Throw Down: Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting

mech-vs-elec

 

With SRAM finally getting ready to launch their long awaited electronic drivetrain system, all three major manufacturers will now offer electronic shifting. This got us thinking about how far these systems have come in just the last few years (never mind how far since Mavic Mektronic, if any of you guys remember that), and also wondering if electronic will ever fully replace mechanical shifting.

SRAM prototype units (or maybe full production, hard to tell since some units had clearly covered up logos) were spotted on the bikes of the Bissel Pro Cycling team at the Tour of California. SRAM is keeping such a tight lid on them that even Belgian superstar Tom Boonen and Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra were chased way when they came to investigate.

If the pro’s are racing them, then that means that they must be in the final stages of getting ready to launch. With the unveiling, SRAM will join Shimano Di2 and Campagnolo EPS in the electronic drivetrain market. The race now is not to be first to market, but who can add new features and make the technology economical enough to appeal to every cyclist– but will this justify an upgrade for most riders?

We take a look at the pro’s and con’s of both electronic and mechanical shifting to see who comes out ahead when we looked at a few key features.

Click here to shop for Shimano Di2 Bikes
Click here to shop for Campagnolo EPS bikes
Click here to shop for all road bikes

 

Electronic shifting systems, once reserved for the highest-end race bikes, are starting to appear on more and more bikes every year, like this Fuji Gran Fondo with Ultegra Di2

1. Shifting Performance

Hands down electronic wins this one—especially when it comes to front shifting. We were skeptical at first too, but trust us, after one ride you’ll understand.

While the power and feel of mechanical shifting has been refined to an art-form these days, it’s just tough for cable-actuated spring mechanisms to match the power and precision of electronic computer-controlled servo motors.

Because the motors are so powerful, it’s now possible to shift the drivetrain, even while under load, without fear of damaging components (though it’s still possible to snap a chain). Many systems also include novel features, like Shimano’s add-on climbing and sprinting remotes, or Campagnolo’s ability to sweep the entire cassette with one shift.

Winner: Electronic

 

2. Ease of Maintenance

This one goes to mechanical. Electronic shifting is pretty straight forward to get adjusted. You simply use the shift levers as barrel adjusters, and once you have it set, you don’t have to worry about adjusting it again unless you switch bikes or crash.

Mechanical shifting on the other hand can be finicky to set up—especially with some of the newer 11-speed designs. It also requires fairly frequent adjusting since the springs and cables eventually lose tension.

The upshot though is that problems with mechanical shifting are very easy to diagnose, and seldom require anything more complicated than replacing a cable or some housing. It can seem complex, but it’s one of those things that after you’ve done it once, you kind of have it figured out.

Electronic shifting…not so much. Beyond fine tuning adjustment, any real issues with your components will require them to be serviced by a trained technician. Which is probably good, since not too many of us have the engineering expertise to a) realize what’s gone wrong, or b) even know where to begin to fix it.

Winner: Mechanical

 

Newer mechanical drivetrains, like the Ultegra 6800 found on the Ridley Fenix CR1, can be easier to maintain than most electronic systems

 

3. Reliability

Electronic. We know, we know. Its battery operated. But take it from us…most people will have to recharge their batteries maybe twice a year. And the battery will give you plenty of warning that it needs to be recharged—but in the meantime each charge will be good for about 1100 miles or more.  And besides… you remember to charge your laptop and your phone, so surely you can remember to charge your bike every now and again too.

But all that aside…in our experience we’ve had fewer of the weird quirks and random mid-ride issues with electronic than mechanical. We’ve never seen anyone drop a chain on an electronic system, and the automated front derailleur trim means that you can cross-chain without really having to worry about anything (not that you should worry about cross chaining anyway, it’s not as bad as it’s hyped up to be).

Plus, you don’t have to worry about snapping derailleur cables, having to fine tune barrel adjusters or any of that nonsense. It just works without any of the finicky-ness of mechanical, and seldom goes out of adjustment.

 Winner: Electronic

 

4. Compatibility

Draw. Once, many years ago in the dark ages, few frames were electronic compatible. And even if they were, you had to choose between a mechanical- or electronic-specific frame. So if you ended up upgrading, you needed to get a whole new bike. All that has changed now, and most frames are dual compatible.

Electronic shift systems still have some wonkiness with compatibility (10-speed 7970 Di2 can’t be used with 10-speed 6770 Di2 for example, and Super Record and Record EPS systems are not compatible with Athena), but these days so do mechanical systems. With the increasing complexity of 11-speed mechanical systems and redesigned front derailleurs, fewer mechanical groupsets are cross-compatible, even within brands.

Winner: Draw

 

Campagnolo’s EPS system, like the Campy Athena 11 EPS gruppo on this Kestrel RT-1000 bike, has the ability to shift the entire cassette in a single shift

 

5. Upgradability

Electronic. Obviously, the digital nature of these systems means that the possibilities are wide open. In a world of apps and smartphone integration, engineers are only just beginning to play with what electronic shifting systems can do. Currently Shimano offers the ability to custom program some features of Di2 systems, for instance to allow for customized shifting combos. But there’s even more in the pipeline. From systems that talk to your compatible Garmin or cycling computer and tell them what gear you’re in, how much battery is left and more, to API’s that integrate with power meters to automatically shift to maintain a consistent power output, there’s no telling what the future holds for electronic shifting.

Plus…if rumors are to be believed (and please don’t quote us on this…), it appears that SRAM’s new electronic drivetrain will be completely wireless, which only makes it even more upgradable. This effectively makes each of the levers and derailleurs a standalone computer, which operates solely on software. They could in theory be wirelessly updated in the future for more speeds or improved functionality, or whatever else the boys in Chicago decide to dream up.

Winner: Electronic

 

Verdict

Ultimately, choosing which drivetrain to select for your bike is a personal choice. At our offices and stores we have lots of folks on electronic shift systems…but we also have plenty who have opted to stay with mechanical for the time being.

Electronic shift systems are definitely more expensive, but the benefits are pretty clear. More powerful, precise, and dependable shifting performance, with almost unlimited upgrade potential.

For many though, the tactile feel and cost-benefit aspect of mechanical makes it a still worthy choice. Especially with new approaches to engineering things like front derailleurs and shift levers, some of the very best mechanical systems are beginning to approach the performance of electronic.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you. So tell us: for your next bike, which would you prefer? Tell us in the comments section.

Click here to shop for Shimano Di2 Bikes
Click here to shop for Campagnolo EPS bikes
Click here to shop for all road bikes

 

Performance Bicycle Visits Ridley Bikes: Talking to Ridley Founder Joachim Aerts

ridley_factory_2

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Belgium to visit Ridley bikes was our opportunity to tour the factory and meet founder Joachim Aerts. Joachim had plenty of interesting stories to tell us about why he started Ridley, his work with pro teams, and what the Ridley design philosophy is.

Watch the video below to hear more about Ridley from the man himself:

Of course some of the more interesting tidbits about Ridley came not from the filmed interview, but during more casual conversations. Some of our favorite Ridley facts that didn’t make it into the video include:

  • Ridley got it’s name because Joachim loved the movie Alien. This is completely true. When he was starting the company, he was searching for a name that would be easy to pronounce for speakers of both Flemish and French (Belgium’s two official languages). His favorite movie at the time was Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Scott was already taken, so he settled on Ridley.
  • Ridley is very much a family business. Joachim’s brother helped him get started in frame building, and his father is a regular fixture at the company, where he brings some old-school Flanders cycling knowledge, know-how and attitude to the halls of Ridley’s headquarters.
  • The Noah, Dean, Liz, and other Ridley models are named after Joachim’s children. Sadly, he does not have a child named Helium.
  • Ridley is a key partner in the soon-to-be-built Flanders Bike Valley. Bike Valley is a collaboration between the Flemish government, Ridley, Bio-Racer clothing, Lazer Helmets, two universities, and some composites manufacturing companies. The idea is that by pooling resources they can do more advanced and technical R&D than they could individually. The first project the group is undertaking is building an advanced wind tunnel in Ridley’s backyard. Literally. It’s being built in the empty lot behind their warehouse. And you thought the Noah was fast now…just wait a few years.

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

First Look: 2014 Charge Cooker SS 29er Mountain Bike

When we unboxed the Charge Cooker SS mountain bike, everyone had something to say.

Mostly, folks wanted to start customizing it right away. Here were some of the initial reactions:

  • I want to turn it into a monster bike with drop bars!
  • You’ve got to find some chrome grips and bits to match that frame finish.
  • I could totally ride that to work.
  • No horizontal drop outs? OH! It has an eccentric bottom bracket. Nice.
  • I could always use another mountain bike. Do you need that right now? Can I have it?

Clearly, everyone was excited about the possibilities that the Cooker SS presented, but at first blush, it had plenty to offer right out of the box.

About the Frame

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The 2014 Charge Cooker SS Mountain Bike

The first thing that we noticed was the matching frame and fork finish. The Tange steel-butted chromoly tubes feature a gorgeous, polished finish, an eccentric bottom bracket and stainless steel hardware. For some perspective, Tange steel is custom drawn and has a titanium-like feel: lively, comfortable and forgiving thanks to its road vibration dampening properties. It is formed using Tange’s 90 years of experience in manufacturing steel tubes. It has a high level of strength, responsiveness and stiffness. The Cooker SS fit, in conjuction with a more aggressive frame geometry and a wide, 9-degree sweptback flattop handlebar, translates into a body-forward, confident riding position to handle plenty of aggressive trail obstacles.

About the Drivetrain & Brakes

Charge chose versatile 32-tooth to 18-tooth cog gearing. The Truvativ E400 crankset features a chainguard for added chain security. It is easily customizable by adding your favorite 4-bolt ring or single-speed cog.

About Tires & Clearance

Like most 29ers today, the Cooker SS featured a set of hydraulic disc brakes with 180/160mm rotors. Given the lighter duties of a rigid single-speed bike, that is more power than will be required by most riders; a definite bonus in our minds.Finally, terrain can vary widely, depending on where you live, and where you love to ride. The Cooker SS comes with a great set of Maxxis Aspen tires. They are ideal for fast-and-furious trails, where low rolling resistance and less dig is required. However, if you prefer something beefier, the Cooker SS has plenty of tire clearance. Personally, we love the Forte Pisgah tires for their bite, durability and versatility.

Our Two Cents

In conclusion, if you’re in the market for an eye-catching single-speed 29er, the British designed 2014 Charge Cooker SS offers plenty of performance right out of the box, plus the ability to be customized to your hearts content.

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 the Garmin Edge 1000 GPS

Garmin has stepped up their GPS game with the brand new Edge 1000 GPS. The color touchscreen Edge 1000 GPS bike computer puts in-ride challenges, via Garmin Connect segments with real-time results, and bike-specific navigation at your fingertips – all on a rugged, dual-orientation display with a large, high resolution 3.0″ full-color screen that is optimized for use with gloves and in the rain.

Garmin Edge 1000 GPS

Garmin Edge 1000 GPS has a bright 3.0″ display

Packed with lots of new features, the Edge 1000 GPS bike computer is still easy to use, and even adjusts the display automatically for low light areas, like shady spots and tunnels. You can transform your ride into a race by competing on Garmin Connect segments and view real-time results, including alerts for segment start and finish, and leaderboard rankings. Navigate the best cycling roads and explore new on-road and off-road routes with the preloaded Garmin Cycling Map and RoundTrip Routing function. Enter routes to specific Points of Interest, like your favorite restaurants, or just plug in a distance and let the Edge 1000 GPS pick a route for you!

Garmin Edge 1000 out-front mount

New out-front mount is included with the Garmin Edge 1000

The Edge 1000 GPS has connected features, like incoming calls, emails and text alerts from your iPhone 4S or later, social media sharing, sending/receiving courses, live tracking, and wireless uploads to Garmin Connect. It also provides advanced performance analysis, including integration with compatible Shimano Di2 electronic shifting systems. Pair your Edge 1000 GPS with an ANT+ heart rate monitor, speed sensor, cadence sensor or compatible power meter for a finely tuned analysis of your ride.

Order your Garmin Edge 1000 GPS today – either the Garmin Edge 1000 GPS or the Garmin Edge 100 GPS Bundle, which includes a heart rate monitor strap and speed/cadence sensor.

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