B&L Product Reviews

Bontrager Tubeless Road Wheels.

Bontrager has come out with a new tubeless whee/tire system specifically for road bikes.  Tubeless set up has existed for some time now on mountain bike tires but it's only recently that tubeless road bike wheels are gaining some acceptance.  

Bontrager is making a special rim, rim strip and tire that are all designed to work together.  This makes the initial setup pretty easily.  Whereas some other systems, you try to set it up, hold your breath and hope for the best.  

Tubeless wheels provide a couple of advantages over a regular tubed tire.  First, they are somewhat lighter. A conventional road tube weights a bit more than 100 grams.  You gain some of this weight back in the tire when you add in the tubeless sealant but it's still lighter than running with a tube.

Secondly, tubeless tires offer more flat protection.  There is a sealant inside of the tire and when it gets punctured the sealant fills the hole and stops the leak.  This is a great way to prevent flat tires caused by thorns and glass and other sharp objects.

Lastly, and most importantly tubeless tires have a great effect on the ride.  Because there is no tube inside the tire that might be pinched if the wheel hits something hard. This allows a person to ride at lower tire pressure.  Lower pressure tires give a smoother ride and thereis some evidence coming in now that being able to run a lower pressure tire on a rough surface is faster than running a higher pressure tire.  

Trek Domane

The Trek Domane

It's been a long time since a bike has come along that has had us this excited.  Trek has hit a home run with the new Domane.  Trek designed this bike for riding all day on rough roads.  It includes a few new pieces of technology like the Iso Speed Decoupler and the Iso Speed fork.  It also has a couple of geometry tweaks like longer chainstays and a longer/taller head tube. 

The main piece of technology on this bike is the Iso Speed Decoupler.  This unit sits at the junction of the top tube and seat tube and allows the seat tube to flex independently of the top tube.  The idea behind this is to allow the seat tube to move so much more than other bikes on the market to absorb a lot more road shock.  Trek claims the bike has16.5 mm more compliance than the closest competitor.  

The second major piece of technology on the bike is the Iso Speed fork.  The new fork has an increased offset vs the Madone.  The offset angle increases the fore/after compliance of the fork and also increases the stability of the bike in rough conditions and twisty descents.  

Trek has also made a few geometry/fit changes to the Domane vs more traditional road bikes.  The first is a slightly taller head tube, which translate to a slightly taller handlebar.  For those that cannot tolerate being in a typical road bike's aggressive position for several hours, this is a life saver.  The taller handle bar just makes it more comfortable to stay on the bike for long hours, by reducing lower back, shoulder and neck strain.  Trek has also increased the wheel base of the Domane making it feel more stable and less twitchy at higher speeds and for going around corners.  The final design change was to lower the height of the bottom bracket, which effectively lowers the center of gravity of the bike.  This gives the feeling of more sitting in the bike instead of on the bike, again making the bike feel more stable in all conditions.  

So that's the tech story, but how does it ride?  Well, it rides as advertised.  Even on smooth pavement, after a few pedals strokes one can already feel a difference.  The Iso Speed Decoupler mutes any kind of feedback from the pavement.  Here in Pullman we have Palouse Street, which believe it or not is a brick street.  Riding on the brick road with this bike felt like riding on smooth pavement.  We could not feel any roughness from the road especially on the rear end of the bike, though one could still feel some roughness on the front end, though it was greatly muted vs a standard carbon fiber fork.  When going down hill at fast speeds and going around sharp corners the bike is also more confidence inspiring.

We can see only two real cons to the bike.  The first most noticeable one is that when you are riding on a rougher service the bike does have a somewhat unbalanced feel, the Iso Speed decoupler on the rear of the bike is more compliant than the Iso Speed fork on the front of the bike.  So once can feel a significant difference in shock absorption between the front and the rear.  It's not a big deal, just something you notice.  The only other knock on the bike is that when climbing hills in larger gears one can notice a bit of vertical movement from the Iso Speed on the rear of the bike.  This goes away if you are spinning lower gears or when you stand up.

This bike has a very unique ride quality to it.  What we've learned is that if you ride it, you can definately tell a difference between it and other bikes you will ride.  It's possible you might not like how it rides but you will come away with an impression that it's very different from other bikes.  Trek made this bike to be ridden on less than ideal surfaces for long periods of time.

The Keen Austin Pedal Review

For those of you not familar with Keen, they make a very high quality shoe.  Keen shoes  well known for their durability and comfort.   Most of their shoes tend to run a bit on the wider side too.  A few years ago they decided to make bicycle shoes.  The owner of B&L Bicycles, Brice was excited about this because he has a slightly wide foot and has had a difficult time finding a bicycle shoe that is comfortable.  

Unfortuately the first year or so of their bicycle shoes, they were only making a typical bike shoe fit. Brice was not happy about this and even called the company to plead his case for a wider cycling shoe.  Well Keen eventually did come out with a wider shoe.  The mens' version is called the Austin Pedal and the womens' equivalent is called the Presidio.  Brice got a pair of the Austin Pedals and boom, he fell in love with them and they are now his main cycling shoe.  

I (Sean) (the store's year round bike commuter) got a pair to try out.  I don't have a wide foot but I was intrigued by the shoes wider width and larger toe box for another reason.  I was looking for a shoe that would allow me to layer with more socks in the cold weather that would not reduce blood circulation to my feet.  I was also intrigued by the fact that the shoe has no mesh up in the toe area for breathability.  This is something most cycling shoes have to help keep your feet cool for warm weather riding.  I figured the lack of mesh would also help to keep the foot warm.  The shoe is also made from waterproof leather, making for a good dry shoe when the precipitation falls.    

So I waited for a frigid morning to test how well the Austin Pedal would do as a cold weather shoe. When I got on the bike, my thermometer claimed a temp of 15 degrees F.  Before leaving home I put on a thin pair of wool cycling socks and then a heavier duty thicker sock over top of that.  My commute is is 14 miles with what I would call three significant hills.  There was no wind and I just rode at a comfortable pace.  My ride time was about 50 minutes.  My feet stayed a warm the entire time.  Had it gotten down to ten degrees I would have wanted to have ridden with some heavier socks but with what I used that day I was plenty comfortable.

So Keen does not promote this shoe as a cold/foul weather shoe but they certainly could.  It is significantly warmer than most cycling shoes.  The fact that it is also water proof is in it's favor for bike commuters.  

If you are interested you can buy the Austin Pedal here.    Buy the woman's version here.

Doubles VS Triples VS Compact Doubles

Before going any further, I should explain what I mean.  Double refers to a bike that has only two chainrings on the front.  Triples are bikes that have three chainrings on the front.  Finally, compact doubles refer to bikes that only have two chainrings on the front but these two chainrings are smaller than the standard double cranks.  Among cyclists there is a lot of debate over which of these options is the best.  Some people of course are overly opinionated and forget or don't realize that what might be best for them (or what they think is best for them!) may not be best for everyone else.

At B&L Bicycles we are strong proponents of triples for most of our customers.  First of all, the third chainring on a triple gives you a much smaller gear for going up hills, often called a granny gear (so even your grandma can ride it up hills).   Here are the reasons why most of our bikes have triples.  One; most of our customers are relatively new to the sport of cycling.  Two; we live on the Palouse.  (The Palouse has hills if you have not noticed).  The combination of people being new to cycling and the fact that we have the hills make triples the best choice for most people.  A majority of people who are new to the sport do not have the fitness/strength to push the larger gear of the standard double chainrings up a lot of the hills that we have.  Or if they can manage to ride the higher gearing up the hills they risk damaging their knees/developing tendonitis.  This is our main reason for wanting people to have the lower gears on the triple cranks.  Unfortunately, many racing cyclists tend to look down on the triple cranks and when their friends ask them what to get they push them in the direction of the doubles, not really the best choice for someone new to the sport.  If we lived in a flatter place like much of Kansas, standard doubles would probably work just fine for most people that are new to cycling.

Compact doubles offer an interesting option.  There are only two gears but they are significantly smaller than standard doubles but still not as low as what a triple crank has.  Compact doubles started to become more popular a few years ago, when a pro racer named Tyler Hamilton broke his collarbone while racing in the Tour de France.  During the moutain stages the racers tend to stand out of the saddle a fair amount of the time to put enough force on the pedals to keep going up hill.  Tyler and his crew knew that he would not be able to support himself in this postion for very long with a broken clavicle.  Their solution was to put a smaller chainring on his double crank so that he would not have to stand to be able to push the pedals during the mountain stages.  They have greatly increased in popularity since then.  A lot of people like the idea of having the simplicty of only two chainrings instead of three (easier shifting) and for some people this is a legitimate reason (my wife especially).  Also, with the new wider range rear cassettse you can basically get the same low gear as a triple.(There is a downside to the wider range rear cassettes though and that is a big jump between the teeth on the cassette.)  Though remember this would be an additional expense as stock bikes don't come with these already.  The other drawback to the compact doubles is that the large gears are smaller than what comes on a regular double or a triple.  This can be somewhat overcome by putting a higher geared cassette on the back but a regular double or triple would still have a higher gear with the same cassette.  This could be an issue because of all the hills we have.  A lot of us enjoy the speed going down the hill once we've worked our way to the top (I have to count myself here).  The lower geared compact double might cause you to spin out.  That is you can't spin the crank fast enough to keep up with your speed, whereas bigger gears on your crank would allow you to go faster before spinning out.  That's my pet peeve about compact doubles.  I once read an article about cranks that said that compact cranks are really for people who don't want the stigma of riding with a triple but want to have lower gears for the hills.  I think that's pretty accurate.

Overall, I feel that triples are the best way to go for the vast majority of people who are beginning to cycle here on the Palouse or in the Lewiston/Clarkston area (there are hills down there too).  For experienced riders with strong legs standard doubles are great.  And for those of you who care what other people think (can't stand the thought of being seen on a triple) go with the compact double.


Efficient Velo Tools EVT Safe Zone Helmet Mirror

Read here for a description of this product but here is our review.

I've been riding with this helmet mirror for 16 (January 09) months now.  It is by far the best mirror I have ever used.  The problem I've had with other helmet mirrors has been the durability.  After a few months (sometimes even weeks) the attachement to the helmet begins to fail, it does not want to stay attached anymore and nees to be re-glued.  The other issue I've had with the mirrors is after  they are exposed to enough vibration the moving points on the mirror (pivot points) begin to loosen.  When this happens the mirror will not hold it's adjustment.  You are riding on a rough road you have to continually re-adjust the mirror so that you can see what's behind you.  Or if you are riding and a vehicle goes past this can cause the mirror to move and go out of adjustment.  A helmet mirror that does not show you what's behind you is not much of a mirror!

After 16 months of using the Efficient Velo Tools mirror, I have found it to have none of these issues.  It holds its adjustments very well, stays attached to the helmet (the zip tie attachement system is genius.)  Much of my riding has been on off road trails and rough gravel roads but the mirror has held up great, it does not move going over rough terrain.  To this day 16 months after I bought it, it works as well as it did brand new.

The other great feature about this mirror is the actual size of it, it's huge! (2.5 inches)  You can see behind you much better than you could with any of the other helmet and eyeglass mirrors.

I have only one problem with these mirrors.  We won't be having many repeat customers for this product.  We still don't know how long these mirrors will last and how much abuse they can take before needing replacement, but needless to say it's a much longer period of time than with any of the other mirrors.  Before, I could sell the same person one of the other mirrors four times a year!

Update 2/4/09: One of the objects to this mirror from some quarters has been the size.  It is large and some people think that it's so large that it might actually obstruct a person's field of view.  I've never found this to be an issue.  In fact, the way it sets up I think it blocks one forward view less than other helmet or eyeglass mounted mirrors.  Read the words of Brett Flemming, the inventor and the guy who actually makes the mirror. "No Blind Spot!  Since this Mirror is most functional when 5” away from eyes and up to the left, you actually look into it with both eyes, and, since you are viewing the road ahead with both eyes, the field of view ends up being unobstructed. 

Update 1/7/2011: I'm still riding with the original mirror and it has help up just fine.  Still holds its position just fine, mirror part is still clear and I can see just fine.