Sunday, 26 October 2008

Product Reviews, Cold Weather Edition

I haven't really gotten the miles in to put gear through the wringer like I did last year, but some gear has still had a chance to shine.

The standout of this edition is the pair of Specialized leg warmers I bought late last winter. These replace a set of Nike ones. Compared to the Nikes, the Specialized have a more contoured and comfortable fit, a more comfortable, durable and effective top hem and much heavier duty zippers. The fabric feels really soft against your skin, and you really don't notice that you're wearing them. Except you're not cold. When my Pearl Izumi knee warmers and Castelli arm warmers wear out, I will replace them with their Specialized counterparts. Price is on par with other offerings. 4 out of 4 Wagon Wheels for these suckers.

All of the jerseys, outerwear and bibs that I wear at this point are team gear from Voler. I like Voler's stuff, particularly their zippers. The jersey zippers have a new, metal zipper pull that's a downgrade from the previous plastic in that it's too big and rattles around, but the zipper maintains excellent functionality. Sure one handed operation under all conditions. The vests and thermal jackets retain plastic zipper pulls and have a convenient double zipper. They're great. Since most of you are stuck in team gear and won't have a choice over which brand that is, I won't rate it, but I like Voler a lot.

I've become a bit of a devotee of the technical undershirt, the standout of which is the Under Armour Cold Gear mock turtleneck. Combined with a short sleeve jersey and wind vest, you have the only really effective answer to the dreaded 40 degree ride start heating up to the high 50's during the ride. The Cold Gear top is pretty warm but when you unzip the jersey it allows you to effectively regulate temperature on the warm side of the ride. The only shortcomings are that the fabric is a bit rough and I remember it being pretty expensive when I bought it. 3 of 4 Wagon Wheels for the Under Armour Cold Gear mock turtle.

Back to Specialized, I haven't had as much luck with their tires. They ride great but the durability is an issue. I have yet to get more than a couple thousand miles out of a pair. The Michelin Pro series is a bit more expensive but except for one very premature sidewall blowout due to undetermined cause, I've had really good luck with them. They ride really well and last well. This being the winter edition of product reviews, I will be giving a shout out to the Continental Gatorskin. I've had one of these outlast a rim. They aren't too supple, but beat the heck out of the Bontrager "durable" tires I've tried for ride quality. They also corner way better than Maxxis Detonators, with which I've had some scary moments through the turns. You could probably fire a nail gun at the Gatorskins and get a flat, but short of that they don't flat. It doesn't matter what they cost because they last forever. 4 Wagon Wheels.

As much as I love my new DT hubs, and they are freaking sweet, I had a bad experience with a DT 1.1 Rim. A little research shows that I am not alone in having eyelets pull out. I'd probably take another chance with them because they were ridden quite hard (I take care of my stuff but absolutely don't baby it) and for some reason I like them more than their Mavic Open Pro equivalent. They ride nicely, stay true and are reasonably light. 2 of 4 Wagon Wheels.

I get cold feet. When I was younger I used to sail all winter in small boats and it caused some chronic coldness issues with my hands and feet. Until it gets below freezing, the Defeet overshoes work just great. They are kind of a pain to put on, although nothing at all like the epic pitched battles I've had with the Pearl Izumi shiny aero booties I have, and don't really last more than 2 seasons. On the other hand, they perform their intended purpose and are cheap to replace. 3 Wagon Wheels.

Below freezing, I use a pair of Bellwether booties that I got from the closeout bin at HTO 2 winters ago. I've had to do all sorts of patching on the bottoms to keep them running, but man are they warm. Assuming I can find their equivalent when the current pair are reduced to patches connected to patches, I'll definitely get them. 3.5 of 4 Wagon Wheels.

The Tacx Tao bottle cage is an outstanding choice in any weather. They don't make the outside of your bottles all ganky, are light, look cool and are easy to use on the bike. Most importantly, they NEVER drop your bottles unintentionally, even at Poolesville. They're a couple of bucks more than the standard crap ones but about 20% of the price of the fancy carbon bottles grenade launchers. A lot of ProTour teams use them, which isn't normally something I take too much note of, but on an object like this, where they could literally use any product out there, it tells me something. 4 of 4.

My fitness is currently not rating too many Wagon Wheels. I can do the normal stuff fine and for a long time, but when things get hot I melt. The short answer there is that it's October. We are still closer to Jeff Cup '08 than Jeff Cup '09, or at least just about, and my recovery is still very much underway, so it's quite far from a concern just yet. It's pretty annoying to have to dig somewhat deep on group rides, though. These things should be easy.

Okay, off to try and write myself into a new job. Pessimism over the short to medium term future of contracting grows, which I'm realizing is just a good opportunity to go in a slightly different direction. It's going to be tricky.

6 comments:

crispy said...

Nice reviews.

For tires, I'm a fan of the Continental GP 4000. Reasonably light, handles like a dream, sticks like glue through the corners, and is durable enough to be a train/race tire. Also, the 3500+ miles per tires is pretty nice :-)

My dad loves the Specialized Pros, but something about them doesn't do it for me.

Colton said...

I've had huge problems with the Tacx Tao cage. The tab on the bottom of the cage that stops the bottle from falling through would always break break during normal use. It only happened to the cage on my seattube (twice). The part that breaks is replaceable (I wonder why), but it's not worth using the cage.

GamJams said...

I had the same exact problem with my Tacx Tao as Colton. Maybe it's because I use the large 24 oz bottles and the Tao are engineered to the precise standards of the pro peloton, where they don't use anything bigger than 500ml (about 17 ounces)?

As for tires, I positively adore my Specialized All Condition Armadillo Elite. I put them on my training wheels in the winter last year and have ridden them (the same pair) ever since, flat free. Plus, they're light enough for game day so I raced them at Carl Dolan and Tyson's in the rain, as well as Poolesville. They're still going strong. Granted, my annual training mileage is about the same as what a lot of guys do in January and February alone, but they're still great tires.

Dave Kirkpatrick said...

I've never used the Specialized Armadillos but I hear they're solid for the long haul. The Mondo Pro model is the one that gives me no love for my $50 or whatever it is.

Two years into my Tacx experiment and no such issues for me. I often go smalle bottle on the seat tube and biggie on the down tube, drink the big one dry and then switch cages, so that might help. It's nothing to do with babying the cages, just a habit. On long rides I'll fill up two biggies for sure. Maybe I'm just lucky. That would piss me off if I had the tab break.

Boz said...

Thanks for the reviews. I've been using the Specialized Rib cage and have been happy. They look like carbon, but aren't, and are light. For 15 bucks, they are a nice way to go.

I see a lot of pro's using a base layer even in hot weather, so I tried it. Very nice. More consistent body temp = better riding.

SD said...

The problem with Specialized tires for racing is that little ridge on the edge of the tread. Corner at just the right angle, and you are on that ridge. Hit some raised road paint, and you are that guy- the one that lost it in the corner. Don't be that guy.

Best winter item out there- Winter shoes. Get a pair of insulated shoes and stay warmer than hassling with booties. Seriously- go to Wiggle.co.uk, and you can get Shimano or Northwave winter mtb shoes for about $150 shipped. Way warmer than booties. MTB shoes are easier to find, and there's nothing wrong with showing up to the group ride on a pair of spds. No need to sprint for the next four months anyway, right.