Which TT Bike?

Yep, I’m looking to make that big triathlon step. I love my road bike, but to maximise my potential over short- and long-course triathlon I know I need to get myself into a fast, aerodynamic, energy-saving position. I’ve considered getting clip-on bars for my road bike (this no doubt works well for a lot of people) but – for me – the solution is in investing in the right equipment and bike fit. There really is only one option: buy a Time Trial bike!

So the question is: which TT bike?

I’ve canvassed opinion, read stacks of reviews, spoke to bike shops, and listened to people on Twitter and blogs; but the choice is tough. An Ironman Pro told me he loved the Trek Equinox (great power transfer yet road bike-esque feel), hated the Felt B2 Pro (terrible unresponsive handling), felt comfortable with the Scott Plasma (good for long distance, handled like a dream) – amongst others rides. Having ridden several Treks I automatically lean towards the brand, but when I look at value for money and pedigree of performance I’m struggling to see past Cervelo. I always perceived them to be expensive and only for the pros, but the specs on their TT bikes are impressively good value. There are numerous others to consider: Specialized Transition Pro, Cannondale Slice, Argon 18 – to name but a few. But I’ve narrowed my choice down to two, based on a combination of what I’ve read and available specs.

Cervelo P2

OR, Trek Equinox 9.5

Both are available as custom builds (Trek offers tons of customisation and personalisation via their website), but also offer a standard set up generally with a SRAM Rival groupset. Royles bikes offer the P2 with Mavic carbon deep rims, whereas Bontrager’s Race Lite Aero on the Equinox 9.5 doesn’t provide carbon deep section aero features. Both bikes have a proven pedigree amongst the pro triathlon and cycling ranks and benefit from technological and design elements from the respective brands’ flag ship TT frames (Trek Speed Concept and Cervelo P4).

It’s a hard choice! I need something that enables an aggresive position for maximum speed over short course tris, as well as a more comfortable set up for Ironman. Decisions decisions. If anyone has any views, comments or experience I’d be very grateful! I’ll post more once I choose, naturally!

Trek Speed Concept Bike

trek_speed_concept_tt_profile_600

Check out this vid highlighting Trek’s innovation in their latest TT bike, as used by Chris Lieto in Kona last weekend. This was publicly launched by Contador at the Dauphine, followed by the Astana team at the Tour (read Bike Radar’s write up).

2010 Madone 5 Series

Love the new 5 series Madone in it’s 2010 colours.  I wouldn’t mind upgrading my 2008 model with some fancy deep section Bontrager Aeolus wheels. Finishes it off a treat.

2010 Madone 5 Series

Check out the site’s nifty ‘Build your custom bike’ feature, enabling you to order your very own Madone with choice of drive train, components, paint scheme, wheel colours, and even a personalised signature decal in one of three fonts.

They’ve also added a few videos with Levi, Alberto and Lance himself illustrating the science and technology in the bike, as well as the origins of the name now made famous by 9 Tour wins. I’d love to get over to Nice and climb the Col de la Madone one day!

Tri gear in London

…the best sports shops, reviewed.

Part 2: SBR Sports, Fulham Road, London.

It’s amazingly difficult to find a top notch triathlon retailer in London. SBR Sports’ principal store is based in Windsor, and the Fulham branch is as good as I’ve found in the city so far.

Generally well-stocked with everything from wetsuits and tri suits to bikes and track pumps, the store caters for everything a triathlete needs for training and competing. The store’s two floors are bursting at the seems with gear; it’s the clothing department where SBR excels with an impressive range of all-in-one suits, tri-specific tops and shorts as well as generic training outfits. A slight disappointment was the shortage of wetsuits in stock: it is peak triathlon season and no doubt sales hit a high during the summer months; but then again it is peak season so surely now above any other period one would want a full compliment of brands and sizes. The window display of bikes draws you in, but not being a bike specialist the range is rather small – if it’s a tri bike you’re after then I’d go to Sigma Sport or Condor, personally. That said, SBR’s range of bike (and tri) accessories is second to none.

The all new Orca Equip has 1mm Yamamoto neoprene on the sleeves increasing comfort and flexibility. Constructed of durable, performance-quality HydroCell SCS neoprene, the Orca Equip gives the beginner the functions and features they need to improve their performance in the water.

The all new Orca Equip has 1mm Yamamoto neoprene on the sleeves increasing comfort and flexibility. Constructed of durable, performance-quality HydroCell SCS neoprene, the Orca Equip gives the beginner the functions and features they need to improve their performance in the water. SBR stock a good range of Orca wetsuits, and other top brands

Where SBR stands out is the service. It was lunch time and quite busy when I went in, yet there were 6 staff on hand and only too happy to help. Being new to triathlon this year I challenged them with the most elementary questions; patient yet informative, the guys steered me through the full range of gear required for my first triathlon with honesty and insight whilst resisting hard-selling to a rookie.

Now for a few downsides. Use of technology: non-existant; I let SBR off as they are a tri store and not a running specialist, but then anyone serious about one third of the triathlon needs to know they are getting the right trainer, period. I would always opt for a non-branded running specialist for an impartial opinion based on a gait scan analysis. Store style: this isn’t  a flagship branded store, so again I made allowances for this. In fact, this isn’t even the main SBR store. That said, the layout could be better with clearer item sections – I found myself up and down stairs numerous times; and only one changing room? seriously? – and the display designs were fairly unimaginative. Location: I know SW London is a triathlon hub, but if you’ve got a Windsor-based HQ, why not locate a store more centrally?

All-in-all though, SBR offers one of the best triathlon-shopping experiences around London.

Product range: 8; Customer Service: 9; Use of technology: 0; Store style: 7; Shopping experience: 9. Overall: 33.

Purchase? Yes, Orca Equip wetsuit and Orca tri top and shorts.

Part 1: Asics click here.

Pump action: product review

Topeak Micro Rocket CB

Just 55 grams. Carbon handle and barrel. Literally pocket-sized. But does it work?

 MicroRocketCB

The website claims it pumps to a whopping 160 psi. The last time I punctured it worked fine; its limit was more likely my arm strength (or lack of – ed.) than the pump itself. There’s no pressure gauge, but when I got home I checked the tire pressure with my track pump: 95 psi. I’m not sure if 160 is an exageration, but it’s certainly a capable tool for roadside emergencies. Plus it looks great! £27.49 on Amazon.

Breathe between extremes: product review

CraftThe body needs to stay at 98.6 degrees Farenheit

Craft is a Swedish company with a range of products designed to maintain the right core body temperature during exercise. I recently put the proCOOL mesh sleeveless base layer to the test.

Craft proCOOL Base Layer

We all layer up during winter to fight off the cold. But Craft challenge the idea that – in the heat – the less you wear the cooler you are. The proCOOL is a warm weather base layer. Apparently:

“The six channeled, hollow fiber polyester filament exponentially increase moisture absorption and the release of warm body heat. The mesh knit creates more air pockets across the surface of the fabric, maximizing ventilation and air to skin contact”.

This might sound like ‘clothing tech’ gobbledigook, but in 27-degree heat – wearing the proCOOL base under a standard bike top – I felt cool and comfortable throughout. It’s difficult to directly compare – short of removing the base layer half way through – but I’ve spent many afternoons in the height of summer top completely unzipped. Whereas, with the proCOOL, only on the steepest climbs did I consider unzipping, and then only partially. So far so good; I’ll put it to the ultimate test in the August Pyrenean heat – one day with, one day without – and see!

The product range includes warm and cool weather Base Layers, as well as Run-, Bike- and Tri-specific clothing ranging from tops and bottoms to leg/arm warmers and head gear. There’s even a proCOOL bandana, for those Pantani fans seeking a moisture-wicking ‘pirate’ look!

basetop[1]

Click the Body Gauge scale for a guide to Craft Base Layer products.

Trek Madone 5.2: review

I love this bike.

Trek Madone 5.2 2008

The frame is beautiful (especially compared to the rather odd Lance-inspired old geometry), with wonderfully clean lines and an agressive over-sized down tube and bottom bracket. For me the finish on the OCLV carbon rivals the best in Italian styling and the performance – as you would expect from Trek – is first class. The new Ultegra SL groupset is excellent, with very smooth and accurate shifting, and is finished off perfectly with the matching gun metal Ultegra pedals.

 Ultegra SL on the Madone 5.2

The standard geometry comes with a compact groupset (the Pro version has a racier spec) and I opted for a 12-27 cassette with a view to entering mountainous sportives in the future. The only downside is I’m sometimes short on gears on decents, but the seconds I lose here are more than recovered by easier climbing. Oh and – fortunately – my carbon Bontrager bottle cages were in good nick, and do the new frame justice! Not that I’m obsessed with details or anything.

A luxuary, but the carbon Bontrager cages look great against the Onyx Carbon finished frame

A luxury, but the carbon Bontrager cages look great against the Onyx Carbon finished frame

As the Bike Radar review says, the bike really wants to go fast. The handling is fantastic and it feels safe even on the tightest of downhill sections – I’m decending faster now and with more confidence. The Ultegra brakes are also very good – not that I want to stop, but sometimes when the lights are red there is a car coming.

If I’ve got a criticism it’s that Trek could upgrade the Race Lite wheels to a better spec. Compare the Scott bikes in this price range that come with Mavic Ksyrium Equipe wheels, generally viewed as superior to the Race Lite’s. It does give room for your own upgrading though; the bike fitter said you can increase speed by as much as 2mph with better wheels. I’ll put this to the test at some point!

I bought the bike from Sigma Sport, Hampton Wick near London. Jimmy (incidentally the joint record holder for the Chiltern 100!) measured me up, plugged the figures into a computer, then designed the set up to meet my spec – all part of the service. They’ve also fixed a slight problem I had with the saddle – it wouldn’t stay horizontal initially – and serviced for free.

My advice? Buy from a specialist. Unless the price saving at a big store is significant, the poor set up/servicing will be a pain – as I found with my last bike and Evans Cycle. Shop around. I saved £500 on the 2008 pricing and £700 compared to the 2009 model (identical bar the paint job). If you’re prepared to wait, post-Christmas can be a great time with greater savings than the end of season sales.

Admittedly I haven’t ridden a vast range of other bikes, but I’ve bought into the Trek brand and technology. If it’s good for Lance Armstrong then it’s alright for me! And the Madone 5.2 is a really great bike.

New shoes: Shimano R132

New shoes arrived on Friday. When I was buying my new bike I sought the advice of road cycling and tri specialists Sigma Sport on shoes as well. I’ve had my previous pair for several years and – although generally happy – I wanted to upgrade to a carbon soled pair, whilst also getting a better fit for extra comfort. Disregarding my usual foot sizing, the key aspects to finding the right fit are:
1/ Size the shoe so your toes do not touch the front or sides of the shoe (allowing more space than normal shoes feels odd);
2/ Try numerous brands, finding the shoe that provides the best support across the top of your foot (for me, Mavic and Specialized in particular felt too baggy and unsupportive);
3/ Determine your cycling goals and find a shoe that matches your ambition and budget.
After trying numerous brands – including Specialized, Northwave, Sidi and Mavic – the ones that optimised both perfomance, comfort and budget (£100) were the Shimano R132 road shoes. I did consider getting a tri-specific single-strap pair but – given that I’m not a pro trying to shave seconds off my tri time – the extra support of a three strap shoe won me over. Purchased from Wiggle for £95, here they are.
Shimano R132

Product shot from the Shimano website

 

Carbon fibre sole

Carbon fibre sole for peak power transfer

 

R132s
Micro-adjust buckle adds enhanced support to the dual asymmetrical straps

 

Flagship stores: Asics

Love your sports brands? Or just whatever fits best? Exercise with a touch of style? Or performance over patterns? For most of us – if we’re honest – it’s probably a combination of everything. Sports gear can be pricey, so making the right choice is crucial. Despite the proliferation of online vendors offering cut-price goods shipped from most parts of the world, it’s still essential to try and test as much as possible before shelling out hard-earned cash.

Like most men I generally loath shopping, but I still leap from bored hunch-shouldered moping to an excited child-like fever when entering a sports shop. These days, wandering down most high streets, we’re treated to a wealth of sports shops within which to indulge ourselves, from branded stores like Nike and Adidas, to specialists like Runners Need and Cycle Surgery to name but a few. Whilst local private outlets provide great specialist products and personal service, the mass market industry still offers value for money and the broadest choice of gear.

In this series of posts I’ll be comparing the flagship stores of London’s top sports shops. To keep it contemporary and relevant, I’ll be drawing on visits in the last 8 weeks and assessing each on 5 criteria: Product range; Customer Service; Use of technology; Store style; Shopping experience.

PART 1: Asics Store, Argyll Street

New flagship London store and the first in Europe, following on from the Tokyo launch in February. Based in central London off Oxford Street, the store blends state-of-the-art minimalist design with cutting edge technology for gait assessment and 3D foot scanning.

Asics Store, London

Long-time exclusive Asics trainer fan, I was impressed by Asics’ bold move to take on established brands in the ‘flagship store’ market. The branded market has been led by Nike and Adidas for many years due to their large budgets, high-profile sponsorships and dual focus on performance and fashion. For a running specialist like Asics to take on the big boys in these economically challenged times is to be applauded.

The clothing range is good, focusing on performance yet capturing contemporary design style, and fulfills any runner’s requirements. But Asics is historically one of the market leaders in trainers; show-casing most of the top flats and spikes – as well as cross-training and court models – the range is excellent.

Asics boasts that the in-store technology is at the forefront of innovation – and whilst not unique, it is perhaps the best for any of the branded stores. Time prevented me from booking a personal gait analysis, but the equipment did look smart and hi-tech. Although, I personally prefer the relative brand impartiality offered by specialists like Pro Feet – that is, unless you’re already set on the brand and just need help on the model.

The 3D foot scanner takes the technology ASICS uses when developing optimal footwear and tailors it to the wearer’s specific needs.

The 3D foot scanner takes the technology ASICS uses when developing optimal footwear and tailors it to the wearer’s specific needs.

However, where the store let itself down was on customer service, despite claims on it’s website that it’s of the “highest level”. Between three staff, nobody could tell me whether any of their flats were suitable for long distance running – poor – and the advice given to a gentleman (that I caught whilst eavesdropping) was sketchy at best. Perhaps it’s because the store is new and staff are finding their feet (no pun intended), but this has to improve; especially if Asics’ strategy is to mix trainer specialism and technology with world class customer engagement.

Product range: 8; Customer Service: 5; Use of technology: 8; Store style: 9; Shopping experience: 8. Overall: 38.

Purchase? Yes, a running vest (see marathon photo).

My Bike

 

Trek Madone 5.2 2008