Eddie’s 100 Mile Mountain Bike Race Prep

Eddy and his steed

Eddie and his steed

This fall some of our home office employees will be pushing their cycling skills to the limit. The first up is Eddie, a data analyst in our marketing department. Eddie is superfast on a mountain bike (or really just any kind of bike), and has been orienting his training and riding all year around completing the Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race this coming coming weekend.

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

Course profile for The Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race

The ride starts in Harrisonburg, VA (where another employee will attempt another big ride later in September). Shenandoah is one of the toughest mountain bike races on the East Coast. Covering a mix of dirt, trail, gravel and pavement, the Shenandoah 100 features a massive amount of climbing, tough terrain, and plenty of challenges.

Unfortunately for Eddie, nobody else in our office has done this ride before, so he’s had to figure out how to equip and provision himself on his own. We think he’s got it pretty well dialed in though.

Check out what he’ll be using for the ride.

 

The Bike

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Eddie’s heavily customized Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert is race ready and looking good

 

Frame:

Diamondback Overdrive Carbon Expert

Probably my favorite bike that I own, it is a super lightweight carbon hardtail with 29” wheels. It is an excellent cross country bike, light enough for both long climbs and nimble enough for fast, technical descents.

Eddy has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it's paces

Eddie has certainly put the Overdrive Carbon Expert through it’s paces

Components/Drivetrain:

Shimano XT brakes and drivetrain with Race Face Next SL crank

Shimano’s XT disc brakes provide firm, consistent stopping power, even in wet conditions and XT drivetrain gives durable, consistent shifting. The clutch derailleur ensures that the chain will stay on even through the roughest descents. The Next SL crankset is light and strong, perfect for a light cross country race bike.

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1x10 drivetrain

Shimano XT hydraulic brakes and 1×10 drivetrain

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Raceface Next SL crank with Raceface Narrow Wide chainring

Gearing:

1×10 setup: 36 tooth Race Face Narrow/Wide chainring, 11-34 cassette with e*thirteen 40 tooth extended range cog

I swapped out the 17 tooth cog on my XT cassette for a 40 tooth e*thirteen extended range cog to widen my range of gears for both going up and down.

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddy plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

The e*thriteen 40T extended range cog should give Eddie plenty of gearing for the steepest parts of the course

Wheels:

Easton EA70

These are great wheels. They are durable, light, and will provide plenty of comfort over the 100 mile ride.

Tires:

Schwalbe Racing Ralph Tubeless with Snake Skin protection, (2.35” front, 2.25” rear)

I’ll be putting on some fresh rubber for the race and Racing Ralphs are really the only XC tires that I run. They are light, fast, and provide plenty of traction through corners. The wider 2.35” front provides more traction in the corners and the thinner 2.25” rear helps reduce rolling resistance. The snakeskin provides extra protection for the back country trails at a minimal weight penalty. I run them tubeless with 19 PSI in the front and 20 PSI in the rear.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

Easton EA70 wheels are a good mix of durability and light weight. The Racing Ralph tires provide plenty of traction.

EQUIPMENT

Shoes:

Giro Privateer

They aren’t the lightest or the stiffest cross country race shoes, but they are incredibly comfortable and on a 100 mile race, comfort is king. They also provide enough traction for any sections, such as creeks or steep, wet switchbacks where walking is the best option.

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike...and while walking

The Giro Privateer provides all-day comfort on the bike…and while walking

Socks:

DeFeet Wooleator

For a 100 mile MTB race, wool socks are the only option. With creek crossings, possible rain, and sticky heat, the Wooleators will keep my feet dry and cool. I’m planning to pack a second pair in case I need to swap at the midway point.

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

DeFeet Wooleater socks will dry quickly and help prevent hot spots

Kit:

Pearl Izumi Elite Team – Performance Exclusive

This is easily the most comfortable kit I own, and as with shoes, comfort is king. The Performance Bike logos will also let me rep my team colors throughout the race.

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Comfortable, breathable, and reps the team colors

Helmet:

Lazer Z1

Lightweight, comfortable and super ventilated, this helmet was made for climbing…so it should be in its element out there.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

The Z1 is one of the best new helmets out there. To find out more, check out our review below.

Read our review of the Z1 here

Sunglasses:

Scattante Exhale – with Clear Lenses

The glasses are super comfortable and the clear lenses provide plenty of trail visibility, even in rainy conditions. They also store comfortably in my helmet in case I decide to ride without them.

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

The Scattante Exhale glasses come with multiple lenses to suit your needs

Tools:

-2 tubes

-Spin Doctor Rescue 16 Multi Tool

- Minipump

- Garmin Edge 810 GPS

The biggest concern will be flats, even with plenty of Stan’s Tire Sealant in my tires, so I’m packing two spare tubes. My Spin Doctor Rescue 16 provides all the tools I need for trail-side repairs including a chain breaker and hex wrenches ranging from 2mm to 8mm. The Garmin will help with pacing and planning as I’ll be able to see my distance and average speed throughout the race.

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

The Spin Doctor Rescue 16 tool has pretty much everything you need to get out of a jam

Food:

- Peanut butter, banana, bacon sandwich

- 2 sleeves caffeinated Clif Shot Bloks

- 1 Kramp Krusher salt chews

- 1 bottle of plain water

- 1 Bottle Water with Hammer Gel (2 parts water, 1 part Hammer Gel)

This will be my on-the bike food for the first 40 miles, but the course includes 6 aid stations stocked with plenty of food and water, so I’ll be able to restock and refuel throughout the race.

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Mixed with water, Hammer Gel gives you all the energy you need for a long day in the saddle

Drop Bags:

The race allows two one gallon zip lock drop bags to be sent to any checkpoints on the course. I’m going to go with just one, sent to the 75 mile station. The coffee will give me the extra kick I need to push through the last 25 miles. In case it rains, I want to be able to swap out for dry socks and gloves. Also, no one is allowed past the 75 mile mark after 4:20 PM unless they have lights, so just in case I’m running behind schedule, I’ll have a lightweight, super bright light to help see the course.

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddy's hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

Poc Index Flow gloves will help give Eddie’s hands and arms some relief after 75 miles of hard riding

 

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

 

The Fuji Altamira SL

The Fuji Altamira SL is one amazing bike

The Fuji Altamira SL is one amazing bike

We’ve always really liked the Fuji Altamira. The blend of race-winning performance, high tech construction, and a geometry that you can ride all day have made it a staple for road riders around the office.

We were really excited though when we learned that our friend and coworker Jeff decided to get the Fuji Altamira SL. While all of the Altamira’s are fine bikes, the engineers at Fuji made the SL their special project—and pulled out all the stops to make it as light as they possibly could. When Jeff unboxed his bike and threw it on the scale, it turned out to be so light that it was not UCI/USCF legal to race. His size large bike, fully built up, weighed in at an astonishing 13.6 pounds—about 2 full pounds lighter than any of the other carbon-everything super steeds around the office.

When we picked it up to check it out, we almost felt like we were going to accidentally throw the thing through the ceiling.

So how did they get there? The Fuji Altamira SL is built around the same High Modulus, High Compaction C15 carbon fiber frame as the other high-end Altamiras, but where things get interesting is in the component choices. Full carbon fiber Oval Concepts handlebars, stem, and seatpost offer some serious weight savings over traditional alloy components, while the SRAM Red 22 groupset is the lightest component set available, saving over 200 grams versus Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 and about 110 grams over Campagnolo Super Record Titanium. But what really helps this bike fly up the hills are the Oval Concepts 970 full carbon fiber tubular wheels. Weighing in at only about 1100 grams, these wheels are almost a full pound lighter than a pair of carbon clincher wheels.

Jeff customized his build with a Fizik Antares saddle (the shape of the included Oval 970 full carbon saddle just didn’t work for him, but it’s a fine saddle in and of itself) and a set of Speedplay pedals.

This is one sweet ride, and we’re insanely jealous of his beautiful, welter-weight bike. If you’re looking for a machine that can get you up and over just about any sized hill in your path, then the Fuji Altamira SL is for you, and available at Performancebike.com.

To learn more about the Fuji Altamira line of bikes, check out our article.

 

To see more detailed pictures, check out the gallery below.

Ridden and Reviewed: Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 Carbon Hardtail Mountain Bike

Race-ready with the Fuji SLM

Our coworker Eddie getting ready to race with the Fuji SLM

We first had an opportunity to throw a leg over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 at the Outdoor Dirt Demo. It was hot off the presses at the time and was something like the 48th bike claiming to be “The Ultimate Bike Ever Made” that we’d seen that day. By this point in the afternoon though, we needed to see some proof in the pudding. You can’t imagine our surprise when after a couple of laps the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 turned out to be our favorite bike of the day.

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About The Bike:

The Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 is a 29″ carbon fiber hardtail bike that’s tailor made for the XC and racing markets. Reading over the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 parts spec, there’s a lot to be impressed by. This is a carbon fiber hardtail that’s dripping with XTR. XTR shifters and derailleurs, sure. But brakes? Cassette? Chain? This bike is decked out in Shimano’s highest level of racing components with only the carbon Oval M600 Crankset breaking the pattern. Why would Fuji decide to pass on Shimano’s crankset? As anyone who has recently spec’d a mountain bike will tell you, Shimano doesn’t make their XTR crankset with a true PF30 spindle. You can get an adapter for the Hollowtech II spindle, but if you truly want to take advantage of the increased stiffness afforded to you by the SLM’s PF30 bottom bracket, a crankset like the Oval M600 is going to deliver.

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The Oval M600 crankset gives you the benefits of a 30mm axle spindle

The next area that the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 excels in is the frame. Rather than trying to pass off some lesser carbon fiber as the next big thing, Fuji actually uses the next big thing. C15 super-light high-modulus carbon outfitted with internal shift cable routing, the aforementioned PF30 bottom bracket, a tapered headtube and wide 142x12mm dropouts. This makes for one of the lightest hardtail frames available while also providing stiffness to spare. The bike darts uphill so fast you will leave your friends in the dust.

Fuji also offers Fuji SLM 29er 1.3, 2.1, and 2.3 to make it easy for riders to find the 29″ hardtail to fit their needs and skill levels

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The (almost) full Shimano XTR group delivers pro-level performance

The Ride:

Enough about the components, let’s get to the riding! The very first experience we had on board the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1 was one that would be repeated with nearly every ride: the tester riding the SLM 1.1 had to wait at the top of the climb for everyone else to catch up. The 29” wheels and knobby tires gave confidence to spare on the descents and it even held its own through moderate rock sections. Where this bike truly excels, however, is the climbing. You’ll float uphill as though the tires are filled with helium.

Another thing that became clear in the ride quality is that this bike was spec’d by someone who really rides and understands mountain bikes. A perfect example is the handlebar. Sure, it was probably picked out of Oval’s lineup for being the lightest bar they make at an amazing 185g. But that’s not all a bar is about. This bar is 710mm wide and has a 9 degree sweep giving the rider confident handling and a comfortable hand position.

Well spec'd parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

Well spec’d parts, like the bars, give the bike an amazing ride feel

The Verdict:

Thoughtful component choices and a finely tuned ride quality make this one of the finest hardtails we’ve ever ridden. This bike is for the rider who wants to squeeze every ounce of performance from his machine, who wants to win races, and who will settle for nothing but the best.  The XC racing bike snob will be as happy as the everyday trail warrior. They are all sweet perfection in mountain biking, balancing weight, comfort, and performance. If you’re thinking about buying a hardtail that you’ll never want to part with, look no further than the Fuji SLM 29er 1.1. The bike was so fast, that we all started arguing about who would get to use our demo model for the upcoming race season. Sitting atop the Fuji, our coworker Eddie rocketed straight to the top of the podium.

Most races on the SLM end only one way: the top of the podium

Most races on the SLM 1.1 end only one way: the top of the podium (#3 left early, it wasn’t just a two person race)

Ridden and Reviewed: Diamondback Century Sport Disc Road Bike

Reviewing a bike is always a tricky business, especially when it incorporates new technology. But when we saw the new Diamondback Century Sport Disc, we knew we had to try it out.

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Diamondback Century Sport Disc

About The Bike: The Century Sport Disc is an aluminum bike with a full carbon fork. This bike is designed with the high-mileage enthusiast in mind, and it shows it with a nice and relaxed geometry that feels easy on the back and neck without feeling like you’re riding an upright beach cruiser. It’s outfitted with a mix of Shimano parts—sporting 105 shifters and front derailleur and an Ultegra 10-speed rear derailleur, and TRP’s Hy/Rd mechanically actuated hydraulic disc brakes.

Unboxing and Set Up: Unboxing and set up are fairly straight forward: the bike comes 90% assembled, so you only have to mount the wheels, handlebars, and seatpost. The only tools you’ll need are a set of hex wrenches and some bike grease. As with most bikes, the rear derailleur will need a bit of tuning—but compared to some other bikes we’ve assembled, it was minor– just two quarter turns of the barrel adjuster. The only major obstacle came with the brakes. We’ve set up disc brakes before, but these took some figuring out to get set up. Turns out it was maddeningly simple. So to save you a headache, here’s the key: look for the knob with a picture of a lock on it. Unthread it counter clockwise until it pops up out of the socket. This will unlock the actuating arm. Once that is done, proceed much like you would with any other mechanical disc brake set up (pinch the actuating arm to activate the brake, pull the cable tight, and tighten down the cable clamp bolt, then use the barrel adjuster to back off the cable tension until the rotor spins freely).

We added our own Time iClic Racer pedals,  bottle cage, and Garmin mount. Weight after assembly: 21.3 lbs.

The Ride: Our first ride on the Century Sport Disc started out with a group ride that turned into a two-man exploration of some local gravel roads. Over this varied terrain, the bike proved surprisingly fast, and it climbed fairly well.  The feel of the bike also impressed. Being an aluminum frame with an alloy seatpost, we expected a harsh, jarring ride, but that turned out not to be the case at all. The bike nicely soaked up road vibration and delivered a smooth road feel. Even on some rutted out gravel the bike felt stable, thanks to its long wheel base and the unexpectedly excellent tires (some nice, sticky Michelin Dynamic Sport 700×25’s).

dback_century_sport_disc_gravel_climb

Handling was excellent, even on rough roads

Shockingly, we also found the saddle among the most comfortable stock saddles we’ve ever tried. Usually, the saddle is the first thing we discard when setting up a new bike, however for us the Diamondback Equation saddle (135mm wide) hits that nice sweet spot of just enough padding, just enough flex, and not being too wide or too narrow. The shape is also pretty middle of the road, with a nice graceful curve from the rear to the nose that didn’t rub on our legs or cause any hotspots. The center channel cutout also helps with numbness. (Our reviewer normally rides a 134mm Prologo Nago Evo saddle).

The carbon fork and BB386 bottom bracket definitely helped stiffen the bike up, which helps with performance by improving power transmission and minimizing frame flex. It’s not quite on par with a carbon bike, but for what this bike was designed for, it’s more than adequate.  The geometry is a little more upright than we’re used to, but it actually felt pretty good on the back and neck. Sitting more upright did make us work a little harder when riding into the wind, but we were more than able to keep up with a fast group ride without any problems. It’s important to remember though that this isn’t a race bike—this bike is built for those putting in long hours in the saddle.

The tapered headtube and carbon fork helped stiffen up the bike

The tapered headtube and carbon fork helped stiffen up the bike

The handling was nice and stable, with no hints of the twitchiness we’ve come to expect from more racy-steeds which sometimes have pushed us to the edge of our comfort zones. On gravel roads, the bike was responsive enough to help us ditch some pot holes at the last minute, and even bunny hop others that we saw a little too late. The bike is spec’ed with slightly wider bars than normal (44cm on a 54cm bike, versus the usual 42cm) to give the bike a more stable feel akin to a flatbar road bike, but with the ability to ride in the drops. Handlebars are fairly inexpensive (a set of Forte Team alloy bars are about $39), so if you want to switch to a narrower bar for more nimble handling, it won’t break the bank.

Now for the disc brakes: our bike arrived the day that SRAM announced their hydraulic road recall. Even though the TRP Hy/Rd is a fundamentally different system, we still eyed the fluid reservoir with not a little apprehension. Fortunately, our fears were unfounded. The bike stopped on a dime without a single hiccough, even on gravel roads and steep descents. In fact, sometimes it almost worked a little too well. If you’re used to traditional road calipers, then you’ll need to remember that “less is more” with disc brakes. Because the system is mechanically activated (the cable actuates the hydraulic piston, which actuates the braking arm), you don’t really have to worry about boiling the fluid on long descents, and the sealed hydraulic chamber has almost no chance of developing the air bubbles that brought down SRAM’s systems. They are definitely powerful, and performed well even in wet, muddy conditions we encountered on gravel roads.

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TRP Hy/Rd brakes provided excellent stopping power

The Verdict: The Diamondback Century Sport Disc is an excellent bike for riders looking to put in long miles, ride in bad weather, or looking for a first road bike. Even our less experienced testers felt right at home on the bike, thanks to its stable handling and the confident braking feel they got from the Hy/Rd system. The spec is decent for this price range, with the high-end Ultegra rear derailleur, BB386 bottom bracket system, and TRP hydraulic system all normally found at a much higher price point. However, if you’re looking for a bike that’ll climb like a champ or that will help you take the town line sprint, then you may instead want to look at the Diamondback Podium series to get that extra performance edge. A racing bike, this ain’t. But for Gran Fondo’s, charity rides, and club outings, this is a bike that definitely has the chops to help you stay with the group without pushing you to the limit.

Recommended Upgrades: As it is the Century Sport Disc, is a great bike. However, if you want to get a little more out of it, here are the upgrades we would recommend.

  • Carbon Seatpost: A carbon seatpost will help the bike feel a little smoother on rough roads or gravel
  • Wheels: A good wheel upgrade, like the Stans Alpha 340, will help shed weight and improve ride feel, performance, and handling
  • Crank: The FSA Gossamer that is spec’d on the Century Sport Disc is perfectly fine, but a carbon crank like the FSA SL-K compact will help take the bike’s performance up a notch or two with stiffer rings, lighter arms, and improved power transmission

Do Wheels Really Make A Difference? We Put A Pair To The Test

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited on a Fuji Altamira test bike

Getting ready to climb, here are the new Assault Limited’s on a Fuji Altamira test bike

For a minute I almost forget I’m on a video shoot. It’s a beautiful, cold morning, with the fog lying heavy in the hollows of the foothills around our office. To either side of the road, a dark forest of pine and hardwood echoes with early morning bird call and the scent of conifers fills the air. The sound of the tires on the pavement and my own breathing form a rhythm for my pedal strokes. The clothing I’m modeling has me far underdressed for the temperatures, but as I climb higher and higher up the hills, I kind of begin to enjoy the feel of the cold air on my skin, cooling me down from the effort.

Start up

Felt a little chilly, but I was excited about trying out the new Assault Limited’s.

I’m starting to find my climbing rhythm, and I shift my hands to the top of the bars and sit up a bit to breathe a little easier. My legs feel like they are turning in perfect circles, and I let my hands relax on the bars. Normally deeper dish wheels like the Assault Limited carbon clinchers don’t make the best wheels for climbing, but these seem to be an exception. They feel as fast going uphill as downhill, the stiffer build making up for the additional weight. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this good on a 10.5% grade. A hawk swoops down from a powerline to my left and I turn my head to watch its flight. I begin to feel like I’ve reached that special place where the ride becomes easy and feels natural.

We’re out here to film some B-roll footage for product and brand videos, which means that nothing is mine. My heels keep coming out of these shoes, I’m still adjusting to the fit of the Fuji Altamira, I continually misshift the unfamiliar Shimano controls, and the fresh-from-the-box helmet doesn’t feel quite right after so short a time. Among a million different sensations vying for my attention, it’s the feel of effortless climbing and nearly free speed from the new Reynolds Assault Limited wheels I’ve been given for this shoot that really grabs hold.

Climbing with the Assault Limited's felt remarkably easy

Climbing with the Assault Limited’s felt remarkably easy

The Fuji Altamira is a great bike. It’s among the stiffest, most efficient, and comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. But as you’ve doubtlessly read countless times before, a great set of wheels can drastically improve how any bike rides. I’ve been riding an older set of Reynolds Assault wheels on my personal Van Dessel Rivet for a few years now, but I can say without a doubt that the new Reynolds Assault Limited’s are stiffer, faster and lighter. The new carbon lay up on the rim, the stiffer bladed spokes, and the re-engineered hubs with new, upgraded bearings make this new set an amazing improvement over what was already an incredible wheelset.

The hill ticks up a grade again, and I can hear the engine in the camera car rev up. My legs burn, and I debate whether to downshift or stand. I’m still forgetting which Di2 levers to hit, so I decide to stand. The bike feels stiff and light underneath me, pure power transmission. The wheels feel incredible. Not once do I hear a brake pad hit the rim, there is no quiet ticking of spokes or the eerie silence and sudden BANG! of a stuck pawl suddenly reengaging. The wheels are silent and powerful, stiff enough to respond without question to every watt of power I put into them. I pedal and the bike obeys.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to drop the camera car on the downhill.

Later suckers. The Assault wheels enabled me to eventually drop the camera car on the downhill.

Finally we hit the summit. I take a drink of water cold enough that it seems to drill straight into my forehead and reminds me I have a cavity that needs filling. We begin to descend. I shift into the big ring, the Shimano Di2 controls effortlessly shuttling the chain onto the big ring. I depress the right upshift lever and hold it, feeling the chain slide across cogs. The resistance feels huge at first, my cadence low. My quads rebel for a moment after the long slog up. But as the hill disappears below me, the resistance evaporates, and my cadence climbs. I reach the bottom of the cassette, and have no place left to go. I am flying down the hill. The deep carbon rim of the Assaults knife through the air. I go into a tuck over the handlebars and begin to drop the camera car. The camera man yells at me to slow as I slide past, but I ignore him. This is too much fun. With my chin near the handlebars, I can hear the wind sliding past the wheel rim, and I chance a look at my Garmin. This is the fastest I’ve ever descended this hill, and I know it’s the wheels. The bike isn’t an aero design, and I’ve ridden in a tuck here dozens of times before. These wheels are giving me free speed on the descent, and I wish I could have a chance to try them out on a flat. Or during the Thursday evening group ride. Or even just take them out for a day and see what else they can do.

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited's to my older edition Assaults

I later found myself preferring the new Assault Limited’s to my older edition Assaults

But the video shoot is over, and I have to turn them back in. The next day I take my personal bike out. I love the familiar controls, the professionally-tailored fit, the stiff and responsive frame, but something is missing. My bike just doesn’t seem to have that pop to it, the liveliness from the test bike yesterday. It’s a small thing, almost imperceptible, but after the joys of yesterday’s ride with those new Assault Limited’s, nothing really quite feels the same.

And lest you should think that these wheels are only for carbon fiber super bikes, remember that a wheel upgrade can have massive effects on pretty much any road bike. Wheels can confer a huge advantage when you want to make your bike more aerodynamic, lighter, or just perform better. We’ve tested the Reynolds Assault Limited wheels out on many different road bikes, and found that they were faster, stiffer, and looked 247% cooler than most other wheels. We were especially impressed with the aesthetic and riding performance advantages they conferred on our new special project with GT bikes.

gt_strike_reynolds

Before & After: The Assault Limited’s made this GT Strike faster, stiffer and more nimble. Plus, it looks fantastic.

Product Profiles: The Scattante CFR LE and Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

The Scattante CFR Race

When the guys over in the bike division heard about the new Ultegra 6800 group, they realized they had to build a bike around it. And it couldn’t just be any bike. No, it had to be something extra special– like no other bike we’d ever done before. It took a few iterations, and lots of emailing back and forth with our suppliers, but we did it, and the result is exceptional. Behold: the Scattante CFR Race. This incredible new bike features our pro-level ScMT carbon fiber frameset, an Ultegra 6800 11-speed drivetrain, and a compliment of high end components from Deda, Selle San Marco, and Fulcrum.

The Scattante CFR Race features the same Scattante Monocoque Technology (ScMT) that was used in the CFR Black bike. ScMT carbon fiber technology is incredibly stiff and lightweight, but also nice and compliant in all the right spots for a buttery smooth ride. It’s stiff yet springy, and is incredibly responsive to pedal input. It’s got plenty of compliance to make it both comfortable and surprisingly agile and easy to handle.

For components, we outfitted the CFR Race with mechanical Ultegra 11-speed. The all-new Ultegra features improved front end shifting thanks to a redesigned derailleur pivot arm, Shimano’s new distinctive crank arm design, and, of course, the addition of an 11th cog. Rounding out the package is a full Deda cockpit, and a set of Fulcrum wheels.

If you’re the type of cyclist who takes your riding seriously and are looking for an 11-speed upgrade that delivers pro-level performance, it’s tough to beat the Scattante CFR Race.

Hurry though…these bikes won’t last long.

11-speed Ultegra 6800 takes performance to a new level

11-speed Ultegra 6800 takes performance to a new level

The distinctive 4-arm crank design sets Ultegra 6800 apart from the crowd

The distinctive 4-arm crank design sets Ultegra 6800 apart from the crowd

Improved lever ergonomics take cues from Shimano's Di2 systems

Improved lever ergonomics take cues from Shimano’s Di2 systems

Deda provided components for the cockpit on the CFR Race

Deda provided components for the cockpit on the CFR Race

Fulcrum wheels are lightweight and fast

Fulcrum wheels are lightweight and fast

ScMT carbon technology gives the CFR Race a ride feel like no other carbon blend out there

ScMT carbon technology gives the CFR Race a ride feel like no other carbon blend out there

The Scattante CFR LE

The Scattante CFR LE

The Scattante CFR LE

But we don’t just have one new bike on the docket. The CFR Race is more geared toward the racers out there, but we don’t want you to think we forgot about the long distance riders, right? That’s why we’re also rolling out the Scattante CFR LE.  So what’s the story with the Scattante CFR LE? The Scattante CFR LE (Limited Edition) road bike is a new road bike that is built for all-day comfort and amazing performance.  We took the same Scattante Monocoque Technology (ScMT) carbon fiber construction technique that we used in the CFR Black and CFR Race,  but reworked the geometry to make it a little more relaxed and forgiving. ScMT carbon fiber technology is incredibly stiff and lightweight, but allows us to adjust the compliance in all the right spots for a buttery smooth ride. The fork is custom tuned for quick, predictable handling. The bike is all-dressed up for the holidays with a 10-speed Shimano 105 drivetrain, FSA compact crank and some Kenda Kadence tires.

The CFR LE is the perfect road bike for the distance guys and weekend group riders. It deliver’s excellent performance that’s perfect for charity rides, fast weekend group rides, or gran fondos. And don’t worry, it’s a great value, but it can hang with even the most expensive bikes on the course.

It’s a value you won’t believe…but these bikes won’t last long, so get yours today.

ScMT technology gives the frame and fork an unparalleled ride

ScMT technology gives the frame and fork an unparalleled ride

Shimano 105 component provide excellent shifting performance

Shimano 105 component provide excellent shifting performance

The frame delivers race-ready performance that is a joy to ride

The frame delivers race-ready performance that is a joy to ride

Product Profile: Access Stealth Trail 29er Mountain Bike

The Access Stealth Trail

The Access Stealth Trail

The Access Stealth Trail 29er is an all-new hardtail mountain bike that resulted from a lunch ride conversation about making a hardtail 29er that would deliver the most bang for the buck. The more the bike guys tinkered with the design, the better it got, until they ended up with a bike that’s perfect for everything from weekend XC racing to letting you tackle a new line on your favorite trail. No matter if you’re already a 29” convert, or are looking to upgrade from 26”, this is a bike that delivers up the goods when it comes to performance and fun.

The Stealth Trail frame is made of lightweight aluminum. The oversized downtube and top tube/head tube/down tube intersection is designed for lateral stiffness and stability under rider torque. The wishbone shaped chain stays better resist deflection from pedaling forces and further reduce trail vibration; a leading culprit of premature muscle fatigue and loss of traction. Finally, don’t overlook the fact that the Stealth Trail is a 29er. There’s no denying that the rock crawling, root crushing power of a larger 29″ wheel. Making the largest of obstacles the smallest of matters is a defining trait of these bikes. By offering decreased rolling resistance, increased traction when cornering and improved ground clearance, a 29er is sure to sway even the staunchest skeptic.

Rounding out the great package is a Rock Shox Recon 29er fork with 100mm of travel, and a mix of Shimano SLX/XT components for smooth, easy and accurate 2×10 shifting (*note, the pictured photo sample bike has an FSA Comet crankset, the production version is equipped with a Shimano Deore crankset) . Finally, a set of Stans NOTUBES ZTR Arch EX wheels wrapped up in Kenda Small Block Eight tires give you the perfect set up for high-speed XC riding.

The Access Stealth Trail 29er is only available for a limited time, so don’t wait.

Shimano Shifters and Avid brake levers deliver exceptional performance

Shimano Shifters and Avid brake levers deliver exceptional performance

Shimano SLX and XT components deliver top-of-the-line shifting performance

Shimano SLX and XT components deliver top-of-the-line shifting

Lightweight and durable alloy frame has the perfect mix of stiffness and compliance for trail riding

Lightweight and durable alloy frame has the perfect mix of stiffness and compliance for trail riding

Product Preview: Scattante CX 350

The Scattante CX350

The Scattante CX350

The Scattante CX 350 is a brand-new workhorse cyclocross bike that our guys over in the bikes division dreamed up. The CX 350 is designed from the ground up to be a do-it-all kind of bike. It features a stiff, durable alloy frame, reliable, premium Shimano components, and mechanical disc brakes for all-weather stopping power. The bike also features full eyelets, for mounting fenders or a rack.

No matter what you’re looking for in a bike, the CX 350 is the bike that can do it. It’s ready out of the box to ride ‘cross if that’s what you’re into. Have some fire roads in your area? Head out and explore, confident that the knobby tires and disc brakes will give you plenty of traction and control. Or you can change out the knobby tires for some road tires and head out for a road ride. Need to get to work? Mount a rack on it, attach some lights and you’ll get there in no time.

There’s a million ways to ride the Scattante CX 350—but only a limited time to get one.

Stay tuned for more bike profiles, coming soon.

Shimano shifting components deliver crisp, snappy shifting

Shimano shifting components deliver crisp, snappy shifting

Mechanical disc brakes give the SCX350 all-weather stopping power

Mechanical disc brakes give the CX350 all-weather stopping power

A 46/34 cross crankset gives you plenty of gearing for any course or terrain

A 46/34 cross crankset gives you plenty of gearing for any course or terrain

The alloy frame is durable, lightweight, and completely versatile

The alloy frame is durable, lightweight, and completely versatile

Our Take: Race vs. Compact Cranksets

When it comes to choosing a crankset for the road, it seems like there are a million and one options out there, but the biggest question we get all the time is: what is the difference between a compact and a race crankset, and which one should I ride?

Race cranksets, also known as “standard” cranksets have a 53 tooth big chainring and a 39 tooth inner ring. Until recently, it was the only gearing option for road riders, unless they went with a triple. The chainrings mount on a spider that has a bolt circle diameter (BCD) of 130mm (Shimano, SRAM, FSA) or 135mm (Campagnolo). This combination gives riders a very tall gear, which allows them to go fast, but requires more strength to push so they are usually only used by more experienced riders, or those with very strong legs. Although even for strong riders the 39 tooth inner ring can make climbing very difficult, and few outside of the pro ranks can ride in the 53-11 combination. However, if you ride with a fast group or are looking to “Cat up” for racing, you may find the race crankset to be ideal.

A race crankset from Campagnolo

The compact crankset hit the scene a few years ago, and was immediately embraced by many riders out there. Compact cranksets have a gear combination of a 50 tooth big ring and a 34 tooth inner ring. The chainrings mount to a smaller 110mm BCD spider (for all brands). The compact crankset gives riders the ability to pedal with a higher cadence in an easier gear instead of always grinding away like you would with a race crankset. Compacts are ideal for riders who are more interested in enjoying the ride than going fast (although we have some folks at the office and in our stores who race on compacts…) or that live in very hilly areas. In fact, even some pro’s will ride compacts on very difficult mountain stages. The main drawback of the compact is how easy the gearing is. It’s not unusual for a rider on a compact to spin out his gearing on a downhill, and some riders find the 34T inner ring to actually make climbing more difficult because it forces them to pedal at an excessively high cadence.

A compact crankset from SRAM

A third option, and one that is increasingly being embraced around the office, is the mid-compact. The mid-compact splits the difference between a standard and compact by offering a 52T big ring and a 36T inner ring. The chainrings mount on either a 110mm BCD (Shimano, SRAM, FSA) or a 130/135mm BCD (FSA, Shimano, Campagnolo) spider. The biggest advantage of the mid-compact is that it gives riders a pretty high top gear thanks to the 52T big ring, while the 36T makes climbing much easier by offering a higher cadence than a 39T, but with more resistance than the 34T.

A mid-compact crankset from Shimano

A fourth, but little used, crank combination is the venerable 54/42T chainring combo, aka “The Flemish Compact”. You can still sometimes find this crankset combination, although it’s almost never spec’ed on a bike now except for some time trial bikes. If you’re an exceptionally strong rider who lives in an exceptionally flat area, you may benefit from using Flemish Compact. Otherwise, we’d recommend staying away unless your first name is “Roger” and your last name is “De Vlaeminck”. So, now for the question…if a 54/42T is a Flemish Compact, what is a Flemish Standard?

Roger de V has a good day riding a Flemish Compact

Roger de V has a great day riding a Flemish Compact

UPDATE: When we first posted this article, many of you asked about triple cranksets. The introduction of the compact crankset, 11-speed drivetrains, and mid-cage rear derailleurs has mostly rendered the triple crankset obsolete. Newer mid-cage rear derailleurs like SRAM’s WiFli system, or options from Shimano and Campagnolo, can now handle cassettes with up to a 32T big cog. An 11-32T or 12-32T cassette, when paired with a compact crankset, appears to offer about the same gearing range as a triple with less gearing overlap, less weight, less mechanical complexity, and a lower Q-factor. A few bikes (mostly touring models) are still spec’d with triples, but if you’re looking for a bike with plenty of gearing options, you may want to look at what the cassette range is instead of the crankset.

So which is the right crankset for you? Well…that’s really going to depend on your ability level, the terrain around you, and your experience. It you’re a very strong, very experienced rider, you’ll probably want to use a race crankset. However, for most riders the compact is just fine. While there is always the temptation on a bicycle to go as fast as possible, it’s important to remember that you need to work your way up to things—and that a bigger gear doesn’t necessarily equal bigger speed. Trying to push too big of a gear right off the bat can hurt your knees, lead to muscle imbalances, and just make rides more difficult and less enjoyable than they need to be. Especially for newer riders, or those without a lot of time to ride, proper form is more important than pushing big gears, and the compact is perfect for developing form since you pedal at a higher cadence. Over time, if you feel you are spinning out the compact crankset, you can always upgrade it with 52/36 or 52/38 chainrings to get more top end speed and a more comfortable climbing cadence.

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