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.

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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