Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Last race of the year...

Tonight was the last race of the year on our velodrome- or as some call it, the "ghettodrome", due to its overall need for some sprucing up. This year, I think I have managed 3-4 races on the track, with the last being in June or July. After a month off the bike altogether thanks to all the recent travels, riding for a week did not exactly give me the freshest legs imaginable. Still, it was a great night and I really did enjoy being out on the oval with all my racing friends again.

Tonight was another little milestone; my daughter's first time watching me race since the terrible crash last year. Nearly since the minute I got back on a bike and began to ride again, she's been asking when we were going to the track so she could see me race again. All summer, she's been asking and has been really bummed out when I have gone to race without her. So tonight, after I picked her up from school, we headed to the track.

I won't lie- I was a little nervous about having her there and it certainly brought out the much more cautious side of me. I kept thinking, "not in front of her again". Luckily, there were no crashes at all tonight and she had another young girl to run around and play with all night as well. Needless to say, she was a happy 8 year old girl.

It would be easy, as a total starry-eyed dreamer Pisces, to sit here and try to analyze this desire of hers to see me race again; she needed to have closure, she needed to see her daddy get back and complete the journey of recovery, she needed to get over her own fear of what might happen. I don't know the answer and maybe I never will, but I know one thing- she had fun at the track again.

As for the racing... well, it would be a great story to say that I was able to get back on the bike after a month on the road with travels and kick ass. Well, this ain't Hollywood and I'm not Leonardo DiCaprio... sadly. BUT... I did have a great time with some really crappy legs.

1st race was 5 lap Scratch to "seed" for second event- I got second place and advanced.

2nd race with a Miss and Out... and I was out on the first lap. I've never liked the event!

3rd race was a 20 lap Points race and I scored points on the first and second laps... then dropped WAY back to second chase group. Not sure where I finally finished.

In the end, I had fun and I got to share it with my daughter; sometimes life is very good.

PS- Those Reynolds wheels were awesome! More in-depth report to follow... eventually.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reynolds Assault C wheel test- first impressions

It was a beautiful day here in San Diego today- the temp was just right and the sun was out with very light winds. Exactly the kind of day that has people flocking to live here (and causes property values to go through the roof).

While I was in Rhode Island, a couple of boxes of amazing sexiness showed up at the office- a pair of the new Reynolds Assault carbon clincher road wheels and a pair of the all-new Assault carbon clincher track wheels! Now, as I've said recently- I really love my current wheels I've been riding on my Ultegra 3VC bike. The Ritchey WCS Zeta wheels are amazing- hands down one of the very best clincher wheelsets I've ever ridden- period. The Ultegra tubeless wheels paired with the Hutchinson tubeless tires is an amazing set of wheels too- the tubeless tires mated with the great wheels really does do a fantastic job of mimicking a set of high end sew-ups... even I have been amazed. However... I admit I am a massive product dork... massive. Reynolds makes some of the most respected carbon wheels on the market and the new carbon clinchers are making a lot of people very happy. I have friends at Reynolds who asked me to test the wheels out and give them some feedback... so I'm gonna do that!

I have to admit that I have stayed away from carbon clincher rims; I've never been impressed with the braking power/ responsiveness and the potentially fragile nature of the rims has always left me wondering "why bother?" So I am more skeptic than fanatic, to say the very least. With that in mind, I have been keeping an open mind. The Assault C wheels have an advertised weight of 1525gms... damned light for a set of wheels with 46mm deep section rims and more than 2 spokes per wheel! It's a very respectable weight for a set of aero wheels and light enough to make a fella my size- 198.6lbs at the start of my ride- worry about durability and stiffness.

Reynolds supplies the wheels with special plastic tire levers to prevent damage to the rim when installing/ removing tires, a spoke wrench that goes into the deep recess of the rim, very nice rim strips, valve extenders, nice quick release skewers and a full set of carbon-specific brake pads. The rear hub uses the "older" Shimano 8/9/10 cassette body, so you can use all Shimano cassettes as well as SRAM- the newest version of the deeper grooved Shimano 10spd cassette body will ONLY work with new Shimano 10spd cassettes due to the profile of the grooves in the body. That's good news for people like me who have more than one component group on multiple bikes and don't want to have to buy multiple sets of performance wheels.

I mounted the wheels with my new Ultegra 6700 cassette and my current favorite clincher tire- the Kenda Kriterium 700x25. Seriously, this is an amazing tire- it rides SO much like a sew-up on the right wheels and is easily on par with any tubeless tire/ wheel combo I've tested so far. Sincerely- you should try them out and not just as a training tire because the extra width and sticky rubber make the tires excellent race tires that corner like the proverbial bats from hell.

Once the tires and cassette were installed, I changed out the brake pads and they went in smoothly into the shoes. Like nearly every carbon brake pad I've seen so far, the pads had a small "ridge" down the center of the braking surface that is caused by how they are molded. I didn't bother to file or sand the ridge off- mostly because I couldn't find my sandpaper- but you might want to when you install yours. It just helps them break in better and a little faster in my opinion. Now the wheels and the bike were ready for today's ride!

Today I tackled one of my favorite loops that is pretty much an out and back from my home and then north up the coast and back home. This loop includes numerous hills as well as longer stretches where you can put your head down and hammer like it's a time trial or a breakaway... all in all a great way to test wheels over the 55 miles. Plus, many of the roads are pretty nasty in parts, so it's also a good test of durability and comfort.

As I rolled away down the street, the wheels popped and pinged with the sound of spokes settling in to their newly stress-relieved homes. There's something about that sound that is just very satisfying. I don't know why, it just is. My first thoughts on the wheels as I took off where that the slightly extra power needed to start the wheels rolling was quickly rewarded with them wanting to stay rolling and being easy to keep moving quickly. They seemed to like to be up to speed and accelerated very well once moving. The first few stops were met with a little more "slowing" than "stopping" as the carbon pads and rims wore in a little. I was pleased to not notice the usual "pulsing" sensation when braking that I have felt on other carbon wheels I've ridden, including the carbon sew-ups I occasionally ride. The braking was consistent pretty quickly after the rims and pads began to get to know each other, but the braking power was noticeably less than normal pads on an alloy breaking surface.

After a couple miles I was on open roads, less shielded from the winds. Though the winds were light today, if you've ridden lightweight wheels with a tall profile, you're familiar with the sometimes twitchy nature of them and how easily they get buffeted by the winds. The very skinny, but non-aero spokes used in the wheels definitely help with that. I only noticed minor wind issues when sitting up riding with no hands to use my phone or reach for food in my pockets- otherwise they were very stable under normal conditions and did not require any real extra attention.

The front wheel felt very stiff when I got out of the saddle and showed no signs of moving around when climbing or sprinting- at my weight, that's something I frequently experience with light/ lighter wheels. The rear wheel seemed to be pretty darned stiff too- especially when applying power when seated. However, I did notice a bit of flex when out of the saddle and really swinging the bike around on a couple of short, steep power climbs on my ride- including one short climb I did a sprint interval on. Under that extreme sideloading, I did feel flex and possibly even the rim pulling into the brake pad- but I can not yet confirm that and will give the wheels the benefit of the doubt until I can do a better job of testing that theory. That said, I did not notice any flex from the wheels when diving through turns very aggressively, at speed. Normally, if a wheel is flexy, you'll feel it there too but the wheels tracked perfectly through turns- no matter how hard my sub-200lb body drove through the turns- which impressed me. So I'm not sure if I felt actual flex when out of the saddle or not- I'll keep testing and will report my findings. Again- not all that many wheels out there wouldn't flex under the size of a rider like me.

I put the wheels to the test on some longer, stair-stepping climbs along the route as well. In my lighter days, I was actually a very good climber and still climb well- when fit- for a heavy sprinter. So good climbing wheels have always been something I have appreciated and the Assaults did pretty well. Again, at 1525gms, they are not true climbing wheels, but they aren't intended to be- they are aero wheels that are light enough to not be a penalty when the road isn't flat or going downhill. On the climbs, I noticed very little resistance to acceleration from the wheels. The rotational stiffness of the wheels seemed to make up for the weight and this is a recurring theme in many brands these days- whatever "penalty" there may be for a heavier wheel is made up for with acceleration and all-out speed when descending or on the flats. Speaking of descending... they do it very well. Again, that perceived desire of the wheels to keep rolling was a nice thing when flying downhill- they got up to speed and stayed there, requiring very little coaxing to maintain descending speed. Once near the bottom and needing to stop, the pads did the job well enough- though a bit of squealing was heard on a few descents/ quick stops. Still... not bad.

Overall, I'd give the wheels pretty high marks so far. I'm still going to check to see if the rear wheel is actually flexing when I sprint hard, but they rode very well today. In the end, I really can't think of any reason not to buy these wheels. At roughly $1500 for the wheelset, they are a pretty good value for a set of race/ training/ all around high performance wheels from what I can tell so far.

  • I did manage to break the end off of one of the tire levers when installing the tires. The rim bed is pretty deep- which is a good thing on a carbon clincher- so rolling the tire on by hand was impossible with the Kenda tires. Maybe another brand might go on easier, but I am used to rolling these tires on without tools. So be ready for a little sweating.
  • Carbon rims are notorious for poor breaking performance, so be prepared to adjust your braking patterns. That said, these did better than other wheels I've ridden. There wasn't the usual pulsing and as the day went on, the braking didn't suffer much- though the few times the wheels did squeal, it was near the end of the ride. But all in all, it was better than others.
  • The wheels are really nice looking and the rims are clearly very well made- especially for the price. The hubs run on very smooth sealed bearings and the cassette hums along nicely and engages pretty quickly. Again, all very nice features in an "economical" set of full carbon wheels.
I'll keep riding the wheels and will report findings along the way.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Outdoor Demo East report... part two

Alright, I left off in Connecticut for our first day of dealer visits. Day 2 we stayed closer to "home base" in RI so we could be prepared to assist with the trailer and truck drop off at the event venue... just in case.

Day 2 rained a little, but was more wind than anything which made us nervous about the tents and the coming days. Luckily, the winds died down a bit and nothing blew away or sank into the soft ground.

We headed out into the wilds of Providence and braved the crazy winds blowing to visit a few shops in the town. First up was Caster's Bicycles and Fitness, which has been around for nearly a billion years in Rhode Island. We had a really nice visit with Reed and his crew there. It's a cool shop with a bunch of cool bikes hanging in the back area... which is where I always gravitate- I love to see what bikes are hanging around in a bike shop... the employee's bikes, the customer's bikes being repaired, etc.

I came across this sweet older Speciale Premio from a few years ago that looked to be in really good condition.

Hanging from another set of hooks in the ceiling was this pair of near-mint condition vintage Schwinn Paramounts... including this excellent women's step-through that stopped my heart.

After we left Caster's, we headed over to see Rob and his folks at East Providence Bicycles. While there, we chatted to Jason for a bit about the local BMX and MTB scenes- he's a pretty avid rider and super knowledgeable. It was cool- as it always is- to meet somebody very passionate about cycling. Sure, the whole MTB/ BMX thing isn't "my thing", but I am always in support of people who are passionate about cycling.

Our last stop was to visit Providence Bicycles- another shop with a long history in the city and crammed full of cool bikes and people.

I'm terrible with names, so I can't even remember who I spoke with there, but all of the guys working there were cool and really knowledgeable about the bikes there. I always geek out in shops like that and I took full advantage of the chance to get my geek on.

Fixed gear/ single speed bikes are a big part of the Masi business these days- and I'm not complaining. Because of that, I tend to be like moth to flame when I see anything related to the bikes. I walked over to this case at the shop and almost got dizzy... lots of cool part from the "cheap" and basic all the way up to the uber-sweet Five Gold saddles that I love so much. I'm a total geek for these kinds of things and I just stood and slobbered for a few minutes. (I'm that much of a dork... yes.)

After visiting Providence Bicycles, we were officially done for the day and headed back to the hotel. However... after getting back to the hotel and having some time to kill before dinner, I ventured out on foot and stopped to check out a little shop we drove by earlier in the day.

Dash Bicycle is a truly cool little core fixie shop, right on the edge of the cool Federal Hill area. The shop is small, uncluttered and caters to the fixie and urban scene without wallowing in hipster angst. If you just wanna keep your simple commuter running, they'll be happy to help you out. And that custom bike rack out front is just too danged cool for words! I really geeked out on that for a while.

If you're in Providence, you sure have a bunch of cool shops to choose from. And... Providence clearly has a healthy bike culture. We were constantly impressed by the number of people on bikes of all types. We ate at a mega-cool place called Julian's and the entire front of the place was plastered with bike related art or posters for bike related stuff/ happenings... it was awesome (as was the food, drinks and service at Julian's).

Next on tap; the demo event itself... so stay tuned for more!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Join the Dark side of the Force/ Farce...

Wanna be a jedi knight and control the power of the Force? Me too! Lemme know if you have the secret knowledge...

If you aren't interested in being a jedi, maybe you'd rather fly your bike nerd freak flag a little higher. If so, lemme know...


Friday, October 16, 2009

It's kinda about ODD-E...

I wrote a monstrously long post over on the Shut Up & Drink the Kool-Aid site. Go read it if you are looking for something to put you to sleep.

Hopefully this will mean the return of the blog. I have missed it very much.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Outdoor Demo East report... part one


So we flew into Rhode Island, via a plane change in Washington DC, on Monday morning. We ended up at the hotel in Providence probably around 7:00PM and got ourselves some dinner before getting some sleep. The flights were thankfully uneventful and we arrived with our luggage this year... no repeat lost luggage this time. We stayed in the same cool hotel in Providence, which happens to be in the midst of a very well-flavored Italian district. Needless to say, we had no bad meals during our stay.

Tuesday morning showed up quicker than expected, thanks to the three hour time difference and minor jetlag. But it was nothing that couldn't be cured by a donut and coffee from Dunkin Donuts... which we had EVERY morning while in Providence. Our area sales rep, Lance Cohen, picked us up in the morning and we left Rhode Island for the wilds of Connecticut! While in Connecticut, we had quality shop visits with Newington Bicycle, Biker's Edge and Smart Cycles. Each of the shops was a different experience and each had their own distinct personality. However- each was really cool to spend some time in.

One of the highlights of the first day, aside from the great conversations with each of the shops, was this little gem...We spotted this beauty at Biker's Edge and I was like moth to flame... it should go without saying that a large can of Whoop Ass is in my near future.

Next report will be about Rhode Island dealer visits and the start of the demo event itself, but I'm falling asleep again (stoopid jetlag...)


Monday, October 12, 2009

Outdoor Demo East report... coming tomorrow

I'm so wiped from the travel and silly 3-hour jetlag- I feel worse than my last return trip from Taiwan! So in an effort to write a blog post that at least mimics coherent thought, I'll be back tomorrow night to go over the highlights and thoughts on Outdoor Demo East 2009.

For now... I'm getting some sleep.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Here I come Rhode Island!

Heading to Rhode Island for Outdoor Demo East in the morning- you should come say hello if you're in the area. We'll be there with bikes to ride and the demo event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. Last year's event was pretty cool- cold and rainy- and this year's event has a big 'cross race going on over the weekend which should be pretty exciting.

I get into Providence on Monday night and then we'll be doing some dealer visits Tuesday and Wednesday, then the fun starts on Thursday. Hoping to see a bunch of you folks while out there, so please come say hello and/ or bring us some beer! (Food is ok too.)

Got all my packing done before midnight and without nearly severing any body parts off and needing a trip to the ER for stitches (that part makes my wife happy). Now if only I wasn't sick... guess I can't have it all.

Time for bed so that I can get up for my pre-dawn journey to the airport. Talk to you kids later- I promise... mostly.