Smart Cycling Helmets – Smart or Not?

bp4-handlebarsEach year I go to the bicycle industry’s annual US trade show in Las Vegas (known as Interbike), I’m always looking for the next technological innovation that will truly stick.  There are always many new products unveiled at the show but all too often they don’t become widely adopted.  Sometimes these new products try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist – at least in the minds of most consumers.  Take for example the BP4 handlebar design presented at the 2014 show.  Sure, there may be legitimate data supporting the design, but for some reason, I don’t see these becoming mainstream.  But hey, I could be wrong!

Other products are ahead of their time.  For instance, Mavic came out with the first electronic groupset known as Zap in the mid-nineties.  It took nearly two more decades before Shimano’s electronic Dura-Ace Di2 became commonplace in the market.  Last year SRAM took it up a notch by introducing their wireless electronic shifting groupset known as eTap.  Electronic shifting hasn’t supplanted mechanical, but it’s definitely here to stay.

For the longest time, electric bikes were hyped at Interbike, but I hardly saw any on the road.  After several years, they are finally starting to catch on – but still at only a fraction of the entire US bicycle market.  In the road market, it seems like even proven technology takes a while to be accepted.   After years of being fully embraced in mountain biking, the benefits of tubeless tire technology and disk brakes now appear to be gaining some real momentum in road cycling.  Will there come a day when most road bikes come spec’d with tubeless tires and disk brakes, like carbon frames and integrated brake & shift levers?  Time will tell.

One technology that I found intriguing at Interbike this year was something called the smart helmet.  It seems like everything is becoming “smart” these days with our rapidly evolving wireless computing technology.  The ubiquitous smartphone has allowed us to connect to almost anything–wirelessly!  In cycling, think heart rate monitors, power meters, cadence sensors, not to mention our location on the globe.  Well, why not the helmet?   It makes sense.  Obviously, the primary function of a helmet is safety.   These new smart helmets feature technology that can sense a major impact.  If this happens, the associated app automatically sends a message to your designated emergency contact.  That’s pretty nifty technology.

earbudsBut here’s where it gets a bit more controversial.  How about built in speakers and mics for listening to music without earbuds or talking on your cell phone?   Let’s take cell phone communication first.  One of the reasons I ride is to disconnect from the electronic world!  Of course, I keep a phone in my jersey pocket in case of emergency, but I don’t take calls while on a ride.  So now I have a smart helmet and all I have to do is push a button on my handlebar to take an incoming call – is this a good thing?   We’ve all heard of distracted driving.  What about distracted cycling?  My guess is that talking on the cell phone while cycling will not become a trend, even as this technology evolves.  However, I suppose it is nice to have the option.  And a “walkie-talkie” function, another feature of these helmets, could really come in handy on group rides. livall

I think the most fascinating feature of these smart helmets is the ability to listen to music without earbuds.  Many states, including California, have laws against cyclists wearing two earbuds – one is okay.  But I know there are many who would argue that from a safety standpoint, no music is best.  The chief selling point of the helmet makers is that you get the best of both worlds – music to BOTH ears while still being able to hear the ambient traffic noise around you.   I do like listening to music while working out but I rarely do it while cycling.  Music coming through one earbud just isn’t that good, and I’ve always had trouble with keeping earbuds in place!  So I was eager to try one of these new smart helmets.

I came home from corosInterbike with one of the new Livall BH-60 road helmet models.  It was pretty easy to sync up to my iPhone, and before I knew it, I was listening to my playlist while riding with no earbuds!  I have to say, it was pretty cool and put a little pep in my ride.  The audio quality was solid, and I could still hear the ambient traffic noise around me – but no doubt that was compromised somewhat.  So I kept thinking that despite enjoying the music, wearing this helmet wasn’t the “smart” thing to do.  Then there is the fact that I have to charge not only my cycle computer and lights but now my helmet!  And there is always the occasional glitch like the playlist repeating the same song over and over again in the middle of a ride!  Do I really want to stop and have to fiddle with my iPhone to fix those things?   And finally, there is the aesthetic factor.  Let’s face it, who wants to wear an ugly bulbous helmet, especially us roadies?   The Livall helmet isn’t exactly sleek, but it could be a lot worse.  And surprisingly, with the built-in technology including a rear light, it’s not that heavy at only 280 grams.  Another helmet coming to market soon by Coros looks a bit more aero (similar to the shape of the Specialized Evade), and I look forward to trying that one out in a month or two.

I’d like to hear your opinion.  What is your take on these smart helmets?  In 5-10 years will everyone be wearing some sort of smart cycling helmet?   Would you like to see these helmets at the shop?

BMC Roadmachine 02 Review

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I have been thoroughly enjoying my titanium Foundry for the last six months. (If you missed out on the original post about titanium bikes, you can read about that right here).
Not too many things have changed since I first got the bike. The external cable routing has kept my shifting and braking smooth and reliable, and my bike has not given me a single issue yet. I did end up swapping out my Mavic aluminum wheels. I opted to go for a set of Enve SES 3.4 clinchers with Enve’s brand new carbon hubs which only further improved my ride quality. Crazy, I know. If you told me when I first got the bike that it would be possible to make my bike ride even better, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Needless to say, when BMC dropped off the new 2017 BMC Roadmachine at our shop, I knew I had to try it. I came off of a carbon bike onto my titanium bike, and I wanted to hop back on a carbon frame to compare the differences after riding titanium for so long. This would also be my first time riding disc brakes, so I was curious as to how they performed in comparison to rim brakes on carbon wheels. With all of the hype surrounding disc brake road bikes, I wanted some first-hand experience on them so I could come to my own conclusions about them.

The Roadmachine is touted to be a one-bike-does-all kind of bike. I like to think that my Foundry can accomplish the same thing, but the Roadmachine actually does much more. It does so by drawing technology off the BMC TeaIMG_3311mmachine, Timemachine, and Granfondo. “On paper, the Roadmachine is a disc brake road bike with good tire clearance, officially up to 30 or 32mm tires depending on the model; an adaptable head tube designed to accommodate wide range of handlebar heights; geometry that combines short chainstays (410mm) and a high-ish bottom bracket (71mm drop), with relaxed front-end geometry (head angle varies with size, but fork offset is adjusted to maintain a long-ish 63mm trail dimension across all sizes).”

I was excited to take the Roadmachine out on this week’s Wednesday Worlds ride. This was the ideal ride to test the Roadmachine out because I have lots of Strava data from previous rides that I could use for comparison. First things first, I swapped my pedals, lights, and saddle back over to the Roadmachine which was followed up with making the necessary saddle adjustments. Once that was done, I was ready to roll. I weighed my Foundry without all the gear and pedals, and IMG_3316it came in at 15 lbs and 13 oz. Not too shabby considering I didn’t even build the bike out to be super light weight. However, I wanted to take the Roadmachine out for its ride first before weighing it; I didn’t want to be biased on the ride thinking about the weight difference. My initial impression rolling out on the bike was that I expected it to be a lot harsher. Instead, it seemed pretty close to the comfort that my Foundry provided, but I wanted to wait until the end of the ride before drawing any final conclusions. The post-ride soreness, or lack thereof, would dictate whether or not the bike was truly comfortable.

Once the ride really started picking up, I began to realize just how smoothly the bike rode. It was incredibly stable at speed, and handled super well. It wasn’t twitchy, and even when the bike rolled over larger cracks and bumps in the road, I didn’t feel like the bike wanted to jerk around or throw me off. Granted, I did notice that the bike was slower to get up to speed than my bike, but I also had to keep in mind that this particular build was still running aluminum wheels, and a disc brake setup in inevitably going to be heavier than its caliper brake counterpart. Funnily enough, my ride with the Roadmachine ended up being my fastest Wednesday Worlds ride. While that may or may not have to do with stopping due to someone’s flat and then furiously playing catch-up for the remainder of the ride, it shows that this bike really doesn’t hold you back in any way. As for stopping power, the brakes were great. There was plenty of brake power and modulation, and while we didn’t have any descents on the Wednesday route, I feel that they would inspire confidence. Although for someone that weighs as little as I do and doesn’t ride in super mountainous areas, traditional caliper brakes are honestly more than enough for me.

I finished the ride with no soreness in my shoulders (which is the first place I would usually start to feel uncomfortable), and I felt pretty great on it. After moving the pedals and the rest of the accessories off the bike, the Road Machine weighed in at 19 lbs and 7 oz. It made sense that it was a little slower to accelerate in, but a decent carbon wheelset could probably come close to bridging the gap. I can truly see the Roadmachine being the one bike that you could have, especially if you consider a Roadmachine 01 (which is closer in specs to my Foundry). And while I think I would still prefer the quick snappy feel of my Foundry and the classic look of titanium, the Roadmachine makes a great option.

If you happen to fit a 54cm BMC, be sure to stop by the shop and arrange a demo ride!

Saddle Demo at ARB Cyclery

You are probably excited when getting a new carbon bar, or even a new carbon stem. But there doesn’t seem to much love for our old friend the saddle. For many people, bicycle saddles are just ‘there’. They exist for you to sit on so you can ride your bike. Even with the new carbon shelled and railed saddles, they just don’t seem to generate the same level of excitement as other components. More often than not, people use whatever saddle comes with the bike they purchase. If it’s initially a bit uncomfortable, they attribute it to a “break-in period”. This is true in some cases, but that doesn’t change the shape or the cutouts of the saddle which are areas that often play a more important role in saddle comfort than padding density. It’s like your desk chair. It usually isn’t the most comfortable thing to sit on, but you just deal with it. When you start thinking about it, why should you just “deal with it”? You spend so much time in it, it would be a worthy investment to make sure you aren’t hurting yourself.

ARB Cyclery Saddle Demo
ARB Cyclery Saddle Demo

Other times, it seems like I overhear people saying that they chose their saddle because they liked the way it looked or the color matched their bike better than other saddle options. OK, that might just be me. But the more I find myself riding, the more importance I place on my comfort instead of aesthetics. It is common to fall into the trap of getting a saddle for a great price without taking comfort into consideration. The mentality is, “if I can save some money on that saddle, surely I can deal with any discomfort it will bring”.

It’s understandable. Saddles aren’t cheap, and you might just have to deal with the saddle you buy if you’ve spent a good amount on it. Similar to shoes, you don’t really know how it will work out for you until you actually use it. So when you think about it, is that deal actually worth it in the long run? Fortunately, we have a saddle demo program right here at ARB Cyclery! As mentioned in a previous blog, I came from riding a full carbon saddle with no padding. It looked really slick and catered to my desire for weight reduction. It was quite literally a pain in my ass. I knew I had to switch to something else after going on rides with the other guys from the shop, but I had no idea where to start. Being on the small side, the only thing I was sure of was the need for a narrow saddle. But in today’s saddle market with hundreds, if not thousands, of options, picking a new saddle is quite a daunting task. I don’t like committing to a purchase of an item I don’t know much about, and reading the hundreds of subjective reviews online were doing nothing for me. It just made things even more confusing.

Utilizing the saddle demo program allowed me to test multiple saddles. I figured out that I was more comfortable on a saddle with a channel. I figured out I needed a medium amount of padding. I figured out how much flex I preferred in the saddle shell. Prior to testing out the actual saddles, I had my eye on the Selle Italia SLR saddle simply because of the look. Then I actually tried it out, and decided there were better options for me. I finally ended up choosing the Fizik Antares VS, and it is by far the best fit for me. I’ve done a metric century on this saddle and my rear end was thankful. And as a bonus, even though I put aesthetics behind comfort this time around, it looks damn fine. I was also pretty close to going with the new Brooks C15 saddle, which looked and felt great. It’s styling is certainly a very attractive feature, and it felt more comfortable than it looked. The rivets add a level of class to it that would have matched my titanium frame quite well, but the feel of the Antares came out on top.

My Fizik Antares VS with carbon rails
My Fizik Antares VS with carbon rails

Everyone is going to be different when it comes to saddle. There is only so much advice that we can give you, and a recommendation from me may not do it for you. The best thing you can do is to come in yourself and demo new saddles! If you mention this blog post when you come in for a saddle demo, you will also receive a Zjay’s Saddle Sore Soother (while supplies last)! We want to make sure you have a comfortable experience. Your butt will thank you for it.

 

Cycling Nutrition Explained

Doughnuts

Food is great. Everyone likes food, and it’s pretty simple. You eat when you’re hungry right?
That’s what I thought when I embarked on my San Diego to Los Angeles ride with my friends. (If you missed out on that adventure, you can read more about it here). Long story short, we greatly underestimated the amount of food we needed. That could have been avoided with a little more planning. But, more importantly, I now know how important it is to eat before you start getting hungry. Chances are, if you’re riding super long distances and you start getting hungry during the ride, it might already be too late.

At a glance, nutrition seems to be pretty simple and intuitive. You walk up to the shelves and you pick up anything that looks appealing just like you would at the snack isle at the supermarket. Salted caramel is my personal weakness, and I used to just pick up a random product based solely on the flavor. But if you ever spend a little extra time looking at all the different options, you start to realize there are so many different types of nutrition, and each package seems to be covered in marketing speak. It’s certainly hard to decipher and understand, especially if you’re still relatively new to cycling. However, once you understand the differences and the specific uses for each type of nutrition, you can make sure you’re eating the proper stuff in any given situation.

At this point, you might be thinking, does it really matter what I’m eating as long as I’m eating? Well, it depends on the length of your ride. If you are cycling for under 2 hours, it probably doesn’t matter too much if you are grabbing a gel, bar, or chew. However, when you start spending a lot of time in the saddle on a ride, your ability to digest food decreases as blood is being diverted away from your stomach to other parts of your body. What this means is that 4 – 6 hours in, you’re not really going to want to wolf down a harder to digest power bar at that point. I know I’ve felt funny before eating super-dry bars near the end of  a long ride and I just dismissed it as a consequence of last night’s Taco Bell binge dinner.Osmo Nutrition Preload Hydration

Here’s my personal timeline example of what I’d be eating if I were to spend 4+ hours on the bike.

  1. (Optional) For certain rides, you may opt for pre-workout nutrition. Think of pre-workout nutrition as a preventative option. If you know you’re going to be working super hard on a ride, a pre-workout supplement can certainly help you feel better during your ride. Osmo Preload Hydration would be my go-to choice in this category. They recommend you take a serving the night before and another serving 30 minutes before your ride. If you’re not a huge fan of breakfast like me, something like this will help me stomach food a little easier earlier in the ride.
  2. Skratch-Labs-Matcha-and-Lemons-2-300x214Water is boring don’t you think? As a kid, I was always a huge fan of Gatorade and other sports drinks such as Propel. Flavored water just helps me drink more so I tend to find it easier to stay hydrated. Osmo makes a during-exercise hydration mix, but I personally prefer Skratch Lab’s pineapple flavored hydration mix. This power contains electrolytes among other useful nutrients that plain water simply does not have. Skratch labs also has a matcha + lemon flavor that I’ve been itching to try as it is naturally caffeinated. This is a big plus for those super early sunrise rides. Naturally, with two bottles, you can always dedicate your second bottle to just water.Rip Van WAffle
  3. As I mentioned previously, if you need to eat, eat before you get hungry. And if you’re going to eat your solid food, you’re going to want to do that in early stages of your ride. Any bars of your choice would be a good option here. Personally, I love the Rip Van Waffles. I became addicted to Stroopwaffles back when I was first introduced to them years ago, and I was thrilled to see them as an option for cycling nutrition. Alternatively, it makes a great compliment to your morning coffee as well.
  4. Chews would be next on the list. These are going to be easier to digest than your bars, which are relatively dry and harder to digest. Chews do tend to get pretty sticky, so it is recommended to take it with a generous amount of water. Shot bloks were the first chews that I’ve ever tried and I’ve generally stuck with them. They also come with a caffeine option, so if you need that extra kick to get you through your ride, that makes for a good choice. However, I’ve been meaning to try Glukos gummies. I’ve heard that they’re a bit lighter than the Shot blocks which I might actually prefer a bit more.
    Glukos
  5. At this point, you’ve probably been on your bike for a decent amount of time. Stomaching a bar at this point would make my stomach super uncomfortable. The best option at this point would be to take a gel. Gu is my go-to option in terms of flavors. However, these gel shots are still pretty thick and water helps assist you finish off the pack. Again, Glukos seems to have come out with a “light” version gel. The Glukos gel is much more like a liquid, making it easier to consume.
  6. Now that you’ve finished your ride, time for recovery nutrition – pizza and beer! Or doughnuts? You were probably waiting for the part where I tell you its ok to eat 5 doughnuts after your ride. I don’t condone that type of eating, but I’m not going to tell you you can’t do that. Personally, I have a habit of frequenting dirty fast food establishments after a ride, but that tends to be more for the recovery of my soul. Actual post-ride nutrition is high in protein. As mentioned before, Osmo makes specific nutrition for each stage of your riding. If you’re more of a one type does all kinda person, Glukos is the way to go. You can use their powder pre, during, or post-workout.

Each of you will probably develop your own preferences for specific combinations / flavors, but this list should provide you with a starting point for proper nutrition.

 

 

What’s In Your Saddle Bag?

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So you’re out on a ride, and your buddies decide to hit some of the dirt section off the side of the bike path. You follow behind them, taking some care not to do anything stupid on your 23mm tires. Just as you reach the bottom of the hill and prepare to launch yourself up the next hill, your bars slip and you barely manage to maintain your balance and keep yourself from being thrown into your stem. Your buddies are having such a great time they leave you behind in a trail of dust.

Lezyne Carbon Multitool
Lezyne Carbon Multitool

Moral of the story? Take the time and check to see that your bolts are torqued down properly. Also, it’s pretty important to carry a multi-tool. I was never a huge fan of saddle bags for aesthetic reasons (also my inner weight-weenie cries), and stuck mostly to placing tubes and other items in my jersey pockets instead. However, a multi-tool wasn’t something that I ever carried, because I never thought I’d ever really have a use for it on the road. Funnily enough, on the same ride, one of the screws on my Garmin mount worked itself loose, and that needed tightening down as well. Needless to say, having just started riding more seriously, I didn’t think to have a multi-tool handy and had to ask to borrow one.

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Arundel Dual Saddle Bag

I figured that having the tools to change a flat would be sufficient, but you never know what can happen on a ride. More importantly, it’s nice to have a range of tools as well to help someone else who may be in need of assistance. Coming from someone who wasn’t used to utilizing a saddle bag, I figured I could give a couple of suggestions now that I understand the importance of carrying one.  These suggestions are not only great functionally, but are also clean looking.

Personally, I prefer a slightly smaller and more compact saddle bag. There are many options currently available, and depending on the equipment you’re running, there are some choices that stand out. For example, if you happen to be riding a Fizik saddle, you can utilize their nifty clip and buy the Klik bag that attaches directly to the back of the saddle. It comes in both a small and a medium size, so depending on how many things you plan on bringing, you can choose between the two. The medium size would be a good idea for long solo rides when you would want to have two tubes in your saddle bag instead of one.

Alternatively, if you have a different saddle, I personally like the Arundel saddle bag. It comes in a convenient three sizes, and I am currently running the medium.
The small can only really hold a tube and a CO2 inflator, so if you’re planning on bringing a multi-tool, you’re going to want to go with the Arundel Dual. As a bonus, the bag comes in different colored edges. This slight bit of color really pops, and paired with the simplistic design, it’s hard to find another bag that is both stylish and functional.

After you’ve chosen a proper saddle bag, now it’s time to fill it with the essentials!

  1. Tube (s) – You’re going to want to carry at least one of these with you on your rides. Personally, I use Continental Race Lite tubes; weight weenies rejoice!  They’re still butyl and not latex, so no need to deal with a constant loss of air.
  2. CO2 Inflator – I use a hand pump that doubles as a CO2 inflator. I like to have the option of both, but you man find that those mini hand pumps are difficult to pump your tires up to a decent pressure.
  3. Multi-tool – Although I don’t have it yet, I have my eye on Lezyne’s carbon multitool. Carbon fiber replaces your usual alloy side plates, and the bolts holding this tool together are titanium. Not only is the excess weight shaved off from the base of the tools, even the bolts are tapered off. What you have left is a super slick-looking, 80g multi tool.
  4. Tire Boot – This is one of the things that more people tend to forget to pack into their saddle bag. There are many clever ways to come up with a temporary tire boot from empty gel packs, cut up tires, or if you’re feeling particularly epic, a hundred dollar bill should work just fine. However, Park Tool makes a nice adhesive tire boot, and this helps prevent the boot from shifting around, thus making it my personal favorite.
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If you’re like me, you use $1000 bills as tire boots.

Other items such as a credit card and a phone end up going into my back jersey pocket for easier access. You want to be able to snap those cycling selfies as fast as possible, so you’re not going to want to have to fiddle around with your saddle bag for that.

If you have any personal favorites that you won’t leave home without, be sure to leave it in the comments below! Be sure to follow us on Instagram (@arbcyclery) as we will be showcasing what the employees here at ARB Cyclery keep in their saddle bags! Be sure to use #undermysaddle to join in on the fun!

 

Why Your Bar Tape Is More Important than You Think

Having gone to a school where many of the students commute to class on bikes, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen it all. As college students, you have to cut us some slack when it comes to anything that isn’t considered a necessity. We come up with all sorts of cost saving “life hacks” because we barely have enough money to spend on the essentials. The cheap bike you buy off craigslist with rusty handlebars? Not a problem, there’s many different ways to come up with bar tape alternatives. You have some people who will wrap their bars with plastic bags and tape it tight. Others will use a roll of duct tape and keep layering it until it becomes thick enough to provide padding (to some extent). I’ve even seen someone stretch socks around their bars and tape it closed.

This gold duct tape wrap screams BLING.

As clever and creative as some of these ideas may seem, college students can get away with doing things like this because they really aren’t riding very far or very hard. And they’re broke. Since you’re riding hundreds of miles, if not thousands, its important to remember to change out your bar tape when it becomes worn, especially so if you don’t ride with padded gloves.  Your bar tape is one of the main contact points you have with your bike.  Therefore, you have to make sure that what you do does not sacrifice comfort in any way, or you will pay for it in the long run with discomfort.

Also, if your old bar tape is so old that it is falling off in places or ripped, you could be damaging your shifter and cables. Sweat and the elements could be ruining your shifter cable clamp, which is not something that usually crosses peoples’ minds as a consequence. Rusty Shifter Clamp

Now that I’ve established the importance of having non-worn out bar tape for your comfort as well preventing damage around the shifters, it’s worth mentioning that bar tape comes in a variety of colors and patterns! It’s certainly a great way to personalize your bike. Certain patterned bar tapes look cool in the box, but I have yet to see one on a bike that I think matches well. I’m more of a minimalist type myself, but don’t let that stop you from choosing the crazy colors!

But, keep in mind that according to Velomati’s The Rules #8,

“Saddles, bars, and tires shall be carefully matched. ”

Valid options are:

      • Match the saddle to the bars and the tires to black; or
      • Match the bars to the color of the frame at the top of the head tube and the saddle to the color of the frame at the top of the seat tube and the tires to the color where they come closest to the frame; or
      • Match the saddle and the bars to the frame decals; or
      • Black, black, black

Personally, you can’t really go wrong with black. But that can get boring over time. Thankfully, Selle Italia’s Smootape comes in a huge range of solid colors. Excatly what I’d be lookismootape-taping1ng for to bring a little color out on my bikes. Not only that, but the Smootape comes in four different finishes. You have your classic corks, gel, and leather wraps. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the soft-touch leather tape if I ride without gloves, and with my titanium bike, I think the leather wrap would look super classy.

A cool difference between Smootape and other brands of tape is that Smootape is designed to reduce overlap “ridges” that you get when you wrap your bars with traditional tape. The diagram will help you visualize how it works. Essentially, the thickness of the tape is tapered off towards the edges so that when you wrap the bars, the thickness won’t stack to create those ridges.

If you’re heading over to the shop for a tune-up, (which you should do as the weather is getting nicer and nicer!), why not change things up a bit! Get that old bar tape off your bike and choose from one of the many exciting colors and textures that Smootape offers!

 

selle-italia-smootape-collection
Not pictured: Brown and the other textures

 

Bianchi Via Nirone 7 2016 Review & Comparison

“Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three”.

Walking into a bike shop brings about the same feelings as walking into a candy shop as a child. I would venture to say that the feelings of wonderment, awe, and excitement  are comparable to the very nostalgic scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I remember when I went shopping for my first road bike, I walked by rows of gleaming carbon fiber bikes, each looking meaner than the next, some of them with funny looking bars and wheels that didn’t even have traditional metal spokes. There were all sorts of oddly-shaped helmets, shoes with odd attachments on the bottom, and pedals that weren’t even flat! To a beginner like me, the world of cycling was truly fascinating.

As fascinated as I was, I still lacked fundamental knowledge as to what made a bicycle “good”. At the time, all I was familiar with was a little silver bike I had ridden 10 years ago as a kid. I wanted to try it all, every kind of chocolate, every flavor of gum, every color of gummy bear, but I had no idea where to start. Thankfully, the great thing about walking into a bike shop is the knowledge the bike staff has. If you go to them with your specific needs, chances are a good bike shop will tailor your bike selection to do exactly what you need it to do. However, I personally like to learn, and to be prepared. It is always useful to do a little research yourself, not because I don’t believe what the sales people are telling me, but because I want to understand and be able to carry on the conversation and ask meaningful questions as I’m shopping.

Fortunately for you, I understand how difficult it can be to pick that very first road bike of yours. There is an art to balancing value, aesthetics, short and long term goals when it comes to deciding on a bike. I did my best to pick something that I believe will hit all of those areas. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll understand that I view aesthetics as a pretty important factor when I buy things. I am also impressed when a company pays attention to details.

Bianchi’s attention to detail and their awesome headbadge.

Enter Bianchi. If you want to talk about history, heritage, and aesthetics, say no more. Bianchi is the oldest bicycle manufacturing company that is still in existence. The company was founded in Italy back in 1885, and if you aren’t necessarily familiar with the name, you may be familiar with a specific color that they are known for. That beautiful green-blue color, know as Celeste, is one of the things that Bianchi is known for. If you take a look at the Via Nirone 7, which is actually named after the first shop that Edoardo Bianchi started manufacturing bicycles in, the attention to detail is evident. The cable housing even has a Celeste-colored stripe running along it to compliment the other Celeste-colored areas. And if we’re talking about aesthetics, I think that Bianchi has one of the nicest looking headbadges out there.

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Via Nirone 7 Sora – Click to zoom.

If you look at the Via Nirone 7, you’ll notice that it definitely stands out among similar level bikes from other companies such as the Giant Defy 3. The Italian-designed Bianchi will certainly turn more heads on the roads compared to the mass-produced, vanilla style of the Defy. These two bikes are equipped with the same Sora groupset, so let’s look at some additional differences. For one, the Bianchi is equipped with Vittora tires instead of Giant’s in-house tires. Secondly, the paired spoke design on the Via Nirone 7 certainly looks much cooler as well. In terms of value of the bike, the Via Nirone 7 is great because it comes standard with a carbon fiber fork! With both bikes in the same price range of just under $1000, who wouldn’t choose the heritage and styling of the Bianchi?

If you’re still uncertain that you will get into the sport of cycling (which I truly believe you will once you commit), you may be a bit hesitant to spend that amount. If you’re still looking to test the waters of cycling, you can opt for a Via Nirone 7 with a lower spec groupset. The Via Nirone 7 can also be purchased equipped with Shimano Claris, which is one tier under Sora. You’ll sacrifice a 9-speed drivechain for an 8-speed drivechain with Claris, but you’ll save almost $200 in the process. The best part of the Claris model is that it still comes with that carbon fork! While a carbon fork may just sound fancy, there is actually a great benefit of having one. When you compare the ride quality of the Via Nirone 7 Claris to the Giant Defy 5 (Claris equipped), you’ll notice a difference on the front end of the bike. The Giant has an aluminum fork. A carbon fork will actually absorb much more of the road vibration, and what this translates into for you is greater comfort and less fatigue. For only $800, that’s a pretty sweet deal.

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Via Nirone 7 Claris – Click to zoom.

Regardless of which model you choose, you certainly won’t be disappointed. I suggest you come in-store and give both these bikes a spin around the parking lot. If you have any questions, or just want to come in and chat about all things cycling, we encourage you to do so. If you’re looking to take your new Bianchi out for a ride but are still trying to learn the ropes, we have the ride just for you! Take a look at the Cycle to Fitness ride we do every other Saturday and we’ll have you addicted to cycling in no time!

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Redeeming Myself with a VO2 Max Test

I was always very opinionated growing up. I spent more of my time trying to explain my views to others rather than taking the time and absorbing other people’s ideas and thoughts. This attitude was amplified when my parents tried to bestow any sort of wisdom upon me. They were always talking about how eating unhealthy things will be bad for me, and how I can hurt myself if I’m not careful enough. I could not help it though. As a child, I assumed I was invincible. Needless to say, my belief that I had Wolverine’s healing powers resulted in bad habits, and overly risky activities. For example, I had the bright idea of participating in a race down the six thousand some steps of a mountain we climbed in high school. Mistakes were made that day. For years after that I had knee pain. To this day, my knees still make a popping noise if I squat down. As I grew older, I also started noticing that even the smallest of scrapes seemed to take longer to heal, and when they did, it never seemed to disappear as quickly as before. 

I have been increasingly more aware of the truth in much of the advice that I hear. For one thing, I used to be obsessed with being a weight weenie. As someone who never seems to be able to gain weight no matter how much I’m eating, it made sense to me to try and reduce as much weight off my bike as a could. While I am still partial to light components, I made the poor decision to sacrifice anything to achieve a stupidly light bike (I hit a sub-12 lb bike at one point). I never did much serious cycling at the time, so I would like to believe that my sacrifice of comfort was somewhat more justifiable than if I had put that saddle on a daily bike.

So there I am, at the rest stop on ARB’s remote ride to Temecula, which was the longest ride I’ve done on my weight weenie bike. I look down at my full carbon saddle, which saved me a glorious 179 grams, and had only one thought in my head. “Mistakes were made”. Sure, I read plenty of comments on how uncomfortable and ridiculous a saddle like that would be, but I chose to believe I knew what I was doing. While I am undoubtedly changing saddles now, a teenage me would have happily sucked up the pain and ridden the damn thing until some serious damage was done, and that area is something you really don’t want to mess with.

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Don’t do it. It really is that bad.
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So suffice to say, when I was told it was a good idea to take a VO2 Max Test, I decided to take the advice. Even though I was a casual cyclist looking to start riding more regularly and seriously, my initial instinct was that a VO2 Max Test would be overkill. I was previously unfamiliar with this test as I never trained as an athlete before and I went into the test without a complete understanding of what a VO2 Max Test can do for me.

There is extensive information already out there that explains it much more scientifically than I ever could. You can even read about it on our website. But for me, the most beneficial aspect of this test is the fact that I now know how hard I need to ride to see the most gains. I never knew if I was putting too little or too much effort into my rides. Sure, it felt like I was riding really hard, but I was horrifically unfit as well. Equipped with all the data
I now have, my effort levels will not merely be a subjective guess.

By pushing you to your absolute max, the test can establish 7 different zones for you. All I really need to focus on are zones 2 and 3. It shows my power and heart rates for each of the 7 zones so that when I am riding, I can match my effort to the zone and figure out if I need to work harder. I would really only need a heart rate monitor to know my effort level. The complete test comes with much more information as well as coaching advice and data interpretation. While the test does require you to give your 100%, the information that you get out of it is so valuable. Don’t worry though, if you aren’t feeling that ambitious, you can always opt for a sub max test! While this lets you ease up a bit earlier, it still shows you your Anaerobic Threshold, and extrapolates the rest of the data.

Power Comparison
Pro Cyclists Comparison

As an added bonus, you can click on this chart on the left over here to see how you would stack up against the pros! Even though I technically should be an untrained cyclist, my data shows that I would stack up against the lower end of the Cat 5 racers. There is still hope yet for me!  And if there is hope for me, there is hope for you, but be sure to commit and book your test today!