout the test. While the tongue has less padding than the Impact VXi, it has enough that the stray rocks didn’t bother us more than usual. Protection is on par with most all-mountain shoes and better than pure XC shoes. We feel that the trail-oriented Kestrel has struck a good balance between minimalism and protection.

Things That Could Be Improved

After a few months of abuse, we are having a tough time finding fault with the Kestrel. It really is that good. Folks with a high instep may find that the BOA doesn’t allow enough slack to slip into the shoe without some effort, but we’re just nitpicking. The inner nylon guides are showing slight signs of wear from rubbing the cranks occasionally. After a year or two of riding, it is likely that this might weaken the guide to the point where it might fail.

Long Term Durability

We had our reservations about the BOA system and the mechanical reel being susceptible to damage. No such luck however, even with a few direct encounters with deadfall and rocks throughout the test. The uppers show no sign of the abuse they suffered, regardless of our maltreatment. The soles have held up well throughout the test, with little visible evidence of where the pedal pins directly meet the Stealth C4 rubber. Full marks here.

What's The Bottom Line?

Five Ten has produced another winner with the Kestrel. It retains what we’ve come to love about Five Ten, but it features a few upgrades that meet a trail rider’s needs better than ever. It is the ideal shoe for any trail rider, enduro racer, or beer leaguer. It isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for with the Kestrel. Stiff? Relatively light? Durable? Functional? Stylish? All of the above.

Visit fiveten.com/products/bike for more details.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

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Added a comment about product review Tested: Commencal Meta AM V4 2/16/2015 7:15 AM
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It climbs efficiently while seated and also while standing. Compared to other 150mm+ bikes it is above average.

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This product_review has 10 comments.

Added a comment about product review Tested: Commencal Meta AM V4 2/7/2015 12:46 PM
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Many of my preferred local trails are tight and technical too. I personally never felt that it was too much in terms of wheelbase, chainstay length, or reach. I would feel cramped if I were on a medium. In your position I personally prefer larger frames. Worst case scenario I shorten up the cockpit with a stem swap.

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This product_review has 10 comments.

Added a comment about product review Tested: Commencal Meta AM V4 1/6/2015 4:53 PM
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I'm happy to answer anything specific that you were still wondering about.

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This product_review has 10 comments.

Added a product review for 2015 Commencal Meta AM V4 Race 650b BOS 1/3/2015 5:33 PM
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Tested: Commencal Meta AM V4

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

Commencal’s Meta series has existed in one form or another for quite some time, and is built on a philosophy of “pleasure, performance, and aesthetics”. After a successful press launch , we were keen to spend more time riding what we felt was a better bike than the V3. The latest Meta AM is longer and lower than the previous generation, with an updated suspension design and shorter chainstays. After our honeymoon in France, we wanted to find out whether the marriage would last after a few months.

Meta AM V4 Highlights

  • AL 6066 triple butted T4/T6 frame
  • 650B wheel size
  • Contact System featuring 6-inches (150-mm) of travel
  • Tapered head tube
  • BB92 pressfit bottom bracket
  • ISCG 05 mount
  • Maxle rear axle 12x142
  • High direct front derailleur mount
  • Post mount rear brake
  • Internal cable and dropper post routing
  • Specific double density injected chainstay protector with integrated derailleur housing
  • Water bottle mount
  • 4 sizes available: S, M, L & XL
  • Estimated frame weight: 3.0 kg without shock (complete builds between 28 to 30-lbs)
  • MSRP: $2,499-$5,499 USD

Meta AM V4 Geometry

Initial Impressions

The overall appearance of the Meta AM V4 is striking. Most folks will be immediately drawn to the bold looks. The broad top tube, high-end components, aggressive geometry, bright colors, and large welds serve notice of the bike’s aggressive intentions.

The Contact System is a linkage driven single pivot design. The most notable feature is the use of a clevis mounted on the seat tube. Commencal engineers chose this design as it allowed them to achieve their ideal suspension leverage ratio without interfering with the seat tube. Their intention was to improve sensitivity early in the bike’s travel, increase pedalling efficiency while sagged, and to preserve progressivity near the end of the stroke. Taking a look at the leverage ratio chart it becomes obvious that they succeeded, at least on paper.

Upon closer inspection of the frame, the shock tunnel in the top tube is another uncommon feature that had us curious. Rather than welding the shock mount to the top tube, the two are integrated which allowed Commencal to lower the standover height as well as place the shock in a position where it is easy to reach for on-the-fly adjustments. It also resulted in a lighter frame, and one which better distributes suspension forces.

Setup was straightforward. Easy internal cable routing, user-friendly BOS suspension, and components that appeared to be very well chosen. We were ready to hit the trails!

On The Trail

Fall in the Pacific Northwest started off atypically dry and warm, and has since been setting records for rainfall. Squamish, BC was our home base during the test, and we also logged a number of rides in the surrounding areas, including the Whistler Bike Park. We managed to ride the bike more than enough to identify where the bike excelled and where there was still room for improvement.

At 5’11” (~1m80), size large seemed appropriate. The roomy 448-mm reach, combined with a 60-mm stem and a 750-mm bar places riders in a balanced position. The most recent Meta has a centered “in the bike” feeling while standing, and the 74-degree seat angle felt comfortable while seated.

The Meta AM was predictable and confident while descending. Square edge hits were not completely erased, but they were reduced to the point where they could be disregarded. Compared to the Meta V3, both pedal kickback and brake squat have been reduced, yet they remain relatively high. The rear end was forgiving enough in the early stages of the travel that it tracks well, yet firm in the mid-stroke so it could still be playful. When we dropped our heels and pointed it, the firmer ride (relative to the V3) ensured that we weren’t blowing through travel unnecessarily. We did find the bottom of the suspension, but it wasn’t harsh nor unexpected given what we were riding.

Commencal designed the V4’s rear end to flex slightly more than the previous generation, as the engineers believe that a certain amount of flex helps with cornering traction and grip on rough trails. We never felt too much flex. In fact, the slight reduction in stiffness wasn’t even noticeable on the trail (for this 185-lbs test rider). Regardless, the rear end held lines very well and encouraged us to push it.

The BOS Deville fork was smooth and consistent throughout the entire travel. The fork's damping makes it supportive and resistant to diving. We did bottom the fork quite hard on one occasion. The result was an audible click in the initial stroke, which was eliminated once we removed all of the air and re-pressurized the fork. In the rear, our test bike featured the BOS Kirk shock. It had a similar feel and damping characteristics to the fork, which made for a very well balanced, predictable ride. The consistent suspension and centered riding position added to the bike’s equilibrium between straight-line speed and playful agility.

Pedalling efficiency has improved significantly with the new design. Lengthy road climbs are tolerable, and technical climbs are aided by the active suspension. When sprinting, the bike was supportive enough that it didn’t sap energy, yet forgiving enough to allow us to charge through rough sections.

In summary, the V4 performs best when being ridden hard. The improved mid-stroke support enhances cornering confidence and the ability to swap lines. Forceful rider input was rewarded with snappy response and acceleration. It caters to a rider that remains centered. Those with a rearward bias, or who consistently plow, are less likely to reap the benefits of the updated design. A marginal loss of mid-stroke forgiveness is worth it for significantly improved pedalling, momentum preservation, and responsiveness, and makes for a fun and rewarding overall riding experience.

Build Kit

Competition is fierce in the $5K range, so we would expect that companies would be diligent in their component selection to ensure that buyers’ needs are met without any part swaps. Our test bike differed from the stock Meta AM V4 Race build kit on Commencal's site, but the exact build we rode is available to order through Commencal’s custom “A La Carte” program.

The highlight of the V4 Race is the use of the BOS suspension. Some buyers might be apprehensive about moving away from the big brands, but our recent experience with smaller suspension companies is that the majority of them are on the right track, including BOS.

Our test bike came equipped with a Race Face Next bar and Atlas stem, rather than Commencal’s in house Alpha brand as featured on the off-the-shelf Race build, but the 60-mm stem and 750-mm bar remain consistent between the two and felt perfect. Commencal’s own lock-on grips were comfortable and only have an internal lock ring, which this tester prefers due to a hand position overlapping the edge of the grip.

The SRAM Guide RS brakes, X01 drivetrain, and Rockshox Reverb each did their job effectively. SRAM’s latest brake offering has improved power and retains the much-acclaimed modulation of previous generations. We experienced no loss of power or other inconsistency with the brakes even on fall-line descents lasting several minutes. The light-yet-burly Next SL cranks from Race Face impressed the Vital test team before, and they performed to those high standards here as well. Direct mount, spider-less chainring saves a few more grams and looks great.

Commencal’s Alpha Enduro wheelset remained stiff and true. Tubeless ready tires from Maxxis and Schwalbe were easily mounted with the use of a compressor. Tire pressure ranged from the mid to high 20’s and we experienced no burping even though the rim met the ground on a few occasions. The freewheel body features 6 pawls and engages quickly. The rear hub is audible, without being distractingly loud. The wheels tip the scale at 1852-grams for the pair, but despite being strong enough for trips to the bike parkwe never found them sluggish.

We feel that Commencal have nailed the build with this bike. Not a single component is a liability and they all suit the bike’s intended purpose. Riders with a limitless budget may choose to save weight with a lighter wheelset, but we wouldn’t bother. Also note that the less expensive builds all feature sensible parts at very good value - a result of Commencal's new consumer direct sales model (available as such in the US too since October 2014).

Things That Could Be Improved

The seat tube and bottom bracket junction is open to allow for easier cable routing. While we appreciated this when setting things up, we found that debris collected in this area. A quick post-ride rinse would clear the vast majority of it, but for Pacific Northwest slop, we felt the need to run a tube over this area.

We enjoyed the BOS suspension front and rear on our test bike and there weren't any major issues to speak of. It is possible that parts and technicians might be scarce depending on location, as BOS is still relatively uncommon in North America. Not a disadvantage if you live close to a qualified service center, but worth pointing out.

The rear end of the bike is wide, a result of thick tubing and the decision to position the rear brake caliper inside the stays for protection. We managed to scuff the chainstays and seatstays, in addition to putting some wear on our shoes. It wasn’t a distraction while riding, but we don’t generally find ourselves rubbing stays.

At over $5,000 USD (list price) the V4 Race equipped with BOS suspension isn’t overpriced by any stretch of the imagination, but it is still a pretty penny. The Race upgrade may be more expensive than some riders are willing to pay and might thus deter prospective buyers. It is therefore worth pointing out that the Rockshox equipped version is rad, saves over $1,000 over the Race, and offers outstanding value for money.

Long Term Durability

The foul conditions throughout the majority of this test were about as nasty as it gets. The stout frame and solid components have us confident that this bike can handle long-term abuse no matter what you throw at it.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Meta AM V4 is without a doubt an improvement over the previous generation. It pumps through trails smoothly, holds lines precisely, and can sprint through just about anything. Pedaling efficiency has been drastically improved and reduced mass adds to the Meta's cross country prowess - an achilles heel of the previous generations. Modern trail bike geometry increases confidence while descending as well as all day comfort. The Meta AM V4 is sure to meet most riders’ needs and the new North American direct distribution model (serviced in country!) makes them much more accessible and affordable in that market than before. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more Commencal bikes at your local trail network, beer league races, or on the chairlift.

For more information visit: http://www.commencalusa.com/.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Smith Overtake Helmet 9/2/2014 2:27 PM
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Tested: Smith Overtake Helmet

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas and Dave Silver (BCBR)

Smith has been producing eyewear since 1965, and has recently been making the move into cycling helmets. Late last summer they released the unique Forefront, for hard charging trail riders seeking innovative features and ample protection. Featuring many of the same features and distinct styling, Smith also created the Overtake helmet, catered towards riders looking for a more traditional XC-style helmet that could also be used on the road. The Overtake was not intended to be an entry level helmet; Smith took what they’ve learned from their years of experience, and went straight for the top. We've racked up the miles with the Overtake to find out how close they came.

Overtake Highlights

  • Available in sizes S, M, L
  • 12 color options
  • Aerocore construction
  • Koroyd polymer cores
  • Available with Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS)
  • Wind tunnel tested
  • Weight: 250g (without MIPS)
  • $250 or $290 (with MIPS)

Initial Impressions

The first thing that stands out when one glances at the Overtake is the unique aesthetics that Smith has kept consistent with the Forefront. The overall shape of the helmet is no major departure from the norm, however the panels, vent shape, and Koroyd structure all are. The use of the honeycomb-esque Koroyd offers 30% more impact absorption over traditional EPS construction, in addition to being lighter, slimmer, and providing directed ventilation.

Smith's Aerocore construction combines a more traditional EPS liner and plastic shell with the Koroyd layer to provide additional protection and structure. Hidden within the helmet is MIPS, the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (available as an option). It allows the shell of the helmet to rotate slightly in the event of a rotational impact, to further reduce trauma. Inside, a minimalist approach to padding keeps things low profile yet functional. The retention system for the Overtake is simple and effective: a single dial, simple strap, and a few manual adjustment options round out the rear of the helmet.

On The Trail

Initially, the most impressive thing about the Overtake is the lack of weight. The helmet is light. There are lighter offerings out there, but the lack of heft was immediately apparent compared to the helmet it replaced. The fit of the helmet is very comfortable. Obviously head shapes can vary significantly, but the Overtake's retention system can be adjusted, and the helmet should fit most.

The ventilation on the Overtake is superb. While the predecessor seemed well ventilated and cool, the Overtake provided far more airflow – no doubt a combination of the Koroyd, weight, and lack of a visor. While riding, the helmet did not shift or rattle, and the integrated eyewear dock never lost grip on the non-Smith glasses that were perched upon the Overtake from time to time. Fortunately, the helmet’s ability to absorb impact was not tested directly, but Smith would suggest that the Overtake does an outstanding job in this regard.

Things That Could Be Improved

The rear strap on the helmet has very little clearance between it and the rear of the ear. For some, the strap might rub behind their ears and be a nuisance.

Long Term Durability

The helmet has been worn multiple times per week since late June. It also traveled to the BC Bike Race and was worn between Crankworx EWS stages. The pads, straps, and helmet itself have remained intact and fully functional. The Koroyd structure is a little bit tough to clean once mud gets inside, but a soft brush gets it out without much hassle. There is no evidence to suggest that the Overtake won’t last for quite some time.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Smith Overtake’s unique styling is polarizing; however the functionality is tough to debate. Trail riders, XC racers, and roadies alike will all enjoy the breathability, lack of weight, and comfort that the helmet provides. Whether you’re after performance with little compromise, or all day comfort, Smith has done an outstanding job with the Overtake.

For more information: www.smithoptics.com/overtake


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 9 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

This product has 1 review

Added a new photo album BCBR 2014 8/31/2014 9:20 AM
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Added a product review for 2015 Niner JET 9 RDO Limited Edition 8/5/2014 7:40 AM
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Tested: 2015 Niner Jet 9 RDO

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

At the end of March, I was offered the opportunity to race the BC Bike Race. This 7 day XC stage race is advertised as the ‘ultimate single track experience’. Being that my little bike falls on the burly end of the spectrum I wanted to get my hands on a capable, durable XC whippet to train and race on. The ideal marathon XC bike has to be light and efficient enough to allow a rider to conserve energy as much as possible, but it also needs to be confidence inspiring for whatever one might come across while on the trail.

Enter the Niner Jet 9 RDO Limited Edition.

Jet 9 RDO Highlights

  • New RDO carbon layup for no-compromise stiffness, strength and ride quality
  • RDO Full Suspension
  • 100mm of patented CVA suspension is efficient in every chainring
  • Compatible with 100 - 120mm tapered forks
  • Tuned for CVA – Fox float CTD shock with Kashima coating
  • Carbon suspension linkage and unique Niner hardware
  • 142x12mm Maxle rear spacing
  • Available in XS- XL sizes
  • Colors: Carbon/Niner Red,Niner Green,Licorice Black
  • Weight: 22.5 pounds
  • Geometry:44.2” wheelbase, 70.5⁰ head tube, 1.1” BB drop, 73.5⁰ seat tube, 16.3” reach, 24.3” stack (medium frame with 120mm fork)
  • MSRP: $9,999 USD

Initial Impressions

The Jet 9 RDO is Niner’s flagship cross country dually. RDO stands for ‘race day optimized’, but don’t let that fool you into believing that this bike is fragile or that it can’t be a great daily driver. Basically, the RDO acronym is used across all of Niner's top shelf frames. The new Carbon Compaction System improves strength, stiffness and durability, reduces frame weight, and is used throughout the RDO lineup going forward. The business end of the Jet 9 RDO features Niner’s patented CVA suspension. This dual link design was created in order to maximize the benefits of 29” hoops and increased BB drop.

Out of the box, the attention to detail is evident. I have always found the Jet 9 RDO to be aesthetically pleasing and was impressed to learn that the frame design was actually created with strength, stiffness and damping characteristics in mind. That said, the bike looks fast sitting still. Gorgeous finish (Niner claims to have shaved grams with a new paint process), top shelf components, internal cable routing, integrated chainstay protection, and Enduro Magnetite Black sealed bearings - it is clear that Niner spared no expense when creating the Jet 9 RDO. The bike looks like it has one purpose: riding at a high rate of speed.

The frame arrived with a Float RP23 Kashima shock rather than the Float CTD shock listed on the website. I found the ideal setup was with the propedal set to 2 and sag around 15%. This setting allowed efficient climbing, with plenty of mid-stroke support when things got rough. The Rockshox RS-1 was also set up with the same amount of sag and one bottomless token installed.

On The Trail

Throughout the test period the bike was ridden primarily in Squamish, BC. Those who have ridden the area would likely agree that advanced XC descents here look more like DH tracks of yesteryear and that the technical climbs are littered with roots, rocks and punchy efforts. As mentioned, the bike was also used for the BC Bike Race. 7 days, approximately 310km, 10,000m of climbing and about 75% singletrack means that any bike weaknesses would be exposed. Beginning on Vancouver’s iconic North Shore, stages were also held in Cumberland, Powell River, two on the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and finally Whistler.

With a longer stem and narrow bars I was concerned that I would not be comfortable with the stock setup. While it did take some adjustment in terms of steering input, I quickly found myself pushing harder than I would have thought possible with a 100mm XC bike. The Jet 9 RDO has neutral geometry with the 120mm RS-1. Niner hasn’t gone too far in terms of the use of unique geometry numbers for the sake of it. They have found a happy medium between climbing efficiency and descending prowess.

With such low weight, 29” wheels, and climb-friendly angles I expected the bike to ascend better than any other dual suspension bike I had ridden. In this regard it did not disappoint. Fire roads, technical singletrack, seated, standing, whatever… this bike is a rocket ship when climbing. This didn’t really come as a surprise. At less than 24 pounds, it should be. It was nice to have a bike that compensated for lack of fitness. It allowed for more enjoyment while descending, and made hanging with leg-shaving fitness mutants possible.

One would also expect the Jet 9 RDO to rally through flat sections of trail. Doubles, manuals, good cornering technique and smooth line choice all resulted in free speed. Cases, skids, bunnyhucks, and poor line choice were all compensated for by efficient suspension. From a racing perspective this allowed a little bit of energy savings. From a fun-to-ride perspective this allowed more time laughing and less time gasping for air. Again, the RDO acronym and price tag would suggest that riders should expect this bike to carry momentum better than most.

What was a little surprising was how well the Niner descended. The 100mm of rear suspension is well utilized and predictable. The bike inspires confidence on all types of descending terrain. It jumps, pumps, and monster trucks as well as, or better than many XC/trail bikes, including many with markedly more travel. There were plenty of opportunities to expose any descending weaknesses. A small, mid-stage creek gap and a lap in the Whistler Bike Park on the final day were more than enough to flex, abuse, and even break a few frames. One cannot expect a XC race bike to descend with the same comfort and confidence as a 6” bike; however the Jet 9 RDO is certainly no slouch. I did manage to find my speed limit in the bike park and also on a couple of high-speed, rough, and sustained descents, but anything except the burliest of trails can be ridden confidently, and one should not hesitate to use this bike as an all-around trail shredder. The Jet 9 RDO’s descending prowess is a product of the CVA suspension, comfortable geometry, and wagon wheels. As a side note, a medium frame was used for this test. At 5’11”, a 50mm stem resulted in too tight of a cockpit. It is probable, that with a large frame, short stem, and a little more wheelbase, even less regard for body or bike would have been required.

Build Kit

The bike featured the 5-Star build “filled with top of the line components for the cycling connoisseur or athlete who refuses to compromise”.

  • Frame: Jet 9 RDO
  • Fork: Rock Shox RS-1 Solo Air 120mm
  • Shock: Fox Float RP23 Kashima
  • Wheels: Stan’s 3.30/ZTR Valor carbon, 15mm Sram XO, 142 x 12MM Rear Sram XO
  • Tires: Schwalbe Rapid Rob EVO TL 2.40/Racing Ralph EVO TL 2.25, Niner Graphic
  • Brakes & Rotors : Shimano XTR M985, 180/160mm Ice Tech
  • Brake Levers: Shimano XTR M988 Trail
  • R/ Shifter: Sram XX1
  • R/ Derailleur: Sram XX1
  • Cassette: Sram XG 1199 11sp 10-42T
  • Chain: Sram PC XX1
  • Crank Set: Sram XX1 PF30 32T
  • Bottom Bracket: Sram PF30
  • Saddle: WTB Volt Team with Ni-Cro Rails, Niner Graphic
  • Seat Post: Niner RDO Seat Post, 400MM, Red Niner Graphic
  • Handlebar: Niner Flat Top RDO, 710MM, Red Niner Graphic
  • Stem: Niner RDO Stem, 90mm, Red Niner Graphic
  • Grips: Niner Grrrips L/O

A few changes were made from the stock setup. The 32T chainring was swapped for a 34T for obvious reasons. Next, a Rock Shox Reverb seatpost was exchanged for the carbon post that comes standard in order to add descending confidence. Finally, the Schwalbe tires were exchanged for Maxxis Ikon EXO 2.2. While the Schwalbe tires rolled well and offered great traction for their intended use, the sidewalls were quite thin.

The SRAM drivetrain was fairly solid. A chain fell victim to phantom shifting, however once repaired no additional issues arose. The bottom bracket initially dragged noticeably. The bearing pre-load and spacers were somewhat finicky, and regardless of the setting there was always room for improvement. Eventually, the stock spacers were replaced which resulted in a noticeable reduction in drag.

The Shimano XTR brakes did their job without complaint. No fade or loss of power was experienced throughout the test. For hard braking efforts the small rotors weren’t as powerful as one might like, but overall braking was limited more by tire traction, not pure power. The finned brake pads rattle a little bit from time to time, however this doesn’t affect performance nor was it overly irritating.

The Rock Shox RS-1 fork lives up to the hype. While it may cost more than many used vehicles, those looking for every possible advantage on the trail need to consider the RS-1. The stiffness, damping, and traction are all superb.

The sub-1400 gram Valor wheelset may worry aggressive riders. Previous experience with XC wheelsets has generally ended with disappointment. Not the case here. The wheels remained straight, stiff, and did not see a spoke key or truing stand regardless of the abuse from a 185 pound rider. The wheels also added to the overall stiffness of the bike, and no doubt the carbon rims helped to absorb trail chatter along the way.

Things That Could Be Improved

Cable routing options were limited on the Jet 9 RDO. The combination of internal and external routing worked well for the brakes and shifting, however the inclusion of additional cables resulted in less than ideal routing. The lack of an internal option for a dropper post was also disappointing. The assumption that few XC racers would choose to run a dropper post was quickly proven false at local XC races. The vast majority of BC Bike Race participants also had dropper posts on their bikes, including the elites. Improved internal cable routing options would be a definite asset.

Niner has done a solid job of creating in house components. The bar, stem, and seat post were great. Unfortunately, Niner’s grips failed to meet the standard set by the rest of the bike. Regardless of install technique, the grips moved and twisted until tie-wire was employed. In addition, the rubber compound used for the grips seemed too firm: once saturated by sweat or rain, they were dang slippery. The custom WTB Volt saddle with Niner graphic was comfortable, but on a $10K bike most buyers would expect titanium or carbon rails to shave a few grams.

Long Term Durability

Throughout the test period the Jet 9 RDO saw quite a bit of abuse. In addition to regular rides, it was subjected to one of the more demanding stage races in North America. Most riders would agree that once they reach the redline, their bike takes more punishment than usual. 7 consecutive days of racing, with nothing more than a 5 minute bolt check between stages and zero issues to be seen other than a couple of drivetrain quibbles. Many bikes did not survive the race and do not survive BC in general. There were no unexpected issues with durability. The Jet 9 RDO is capable of coping with frequent beatings.

What's The Bottom Line?

Throughout the test period more time was spent rat-bagging the bike on local terrain than racing. It is refreshing to see that a 100mm XC bike is capable of shredding confidently, and that six inches of travel, a 63⁰ head angle, and a 50mm stem are not mandatory for getting wild. Unless riding mega-gnar constantly, some riders might even get more out of riding a lighter, faster, more efficient bike such as the Jet 9 RDO. This rig is more than an XC race machine. Although it compensated for a certain lack of fitness admirably, it did not take away from the reason most of us ride in the first place - blasting trails. Unless you’re the local anesthesiologist or a competitive racer, it is tough to justify a $10,000 bike, but no doubt that the more affordable Jet 9 RDO options are pretty much just as rad. If you’re after a no compromise, highly efficient, and fun short travel bike, the Jet Niner RDO should be considered.

For more information, head on over to www.ninerbikes.com.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 8 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Magura TS8 R 150 Fork 3/14/2014 12:08 PM
C138_magura_ts8_r_150_27

Tested: Magura TS8R 150 Fork

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Joel Harwood // Photos by AJ Barlas

Magura has a long and storied history in mechanical engineering, hydraulic engineering and plastics. Best known for brakes, Magura has been working their way into suspension for the last handful of years. Magura’s initial offerings such as the Thor and Wotan were not as well-received as they would have hoped for. With the feedback they received, Magura took their damping platform back to the drawing board and have produced a new cartridge designed to excel in burly terrain and under aggressive riders. A new damping system, shim tuning and volume spacers are all intended to work harmoniously in the TS8 R 150. Claims of stiffer, lighter and easier had my inner armchair engineer keen to put a new product to the test.

TS8R 150 Fork Highlights

  • 150-mm travel (internally adjustable from 120-150mm)
  • 26 or 27.5-inch wheels
  • 15-mm axle
  • Tapered steer tube
  • DLO3 cartridge (open, firm, lockout)
  • Includes volume spacer tuning kit to adjust progressivity
  • 7-inch post mount tabs
  • Axle to crown length of 538-mm
  • Weight: 3.71-pounds
  • MSRP: $849

Initial Impressions

On the surface, the TS8 R looks very similar to the Thor fork that it replaced. The most identifiable feature of Magura’s fork lowers is the Double Arch Design (DAD for short) which is said to increase torsional rigidity and steering precision. Plastic guards under the lowers protect the fork from impacts and abrasions and the dials all turn smoothly with a consistent feel. The machining, integrated housing stoppers and finish of the fork are spot on.

I have to admit that when it comes to suspension, shaving grams is not my highest priority. I usually just assume that components fall within a few grams of their claimed weight and I focus on whether the product performs as advertised rather than what it weighs. Heck, I’d add weight to my bike (gasp) if it means that performance will improve. Either way, the TS8 R was noticeably lighter than the fork it replaced.

One of the features I was most intrigued by was the use of grease instead of an oil bath for lower leg lubrication. Magura has redesigned their bushings and seals to work with their Fork Meister lubricant, rather than the more common combination of grease and oil found in the majority of forks. The Fork Meister bushing/grease combination is supposed to reduce friction while keeping things simple for do-it-yourself mechanics. I had every intention of pulling the fork apart before the first ride to inspect grease levels, but the trails beckoned and rather than tinkering I went riding.

I set the fork up with 78psi, the higher end of the recommended range for my weight and about 25% sag. I set rebound 3 clicks away from open for a fairly quick rebound speed; there are 14 clicks of adjustment and a massive range between them. Then it was time to go find out what this fork was really made of.

On The Trail

How does a 32mm stanchion feel on a point and shoot trail bike? Most folks would argue that 32mm stanchions are less than ideal on burly terrain. I’m no heavy weight, but at 190-pounds I can feel the difference between a stiff fork and a noodle. Whether or not the DAD is the difference maker I can’t be sure, but what I am sure of is that the TS8 R took a solid beating and that I didn’t experience any undesirable tucking or twisting in the front end.

Previous Magura suspension offerings were accused of a lack of compression, mid-stroke wallow and diving under braking. The TS8 R uses Magura’s DLO3 damping system. In the ‘open’ setting I found that while the fork was more supple at lower speeds, there wasn’t enough support for my taste or terrain where the fork has to take on successive hits. It didn’t bottom out excessively, but it did ride fairly deep in the stroke. I eventually settled on 80psi, 3 clicks out for rebound and the ‘firm’ setting. These settings gave me about 18% sag. According to Magura, the ‘firm’ setting is intended for aggressive riding (see: firm damping, reduced low-speed sensitivity and more trail feedback). The TS8 R in general seems to cater to riders who prefer a fork that rides higher in its travel and high speed rather than a fork that caters first and foremost to comfort.

The entire range of travel was well managed and predictable. No harsh ramping, excessive bottom-outs or clunking despite my best efforts to exceed the fork’s capability. Seated technical climbing required firm hand pressure to be maintained on the front end to keep the wheel tracking smoothly while using the ‘firm’ and ‘closed’ settings, although it wasn’t unexpected considering that I set the fork up to perform during aggressive descents rather than to be efficient while climbing.

The ‘open’, ‘firm’ and ‘closed’ options on the DLO3 damper are well executed in terms of how each setting differs in compression damping. What the DLO3 lacks is the ability to fine tune your fork without pulling it apart. Riders that want as much adjustability as possible and fine tune their settings regularly might shy away from the TS8 R because they find the fork too simple. For riders that prefer to use recommended settings rather than minutely adjusting their suspension, the DLO3 cartridge does an outstanding job out of the box.

Things That Could Be Improved

The front axle requires a T25 tool for removal. Some folks will certainly prefer a tool-free system and may gripe about the additional time it takes to remove the front wheel. I personally prefer the simplicity of the front axle and I would imagine it is slightly lighter than the tool-free competition. Worth noting regardless of which side of the fence you’re on.

Small bump compliance is not the fork’s strongest trait. While it does absorb less significant trail chatter, there are other offerings on the market that seem to do it more effectively. Even in the ‘open’ setting, I found that things could be better. There are advantages such as simplicity and ease of maintenance with the grease only concept; however it may be that it's more of a challenge to create a suspension as supple as the more traditional oil bath. Magura have definitely addressed the issues around brake dive and mid-stroke wallow, although they have reduced the low speed comfort of the TS8 R in order to do so.

Most trail bikes are in the 140-160mm range and most fork offerings are adjustable within it. Riders with 160mm of rear travel are unlikely to consider this fork until it is available with 160mm of travel.

Long Term Durability

I managed to get on my bike pretty frequently over the few months that I’ve had the fork. We had a dusty start to the New Year, we saw a foot of snow and now we are back to typical Southwestern British Columbia conditions. I haven’t been given any indication that there might be durability issues down the line with the internals or the chassis. The lowers didn’t take any significant impacts during the test, nor did I do any crash testing. Regardless, the lowers shrugged off any scuffs and look as good as the day the TS8 R came out of the box. I eventually pulled the fork apart to find that the Fork Meister grease seems to have held up well, and it is worth noting that basic maintenance is indeed a very simple affair as Magura claims. Pull the lowers, clean and inspect, replenish the grease if needed and put the fork back together again. There is no messy oil bath to deal with, which is always a plus. Suspension action remains as smooth as day one, and I haven’t heard a creak or groan from the fork. I suspect that the plastic guards on the bottom of the lowers might break if they came to suffer a significant impact, but the business end and internals of the TS8 R 150 seem in it for the long haul.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Magura TS8 R 150 lives up to the stiffer, lighter, easier claims. It is better suited to riders that ride aggressively and want a supportive fork with plenty of trail feedback, rather than a fork that is geared towards comfort and cruising laps of your local flow trail. The DLO3 cartridge is a great platform with a straightforward yet solid tuning out of the box. Extras like the simplified maintenance and inclusion of volume spacers will further help the TS8 R to gain traction both literally and figuratively. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense, reliable and predictable fork, especially at this price point, give the Magura TS8 R 150 some consideration.

For more information visit www.magura.com.


About The Reviewer

Joel Harwood has been playing in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia for the last 8 years. He spends his summer months coaching DH race groms in the Whistler Bike Park, and guiding XC riders all over BC. He dabbles in all types of racing, but is happiest while blasting his trail bike down trails that include rock slabs, natural doubles, and west coast tech. On the big bike he tends to look for little transitions and manuals that allow him to keep things pointed downhill, rather than swapping from line to line. Attention to detail, time in the saddle, and an aggressive riding style make Joel a rider that demands the most from his products. Joel's ramblings can also be found at www.straightshotblog.com.

This product has 1 review