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Added a product review for Acre Hauser Hydration Pack 7/5/2014 10:29 AM
C138_acre_hauser_hydration_pack_gray

Tested: Acre Hauser - Hauler of Fun

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

With the creation of Acre, the folks behind Mission Workshop have taken their geekery for bags to the dirt, and by now you've probably come across some of the meticulously crafted stories they have put out in various media for the launch of their mountain biking brand. I really wanted to see if all that attention to detail went into the product and not just into the presentation, unlike our collective experience with some other brands. So when the chance to test the Hauser bag came along, I dove at it.

Acre Hauser Highlights

  • Bladder Capacity: 3 Liter Camelbak or Hydrapak (also compatible with Platypus, Osprey/Nalgene, and Source reservoirs)
  • 10 or 14 Liter options with Roll-Top closure (Flap-Down configuration provides additional coverage for the front zippers)
  • Outer Fabric: Dimension-Polyant 210d Nylon VX Ripstop with Waterproof Laminate
  • Liner Fabric: 70d Nylon Ripstop with Waterproof TPU Laminate
  • YKK Urethane Coated // Watertight Zippers
  • Back Panel: Ariaprene Hexagonal Perforated Foam with Nylon Mesh Laminate
  • Hardware: National Molding
  • Tool Roll: Heavy Duty Nylon Mesh, 500d Cordura Nylon, YKK #5 Reverse Coil Zippers
  • Four Weatherproof Exterior Pockets
  • Included Tool-Roll is fully removable and provides 4 additional zippered mesh pockets
  • Hidden carry straps for secure attachment of a full face or XC helmet and pads
  • Colors: Black, Blue, Grey, or Camo
  • Weight: Backpack 710 g (25.1oz), Tool roll: 130 g (4.6 oz), Waist belt (removable) - 60 g (2.1 oz)
  • MSRP: $195 (10L), $205 (14L)

Initial Impressions

When the bag arrived my first reaction was that this bag is huge. My previous hydration pack was a 10l and I had run out of space in that for all day adventures in the past. But 14l? That seemed giant. The running dialog in my head went like this: “Do I even own enough stuff to fill this thing? Will I even want to bring that much stuff on a ride? … Holy crap the empty weight of this bag is way lighter than my other, smaller bag. So much more room for activities…”

The bag is weatherproof by design, and thus does not require a separate rain cover. The accessory tool pouch was a nice touch and proved to be more effective at storing that kind of stuff than the built-in compartments and pockets that most bags have. The best part about it is unfolding it on the trail to reveal all the stored bits rather than digging through an overstuffed bag to get to the little things.

The big, undivided spaces in the bag also meant I had a lot more options as far as how I wanted to pack things. It’s not as simple minded as a cavernous duffle but it does afford me more options that may fit my needs better. Plus, you’re already sitting on a bike saddle, so no need to smash yet another banana in your backpack, right?

No bladder is included so pick your brand for that. There is plenty of adjustability to the straps including a few options for where you can attach the waist strap. Build quality is amazing and generally made all other bags, that I had previously found perfectly acceptable, to feel and look like junk.

On The Trail

The bag is large and you can fill it with tons of stuff and with that is going to come the same old sweaty back that any other bag can provide. That being said, the adjustability of the straps and the bag layout in general made hauling the load quite comfortable for a pack of this size. There's not a great way to carry that much water, tools, spare parts, food, and clothing changes but this bag did a good job of keeping it in place. The waist strap takes some of the load off your back and into your hips while keeping it from swinging side to side or letting the bag sneak up your back when totally getting like three feet of air. Not carrying all the extras may be more comfortable, but walking ten miles back to the car is a much greater bummer.

Having a bag this size opened up thinking towards the grander side of the scale. I wouldn’t really bother taking this bag on an hour ride, not because it’s not up to the task but simply because the bag would yawn and shrug at the quick pre-work jaunt. It was immediately clear to me that this bag yearns for… and I hate to say the words but… epic rides. The campaign that Acre has put out featuring people riding enormous mountains way out from civilization is what this bag really does feel built for. It’s as comfortable after hour 6 as it was leaving the car and it can take the gear for weather changes, food, tools, spares, and cameras to document the fun.

SoCal MegaDrought 2014 Edition has resulted in basically zero rain to play in but a quick test of putting the bag on and hopping in the shower has shown that the waterproof zippers keep the water out when fully closed and the roll-top kept the main compartment dry as well. The padding took on a bit of water but no more than when you're out sweating your nads off riding in the heat. While the bag is not scuba certified, it should keep your goods inside dry under normal precipitation according to my highly scientific experiment.

Things That Could Be Improved

The big open spaces of the bag include the bladder compartment. There is a loop at the top of the compartment to hold up a bladder and it does the job just fine. I happened to settle on a bladder with some structural bits to it that held itself up in the bag well. The free flopping bladder that I also tested with the bag didn’t work quite as well, even when hung from the top loop. This is one compromise of having a bag and bladder system that is not integrated, but also one that in the grand scheme didn’t really matter to me. The other thing everyone is going to notice right away is the price you’ll pay for this bag, which again doesn’t come with a bladder. The mentality shift of knowing that this thing can open up new ride possibilities is one that you will have to leverage to overcome the sticker shock. It’s an American made product with a lifetime warranty. You might not go through hydrations packs very often, but knowing that this could be the last one you ever buy is comforting.

Long Term Durability

I have no doubts this bag will outlast just about every other piece of riding gear that I currently own. I look forward to thousands of miles with this bag, knowing the lifetime warranty is there should I ever need it - I doubt I will. This thing feels solid and I would think that only a rag-dolling crash into some sharp rocks would ever put a scuff on it. Waterproof zippers don’t last forever but these feel like they should give many years of good service, and the general construction is such that I'm convinced the pack will go the distance - and beyond.

What's The Bottom Line?

This is the best hydration pack I’ve ever used. While other people may currently be scampering for ways to stuff multitools and spare tubes in your shorts and waterbottles up your jersey for short rides, this bag is all about looking to the horizon for a huge mountain and then riding your bike up there and beyond. We don’t always have time for that, but those are the rides that stick out in a lifetime, and any product that facilitates that kind of adventure while supporting domestic construction is a winner in my book. The only reason I hesitate to give it the full five stars is that the finer details of it all may just not be needed for many people. There are other big bags on the market that carry as much stuff for a lot less money and those may be just fine for you. But I can bet that none of them come with this kind of quality control, good materials, and are made in the USA. If you have the scratch for a fancy bag and big rides then this is the itch you’ve been looking for.

For more information, head on over to: www.acre-supply.com.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Gravity Gradient Stem 6/26/2014 3:08 PM
C138_gravity_gradient_stem

Tested: Gravity Gradient Cockpit

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

A quick image search for “carbon failure” is enough to make anyone doubt that carbon bars are a good idea. I’ve been a skeptic myself for a long time, and have just stuck with regular old middle-weight aluminum bars. Carbon has come a long way in recent years and so the chance to try out Gravity’s new Gradient bar and stem was my way of dipping the toes in the hot tub of a carbon cockpit.

Gravity Gradient Stem Highlights

  • 3D Forged and CNC Machined AL6061, 4‐Bolt UD Carbon Faceplate, and Chromoly Hardware
  • Clamp Size: 31.8mm
  • Length: 60, 70, 80, 90, 100mm
  • Rise: 6°
  • 40mm Fork Clamp Stack Height
  • Colors: Sandblasted Black Anodized with Gravity Gradient Graphics
  • Weight: N/A
  • MSRP: $39.99 USD

Gravity Gradient Bar Highlights

  • Full Carbon Low Rise and Flat Bar Versions
  • Clamp Size: 31.8mm
  • Width: 740mm
  • Rise:Low Rise: 15mm, Flat: 0°
  • Upsweep: 4°
  • Backsweep: Low Rise: 10°, Flat: 9°
  • Colors: Matte UD Carbon Finish with Gravity Gradient Graphics
  • Weight: Low Rise: 0 lb 7.4 oz (211 g), Flat: 0 lb 6.1 oz (172 g)
  • MSRP: $229.99 USD

Initial Impressions

The bars certainly feel very light using the always sophisticated one hand holds the old aluminum bars, one hand holds the carbon bars test. The diminutive stem also felt quite light. Beyond that, the parts are black and the graphics are subtle. Installation went smoothly and torque specs are printed near the stem bolts, which is always appreciated when dealing with carbon. The bars felt flat in their upsweep but on paper, nothing was goofy about the bar geometry. I must say that I was concerned about stiffness of the stem compared to my gold standard of the Thomson X4 50mm stem. I was also surprised by the low cost of the stem compared to the expected cost of the bars.

On The Trail

Gravity provided two versions of the bars for testing, a riser version and a flat version. I started with the flat bar thinking the novelty of something different might be fun. The flat bars stayed on my bike for exactly two rides. The first ride left me feeling like my hands were too low, even with spacers stacked under the stem, and I couldn’t effectively pull up on the front end for hops or get comfortable in turns. The second ride confirmed that flat was indeed whack for my needs. I suspect they would be a lot more useful on longer travel wagon-wheeled bikes with monstrously high front ends.

Swapping to the riser version proved to be a lot more comfortable even though there is not a ton of rise to these bars. As a side note, the lock on grips tossed in by Gravity are great. They are thin without giving a harsh ride and do not get too slippery when your mitts get sweaty.

Things That Could Be Improved

I know that it adds material and thus weight to make a bar wider but 740mm is on the narrow end for some folks these days. Wide bars are also narrow bars with the clever use of a saw but narrow bars tend to stay narrow. That being said, 29” is big enough for most users and crazy wide bars don’t exactly fit on some trails very well anyway. Carbon dorks tend to look at weight in grams rather than in practicality of width options, so I see why the lighter and narrower starting point is where Gravity landed. The stem that didn’t inspire an outpouring of feelings about its sturdiness in the parking lot did its job just fine on the trail, but the controls as a whole felt less stiff than my previous rig. Could be the nature of carbon, could just be “ride compliance” or a combination of both. It’s hard to blame that on only a stem since its little nub is probably contributing an insignificant amount of flex compared to the 14” lever of a handlebar sticking out on either side. Mushy dirt, many inches of suspension, and your own arms moving around also make it hard to say how stiff your bar and stem really are. A higher rise version of the bars (maybe 25mm) would be something that I would switch to if the option were available. I should also point out that throughout testing I was glad that I had left my steerer tube long so that I could play with spacer stacks - cockpit setup is finicky business.

Long Term Durability

My policy on handlebars, regardless of material, has always been the same as for underwear: replace every 12-18 months regardless of any major accidents. I would carry on with that policy on these bars simply because a couple hundred dollars in handlebars is a lot cheaper than a full dental rebuild. I don’t think that the Gradient bar and stem would suffer any more damage in crashes nor wear abnormally quickly compared to my previous gear. The grips, on the bonus side, are holding up quite well for me so far.

What's The Bottom Line?

Bars and stems are two things that I don’t ever want to worry about. I just want them to put my hands in a comfortable place and keep them there without any sudden changes. If they are black and have clean graphics, even better. So these offerings from Gravity hit those marks right on. The stem does so at a price that is hard to beat and gets a star bump for doing so. The bars did their job just fine but didn’t have me drinking the carbon bar kool-aid. There are more expensive carbon offerings out there and there are cheaper aluminum options, and I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in a Pepsi Challenge so they get the lower rating due to being less cost effective.

Visit www.ridegravity.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Gravity Gradient Handlebar 6/26/2014 3:08 PM
C138_gravity_gradient_low_rise_handlebar

Tested: Gravity Gradient Cockpit - A Couple Shades Of Gray

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

A quick image search for “carbon failure” is enough to make anyone doubt that carbon bars are a good idea. I’ve been a skeptic myself for a long time, and have just stuck with regular old middle-weight aluminum bars. Carbon has come a long way in recent years and so the chance to try out Gravity’s new Gradient bar and stem was my way of dipping the toes in the hot tub of a carbon cockpit.

Gravity Gradient Stem Highlights

  • 3D Forged and CNC Machined AL6061, 4‐Bolt UD Carbon Faceplate, and Chromoly Hardware
  • Clamp Size: 31.8mm
  • Length: 60, 70, 80, 90, 100mm
  • Rise: 6°
  • 40mm Fork Clamp Stack Height
  • Colors: Sandblasted Black Anodized with Gravity Gradient Graphics
  • Weight: N/A
  • MSRP: $39.99 USD

Gravity Gradient Bar Highlights

  • Full Carbon Low Rise and Flat Bar Versions
  • Clamp Size: 31.8mm
  • Width: 740mm
  • Rise:Low Rise: 15mm, Flat: 0°
  • Upsweep: 4°
  • Backsweep: Low Rise: 10°, Flat: 9°
  • Colors: Matte UD Carbon Finish with Gravity Gradient Graphics
  • Weight: Low Rise: 0 lb 7.4 oz (211 g), Flat: 0 lb 6.1 oz (172 g)
  • MSRP: $229.99 USD

Initial Impressions

The bars certainly feel very light using the always sophisticated one hand holds the old aluminum bars, one hand holds the carbon bars test. The diminutive stem also felt quite light. Beyond that, the parts are black and the graphics are subtle. Installation went smoothly and torque specs are printed near the stem bolts, which is always appreciated when dealing with carbon. The bars felt flat in their upsweep but on paper, nothing was goofy about the bar geometry. I must say that I was concerned about stiffness of the stem compared to my gold standard of the Thomson X4 50mm stem. I was also surprised by the low cost of the stem compared to the expected cost of the bars.

On The Trail

Gravity provided two versions of the bars for testing, a riser version and a flat version. I started with the flat bar thinking the novelty of something different might be fun. The flat bars stayed on my bike for exactly two rides. The first ride left me feeling like my hands were too low, even with spacers stacked under the stem, and I couldn’t effectively pull up on the front end for hops or get comfortable in turns. The second ride confirmed that flat was indeed whack for my needs. I suspect they would be a lot more useful on longer travel wagon-wheeled bikes with monstrously high front ends.

Swapping to the riser version proved to be a lot more comfortable even though there is not a ton of rise to these bars. As a side note, the lock on grips tossed in by Gravity are great. They are thin without giving a harsh ride and do not get too slippery when your mitts get sweaty.

Things That Could Be Improved

I know that it adds material and thus weight to make a bar wider but 740mm is on the narrow end for some folks these days. Wide bars are also narrow bars with the clever use of a saw but narrow bars tend to stay narrow. That being said, 29” is big enough for most users and crazy wide bars don’t exactly fit on some trails very well anyway. Carbon dorks tend to look at weight in grams rather than in practicality of width options, so I see why the lighter and narrower starting point is where Gravity landed. The stem that didn’t inspire an outpouring of feelings about its sturdiness in the parking lot did its job just fine on the trail, but the controls as a whole felt less stiff than my previous rig. Could be the nature of carbon, could just be “ride compliance” or a combination of both. It’s hard to blame that on only a stem since its little nub is probably contributing an insignificant amount of flex compared to the 14” lever of a handlebar sticking out on either side. Mushy dirt, many inches of suspension, and your own arms moving around also make it hard to say how stiff your bar and stem really are. A higher rise version of the bars (maybe 25mm) would be something that I would switch to if the option were available. I should also point out that throughout testing I was glad that I had left my steerer tube long so that I could play with spacer stacks - cockpit setup is finicky business.

Long Term Durability

My policy on handlebars, regardless of material, has always been the same as for underwear: replace every 12-18 months regardless of any major accidents. I would carry on with that policy on these bars simply because a couple hundred dollars in handlebars is a lot cheaper than a full dental rebuild. I don’t think that the Gradient bar and stem would suffer any more damage in crashes nor wear abnormally quickly compared to my previous gear. The grips, on the bonus side, are holding up quite well for me so far.

What's The Bottom Line?

Bars and stems are two things that I don’t ever want to worry about. I just want them to put my hands in a comfortable place and keep them there without any sudden changes. If they are black and have clean graphics, even better. So these offerings from Gravity hit those marks right on. The stem does so at a price that is hard to beat and gets a star bump for doing so. The bars did their job just fine but didn’t have me drinking the carbon bar kool-aid. There are more expensive carbon offerings out there and there are cheaper aluminum options, and I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in a Pepsi Challenge so they get the lower rating due to being less cost effective.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for SixSixOne EVO AM Helmet 6/21/2014 3:15 PM
C138_sixsixone_evo_am_helmet

Tested: 661 EVO AM Helmet

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

Protecting your head seems like an obvious thing to do, and having gone through a fall that should have killed me but instead resulted in just a plain old-fashioned traumatic brain injury thanks to my helmet, I’ll never ride a bike without one. I'll go for rides all the time without gloves or elbow pads, or even sleeves for that matter, but you won't catch me without a melon bucket. You spend a lot of money on gimmicky bike parts that frankly never make a difference so you shouldn'tblink at spending good money to protect those juicy brains of yours. Anyway, when the chance came along to put my head into the latest and greatest offering from 661, I was excited to test it out (but not full on test it if you know what I mean).

SixSixOne EVO AM Helmet Highlights

  • Number of vents:15
  • Contigo foam liner
  • MIPS option (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) liner between shell and comfort liner
  • BOA FS360 360° adjustment system
  • Adjustable visor with two mounting positions
  • Fidlock magnetic closure
  • Adjustable, anti-microbial padding
  • Colors:Black, four other color options coming later
  • Weight:0 lb 12.7 oz (359 g)
  • MSRP: $200.00 USD ($150 for the non-MIPS version)

Initial Impressions

Out of the box the feel of the helmet in my hands was solid. The visor wasn’t too floppy nor fragile feeling and the straps and anchors felt sturdy. The weight of the helmet didn’t stick out one way or the other, which to me is a good thing. Crazy lightweight helmets scream either “concussions!” or “overpriced!” while heavy helmets scream “ sore neck!” so to have this in the middle was just right. I tested the non-MIPS version of this helmet, but you can also get it with that extra layer of protection meant to reduce the potential for injury as a result of rotational forces - more information on MIPS can be found here, should you be tempted.

The initial parking lot set up of the helmet went about as smooth as I could possibly imagine. The chin strap took very little time to get properly dialed in and the Boa retention system is incredibly fast and comfortable providing a secure feeling fit in seconds. The Boa straps go almost entirely around the head, meaning that this helmet should prove a comfortable fit for most riders.

I was skeptical of the magnetic chin strap clasp but I wasn’t about to question it like the ICP. At the end of the day, tiny magnets seem just as up to the task as tiny plastic clips, and with that observation, I was ready to hit the trail.

On The Trail

The first ride in the helmet felt great. Maybe it was that I was coming from a clapped out old helmet with a compressed padset but this new lid from 661 fit like a cozy dream. No wiggling, no shifting around, and no bouncing to speak of as of the first few rides. Ventilation is good when the speed picks up. There was also no interference or clearance issue with sunglasses.

I can't comment on the fitment of goggles with this half shell helmet as I already feel like I look stupid enough on a bike and don't need that style making things worse. That being said, if you must, the back of the helmet is not too pointy so your goggle strap should have some flat real estate to rest on for your local enduro race. All that flat-ish goggle strap territory not only keeps you looking super-enduro-pro with your half shell and goggles, but it provides plenty of protection down the backside of your head and regardless of where you stand on fashion rules in our sport, it's hard to knock more coverage.

Things That Could Be Improved

This is very picky but right out of the box, one of the first things I noticed was the mismatched yellow-green colors from the visor to the body of the helmet. I can only assume that this was due to my helmet being a pre-production sample and that they sorted this out for the main run of things; purely aesthetic but a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Another issue that I ran into after more ride time was that the Boa dial can snag on the handle/hang strap at the top of some bags, especially when craning your head back to keep your eyes down the trail on steep stuff. The snag was an unpleasant surprise to feel and never came at a good time. I ended up fixing this by taping off the strap on those hydration packs so they wouldn’t catch on the Boa dial. This may not affect you at all depending on your bag but changing the shape of the dial on future updates could help this. Then again, maybe I’m the only one having this issue. The final issue I had with the helmet was adjusting the visor position; it proved to be quite a headache (pun, get it?). This may be a pre-production issue as well but the second set of holes for the visor pins in the shell were filled in from the foam layer underneath meaning they had to be dug out before the visor could be switched to this alternate position. If that's the case with production versions then that's an inconvenience that I'd like to see addressed.

Long Term Durability

Helmets for me tend to last until I use them for their intended purpose and I smash them into the ground. I don’t expect this helmet to deteriorate during normal use until the time comes for it to sacrifice itself for my noodle. The magnetic clasp has shown no signs of weakening and all other parts of the helmet seem to be holding up great as well. The graphics and finish of the helmet still look fresh, and the stickers have stayed put without peeling up at edges. The gloss finish does pick up smudges and splashes but cleans easily too. There are a few scratches on my helmet now after a couple of months though I haven't been the most careful with packing and transporting it, so it's resisting as well as I would expect it to. The interior is holding up too, the pad set is just as fluffy and comfy as on day one thus far and it's easy to wash out the sweat crust every now and then.

What's The Bottom Line?

Your helmet’s job is to save your life in a crash and I have no doubt that the EVO AM from 661 will do as good of a job as other serious helmets in that department. For extra peace of mind, you can also splash out an extra $50 and get the MIPS version (it's good to see companies pushing forward with innovative approaches that break the EPS foam status quo in an attempt to make our hobbies safer). The graphics on the EVO AM are clean but not boring. The fit system is great and the comfort is above average. I don't think this helmet is 100% perfect but if I crashed on it today, I’d have no second thoughts about buying another one tomorrow and that’s what I’m looking for in a helmet.

For more information, head over to: sixsixone.com


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Dainese Trail Skins Knee Guard 6/11/2014 12:15 PM
C138_dainese_trail_skins_knee_guard

Tested: Dainese Trail Skins Knee Guard

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

Dainese is no stranger to the safety game. They’ve got plenty of experience making very high end protection for people who do stuff arguably more dangerous than pedaling bikes. So where have they been lately? Back when I started taking riding more seriously, the Viking knee/shin bib was default uniform kit-wear for anyone who knew what was up. If you wanted to look the part of a pro, you wore Dainese. After a few years of lagging in attention to mountain biking, they seem to be making a push to reclaim some turf. Let's see how their latest mountain bike specific offering stacks up...

Trail Skins Knee Guard Highlights

  • Main pad material: Pro Shape coupled with Crash Absorb, approximately 7mm thick
  • Certified according to the standard EN 1621.1
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL
  • Colors:Black, Black/Red, Black/Yellow-Fluo, Cyan, Purple
  • Supporting System with Soft Biaxial Elasticated Fabric
  • Knee Fastening System with Straps and Elastic Bands
  • Silicone Elastic Bands
  • Perforated Pro-Shape
  • Breathable Biaxial Elasticated Fabric
  • MSRP:$69.95 USD

Initial Impressions

I’m a big fan of simple packaging so having these knee guards come attached to a cardboard sheet was a good first impression. Call me a damn hippie but less plastic for stupid retail presentation is appreciated. The build quality of these guards seems above average for bike gear. There are no loose strings in the stitching; everything is straight and lined up, and nothing about the materials cries out “cheap.” The fit was true to the size chart in my experience so the medium I measured up for the order fit like a charm.

The perforated main pad catches your eye immediately, this is not something we're used to seeing in a piece of protection. Dainese calls this "Pro-Shape", it's essentially a sandwich composed of an outer layer of polymer bonded to an inner layer of polyethylene foam intended to be both strong and flexible. The perforated structure also ensures the correct ventilation of the area for greater riding comfort.I suspect this orientation also helps the hexagons structurally under impacts. Think of how a straw is pretty stiff along length of the tube but not so much from the side. I’ve had little luck with D3o type material pads in the past when they are just a chunk of that material over a joint, but it seems like the way materials are blended here is making use of each kind of materials’ strengths to make the pad better overall.

On The Trail

The vertical layup of the foam hexagons that make up the majority of the knee cup do a very good job of providing ventilation at moderate trail speed. You’ll feel fresh little whispers of wind on your sweaty knees as you get up to speed. These knee guards are not going to stand up to full on world cup downhill ragdoll crashes but to be honest, that’s rarely the kind of riding any of us are up to. For the (often too) smooth bike park flow trails and your multi-use public trails out there, these guards will provide you with some impact protection and will do a good job of reducing or eliminating abrasions. A lot of my stupid little knee injuries come from my own bike, bashing into shifter paddles, stem bolts, top tubes, etc. and these guards are perfect for taking the edge off that kind of annoying stuff. The silicone strips on the thighs and calves do a good job of keeping the guard in place without having to velcro it on so tight that you’re hindering circulation to your leg. The inclusion of smaller pads around the main kneecap area to protect around the side of the knee is a very welcome treat.

Things That Could Be Improved

I have no beef with these pads and it’s a struggle to come up with something that needs to be improved upon. When climbing with the Trail Skins, they will heat up but not as bad as I've experienced with other knee guards. You could also ask for a bit stronger protection but that’s another product and another intended use. There is some floating feeling to the main knee cup when pedaling and that seems to be accentuated when running a lower saddle height for descents but it was never enough to chafe my knee. Reducing that float would be the only thing I would change about these guards, but not at the cost of protection.

Long Term Durability

Knock on wood but I have yet to take any huge crashes in these pads so I don’t know how well they will hold up in a heinous wreck. But in the minor wipes that I’ve had so far, washing out in turns and other spills like that, they have held up very well with no rips in the seams or the pad material. The velcro looks to be going strong so far and considering how easily those patches could be replaced by a tailoring shop for a few bucks, I don’t think any velcro issues would be the end of these pads in any case. The pads do get crusty with sweat on long rides so they have also been through the wash many times and have shown no real signs of wear from that either.

What's The Bottom Line?

Dainese has made exactly what I have been looking for in a set of lightweight knee guards that I can have in my pack, ready to go whenever a descent is going to get rough. The subtle branding is a nice touch. The pads are comfortable. And while they are not going to save your knees from total destruction, they are going to take the edge off a lot of the most common spills you take. Less scabs, less recovery time, less sticking to your sheets, more riding, great build quality, and all of this at a totally reasonable price makes these pads real winners.

Visit www.dainese.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Guerrilla Gravity BFC Cog 4/25/2014 9:47 AM
C138_guerrilla_gravity_bfc_cog

Tested: Guerrilla Gravity Big F-ing Cog

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu // Photos by Dave Trumpore

When I started riding, everything was 8-speed and it worked pretty well. Then came 9-speed. Then came 10-speed. And yet all this time there was still a pesky thing in the way called the front derailleur. When I was younger and more spry, I would just hammer through on 1x8, 1x9, and 1x10 set ups. Now I’m a little older, a little more tired, and have to spend my money on things like paying off student loans for a useless degree and rent so the current crop of 1x11 options that work amazingly well are just out of my practical grasp. So I had high hopes for solutions like the BFC from Guerrilla Gravity to open up the range found in the expensive 1x11 systems and give my legs a fighting chance on the steep climbs in my area.

BFC Highlights

  • 42-Tooth Cog
  • 7075-T6 Heat Treated Aerospace Grade Aluminum
  • Works With Most 11-36 SRAM and Shimano 10-Speed Cassettes,Displacing One Sprocket From Main Cluster
  • Extra Wide Spline Interface Designed to Work with Aluminum Freehub Bodies
  • Short/Tall Tooth Profile for 21 Shift Points and Immediate Gear Changes
  • Additional 7 Chain Ramps for Extra Shift Boosting Every 0.14 Revolution
  • Weight: 2.9-ounces (83 grams)
  • MSRP: $90

Setup and Initial Impressions

Installing the BFC was a breeze after the stars aligned. Getting the stars to line up was another story. My previous set up was a hand-me-down SRAM XX cassette and a short cage X0 10-speed derailleur. Problems. The XX cassette is one piece through the spread so removal of the 17t cog is not an option to accommodate the BFC at the top of the cluster. After tracking down a SRAM 1050 cassette, I thought maybe I’d be all set. I threw the BFC and cassette on with the 17-tooth removed and then ran face first into the issue of the short cage derailleur not being able to clear the BFC. Big F-ing Cog indeed. So Guerrilla Gravity ever so kindly sent out a medium cage X9 to borrow and once that was in play, everything cleared. Sort of. Now that I had added a longer cage and a bigger cog, my chain was, like certain whistle loving rappers, too short. Fresh chain. So with a mid-range cassette, longer derailleur, and new chain, the BFC was installed and ran pretty much perfectly as expected in the bike stand. On this topic, it's worth pointing out that Guerrilla Gravity actually sells drivetrain upgrade kits that include the BFC, cassette, derailleur, shifter, chainring, and chain, or any combination thereof, at advantageous prices.

On The Trail

The BFC does open up a lot more gear range on the trail and for that, my legs are thankful. A lot of my rides greet me fresh off the couch with 10-13% grades, and try as I have, there doesn’t seem to be a pleasant way up miles and miles of that kind of pitch. Bailouts tend to be big and the BFC lives up to its name. Jumping from a 36 to a 42-tooth means a lot more spinning and a lot less hammering to get me to the part of the ride that I actually care about, which is of course where things point back down those steep grades. I wasn’t magically flying up previously impossible climbs with the BFC but I was picking my way up stuff with less blown out legs at the top so it did the trick. As a flat-pedal rider, every little helps on the climbs.

Shifting up into the BFC was surprisingly smooth thanks to the alternating short/tall tooth profile and 7 shift ramps, and I never had sloppy shifts under heavier pedaling forces which is a must since your bailout gear has to be ready at a moment’s notice when you’re really slamming into a climb. Shifting back down out of the cog was a bit more abrupt of a shift. The chain climbs up into the BFC more gracefully than it falls off it in my experience. Luckily, it’s not like you’re doing gate starts at this end of your gears so you’re probably not pedaling hard for that shift.

Things That Could Be Improved

As noted in our recent review of the similar OneUp cog, the shifting performance in the rest of your cassette leaves something to be desired with the addition of the big 42-tooth in the mix. The removal of the 17-tooth cog meant there was a huge jump in the gear ratios in the middle of the cassette. As it turns out, that’s right where I spend a lot of my time during more mellow descents for pedaling out of corners, and jumping from a spun out 19-tooth to a bogged down 15-tooth was annoying. The shift performance in that jump was also finicky and lacking compared to the rest of the single gear jumps. I also experienced an issue with the maxed out B-tension screw holding the top pulley so far away from the smaller cogs that shifting performance at that end of the cassette was not as good as it could be. Taking out the 15 and replacing it with a 16-tooth cog would probably have taken care of a lot of my gripes as the jumps would at least be more consistent both on the derailleur and on my legs. This comes at added cost, however, and still isn't a perfect solution.

Long Term Durability

There is no reason for me to expect the BFC to have any long term reliability issues. The wide base of the cog and the spread out chain loads across so many additional teeth lead me to think this part will last a long time, and should there ever be an issue, Guerrilla Gravity backs its products with excellent customer service and I have little doubt any shortcomings would be swiftly remedied. The rest of your cassette may wear out faster with less chain wrap on the smaller cogs due to the maxed out B-screw, however. That being said, I could buy several more SRAM 1050 cassettes for what even my second-hand XX cassette cost.

What's The Bottom Line?

I hate the front derailleur and anything that can put another nail in the coffin of that infernal contraption is a good thing in my books. I’m tired of frames having to be designed to clear that thing. I’m sick of seeing shifters on the left side of bars - that’s where a dropper post remote goes. So the Guerrilla Gravity BFC does its job of offering you a wider gear range, and while it’s a compromise compared to XX1 or XO1, it’s a lot less of a compromise than a stupid front derailleur and it will cost you a whole lot less to get running than a whole new parts group. With thick-thin chainrings, clutch derailleurs, and aftermarket patches like the BFC, you should be all set and front-derailleur-free for a while until we see that sweet 11-speed tech trickle down to mere mortal price ranges. So until there’s a more convenient X7-11 or a patriotic X9-11-never-forget parts group, take a look at options like the Guerrilla Gravity BFC that could save you a bunch of money. But be ready for the reality that this is a compromise and can’t be expected to perform at the same level as a whole group designed to work together.

Visit www.ridegg.com for more details.



About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Formula R1 Racing Disc Brake 11/13/2013 6:43 PM
C138_2014_r1_racing_disc_brake_pull_master_cylinder

Tested: Formula R1 Racing Disc Brakes

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

Formula has been in the brake game for a long time now. Worldwide, the brand might have struggled for a while to make an impact, whether that was due to distribution issues or just the feeling that this was one of those “other guy” brands. However in recent years, Formula brakes have become a more common sight on the trails everywhere and they have also been getting the thumbs up from people who have the option to ride other brands. With that in mind, we were quite interested to get our hands on Formula's all-new R1 Racing brakes to see how they would stack up.

R1 Racing Disc Brake Highlights

  • New pull style master cylinder for better ergonomics and improved durability
  • Enhanced Caliper Technology (ECT) for higher rollback and easy installation
  • Titanium hardware
  • Kevlar braided hose (100cm front / 165cm rear)
  • Composite reservoir cap
  • Super high polish finish with red anodized accents
  • Semi metallic compound pads with alloy back-plate
  • 6-inch post mount
  • Weight: 267 grams
  • MSRP $389.50 per brake
  • Options include:
    • One-piece CenterLock rotor measuring 160mm / 180mm / 203mm

    • Two-piece rotor in 6 bolt I.S. - Red or Black - 140mm / 160mm / 180mm / 203mm

    • FCS Feeling Control System - Available in red, black or gold

    • MixMaster - Custom shifter mounting perch

    • SpeedLock hose quick connect - Mounted at the caliper, master cylinder or inline in red, black or gold

Initial Impressions

During the unboxing process it seemed like a shipping error had been made. After removing the hefty 2014 product catalog from the box, it felt like there couldn’t be much left in there at all. Well no, it turns out that these brakes are just that light. Clean Ti hardware, aluminum spider rotors, and very trim design on the lever and caliper all add up to not much at all on the scales.

Another feature that jumped out at us straight away was the new pull-lever design. Most hydro brakes on the market action the master cylinder by pushing down on the piston, but the R1 Racing pulls on it instead. We discussed this aspect with Formula at Eurobike and they stated that this design allows for better transfer of power to the piston and creates less overall friction in the system as a whole.

We mounted up the brakes and got ready to hit the trails, eager to discover if the R1 Racings would deliver performance to match their looks, or whether they would turn out “too light” to do the job.

On The Trail

For such a light weight lever, the mount is surprisingly stiff, which I think has to do with the wide base of contact on the bars. You can detect some flex if you're staring at the lever in the parking lot while pumping the brakes, but on the trail this was not noticeable at all. In terms of set-up, this wide base may cause some issues with handlebar real estate depending on the controls you run, but there is a Matchmaker-style mounting perch available to tidy things up a bit if you need it.

Regarding adjustments, you can set the reach of the lever blade to fit your hand size and suit your preference, but there is no pad contact point point adjustment included as standard. As it is, if you are super-picky about your setup, you might find this lack of contact point adjustment a deal-breaker, but in truth, it was easy to adjust to the feeling of these brakes. Nevertheless, if you want it, Formula's "Feeling Control System" is available as an upgrade, for about $50 per side.

The break in period was on par with most other brakes out there today. 40-50 braking cycles per end brought them to life and the first major descent kicked them into gear. After that, the brakes certainly did their job of slowing me down in the parking lot. Now in theory, I like my brakes to be completely on/off and as touchy as an emotionally wrought teenager. However in reality, that kind of brake doesn't give you a lot of control once you hit the dirt. You just end up skidding onto your face. In the parking lot, I was not thrilled about the abundance of modulation in these brakes. Out on the trail though, I found them to be plenty strong for your average XC trail and still capable of keeping things in check on nastier trails that were asking a lot of my 5" trail bike to navigate.The lever pull action on these brakes is smooth as can be, which is great. No one likes gritty feeling levers. It's hard to tell if the pull-piston design is the only reason for that, but it certainly seems to contribute or at the very least not interfere with how the brakes work.

What I was worried about were longer downhill sections and how they would handle the heat. And yes, there is a difference in heat management if you compare these brakes to high-end DH brakes like Saints or similar, but then again, these aren’t being sold as the killer brake to have for Champery World Cup DH. If that is what you need, the Formula RO is your ticket. What did amaze me is how far “uber-light” brakes have come in recent years. It used to be that XC race brakes were just strong enough to keep a hardtail bike in check to tip toe down the 50 foot descent on the XC short track circuit and that’s about it. Now though, I could wail on these brakes for multi-minute descents knowing that there was still a brake I could count on as my arms pumped up. In the end, my forearms let me down before these brakes did and that’s been the case with every brake I’ve voluntarily mounted on my bike. The R1 Racing passed that test with flying colors.

I did experience some jivey turkey warble coming from the front brake, especially during the initial break in period and first ride, but that calmed down soon after. The brakes would chirp a bit when they got quite hot and that seemed reasonable. Compared to the set of brakes these replaced on my bike, the R1's were much more quiet indeed. To this point of the test I've only seen dry and dusty conditions so can't offer an observation on how they will handle once they get wet and muddy.

Things That Could Be Improved

The lever reservoir sits essentially on the bars and could cause clearance issues that may require you to juggle the shifter mounts and/or remote dropper actuator mount in order to put the brake lever where you want it to be. As previously mentioned, there is a Matchmaker-style mounting perch available that should help tidy things up on the handlebars. Out of the box, the adjustments on the brake itself are limited to reach only, and while I got used to how these brakes feel fairly easily, that may not be the case for everybody. We previously mentioned the FCS system which can be retrofitted to provide pad contact point adjustment functionality, but at about $50 per side that adds more cost to an already very expensive brake. At this price point, it would make sense to include this functionality as standard.

The brake lever blade is also a little too much “blade” for my taste. This is a subjective matter but I prefer a wider lever blade for index finger comfort.

Long Term Durability

Light, strong, cheap - pick two. Keith Bontrager's legendary observation still holds true today, for most mountain bike components. Well on the R1's, cheap went out the window several hundred dollars ago and they are about as light as they could possibly be. While I had no issues with the brakes during the test, I would be interested to see how they hold up in a crash. I’m not thrilled at the idea of finding that out and shockingly, the rubber side has stayed down for a while here. Anyway, the lever is held to the bars with a couple of 3mm Ti bolts and I wonder how those will do in a crash. Will the levers slide on the bars, will the blades shear off? At this point I don’t know. Light weight components are rarely made to survive impacts, and additionally, when we're talking racing it's checkers or wreckers so keep that in mind too. If you’re hard on your stuff, get the regular R1s. Pad and rotor wear were definitely in line with competitor’s brakes, so nothing out of the ordinary to report on that front.

What's The Bottom Line?

These brakes do their job. But what is that job? Be shockingly light weight would be the top item on the job description. Beyond that they are reliable and look trick. When it comes time to give these a rating though, I have to take price into consideration and with a tag like that hanging from it, a part has no excuse to be anything other than great. If you gave the R1 Racing and a brake half its cost the blind Pepsi challenge and had me slow down a bike with both, I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one was which. Also, there are a lot more effective ways to shave weight from your bike for the money like in your frame, fork, and wheels. But if you are after dropping as much weight as you can while still having a bike you can properly ride, these brakes will slow you down, make your bike (and wallet!) lighter, and look good while doing it.

For more details, check out www.formula-italy.com.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and Vital MTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Loaded Precision X-Lite Wheelset 9/14/2013 10:20 AM
C138_ewb_51241ca0bd150_img_4502

Tested: Loaded Precision X-Lite Wheelset

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

The Loaded Precision X-Lite wheels are something of a rarity these days. They do not employ a fancy lacing pattern, they use a normal number of conventional elbowed spokes, and the rims are made out of 6066 T6 aluminum. While other companies are out there clambering to reinvent the wheel, Loaded has gone the other direction, making refinements to their craft along the way.

X-Lite Wheelset Spec Highlights

  • 32 Hole X-LiteTrue Bead Technology (Tubeless Ready)Rims
  • 6066 T6 Aluminum Rim Material
  • Flash Welded Rim Joint
  • 21mm Inner Rim Width

  • Shot Peened Finish
  • Quad-Butted Seamlessly Drawn Spokes
  • X-Lite Aluminum Spoke Nipples
  • 15mm or Standard 9mm QR
 Front Hub Axle Configurations
  • 135mm Standard QR
 or 12x142mm Thru Axle Rear Hub Configurations
  • 3 Dual Action Pawls with 24 Engagement Points
  • 7 Different Hub and Nipple Colors
  • Available in 26, 27.5 and 29-Inch Sizes
  • 26-Inch Weight: 3.65-pounds (1656 grams)
  • MSRP $769.99

Looking at the specs and the rim profile, above, a few things jump out.First, Loaded uses a reinforced internal beam to reinforce vertical rigidity of the rim. Second is the use of 6066 aluminum combined with a T6 heat treatment process. Most manufacturers use 6061 or 7005 aluminum. Loaded says the use of a different alloy at the T6 temper, in combination with the internal beam, allows them to use thinner rim walls to reduce weight.

Initial Impressions

Without knowledge of the above, these hand built wheels appear to be no nonsense 32 spoke hubs laced to eyeleted rims using black quad-butted spokes. The rims can be set up semi-tubeless, and like just about anything these days can be run with the messy goo should you don't want to deal with tubes. Mounting a pair of 2.3-inch Specialized tires was painless and easy to do. The fact that these are 32 spoke wheels means that if you break a spoke out on a road trip, you will easily be able to find a suitable replacement at a local shop. A lot of shops don’t and can’t stock all the model and brand specific spokes for the exotic wheels available. Note that Loaded uses aluminum nipples with a 13 Gauge outside diameter and typical 14 Gauge inner diameter. This makes it easy to replace spokes while boosting the strength of the nipple, and the rim eyelets have been crafted accordingly. Out of the box, fit and finish on the wheels was great, with everything evenly tensioned and true/round as a hand built wheel should be. The included X-Lite Race Day titanium skewers were also noticeably light - maybe too light? I hit the trails to find out.

On The Trail

The weight of the wheels was immediately noticeable, and seemed to improve my acceleration. More spokes makes for a stiffer wheel, and the use of 32 of them shows through when slamming into berms and trying to stick high in off camber chatter. They also rolled nice and smooth with the freewheel showing no drag out of the box, which was nice. Having to deal with hub break-in time is always a hassle. The wheels rolled for about 10 hours of trail smashing before needing a quick re-tensioning, which fits right in line with my experience on most quality hand built wheels.

Things That Could Be Be Improved

With just 24 engagement points, the rear hub can be slow to engage, especially when compared to other options on the market. While this doesn’t matter much when the wheel is rolling fast, start/stop climbing and pedaling out of slower corners are times when more engagement points is a welcome treat.

At 21mm, the inner rim width is also a few millimeters narrow for a "trail" wheelset, which means modern high-volume tires behave erratically at times.

Long Term Durability

The included titanium skewers are incredibly lightweight, but that’s one part of my bike that I would rather take on an extra few grams to have a steel, closed cam skewer for safety. The rear skewer came loose every other ride or so, and while it only took a few seconds to pull over and snug up, that’s an issue that can be solved with an extra 30 grams of material.

The wiggles and hops in the rims that I was able to put into the wheels mostly came out with regular truing maintenance, but if you’re hard on your wheels and really get after it in the rough stuff, you may be better off with beefier offerings than the X-lites. Loaded also makes a wider, more heavy duty AmXc wheelset for those types of riders.

What's The Bottom Line?

You already have enough to worry about with pondering what size your wheels are supposed to be, and instead of cramming marketing lingo down your throat, Loaded's no-nonsense approach is refreshing when you could be out there riding mountains instead of sifting the mountains of hype. Overthinking the wheel is an easy thing to do these days, so I commend Loaded for doing something that works and is free of gimmicks. However, for the money, I think there are other very competitive and arguably better wheel options when it comes to hand built 32 hole wheels, especially given the way modern day trail bikes are spec'd and ridden. If the point is to customize and select color options, rim options (UST or width choice) and hub spacing/axle options, there are other routes to investigate within this same price range. That said, the X-Lite wheels are relatively lightweight, come at a reasonable price, and have proven to be reliable on the trail.

For more info on Loaded Precision's lineup, visit www.loadedusa.com.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent five good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and VitalMTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Sombrio N'Fluence Shorts 8/1/2013 9:33 PM
C138_ss13_nfluence_shorts_blacktastic_front_main_grande

Tested: Sombrio N'Fluence Shorts & Disciple Jersey

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

Sombrio has been around for a long time, so obviously they must be doing something right with their clothing. I've had a pair of shorts from them for several years now and they have lasted really well. They were hand-me-downs from a friend, and after my time in them, they got passed off to another friend and are probably still going out for rides. That said, bike clothing has changed a lot in the last decade, so how does the new stuff from Sombrio stand up?

N'Fluence Short HIghlights

  • Ultra durable custom printed 4-way stretch fabric with DWR and soft inner face
  • •Wicking hand pocket bags
  • Back zippered pocket
  • Innovative 2-way zipper mesh lined airflow core vent
  • Belt Loops
  • Seamless crotch panel
  • Fully lined with wicking mesh
  • Locking zip fly with snap and VELCRO back up
  • Sturdy seam construction and bar tack stitching throughout stress zones
  • XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL sizes
  • Blacktastic, Mineral Grey Fromme, and Raw Green Fromme graphics
  • MSRP $125.00

Disciple Jersey Highlights

  • Multi panel ¾ sleeve design
  • Cool Wik Material
  • Wicking & antibacterial treatment
  • Back ventilation yoke panel
  • XS, S, M, L, and XL sizes
  • Sublimated graphics
  • Mineral Grey Fromme and Raw Green Fromme graphics
  • MSRP $69.00

On The Trail

Johnny Cochran would agree, the most important element in bike clothing is fit. If it doesn’t fit, the rest is meaningless. Being the average sized human that I am, the size medium shorts and medium jersey were spot on. The ¾ sleeves on the Disciple Jersey only look long until you get into riding posture. Nothing was constrictive when trying to move around, while pedaling or turning, and nothing bound up when contorting around trying to save a crash. The Cool Wik material is pretty thick for a riding jersey, at least for warm weather use, but is smooth to the touch and vents pretty well. The material also tends to draw moisture away from your body, and dries quickly.

Construction quality on the shorts and jersey were great. There’s a big vent on the leg of the N'Fluence Shorts that you can zip open half way for ventilation, or all the way for pockets and even more ventilation. Max airflow also means the potential for pocket spills, so Sombrio wisely added a key-clip in the right pocket to keep those put and not leave you stranded back in the parking lot after a ride.

Things That Could Be Improved

The pockets on the shorts place anything you stow on top of your thighs, which is less than ideal for pedaling. Then again, you’re probably storing most of your stuff in a backpack anyway. The shorts also have belt loops around the waist. I’m not sure I know anyone who rides with a belt? This seems to be in place of cinch straps that most bike shorts have, but if you buy the right sized shorts, I don’t see why you would need a belt. That said, it’s not like un-used belt loops are much of a problem.

The jersey comes with a sticker advising you to keep it away from hard-side Velcro and it’s not joking. That material does hate Velcro, which is unfortunate given that most of your other articles of cycling clothing have that, including the N'Fluence Shorts, so close it all up before chucking it into a load of laundry lest you end up with a chewed up jersey.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Sombrio N'Fluence Shorts and Disciple Jersey are well made. Looks are subjective, so maybe this is your thing, and maybe it isn't. Those in search of something more subtle should check out the Mineral Grey Fromme print. The fabric is relatively heavy and hot for warm weather trail riding, but at higher altitudes or in cooler fall weather you’ll be comfortable. As for bike park cruising, it will do you just fine. This kit isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it does the job and has proven to be quite durable, which counts for a lot over flashy looking stuff that skimps on quality and busts seams after a few rides.

For more details, visit www.sombriocartel.com.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent 5 good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and VitalMTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 2 reviews

Added a product review for Sombrio Disciple Jersey 8/1/2013 9:29 PM
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Tested: Sombrio N'Fluence Shorts & Disciple Jersey

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

Sombrio has been around for a long time, so obviously they must be doing something right with their clothing. I've had a pair of shorts from them for several years now and they have lasted really well. They were hand-me-downs from a friend, and after my time in them, they got passed off to another friend and are probably still going out for rides. That said, bike clothing has changed a lot in the last decade, so how does the new stuff from Sombrio stand up?

N'Fluence Short HIghlights

  • Ultra durable custom printed 4-way stretch fabric with DWR and soft inner face
  • •Wicking hand pocket bags
  • Back zippered pocket
  • Innovative 2-way zipper mesh lined airflow core vent
  • Belt Loops
  • Seamless crotch panel
  • Fully lined with wicking mesh
  • Locking zip fly with snap and VELCRO back up
  • Sturdy seam construction and bar tack stitching throughout stress zones
  • XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL sizes
  • Blacktastic, Mineral Grey Fromme, and Raw Green Fromme graphics
  • MSRP $125.00

Disciple Jersey Highlights

  • Multi panel ¾ sleeve design
  • Cool Wik Material
  • Wicking & antibacterial treatment
  • Back ventilation yoke panel
  • XS, S, M, L, and XL sizes
  • Sublimated graphics
  • Mineral Grey Fromme and Raw Green Fromme graphics
  • MSRP $69.00

On The Trail

Johnny Cochran would agree, the most important element in bike clothing is fit. If it doesn’t fit, the rest is meaningless. Being the average sized human that I am, the size medium shorts and medium jersey were spot on. The ¾ sleeves on the Disciple Jersey only look long until you get into riding posture. Nothing was constrictive when trying to move around, while pedaling or turning, and nothing bound up when contorting around trying to save a crash. The Cool Wik material is pretty thick for a riding jersey, at least for warm weather use, but is smooth to the touch and vents pretty well. The material also tends to draw moisture away from your body, and dries quickly.

Construction quality on the shorts and jersey were great. There’s a big vent on the leg of the N'Fluence Shorts that you can zip open half way for ventilation, or all the way for pockets and even more ventilation. Max airflow also means the potential for pocket spills, so Sombrio wisely added a key-clip in the right pocket to keep those put and not leave you stranded back in the parking lot after a ride.

Things That Could Be Improved

The pockets on the shorts place anything you stow on top of your thighs, which is less than ideal for pedaling. Then again, you’re probably storing most of your stuff in a backpack anyway. The shorts also have belt loops around the waist. I’m not sure I know anyone who rides with a belt? This seems to be in place of cinch straps that most bike shorts have, but if you buy the right sized shorts, I don’t see why you would need a belt. That said, it’s not like un-used belt loops are much of a problem.

The jersey comes with a sticker advising you to keep it away from hard-side Velcro and it’s not joking. That material does hate Velcro, which is unfortunate given that most of your other articles of cycling clothing have that, including the N'Fluence Shorts, so close it all up before chucking it into a load of laundry lest you end up with a chewed up jersey.

What's The Bottom Line?

The Sombrio N'Fluence Shorts and Disciple Jersey are well made. Looks are subjective, so maybe this is your thing, and maybe it isn't. Those in search of something more subtle should check out the Mineral Grey Fromme print. The fabric both items are made from is quite heavy and hot for warm weather trail riding, but at higher altitudes or cooler fall weather you’ll be comfortable. As for bike park cruising, it will do you just fine. This kit isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it does the job and has proven to be quite durable, which counts for a lot over flashy looking stuff that skimps on quality and busts seams after a few rides.

For more details, visit www.sombriocartel.com.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent 5 good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and VitalMTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a product review for Gamut P20s Chainguide 7/14/2013 10:24 PM
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Tested: Gamut P20s Chainguide

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

Any product that can stick another nail in the coffin of the obsolete front derailleur is worth a look - it's the single worst part of any bike that has one. But now with XX1 and its slow trickle down the price range, are chainguides soon to be obsolete?

No. Don’t be crazy.

What Gamut has done for years now is make simple, light weight, and great working chainguides, and they will continue to do so well into the future despite whatever hot new jillion dollar integrated chain/chainring/16-speed system comes out down the road because mountain biking (at least the way I ride) is about smashing over bumps, rocks, and logs. Plus, I can’t be alone here in saying a bike without a chainguide doesn’t look finished. It looks like you’re still waiting for parts to finish your build, right? Enter the P20s, one of Gamut's latest creations.

P20s Chainguide Highlights

  • Redesigned 104-4 bolt pattern, 3/8" (9.5mm) Polycarbonate Bash Guard
  • Single Ring - 32, 33, or 34-teeth
  • ISCG, ISCG-05, BB Mount
  • Proprietary O-Ring Guide
  • Black, White, Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow Color Options
  • Weight: 162 to 177 grams
  • MSRP $139.99

Highlights of this Gamut guide include its light weight, quality construction, sharp looks, and the superb customer service you get from a passionate small business.

On The Trail

"Good design, when done well, becomes invisible."

The best part of running this guide is the fact that you are never going to notice it. When you’re done setting it up with the supplied spacers and bolting everything on, the guide just shuts up and does its job. When I say it shuts up, I mean it really doesn’t let out a peep. Gamut took their already simple design and removed the bottom roller, the one moving part, and replaced it with a static rubber o-ring that your chain silently glides over. There is no noise from this guide at all, so the only time you’re ever going to be aware of its presence is when you take a step back off your bike to admire how good it looks.

Actually that’s a lie. You’ll notice the guide when it’s protecting your really overpriced chain and chainring. Maybe it’s my Japanese genetics that come out to play, but I can’t resist the opportunity to karate-chop logs in half when they are laid out across the trail. I would show a photo of the bashring, but I don’t have a microscope hooked up to a camera to show you the tiny scuff taken on during what could have been a financially catastrophic crash in my latest attempt at lumberjacking.

Things That Could Be Improved

I’m not entirely sure how you could simplify this guide any further. If there’s an accurate earthly representation of the Platonic chainguide, this is it. The rubber o-ring is new and I’m not sure how long it will last, but considering the replacement cost is less than a slice of cheese on your burger and is just as easy to install, I’ll be quite happy to handle that periodic task.

What's The Bottom Line?

I’ve pedaled this guide around for hundreds of silent miles with no dropped chains, skipped links, or smashed drivetrain parts. The bottom line is that this thing works, and it does so at a fair price considering the years of service it will give you. Plus it will make your bike look better, and you’ll totally ride like Greg Minnaar, guaranteed.

Visit www.gamutusa.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Kevin Shiramizu has been riding mountain bikes for over 15 years. During that time he accumulated multiple state championships in Colorado for XC and trials riding, a junior national champ title in trials, and went to Worlds to get his ass kicked by euros in 2003. His riding favors flat corners and sneaky lines. After a doozy of a head injury, he hung up the downhill bike for good in early 2010 and now foolishly rides a very capable trail bike with less protection and crashes just as hard as ever. He likes rough, technical trails at high elevation, but usually settles for dry, dusty, and blown out. He spent 5 good years of his youth working in bike shops and pitched in efforts over the years with Decline, LitterMag, Dirt, and VitalMTB. He also helped develop frames and tires during his time as a guy who occasionally gets paid to ride his bike in a fancy way in front of big crowds of people.

This product has 1 review

Added a new video Dominik Raab LA 2013 3/18/2013 8:24 AM
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Not shot on RED, sorry.

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Added a new video Shredding White Ranch With Momentum Trail Concepts 2/12/2013 10:06 AM
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Trails bikes and White Ranch near Golden, Colorado are a splendid combination. Enjoy some summertime shredding with Matt Thompson and Steve Wentz of Momentum Trail Concepts.

This video has 4 comments

Added a product review for Kore OCD Handlebar 2/10/2013 1:51 PM
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Tested: KORE OCD Bars, Repute Stem, and Rivera Lock-On Grips - Back in the Game

Rating:

The Good:

The Bad:

Overall:

by Kevin Shiramizu

KORE has been around for a long time and to be honest, I haven’t given them much thought since I was last shopping for a 120mm cross-country stem and some kinked bar ends, which was like two years ago. No wait, 12 years ago. But then these spiffy new bars, stem, and grips showed up for review and I realized, I should pay more attention to KORE because someone woke up something good inside those company walls. KORE looks to be back in a big way for 2013.

OCD Handlebar Highlights

  • AL7050-T6 Triple Butted
  • 31.8mm Bar Clamp Diameter
  • 5 Degree Upsweep, 7 Degree Backsweep
  • Zero, 20mm, 35mm Rise Options
  • 800mm Wide
  • HRT graphics
  • Bead Blast Black, White Powder Coat, Polished Ano Red, Grey and Silver Color Options
  • Weight: 285g / 20mm Rise

Repute Stem Highlights

  • AL6061 T6 3D Forged with Post CNC
  • CNC Center Bore to Reduce Weight
  • Cross Clamp Steerer Bolts
  • Zero Degree Rise
  • 35mm and 50mm Extensions
  • 31.8mm Bar Bore, 1 1/8-inch Steerer Clamp, 35mm Stack Height
  • High Polish Black
  • Laser Logos
  • Weights: 126g / 35mm, 163g / 50mm

Rivera Lock-On Grip Highlights

  • Super-Soft Pruven Kraton Single Density Rubber
  • Alloy Lock-On Rings with 1-Piece Alloy End Caps
  • Angled Mushroom Design
  • Medium Profile
  • 130mm Length
  • Black with Choice of Red, Blue or Gold Ends
  • Weight: 112g (Pair)

Initial Impressions

My first look at the bars was, "Dang, this has a wide booty. I like." And the stem has smooth edges that don’t look like they want to slice your knees open. Both feel light and the finish quality is good. The graphics on the bar are classy and clean.

Initial negatives are minor. The stem specs are printed on the inside of the bar clamp which is better than not having them at all, but you’ll have to remove the bars all the way to get to the torque specs unless you have a fabulous memory (6nm by the way). Oh, and you’ll want to use a torque wrench on these shaved down bolts because they are not going to take your ham fisted, ogre mechanic-ing. The other worry was how are these graphics going to hold up to crusty old tie-down hooks?

Grips are so subjective and personal that it’s hard to review them. For me, I don’t really like metal end caps (which are integrated into the outboard clamp on these) because after the first crash, they'll likely scratch badly, whereas plastic caps have less of this and are cheap to replace. These grips also have two different bolt sizes (2.5mm and 3mm), which is a peeve of mine. For reference, they do have a fit and feel very similar to ODI Cross Trainers, which are my normal choice of grip.

On The Trail

WIDE LOAD. Remember a decade ago when trail bikes had like 26-inch bars? Those days are gone and not missed. At 31.5-inches wide (800mm), these bars are going to give some users trail clearance issues if run uncut, so watch your pinkies on trees if you’re coming from narrower bars. These bars are probably 10mm wider than your current set up on each end and guess how wide your pinkies are? Yeah, about 10mm. All that width also adds a mighty amount of leverage on the bars, so some flex is noticeable in the parking lot. Down the trail, you’re not really going to notice this in a bad way. A little deflection like this is going to help you from getting jack-hammer-hands, which I appreciate.

People question whether or not there is such a thing as "too wide" when it comes to bars. Well, yes. There is. And these probably are too wide for most people, so give them a try and then snip a little bit off the ends until you are happy. Not everyone is Steve Peat sized so you probably don’t need these to be full length. To aid the process, KORE has nifty little markings indicating where to cut the bar.

The stem has a pretty wide clamp area, which likely helps keep stuff strong and stiff. A skip in my chain proved that the softly rounded edges on the stem are about as knee friendly as smashing your patella into a chunk of metal are going to get.

The grips didn’t slip and I could see getting used to them, which is a high compliment from me about grips since one bad contact point on a bike can ruin the whole ride. Having the same size bolt on both clamps would assuage the nit picky though.

Long Term Durability

Use a torque wrench and re-plasti-dip your tie down hooks and you will absolutely be happy with these new goodies from KORE. They're solid.

What's The Bottom Line?

So this is just another pair of bars and a stem, who cares? Well, considering there is no good way to break a set of bars, you should care. There are a jillion choices out there for bars and stems, but once you rule out all the rebranded catalog junk, you don’t have that many options left. My policy on bars is the same as underpants: throw them out after you crash them or annually, whichever comes first. I cherish my face since it’s how I make my comically ample piles of money, so I’m not going to gamble on a bars and stem. With that being said, I have no reservations about the KORE OCD Bars, Repute Stem, and Rivera Lock-On Grips making up the cockpit on my bike.

For tech specs and more, visit www.kore-usa.com.

This product has 1 review

Tornado16 left a comment 11/29/2012 3:07 PM
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http://www.vitalmtb.com/videos/member/Morohai-Ilie-Street-Mtb-2012-edit-Romania-Fireeye-Bikes-Nike-6-0-BikeDistrict,16465/Tornado16,5713
Added a new video Trek World Racing DH 2012 || Hafjell 10/4/2012 8:07 AM
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As the sole competitor racing for Trek World Racing at the World Cup finals here in Hafjell, Norway, Neko Mulally showed great pace in both qualifying and the final race to demonstrate he's fully recovered from the injuries suffered earlier in the season. Unfortunately a hand injury sustained in practice forced Aaron Gwin out of the event. It was the same hand and injury location as that suffered in Val d'Isere at Round 6, but this time the bone was heavily bruised. Team mate Justin Leov was unable to attend the finals due to the unexpected loss of his best friend James Dodds, a pioneer in New Zealand mountain biking who was being remembered by many of the Kiwi riders here this weekend.

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Added a new video Meet the Next Danny Mac - Matty Turner GETcreative 9/27/2012 12:49 PM
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Mini-MacAskill is at it again and he's killing it.

This video has 8 comments

Added a new video 2013 Santa Cruz Bicycles Nomad C - Smooth or Chunky? 9/27/2012 9:17 AM
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Josh Kissner & Matt Thompson choose chunk over smooth on Jamison Lake trails near Graeagle, California on the 2013 Santa Cruz Bicycles Nomad Carbon. Matt went on from Graegle to win the Masters DH World Championships in his age group, while Josh is recovering from a major crash in Whistler - rough with the smooth indeed! If these trails make you want to go shred, please help the Sierra Butes Stewardship maintain and build more like this by purchasing raffle tickets of per foot of trail for $5 at santacruzbicycles.com/5bucksafoot You could win a top spec Santa Cruz Bicycle with Enve wheels, Shimano components and Fox Suspension worth up to $10,514.00 US, and help build amazing trails in Downieville and the Lakes Basin area!

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Added a new video The History, Testing, and Development of the Specialized P.Slope 9/24/2012 11:07 PM
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Between the chit chat behind-the-scenes story and development of the P.Slope, there are a bunch of tasty clips of the Specialized riders putting it through the paces. To learn about some of the more technical details, check out Vital MTB's P.Slope First Look, or visit www.specialized.com.

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Added a new video Gilles Coustellier - Trial Pro Series 2012 - Martigues 9/22/2012 10:16 AM
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Pogo stick riding is on another level these days thanks to Gilles Coustellier.

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