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Added a product review for Royal 2014 Quantum Glove 2/23/2014 1:50 PM
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Tested: Royal Racing Quantum Glove

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow

Royal Racing has put a lot of work into its glove range over the past few years, and there’s a pretty impressive selection on offer from the UK-based outfitters today. For 2014 there’s a brand new model in the catalog, and given the spec we were eager to try it out. Here’s our report after a good couple of months of trail time with the Quantum glove.

Royal Racing Quantum Glove Highlights

  • 0.75mm AX perforated stretch palm material
  • Minimal cuff closure with expander v panel
  • Aggressive ergonomic pre-curving to avoid bunching
  • Microfiber thumb wipe
  • Lycra fourchettes
  • Technical knit mesh back of hand material
  • Unique wrap around one piece palm/seamless finger tips
  • MSRP $34.95

Initial Impressions

You can call a glove a glove, but in truth, the glove is a crucial part of the riding experience. Get it wrong and you could quickly find yourself lacking comfort, grip, or both. Looking over the Quantum glove it soon become clear that Royal put all their know-how and experience into its design. Fitting in between the ultra-lightweight Signature glove and the more robust Victory glove, the Quantum looks to offer everything you need in a glove and nothing you don’t.

The first time we tried on the Quantum, we were taken aback by what we thought might be a defect. The glove is very aggressively pre-curved, to the point where it really strains against the fingertips when you try to straighten out your fingers – we thought we’d gotten on hands on (and in!) a pre-production Monday morning sample with funky sizing. That was until we realized that the Quantum was designed this way on purpose and with good reason…

Continuing our inspection of the Quantum, we found lots of well-executed details and a generally very high level of workmanship on display. Another stand-out feature that caught our eye early on was the wrap-around fingertip design – the palm side material extends from the palm area all the way along the fingers and around the tip, which does away with the traditional fingertip seam. Having had many gloves pop open at precisely this seam or present a generally bulky feeling in the fingertip area, this appeared like a step in the right direction. Note that the braking fingers lack any kind of rubber or silicone grippers often found on many other gloves, including some from Royal.

The back of the hand features a very thin mesh fabric, and the glove is held in place by an equally minimalist Velcro strap on the cuff. A thin microfiber thumb wipe is provided for your sweaty brows and runny noses.

On The Trail

The first time we gripped a bar with the Quantum, it became obvious that the heavily pre-formed shape was going to work really well for riding. It allows a snug feeling on the grip, with a lot of feedback and without any bulking up of excessive material. It stays very comfortable throughout the day, and due to its lightweight and breathable design, you soon forgot you’re wearing it. Even after several washes, the palm area remains soft and does not cause chafing or other discomfort.

In terms of protection, the palm area is one step up from the thinnest glove on offer from Royal. For such a lightweight glove it is fairly robust. Many long rides, impromptu trail work and less graceful dismounts have all failed to leave much of a mark on the palm side material over the two months we’ve been riding with the Quantums. The lack of silicone grippers on the brake fingers had us a little concerned at first, but that turned out to be non-founded as we never found ourselves wanting more grip on the levers - they usually just fall off after a few rides anyway. The gloves also work well both in the dry and in the wet.

As for the back of the hand, there is little to no protection on offer. The material used is thin and breathable, which translates to not a lot standing between you and the menacing protrusions of foliage that lay in ambush behind every turn. If you have a penchant for bushwhacking, you’d do better to go for something with more protection in this area. In keeping with the rest of the glove, the snot/sweat wipe thumb area is also thin, so it tends to become soaked fairly quickly if you are of the perspiring persuasion. It is effective enough to keep using even after it’s drenched though.

Things That Could Be Improved

There is not a lot we can find to complain about on the Quantum. The Velcro-equipped rubber strap on the cuff is a little bit stiff, and because it is so small, it doesn’t latch on all that securely. This did not translate to any real issues in use, but is worth pointing out. The sweat wipe material on the thumb area could also be made a bit thicker and perhaps also softer.

Long Term Durability

In terms of longevity, after two months of intensive testing, there are no alarm signals going off. No loose threads, the graphics are still hanging on, and the palm side material is showing almost no signs of wear at all. We have no doubt these will provide many more months of loyal service, which is great given how well they perform on the trail.

What’s The Bottom Line?

There was a lot of thought put into the Quantum gloves, and it has certainly paid off. The very aggressive pre-curved shape took us by surprise at first, but we were completely won over to the concept after just one ride. These are certainly among the most comfortable gloves we have ridden in. The design is meant to be minimalistic, but the gloves are made with great attention to detail and come with plenty of innovative features. If you like your gloves thin but still up for months of hard riding, take a good look at the Quantum.

Check out www.royalracing.com for more information.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V 2/17/2014 5:31 AM
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Tested: Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review and video by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

When big dog Sony entered the POV camera market a bit more than a year ago, a lot of people were rightfully excited. Sony has a long history of producing world-class video cameras, and the Action Cam (HDR-AS15V) looked like it ticked a lot of POV boxes in addition to bringing some innovative new features to the table. We reviewed that first camera, and though we found it very impressive in some aspects, there were some issues that knocked its score down a bit. Fast-forward to today and there's a new, updated AS30V Action Cam. We have been testing it to see if Sony has managed to iron out some of the bugs and ultimately whether it is a viable contender in a market still dominated by GoPro.

AS30V Highlights (Live View Remote Bundle)

  • SteadyShot image stabilization
  • Wi-Fi and NFC for remote control and smartphone viewing
  • GPS plots location and calculates telemetry
  • 6 video modes including 1080/60p HD and 4x slo mo
  • Ultra-wide 170° Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens
  • Exmor R CMOS sensor for low light performance
  • Rugged, waterproof housing with universal tripod mount
  • Included Live-View Remote for hands-free remote control and viewing
  • Built-in stereo mic
  • Mac and PC-compatible
  • MSRP: $399 USD (live view remote bundle), $269 USD (Action Cam only)

Initial Impressions

Out of the box, the AS30V looks very similar to the original Action Cam, and with the same quality material and workmanship throughout. It ships with fewer mount options included in the basic kit than GoPro does (notably absent is a tilting helmet mount), although we also received a few extra accessories to test the camera with. Two things jump out at you when you put it side by side with the first generation of the camera – it seems much smaller, and it has more buttons on the housing.

Regarding the size, the camera body itself is actually identical in form factor to the old one, but the new housing is significantly slimmer. Sony decided that making the standard housing waterproof down to five meters (16 feet) would be enough, and in doing so they were able to make a significantly smaller case that also features a thin microphone membrane that allows for proper sound capture even with the housing on. Note that a dive case which is rated to 200 feet and features a flat port for sharp underwater footage is also available. The lower waterproof rating also allowed Sony to include two slim buttons on the side, which means we are finally able to access all camera functions even with the camera in the housing (this was not the case with the first generation housing). Because the two generations of cameras are the same form factor, all your old Action Cam accessories will work with the new one, which is nice.

Sony have kept all of the cutting edge features introduced on the first Action Cam, like SteadyShot, hi-FPS super slo-mo recording modes, and built-in WiFi. In addition, they have introduced GPS on the AS30V, which allows for the capture of GPS data alongside the video being recorded. Another novelty is the introduction of a 1080/60fps recording mode with high bitrate and the ability to record sound – the previous generation only offered the 60fps mode without sound, but there is also a firmware update available for the older generation which includes the new recording modes and other improvements – a nice touch for owners.

Continuing the feature tour, we note that the camera now takes stills at 12MP, a huge improvement on the original cam which could only muster a meekly 2MP, and it also has a new option for controlling the tone of the image. There are 2 “Scene” modes available, Normal and Water.

Our bundle included the Live View Remote, which is a small device that connects to the Action Cam via WiFi and then allows you to control the camera remotely, as well as preview what the camera sees before and during recording. The remote is splashproof but not waterproof.

The Action Cam can take a couple of different types of standard Sony rechargeable batteries (it ships with the highest capacity one), which is great – easy to bring a spare for long days of shooting, and if you already own Sony cameras, you may already have a battery that will work for the Action Cam as well.

On The Trail And Everywhere Else

The Action Cam is operated via three buttons, a main on/off button that also acts as the “Enter” button while navigating through the in-camera menu settings, and two navigational “Prev” and “Next” buttons. The menu system is reasonably well-thought out and easy to navigate through, with no real hidden options or hard-to-get-to tweaks. The built-in LCD is small but informative (it is only used for displaying settings and menus), and it is always easy to tell what recording mode you are in and if you are recording or not. Some of the options could do with easier to read short codes though.

If you turn the camera on via the main Start/Stop switch, it starts up and immediately begins recording. This is good if that is what you wanted to do, however if you just wanted to turn the camera on, then you’ll have to stop recording immediately and you’ll have a bunch of little one second clips at the end of the day. If you use either of the other two buttons to turn the camera on, it powers up without starting to record.

It is simple to choose a recording mode, although note that not all combinations of modes are possible. Because the SteadyShot is electronic and functions by cropping the image on the sensor and then moving it around to counter camera shake, it cannot operate when using the 170-degree wide angle field of view (because the whole sensor is used for the image capture in this case). SteadyShot is also not available in 120FPS super slomo, presumably because of the available computing power being monopolized to record at that frame rate. The field of view restriction is less of an issue in reality, because the wide angle of view is inherently less sensitive to camera shake, but it is one to keep in mind when choosing to record in super slomo mode – best used for trail side shots with steady hands or a tripod.

One of the issues with cameras that lack a viewfinder is getting the setup on the helmet/chest/wherever right. The Live View Remote came in very handy here. Power up the cam and the remote, and after a few seconds you can see what the camera sees on the screen of the remote. You can also access many of the settings and functions of the camera via the remote, so it’s easy to change settings without removing your helmet for example. If you do not have the remote, Sony provide the “PlayMemories” app for iPhone or Android for free. This app provides the same functionality as the Live View Remote on your smartphone.

Note that using WiFi tends to heat up the camera significantly, and because WiFi won’t allow the Action Cam to shut down between takes either, leaving it on can cause condensation to build up in the case, especially on colder, humid days. Make sure to turn the camera off manually between runs to prevent this from becoming an issue. Sony also sells anti-fog sheets which are inserted into the housing to prevent moisture build-up.

The Live View Remote works well enough for controlling the camera and setting up shots, and is comfortable to wear even for extended periods of time. We did however experience a lot of dropped connections during actual recording. This does not affect the outcome, as the camera continues to record even after dropping the connection with the remote, but it is nonetheless not very impressive for a $169 accessory. To re-establish the connection you turn the remote off and back on again. We noticed similar issues with the iPhone app, dropped connections a little too frequently. We did apply a firmware update to the Action Cam in the hope that it might address this issue, but to no avail.

A year after introducing the original Action Cam, Sony have finally caught up to GoPro and provide a chest mount for the AS30V. While the whole set up ends up a bit bulkier than the GoPro version because the Sony is elongated in shape, the chest harness does feature a breakaway mount which allows the camera to release if you crash. Also note that you don’t have to flip the Action Cam footage as this chest mount holds the camera in the normal position, and allows for an almost unlimited angle of adjustment in all directions.

The chest mount proved excellent in operation, and coupled with the image stabilization of the Action Cam it produces a very immersive experience, keeping enough shake and movement in the image to maintain a sense of action, but maintaining the trail steady on the screen. This quickly became our favorite way of filming with the Action Cam. When helmet mounted, footage produced with SteadyShot on is unnaturally smooth and takes away from the trail experience, unless you are following another rider in which case it provides a great way of focusing on that rider without the distraction of camera shake.

We also received a new “tube mount” to try out. It’s meant to allow you to mount the Action Cam to anything tube shaped, and it includes two different lengths of strap to cater to different tube sizes. While an improvement on Sony’s original handlebar mount (which was woefully inadequate – ours developed severe play after only one ride, which then happened again on the replacement unit), this new version is still not a good accessory for mountain biking. Because its base is essentially made of rubber, it generates a lot of camera wobble and shake as soon as you roll out. We had moderate success when mounting it on a vertical tube (upper stanction, seat tube), but this accessory is best used for attaching your Action Cam to something a lot less prone to actually moving around than a mountain bike…

Video

The most important aspect of any video recorder is the result – your clips and edits. The Sony has improved in many areas, and we were quite impressed with the video quality of the HDR-AS30V:

Various clips shot with the Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V

SteadyShot is very good. It is by far the most effective way of stabilizing POV video we have ever seen, superior to wide angles and similar tricks. When mounted on a helmet, it produces very smooth results – so smooth that it is almost unnerving, especially if you are used to the shaky images produced by other cameras. When used together with a chest mount, we found the footage to be the most immersive to date, almost up there with the quality often seen in major productions where lots of tricks are usually employed to achieve such results. Bit of a game changer here.

The super slow motion mode is excellent and produces 4X slomo that is very smooth. Note that you lose audio at 120fps, which is a bit annoying but probably not a deal-breaker. If you do want audio with slomo, use the 1080/60fps mode which allows you to slow down footage 2x, and still retain audio.

Audio is well controlled, and sounds a bit less “boxy” than we have become accustomed to on other POV cameras. The new waterproof housing muffles the sound a little bit of course, but it is still audible and usable.

The first generation of the Action Cam used far too much compression on the video files it produced. The addition of new video modes and presumably revisions to firmware on the new version have by and large addressed this issue. Comparing the AS30V to the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition, there is a not a lot of difference between the two on identical settings. Check the two clips below, each one filmed on the same section of trail within 10 minutes of each other, in 1080/60fps mode on the widest angle without image stabilization. Straight out of the camera, the GoPro files do seem to hold a slight edge in terms of overall crispness of image, but as soon as things start moving, it’s Even Steven, pretty much.

Sony Action Cam HDR-AS30V Reference Clip:

GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition Reference Clip:

The following screen grabs show slightly more visible compression artifacts from the Sony footage, which is probably due to compression algorithms, optics, and the difference in bitrate (30Mbps on the GoPro vs “only” 25Mbps on the Sony, in this recording mode). We were also pleased to note that the turquoise hue present on the first generation of the Action Cam (especially in the sky) is all but gone now, although the image is still notably colder than GoPro.

Sony HDR-AS30V:

Screen grab from Sony HDR-AS30V, shot at 1080/60fps, wide angle, no image stabilization.

GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition:

Screen grab from GoPro Hero 3+ Black, shot at 1080/60fps, wide angle, no image stabilization.

Viewing the built-in GPS data from the Action Cam requires use of Sony’s “PlayMemories Home” software, which allows you to create an overlay of speed, location, and map data on top of the video footage captured. It works OK, although it is a bit unwieldy to operate. There also appears to be some lag and inaccuracies in the GPS data captured, and we wouldn’t have too much faith in the speed readings it generates when riding twisty trails. Nevertheless, it's a fun feature, and one that could potentially be very useful for analyzing training rides/race runs.

Things That Could Be Improved

The new housing is a great improvement with its slimmer size and new external buttons. However, those buttons are not very easy to operate. They feature raised ridges to prevent unwanted operation, which is of course a good thing, but we think they could be made slightly easier to operate without losing this aspect.

The Live View Remote is a useful addition to Action Cam, but we’d like to see it function without the hiccups. It never caused us to lose footage, but it should not have to drop the connection with the camera so often.

The Action Cam does not offer a lot of control over image quality aspects like white balance. Sony have certainly improved both the quality and the look of footage from the Action Cam, but they still lag behind GoPro in terms of user image control.

We’d like to see more accessories out of the box – notably the fact that you have to buy a tilting adaptor for your helmet mount separately is a little bit on the cheap side. The Sony is priced directly in line with GoPro, and yes the remote does offer live view which the GoPro remote does not, but at least a tilting helmet mount is really a must.

Sony are catching up in the mount game, notably with the long overdue addition of a chest mount. It still has some way to go to produce a proper tube mount though.

The small red LED that indicates that you are recording is all but useless in daylight. You do have the built-in LCD screen to fall back on to check if you are indeed recording, but still, this could have been done better. Also, the audible “beep” and “bee-bee-beep” to indicate starting and stopping recording are not loud enough. Iin fact they are significantly LESS loud than on the first generation of the Action Cam, which we already found too soft.

Long Term Durability

We've owned the original Action Cam since it came out over a year ago, and it has seen a lot of use during that time. It is none the worse for wear. Even the plastic housing while scuffed up and generally a bit sorry looking has not missed a beat - it is still waterproof, and the viewport is still clear enough to produce good footage. There are no bits that look like they want to fall off the camera, nor are any of the buttons acting up. The interface between the base and the helmet mount is as slop-free as on day one, and the mounts we glued to our helmets are still there. The battery still holds a good charge too. After using the new version for two months, we have no reason to believe it will not offer the same durability as the older generation, which should translate to years of trouble-free filming ahead. The same cannot be said for the tube mounts offered by Sony, both versions have proven all but useless for mountain biking, due to how quickly they develop play (out of the box, basically).

What’s The Bottom Line?

With the HDR-AS30V Action Cam, Sony has all but caught up to GoPro in terms of image quality, at least when recording in the highest quality settings. It is also mostly evenly matched with the GoPro in terms of features, but has an edge when it comes to image stabilization, the Live View Remote, and the built-in GPS. Add a growing ecosystem of mounts and the Action Cam is poised as a serious threat to GoPro. There is also a new version of the Action Cam due to hit stores in April which will offer pro-level image quality at the same price, but unless you think you have a need for 50 Mbps footage, the AS30V is a solid investment. Sony also seems set to stick with the form factor between generations, which means you can splash out on accessories without fear of having to replace them all down the line.

For more details, visit Sony.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan spends much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Source Paragon 25L Hydration Pack 1/30/2014 1:38 PM
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Tested: Source Paragon 25L Hydration Pack

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

Source was founded in 1989, and has since built itself into a globally distributed brand specializing in outdoors footwear and hydration systems. Well-known in the general outdoors/adventure market and recognized for its innovative approach to hydration, the company has also recently introduced a line of packs designed specifically for biking. The Paragon 25L is the top of the line option for riders looking for a big pack with all the bells and whistles (there’s actually a whistle!) – we’ve been rocking one for a few months to see how it stacks up in this crucial equipment category.

Source Paragon 25L Highlights

  • 20L cargo capacity, 3L hydration capacity
  • Wire frame and mesh back system for maximum ventilation
  • Insulated hydration compartment
  • Music player pocket
  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Adjustable sternum belt with integrated whistle
  • Lightweight buckles
  • Elastic helmet holder
  • Elastic strap retainers
  • Side mesh pockets
  • Detachable waist belt
  • High visibility reflective stripes
  • Reflective LED tab holder
  • Essentials compartment with internal Storeganizer™
  • Concealed rain cover
  • Carrying handle
  • Includes Source Widepac 3L hydration bladder with a weave-covered tube for UV protection
  • Helix™ bite valve - round design valve with safety shutoff mode
  • “Dirt Shield” docking station
  • Dimensions: height 50 cm, width 24 cm, weight 963 gr, total volume 25L
  • MSRP: $165 USD

Initial Impressions

When you first pull the Paragon out of its packaging, the light weight is the first stand-out feature. For such a big pack, it is very light. Second aspect of note, this is a wireframe pack. This means that it features a thin steel frame that lifts the pack off the rider’s back, which is meant to help with airflow. In this context, the light weight is even more remarkable.

Close inspection of the pack revealed good attention to detail and a high level of workmanship. The pack is full of neat features like weather-proofed zippers all around, media pocket, reflective strips, removable waistband, and a very nifty elastic band system for keeping excess strap lengths from flapping around.

In terms of storage, the pack offers an insulated hydration bladder compartment, a roomy main cargo hold, a smaller storage area with the “Storeganizer” system for keeping all your tools in check, a flexible general purpose pouch, side pockets on the waistband, mesh pockets on the side of the pack, and a dedicated helmet net which attaches to 4 eyelets and sits on the outside of the pack itself. In other words, if you need any more storage space than this, you should probably consider driving, not riding.

The Paragon is delivered with Source’s own 3L Widepac hydration bladder. With features such as Glass Like™ Film Technology, Grunge-Guard™, QMT compatible hose quick connect system, a spring loaded Helix™ bite valve with included Dirt Shield™ valve cover, and a taste-free system that is both BPA and Phthalate free, our previous review of this hydration system proved it to be excellent.

With these initial observations out of the way, time to hit the trails to see how the pack would fare in the real world.

On The Trail

Loading up the Paragon with our day-to-day selection of tools, parts, food, and beverages hardly scratches the surface of what this thing can carry. This is almost expedition level storage minus the tent and the folding chairs. But thanks to the relatively flat and wide design, most of the weight ends up low and centered, and the 2 compression straps provided help adjust the pack to the actual content.

We were curious and a bit apprehensive of the whole wireframe deal – what would it translate to for riding? First of all, in terms of airflow, it works better than any other solution out there. Unlike packs with “pillows” or “channels” or other similar concepts featured as part of the back panel, the wire frame actually ensures that the pack itself can’t touch your back even when it’s fully loaded. This translates to a lot more air flow than we are used to with any other packs, definitely a welcome feature during warmer days.

The system does take a little bit of getting used to. While the mesh panel helps distribute the load over the back, you can still feel more pressure from the top and the bottom of the pack. It does however remain comfortable and stable in use, and we had no problems rocking the Paragon on epic days out with heavy loads.

The flexible helmet net provided is a bit too small to be useful for anything but a XC helmet. For carrying “trail style” or full-face helmets, we ended up using the compression straps instead. These also come in handy for attaching knee or elbow pads if you like to dress down for the ups.

The fit of the Paragon is excellent. The shape of the shoulder straps is very comfortable, and the waistband rides on the hips in a natural way. The pack never felt like it was moving around, even during more acrobatic manoeuvers. All the straps are easy to adjust and remain in position without slippage. The very clever elastic bands found at the end of each strap are a great solution for rolling up excess strap length and actually keeping it rolled up – they never came loose once secured.

The Widepac hydration system proved to be one of the highlights of our experience with the pack – simply put, Source’s hydration systems are among the best we have ever tested. Innovative both with regards to form and function, these bladders are virtually maintenance free, but more importantly, taste-free too. The Helix bite valve works exactly as a bite valve should, remaining drip-free even when in the open position yet easy and comfortable to drink from. And whether we were using the “Dirt Shield” docking station or the magnetic clip option, the hose was always held securely in a good position both for riding and drinking. For more information, you can catch our full review of the hydration system itself here.

Things That Could Be Improved

The helmet net provided for carrying a helmet on the outside of the pack is too small for most of today’s “trail” helmets. The idea is good but needs to more easily accommodate bigger helmets. We’d also like to see the addition of straps to carry bigger body armor elements on the bottom of the pack. As it stands, you can fit elbow pads into the side mesh pockets, but kneepads have to be attached using the 2 main compression straps (which may also be in use to carry a full-face helmet). For a pack this size, the addition of 2 more straps at the bottom would make great sense anyway, as the Paragon could easily find itself on overnighter expedition duty in addition to just riding.

The hydration compartment is very wide, which means the bladder has some room to move around in there. We'd welcome a compartment of the same width as the bladder to stop it from being able to do so.

The pack includes a built-in rain cover of good quality which also attaches itself very securely to the pack via attachment points both at the top and the bottom. However, due to the shape of the pack at the top, it creates a crease which can leave the media pocket exposed to the elements even with the rain cover on. Some kind of solution to allow the rain cover to really cover the whole of the top of the pack would be welcome. (Note that the rain cover does an excellent job in general of protecting the pack from mud and water, and also stays in place during riding).

Long Term Durability

We’ve been riding with the Paragon for close to 6 months now, and it’s showing no signs of premature wear. All the stitches are holding up, and there are no rips or tears in any of the materials used throughout the pack. The inside of the tool compartment is made of durable nylon, and there are no holes to report even in the pouches holding the pointier tools. There is no reason to suspect you’d get anything less than years of service out of the Paragon.

The excellent Widepac hydration system included with the Paragon is very easy to maintain, and has as previously mentioned proved capable of continuing to provide taste-free water throughout the duration of this test.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The Paragon is a surprisingly agile solution for such a big pack. Innovative in its approach to keeping you cool and packed with useful features, it offers everything you would expect from a premium pack at this price point. If you go on a lot of epic rides or just like to be well-prepared in general, it will allow you to store everything you need and more, and to carry it all comfortably and securely. As for the hydration element, the included Widepac bladder is one of the best we've ever used, almost self-maintaining and completely taste-free.

More information at www.sourceoutdoor.com.

Catch the Paragon in action:


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.


This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Source WLP - Low Profile Hydration System 12/21/2013 8:51 AM
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Tested: Source Hydration Systems

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Johan Hjord

Source was founded in 1989, and has since built itself into a globally distributed brand specializing in outdoors footwear and hydration systems. Well-known in the general outdoors/adventure market and recognized for its innovative approach to hydration, the company has also recently introduced a line of packs designed specifically for mountain biking. Curious to see what they can bring to us riders, we put their range of hydration reservoirs to the test.

Source Hydration Systems Highlights

  • Triple layer taste and odor free PE film with anti microbial agent
  • PP, PE & POM injected plastic parts
  • Silicon mouthpiece
  • Widepac™ closure (U.S Patent No. 7,648,276,B2) - allows easy filling, cleaning, draining, and ice insertion. Airtight seal
  • Glass Like™ Film Technology - A multi-layer polyethylene film utilizing Source's Glass-Like™ technology, which prevents bio-film build up making the system self-cleaning. SOURCE's Glass-Like™ Film is 2000% smoother than standard TPU films, with virtually no difference from glass itself
  • Taste Free™ System - Co-extruded PE film retains pure liquid taste with no plastic flavor. BPA and Phthalate free
  • Grunge-Guard™ Technology - Inhibits bacteria growth on the reservoir and drinking tube surfaces for the life of the system. Technology utilizes FDA-approved and EPA-registered anti-microbial agent
  • Easy Care & Low Maintenance
  • SQC™ - Source Quick Connect (QMT compatible)
  • Helix™ Valve - Source bite valve
  • Dirt Shield™ - Valve cover
  • MSRP: $26 - $35 USD (depending on model)

Initial Impressions

A hydration bladder is often included when you purchase the riding pack itself, and for that reason, many of us never pay much attention to how it’s put together or delivered. But when you think about it a bit more, the bladder is a crucial component of your riding experience – you’ll be drinking from it for years to come, hopefully. With that in mind, we checked out all the little details when we took delivery of a few Source bladders and accessories to test out.

Checking out the packaging (which is made from recycled materials mostly), the feature list is long. So long that it leaves you wondering if it’s just a list of terms and acronyms dreamed up by the marketing department, or if there’s actually room for that much tech in a simple bladder. Well, turns out that there’s quite a lot to it.

One of the most common complaints regarding hydration systems is that they can leave a bit of a plastic taste in the water. Source utilizes a co-extruded PE film which is meant to be entirely taste- and odor-less. Additionally, Source has developed what they term “Glass-Like” technology, which is essentially a way to make the inside surface of the bladder extremely smooth, thus providing less real estate for assorted microbial life forms to throw a party in your hydration system. Coupled with “Grunge-Guard” anti-microbial surface treatment, Source claims that the system is virtually maintenance free. For anybody who has ever taken a shot of old grungy water from a bladder, this sounds like good news.

On close inspection, the bladders appear well put together. One of the aspects we noticed straight away is how rigid the material is – not floppy like most hydration bladders we’ve tried. The welds also seem strong and the product is well finished off, with no apparent quality issues. All the bladders we tested feature the Widepac slider opening, which is a clever system that folds the end of the bag unto itself and then holds it there with a plastic slider. This creates a wide opening which makes it easy to rinse out and dry the bladder, or to add ice to your drinking water for warm days.

The bladders all feature quick connect hoses, which is helpful for quick drying and also for swapping bladders or connecting different accessories (the connectors have a built-in stop valve that prevents water from pouring out when you disconnect the hose). Some of the hoses are wrapped in a weave that protects from UV rays – not to keep the water cool (there’s an optional insulated hose for that too), but to keep the tube from deteriorating under sunlight and tainting the taste of water over time.

All the bladders on test feature the “Helix” bite valve, a spring loaded valve that claims to be drip free and easy to drink from. To finish off the feature tour, the Helix valves come with a dirt guard in the form of a plastic “docking station” that holds the valve in place on your pack and also protects it from dirt and various other naturally occurring substances you’d rather not be drinking. There is also an optional magnetic clip solution for those who prefer it that way.

And with that said, time to hit the trails to see what the real world would have to say about it all…

On The Trail

Filling up Source bladders is easy thanks to the wide opening. We were skeptical at first regarding how leakproof this system would be, but that turned out to be completely unfounded. Once filled and closed, you can stand on these things without causing a leak or any other damage. The quick connect hoses also turned out to be just as functional and leak proof, all of which translates to a system that is easy to manipulate and that holds water where it’s supposed to be. We tested the bladders in a couple of Source’s own riding packs, which provide a handy strap for attaching the bladder, but the bladders will work in any pack.

The Helix bite valve works very well, definitely one of the best solutions we have tried to date. It really is drip-free, and very easy to drink from. You can leave it in the open position for the whole ride, we only closed it down when we knew our bag would be thrown in with a lot of other bags and equipment in the car for example. In normal use, the valve does not leak at all, even when in the fully open position. It’s easy to take apart and clean, especially important if you use more than just water in your hydration system. We also appreciate that it rotates 360 degrees, which means it’s easy to position for drinking on the go.

The included Dirt Shield works well to hold your hose securely and your bite valve protected from the elements while riding, especially useful if you ride in lots of mud or come across lots of, erm, other organic matter. In the dry, you might want to opt for the magnetic clip which makes drinking even easier. The magnetic clip is strong and holds the hose in place while riding, including over rough terrain.

Source has come up with a very nifty solution for refilling your hydration system while on the move. Called the “Universal Tube Adapter” or “UTA”, it is a rubber baffle that takes the place of the bite valve and allows you to connect a water bottle or a faucet to the drinking hose to fill the bladder without removing it from the pack. This simple solution could make a big difference during Enduro or other stage races for example, where riders don’t have much time available during refueling stops. (The UTA is available to order as an accessory.)

As previously mentioned, Source bladders are quite rigid, and therefore hold their shape well in the pack. This helps keep the liquid from sloshing about too much. Some of the models offered also have built in separation walls that serve to keep the profile of the bladder slim and further prevent the liquid from moving around. If you are really concerned about keeping a low profile, there is a special donut shaped bladder that really distributes the load, ideal for shorter rides (since it only contains 1.5 liters of water).

The ultimate question asked of any hydration system is the taste of the water. Curious to test out Source’s claim that the system is virtually maintenance free, we started our test by running the same bladder for 4 months, without cleaning it and without letting it dry. At an average rhythm of three rides per week, we would simply fill the bladder for each ride, and then leave it in the pack once we got back. Amazingly, the bladder still serves up fresh tasting water and there are no signs of any build-up of gunk or other unsightly occurrences in the bladder. We cleaned the bite valve every now and then, especially after dunking it in mud, but other than that, the system has basically cleaned itself. Touching the inside of the bladder there is the slightest hint of slime build-up on the walls, but nowhere near what we were expecting to find. Of course, Source still recommends that you rinse and dry the bladder out between each ride (easy to do thanks to its non-stick properties and rigid material), and in doing so, we can’t see the system ever becoming contaminated. If you run anything but water, it goes without saying that you have to rinse and clean it each time.

Things That Could Be Improved

We have a couple of very minor observations to make. As previously pointed out, the bite valve works extremely well. It is actually drip-free, and easy to drink from. Every now and then we noticed that the hose and/or bite valve would get a little air in it between sips (probably pulled down from the bite valve), which meant the next sip would be a bit bubbly. Not really a big issue, and if it’s the price to pay for the drip-free design, we’ll gladly take it. (Some prefer to drain their hose back into the pack between sips to avoid water heating up in the hose, in which case this would not be an issue).

We would also love to see a small eyelet added at the bottom of the bladder to help with hanging it upside down to dry out.

Long Term Durability

As previously pointed out, we’ve used mainly one bladder for the entire first four months of testing, and it still performs every bit as well as when new – even without maintenance. There are no signs of deterioration in any of the materials or welds, and the water still tastes as fresh as it did when the bladder was new. We’ve since started riding with several of the other Source bladders on offer as well, with the same excellent results so far. The system really does manage itself most of the time (as long as you use only water of course), and with minimum care, it should last you a very long time. What’s more important, it should give you tastefree water for a very long time, and that is a claim that not every other brand out there can make.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Source has put considerable effort into designing its line of hydration systems, and it has paid off. It is one of the easiest to use thanks to its nearly self-maintaining properties, and it is completely taste-free. Add in the very innovative Universal Tube Adapter and numerous sizes, configurations, and accessories to cater to any kind of adventure you might want to go on, and you’re looking at a great hydration solution that will work with any riding pack. With prices in line with competition too, there’s not much to not like.

More information at: Source


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Source WXP Hydration System 12/21/2013 8:49 AM
C138_wxp_source_hydration_system_70oz

Tested: Source Hydration Systems

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Johan Hjord

Source was founded in 1989, and has since built itself into a globally distributed brand specializing in outdoors footwear and hydration systems. Well-known in the general outdoors/adventure market and recognized for its innovative approach to hydration, the company has also recently introduced a line of packs designed specifically for mountain biking. Curious to see what they can bring to us riders, we put their range of hydration reservoirs to the test.

Source Hydration Systems Highlights

  • Triple layer taste and odor free PE film with anti microbial agent
  • PP, PE & POM injected plastic parts
  • Silicon mouthpiece
  • Widepac™ closure (U.S Patent No. 7,648,276,B2) - allows easy filling, cleaning, draining, and ice insertion. Airtight seal
  • Glass Like™ Film Technology - A multi-layer polyethylene film utilizing Source's Glass-Like™ technology, which prevents bio-film build up making the system self-cleaning. SOURCE's Glass-Like™ Film is 2000% smoother than standard TPU films, with virtually no difference from glass itself
  • Taste Free™ System - Co-extruded PE film retains pure liquid taste with no plastic flavor. BPA and Phthalate free
  • Grunge-Guard™ Technology - Inhibits bacteria growth on the reservoir and drinking tube surfaces for the life of the system. Technology utilizes FDA-approved and EPA-registered anti-microbial agent
  • Easy Care & Low Maintenance
  • SQC™ - Source Quick Connect (QMT compatible)
  • Helix™ Valve - Source bite valve
  • Dirt Shield™ - Valve cover
  • MSRP: $26 - $35 USD (depending on model)

Initial Impressions

A hydration bladder is often included when you purchase the riding pack itself, and for that reason, many of us never pay much attention to how it’s put together or delivered. But when you think about it a bit more, the bladder is a crucial component of your riding experience – you’ll be drinking from it for years to come, hopefully. With that in mind, we checked out all the little details when we took delivery of a few Source bladders and accessories to test out.

Checking out the packaging (which is made from recycled materials mostly), the feature list is long. So long that it leaves you wondering if it’s just a list of terms and acronyms dreamed up by the marketing department, or if there’s actually room for that much tech in a simple bladder. Well, turns out that there’s quite a lot to it.

One of the most common complaints regarding hydration systems is that they can leave a bit of a plastic taste in the water. Source utilizes a co-extruded PE film which is meant to be entirely taste- and odor-less. Additionally, Source has developed what they term “Glass-Like” technology, which is essentially a way to make the inside surface of the bladder extremely smooth, thus providing less real estate for assorted microbial life forms to throw a party in your hydration system. Coupled with “Grunge-Guard” anti-microbial surface treatment, Source claims that the system is virtually maintenance free. For anybody who has ever taken a shot of old grungy water from a bladder, this sounds like good news.

On close inspection, the bladders appear well put together. One of the aspects we noticed straight away is how rigid the material is – not floppy like most hydration bladders we’ve tried. The welds also seem strong and the product is well finished off, with no apparent quality issues. All the bladders we tested feature the Widepac slider opening, which is a clever system that folds the end of the bag unto itself and then holds it there with a plastic slider. This creates a wide opening which makes it easy to rinse out and dry the bladder, or to add ice to your drinking water for warm days.

The bladders all feature quick connect hoses, which is helpful for quick drying and also for swapping bladders or connecting different accessories (the connectors have a built-in stop valve that prevents water from pouring out when you disconnect the hose). Some of the hoses are wrapped in a weave that protects from UV rays – not to keep the water cool (there’s an optional insulated hose for that too), but to keep the tube from deteriorating under sunlight and tainting the taste of water over time.

All the bladders on test feature the “Helix” bite valve, a spring loaded valve that claims to be drip free and easy to drink from. To finish off the feature tour, the Helix valves come with a dirt guard in the form of a plastic “docking station” that holds the valve in place on your pack and also protects it from dirt and various other naturally occurring substances you’d rather not be drinking. There is also an optional magnetic clip solution for those who prefer it that way.

And with that said, time to hit the trails to see what the real world would have to say about it all…

On The Trail

Filling up Source bladders is easy thanks to the wide opening. We were skeptical at first regarding how leakproof this system would be, but that turned out to be completely unfounded. Once filled and closed, you can stand on these things without causing a leak or any other damage. The quick connect hoses also turned out to be just as functional and leak proof, all of which translates to a system that is easy to manipulate and that holds water where it’s supposed to be. We tested the bladders in a couple of Source’s own riding packs, which provide a handy strap for attaching the bladder, but the bladders will work in any pack.

The Helix bite valve works very well, definitely one of the best solutions we have tried to date. It really is drip-free, and very easy to drink from. You can leave it in the open position for the whole ride, we only closed it down when we knew our bag would be thrown in with a lot of other bags and equipment in the car for example. In normal use, the valve does not leak at all, even when in the fully open position. It’s easy to take apart and clean, especially important if you use more than just water in your hydration system. We also appreciate that it rotates 360 degrees, which means it’s easy to position for drinking on the go.

The included Dirt Shield works well to hold your hose securely and your bite valve protected from the elements while riding, especially useful if you ride in lots of mud or come across lots of, erm, other organic matter. In the dry, you might want to opt for the magnetic clip which makes drinking even easier. The magnetic clip is strong and holds the hose in place while riding, including over rough terrain.

Source has come up with a very nifty solution for refilling your hydration system while on the move. Called the “Universal Tube Adapter” or “UTA”, it is a rubber baffle that takes the place of the bite valve and allows you to connect a water bottle or a faucet to the drinking hose to fill the bladder without removing it from the pack. This simple solution could make a big difference during Enduro or other stage races for example, where riders don’t have much time available during refueling stops. (The UTA is available to order as an accessory.)

As previously mentioned, Source bladders are quite rigid, and therefore hold their shape well in the pack. This helps keep the liquid from sloshing about too much. Some of the models offered also have built in separation walls that serve to keep the profile of the bladder slim and further prevent the liquid from moving around. If you are really concerned about keeping a low profile, there is a special donut shaped bladder that really distributes the load, ideal for shorter rides (since it only contains 1.5 liters of water).

The ultimate question asked of any hydration system is the taste of the water. Curious to test out Source’s claim that the system is virtually maintenance free, we started our test by running the same bladder for 4 months, without cleaning it and without letting it dry. At an average rhythm of three rides per week, we would simply fill the bladder for each ride, and then leave it in the pack once we got back. Amazingly, the bladder still serves up fresh tasting water and there are no signs of any build-up of gunk or other unsightly occurrences in the bladder. We cleaned the bite valve every now and then, especially after dunking it in mud, but other than that, the system has basically cleaned itself. Touching the inside of the bladder there is the slightest hint of slime build-up on the walls, but nowhere near what we were expecting to find. Of course, Source still recommends that you rinse and dry the bladder out between each ride (easy to do thanks to its non-stick properties and rigid material), and in doing so, we can’t see the system ever becoming contaminated. If you run anything but water, it goes without saying that you have to rinse and clean it each time.

Things That Could Be Improved

We have a couple of very minor observations to make. As previously pointed out, the bite valve works extremely well. It is actually drip-free, and easy to drink from. Every now and then we noticed that the hose and/or bite valve would get a little air in it between sips (probably pulled down from the bite valve), which meant the next sip would be a bit bubbly. Not really a big issue, and if it’s the price to pay for the drip-free design, we’ll gladly take it. (Some prefer to drain their hose back into the pack between sips to avoid water heating up in the hose, in which case this would not be an issue).

We would also love to see a small eyelet added at the bottom of the bladder to help with hanging it upside down to dry out.

Long Term Durability

As previously pointed out, we’ve used mainly one bladder for the entire first four months of testing, and it still performs every bit as well as when new – even without maintenance. There are no signs of deterioration in any of the materials or welds, and the water still tastes as fresh as it did when the bladder was new. We’ve since started riding with several of the other Source bladders on offer as well, with the same excellent results so far. The system really does manage itself most of the time (as long as you use only water of course), and with minimum care, it should last you a very long time. What’s more important, it should give you tastefree water for a very long time, and that is a claim that not every other brand out there can make.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Source has put considerable effort into designing its line of hydration systems, and it has paid off. It is one of the easiest to use thanks to its nearly self-maintaining properties, and it is completely taste-free. Add in the very innovative Universal Tube Adapter and numerous sizes, configurations, and accessories to cater to any kind of adventure you might want to go on, and you’re looking at a great hydration solution that will work with any riding pack. With prices in line with competition too, there’s not much to not like.

More information at: Source


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Source Widepac Hydration System 12/20/2013 5:59 AM
C138_source_widepac_hydration_system_refill

Tested: Source Hydration Systems

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Johan Hjord

Source was founded in 1989, and has since built itself into a globally distributed brand specializing in outdoors footwear and hydration systems. Well-known in the general outdoors/adventure market and recognized for its innovative approach to hydration, the company has also recently introduced a line of packs designed specifically for mountain biking. Curious to see what they can bring to us riders, we put their range of hydration reservoirs to the test.

Source Hydration Systems Highlights

  • Triple layer taste and odor free PE film with anti microbial agent
  • PP, PE & POM injected plastic parts
  • Silicon mouthpiece
  • Widepac™ closure (U.S Patent No. 7,648,276,B2) - allows easy filling, cleaning, draining, and ice insertion. Airtight seal
  • Glass Like™ Film Technology - A multi-layer polyethylene film utilizing Source's Glass-Like™ technology, which prevents bio-film build up making the system self-cleaning. SOURCE's Glass-Like™ Film is 2000% smoother than standard TPU films, with virtually no difference from glass itself
  • Taste Free™ System - Co-extruded PE film retains pure liquid taste with no plastic flavor. BPA and Phthalate free
  • Grunge-Guard™ Technology - Inhibits bacteria growth on the reservoir and drinking tube surfaces for the life of the system. Technology utilizes FDA-approved and EPA-registered anti-microbial agent
  • Easy Care & Low Maintenance
  • SQC™ - Source Quick Connect (QMT compatible)
  • Helix™ Valve - Source bite valve
  • Dirt Shield™ - Valve cover
  • MSRP: $26 - $35 USD (depending on model)

Initial Impressions

A hydration bladder is often included when you purchase the riding pack itself, and for that reason, many of us never pay much attention to how it’s put together or delivered. But when you think about it a bit more, the bladder is a crucial component of your riding experience – you’ll be drinking from it for years to come, hopefully. With that in mind, we checked out all the little details when we took delivery of a few Source bladders and accessories to test out.

Checking out the packaging (which is made from recycled materials mostly), the feature list is long. So long that it leaves you wondering if it’s just a list of terms and acronyms dreamed up by the marketing department, or if there’s actually room for that much tech in a simple bladder. Well, turns out that there’s quite a lot to it.

One of the most common complaints regarding hydration systems is that they can leave a bit of a plastic taste in the water. Source utilizes a co-extruded PE film which is meant to be entirely taste- and odor-less. Additionally, Source has developed what they term “Glass-Like” technology, which is essentially a way to make the inside surface of the bladder extremely smooth, thus providing less real estate for assorted microbial life forms to throw a party in your hydration system. Coupled with “Grunge-Guard” anti-microbial surface treatment, Source claims that the system is virtually maintenance free. For anybody who has ever taken a shot of old grungy water from a bladder, this sounds like good news.

On close inspection, the bladders appear well put together. One of the aspects we noticed straight away is how rigid the material is – not floppy like most hydration bladders we’ve tried. The welds also seem strong and the product is well finished off, with no apparent quality issues. All the bladders we tested feature the Widepac slider opening, which is a clever system that folds the end of the bag unto itself and then holds it there with a plastic slider. This creates a wide opening which makes it easy to rinse out and dry the bladder, or to add ice to your drinking water for warm days.

The bladders all feature quick connect hoses, which is helpful for quick drying and also for swapping bladders or connecting different accessories (the connectors have a built-in stop valve that prevents water from pouring out when you disconnect the hose). Some of the hoses are wrapped in a weave that protects from UV rays – not to keep the water cool (there’s an optional insulated hose for that too), but to keep the tube from deteriorating under sunlight and tainting the taste of water over time.

All the bladders on test feature the “Helix” bite valve, a spring loaded valve that claims to be drip free and easy to drink from. To finish off the feature tour, the Helix valves come with a dirt guard in the form of a plastic “docking station” that holds the valve in place on your pack and also protects it from dirt and various other naturally occurring substances you’d rather not be drinking. There is also an optional magnetic clip solution for those who prefer it that way.

And with that said, time to hit the trails to see what the real world would have to say about it all…

On The Trail

Filling up Source bladders is easy thanks to the wide opening. We were skeptical at first regarding how leakproof this system would be, but that turned out to be completely unfounded. Once filled and closed, you can stand on these things without causing a leak or any other damage. The quick connect hoses also turned out to be just as functional and leak proof, all of which translates to a system that is easy to manipulate and that holds water where it’s supposed to be. We tested the bladders in a couple of Source’s own riding packs, which provide a handy strap for attaching the bladder, but the bladders will work in any pack.

The Helix bite valve works very well, definitely one of the best solutions we have tried to date. It really is drip-free, and very easy to drink from. You can leave it in the open position for the whole ride, we only closed it down when we knew our bag would be thrown in with a lot of other bags and equipment in the car for example. In normal use, the valve does not leak at all, even when in the fully open position. It’s easy to take apart and clean, especially important if you use more than just water in your hydration system. We also appreciate that it rotates 360 degrees, which means it’s easy to position for drinking on the go.

The included Dirt Shield works well to hold your hose securely and your bite valve protected from the elements while riding, especially useful if you ride in lots of mud or come across lots of, erm, other organic matter. In the dry, you might want to opt for the magnetic clip which makes drinking even easier. The magnetic clip is strong and holds the hose in place while riding, including over rough terrain.

Source has come up with a very nifty solution for refilling your hydration system while on the move. Called the “Universal Tube Adapter” or “UTA”, it is a rubber baffle that takes the place of the bite valve and allows you to connect a water bottle or a faucet to the drinking hose to fill the bladder without removing it from the pack. This simple solution could make a big difference during Enduro or other stage races for example, where riders don’t have much time available during refueling stops. (The UTA is available to order as an accessory.)

As previously mentioned, Source bladders are quite rigid, and therefore hold their shape well in the pack. This helps keep the liquid from sloshing about too much. Some of the models offered also have built in separation walls that serve to keep the profile of the bladder slim and further prevent the liquid from moving around. If you are really concerned about keeping a low profile, there is a special donut shaped bladder that really distributes the load, ideal for shorter rides (since it only contains 1.5 liters of water).

The ultimate question asked of any hydration system is the taste of the water. Curious to test out Source’s claim that the system is virtually maintenance free, we started our test by running the same bladder for 4 months, without cleaning it and without letting it dry. At an average rhythm of three rides per week, we would simply fill the bladder for each ride, and then leave it in the pack once we got back. Amazingly, the bladder still serves up fresh tasting water and there are no signs of any build-up of gunk or other unsightly occurrences in the bladder. We cleaned the bite valve every now and then, especially after dunking it in mud, but other than that, the system has basically cleaned itself. Touching the inside of the bladder there is the slightest hint of slime build-up on the walls, but nowhere near what we were expecting to find. Of course, Source still recommends that you rinse and dry the bladder out between each ride (easy to do thanks to its non-stick properties and rigid material), and in doing so, we can’t see the system ever becoming contaminated. If you run anything but water, it goes without saying that you have to rinse and clean it each time.

Things That Could Be Improved

We have a couple of very minor observations to make. As previously pointed out, the bite valve works extremely well. It is actually drip-free, and easy to drink from. Every now and then we noticed that the hose and/or bite valve would get a little air in it between sips (probably pulled down from the bite valve), which meant the next sip would be a bit bubbly. Not really a big issue, and if it’s the price to pay for the drip-free design, we’ll gladly take it. (Some prefer to drain their hose back into the pack between sips to avoid water heating up in the hose, in which case this would not be an issue).

We would also love to see a small eyelet added at the bottom of the bladder to help with hanging it upside down to dry out.

Long Term Durability

As previously pointed out, we’ve used mainly one bladder for the entire first four months of testing, and it still performs every bit as well as when new – even without maintenance. There are no signs of deterioration in any of the materials or welds, and the water still tastes as fresh as it did when the bladder was new. We’ve since started riding with several of the other Source bladders on offer as well, with the same excellent results so far. The system really does manage itself most of the time (as long as you use only water of course), and with minimum care, it should last you a very long time. What’s more important, it should give you tastefree water for a very long time, and that is a claim that not every other brand out there can make.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Source has put considerable effort into designing its line of hydration systems, and it has paid off. It is one of the easiest to use thanks to its nearly self-maintaining properties, and it is completely taste-free. Add in the very innovative Universal Tube Adapter and numerous sizes, configurations, and accessories to cater to any kind of adventure you might want to go on, and you’re looking at a great hydration solution that will work with any riding pack. With prices in line with competition too, there’s not much to not like.

More information at: Source


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Bell Transfer-9 Full Face Helmet 12/13/2013 8:00 AM
C138_transfer9_blkbluwhtquantum

Tested: Bell Transfer-9 Full Face Helmet - The Sweet Spot

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

2012 saw the introduction of a flurry of new high-end helmets, among them the Full-9 from Bell. Built from exotic materials and featuring all the innovation Bell could muster, it was certainly an impressive piece of equipment, but as such, it came with a fairly impressive price tag too. Fast-forward a few months to the arrival of the Transfer-9, the Full-9’s little brother. Offering many of the features found on the Full-9, it checks in at exactly half the price, which should put it right near the top of the old value for money pyramid. We were lucky to lay our hands on one of the very first samples available, and we wasted no time getting it out on the trails to see what it’s made of.

Bell Transfer-9 Highlights

  • 3D-Formed Quick Snap Cheekpads
  • Breakaway Camera Mount Attachment
  • Flying Bridge Visor™ with Breakaway Screws
  • Integrated Compatibility with Eject® Helmet Removal System
  • Overbrow Ventilation
  • Padded chin strap with D-ring closure
  • Removable
  • Washable XT-2® Extended Wear Interior
  • Soundtrax
  • Velocity Flow Ventilation
  • Weight: 1200 grams
  • Includes helmet bag
  • 6 sizes: XS to XXL
  • MSRP: US $200.00

Initial Impressions

Pulling the Transfer-9 out of the box gets you stoked to ride already. The helmet is fairly big, with an aggressive design and impeccable finish. The paintjob is of the highest quality, and everything seems to have been put together with great care. The Transfer-9 takes styling cues from its bigger brother the Full-9, but it appears a little more rounded in shape.

Diving into the features, the outer shell is made from composite materials as opposed to the carbon employed on the Full-9. This adds 150 grams to the Transfer-9, but at 1200 grams, it still feels fairly light to handle, especially given its sizeable bulk. The Transfer-9 features the Overbrow ventilation system, which uses 3 large ducts situated at the front of the helmet to direct air through internal channels and back out through vents in the rear. Much like big brother, it is also Eject System Compatible, although it replaces the “Magnefusion” magnetic cheek pads found on the Full-9 with Quick Snap versions. For those unfamiliar with how it works, the Eject System allows the rider to place an inflatable bladder in a specially designed space at the top of the helmet, which can then be inflated by paramedics via a small hose to push the helmet off the head after a crash, reducing the risk of further aggravating potential neck injuries when removing the helmet. On the subject of crashing, the Transfer-9 is certified to the following standards: ASTM F1952-00, ASTM F2032-06, CE EN1078, and CPSC Bicycle. ASTM F1952-00 is a standard that applies specifically to helmets for DH mountain biking, which is far more stringent that the general use CPSC Bicycle standard. Reassuring.

The padding inside the helmet is fairly thick, and once again, the craftsmanship is excellent. All the seams are well finished off, with no loose threads or skewed stitching. The chin strap is of the D-ring variety and includes a nifty little quick snap feature to catch excess strap once attached and secured. The visor is attached via two large knobs that offer a good range of adjustability (and that are designed to break away in case of a crash, a good safety feature).

For the multi-media addicts out there, the Transfer-9 features a break-away camera mount just like the Full-9, although here, it is not directly built into the shell. You have to attach it yourself before first use, via the included double-side adhesive. The helmet comes with mounts for GoPro and Contour (the mounts snap into the base which remains stuck to the helmet once you install it). The helmet also features Soundtrax ports with built-in cable routing, which allow you to lodge earbuds directly in the helmet if you enjoy getting groovy on the trail. And speaking of trails, it is time for us to take the Transfer-9 out to get dirty.

On The Trail

The fit of the Transfer-9 is on the snug side. Measuring our head at 59cms, we opted for a size large (indicated for 57-59), which turned out OK but definitely on the tight side. If you are between sizes, make sure you try one on before buying. As previously mentioned, the padding is thick, which gives a very isolated and secure feeling when wearing the helmet – moto-like, pretty much. The D-strap is easy to tighten up, and there is no unwarranted movement of the helmet in action.

The ventilation system works well enough. It is a big and thick helmet, and as such, is clearly intended for DH use and not much more. We never felt like we’d overheat in it, but then again, testing took place after summer, so we’ll reserve judgment on this point until we can test that aspect properly as well. The mouth guard also sits fairly close to the chin, and you can feel the air swooshing around in the grill when breathing heavily. Not the best choice for Enduro racing, in other words (although removing the black foam that covers the inside of the mouth guard can help here).

We tested the helmet with several pairs of goggles, with no apparent problems. The cut of the front opening is wide and provides excellent field of vision. We did not get to test it with a neck brace, but given how close it is to the Full-9 in shape and our experience with that helmet, we feel the Transfer-9 should be a good choice for those of you who ride with a brace too. As for putting the protection to the test, we have thankfully avoided faceplanting during our time with the helmet so far, but we have faith in Bell’s considerable experience and in the standards this helmet meets. All in all, riding with the Transfer-9 proved to be everything we hoped for and more – it is comfortable, secure, and looks pretty awesome too!

Things That Could Be Improved

The only issue we’ve come across that we feel might warrant a little improvement on the Transfer-9 is how close the mouth guard sits to the chin and mouth. It is not claustrophobic, but it makes its presence felt. Giving it a few more millimeters would provide better breathing room. Also, including a GoPro and a Contour mount is nice (the future is still uncertain for the latter brand, but there are many Contours out there), but perhaps a standard camera screw mount should also be included, to cater to other brands as well.

Long Term Durability

We’ve ridden our Transfer-9 for two and a half months or so. The finish appears very durable. After attempting to put our head through low hanging branches and assorted foilage on more than one occasion, and unceremoniously dropping the helmet on the ground a few times too, there is not much if any damage to show for it. We’ve self-shuttled with the helmet on the handlebars or strapped to a pack, and we’ve also thrown it around on the shuttle truck a bit. It still looks great, with very little cosmetic damage to note. Big ups to Bell here. The padding has also held up well, and is easy to remove for washing.

There are no signs of any loose threads, nor are any of the glued-on parts showing any signs of coming unstuck. Based on evidence to date, the Transfer-9 should be up for seasons of riding, as long as you don’t write off the shell or the EPS liner in a crash of course. Note that if you do, Bell offers a crash replacement program to US customers.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Bell started from a great place in designing the Transfer-9. It has inherited all of the most useful features of big brother the Full-9, and at exactly half the price it hits the sweet spot in terms of value for money dead on. We’d even argue that in light of the feature list, the Transfer-9 is a bargain. It looks good, the build quality is high, the safety features are as good as it gets with certification to boot, and it appears to be up for much abuse. It may be a bit restrictive in terms of airflow for Enduro racing, but if DH and/or park riding is your game, and you want a top-flight helmet without breaking the bank, the Transfer-9 ticks all the boxes.

More information atwww.bellhelmets.com


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for 2014 Specialized Enduro Expert EVO Bike 12/8/2013 8:08 AM
C138_bike_specialized_enduro_expert_evo

Tested: 2014 Specialized Enduro Expert EVO - Up For It

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

Specialized has been making a bike named “Enduro” since well before the term got adopted by the internet as the next big thing. Throughout the years, each generation of the Enduro brought something new to the table, but the core concept always remained the same: these were bikes designed both for pedaling efficiency and for having fun. Proper fun, that is. For 2014, there are several different versions of the Enduro to choose from featuring aluminum or carbon frames available with 26- or 29-inch wheels. At the rowdiest end of the scale we find the new Enduro Expert EVO, a 180-mm travel, 26-inch bike equipped with coil spring suspension and sturdy parts. We were curious to see if this is simply a DH bike in disguise or if it is still capable of taking you there and back as well.

2014 Specialized Enduro Expert EVO Highlights

  • 180mm travel M5 alloy FSR frame with ORE tubing; featuring sealed cartridge bearing pivots, 142+ dropouts, ISCG '05 mount, internal dropper post routing, and replaceable derailleur hanger
  • External shifter and brake cable routing, internal routing available for optional front derailleur
  • Öhlins TTX22M shock featuring twin-tube design that separates compression from rebound
  • FOX 36 Van RC2 Kashima 180mm coil-sprung fork with 20mm thru-axle, tapered alloy steerer, compression and preload and rebound adjust
  • Roval Traverse tubeless-ready wheelset with DT Swiss spokes, 20mm thru-axle, and 142+ rear hub spacing
  • Specialized Butcher SX 2.3" dual compound tires
  • Custom SRAM S-2200 carbon crankset, 34T single chainring
  • New SRAM Type 2 X0 mid cage 11-speed rear derailleur, 10-42 cassette
  • Custom Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes, 4-piston caliper, steel backed metallic pad, 200/180mm rotors (F/R)
  • All-new Specialized Command Post IR with internal cable routing
  • MSRP: $5800 USD

Initial Observations and First Impressions

There is a huge category of bikes designed to "climb easily and handle any descent." Within this category you’ll find anything from 120mm travel 29ers to long travel 26ers, so you’d be forgiven if you find the definition vague at best, or confusing at worst. Another concept commonly found in this category of bikes is "the downhiller’s trail bike." Most often, this expression refers to a bike that can be pedaled around but offers playful geometry and is robust enough to be properly rallied on the downs. Well, with 180mm of coil-sprung travel on tap, a 65-degree headangle, and parts that would not look out of place on a DH bike, we had another question when we saw the new Enduro EVO: is this a downhiller’s trailbike, or is it simply a downhill bike?

Right out of the box, the Enduro EVO is impressive. The finish of the frame is impeccable, the welds are tidy, the hardware of high standard, and everything appears to have been assembled with care. The parts spec is fully inline with what you would expect on a bike at this price, with no apparent short-comings or areas of concern. From the press-fit BB to the X01 drivetrain, there is a lot of exciting new technology here as well.

Not just because of the eye-popping yellow, the standout feature on Enduro Expert EVO is the new Öhlins TTX rear shock. Developed specifically for Specialized by Swedish moto suspension specialists Öhlins, and available exclusively on the Demo and the Enduro, our initial impressions of this shock when we first tested one were overwhelmingly positive. That test took place on a Demo, and we were very curious to see how that performance would translate to a bike that needs to pedal and climb well in addition to tearing it up on the descent.

The TTX shock innovates with regards to how it manages oil flow during suspension events. The twin tube design is said to isolate compression and rebound events, which in turn creates a more responsive shock that is always ready to deal with events of any type. Developed primarily for descending, the shock lacks any kind of specific climbing assist platform or lockout mode switch (although you can of course add low speed compression to achieve a somewhat similar effect – but not at the flick of a switch).

Time then to find out exactly what kind of a beast this bike is. After adjusting the cockpit and crudely setting up the suspension for optimum parking lot performance, we headed to the trails…

On The Trail

Curious to test every aspect of life with the Enduro EVO, we made this our only bike for about two and a half months. During that time, the bike saw Enduro riding (aka riding your bike up and down), XC excursions, desert epics, steep and rough DH trails, and freeride play sessions with the buddies. Due to a very dry beginning of winter, pretty much the only conditions we were unable to properly test it in were outright mud.

In terms of the stock set-up, Specialized didn’t hide their intentions with this bike. A super-short 40mm stem mated to wide handlebars, sturdy and aggressive tires, and heavy-duty wheels meant we had no qualms about riding anything that was in front of us without thinking about swapping out any parts. The bike shipped with thin inner tubes that we made quick work of destroying, but after adding proper inner tubes with a bit of sealant for thorn protection the tires proved up for a lot of abuse. We did not test them tubeless, but note that both the tires and the wheels delivered stock are tubeless ready. Incidentally, after replacing the inner tubes, the bike weighed in at 16.5kgs (~36lbs), fairly respectable for a 180mm travel, coil sprung, aluminum bike that is supposed to be able to take pretty much anything.

Moving out, the bike is surprisingly easy to get going. It’s no whippet, but at the same time, it responds really well to pedal input. There is not much pedal bob in the rear suspension, and it quickly became apparent that the shock’s lack of pedal or climb mode was not going to be an issue at all. Put it down to the FSR suspension system which in this application has been configured with climbing as well as descending in mind – it works really well to separate rider-induced forces from the trail-induced ones. Standing and hammering creates a fair amount of movement in the suspension, but again, this is not created by forces on the chain, rather by the rider's body weight. It is a long travel bike with DH oriented suspension after all, so this is not something we view as an issue.

The bike feels reasonably light when you handle it, and that translates to the trail as well. The tires are heavy duty and that impacts rolling speed of course, but the bike feels far from sluggish. "Solid" is the best way to sum up the overall initial impression of the bike on the trail.

The geometry of the bike also works well enough for long climbs and epic days in the saddle, with a centered and neutral position. At 1m 84cm (about six feet), I hesitated between a medium and a large. In the end, I went with the more playful medium, mainly because the large has a 623mm top tube and a full 460mm of reach which seemed too much for a bike like this to me, even with a short stem. It's a choice I am still happy with today. Racking up kilometers and climbing this bike have both proven to be perfectly manageable. The only issue we did notice comes from the combination of a smooth, coil-sprung fork and the laid-back geometry – together these two aspects cause the front to bob under pedal input on steep, seated climbs. Note that we are not talking about standing and hammering here, but simply sitting down and grinding up a steep hill. The bike settles on the rear a bit too much in this scenario, which causes the front to unweight, at which point the fork starts to pump a bit with every pedal stroke. Not a surprise and not something we hold against a bike of this nature, especially given how much fun it delivers once you crest that climb and point it down the hill…

Once you start heading in the right direction, the Specialized geo is instantly recognizable. Long in the front, short in the rear, with a relatively low BB, the bike really comes alive as the fun factor of the trail increases. The stays aren’t super-short, and the BB isn’t super low, and we found the bike to be perfectly balanced. Never too skittish, never too sluggish, it is simply confidence inspiring and very rewarding on all types of trails. The more you attack, the better it works. Rail the turns and pump those lips, and plow through anything in between if you like. The frame is very stiff, in particular the rear end. You'd be hard-pressed to find much if any lateral movement even when specifically looking for it. The stock wheels are also of the stiff variety, and as a package the bike continues to deliver that overall solid feeling even when things get hairy. It is also fairly easy to move around on the trail, responding well to rider input in every situation. With the wheelbase at 1177mm (on our medium) and a slack headangle, the bike tends to be more on the stable side versus the playful side, but pulling into a manual or changing lines at the last minute is still easy to do.

When it comes to the suspension, the Öhlins TTX rear shock confirmed all the potential we found in it during our initial testing. Perhaps the single most impressive aspect of the shock is just how easy it is to tune, and just how easy it is to then forget about it. The adjustments on offer include high and low-speed compression, as well as a single rebound adjustment. Each adjustment is easy to use, with well-defined (but not very audible) clicks.

The adjustment range is narrower than on most shocks, because this shock has been built and tuned specifically for the bike it is mounted on. The valving and base tune were developed over a year of testing with a couple of seriously pinned Specialized riders, and the adjustments simply provide a way to further fine tune the suspension around the base settings they developed. In the parking lot, you might feel like there is not enough range, especially when it comes to the rebound adjuster, but all that goes away as soon as you hit the trail. The shock simply works, and it works wonderfully well. It holds you up at sag point with lots of small bump compliance and traction, and then ramps up to take on the big hits without any drama whatsoever. We found it kept our feet on the pedals significantly better than many other shocks we have ridden, and after a minimum amount of initial adjustment to find our marks, we never felt much need to adjust any of the settings any further. For reference, we settled on the middle of three settings for high-speed compression, about ten clicks from fully closed (out of 18) for low-speed compression, and one click out of six from fully closed on rebound. We needed a couple of turns of preload on the spring to arrive at the correct sagpoint for a 200-pound rider on the medium as it was shipped to us, but note that springs are available in 24-pound increments so you should be able to really fine tune this aspect with your dealer.

The Fox Vanilla 36 180mm fork did an admirable job of keeping up with the rear throughout the test. We found it smooth and supple, and generally very well behaved. It is a touch harsh when cranking up the low speed compression for steeper trails, but overall we did not find this slowed the bike down at all. One turn of preload (four clicks), about 15 clicks from fully closed (out of 25) on low speed compression and 20 clicks from fully closed (out of 30) on high speed compression, and a few clicks of rebound to taste, and we were good to go. The number of clicks seems excessive, but once you find your base setting, a few clicks on either side are fairly noticeable. On one particular section of trail we often struggle with, an off camber turn over a rocky and chattery surface, we were impressed with how well the front tracked (with the rear on rails, any shortcomings in the fork would have been very apparent here).

Getting airborne with the Enduro EVO is easy, and it felt like a very neutral jumper throughout the test. It’s especially impressive on landings, using its travel well and inspiring a lot of confidence. Bigger maneuvers were smooth and devoid of drama, even when we pushed the bike to bottom out (we never managed to make it feel harsh, not even when fully bottomed out). If you are worried about how much the Enduro EVO can take, rest assured – Mike Montgomery rode one in this year’s Rampage, so chances are the rest of us have a lot of margin for error.

Overall, the Enduro EVO is a bike that isolates you from the trail without feeling dead. Small bump compliance is excellent, especially in the rear, and it manages square hits really well too. Taking on smaller hits like rock ledges and roots while pedaling sometimes left us wondering if we didn't actually have a flat, especially in the rear. The bike rolls over the obstacle, absorbs the hit without transmitting any force to the rider or to the pedals via the chain at all, which felt almost weird at times. Incidentally, this makes technical climbing very comfortable, should that be your game. The bike also handles chatter very well. On a notorious washboard-like section of fast trail, the Enduro Evo slowed down noticeably less than many other bikes we've taken across that same section. Additionally, it is one of the quieter bikes we have ever tested. More than one of our riding buddies made the same comment after standing trailside when we rode by – the Enduro EVO doesn't make much noise even over rough ground, thanks to X01 chain management and a solid build.

To sum up our impressions on the trail, we found the Enduro EVO to be an eminently capable and fun bike. It's the kind of bike you keep reaching for no matter what the day’s ride has in store. When it comes to the question we asked in the introduction, it is as close to a DH bike as you can get while still retaining trail bike traits. Of course it is not a DH bike properly speaking, so if you race DH or spend the majority of your time plowing rock gardens at high speed, a full-on downhill bike should still be your jam. For any other gravity rider who is looking to get the most out of a bike that can withstand practically any level of abuse, while still being perfectly capable of going out on epic trail rides, the Enduro EVO is your ticket. One final observation: it may be called the Enduro, but we don’t expect to find many Enduro EVOs actually doing duty as Enduro race bikes. In a game where mere seconds and subtle differences in climb-ability make all the difference at the end of the day, Enduro racers will undoubtedly continue to favor slightly shorter travel and lighter bikes.

Build Kit

Our Enduro Expert EVO was shipped in stock form, possibly with the exception of the handlebars. Specialized say this bike should ship with a 780mm bar, while ours arrived with a 750mm. Whatever the case may be, 780 seems to be the ticket for this gravity-oriented bike. For the rest, here are the highlights:

  • The X01 drivetrain was flawless for the duration of the test. The shifter comes mounted to Avid’s MatchMaker clamp which keeps the handlebars nice and tidy, and the Jagwire cable helps make the shifting even crisper. Although we are used to seeing trailbikes with no chainguides these days, That question always lingers. In this case, the answer is zero. There were no chains dropped during the whole test, and that includes a lot of rough trail.
  • The Avid Trail 4-pot calipers brakes worked very well throughout the test, with ample power, good modulation, and no signs of excessive brake fade. If anything, they are perhaps slightly “woody” feeling, something that might be down to the pads since this doesn’t fully match previous experiences with the same brakes.
  • The fork and the rear drop-outs both feature tool-less quick release systems, and they were both perfect during the test. The fork has a 20mm axle which threads into the lowers and is then secured with a QR-style clamp on either side of the axle. The rear features a DT-Swiss made 12mm through-axle that screws directly into the dropout, and offers a nifty adjustment to the angle at which the lever is held (irrespective of where it ends up when you tighten it down). The rear axle was solid through the test, only rattling itself lose on one occasion.

  • The Butcher SX tire is a slightly lighter, folding bead version of the Butcher DH tire. It is an excellent all-round tire that worked very well in the hardpack, loose over hardpack and outright loose conditions we mostly rode in. At 900 grams it rolls fairly well, although the aggressive tread pattern made itself known on the climbs for sure. You can’t really have your cake and eat it when it comes to tires, and we fully agree with the choice made here. We were unable to test it in proper mud due to failure of winter to appear, but previous experience with this tire in the wet proved it to be functional there too. The side lugs are showing early signs of starting to separate a bit from the casing, so longevity could be an issue here (these tires use a soft 45a compound on the shoulders which could explain this).
  • The Roval DH rims laced to DT Swiss hubs have been solid. We put a proper dent in one of them following a somewhat stupid encounter with a large and particularly inert object, and we were surprised to find the wheel still true. We were half expecting the ride to be over, at minimum a broken spoke or two would not have seemed out of place at all, but after two minutes with the spoke key and replacing the (DH) tube we were good to go again. These wheels don’t look very bling but they are up for it!
  • Specialized’s new internally routed Command Post has been outstanding. With super-smooth actuation that is very easy to use, this iteration of the post has laid to rest any issues that were present on the first generation. It works with lower internal pressure and feels great in action. There is a very small amount of lateral play at the saddle as in almost any dropper post, but this is not something you feel while riding. After 2.5 months of heavy use the post shows no signs of acting up. It is also one of the lighter dropper posts on the market today.

  • In typical Specialized fashion, the cables are routed under the BB. It is not always the most popular of choices, but real life incidents are rare. Note the trick chainstay guard which also houses the rear shifter cable – a neat touch that also provides extra protection.
  • The custom SRAM carbon cranks have been solid during the test, and did not require any adjustment at all. Under foot they feel great while riding, although we would perhaps have specced a 170mm arm instead of the 175 for this type of bike, especially one with a relatively low BB. Note that the tips of the crank arms are fairly fragile, ours have started to chip quite a bit already. Rubber crank arm tip protectors would probably be a worthwhile investment here.

  • The Enduro EVO is finished off with Specialized’s own bars, stem, grips and saddle. The grips were comfortable if on the thin side (there are three diameters available, so make sure you get the ones you prefer from your dealer), but more importantly, they feel dead solid and have remained in place with no signs of slippage. This is important to point out as they only feature a single clamp per grip which may initially appear to be cause for concern. Not so, it turns out. Also note that the left hand side clamp is actually the Command Post lever.
  • The saddle is on the firmer side, but comfortable enough for all-day rides. It also appears to be very well put-together and resistant, ours still looks new and is to date free of any creaking.

Things That Could Be Improved

There is very little to complain about on the Enduro Expert EVO. The parts spec is in line with similarly priced bikes on the market, perhaps with the exception of the brakes. For $5800 or so, it would not be too much to ask for to have full bite point adjustment available as opposed to only reach adjust, especially for riders who are picky with how they set up their brakes.

The graphics on the wheels are applied externally, and they have already started to come off after impacts with rocks etc. Similarly, there is a protective clear sticker applied under the drive side seat stay to protect it from the chain, and this sticker has begun to self-destruct as well. At this price point, you could expect graphics under clearcoat on the wheels at least.

Long Term Durability

Apart from the aforementioned issue with the graphics on the wheels, the Enduro EVO shows no signs of tiring. We’ve done our best to ride it hard, and perhaps most tellingly it is still every bit as quiet and as smooth under the rider as on day one. Admittedly we have not put it through a few proper mudbaths, but other than that, it has seen a lot of grit and dust, not to mention loose rocks and a couple of tumbles along the way too. The pivots feel very solid, and are to this point free of any creaks. Sealed cartridge bearings throughout should ensure you get a season's worth of "normal" riding out of them. After 2.5 months, the suspension is still buttery smooth, the shifting is crisp, and the cranks spin freely. The dropper post works like a charm, and the saddle still looks new. All signs point to a lot of fun still left in the tank.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The 2014 Enduro Expert EVO is an impressive package. It is eminently capable of near full-on DH while retaining a crisp and punchy feel on the trail. It is solid, quiet, and a lot of fun to ride. The component spec is bang-on, and more importantly, all the parts work well together. The Öhlins TTX shock really sets this bike apart with its hassle-free set-up and superb performance, in and of itself a fairly compelling reason to choose this bike over another one. If you race or ride full-on DH, this is obviously not going to be your only bike, but for everybody else, this is one-bike-does-it-all nirvana. If you are the kind of rider who likes to earn your turns, but are not willing to compromise on the downs, look long and hard at the Enduro Expert Evo. If pedaling performance and more epic days out are your bread-and-butter, you'll be better off with the regular Enduro or even a Stumpjumper Evo.

More information at: Specialized


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Loaded Precision AmXc Pistol Grip 11/7/2013 3:02 PM
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Tested: Loaded AmXc Pistol Grip - Locked and Loaded

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

A grip may seem like a simple component, but get this one just a bit wrong and it can seriously mess with your ride. The grip needs to be comfortable, grippy, and not slip on the bars. Furthermore, it needs to be adapted to each riders hand size and preference with regards to grip thickness. Finally, it’s an obvious place to add a touch of bling to your bike, so a good looking grip is never a bad thing either. With these points in mind, we set out to see how Loaded Precision’s latest offering handles.

Loaded AmXc Pistol Grip Highlights

  • Grip Length: 130mm
  • Diameter: 29.5mm
  • Lock-Rings: CnC Machined T6-7075 Al
  • End Cap: Integrated T6-7075 Aluminum
  • Colors: Black, Blue, Gold, Green, Red
  • Weight: 118 grams
  • Rubber: Hydrophobic & Oleophobic Rubber
  • Hardware: Stainless Steel M3 (3mm)
  • MSRP: US $29.99

Initial Impressions

Pulling the Pistol grips out of the packaging, you’re met with a general impression of quality. You’re also met by a slightly less common design, both in terms of appearance and function. This is a relatively thick grip, with pronounced blocks all along the grip surface. If you are used to this type of grip you’ll feel at home immediately, if not, you might be slightly taken aback at first. The machining of the all-aluminum lockrings and assorted hardware appeared first-class, and the compound chosen for the grip itself solid and tacky.

Closer inspection revealed a somewhat unique mounting system. The grip features lockrings at both ends, which hold onto tabs that protrude from the actual grip part. The lockrings ALSO grab onto the aluminum end-cap via a rounded tab on the latter, creating a 3-part system that locks itself in place on the bars when you tighten it down (there is a simple insert that performs the same function on the inner lockring, since there is no end-cap on that side). It would appear that this multi-part system helps apply pressure to both sides of the rubber tabs more evenly, instead of just pressing them against the bar. Incidentally, Loaded used 3mm hex bolts for the lockrings, which is a nice touch – they feel a lot more solid and less prone to stripping when you work on them, compared to the 2- or 2.5-mm bolts more commonly found on many other grips.

Installing the grips on the bars proved to be easy and straightforward, the inner diameter of the grips matching the handlebars perfectly, creating a snug and secure fit. Time to tighten down the bolts and go riding.

On The Trail

Moving out, we immediately noticed how solid the grips felt. There is absolutely no play to be detected, not in the bar/grip interface, nor within the grip itself. The grip is roomy, and as mentioned before, quite thick. The big blocks on the grip surface had us worried about comfort at first, but that proved to be non-founded as the grip feels quite natural in the hand, especially if you ride with gloves. We did find that orienting the grip in a particular way helped align each row of blocks with the shape of the hand, but that could be the OCD talking.

The compound used actually needs to wear in before it delivers its best performance. When the grips are brand new, there is a shiny coating on the compound which is slightly less grippy than we expected after the parking lot test – but it wears off fairly quickly leaving the grips as sticky as we could ever want. The initial feeling of solidity persisted throughout the test, and we became completely used to the blocky grip surface as well. The grips inspire confidence and stay comfortable on long rides, including when they get dirty or wet. The sharp edges of the blocks on the grip surface help provide traction even if you like taking long cold mudbaths with your trusty steed.

Things That Could Be Improved

There is very little to complain about on the AmXc Pistol grips. At the end of the day, grips are a very personal choice, and evaluating a grip typically involves equal parts objective observation and subjective appreciation of several aspects ranging from performance to feel. The AmXc Pistol grip is very well made and this is reflected in its performance. The thickness of the grip and the design of the grip surface won’t be to every rider’s liking, and in this aspect, Loaded would do well to include a few more options in their catalogue (thickness, type of surface, etc). They do offer the AmXc “NoSlip Grips” which feature the same locking hardware with a different, smoother grip area design and a different compound, but this still remains on the thicker side of the scale.

Long Term Durability

The AmXc Pistol grip appears to age very well. After a couple of months of fairly solid abuse, there is not much wear and tear to report. The compound’s grip level has actually improved with time, and there are no rips or major cuts to report. There is some scuffing on the end-caps which is to be expected on such an exposed part, but both the graphics and the anodized finish appear solid. In terms of function, the grips still feel like new, absolutely free of any play. While it is a little bit early to conclusively state that these last longer than many other grips on the market, we certainly feel that they are headed in that direction.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The AmXc Pistol grip mixes performance and good looks in equal parts. The innovative clamp design and the apparent care applied to producing this grip have resulted in a very solid and dependable component. Pricing-wise, it comes in at a bit of a premium, but thankfully, it provides the performance to match. Whilst the thickness and design of the grip surface may not be to every rider’s liking, if you are looking for a bit extra comfort or simply have bigger hands, the AmXc Pistol grip should definitely make your short list.

More information at: Loaded Precision Inc.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for Novatec Diablo 26 Complete Wheelset 10/31/2013 12:46 AM
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Tested: Novatec Diablo Wheels

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Steve Wentz and David Howell

With Enduro and aggressive trail riding gaining in popularity with every passing minute, the need for a wheelset that is durable enough to keep you rolling but light enough to tackle epic rides grows too. Novatec offers the Diablo wheelset specifically to meet this need. While not the cheapest wheelset on the market with an MSRP of around $750 USD, these wheels complement any bike with subtle and simple rim graphics and red anodized hubs that go well with most color schemes. Curious to see if they would match their easy-on-the-eye looks and good specs with performance on the trail, we threw not one but two testers at them to investigate.

Novatec Diablo Highlights:

  • Tool-less conversion to all axle combinations front and rear
  • Anti-bite guard on cassette body
  • Sapim race double butted spokes (extras included)
  • Spoke Count Front/Rear: 32/32
  • 28.5mm rim width
  • Tubeless Ready micro-peened rim profile
  • 4-in-1 front hub for compatibility with QR, 10, 15 and 20mm front axle systems
  • Rear hub compatible with: QR, 10mm, 12mm, X12
  • Weight Front/Rear: 785g/995g
  • Heat cured graphics
  • Hand built
  • MSRP $750

Pulling the wheels out of the box they aren’t particularly heavy, and they aren’t particularly light. Considering many wheelsets weigh in at around 1600- to 1900-grams, we’d consider the Diablo’s 1780 grams perfectly acceptable, so long as they hold up of course. Closer inspection revealed fairly wide hub flanges which usually equal a stronger wheel, especially if they enable the use of equal spoke lengths and tension in the wheel build. The wide rims appear solid if a little boring at times, and to offer some potential criticism in this area they are pinned and not welded. Pinned rims have been known to cause creaking or even become subject to separation over time.

Zooming in on the rear hub, we were impressed by the attention to detail shown by Novatec in this area. There's an anti-bite guard to protect the aluminum freehub body from being eaten alive by the cassette, super-fast 4-degree engagement, and tool-free compatibility with all main trail bike axle standards. Included with the wheels is another box that is filled with all the extra adapters and quick release axles / skewers needed to adapt the hubs to your frame’s and fork’s standards as well as a bag of of extra spokes, should you need to replace one.

On the subject of the spokes, Sapim has their logo proudly stamped on the J-spoke heads found on the Diablos, and for good reason. Sapim spokes are not the most common, but are certainly among the best available. They are strong, rarely break, and do a great job holding a wheel together. They can also be cost prohibitive when trying to build an affordable wheelset, and even finding them can be a chore depending on where you live, which is probably why they are a less common sight on the trail. Bonus points to Novatec for not skimping in this area. We are slightly less impressed by the fact that the wheel is built using 4 different spoke lengths, but the differences are small enough that you should be able to replace any broken spoke with the spares supplied and at least be able to ride out.

Setup

Initial tubeless setup was a little tedious because the hole around the valve stem is too large for most tubeless valve stems to seal, causing sealant to leak into the rim cavity with loss of tire pressure and sealant as a result. Once we found a larger diameter valve stem and replaced the rim strip with some Stan’s 25mm rim tape from the toolbox, tubeless setup was straightforward and worked easily first try (we ran the wheels both tubeless and with tubes during the testing). After that, we swapped the stock axle adapters for those required by our frame. This process is very easy to do and only takes a matter of seconds. With that, we were ready to go ride.

On The Trail

Moving out, we were pleasantly surprised by the engagement of the rear hub. At just 4-degrees it is very, very quick, and surprisingly enough there wasn’t much drag either. Compare this to some other wheels, and you often find correlation between high drag and quick engagement. We know of some pro DH teams that remove seals or reduce the number of pawls in a hub to make such wheels roll faster, but that simply wouldn’t be needed with the Diablos. They engage well and roll well, right out of the box. All those engagement points also give the wheels a high quality feel further accentuated by a loud, yet not overbearing, buzz from the cassette body when coasting.

The generous 28.5mm outer rim width performed very well on the trail. Rocky terrain was never a problem. Point it and hope for the best, while not good for your health, was never a bad idea for the Diablos. They tracked well, didn’t deflect and convinced some of us to make even worse line choice decisions than we usually do. Something often overlooked on a solid wheelset is how well it can keep speed. A little bit of extra rotational mass can actually help keep speed through rocky terrain, stutter bumps and all manner of undulation. Once up to speed, the Diablos did keep rolling very well and were not bothered by ruts or terrain imperfections. A wide rime coupled with the three-cross spoke lacing pattern also provided ample stiffness to corner hard without fear of tweaking a rim or even feeling too much lateral flex, even for the heavier of our two testers. Finally, the wheels have generally stayed true even while missing a spoke and after acquiring a few dents – further testament to stiffness and strength.

Climbing and covering distance with the Diablos is never punishing because of their relative light weight (for a gravity/trail wheelset). If you are coming from a simpler or heavier stock set of wheels you will immediately notice a how much less effort you need to get the wheels spinning and how much more enjoyable the ride is as a result. We never felt there was any wind up, or loss of power due to flex. Sure, you can buy lighter wheels that will feel even faster, but tons of power could be put down on the Diablos and they would remain sure footed to the end, contributing to an overall confidence inspiring feel. While not springy and playful, the wheels felt up to any challenge and would help mute our worst mistakes.

Things That Could Be Improved

The outer part of the aluminum cassette body has a steel spline that Novatec calls the “Anti-bite guard” - it helps prevent the individual cassette cogs from digging into and getting stuck in the aluminum cassette body. It does provide some degree of protection but a steel cassette body would still be the best option to completely solve this (common) problem. Despite the steel reinforcement, cassette cogs did dig in to the cassette body deep enough to get stuck and require some additional persuasion to dislodge.

As previously mentioned, the valve hole is too big for most tubeless valve stems. While we had to resort to using rim tape from the toolbox to be able to run these wheels tubeless, it should be noted that Novatec will soon have an option to purchase the wheels with tubeless tape and valve stems installed at the factory.

Finally, Novatec includes a mountain of adapters, which is great, but they're unlabeled which can keep you guessing what adapters go with what frame spacing (specifically the 12x142 and X12 adapters for the rear wheel).

Long Term Durability

On a steep, technical climb, a loud pop from the rear end of one tester’s bike marked what turned out to be a ride-ending mechanical failure – the cassette wouldn’t freewheel anymore. The hub was dissected to reveal a pawl seat had sheared from the cassette body. This happened after about 350 miles of riding on a 1X setup. No other damage was observed to the hub shell itself. Once again, steel could prove to be a better material for the freehub body on these wheels to eliminate both cassette bite and broken freehub bodies with a minimal weight increase. Our second tester did not have the same experience, and we feel this failure is not common and can be attributed to a 235-pound test rider mashing the pedals on the climbs – this definitely isn’t the first freehub body he has broken while climbing. In fact, the Novatec freehub body lasted longer than most under this tester, but there's still room for improvement. Novatec says this was the first reported Diablo freehub to break, and that in their experience it wasn’t typical.

At the time of writing this review, the Diablo rims are showing no signs of weakness. After hundreds of miles on rough terrain, both wheelsets are still going strong and have remained true, even after replacing broken spokes and putting dents in the rims. It could be argued that the rim might benefit from being welded together instead of pinned – but this comment is made based on experience with other pinned rims and not this wheelset specifically.

With easy to follow instructions on the Novatec website detailing sealed bearing and freehub body replacement, maintenance should be painless for years to come.

What’s The Bottom Line?

After hundreds of miles and some poor line choice on the Diablos, they have held strong and keep coming back for more. We did experience a hub failure but we feel it was probably the result of extenuating circumstances. Other than that, these wheels strike a great balance between weight, strength, and price. Sure, we could ask for them to be lighter, but then you simply would end up with one of Novatec’s lighter weight offerings. That lighter wheelset would accelerate better, but not be as strong. You could also make the rims out of carbon, and easily double or even triple the price of the wheelset. And finally, you could build a “sexier” wheel by using fancy machining, straight-pull spokes, and intricate rim profiles. But the bottom line is that Novatec made a great wheelset out of very, very good “regular” parts – and that’s often a good thing. Refinement is an age old concept that sometimes goes the way of the dodo in the cycling industry, but in this case it was put into practice with great results.

For more details, check out www.novatecusa.net.


About The Reviewers

Steve Wentz has always done things and ridden his own way, and he's really happy about that. He grew up in the middle of Southern California and had to build his own trails to ride when he was too young to drive. To make a long story short, that's what he's still doing today, minus the California part. Now he tries to do that everywhere. He has been to every continent except for Antarctica, and has either raced, built trail or been able to ride all over. He loves seeing the world, for better or worse. He has been through ghettos where children beg for pennies, and that really gives perspective to our world where a pair of soft rubber tires costs $150. That being said, he's skidded on those soft rubber tires on so many race courses and trails he can't even count anymore, and he loves it. He'll always ride if he can, and race if he wants, but now he tries to do it with an eye on the course and also an eye to what is practical, what is worth supporting, and what he thinks can benefit the sport as a whole.

David Howell has been riding bikes for the last 11 years, with the majority of that being downhill and trail riding. He raced some downhill in Colorado, but now prefers dirt jumping, trail riding or downhilling with his friends. Working in shops for six years fueled his passion for riding all styles of bikes and has provided an in-depth knowledge of current parts and trends in the industry. His favorite trails are fast and have a good mixture of rough, rocky sections mixed with smoother flowy sections – natural jumps and berms just add to the fun. With a plow riding style and tipping the scales at 235-pounds, he puts the hurt on even the beefiest components.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Jaybird Bluebud X 10/29/2013 1:07 PM
C138_curled_headphones

Tested: Jaybird Bluebud X Earphone

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Johan Hjord

Using headphones to provide a soundtrack to your ride is nothing new. But it’s probably safe to say that many people’s experience with taking standard earphones or earbuds out on the trail is a little underwhelming. They don't fit with a helmet, they fall off, they stop working after they get exposed to sweat, the cables get tangled around your throat, or they sound like a cheap car stereo. Jaybird claims to have solved all those problems and more, so we donned a pair and cranked them up to 11 to see what gives.

Jaybird Bluebuds X Highlights

  • Type: In-Ear Style
  • Noise-isolation: Passive
  • Audio Format: 16-bit Stereo
  • Codec: Shift™ custom SBC implementation
  • Response Bandwidth: 20-20000Hz
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth Class 2.1+EDR (wireless)
  • Handsfree & AVRCP profiles
  • Play Time: 8 Hrs (claimed)
  • Standby Time: 250 Hrs (claimed)
  • Charging Time: Less than 2.5 hrs
  • 1 Year Limited Warranty
  • Lifetime Warranty Against Sweat
  • AVRCP Music Controls (play/pause, next, back)
  • Call Controls (answer, end, reject call, etc)
  • General Controls (volume, pair, power)
  • Jenna ™ Voice Prompts
  • Signal Plus (interference-free playback)
  • MSRP: US $169.95

The Jaybird Bluebud X’s made quite the statement when they first showed up. The packaging is first-class, and there is a general impression of quality to the whole kit. Included in the box are the earphones, the USB charging cable, 3 different sizes of ear channel adapters and in-ear cushions, a neat little carrying case, and documentation.

The earphones themselves are in the in-ear style, which means they squeeze directly into your ear channel. In addition, Jaybird has developed a fairly unique retention system which uses the shape and features of the outer ear to secure the earphones in place. Bluetooth takes care of connectivity with your phone or music player (there is no cable to plug into the audio device).

In The Living Room

After a first top-up charge, we proceeded to work out the proper fit and get the earphones ready for use. It takes a little bit of trial and error to figure out the proper sizing of both the ear-channel adapter and the outer ear retention cushions, but the included instructions are well-illustrated and detailed enough to help get you there as quickly as possible. A mirror is pretty valuable too.

Powering up the earphones, you are introduced to the lovely Jenna™. Jenna is there to offer voice prompts that help guide you through the initial set-up and Bluetooth pairing procedures (as mentioned previously, the Bluebuds are wireless earphones that connect to your phone or music player via Bluetooth, not a cable). This proved to be a simple and straightforward affair on our iPhone 5, and 2 minutes later we were rocking out.

The audio quality delivered by the Bluebud X’s is stunning. The bass is rich and clear, without ever overpowering the rest or becoming murky and jumbled-up. The midrange and high frequencies are delivered crisply, but never become screechy or tiring to listen to. Incidentally, if you feel you need something other than the standard setting on your music player’s equalizer when using these, you should probably consider joining Bass-o-holics Anonymous and following their 12-step program to kick your nasty 50Hz habit.

It is worth mentioning that Jaybird invested considerably in the audio quality aspect, including built-in white noise filtering and the use of a high-bandwidth Bluetooth profile to allow high quality wireless playback (which cannot be achieved with your old Bluetooth hands-free earbud for example, since it uses a much lower bandwidth protocol). The use of high-quality drivers in an optimized shell do their part too.

The cord that connects the 2 earphones together also houses the 3 external controls offered on the Bluebud X’s. These allow you to stop and start playback, adjust volume, and skip tracks. The unit housing the controls also features a small microphone used for phone calls. When in phone mode, the controls allow you to take or reject calls and adjust call volume (the earphones switch automatically between modes when you answer or make calls). Call quality is very good, incidentally, as reported by the people we called to test it.

On The Trail

Having passed the living room test with flying colors, it was time to take the Bluebud X’s to the trail. You can run them in 2 different cord configurations, with the cord either dangling free under the chin or tucked away over the ears and around the back of the neck. We found the latter option preferable for mountain biking, given the amount of snaggy branches and other obstacles we regularly attempt to ride through, but either option will work.

Because the Bluebuds are of the in-ear kind, they offer very impressive isolation against external sound. Without even turning them on, we struggled to hear our tires on the dirt. Power up your preferred playlist, and you’re back in your living room. Forget about ANY external interference, now it’s just you and the band. And the best part is, these earphones will stay right where you put them, no matter what the trail throws at you.

Having conclusively failed to dislodge the Bluebuds with any manner of bike riding, we proceeded to our patented head-banging/hair-model combo test. If they could survive this one, they could survive anything. Well, the Bluebuds didn’t fall out, but more surprisingly, L’Oreal also hasn’t called about our new hair modeling contract. Maybe we’re not worth it after all.

We’ve ridden with the Bluebud X’s for a couple of months now, and their performance on the trail has been flawless. They have never failed to connect to the phone, they have never failed to deliver perfectly smooth playback with awesome audio richness, they do not fall out while riding, and they are to this point unaffected by the copious amounts of sweat we’ve subjected them to (they are backed by a lifetime warranty against sweat-induced damage should this ever cease to be the case). We have not gotten the promised 8 hours of battery life out of a single charge, probably more like 6, which is still incredibly impressive given the small size of the battery and the fact that these are wireless. 6 hours of listening to music is a lot, and chances are your phone's battery won’t make it that far anyway.

Things That Could Be Improved

It is hard to find fault with the Bluebud X’s. Due to their protruding shape, they won’t work with a full face helmet, but addressing that aspect while keeping the overall performance seems like a big ask. You should also note that using these in traffic or in other situations where you might need to hear what is going on around you is not a good idea, because they really do cut you off from everything except the music. This is obviously not something we should be critical of, given that it was the design goal, but something to be aware of. Finally, we should point out that when worn in the over-the-ear-and-around-the-neck configuration, the controls can be hidden under your helmet strap. It's hard to see how to improve on this aspect, and it also didn't prove an actual hindrance in operation. It's actually quite easy to find the buttons under the strap, even with gloves.

Other than that, we’ve become a bit infatuated with the lovely Jenna, and we think she should maybe be given a few more voice-prompts to say. And finally, the Bluebuds should come with a built-in anti-dubstep and AWOLNATION filter, but maybe there’s an app for that?

Long Term Durability

After a couple of months of subjecting the Bluebud X’s to on-the-trail abuse, we see absolutely no signs of trouble. Jaybird backs its product with a 1-year general warranty and a lifetime warranty against sweat-related damage, which feels reassuring when you take your $170 electronic equipment out riding. Physically, you need to exert a little bit of care when handling the small lid that covers up the charge port, but no more than would be expected on such a small device. The cover closes with a very solid snap which leads us to believe it will not become prone to falling off with time either.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The Bluebud X's from Jaybird set the bar high for sports-specific earphones. With audio quality that rivals the best audiophile equipment out there, the Bluebuds further up the ante by taking that performance to the trails. They offer secure fit, the freedom of wireless connectivity, and fantastic audio performance. If you’re serious about your music and enjoy listening to it while riding (or during any other physical activity for that matter), you should certainly put these on your shopping short list. They’re not the cheapest solution out there, but in our opinion, you get what you pay for and then some.

More information at: Jaybird


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Race Face Ambush Knee Pad 8/5/2013 5:04 AM
C138_ambush_product_shot_2

Tested: Race Face Ambush Knee and Elbow Guards - As Solid As They Come

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

Kneepads are an essential piece of protective equipment, worn by almost every rider who likes to get a bit rowdy from time to time. Elbow pads are perhaps a slightly less common sight on the trail, but many riders will still reach for them when things get a bit hectic, or just for a little extra peace of mind. Race Face has been producing a line of pads (or guards) for a number of years already, offering a full range of protection for different applications. The Ambush line sits on the heavy duty side of the catalog, ready for pretty much anything you can throw at it – we put the 2013 edition to the test to see how it measures up in this highly competitive equipment category.

Ambush Knee and Elbow Highlights

  • D30 high performance shock absorbing foam
  • Perforated Neoprene enhances venting and moisture control
  • Terry lined for wicking and comfort
  • Open-back construction on the kneepads; no shoe removal necessary
  • Foam padded side walls on the kneepads offer additional coverage
  • Heavy-duty 600 denier nylon front panel casing
  • Soft mesh panel at inner elbow to keep cool
  • Woven upper elastic strap and lower Neoprene comfort strap on elbow pads
  • Branded rubber grab tabs
  • MSRP: $99.99 (Knee), $79.99 (Elbow)

Race Face makes quality gear, so we were not surprised to find a pair of pads that seem to have been very well put together right out of the bag. The attention to detail is obvious, and the materials chosen inspire confidence. All the seams appear well executed, and we found no loose threads nor any other apparent quality problems. That meant we were instantly ready to hit the trails to find out how these pads perform where it really matters.

On The Trail

The stand-out feature on the Ambush kneepad is the open back construction. The kneepad opens up completely thanks to three hook-and-loop straps, allowing you to put it on and take it off without removing your shoes. This is a boon, as having to remove your shoes is perhaps the single most annoying aspect of this type of pad from many other manufacturers. How many times have you arrived a big climb wanting to remove your kneepads, but not feeling up to taking your shoes off? Removing the Ambush pad takes all of five seconds – then you’re free to strap it to your pack or even the bike before the climb. This is a brilliant idea and Race Face has executed it perfectly.

The most important function of a knee or elbow pad is of course to protect you during the rougher episodes of your dirt love affair. On the Ambush range, Race Face has chosen to use D3O as the main protective material both for the knee and elbow pads. For those not familiar with D3O, it is a soft and malleable material featuring molecules that lock together to dissipate impact energy during hard hits (go ahead and put a hammer to it to test this – you know you want to).

Race Face has included a generous helping of this magical material in both the knee and elbow pads, complemented by smaller sections of more traditional foam on both sides of each kneepad. The pads are preformed to provide a comfortable fit, but without feeling the least bit flimsy as D3O pads sometimes do. The heavy-duty nylon used on the front panels appears extremely strong, and looks better than the previous generation of these pads – we’ve certainly not been able to put more than superficial scuffs on it.

The inside of the pads is made out of soft Terry liner, which is very comfortable and stays that way after washing. The pads get a little warm, but definitely nothing more than we would expect, given the amount of protection on offer. We found the sizing to be spot on, although the straps are strong so you might want to make sure you try on a pair before buying - they can feel a bit tight when done up. The pads are easy to put on and remove, and easy to adjust. Of course, the pads would be useless if they moved around during riding, and we’re happy to report that these stay put no matter what you get up to. Pedaling, rock gardens, jumps, drops... these pads stay where they’re meant to, ready for your next failure to keep the rubber side down.

On the topic of crashing, we’ve ridden these pads for more than three months and inevitably, there have been some dirt sampling exercises during that time. These pads do a great job of protecting you, at least as good as comparable offerings from other manufacturers, and we were only able to twist one of the kneepads to the side of the knee once (during a particularly acrobatic and not very graceful tumble). As a side note, if you are worried about your shins, Race Face makes a version of these with included shin protector, called the Flank.

Long Term Durability

In terms of wear and tear, besides now looking a bit older, the pads have held up really well. All the seams are still tight, and there are no holes or tears in the fabric to report. Specifically, the lined neoprene used is clearly of the stronger variety here. We’ve used pads from other brands where the neoprene literally fell apart after a few months.

Things That Could Be Improved

The one issue we have found is Race Face's choice to put the “hook side” of the Velcro (hook and loop) material on the pad itself, which is the longer portion – thus leaving this side of the Velcro exposed unless you do the strap up completely which makes it very tight. The net result of this is that part of the “hook” material can be left exposed, ready to snag your short liner or indeed rub away at the lower part of the front panel of the kneecap in the case of the lower strap. This is a minor gripe which could have been resolved by inverting the design, using the rougher “hook” side on the strap end, leaving only the soft “loop” side exposed on the pad. Speaking with Race Face about this issue, it turns out that by inverting the design, there would be a risk of exposing the rough hook side of the strap to the skin for riders between sizes - so the choice was made to run the risk of snagging shorts as opposed to scraping away at bare skin. On balance, this seems like a smart choice. See below for an illustration of the rough side of the Velcro exposed unless the strap is tightened all the way:

We should also point out that as with most D3O-equipped pads, these are not cheap, at least not at list price (although they can be found online at significant discount at this time). We feel that D3O offers enough advantages to justify the price tag, especially in a well-executed design like this one.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Race Face has brought an innovative approach to a well-established design, and this has worked out really well. These are among the most solid pads we’ve ever tried in this category, and they’ve stood up to abuse quite nicely. They are all-day comfortable to wear and provide effective protection, and the open back design on the kneepads is a game changer for those who like to remove their pads for climbing (*cough* Enduro *cough*). Apart from the minor issue of exposed Velcro potentially snagging your shorts, the design is a homerun.

For more details, visit www.raceface.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan spends much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for X-Fusion Vector Air HLR Rear Shock 7/9/2013 5:41 AM
C138_xfusion_vector_air_hlr_shock

Tested: X-Fusion Vector Air HLR – X Marks the Spot

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

Santa Cruz, California-based X-Fusion has been in the suspension business longer than you might believe. The company was actually already involved in making suspension prior to its official incorporation in 1999, and RockShox founder Paul Turner helps with product development, so it has a long history and lots of experience to draw on. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a young brand, because it is only over the past few years that it has gained more widespread recognition and wider distribution in the mountain biking world. We knew they make good products, so we were excited to lay our hands on one of the very latest shocks the company has produced – the Vector Air HLR. With very low weight and lots of adjustability, it had our attention – but how would it perform?

When you pull the Vector Air HLR out of the box, you’re met with an overall impression of quality manufacturing. The finish is good, and the attention to detail is apparent. The paint is uniform, the machining is precise, and the graphics have been applied with care. Not to mention that on the whole, the shock really looks the business too.

Vector Air HLR Highlights

  • 430 gram weight (that’s about half the weight of a coil shock with a steel spring in similar dimensions), and currently the lightest of the air DH shocks on the market.
  • CVS (Check Valve System) technology added for compression and rebound isolation ensuring the most consistent damping with improved adjustment ranges.
  • HLR damping system provides total damping control with external rebound adjustment and high-low speed compression adjustment. Compression and rebound adjustments are isolated from affecting one another via CVS.
  • Adjustments include air pressure, reservoir pressure, rebound, bottom-out adjust, high- and low-speed compression.
  • Refined compression circuits for more efficient and smoother energy absorption.
  • Sized eyelet bushings providing a smoother and more consistent mounting system.
  • Oversized CNC-machined aluminum 31.5mm damper body for consistent damping.
  • Bored, reduced air canister wall thickness provides increased cooling surface.
  • Custom tuning services available directly from X-Fusion ($50 if ordered with purchase in the US)
  • MSRP $579.99

Continuing the examination, the dials turn with precision, and everything appeared to be in place to go shredding – so that’s what we did.

On The Trail

The Vector Air was installed on a Morewood Zama, a 7-inch travel single-pivot freeride/mini-DH frame. Fitting the shock was easy using the supplied mounting hardware. For the main air spring, we started with the recommended pressure – body weight in pounds (lbs) minus 20%, which landed us on 160psi. A quick check that the piggy-back reservoir pressure was above the stated minimum of 180psi (don’t confuse the two Schrader valves!), and it was time to hit the trails.

With the main settings roughly adjusted – a bit of rebound damping added to avoid death by bucking, and the main compression settings sort of in the middle, the shock was already behaving well. It soon became apparent that we could get away with less pressure in the main air spring, as the shock offers good mid-stroke support and seemed to cope with larger hits as well. The bike’s relatively low leverage ratio probably also contributed to this. 150psi ended up yielding 35-40% sag which seemed ideal for most applications.

The Vector HLR offers a lot of adjustability, and for the most part, settings are easy to change. The rebound damping dial sits in a less than ideal spot which makes it hard to reach once installed (and depending on frame design this issue could end up worse than we had it here), but it is workable.

The main three adjustment dials spin with a smooth and well-defined motion, and the clicks are distinctive and easy to feel. There is enough resistance in the dials to ensure they stay where you set them as well. The range of each adjustment is wide and each click has a progressive, noticeable effect on the setting. Low-speed compression goes from fully open to very firm, but does not lock out completely (which you would not want on a gravity-oriented shock). High-speed compression is available to tune the shock’s response to bigger/sharper hits and faster shaft speeds – again ranging from open to firm.

Apart from being tricky to reach, the rebound damping adjustment is a pleasure to use, with a wide range of well-defined steps available to make sure you can get the shock feeling just right.

The last adjustment on offer is the internal spring rate and bottom-out control. It works by giving you control over the pressure and volume of the reservoir air chamber. This chamber (which sits behind an internal floating piston, or IFP, that separates the air chamber from the oil side) acts as an internal air spring, resisting the oil that is pushed into the reservoir during compression of the shock. Adding air to the piggy-back reservoir increases the internal spring rate of the shock throughout the stroke, while adjusting the air volume (via the dial) affects the progressivity of the shock towards the end of the stroke. Note that you have to reduce the pressure of the reservoir down to 50psi before you can turn the volume adjust dial, and even then, you need to use a tool to make it turn. A 3mm hex key or small screwdriver or similarly shaped rod does the trick, insert it into one of the holes on the side of the dial and use it for leverage to twist the dial – clockwise to reduce the internal volume of the reservoir. Three full turns of adjustability are on offer, and we saw good results at about one and a half to two turns in and 200 psi in the reservoir – that seemed to leave us consistently using 95% of travel on rough DH trails, even at relatively low main air spring pressure (at 40% sag).

The key take-away here is adjustability. We found all the adjustments of the Vector Air easy to use and effective, and we were pretty much able to get the shock feeling very close to a coil shock, at least during more hectic segments of trail with lots of suspension action. Being able to dial in your spring rate precisely is useful for riders who like to adapt their setup to the riding terrain, and the rest of the adjustments will help them get the ride characteristics they want in any situation.

The shock feels very plush for the most part, including when just pressing down lightly on the saddle. There is little discernable stickiness, and a quick air can/seal clean and re-grease service made whatever was there go away. The Vector Air offers great support throughout the stroke – certainly none of the soft feel in mid-stroke that can sometimes plague air shocks. Bottoming out is a well-managed affair, even hits that actually blew the sag indicator clean off the shaft were not dramatic. Top-out is well controlled too, leaving the shock feeling quiet and solid in action.

Adjustable spring rate, lower weight…why would you NOT want an air shock? Well, there are trade-offs to consider. Small-bump compliance can be an issue on air shocks, as well as changing spring rates (and/or damping rates) due to heat build-up in the shock on long runs. Air shocks also tend to require more maintenance than many coil shocks, as they can suffer from stickiness in the main air spring when seals get worn out. There are also some who just plain prefer the feel of a coil shock, no matter how close the air shock gets.

X-Fusion has taken steps to remedy the heat build-up issues on the Vector Air. A large air can with thinner walls helps with heat dissipation, which we found to be reasonably effective. The shock can get very hot on rough long runs, but we were not able to clearly measure a difference in sag from the top of the run to the bottom. The bottom line is that air shock spring rates are affected by temperature changes (whether ambient or caused by shock actuation), but we find that the Vector does a good enough job of managing the issue.

The Vector Air offers no specific solution to the potential issue of the suspension oil becoming more fluid at higher temperatures (a la Rockshock Vivid Air and its thermo-sensitive “Hot Rod” technology on the rebound needle), but we can’t say that we found this phenomenon to be that much of a real life nuisance. Sure, once the shock gets warm, it starts to feel a bit looser, to the point of sometimes needing to add a click of compression or rebound, but that’s really not all that different to a coil shock loosening up over the course of a day of riding either, as the sun climbs higher in the sky.

Keep your eyes on sag and damping settings throughout your rides, and sometimes you might have to make small adjustments due to weather or type of riding.

Things That Could Be Improved

The one minor nuisance we did encounter was a sudden harshness (spiking) on some types of short and sharp hits with the shock fully extended to start with (such as hitting rocks with the wheel already airborne or dropping off a small step to flat). We did manage to make the issue better by backing off both low and high-speed compression, but we didn’t manage to make it go away completely. This kind of initial stroke harshness is not uncommon in air shocks, but we believe that in this case it can also be attributed to running a standard-tune shock (2.75:1) on a bike with a particularly low leverage ratio (2.54:1) – probably not the ideal combo. Note that X-Fusion offers a custom tune service from the factory for $50 if ordered at the time of purchase, we highly recommend taking this option to ensure you get the correct tune from day one, especially for your riding style. We should point out that we only observed this harshness in certain situations when the shock deals with a short impact from a fully extended state – any hits that occur when the suspension is already weighted are dealt with very smoothly. The shock is reasonably smooth on small bumps and over trail chatter.

Additionally, the position of the rebound adjustment dial could be improved, making it easier to reach once installed on the bike.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The X-Fusion Vector Air HLR is a quality shock, offering lots of usable adjustability in a lightweight and robust package. It performs very well on the trail, getting very close to a coil shock in terms of feel. We were especially impressed with mid-stroke support and the ability to run fairly low pressures while still dealing with bigger hits. We have no particular concerns regarding longevity after several months of testing (and X-Fusion stands by its products with a two-year warranty). While we were not quite able to get rid of a certain harshness on some types of small hits, that is a common occurrence on air shocks and something that is likely not an issue on all frame designs. If you are in the market for an air shock for gravity or aggressive trail riding, certainly consider the Vector Air HLR.

For more details, visit www.xfusionshox.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 2 reviews.

Added a product review for 2013 Nukeproof Mega TR 6/23/2013 1:23 PM
C138_complete_mega_tr_dsc_1762_small

Tested: Nukeproof Mega TR – Nukeproof by Name, Nukeproof by Nature

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

Nukeproof launched the original Mega to much acclaim back in early 2011, and it quickly became one of the defining models of this young brand. With a slack headtube angle and relatively short travel, the original Mega was at the heart of the modern trailbike movement – fun, capable bikes that can pretty much go anywhere and do anything. For 2013, Nukeproof has increased its offerings in this category by creating an “AM” and a “TR” version of the Mega. The AM version gets a boost to 160mm travel (up from the 150mm of the original Mega), while the TR sees travel reduced to 130mm in a more lightweight package. Curious to see how capable the TR would remain, we laid our hands on one of the very first samples a couple of months ago – here is how we got along.

Nukeproof Mega TR Highlights

  • Hydroformed T6 6061 aluminum tubeset
  • 130mm travel
  • True 44mm headtube
  • Removable cable guides for dropper post, also internal Stealth cable routing
  • ISCG 05 tabs
  • Head angle: 67-degrees
  • Seat angle: 73.5-degrees
  • Rear axle: 135mm/142mm x 12mm
  • Chainstay length: 430.2mm
  • BB height: +0mm
  • Direct mount front derailleur ready
  • MSRP $4,349.99

Nukeproof’s intentions are obvious with this bike: 67-degree head angle, wide bars, short stem, single chain ring with a chainguide…while it may “only” sport 130mm of travel, clearlythis bike was built for good times. The yellow paint job may not be to everybody’s liking, but we think it looks awesome in the flesh.There is a more subtle grey version available as well, should you feel the need for stealth. The yellow works well with the Nukeproof finishing kit – this bike certainly turns a few heads. The hydroforming on the main triangle tubes is quite pronounced, and gives the Mega TR a very purposeful look. Although the Mega TR was designed with weight in mind it is still built tough in all the right places, with an oversized seat stay bridge and a solid main pivot helping with stiffness.

Looking over the build kit, the bike seemed ready to roll out of the box, and since we were too, we wasted no time…

On The Trail

We rode the Mega TR for two months solid, and we managed to take it pretty much everywhere - rolling woodland, desert epics, or steep and rough DH trails, the bike saw all kinds of conditions. Since our goal was to really test the bike in order to find out just how capable the 130mm trail bike can be, we pointed it at a few extracurricular features as well.

We were pleased to find that Nukeproof is on the ball when it comes to the basics. 760mm bars on a 50mm stem meant we could just get on with riding it, not having to waste time and money swapping out ridiculously narrow bars and long stems that for some reason still plague many a trail bike. Nukeproof even spec'd 170mm cranks on the Mega TR, clearly favoring performance on the downward side of the mountain.

The Mega TR comes with 2.35-inch Maxxis Highrollers in the single-ply version (super tacky 42a upfront and hard-wearing 60a in the rear) – proven all-round performers that provide a confidence-inspiring ride. Obviously, single-ply was chosen to keep the weight under control, and while we appreciate their grip and snappy handling, we would probably end up with the dual-ply version eventually. We did have a couple of snakebite incidents following some less-than-legendary line choices.

Moving out, everything about this bike feels lively. With the suspension pressure set at the lower limits of the recommended range both in the fork and the shock, the bike is still very snappy and wastes little energy. The geometry works well enough for long climbs and epic days in the saddle, with a centered and neutral position. I rode a size Medium, and at 1.84-meters (about 6-feet), it was a little on the tight side with a 590mm effective top tube, but still perfectly manageable for long days out.

Of course it’s no XC racer, but it’s very far from a slouch. The suspension is well-controlled during pedaling with almost no discernible pedal-induced bobbing. We never felt the need to play around with the different “Pedal” and “Locked” compression settings, at least not for climbing/pedaling purposes. Laying down the power out of turns or sprinting rewards you with instant acceleration, and the back end remains active during technical climbing as well.

Efficient pedaler as it may be, it is when the trail points downwards that the Mega TR really starts to shine. Lightweight bikes with snappy handling can often feel skittish – at least, that is how things used to be. However, with a slack 67-degree head angle and a relatively long wheelbase, the Mega TR surprised us more than once. We found ourselves charging into sections on familiar trails thinking “I really should have a bigger bike for this one” only to come out grinning on the other side. That's a good thing, given how easy it is to pick up speed with this bike. It does not feel flimsy at all, despite the low weight and relatively lightweight components.

On flowy singletrack, the Mega TR is all about entertainment. Flicking through trees, popping off bumps or railing turns, the bike keeps you in balance and ready to charge at every occasion, aided by a relatively low bottom bracket and sub 17-inch chain stays.

Getting airborne is easy, the Mega TR is a very neutral jumper - totally predictable off the lip and very confidence-inspiring in the air. If you are used to hardtails, you’ll be right in your element jumping the Mega TR.

As we previously pointed out, we rode the Mega TR mainly with the suspension pressure at the lower end of the recommended range for our weight, which yielded between 30-35% of sag. We found this to be the most rewarding set-up for the majority of trails – still stiff enough to pedal without needing to play with compression settings, yet soft enough to deal with 95% of the trail features you would expect to be riding with this kind of bike. The leverage ratio curve of the Mega TR is quite linear, which works well with the progressive nature of the air shock itself. The RockShox Monarch RT3 on this bike features a large volume air can to provide a more linear feel, but it still ramps up nicely towards the end of the stroke. When pushed, it will bottom out, but it does so without much fuss.

So who is this bike for then? This is a much harder question to answer than you might think, because pretty much anybody should find a lot to like about the Mega TR. If your focus is trail riding, you’d hardly go wrong with this bike – it’ll take you there and back, and you’ll have as much fun as you can legally have on the way. The Mega TR is eminently capable of pedaling, and hard to beat for grins as soon as the trail points downwards. If you err on the XC side, you can find more efficient bikes out there, but for everybody else, this is about as much fun as you can have on a trail bike. Of course, the trail bike segment (up to 140mm typically) is today very much turning into 29er territory, and with the rise of the 650B wheel for the so-called “Enduro” category, the Mega TR won’t provide an answer to those looking to explore the new wheelsize options. However, if you’re a bit of a traditionalist or still ready to NOT choose a bike based on wheelsize, the Mega TR should make your shortlist.

For the more gravity-oriented among us, we see two main categories of riders: those looking to complement a longer travel bike, and those looking for a heavy hitting do-it-all. For the latter, the obvious choice is the Mega AM – more travel and burlier components would set your mind at ease on the rougher trails and bigger features. The TR can deal with it, but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for it sometimes when charging hard. That leaves the riders looking for a second bike for those longer days in the saddle or bigger climbs. Here, we find it hard to look past the Mega TR. With a bigger bike available for the burlier trails, these riders will fully appreciate the playfulness and efficiency of the Mega TR. They also might find themselves reaching for it a lot more often than they’d have thought – we did.

Build Kit

We received a stock Mega TR as it ships from Nukeproof’s main global distributor, Hotlines, but note that there may be slight differences in spec depending on where you order from. The build kit is at the appropriate level for the price and the intended usage of the bike, although we do have a few observations to offer.

The frame is “Reverb ready,” meaning it features a port on the seat tube for internal cable routing to a dropper post. Sadly, it does not ship with one in the stock configuration. We really think it should. Dropper posts are an essential fun-factor on a trail bike, and really bring out the best in a bike like the Mega TR, so plan on adding one. In light of the lack of a dropper post, we were surprised to find a non-QR seatpost clamp on ours, as the one thing you’ll be doing all day with a bike like this is move your saddle up and down. We replaced it with a generic QR version immediately. The seatpost supplied with our bike was on the shorter side (

Avid’s Elixir 5 brakes are predictable and offer good modulation and a positive feeling at the lever. However, the bike ships with dual 170mm rotors, which leaves the brakes lacking power on steep descents. We upgraded to a 200mm rotor up front to remedy the problem and provide stopping power to match the bike's downhill prowess - this did the trick although we observed some brake fade issues on longer descents.

The bike arrived with a 36-tooth chainring. Since it's a 1X setup, riders without massive legs may want to size down a tooth or two. A 34-tooth chainring would add a little comfort to the climbs without penalizing the high end.

SRAM's X7 shifter and a Type 2 SRAM X9 rear derailleur combo was flawless during the test, although the X7 shifter doesn’t feel quite as crisp as an X9 does. The clutch derailleur works a treat, helping with chain retention and quieting down chainslap. The bike ships without a chainstay protector, and you'll want to add one to prevent the paint from chipping.We don’t know much about the supplied “Prime Aero” chainguide other than it being featured on several Nukeproof bikes that ship with a guide. It did its job, although it’s a bit finicky to adjust, and not the quietest guide when pedaling.

The RockShox Revelation RL Solo Air fork offers 150mm travel in an air-sprung 32mm chassis, with adjustable rebound and compression. Ours came with a 15mm Maxle which functioned well during the test, although you need to keep an eye on the tension of the set screw to ensure it stays snug – it can rattle itself loose on occasion. This fork is a pure pleasure to hammer through the rough stuff on, and certainly stiff enough for most of what you can throw at it. It rides fairly high in its travel even at lower pressure, and is really a very positive and confidence-inspiring fork. We did have a dust wiper pop out during the test, but we popped it back in and that was the end of that incident. Out back, a RockShox Monarch RT3 with a high volume air can provides a pretty firm ride, even at lower pressures.

Finally, Nukeproof's own components finish things off nicely. The bar and stem combo (760mm/50mm) is spot on for the intended usage of this bike, and the bars are comfortable as are the grips. The saddle, while being on the firm side, is perfectly fine for all-day riding, and the Nukeproof Generator TR wheels (made for Nukeproof by Sun Ringlé) have taken a beating and kept coming back for more. The headset did not require much in terms of adjustment or care during the test.

Things That Could Be Improved

We have already pointed out a few shortcomings of the part spec above. While we think a couple of changes there would make sense, the bike still rips straight out of the box, the build quality is good, the welds are tidy, and the bike always felt solid. The pivots do their job, although we might question the use of 4mm Hex bolts throughout – they look ready for a little head stripping action should the going get a bit ham-fisted, so check your torque specs and wrench with care. We also found that the graphics on the handlebars chip quite easily. Overall, the Mega TR is just a tiny bit rough around the edges here and there, but none of that takes away from an overall impression of quality and good finish.

Long Term Durability

We had a few issues with creaks, although this may be due to the fact that our test bike was one of the early samples. We had to replace the bushings in the rear pivots after Nukeproof informed us that the factory assembled the early frames with the wrong bushing kit. It’s possible that riding it with the loose-fitting bushings early on contributed to causing the other pivots to creak a bit. In any case, after greasing and tightening all the pivots, the problem seemed to mostly go away.

The Truvativ Descendant cranks have developed a small “clunk,” and worked themselves loose a couple of times. In our experience, the Truvativ crank/spindle interface is prone to this, so this is something you should be aware of. Make sure you have an 8mm hex key in your riding pack and keep an eye on it. Other than that, after being ridden hard for two months, the bike feels as tight as it did on day one and is ready for more of the same. We certainly do not have any serious longevity concerns to report.

What’s The Bottom Line?

How good can a 130mm travel 26-inch wheeled bike be? That was the question we wanted an answer to when we slung a leg over the Nukeproof Mega TR. Two months and many miles later, the answer is clear: pretty much as good as it gets. The Mega TR is a snappy pedaler and a good companion for long days out. On the trail, it builds up speed very easily, and it never fails to put a huge grin on your face when things get twisty. Point it downhill, through the rough or in the air, and you’ll get to the bottom laughing and ready to climb back up for more. Sure the short travel will hold you back a little through the roughest parts, but you’ll soon find it might be more fun popping over stuff than you ever imagined. If you are looking for a trail bike and don’t want to let wheelsize dictate your choice, then put the Mega TR on your short list.

For more details, visit www.nukeproof.com.

Bonus Gallery: 24 photos of the 2013 Nukeproof Mega TR


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Spank Spike Race28 Wheelset 6/19/2013 5:24 AM
C138_spike_race_28_wheelset_black_group

Tested: Spank Spike Race28 Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

Wheel makers have been perfecting their craft over the recent years, and there is no shortage of innovative, high-end wheels that provide DH race-level strength in relatively lightweight packages - but not too many can claim to achieve that goal at a sub-$500 price tag for the pair. Spank set out to do just that, and the result is the Spike Race28 wheel - needless to say, we were eager to lay our hands on a set to see if it would deliver on the promise.

Straight out of the box, the Spike Race28 wheels look the business. The colors pop, and the finish appears to be of high quality. Although quite traditional in overall design (three-cross lacing using standard J-spokes), the wheel does deliver a dose of understated “bling” - especially if you went for one of the more vivid colorways available. Closer inspection reveals no apparent flaws, the surfaces are uniform and the hand build seems very solid. Helen, we don’t know you, but we salute you!

Spike Race28 Highlights

  • Spike Race28 EVO Dynamal alloy rims (500 grams per rim)
  • 28mm outer rim width, 23mm inner width
  • 9 or 10-speed rear hub (12x135mm, 12x150mm, or Standard QR with Adapter Kit*)
  • Super-Lite steel CNC optimized freehub body
  • Japanese bearing upgrade
  • Alloy internal hub axle upgrade (135mm)
  • 20x110mm front hub**
  • 6-bolt disc mounts
  • Hand built and trued with three-cross lacing
  • 32 Sandvik T302 triple-butted 2.2/1.8/2.0 spokes per wheel
  • Brass nipples
  • Three color versions - Black/White, Red/Red, Blue/Blue
  • Custom color coded hubs and spokes
  • Weight: 1990 grams (with 135mm rear) or 1961 grams (with 150mm rear)
  • MSRP $499

*142mm and 157mm rear adapters, and 10mm thru axle kits available separately
**15mm and standard QR adapter kits available separately

Probably the most important component of a wheel is the rim, at least where weight, stiffness, and durability are concerned. Spank makes the Spike Race28 EVO rim from what they call “Dynamal,” which is a specifically developed alloy meant to marry the best features of both traditional 6- and 7-series alloys - i.e. strong enough to withstand the hits, yet not brittle so as to avoid cracking. To make a 500 gram rim that is strong enough for DH takes more than just sexy alloys though - this is where Spank’s “Oohbah” profile comes into the picture. Instead of the traditional concave inner walls, Oohbah rims have a convex horizontal inner wall, which works to provide additional stiffness and resistance to the rim, ultimately helping to prevent buckling. What it can also do is prevent you from getting your tire onto the rim…we had to resort to brute force and choice vocabulary to get a Maxxis Highroller 2 onto this baby, but we got there in the end (a Minion DHF went on with relative ease).

Rather than pinned or welded, the Oohbah rims are joined using a pressure fit and bonded sleeve - said to provide the ultimate strength to weight ratio. Interestingly enough, the rim does not feature eyelets. Spank claims this is because a traditional eyelet is in fact used to provide a deformation zone for pressure points caused by poor nipple seat design, and that they can be avoided altogether by precision machining the nipple seats at the correct angle directly into the rim itself. This might seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but we have not had any bad experiences with this design, nor have we heard of any particular problems it might cause. In fact, we’ve seen enough cracked eyelets on other designs to know that Spank are probably on to something here.

A final point to make on the rims: Spank uses what it calls “Double Beadnip Technology” to make sure the tire stays on the rim even at low pressures or when running tubeless. In addition to the traditional beadnip found at the top of the vertical inner wall, the Oohbah rim profile places a second beadnip on the horizontal inner wall, which is meant to hold the bead in place from the inside, in addition to the outside. We didn’t test these wheels tubeless, but with tubes we encountered no issues with tires rolling off, even at very low pressures.

For the hubs, Spank has chosen to stay fairly traditional - in line with the weight and price-related design goals. A proven three-pawl, 27-tooth ratchet system provides strictly average 13-degree engagement, in a classic and proven system from an external supplier (Novatec). However, classic doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself, quite the opposite in fact - and Spank did go looking for that little bit extra on the hubs as well. Quality Japanese bearings were used both front and rear, the internal axles were upgraded to 7-series alloy, and specific “scandium alloyed steel” was employed to make the freehub body, with superfluous splines machined away. Also, should you require XX1 compatibility, you can get an XX1 version of the freehub directly from Spank (info@spank-ind.com) - soon to be available via retail as well.

The flanges were enlarged and the holes were redesigned to provide a better interface with the spokes (and to allow the use of triple-butted spokes for the wheel build). Finally, the hubs were drilled to save a little weight (drilling after anodizing does add that extra bling factor!).

Like we stated earlier, the workmanship and attention to detail on this wheelset are right up there. The finish is of excellent quality, certainly at least on par with more expensive offerings out there. All that’s left to do then is to choose a tire and go riding…

On The Trail

Apart from the aforementioned wrestling required to get a tire onto the rim, the Spike Race28 wheelset is easy to fit to your bike. Slap your cassette and your discs onto your wheels, adjust brake calipers and/or shifting if needed (there may be slight differences between different wheel sets from different manufacturers which may cause brakes and/or deraileurs to require alignment), and you’re good to go. Everything feels anchored from the outset, no issues with threads or axles, and the wheels immediately feel solid on the bike. Once on the trail, the wheels feel quite lively, surprisingly so for a wheelset close to 2kgs. We put this down to the relatively low rim weight and the good build quality.

Putting this wheelset through the paces, it becomes apparent that Spank knows its business. All that technology (and the marketing that goes with it!) really does translate into on-the-trail performance. We’ve been bashing these on rocks and roots, getting airborne at every opportunity, with very little damage to show for it. The wheels have remained true for two months, and show absolutely no signs of wanting to get out of true any time soon. Pinging them off rocks has left them dent-free so far, and even the finish appears to hold up well.

Whether it be holding a line through a rock garden or sticking big landings, these wheels never fail to inspire confidence. They’re stiff, but not overly so – helping hold aforementioned lines and providing a little extra comfort when the going gets tough. Off-camber? Go for it. Square hits? Check. Landing sideways? No sweat.

Things That Could Be Improved

We haven't found much to complain about - in fact, just about the only thing worth mentioning in this section would be the freehub engagement. We understand Spank’s decision to go with a tried and true hub in the search of reliability, but improving on the engagement would really elevate these to the absolute premium level of alloy wheels. That said, we remind you that this wheelset costs $500 at MSRP, is easily found online for less than that, and that this observation on the freehub engagement is really nitpicking at this price point - if anything, these wheels are a steal.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Spank set themselves a real challenge when they wanted to build a sub-2000 gram, sub-$500 wheelset that would be up for the rigors of downhill racing. After two months on the wheels, we are ready to state that they have succeeded in their quest, which makes this wheelset a must-have on ANY wheel shortlist. Sure you can drop a lot more cash on “fancier” wheels, but we’d be very surprised if any of those wheels would offer an equivalent improvement in performance for that extra cash. If you fancy a second opinion, you can always check in with pro downhiller and Spank rider Bernard Kerr who has reportedly been racing a single stock wheelset since the start of the 2013 World Cup DH season (anybody who saw his run at Val di Sole last weekend will tell you it was r.o.w.d.y.). We for one have no trouble believing that statement to be true, and think Spank has some real winners with the Spike Race28 wheels.

For more information, visit www.spank-ind.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Race Face Flank Core Guard 6/16/2013 5:28 AM
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Tested: Race Face Flank Core Guard - Lightweight Protection

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow

With strategically placed D3O padding in a lightweight and breathable package, the Flank Core Guard from Race Face is for the rider looking for a bit of extra body protection without the bulk of a full pressure suit. To help you figure out if it could be the right solution for you, we slipped one on and hit the trails.

When you pull the Flank Core Guard out of the bag, the first impression is of a quality product, much like we’ve grown accustomed to from Race Face over the years. The guard appears well put-together, with quality materials and good workmanship throughout. It’s often the little details that give away the real identity of a company, and Race Face stays true to its rider roots here. For example, you get a spare chainring bolt instead of just any old eyelet on the main product label. Awesome.

Flank Core Guard Highlights

  • Removable D3O high performance shock absorbing protective foam at shoulders and spine
  • Custom heat-molded foam chest plate
  • Compatible with leading neck braces without compromising fit and protection
  • Strategic fabric mapping - Highly durable dense mesh throughout the core ensures second skin super fit to keep targeted protection in its place and allows for maximum venting
  • Lycra stretch panels are integrated with flatlock seam finish to ensure mobility and comfort through the athlete's full range of motion
  • Sized for a snug fit
  • MSRP $119

The Flank Core Guard is designed to be worn directly on the skin, under a jersey (we don’t suggest leaving the house if all you’re gonna wear is this item, unless you enjoy getting funny looks and/or arrested). The guard employs a combination of lycra mesh to ensure a good fit and maximum breathability. All of the seams are of the flatlock variety, which is meant to ensure optimum comfort and reduce the risk of chafing.

The chest area features a foam chest-plate, which realistically is more about abrasion protection than anything else - but if you’ve ever practiced swan diving on dirt, you’ll know that this particular feature could probably have saved you a fair bit of skin, if nothing else.

The main job of the Flank Core Guard is to hold a couple of D3O pads in place for when the going gets a bit too tough. If you are not familiar with D3O, it is a soft rubber-like material that is capable of absorbing impact energy and then instantly returning to its natural state. The structure of the molecules allows them to lock together when compressed violently.

Three D3O pads are included in the Flank Core Guard - two shoulder pads and a large back-protector. The pads are securely held in pockets sewn into the guard and are easy to remove for washing. The pads themselves are perforated to improve airflow and feature rounded edges for comfort and maximum flexibility.

On The Trail

The Flank Core Guard is relatively easy to slip into – it is flexible enough to allow you to get in and out of it despite the snug fit. Once properly adjusted, the guard is comfortable and the pads are held in place with no excess movement - you don't really notice them while riding. The back protector is large and is designed to not interfere with a neck brace.

The Lycra materials used are not of the sweat-wicking kind, but because of the mesh design, the garment still allows sweat to evacuate fairly well. The same cannot be said of the D3O pads, which do get wet and slippery when you start sweating. Especially the large back protector, which can feel a bit like riding around with a large slice of salmon on your back (not that we’ve ever actually tried that, so we wouldn’t really know - but you get the picture). Race Face have pointed out that we should have been running the back protector the other way around - the deep wave-shaped grooves you see above should actually be facing inwards, and having tried that, it does improve matters somewhat (and to be fair, we tested this item during fairly hot conditions). If you sweat a lot, you'll feel it - but that is to be expected of any armor, and not to be construed as criticism. Note that if you fancy running the shoulder pads without the back-protector it can be easily removed, or you can buy the Ambush version of this guard which is essentially the same item minus the back pad.

We experienced no chafing while riding in the Flank, and the pads are also held in place on the trail - there is no unwarranted movement of any kind. As for crash protection, we’ve crashed enough in D3O to know that the stuff works as advertised - on direct impact with blunt objects, we’d say it’s just about up there with hardshell protectors, at least when it comes to the first impact. D3O's own testing actually shows it to be superior to standard hardshell protectors in terms of shock absorption. Of course hardshell products are superior when it comes to abrasion protection, as they will skid across rough surfaces in a way that D3O cannot, but that is where the trade-off between comfort and protection comes in. Impacts from sharp objects also leave something to be desired from the D3O material.

With regards to the design and placement of the pads however, it’s not all rosy. The back-protector is large enough and well placed, whereas the shoulder pads appear slightly too small, and also do not sit in the optimal spot – they cover the outer area of the shoulder and part of the arm, but fail to provide any protection for the top part of the shoulder or the collarbone. This means they work OK for sideways falls or for impacts on trailside trees/branches and such, but they won’t provide any protection for the top of the shoulder or the collarbone. Without straps to hold the pads in place, they also tend to move on impact more so than traditional upper body armor would allow. With the supple properties of D3O, we think more shoulder protection is an achievable goal without sacrificing comfort or neck brace fit, although we should once again point out that this guard was not designed as a full-on replacement for a pressure suit, rather a lightweight alternative for those who just want a little extra protection.

Things That Could Be Improved

Apart from the aforementioned issue regarding the placement/size of the shoulder pads, there is little to complain about regarding the execution of the design. The Flank Core Guard is a quality piece of kit, well thought-out and well put together. The back protector gets slippery when wet, but we don’t really see how the design could be improved upon to avoid this issue without adding a lot of extra material that would probably only defeat the purpose. The only remaining question then is how much protection you want. If you feel that the minimalistic shoulder protection on offer here is not enough, you might want to look at a full pressure suit.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The Race Face crew set out to build protection without adding bulk, and on that count they succeeded. For the trail rider looking for a little extra protection or the racer needing lightweight race day padding, it’s hard to fault the Flank Core Guard. It will certainly do its job within the limits of the design. In terms of quality and comfort, there are only positives to report. The only issue that remains is the design of the shoulder pads – we feel they are a little too minimalistic, even for a guard, and for that reason we’ve reduced the star rating a bit.

For more information, visit www.raceface.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.


This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Fly Racing Lite Race Gloves 5/24/2013 7:14 AM
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Tested: FLY Racing Lite Race Glove - See the Lite

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review and pictures by Johan Hjord

Established in 1996, FLY Racing began as a manufacturer of motorcycle handlebars and helmets, and it remains heavily focused on powersports to this day. FLY offers a broad catalogue covering everything from riding apparel to protection, grips, and handlebars. The company also has a few high profile Supercross riders on its roster – Trey Canard and Andrew Short both ride for the brand. More recently, FLY introduced a mountain bike specific range of products, so we went hunting for a glove to put through the grinder.

FLY Racing offers a wide range of gloves in many color ways. Most of the range is shared between Moto and MTB, and the brand’s Moto roots are apparent in the design throughout. The Lite Race glove is of the more understated variety, although aside from the white/grey version we tested you can also get them in brighter blue/yellow and red/blue combos. The Lite Race glove sits on the lightweight and breathable side of the catalogue, among other sturdier offerings.

From left: Lite Race, Pro Lite, and Kinetic gloves

Main Features

  • Ultra Lightweight Race Glove – with a new softer hand feel for improved comfort
  • Lycra Finger Sidewall and Gusset – for improved air flow and lightweight feel
  • Single Layer Perforated Synthetic Leather Palm – for improved air flow and lightweight feel
  • Silicone Finger Grippers
  • Reinforced Double Layer Thumb
  • Sublimated Graphics
  • MSRP: $19.95

On The Trail

The fit of the Lite Race glove is on the small side of “standard” sizing – in other words, true to your measured size just with a tight fit. Note that these gloves do not really stretch with time (a good thing), so get the size right in the shop. The glove is very well put together, using a well-thought out mix of materials including stretchy Lycra finger sidewalls and a heavier duty fabric on the back of the hand. The glove is designed with just a stretch cuff, which makes it slightly difficult to pull on and off. However, once on, the Lite Race is preformed which, together with the elastic sidewalls and the tight fit, translates to a glove that is completely snug in use and doesn’t bulk up as you grip the bar.

The palm area is made out of synthetic leather, which has been nothing short of impressive with regards to comfort, durability, and longevity. We’ve ridden this pair exclusively for three months now, in all weather conditions and for anything from shutting DH to all-day epics – all we’ve ever had to do was to rinse them out a few times in water, when they started to smell a bit funky. They’ve seen trail maintenance work and crashes as well, with hardly a scuff to show for it.

The silicone grippers on the index and middle finger are solid, they show absolutely no sign of wanting to come loose, if anything they might even outlast the rest of the glove (many other companies could and should take note of this point!). A minor niggle to note here is that because of the slanted design of the FLY logo, the gripper on the left hand index finger is not really of much use if you run your levers far from the bars and grip them with the point of the finger. Two-finger Moto braking legacy showing through here.

The stitching and fabrics have also held up well to the abuse we’ve been dishing out. There is not a single loose thread to show for all the bushwhacking we’ve put these gloves through, and despite many close encounters with various members of fauna, the fabric on the back of the hand is also still in good shape. Note that this glove offers very little in terms of protection for the back of the hand, just the fabric, but that goes with the territory on such a lightweight glove.

Things That Could Be Improved

Look as we may, there is not a lot to complain about on the Lite Race. The only issue to point out is the lack of a snot/sweat wipe area, which we think is mandatory on a MTB glove. Especially since the fabric used for the back of this glove is also a bit rough on the skin if you try wiping sweat with it, the lack of the specific pad is more noticeable. Apart from this design-related issue, we have absolutely no reservations about either the quality or the functionality of the Lite Race glove.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The FLY Racing Lite Race glove has been thoroughly impressive throughout testing. It is lightweight, comfortable, functional, and will last you a very very long time. And at $19.95, it is very good value too. Whether you are banging out laps in the park, or cranking out epic trail rides, the Lite Race will keep coming back for more. We’ve docked a star for the lack of the snot/sweat wipe pad and the angled silicone grippers, but if those are less critical to you than it is to us, consider it a five-star product.

More information at www.flyracing.com.



About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

This product has 1 review.

Added a product review for Fly Racing Default Full Face Helmet 5/3/2013 2:03 PM
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TESTED: FLY Default Helmet - Affordable Protection

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review by Johan Hjord // Images by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

Established in 1996, FLY Racing began as a manufacturer of motorcycle handlebars and helmets, and they remain heavily focused on powersports to this day. They offer a broad catalogue covering everything from riding apparel to protection and even grips and handlebars, and the company counts a few high profile Supercross riders on its roster – Trey Canard and Andrew Short both ride for the brand. More recently, FLY introduced a mountain bike specific range of products, and we were keen to lay our hands on their bike-specific full face helmet to see how it stacks up in a competitive market.

A Word On Helmets

You sometimes hear, "If you have a $100 head, then run a $100 helmet," and while we certainly don’t think that protection is something you should skimp on, such generalizations are overly simplistic. The truth is that mountain biking remains a relatively accessible sport – buying second hand bikes and parts can see you up a hill on 2 wheels faster than you can say “overdraft” or “paper round”, and you need an option for buying adequate protection at a reasonable price before launching your new (to you) steed down said hill. This is where a helmet like the Default comes in – at $109.95 MSRP, it is not trying to take on some of the high-end helmets we’ve tested recently, but rather it’s aimed at riders on a budget.

From a point of view of protection, we’re not saying that the innovation that goes into the design of high-end equipment is negligible – because it’s not. Putting serious R&D effort into understanding how different materials and design aspects can be used to counter the effects of impact forces, developing features for easy helmet removal or specific compatibility with neck braces, or simply manufacturing to higher quality standards will all translate into better protection for the rider. At the same time, you are paying 4x the price for something that may not deliver exponentially better protection, at least not to the same degree. Or to put it another way – you get way more for your money, relatively speaking, when you upgrade from no helmet to a $100 helmet, compared to the $100 to $400 helmet upgrade. We can’t all afford cars with 8 airbags, even though it’s clear that they are more likely to save your life in a crash than your still street legal 20-year old car with maybe just the one.

To help us sleep at night, this is where standards come in. In North America, helmets must meet the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard for bicycle helmets, which basically ensures that the helmet will provide adequate impact protection, and will not come off in a crash (it is worth noting that manufacturers self-certify under this standard). The Default helmet we are reviewing here meets this standard, and as such, you know that it fulfils the basic requirements for personal protection. (Note that there are many other standards out there, some more onerous than others – but at present, this is the mandatory one). Now read on to find out what else we thought of it.

Initial Impressions

When you pull the Default out of the box, you’re met with quite an impressive looking helmet. The brand’s moto roots are obvious, the helmet would not look out of place at a SX race. The graphics (applied under clearcoat) are bold and the styling of the helmet is aggressive – looking at the helmet makes you want to go ride your bike. The helmet is not too heavy, especially given its bulky appearance – our size L sample weighed in at 1200 grams (which is competitive amongst non-carbon full face helmets of similar design).

Where the difference with more expensive helmets becomes obvious is in the general build quality. Our helmet was not very well finished off, there were a couple of noticeable flaws such as slight chipping of paint or poorly applied graphics in one area. Additionally, one side of the rubber guard around the facial opening was not properly glued on, something that was easily remedied with a drop of glue, but not something you feel happy about on a brand new helmet.

Main Features

  • Aerodynamic poly-alloy shell
  • 21 cooling vents
  • Removable and washable liner and cheek pads
  • Padded chin strap with a D-ring closure
  • Aluminum visor screws
  • CSPC certified EPS foam liner
  • Youth and Adult sizes available in four colorways
  • $109.95 MSRP

On The Trail

The fit of the Default is on the snug side of “standard” sizing – in other words, true to your measured size just slightly tight when new. The liner is quite thick which gives the helmet a very padded-out feel, not dissimilar to moto helmets in general. The helmet works well with goggles - we tested ours with several models of goggles without any trouble.

You can feel the liner move around a bit when you pull the helmet on, but there is no unwanted movement while riding. The helmet stays put, regardless of what you’re hitting on the way down. Furthermore, the hardware that holds the visor (i.e. the two screws on the side and the screw used to adjust the visor angle) use rubber washers that help keep things quiet as well as secure – unlike certain other helmets we’ve ridden in, these screws don't require constant surveillance to make sure they stay snug.

The Default has 21 cooling vents. Despite the impressive number, none of them are the more advanced cooling ducts built into the EPS liner per se, and with a relatively thick liner it’s not the coolest helmet out there. You’ll probably be removing it on the chairlift a lot. Not to worry though, the liner and cheekpads can be easily removed and washed, and are easy to put back in again once dry.

The finish of the helmet is quite resistant to scratches and wear in general - ours still looks good after a couple of months of testing. We’ve managed to avoid any major dirt sampling exercises while testing the Default, so we can’t provide any real world feedback on impact protection, but we certainly felt safe while riding in it, and never thought twice about whether or not it would be up to the job at hand if needed.

If you run a neck brace, note that the Default works well with one, it is cut quite high in the back which allows for good range of motion with a brace on.

The D-ring system used to adjust the chinstrap works well, and includes a nice touch in the form of a snap button that secures the end of the strap, keeping it from flapping around.

Things That Could Be Improved

While the overall look and feel of the Default is quite nice, it is let down by somewhat poor workmanship. It could certainly earn a higher star rating based on looks and performance on the trail, if the general build quality was to improve. We realize it’s a helmet for those on a budget, but even so, at this price point there are several other options that offer higher build quality out of the box, although they may not look as flashy.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Can you buy a good helmet for $100? The answer is certainly yes. Can you buy one that really looks the business, is comfortable, works well, and offers a good set of basic features, still at $100? The answer is again yes. The FLY Default ticks all of these boxes, which is nice to see at this price point – we just wish they would pay a little more attention to detail on the assembly line. In short, we don’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but we have no real reservations either. If you want this look, there is not a lot else out there at $100.

More information at: www.flyracing.com.

This product has 3 reviews.

Added a product review for e*thirteen LG1+ Chainguide 3/15/2013 4:03 PM
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Tested: e*thirteen LG1+ Chainguide - Let It Guide You

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review and photos by Johan Hjord

For quite some time, e*thirteen was basically another word for chain retention systems (aka chainguides), and rightfully so – the original e*thirteen guide + bash combos were certainly pushing innovation and design in chain management, and their ubiquitous “Turbocharger” bashrings graced many a bike build, be it at the races or out with mates.

e*thirteen was acquired by and became part of The Hive, a company that was at the time mainly producing cranks, in 2010. The e*thirteen brand was kept alive, and has since then grown to include not only guides but also cranks, wheels, and pedals. e*thirteen is the main brand of The Hive today (which also includes Chub Hubs and revl road bike brakes).

e*thirteen’s current catalogue features 3 main product families, LG1 (Downhill), TRS (Enduro), and XCX (Cross Country). Each family contains cranks, guides, and wheels. Furthermore, several levels are available within each family (Race, Plus, and Base), which ensures that there is essentially an option on offer to suit any application and budget.

We’ve been riding the LG1+ Chainguide together with the LG1+ Cranks and a Guidering chainring for the last couple of months, here is the report on how the combo fared out on the trails (check out our previous review for the verdict on the cranks and the chainring).

The LG1+ Chainguide is a frame/BB mounted chain guide that incorporates a “taco” style bash guard – in other words, it replaces the traditional crank mounted bash ring with a taco shaped guard that sits directly on the guide itself. It is designed for use with a single chain ring, and thus provides a guide block up top as well as a roller at the bottom. It is a well proven design that basically translates to the end of dropped chains.

Main Features

  • backplate material: EXA+ Aluminum
  • drivetrain protection: DMB (direct mount bashguard)
  • sliders: adjustable w/ ring size indicator
  • slider hardware: EXA+ captive gold alloy
  • lower armature: 3 position adjustable indexed slider
  • chainring range: 32-36t or 36-40t
  • mounting standard: ISCG’05 (bb w/adp) or ISCG’Old(’03)
  • roller: tech 3 stealth idler
  • color: white, blackout, Peaty(ISCG05 only)
  • weight: 179g
  • MSRP: $149.95

Installation

Installing a chainguide has gotten a bit easier over the years, but still requires a bit of fiddling about with spacers etc. Until the day that truly universal standards are adopted across all the manufacturers (very funny), there will always be some adjustability required in these types of designs. Basically, the system comes with a number of different sized spacers/shims that you use to make sure the guide aligns perfectly with the chain ring once it’s all installed on the bike (this allows to adjust for different manufacturer tolerances on the ISCG tabs, facing the BB shell, chainlines, etc). It takes a little bit of trial and error to get it right, but in essence, it is as simple as installing the guide and making sure the chain ring aligns with the idler wheel on the guide. Not aligned = add/remove/change the spacers. (note that the ISCG05 version we ran also comes with a direct BB mount adapter included in the kit).

One very useful aspect of the LG1+ Chainguide is that the guide + idler wheel assembly (basically the bottom half of the guide) can be adjusted to fit specific frame designs. This essentially allows you to move the lower part of the guide to make sure it clears the chainstay and/or lower suspension pivot. On a high single pivot there shouldn’t really be any issues with this, but on multilink bikes it can be another story altogether. The LG1+ offers a Narrow, Regular, and Wide setting to cater to as many frame designs as possible.

Further adjustability is provided to cater for different sizes of chainrings. The LG1+ Chainguide comes in either a 32-36T version, or a 36-40T version. Both the top guide block and the idler wheel are adjustable.

On The Trail

The main objective of a chainguide is obviously to keep the chain on. Most single ring chainguides today achieve this objective faultlessly, so it comes as no surprise that this is also the case here. With a top guideblock and an idler wheel at the bottom, the chain really has nowhere to go. In addition to getting this basic functionality right, the LG1+ also scores points for quiet and smooth running – you can hear the idler wheel but it is not at all at an annoying level. The design of the top guide block ensures that the chain clears the block even when the chain is on the smallest or biggest sprocket on a 10-speed cassette – barely, but it clears it when properly adjusted. We can’t really comment on idler bearing life other than to state that after a few months of winter riding, the bearing is still going strong. It is exposed to the elements where it sits, so we’d expect to have to service and/or replace it regularly…which is not uncommon and not a major issue (note that e*thirteen use very high quality bearings and specifically developed grease to improve longevity).

As for the bashguard – well, we’ve bashed it and it has guarded. It glides over rocks fairly well, and beyond the scuff marks, the material employed seems to be very resistant. It was designed to be a bit flexible and to help absorb impacts (rather than crack and splinter), and so far, this has proven to be the case. E*thirteen call this aspect “IFD” for “Impact Flexure Design” – basically allowing the bash to flex AWAY from the chainring to allow you to finish your race run even after a major impact or even failure of the guide.

We’ve stopped short of trying to break it – especially since you can never really know whether your ISCG tabs will give up the ghost before the guide does...but the guard has certainly stood up to abuse. Note that should you break stuff, most of the main parts are individually replaceable, so at least you should probably never have to buy a whole new guide.

Things That Could Be Improved

We had an issue with a stuck bolt on the idler wheel assembly, which e*thirteen told us was due to a manufacturing error in regards to the type of Loctite used on a batch. They replaced it for us with no fuss. (The stuck bold did not affect performance, only adjustability). Other than that, we have no real suggestions or observations on how to make this a better product.

What’s The Bottom Line?

e*thirteen led the industry in chain management systems, but they have not relied on past glory to keep ahead of the game. Today’s version of the Chainguide offers best-in-class adjustability and it functions exceptionally well. It looks great, and manages to save a bit of weight over previous designs as well (if you want to go even lighter, they offer the LG1r version featuring a carbon backplate which saves close to 20g). It has proven its worth at the highest levels of racing and freeriding in the world, and it’s easy to see why top athletes would not think twice about trusting e*thirteen with their chain management. If you are in the market, the LG1+ should definitely be on you shortlist – and why not complement it with the excellent LG1+ cranks and a Guidering to really set your build off!

More information at: The Hive


This product has 5 reviews.

Added a product review for e*thirteen LG1+ Crank 3/7/2013 12:18 PM
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Tested: e*thirteen LG1+ Cranks and Guidering

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Review and photos by Johan Hjord

e*thirteen is a brand that most people will associate with chain retention systems (aka chainguides), and rightfully so – the original e*thirteen guide and bash combos were certainly among the most innovative designs out there at the time, and could be found on many a bike whether it was at a World Cup race or at weekend warrior basecamp.

In 2010, e*thirteen was acquired by and became part of The Hive, a company that was at the time mainly producing cranks. The e*thirteen brand was kept alive, and has since then grown to include not only guides but also cranks, wheels, and pedals. e*thirteen is the main brand of The Hive today (which also includes Chub Hubs and revl road bike brakes).

e*thirteen’s current catalogue features three main product families, LG1 (Downhill), TRS (Enduro), and XCX (Cross Country). Each family contains cranks, guides, and wheels. Furthermore, several levels are available within each family (Race, Plus, and Base), which ensures that there is essentially an option on offer to suit any application and budget.

We’ve been riding the LG1+ cranks together with a Guidering chainring for the last couple of months. Here is the report on how the combo fared out on the trails (also check out our separate review of the LG1+ Chainguide).

LG1+ Cranks

The LG1+ cranks are impressive straight out of the box. The design is contemporary, and the attention to detail and the level of workmanship is very high. Everything from the materials used to the finish have a quality feel to them, and the way the cranks look had us eager to get them on the bike straight away. Note that the cranks do not come with the BB, so if you forgot to order the appropriate BB you won’t be able to fit anything at all straight away – the main spindle on the LG1+ is 30mm in diameter and won’t fit any other BBs. Perhaps the standout feature (certainly one of the most talked about) on e*thirteen cranks is the crank arm/spindle interface. The “Polygon 3 Lobe Interface” was designed using a German DIN standard that, among other hi-torque applications, is also used for tank transmissions. The idea behind applying this standard is to provide 100% spindle to crank arm surface contact and to avoid the degradation that can occur in splined interfaces. With our tank-like legs we were immediately reassured by this feature.

Main Features

  • Arm material: EXA+ Aluminum
  • Arm length: 165, 170, 175mm
  • Spindle material: EXA+ Aluminum w/ P3 Connect Interface
  • Rings: Optional Guiderings / dual Shiftrings
  • BB shell: 68/73 or 83mm
  • Chainline: 51mm / 56mm
  • Color: Blackout w/ gold spindle
  • Weight: 721g
  • MSRP: $274.95

Installation

The BB (remember that you need to specify and order the correct BB with your cranks) is easy to install. The provided adapter allows you to use a standard Shimano BB tool to tighten the e*thirteen BB, after you check the required number of spacers depending on BB/chainline. You then fit the cranks a first time, tighten down the interface to a certain degree (not fully), check the number of shims (there are numerous shims of different thickness provided with the cranks) required to pre-load the BB bearings, remove the crank arm, add the number of shims required, re-install the crank arm and tighten down to torque spec. If this sounds a bit complicated, it’s not really, it is just a bit tedious and may require a little trial and error to get right. All cranks need to provide some mechanism for adjusting to variances in frame design and such, this system just feels like one of the more clunky ways to address it.

Note: Since we received the cranks for this test, e*thirteen launched “APS,” an “Adaptive Preload System” which does away with the shims in favor of what seems to be a far superior solution – basically a tool-less bearing preload mechanism that allows you to simply install the cranks, torque to spec, and then hand-tighten the APS adjuster until there is no play between the BB and the crank arms. We would have to test the new system as well before expressing our opinion on it, but it certainly appears to be a better solution and one less prone to trial and error. Less wrenching time + more riding time = good.

On The Trail

The gold standard for any cranks is set and forget. The best cranks can literally be left on a bike for years, with little to no maintenance, and will keep going strong through it all. While we have not had years on the LG1+ cranks (so far), we have ridden them hard throughout winter in various conditions, and they haven't required any adjusting or service. The bearings are still running completely smoothly and there is no play either in the crank arm to spindle interface or between the crank and the BB.

Under foot, the cranks feel as stiff and solid as any competitive offering. Whether it be mashing the pedals up a climb or slamming the bike down after a clumsy drop, these cranks don't flex. At all. Bashing the pedals and crank arm ends into rocks and other obstacles also did little to no harm – even the surface finish seems to hold up exceptionally well to abuse. The graphics on the cranks arms themselves are beginning to show the traditional wear from the shoes rubbing against them, but this occurs on all cranks and here it seems to be very moderate if anything.

Things That Could Be Improved

We are not fans of the shim-based bearing pre-load system – and apparently neither were e*thirteen, since they have just introduced a new system for adjusting the preload (mentioned above). With that taken care of, we see very little room for improvement elsewhere on these cranks. We had some minor issues with the chain ring bolts working themselves loose over time – this shouldn't happen when properly torqued, but keep an eye on it nevertheless as we saw it once or twice (a drop of Loctite will bring peace of mind here).

Guidering Chainrings

e*thirteen’s Guidering was specifically designed for single chain ring setups. This means it lacks the shifting ramps machined into the teeth that allow the chain to move easily between chain rings on a traditional dual or triple crankset. This also means it does a great job of keeping the chain on and pedals very smoothly.

Main features

  • Ring material: EXA+ Aluminum
  • Thickness: 4mm
  • Bolt circle diameter: 104bcd
  • Compatibility: 8, 9, 10, 11 speed
  • Ring sizes: 32-33-34-35-36-37-38-39-40
  • Colors: Silver, green, red, gold, blackout, blue purple
  • Weight: 30-61g (the 34t weighs 43g)
  • MSRP: $39.95

On The Trail

Fitting the chainring was easy, the part is manufactured to fine tolerances and well finished. The colors are great, and the intricate machining looks good and helps keep the weight down. Note that we ordered separate chainring bolts to add extra bling – they come standard in black with the cranks. The ring holds the chain very well thanks to the ramped design of the teeth and the part of the ring that contacts the chain. Furthermore, it's compatible with 8, 9, or 10 speed chains – we tested ours both on 9 and 10-speed setups with no issues to report. Pedaling the bike is quiet and smooth.

The anodizing looks good and is durable. The color has started to wear off on the teeth after the miles we’ve put in on the ring, but this is to be fully expected and does not cause any performance degradation. The graphics are equally solid and don't show any signs of wearing off any time soon.

The ring is available in sizes ranging from 32 to 40 teeth in singe tooth increments, which means you can fine tune your setup to the degree required. We ran a 34T on a 10-speed setup with 11-36t cogs on the cassette, which is a versatile combo allowing for both climbing and descending on just one chainring.

In summary, the Guidering is a solid part, perfectly matched to the LG1+ Cranks (but it can of course be mated to any other standard cranks as well). It looks great, performs flawlessly, and should last you a long time.

What’s The Bottom Line?

e*thirteen has put a lot of innovation and development effort into their product lines, and it really shows on the LG1+ family of products. These components have proven their worth time and time again at World Cup racing level, and we are happy to report that they are also exceptionally well suited to everyday trail hacking use and abuse. The cranks offer stiffness and robustness in a design that saves weight and performs perfectly, and with the recent addition of the Adaptive Preload System they should be “fit-and-forget” easy to install and set up as well. Complement your cranks with the excellent Guidering (and why not the LG1+ Chainguide as well) to really set your build off!

More information at The Hive.

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