Introducing 2014 Pearl Izumi Performance Exclusives

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Well, it looks like the long winter is finally coming to a close, which is good news for all of us. We’ve been looking forward to getting out and riding more—and fortunately we’ve had the opportunity to test out some of the latest and greatest Pearl Izumi clothing and shoes—and we’re big fans of what we’ve gotten to experience so far.

So why Pearl Izumi? Most cyclists own at least one pair of shorts with the signature “iP” logo on the leg…and it’s for good reason. Pearl Izumi has made a name for themselves—both in the amateur and pro worlds—by making some of the most comfortable, dependable and best performing clothes on the market. With super comfortable chamois pads, lightweight jerseys that are perfect for hot days, and because they offer several different levels of gear for all types of riders, there’s usually something in Pearl’s fabric arsenal that will fit your needs and budget.

Now, let’s get on to the good stuff.

This year we did some exciting work with Pearl Izumi’s custom division to make a few special pieces for Performance customers.

Pearl Izumi Elite LTD Jersey and Bib Shorts

For the folks that like to go a little on the faster side, new for this year is the Pearl Izumi Elite LTD bib shorts and jersey. These race-fit pieces feature Performance Team logos and colors, a next-to-skin aerodynamic fit, and maximum breathability.

Feature a distinctive Performance Team colorway, multi-density chamois pad and lightweight bib straps, the Pearl Izumi Elite LTD bib shorts are an excellent choice for long, hard rides

Full length zipper, custom Performance Team graphics and Direct Vent side panels make this jersey ideal for everything from racing to weekend rides

Pearl Izumi Select LTD Jersey and Shorts

For those who prefer a little more relaxed comfort, there’s the Pearl Izumi Select LTD jersey and shorts. These more relaxed pieces feature a club-rider fit that’s a little on the looser side, standard shorts instead of bib shorts, and Performance Team logos and colors for a kit that looks great pretty much anywhere.

Multi-panel construction, Performance Team graphics, and a comfortable supportive chamois pad help set the Pearl Izumi Select LTD shorts apart

Stand out from the group ride with the Pearl Izumi Select LTD jersey, featuring a 12″ zipper, Direct Vent panels and moisture wicking fabric

 Pearl Izumi Women’s Select LTD Jersey, Sleeveless Jersey, and Shorts

And rounding out the custom collection are three new women’s pieces. The women’s collection features the Women’s Select LTD short sleeve jersey, Select LTD sleeveless jersey, and the Select LTD shorts. These club-fit garments feature a more relaxed fit, with a focus on comfort. They’re printed with custom Performance Team graphics for a distinctive look, and can be mixed and matched depending on the weather.

Ride all day in comfort with the Pearl Izumi Women’s Select shorts, featuring the comfortable Women’s Tour chamois pad and Performance Team graphics

The Pearl Izumi Select LTD Women’s short sleeve jersey features a half-length zipper, light weight moisture wicking fabric and 3 pockets for storage

The Pearl Izumi Select LTD women’s sleeveless jersey is ideal for hot, humid summer days

Pearl Izumi PRO Leader Shoes

You might also know that Pearl Izumi makes more than just great clothing, right? Pearl Izumi also makes some of the most innovative shoes around. We had an opportunity to test out the Pearl Izumi PRO Leader shoes—developed with input from BMC Pro Cycling pro superstar Tejay Van Garderen (who designed the red color to match the team’s kit).

Made with a stiff, unidirectional carbon fiber sole, a supportive yet lightweight upper, and featuring a unique tongue-mounted BOA dial, these shoes are comfortable enough for long days, stiff enough for race day, and great looking pretty much any day.

On our test ride, we found the shoes to be among the most comfortable we’ve tried—thanks to the unique way the Pearl Izumi positioned the dial. Instead of trying to cinch down a series of straps, the single dial simply pulls the whole shoe snugly around your food, resulting in a comfortable, cradling feeling that was easy to adjust and didn’t cause any pinching or hotspots. The position didn’t do a great job of holding our heel in, but Pearl Izumi thought that as well. The heel of the shoe has a grippy, textured fabric that helps prevent your heel from coming out of the shoe, even when hammering in the drops. Speaking of which…the full uni-directional carbon fiber sole was plenty stiff, and we didn’t notice any flex, even when sprinting out of the saddle.

Lastly, we have to say that the look of the shoe is unlike anything out there. It’s understated, yet completely distinctive. When our tester first brought them home to try them out, the first words out of his wife’s mouth were: “Those are cycling shoes? Those actually look good.” Looks aren’t everything, obviously, but in a pair of shoes that feel this great, and have such a stiff sole, it’s just an icing on the cake.

We would note though that these shoes tend to run about a half small. Our tester normally wears a Sidi 44.5/Giro 44, and the 45 PRO Leader felt a little snug on his feet.

The Pearl Izumi PRO Leader shoe is one of the most innovative, comfortable designs on the market

Ready for Spring: 13 Point Safety Checklist

While we originally wrote this post for breaking out the bike after a winter hiatus, we think that this advice is great to follow year-round, even if you’ve been riding for months! You’ll be amazed at what you find if you give your bike a thorough once-over – so what do you look for?

Just follow our 13 Point Inspection checklist.

If you need some reference for where to look for parts on your bike, check out our handy Anatomy of a Bike guide.

 

1. Inspect frame & fork for damage.

Look for cracks or frame separation. Gently lift your front tire off of the ground and let it drop.  Listen for noise (beyond the sound of the chain bouncing).

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you'll hear it

Lift the front wheel and let the front wheel drop to the floor. If the frame is damaged, you’ll hear it


2. Inspect racks, fenders, child seats & baskets.

Make sure all nuts and bolts are securely fastened.

3. Inspect rims and spokes for wear, damage and that the wheel is true

Look for loose or missing spokes (loose  spokes will rattle when moved with your fingers).
Spin the wheel to see if it rolls smoothly.  If not take it to a professional.

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose

Squeeze the spokes together to see if any are loose


4. Inspect tires for cuts, wear & damage.

Check the tires for cracks, dry spots, visible tire threads, cuts, visible tire casing, or debris in the rubber.

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts

Deflate the tire slightly so you can pull it from side to side to look for wear or cuts


5. Test brake levers and brakes are tight & secure.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike.  If the brakes are working your bike wheels should not roll.

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward

Squeeze the brake levers and try to push the bike forward


6. Test headset for correct adjustment.

Squeeze the brakes and move your bike back and forth.  Look to see if the fork rocks where it inserts into the frame.

Click here to see how to adjust your headset

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube

Pull the brake levers, brace the front wheel between your legs, and pull on the handlebars. Check to see if the steerer tube rocks inside of the headtube


7. Test seat and seatpost are tight & secure.

Try to twist the seat side to side.  It should not move.
Click here to see how to adjust your seatpost

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves

Try to twist the saddle and see if it moves


8. Test handlebar, stem, and pedals are tight & secure.

Try to twist your handlebar, while holding the front wheel securely.  It should not move side to side or up and down.
Click here to see how to adjust your stem

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened

Use an allen wrench to ensure all the bolts are properly tightened


 

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight

Use a hex wrench or pedal wrench to ensure your pedals are tight


9. Inspect cables & housing for cracks, kinks, rust or fraying.

Click here to see how to install new cables

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying

Inspect the cables and housing for worn spots, rusting or fraying


10. Inspect brakes for correct adjustment.

Your brakes should squeeze the rim at the same time.  If not, go and visit your favorite mechanic.

11. Inspect brake pads for wear.

Use the wear indicator marks on the pad to determine if the pads are still in good use. If you don’t see any, you can pick up some replacements here.

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point

Check the brake pads to see if they are past the wear point


12. Inspect derailleurs for correct adjustment.

Take your bike for a short test spin or put it in the workstand and try to shift gears. Look to see if your bike skips gears, won’t shift to the selected gear or makes a rattling, skipping sound.

Click here to see how to adjust your rear derailleur

If your derailleur isn't shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster

If your derailleur isn’t shifting correctly, adjust the cable tension using the barrel adjuster


13. Inflate tires to sidewall pressure.

Tires have a range of tires pressures written on the side wall that is a useful guide.  You should pump up your tires before every ride.
Click here to see how to inflate your tires

Need some new tubes? Stock up here.

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Most tire manufacturers stamp the recommended PSI on the sidewall

Everything check out okay? Go pedal! 

To find out what essentials you should bring on your next ride, check out our article here.

Performance Visits The Paterberg

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This is going to hurt. At over 22% in places and entirely cobbled, the Paterberg is one of the toughest climbs in cycling

Sadly, cycling’s heroic cobbled classics races are now over for the year. Always one of the high points of the season, we were very fortunate to get to see one live this year. While in Belgium, our hosts, Ridley Bicycles, generously arranged for us to to be able to see the Ronde van Vlaanderen from the slopes of the Paterberg– a once in a lifetime chance we won’t soon forget.

Flemish cartpet

Flemish carpet

While only paved and added to the Ronde in 1986, the Paterberg has already achieved legendary status in cycling. This small hill– only about 260 feet tall and rising innocuously out of the Flemish countryside– seems insignificant when compared to giants like the Alpe d’Huez or the Angliru, but the Paterberg is a small monster in its own right: blowing apart races, ripping apart chains, and sometimes forcing even the hardest of the hardmen to dismount and walk.

We climbed the Paterberg as part of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo ride the day before the actual pro race, and it was every bit as difficult as it looks. Rising steeply at a pitch of nearly 13% and at times maxing out at a leg searing gradient in excess of 20%, all of it cobbled, the Paterberg is truly in a class with few equals. The hill is a devil to climb, with a grade that makes your breath scrape in your lungs and cobbles that don’t lightly forgive the rider who loses his focus, but it offers unparalleled rewards. At the top, you find yourself in a broad meadow covered in tall, waving grasses. Looking out from the Paterberg’s summit you take in a vista of rolling Flemish farm country, often viewed under the shifting light from racing clouds. Sheep and cattle graze in lush green fields that have been farmed for thousands of years.

A view of the race is open to all...provided you get there early enough

A view of the race is open to all…provided you get there early enough

Climbed twice in the race’s finale, the Paterberg is often the scene of an attack that detonates the race and truly separates the weak from the strong. And seeing that the Paterberg’s second ascent is also the final climb before the finish, it’s definitely where we wanted to be to witness what’s frequently the race’s deciding move.

When we got to the Paterberg, it was like arriving in cycling heaven. In a pasture field alongside the narrow road, hundreds of Belgian, Dutch, British and French cycling fans milled around, watching a giant outdoor video screen, waiting for the race to come through. The Lion of Flanders, the iconic yellow flag with a black lion that has been a symbol of northern Belgium for centuries, was on display everywhere. Lotto-Belisol and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep supporters waved small flags, and everyone wore the cycling cap or jersey of their favorite team. Nearby, a small stand was set up to sell Jupiler beer—a staple of Belgian cycling events, and another to sell frites in wax paper cones. Small children wandered around waving multiple Flanders flags and chanting “Tommke! Tommke! Tommke!” (Tom Boonen, the hometown favorite).

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

These guys have probably been enjoying Jupiler and frites on the Paterberg since way back

We settled into a decent spot where we could see both the screen and still be close enough to the road to get a good spot when the race came through. We could always tell where it was by watching the hovering helicopters covering the race. The closer the race got, the more crowded the hill became and the more the energy built.

Belgium is a country with cycling close to its heart. It’s difficult to explain how deeply two wheels run in Belgian culture– but these guys grow up riding, spend their autumn watching ‘cross, and come out by the millions to watch the Ronde. By the time the women’s race came around, the crowd was already pretty fired up, and cheered loudly as the first riders charged up the hill. One of the last riders in the group, a rider from Estado de México-Faren Kuota, broke her chain and was forced to walk. The crowd began to chant “Give her a bike! Give her a bike!” as team car after team car drove past.

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Riders in the women’s race are cheered on up the Paterberg

Several hours later when the men’s race came by, the crowd was in full-on party mode. As Tom Boonen came charging in with a group including Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and other favorites, the crowd rushed to the barricades, cheering for their hometown hero. The biggest show of support, though, was for a virtually unknown Cofidis domestique. His rear derailleur broke less than half way up the hill. With no team car in sight to get a new bike, he was forced to sit by the side of the road. By the time his car got to him, the rest of the peloton was far out of sight. At this point in the race, there would have been no shame in stopping. The Cofidis team was completely out of contention, and what remained was over an hour of brutal cobbled hills and roads with terrible headwinds, all of which he would have to ride alone. When his team car finally showed up, instead of getting inside he pulled a fresh bike off the roof, got back on and started pedaling. The crowd went nuts. Belgians love this kind of stuff. The guy who doesn’t give up, who keeps on going even when there’s no hope of winning.

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost

The crowd loved this rider for not giving up, even when the race was lost (he’s waiting for a new bike)

After watching Mr. Cofidis get to the top, everyone moved back into position at either the Jupiler tent or in front of the big TV screen. Shortly after the first run up the Paterberg, Boonen found himself flailing and out of contention. At this point crowd allegiances switched to everyone’s favorite adopted Belgian, Fabian Cancellara. This subtle but quick shift didn’t seem to particularly bother anyone, so we just rolled with it too. When the race came around to the Paterberg the second time, the crowd rushed to the rails to watch Cancellara and Sep Vanmarck duel it out on the climb, trying to chase down a breakaway, then immediately proceeded to ignore the rest of the peloton and  ran back to the video monitor.

In the closing kilometers, the crowd packed in tighter and tighter to watch. People cheered on their favorite riders in a cacophony languages, and the crowd took on a collective energy that felt almost overwhelming. It was without a doubt the most intense excitement we’ve ever felt during a bike race. In the final meters, as the race came down to a match sprint, the crowd roared and the tension built. When Cancellara finally edged out Greg Van Avermaet for the win, it felt like a wave finally broke over us, the tension released with a huge rush of cheers.

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Fans of Swiss rider (and eventual winner) Fabian Cancellara were out in force

Walking back down to the car, we stepped over discarded paper Lion of Flanders flags, crushed Jupiler cans and lost Lotto-Belisol team caps. The dust from the race still hung heavy in the air over the cobbled roads. The people we passed seemed subdued, spent somehow from the excitement of watching the race. In the absence of the cheering crowds, the Flemish countryside seemed oddly quiet and empty. To watch  live and in person that we’d seen so many times on TV was an experience that would take us a long time to really full comprehend. The riders go so fast, and the race is so frenetic, that it’s not until long after the riders have passed that it sinks in what you’ve just seen. But it’s not something we’re ever likely to forget.

Ridden and Reviewed: The Ridley Helium

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

The Ridley Helium is a stiff, fast and lightweight bike designed for climbing

Lighter Than Air

The Ridley Helium is part of the lightweight line of Ridley bikes. While the Helium SL claims top honors in Ridley’s “superlight” category, the Helium is still one of the lightest production frames available, and in fact was the basis for what became the SL. This tried and true chassis has been ridden to victory by riders from several different Pro Tour teams, and after spending a few days on it, it’s easy to see how.

So exactly where does the Helium fit into Ridley’s lineup? Like all of Ridley’s other bikes, the Helium originally grew out of a request from Ridley’s pro riders, who needed a lightweight frame that would make climbing during difficult mountain stages easier. While the Fenix is Ridley’s “go everywhere, do everything” bike, and the Noah is designed to be an ultra-stiff aero-wonder for the sprinters, the Helium was designed to shave every possible gram for the climbers.

But this isn’t to say the bike is only at home in the mountains…

All of Ridley's bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand's own durability standards

All of Ridley’s bikes are tested on the cobbles to make sure they meet the brand’s own durability standards

Beyond the Mountains

When we visited Ridley in Belgium a few weeks ago, among the bikes we were given to test out were a pair of Heliums. While they weren’t spec’ed exactly the same as the Performance models, we got a pretty fair sense for how the Helium rode, and for two of our testers, it came to be the bike of choice for the Tour of Flanders sportif (the others chose the Fenix).

 While Ridley may bill the Helium as a climbers bike built for the mountains, we actually found that the bike was more than at home on the cobbled roads of Flanders—a realization that was backed up by the fact that several of the Lotto-Belisol riders chose to ride the pro-level Helium SL for the actual Tour of Flanders. Thanks to its super-thin seat stays and more traditional rounded tubing, we found the ride to be plenty compliant for even the toughest cobbled sections we encountered.

Even our test bikes, which were built up with some super-stiff, low spoke count carbon wheels, seemed to have almost no problems dealing with the cobbled roads and descents found on the sportif. At no point did we feel we were bouncing off the rocks or getting bucked all over the road. Not that the ride was exactly silky, but the Helium had the chops to take the hits. But this isn’t to say the Helium is a noodle either—it was plenty stiff enough to deliver the goods come smash time on the Circuit Zolder, where it was right at home in a paceline involving a few pro’s, local hardmen and excitable juniors. The bike just felt fast, responsive and lively.

We were able to follow sprints, break-aways and surges with aplomb, and when we stood up to go for the gusto, the bike instantly responded with plenty of forward speed.

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

The Helium was right at home on the flat and fast Zolder track

Climbers Delight

Despite it’s all-arounder abilities, we have to say that the bike did truly come into it’s own on the climbs. We started the day of the Tour of Flanders sportif feeling more than a little anxious about going up the Koppenberg, the Steenbeekdreijs, the Kwarmont and the Paterberg—all legendary cobbled hills with brutal gradients that can surpass 20%, but eventually we came to almost look forward to them.

We’re not the worst climbers in the world, after all we do live in North Carolina, but aboard the Helium we felt almost delusionally gifted—enough so to even try to challenge a Trek Factory Racing pro we happened upon on the Kwarmont (it didn’t end well for us). Making the turns into the climbs made us feel almost giddy, because you really do get the sensation of floating uphill. The bike is very light, but it’s more than that. The geometry, the fork rake, and the blend of both stiffer and more compliant carbon fibers all seem to function together in an almost unquantifiable way to just make climbing feel easier and more natural.

This isn’t to say we weren’t suffering on the Paterberg at the 22% pitch, but we rarely felt we had to resort to standing to make it up the hills. The bike seemed to work with us to make the going easier, and that’s something we can always appreciate.

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

The Ridley Helium helped make climbing even the Paterberg feel easier and more natural

A More In-Depth Look

After riding the Helium for a few days, we got a chance to talk with Dirk, the lead product manager at Ridley about what went into making the Helium, and out of that conversation came a true insight into what the Ridley brand is all about. The Helium is if nothing else a pragmatic machine, built to solve problems with substance instead of style and marketing.

Neither the Helium nor the pro-level Helium SL are anywhere close to the lightest production frames available, but that’s not something that Ridley is really interested in making. Ridley believes that behind most of those other super-lightweight frames is a directive from a brand’s marketing department, not an actual benefit to the consumer. To make a sub-700 gram frame isn’t difficult, but to make a sub-700 gram frame that can actually be ridden is.

With the Helium series, Ridley looked at how cyclists actually ride. Pro’s, amateurs, weekend warriors, everyone. Then they talked with pro mechanics, materials engineers, designers—basically anybody who would ever have to work one—about what they wanted to see in a lightweight bike. The consensus was clear: it didn’t matter if it was the lightest bike on the market if it couldn’t survive a full season, or transfer all your power into the pedals. Where they arrived at was a frame that was just a few grams heavier than the competition, but that would stand up to the abuse of racing, training and everyday riding like nothing else in its class. In fact, the frames ended up being so dependable that the Lotto-Belisol pro’s just ride off the shelf bikes, painted up in team colors.

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The Verdict

The Helium is just a flat out great bike. It has a ride feel that combines so many different aspects into one bike, which is a hard act to follow. Stiff enough to sprint, comfortable enough for the cobbles, and purpose-built for climbing, this bike comes pretty close to being the total package.

The bike definitely has a race-tuned geometry, so if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed you might want to look at the Fenix, but if you want a go-fast machine that performs as a true all-around high performance bike, then the Helium is the way to go.

Performance Ultra SL Jersey and Shorts Review

Riding cobbles is kind of the ultimate test for not only a rider, but for their equipment. It’s a crucible that tests everything from the bike to clothing. If any piece of gear isn’t up to par, you’re in for one miserable day on the bike.

When we headed to Belgium to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo gran fondo, which included several cobbled sections and four cobbled climbs, we knew we would need some great bikes—which Ridley graciously supplied us for the day, but it also struck us as the ultimate proving ground for our new Performance Ultra SL bib shorts and the Ultra jersey. Ultra is Performance’s line of performance-oriented clothing, designed for riders who expect the very best from their clothing, in all circumstances. If it could survive a day on the cobbles, then it was certainly ready for the prime time back at home.

The new Ultra kit is an evolution of last year’s break out redesign of the Ultra line, and is engineered to be lighter, fit better, and help you perform better on the bike. Constructed using our Physiodynamic design, made with lighter weight Eschler fabrics, coldblack treatment, and Aerocool technology to help you stay cooler and perform better, this pair of short and jersey are designed for long hard days. The all-new SL shorts feature a less bulky chamois, a finer mesh on the upper for better breathability, and a slimmer cut than the standard Ultra shorts.

The Jersey

Our first impression of the newly redesigned Ultra jersey was that it is unbelievably airy and light. On our ride to the ride, we actually needed a jacket in addition to our usual baselayer and arm warmers, because the jersey held in so little heat. The Aerocool fabric is definitely that—cool. In fact, the faster you ride, the more it seems to suck air in and channel it under the jersey. The fabric has an almost silky feel to it that wasn’t clingy like some other jersey’s we’ve tried. The high collar is a nice touch, since a sun burned neck is something we’re usually keen to avoid on long rides, and the arm bands were a fan favorite. As cyclists we’ve generally let our arms wither away to nothing, so it was nice to find a jersey that had sleeves that actually felt snug around our arms. The fabric was a little on the stiff side, but it seemed to loosen up a little as the day went on.

Performance Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders

Riding in the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

The locking zipper was also a nice feature. The day we rode the Ronde Cyclo ended up being fairly hot and sunny, so it was crucial to be able to easily open up the jersey to get more air, especially on the longer climbs.

Another nice benefit we noticed was the bellowed rear pockets. One of them is apparently sweatproof, but we didn’t know that at the time, and didn’t get an opportunity to test it. The pockets proved more than able to pack in everything we needed for a long day. We filled ours up with 2 tubes, multitool, tire levers, mini pump, iPhone, wallet, packable jacket, 3 gels, 2 stroop waffles,  and a route card, and we still had plenty of room. One of the real tests—and one seldom mentioned—for a jersey though is how well it performs with fully loaded pockets. Many race-fit jerseys feel great until you load up the pockets, and then they just end up stretching and drooping as the day goes on. The Ultra jersey though seems to have hit that sweet spot of being light enough to keep you cool, but with enough structure in the back panels to keep the pockets from sagging or bouncing around as you ride. Definitely a solid touch.

The Shorts

As great as a jersey is, the shorts are really the center piece of any clothing line, and if they aren’t up to snuff, you’re in big trouble. Especially when riding on cobbles, which feels a little like riding a bike with a jackhammer for a seatpost. We were a little apprehensive about riding a new shorts that we’d never before worn before – hoping against hope the chamois would be worthy of the challenge. It turns out that we had nothing to worry about!

The TMF Skyve chamois found in the Ultra SL shorts was more than equal to the cobbles. Normally this reviewer is not a big fan of multi-density pads—it’s just a personal preference, but in this case it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The different densities did a really a fine job of soaking up what could have been some…ummm…uncomfortable cobble hits. We definitely knew we were riding over the rough stuff, there’s only so much your shorts and bike can do, but we shudder to think what it would have been like with a lesser chamois. And the pad didn’t just excel in the cobbles either—we spent about 5 hours in the saddle that day, and never had a single complaint. No chaffing, no rubbing, no issues. At no point did we ever really think about the chamois—which is one of the highest compliments you can give to a pair of shorts. If you don’t notice them, they are doing their job.

Peformance Ultra Kit

Testing the Ultra kit in Belgium

The overall construction was also really nice. The contoured Eschler gridded fabric construction moved easily with us, and provided a nice snug fit without too much compression, or the ever-irritating stretching out that sometimes happens. The leg band was nice and snug, and held the shorts in place—even when wearing knee warmers, which is fairly unusual.

The Verdict

The Ultra jersey and Ultra SL shorts were definitely the right tools for the job. The distinctive styling didn’t have us feeling out of place amongst the ever well-dressed Europeans, while the high performance features kept us comfortable and helped us ride well during one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done.

Testing the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Our testers at the finish of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Whether you’re racing or going for a longer-distance ride, the kit provides a nice aerodynamic fit that can help you gain an advantage in the paceline, and had all the comfort features you would want for long distances.

Now that we’re home, this is definitely a kit we’ll be reaching for again for some other adventures we have coming up…so check back for more soon.

Check out our all new digital Spring Clothing Catalog to see more spring clothing from Performance Bicycle.

Getting The Right One: A Guide to Kids Bikes

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

Everyone remembers the thrill of riding a bike for the first time

We all remember that joy of getting your first bike. The fun of riding with training wheels,  the abject terror of that first time you tried to ride on two wheels, and then finally the thrilling freedom of your world opening up when you learned to ride on two wheels. New Bike Day is still one of our favorite days, but nothing will ever compare to that very first time.

Learn more about how to teach your kid how to ride a bike.

If you’re thinking about getting your little guy or girl a bike this spring, we have several programs that can help make it easier. Performance Bicycle offers the Kids Bike Growth Guarantee - so even as your kid grows up, they’ll never outgrow their love of riding. We also offer our Spin Doctor bike build services, so  your child will never have to wait for the bike to be put together, and our Hide A Bike program ensures you won’t have to worry about where to keep it from prying little eyes. To learn more, visit your local Performance Bicycle shop.

If you’d like to learn more about buying a kid’s bike, we have a few resources that can guide you through the process.

Make sure you get the right size bike by following our Kids Bike Sizing Chart:

Using our kid's bike growth chart is a great way to make sure you pick the right sized bike

Our kid’s bike growth chart will help you pick the right sized bike.

Learn more about how to buy a kids bike.

Learn more about how to assemble a kids bike.

A Visit To The Lotto-Belisol Service Course

Last week we were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to visit the Lotto-Belisol team service course in Belgium. It was only a few days before the Tour of Flanders (Flemish: Ronde van Vlaanderen) and Tour of the Basque Country (Spanish: Pais Vasco; Basque: Euskal Iztulia) so the place was pretty cleared out, but Chris, one of the team mechanics was there, and was nice enough to take the time to show us around.

Lotto-Belisol is a strongly Belgian team, so of course they ride Ridley bikes. Most of the bikes were gone to either Oudenaarde or Bilbao for the races, but we did get to see some pretty cool stuff there, with plenty of eye candy for the bike geek in everyone.

Beyond Andre Greipel’s distinctive Gorilla bike, Adam Hansen’s Helium SL with a set up no bike fitter would ever recommend (but hey, it works for him), and plenty of Dean FAST time trial bikes, we saw the new custom-built Ridley X-Night cyclocross bikes the team will be riding at the 2014 Paris-Roubaix (April 13, 2014). For most classics races, the team opts for the Ridley Fenix, which is more than equal to the cobbles found in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the cobbles of Northern France require a more specialized machine.

Check out this video tour of the Lotto Belisol team bus by CyclingTips, with Adam Hansen as the guide, for a better look around their home away from home on the road:

Paris Roubaix Special Edition Ridley X-Nights

Special Paris Roubaix edition Ridley X-Night bikes

Special Paris Roubaix edition Ridley X-Night bikes

According to Dirk, the Ridley product manager, all of the frames are stock off-the-shelf Ridley X-Night’s– like all the rest of the Ridley bikes the team races. The only change made to the frames was the front derailleur hanger was mounted slightly higher to allow for a 53T chainring, instead of the usual 46T chainring used in cyclocross.

The bikes were also specially spec’ed to handle the rougher cobbles of Roubaix. Instead of the standard Campagnolo Super Record 11 EPS electronic groupsets and deep-section carbon fiber Campagnolo Bora Ultra wheels the riders usually use, the Ridley X-Night bikes were built up with the just released mechanical Campagnolo Super Record RS groupset and lower-profile Campagnolo Hyperion wheels with specially-made Continental tires, with a unique tread profile and casing that can handle the tough cobbled sections. Instead of the usual cyclocross cantilever brakes, the team opted for TRP Mini-V brakes, which offer more powerful stopping and better cable pull with road levers.

For those of you who are already salivating in anticipation, don’t worry. The Ridley X-Night frameset will be available from Performance Bicycle later this year.

Before the Tour of Flanders, we visited with the Lotto Belisol team mechanics at the team hotel as they were getting the bikes and team cars prepped for the big race. If you thought that the team mechanics kept everything organized and tidy in the service course, that was nothing compared to how diligently they worked while on the road, on their bus and mechanic’s truck.

Ridden and Reviewed: Ridley Fenix

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The Ridley Fenix was built to tame the cobbled roads of Flanders

The Belgian Swiss Army Knife

A few months ago when Ridley invited us to come to Belgium to learn more about their brand, we were pretty excited. When Ridley told us were going to be testing their bikes on cobbles, we were a little less thrilled. We’ve ridden cobbles before, and if you’ve ever wanted to know what’s like to ride a bike inside of a paint mixer, taking a spin down a Belgian lane is a pretty good approximation. We knew that Ridley makes some tough bikes though, so we figured this would be the ultimate test of a bike’s durability.

The Ridley Fenix is what Ridley describes as their “Swiss Army knife” bike. The bike was designed at the behest of the riders of Ridley’s pro-tour teams, who needed a bike that could conquer the long, brutal spring classics races in Italy, Belgium and France. Looking at lessons learned from the Damocles and the Excalibur, two of Ridley’s most successful bikes ever, Ridley’s designers came up with the Fenix. Built with a more “endurance” tuned geometry for improved comfort over long distances, flattened seat stays for improved compliance on the terrible cobbles, and diamond-shaped tubes for incredible durability and strength, the Fenix is one of the toughest, most versatile bikes ever.

The Performance-exclusive Ridley Fenix CR1 is built around the same frame the pro's ride

The Performance-exclusive Ridley Fenix CR1 is built around the same frame the pro’s ride

About The Ride

Because Ridley had a lot of journalists and vendors visiting the week we were there (during that Tour of Flanders), the bike we ended up with wasn’t exactly spec’ed the same as the Performance-exclusive CR1 model (different crank, handlebars and saddle), but it was close enough to give us a general feel for the bike. And wow, were we impressed.

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The Fenix more than lives up to its reputation. From the minute we first put a leg over the bike, it felt like it came alive. The handling was snappy, and the bike felt responsive from the first pedal stroke. On the pavement it handles like one of the finest race steeds we’ve ever encountered (in fact the bike more than held it’s own when we took it to the brutally fast Wednesday night ride at the famed Zolder Circuit), but where the bike really came to life was on the cobbles.

We’re not going to say that it made the cobbles smooth like butter–there’s only so much a bike can do, but the Fenix certainly made the ride less jarring than we remembered. Turning onto our first cobbled section at speed, we braced for the first bike impacts and tried to prepare for the bone shaking hits. We didn’t really need to though, since the Fenix definitely took some of the sting out of the cobbles. It was especially apparent in the saddle, where the flat-section seat stays made a noticeable difference and transmitted much less vibration and absorbed the worst of the hits.

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Even these cobbles were smoothed out some by the frame’s flattened seatstays

The bike also held it’s line and tracked far better in the rough stuff than we were expecting. Even our lighter weight tester, who normally gets bounced off the cobbles pretty well and ends up all over the road, was able to find a line and hold it on the Fenix over some of the worst cobbles we encountered. On the one occasion when we did crash, the bike was just fine—thanks to the diamond shaped tubing that gives it a higher strength and makes the tubes more resistant to side impacts. After a few kilometers (sorry, we were in Europe), we could definitely see why the Lotto-Belisol guys love the Fenix.

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The Fenix handles rough roads well, with a stable handling feel that helps you hold your line

About The Bike

After our experience testing the bike, we had a chance to talk with Joachim Aerts, founder of Ridley, and Dirk, the lead product developer, about what went into the bike. It turns out that the inspiration for the Fenix came not only from the shapes found in nature, but also from real world riding. Both of them grew up in Belgium, riding on the cobbled roads, and thought about the kind of bike they would want to ride on those roads. After getting more input from pro riders, they turned to the Lotto-Belisol mechanics, and asked for their opinions about the bike. Would it be easy to work on? Could it survive a crash? Did the internal cable routing make sense from a practical stand point? Once all these questions were answered and problems solved, and only then, did the bike move into production.

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The carbon fiber frame found on this test bike, as well as the Performance-exclusive CR1 and CR2 are the same as the ones ridden by the pro’s from the Lotto Belisol team

Ridley, and the Lotto-Belisol team, were so thrilled with the final product that they didn’t even make a special version for the pro team, which is fairly unusual in the bike industry. The pro riders literally get off-the-shelf Ridley Fenix bikes, painted in the team colors, and built up with their pro livery parts.

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Jurgan Roelandts of Lotto-Belisol chose to ride the Fenix (outfitted with team-issue Campagnolo Super Record 11 EPS and Bora Ultra wheels) in the Tour of Flanders

Overall, we’d say that the Fenix is one of the best all-around bikes we’ve ever ridden. Stiff enough to hold it’s own on one of the fastest group rides we’ve ever done, comfortable enough to ride all day on some of the roughest cobbles in the world, and tough enough to survive a fairly gnarly crash. If you want a bike for riding a charity ride, a gran fondo, and even racing, then this is definitely the bike for you. This bike not only gets our seal of approval, but the seal of Belgian approval as well.

Introducing Ridley Bikes at Performance Bicycle

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If you know nothing else about Belgium, you should know that the roads are cobbled and the weather is, well, we’ll be polite and call it changeable. If your bicycle is anything less than the toughest thing around, you won’t be owning that bike for very long. Which is why if you ever go to Belgium you’ll notice that most people ride Ridley bikes—because they’re made in Belgium, for Belgian roads.

When your roads look like this, your bikes better be as tough as the riders

When your roads look like this, your bikes better be as tough as the riders

Ridley Bikes was founded with the design philosophy of “tough enough to ride, fast enough to win, tested in every day life”. The company was started in Hasselt, Belgium in 1990 by Joachim Aerts, a former juniors racer. Originally founded as a bicycle paint shop in his father’s garage, Ridley has since evolved into one of the most innovative and dependable bike brands in cycling.

Joachim got his start by offering both custom frames, and later custom paint for pro and amateur riders. At the time, during the age of steel bikes, most professional would have their bikes built by the favorite custom frame builder (usually someone local who knew the rider well), but would have them painted to match their sponsor and team colors. When riders switched to aluminum bikes however, entirely new construction techniques became possible and Joachim used his experience as a juniors racer to begin designing a  new generation of bikes that were tougher, stronger, and faster than anything available before.

Ridley's facilities remain in Hasselt, where most of the bikes are still finished and assembled

Ridley’s facilities remain in Beringen, where many of the bikes are still finished and assembled

The evolution only continued with carbon fiber, and Ridley now makes bikes that are shaped to be strong, engineered to be fast, and ones so light they practically float up the hills.

The Ridley line-up consists of four basic models:

The Ridley Fenix was engineered for cycling’s “Spring Classics” races. It features a more relaxed geometry than their other road bikes, and Ridley’s innovative diamond-shaped tubing shapes for superior strength. The Fenix is available in 4 models, in both carbon fiber and aluminum, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

The Ridley Fenix is one of toughest bikes around –  perfect for racing, gran fondos, and every day riding.

The Ridley Noah was designed with input from famed sprinter Andre Greipel, and is designed solely for speed. With water-droplet shaped tubes and the F-Split fork to knife through the wind. The Noah is available with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed groupset, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

With it’s aero tube shapes, F-Surface treatment and revolutionary F-Split fork, the Ridley Noah is one of the fastest bikes in the world.

The Ridley Helium was designed for climbers, with circle shaped tubes that offer the best strength-to-weight ratio possible, allowing Ridley to shave off every possible gram. The Helium is available with a Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed group set, exclusively at Performance Bicycle.

The circle shaped tubing offers the best strength-to-weight ratio possible, which allowed Ridley’s engineers to make the Helium as light as possible.

The Ridley Liz is a women’s specific bike, and was designed for the ultimate in fit, performance and comfort without compromise. The Liz is available in two carbon fiber models, with either Shimano Ultegra 6800 or Shimano 105, and as a carbon fiber frameset.

To get the best mix of performance, comfort, and fit, Ridley worked with several pro women’s teams to find the best geometry for the Liz.

Today, Ridley is one of the most recognizable bikes in cycling. Famed for their toughness, and for their race-winning performance under the riders of the UCI World Tour Pro team Lotto-Belisol, Ridley’s penchant for innovation has made them one of the most imitated and watched brands in the industry, but the only one with the heritage and hard-earned reputation to be able to say “We Are Belgium”.

Our Favorite Youtube Videos

Have you checked out the Performance Bicycle Youtube channel lately? If not, it’s definitely worth a peek. It’s packed full of Product Reviews, Buyer’s Guides, Riding Tips, How To Guides, and more to help you find the products you want, stay up to date, and help you get more out of your bike and gear.

Of the hundreds of videos we have, here are some of our favorites:

 

 Riding Tips

Ever wondered what the best way to clear that log in your path was? Learn how in our How To Jump A Log video:

 

How To Guides

Adjusting your front derailleur is more art than science. To get the hang of it, check out our How To Adjust Your Front Derailleur video:

 

Buyer’s Guides

Shopping around for a new indoor trainer? We break down the different types to choose from in our Guide To Indoor Trainers video:

 

Product Reviews

Looking for a great pair of all-around wheels? Check out our product review of the Zipp 202 Firecrest wheels.

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