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Halo Skewers are a Greater Improvement to Ride Quality than Carbon Fiber Wheels. No, I’ve Not Lost My Mind…

I’ve got 50,000 miles on alloy wheels and another 20,000 on carbon fiber wheels in the last eight or nine years. This isn’t all that impressive, pros ride 70,000 miles in three years. Maybe four.

But, my friends, I pay attention to how each of my bikes is feeling, be it my 5200, my Venge, Diverge, Rockhopper, or Co-Motion, like I’m going to write about it. Because I am. My bikes are paid the attention of an avid enthusiast.

When I switched from an excellent alloy wheel to a decent carbon wheel, I noticed the difference immediately – and wrote about it here. It’s the same difference going from an alloy frame to carbon fiber. Carbon fiber eats up road chatter, subdues it, kicks its ass, and spits it out. Not as well as steel, but at a fraction the weight, it’s the best compromise there is in cycling. And carbon fiber frames last longer than steel if properly cared for.

Halo skewers make that much of an improvement, more, upgrading from a standard quick release.

They’re considerably lighter than a decent quick release skewer, too.

Now, you’ll have to keep an allen key on you or in your saddle bag, but, to me that inconvenience is mountainously overshadowed by the fact that a thief can’t pop a quick release and walk off with your wheels, and the improvement in ride quality is, unquestionably fantastic. It’s as close as you can get to a thru axle without buying a new bike.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road. Without the cam action, the skewer gets a better “tight”. This means road imperfections are absorbed by the tires rather than transferring to the frame through the quick release… as tight as you can get them, the cam action screws the system up. The hex key screw fixes that flaw in the system.

And here’s the real kicker: a set costs between $18 & $22.

Check them out. Google “Halo hex key skewer”. The XL set is for newer 135 mm rear disc hubs. The standard set works on 130/131 mm rim brake bikes.

As you can see, I’ve already got a set for the ’99 Trek and ’13 Venge and after passing the 50+ mph test last week, I ordered a set for my wife as well.

If a product makes it to my wife’s bike, I simply can’t put a better stamp of approval on it than that. She only gets the good stuff after I’ve thoroughly put it through the Tuesday Night Club Ride ringer.

Can Something As Simple As A Quick Release Skewer Change A Bike’s Ride Characteristics? The Halo Hex Lock Skewer.

I can’t believe I wrote that Title. The idea that a quick release skewer could make a difference in a bike’s ride quality is… well, crazy.

But it’s dead-bang true. A simple skewer can vastly improve the quality of your bike’s ride. A $20 set improved the ride quality of my $6,000, 15-1/2 pound Specialized Venge… and significantly.  I kid you not.

Enter the Halo hex key skewer set.

I bought two sets after a friend showed me the set he put on his LeMond 105 steel race bike (it’s a spectacular bike). He said they were surprisingly light and relatively inexpensive. He had me at light weight. Inexpensive helped get them by my wife. One set for each road bike.

They showed up Tuesday, just before I had to split for my normal Tuesday night ride… so I did what every over-exuberant knucklehead cycling enthusiast does when he gets a new, untested piece of high-end equipment… he throws it on the good bike and tests it on the fastest ride of the week.

Had I not had speed on the brain, I might have thought that through a bit more.

There they are in action.  I’m on the left.  Joel, a good cycling bud of mine, took the photo.

Look, normally I’m not an overly effusive guy… well, not overly effusive unless it’s cycling, but not about skewers.  I am about these. They’re marvelous.

I’ve been kicking around different skewers for years trying to find the right set.  Ican’s skewers, at least the older one’s, left a lot to be desired (the set that came with my F&L 50’s are quite good, though).  My old set that came with my Vuelta wheels were pretty good, or so I thought, but the set that came with my wife’s Ultegra wheels were probably the best.  Good old Shimano – the stuff just works.  I had the Ican set on my Venge and the Ultegra set on my Trek – and all was relatively well, again, so I thought, until I rolled out last night.

Our Tuesday night ride, if you haven’t read my posts before, is very fast.  I’m in the B-Group and we’re usually between 22 & 24-mph for an average pace over 28(ish) miles.  Much of the asphalt we ride on it great, but a few miles leave a little to be desired.  One of the bad sections has got those expansion cracks every twelve feet or so.  They can be jarring at 28-mph.

The Halo skewers, with no cam action were noticeably rock solid over the pavement so I had a more connected feel through the handlebars throughout the entire ride.  This meant that the tires did what they were supposed to do, absorbing the bumps rather than transferring a little jolt through the forks because the normal quick releases give where the Halo’s don’t.

This will probably read as though the information is a little off.  Surely, when you tighten a normal quick release and bounce the front wheel off the ground, it’s solidly attached and there’s no “give”.  I know, it was very difficult to write what I did, the fear of someone thinking I did something wrong and I’m stupid is there… but I’m not wrong.  No matter how hard you crank down a traditional quick release, it won’t be the same.  Believe me, it’s worth Twenty Bucks to find out for yourself.

They’re so good I’ll be ordering two sets for my wife as well.  One for her road bike, one for the gravel bike.  Halo skewers are incredibly light (the rod is chrome-moly) and absolutely solid.

If you’re happy with your traditional skewers, fantastic.  If, however, you’re tired of the climbing creaks if they’re not cranked down impossibly hard, or you want to shed some weight and have a better feel of the road through the handlebars, try a set of Halo’s.  I’m glad I did.  They’re welcome upgrades to both my race and rain bikes.

iSSi Road Carbon Pedal Review; A Lot of Good, Mitigated By Some Not So Good That Can Be Worked Around

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I recently picked up a set of iSSi pedals because my Look Keo Classics were shot. I wanted red pedals because they look fantastic on my Specialized but Look discontinued theirs years ago. The price was right on the iSSi’s, too.

First, I’d like to take a minute to gush about iSSi’s cleats. They’ve got a split design so you can replace half of the cleat at a time, ensuring exact spacial replacement of the cleat every time.  You literally can’t mess up replacing the cleat. This innovation is a game changer and I’ll never by Look’s cleats again. Moving along…

I was stoked to take my Venge out the other morning with the brand new, impressively sharp Especially Red iSSi carbon road pedals. I aired up the tires, and wheeled the Specialized steed out the door. I clipped in to take a small test loop before my wife waltzed out the door… and the inside of my foot hit the crank arm on the first half-stroke. I hadn’t even clipped in my left foot yet. I stopped and removed my toe cover… still rubbed, but just barely. I ended up switching to the Look’s from my rain bike for the ride, figuring I’d have to take the iSSi’s back.

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Later that day, after my ride and I was cleaned up, rather than take the pedals back because the spindles are too short, I adjusted my cleats inboard as far as I could – three millimeters (making sure to keep the same alignment[!]). This gave me the clearance I needed. The 55-mm spindle black pedals would fix this but I didn’t know about all of that before I purchased the red pedals I wanted in the first place.

I also had to adjust the tension spring to release the cleats a little easier, but once that simple step was done, the pedals are butter. At 266 grams, they’re light – only 10 grams heavier than the competition, and two-thirds the price. They’ve got an exceptionally wide cleat bed and a stainless steel plate to prevent wear on the pedal bed (the problem that led to my Keo’s demise).

After my first real ride on them, there’s a lot to like.  They solidly attach to the cleat – better than look pedals.  With a Look pedal, they feel like there’s a little bit of slop that I’ve never liked.  The iSSi’s provide a solid connection with no slop – and somehow they managed to make the float work better at the same time.  I can’t explain how they made the improvements, but I definitely like them!

I’ve gone for several long rides, both on the Venge and my rain bike, with the cleats pushed to the inside of my shoes to allow for the required clearance and I haven’t noticed any change in “feel”.  I do like the additional space I’m afforded for shoe covers, though.

With just a few rides into them, less than 200 miles, I can say without question that I like the pedals and considering the cost and weight, I feel like I got a heck of a good deal.  I love my red pedals on my Venge, but I’m happiest about feeling like I won with the purchase.  In the end, that’s what buying something is all about.

UPDATE:  After a few rides, I got the funny feeling my saddle was too high – which didn’t make sense, of course, because I haven’t changed the saddle height on my Venge in almost seven years.  Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling so I pulled out the tape measure and sure enough!  The iSSi pedals ride about 2 mm lower than Look Keo Classics.

What Kind of Road Bike Does One Need to Fit Their Skills and Needs? More Important, How Much is Too Much Bike?!

As one might imagine, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m going to enjoy writing this series.

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The amazing, fantastic, fast, sexy-in-a-Ferrari-kind-of-way, road bike. For those who want to get down the road as fast as is scientifically possible on their own power, the road bike is the most efficient machine on the planet to do that. Now, to be fair to the time trialists, a claim could very well be made that the time trial bike is indeed more efficient – and that is correct… until one adds a friend. When riding any more than solo, the TT bike is a death trap in all but the soberest, pro-est, of hands. For that reason, and the fact I’m a social cyclist and a little selfish (it’s my blog, baby!), I’m going to stick with the road bike.

Depending on what you want to do with your road bike, where you want to ride, and with whom you want to ride, your needs will change. With this post I hope to help new cyclists enter into an exceedingly expensive sport with a little knowledge that might help save some headache and money.

The Gravel Bike

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For an in-depth look at what you might want in a gravel bike, click (here). For the larger overview, if you can only have one road bike, the gravel bike is the way to go. With the right gravel bike and two sets of wheels (and tires – one for dirt, one for pavement), you can do anything. With the right setup and the proper level of gravel bike (and the fitness to move it), you’ll be able to keep up with any group you want – as long as you’re willing to put the work in.

The Used, Alloy or Steel Classic – Downtube Shifters, etc.

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Please forgive the log prop… I was a noob back then and didn’t know any better (as one would be able to tell from the saddle).

If you’re going to be rolling with the 10-mph to 16-mph crowd, a good old-fashioned classic will do just fine. You’ll have to work a little harder than everyone riding modern rigs on hills because shifting is awkward by comparison, but you’ll make up for any disadvantages with want to. If you’re “noob” enough to think this will be okay (obviously I was/did), accept that you’re probably wrong and you’ll be buying another bike shortly after you purchase this one. The real question will be, are you stubborn enough to stick with your choice? Because those old classics require a lot more fitness to keep up with others. I was not willing. I picked up a better bike less than six months later (see “The 10-20-year-old Classic with Modern Components” below). Five months to be exact. I know what you’re thinking; I’ll be able to make it on a classic. You’ll be right if you’re riding with the slower crowd. If you want to ride with the C, B, or A groups, you’re going to need a better bike… and even if you don’t need one, you’ll want one.

The Modern, Entry-level Alloy Road Bike with Modern Shifting Systems and Components

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Many of us start out on a $1,000 road bike like the Specialized Allez (pronounced Ah-lay – it’s French, they shout it at the Tour de France, it means “come on”) because a $4,000 price tag on a bicycle seems outrageous. The Allez is a decent place to start, of course. Decent for the money. This will be good for the 12 to 20-mph average pace crowd. Any faster than that and a heavy entry-level bike will be too much work. From the terrible wheels, to the poor gearing choices, to the heavy overall weight of the bike, for the F through C groups, an entry-level bike will do. I’ve only seen one guy ride an Allez in a B Group setting. One. He’s since upgraded to a Specialized Venge. If you’re going to settle for entry-level, you’ll have to ask yourself, are you that person? If not, grade up.

The 10 to 20-year-old Carbon Fiber Classic, Modern Components

If you know how to look, you’ll find fantastic deals on used classic bikes. I picked the gem above up for a cool $750 from the local bike shop. Then I dropped $450 to have it painted, about $500 for some decent wheels and another $350 on other parts. I can ride that bike with anyone up to the 23-mph average crowd. The wheels do make it tough work, though – I could use a set of 38-50 mm carbon wheels on that bike because they allow you to keep the bike up to speed a little easier. On a bike like the one shown, with the right fitness and a decent set of deep dish wheels, you’ll be able to keep up with any group your fitness will allow you to. Doing the math, I have between $2,100 and $2,700 give or take, into a race-quality bike (I don’t even the remember the right amount the bike’s been through so many changes). On a budget, that’s as good as you’re going to get. Throw in another $700 for an upgraded set of wheels and your fitness will be your only limitation. With this bike, with the right transmission to suit your needs and decent wheels, you’ll be able to show up and ride with anyone your fitness will allow – A through F groups.

The Modern Race Bike – Mid-Range

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The mid-range race bike will run you between $3,000 & $7,000 and once you get to this quality in a bike, you have no more excuses as to why you can’t keep up. At this point, if you can’t keep up with the group you want to ride with, it’s most definitely you. Spending $3,000 on a bicycle isn’t easy – spending double that is harder… but it’s oh so worth it once you throw a leg over the top tube and clip in. This is where you can start to bump your head on too much bike for a group. While I don’t know many people who would ever deny another the enjoyment of riding a top-level race bike out of jealousy, a steed like this isn’t meant to be ridden on a nice little weekender with granny. If your idea of riding a bike is a nice 15-mile ride over the course of an hour and a half, you don’t need anywhere near this level of bike. Groups D through A; your only limitation will be how hard you can push on the pedals.

The Top-of-the-Line Race Bike

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The top of the line in road bikes will set you back between $8,000 and, for either of the two high-end racers above, $12,500. You can spend more on a top-of-the-line bike (the Bianchi-Scuderia Ferrari with Campagnolo components will run you a cool $18,600), but at that point you’re paying for the nameplate. You’ll be riding what the pros ride. You’ll have the lightweightiest, fastest, carbon fiber’est, ceramic bearing’est steed on the market. If you can’t keep up with a group on this bike, saunter up to a mirror and look in it. That’s your problem.

If you can afford a steed like that, ride that rig with a smile on your face because that’s as good as it gets.

If you show up for anything but the A, B or maybe the C ride with a top-end steed, you will unquestionably get a quizzical look or fifteen. Knowing what I know today, if I had the money laying around to blow on his and hers Ferrari’s, I’d do it. Owning one would be spectacular, but mostly unnecessary. I wouldn’t be any faster on that than I would the Specialized Venge I have $6,000 into.  High-end bikes don’t make a cyclist faster.  They make fast easier.

The Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon Fiber Saddle; A Pillowy Stroke of Genius

My friends, there once was a time I thought a lightweight race saddle was going to be a relatively hard saddle that had to be put up with, rather than enjoyed, over a long haul.

I had a beautiful Selle Italia 110 gram saddle on the Trek, then on the Venge, that was close to fantastic but it was in the realm of the hard saddle that had to be put up with when the mileage bounced over 50.  It was nice enough, and was a huge weight improvement over my 274 gram Specialized Romin saddle that goes on the Venge.  It was an even bigger advantage over the $25 mountain bike saddle I had on the Trek, though that mountain bike saddle was comfy.

The Selle Italia started out on the Trek at the beginning of the year, then went over to the Venge when I decided I wanted to get all weight weenie to see how light I could make it.  I loved it on the Trek, early in the season.  It wasn’t great on the Venge, though.  I just couldn’t get comfortable in it on the longer rides.  As I put more miles on my butt throughout the season, I became less and less fond of the saddle on the Venge so I switched it back to the Trek.  That magic I’d felt early in the season was gone.  With 4,000 miles on my hind end, what was once fairly wonderful became a bit like riding on barbed wire after a metric century.  The saddle had to go – I’m not paid to ride and I’m not putting up with an ultra light saddle just so I can say my Venge weighs 15-1/4 pounds instead of 15-1/2.  Better, it’s the difference between 18 and 18-1/2 pounds on the Trek.  Folks, 18 pounds is 18 pounds, and I need something I can be comfortable in on the long haul rides, because that’s what the Trek is for.

On a fluke I happened on a sale on the Bontrager/Trek website.  They had the Montrose Pro on overstock sale, $100 off.  I paid $120 for mine – a fantastic deal for a high-end saddle.

Bont Montrose

The profile is almost a perfect match to the Specialized Romin on the Venge that I absolutely love.  A little less rise on the nose, but otherwise, a spot-on match.

After the storm, the clouds parted and the sun shone…

After a couple of test rides I took the saddle and my Trek up north on a road trip with two of my best cycling friends.  77 miles on day one, 67 on day two.  The saddle is my new favorite.  It’s a fantastic balance of bounce and padding – and my 5200 needs a little help in that regard.  It’s a pretty stiff ride for a carbon fiber frame and fork.

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There’s about 50 grams difference between the Montrose and that previously mentioned Selle Italia saddle, and it all went into padding in the perfect places, and no more than absolutely necessary.

I am not all that flexible (I’m no spring chicken) and I ride an aggressive setup, so having the right saddle, that allows my hips to rotate a little so I can get low enough, is a requirement.  That’s exactly what the Montrose’s profile does.

I’ve always wanted the 5200 to be just a little more comfortable than my Venge so I’d ride the Trek more… and I’ve always felt that was impossible.  The Specialized is fourteen years newer so the technological ride advances are huge.  Not only do they make today’s bikes light and aero, with a little manipulation of the lay-up, they can make today’s frames stiff where it’s needed for power transfer, but compliant where that’s needed for ride quality.  Not to mention, the Trek will only fit a 24mm tire while the Trek will easily fit a 26… more volume in the tire means a better ride.

The Trek has one thing going for it over the Venge; the Trek is just a touch more vertically compliant than my Venge.  Vertically compliant means I’m not quite as low-slung on the Trek.  Add the Montrose Pro to the mix, with 24mm wide tires, and what was once thought of as impossible is now a reality.   My 5200 is slightly more comfortable.

The Montrose Pro is a fantastic saddle and decently light at around 160 grams.  It’s an all-day saddle that, once properly set, keeps me comfortable for hours.  I am perfectly pleased with it and can’t recommend it highly enough.

I’m Thinking About Getting Drastic with My Trek for a Year…

I was just sitting here thinking about nothing much when my mind wandered into what I might want to do differently this year for cycling. I’ve gone wireless in the past, opted to go without a speedo for a while…

With that new saddle I’ve been testing out I’ll have the Venge down to the low 15 pound range – light enough that getting lighter really doesn’t matter anymore – especially for an aero bike. In fact, the only way I could get the Venge any lighter is to go very drastic; tubular tires/wheels (call it $3,000) and a Dura Ace groupset (another $1,600-ish)… and I’d only drop a half to three-quarters of a pound from where I’m at already. Even if I had that kind of money, and I don’t, why?

On the other hand, and I’m just spit-balling here, what if I put the carbon wheels and the good saddle on the Trek?! I’m in the mid 18 pound range with the normal setup on the bike. With the carbon fiber wheels and the 110 gram saddle… It’d be down to the high 17 pound range… Not bad considering the bike was 20 pounds not too long ago.

So what would it be like to hang the Venge up for a year and ride the Trek with all of the good equipment on it?

Now that’s something to contemplate!

The only down side is what would I do for a rain bike? Swapping out the wheels would definitely be a chore if there was a chance of rain. To put rain wheels on the Trek, or alloy wheels, I’d have to swap brake pads and adjust the pad height so the pads hit the brake track on the alloy wheels every time there was a chance of a shower. Folks, I think that’s a little too much work. Still, I wonder, what would my Trek look like decked out in the finest? The notion is pretty compelling…

I have to admit, as a recovering drunk/addict, it is awesome to have my problems today!

And that is definitely sexy.

Day Two on My New Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow

Day two on my new saddle was a day for getting it squared away, leveled and to test its limits as comfort goes. If I’m good at anything, it’s geeking out over tiny details.

For this test, I chose to wear my lightest pair of bibs with a chamois that’s… well, there isn’t much there.  They’re a nice pair of bibs, but I won’t wear them for a ride longer than 40 miles for the lack of adequate chamois padding.

I wanted to feel what was happening – that’s the only way to be certain I’ve got everything right. A thick chamois wouldn’t transfer enough… um… feedback. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

I started pedaling and noticed two things within the first minute. The nose of the saddle was just a shade too high, and the saddle itself needed to be lowered, maybe two millimeters. I made the adjustments and climbed back on. Perfect.

I spent the next 45 minutes in the same spot, pedaling away, watching Martian. I doubt I’ll have to change another thing after that… except that pair of bibs. Those won’t work on that saddle.

One final observation; that saddle probably won’t work on the Trek even though I’m running it through the paces on that bike. Not that I’d want the expensive saddle on the Trek, it’s just too lacking in padding to go on a bike that requires 23mm tires. The Venge, with its 25mm tires and carbon fiber wheels, is vastly more comfortable for such a stiff saddle.  In the end, I’ll put the Selle on the Venge and take the Romin off the Venge and put that on the 5200.

A New Saddle for the Stable; It’s LIGHT… and not for the Faint of Heart

I went to a bike swap meet with my wife, Sunday morning. A friend I ride with regularly had some high-end saddles, among other carbon fiber pleasantries, for sale and he offered one to me.

I was ready for something a little lighter than my Specialized Romin, but I laughed when I felt the full weight of it.  Folks, the whole saddle is 110 grams. Less that a quarter of a pound.  It’s less than half the weight of my Romin.

My friends, the Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow.

The cutout is mighty big but… dude, 110 grams! My first impression was really… dude, seriously, does it matter?! 110 grams!  The Specialized Romin that came on my Venge is 273 grams.  So, when I put that svelt 110 SLR Tekno Flow on the Venge I’ll lose a third of a pound – on the saddle alone.

Last night was my first spin on it. Now, I can’t exactly say it was butter, because you don’t get that light putting padding on a saddle.

I chose a pair of old bibs with a thinner chamois so I could get an idea of how the saddle really felt.  Folks, I don’t care if it is a $400 saddle, if it hurts to ride on it I’d rather opt for something that’s comfortable and a little heavier – I spend way too much time in the saddle to mess with something that’s even a little uncomfortable.  The first few miles were a bit of an adjustment getting used to the huge cutout.  Once I got the fore/aft position figured out, though, it was surprisingly comfortable.  The best way to put it is it allows the hips to open up so you can stretch out.  With the plusher saddle I usually ride on the Trek, the way the saddle cradles you limits how low you want to get in the drops (most “comfortable” saddles are like this).  The Selle puts no limits on low – in fact, it encourages riding low on the hoods or in the drops.

Much more research will be required, but that saddle is absolutely staying in the stable.  Normally, after 45 minutes in the saddle on the trainer, my butt gets a little agitated – not quite painful, but I’m ready to be done.  While there was an adjustment period to the vastly more rigid SLR, there was zero agitation at the end of my 45 minute ride last night.  Interesting, indeed.  And did I mention?  110 grams!

How to Turn an Entry-level Road Bike into Lean, Mean Racing Machine on a Budget

For those of us who have contracted the cycling virus, almost across the board, we entered into the sport thinking $1,000 to $3,000 our first road bike was a helluva lot of money to throw at a bicycle.  Then reality punched us in the face.

Sadly, we usually find out, pretty quickly, that $3,000 is a good start, but that was about it.  Worse, we learned that $1,000 for a road bike was a drop in a bucket.

There are some things you can go without and some things you can’t if you really want a lightweight steed out of the deal.  Now, I went the long way around getting my bikes to a point where I can be satisfied and done with the upgrades and I’m writing this post to help those who have a family to think about before cycling.

First things first, unless you’re riding at the upper echelon of your cycling community, an entry-level bike, as is, right out of the bike shop, will do just fine unless you’re north of your 40’s starting out.  Most should be able to, with a little effort, “want to” and some discipline, become fit enough to crack out a 16 to 17-mph average on a decent entry-level bike – even on a hilly course.  The trick is when you’re north of 20-mph – that’s when the lightweight and aerodynamic gear make a big difference.

I can keep up with our 23-mph club group on an 18-1/2 pound Trek with a decent set of alloy wheels.  It’s a lot of work, but I can do it – and I even stuck in with a group for just shy of 60 miles at a 23.8-mph average pace on the same bike.  That speed is a lot more reasonable on my Specialized, though…  So, if you want to get to the next level, let’s get into the proper way to go about upgrading that bike to get you some free speed without killing the bank account or causing a divorce.

 

Okay, so going from newest to oldest in the photos, I started with the $3,000 entry-level race bike, so I was starting with a very light, aerodynamic, stiff, carbon fiber race frame to begin with – most won’t be so fortunate.  Still, this won’t matter for the post.

The very first thing to broom is the original wheelset.  I don’t care what gearing you have on the bike you bought, I don’t care about the shifters or anything else – entry-level wheels tend to suck.  They’re heavy and slow.  I tried going with less expensive alloy wheels but now that I’ve got a set of $400 carbon fiber wheels from Ican, if you’re under the weight restrictions, as I am, I’d recommend starting there.  I have more money into my lightweight alloy wheels that the Ican’s and the Ican set is noticeably superior in comfort and speed.  I’m very impressed with that wheelset for its cost.

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With a good wheelset on your steed, it’s time to look at a few important things, and a plan will help avoid blowing your cash on things you don’t need.

Having to do it all over again, I would save the handlebar upgrade for last.  I chose the S-Works bar and it was almost as much as my wheelset.  The handlebar was only good for a pile of “style watts” and a handful of actual watts and it didn’t save any weight over the alloy bar that came on the bike.  It was unnecessary, if entirely awesome.

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Moving on, we want to look at the drivetrain because a great crank will save a lot of weight and operate much better.  I went with the S-Works crank because it was light, almost three-quarters of a pound lighter than the FSA Gossamer crank that came on the bike, and it fixed a nagging issue (dirt getting into the bottom bracket).  The crank is going to be a big cash item, though, so this is why we come up with a plan.  If you’ve got a 9 or 8 speed transmission you’ll have to upgrade the drivetrain first (and we were getting to that next anyway) because they don’t make decent cranks for 8 or 9 speeds anymore.  You might get lucky on eBay or some other swap site, but don’t hold your breath.  If, on the other hand, you have a 10 or 11 speed rig, you should be able to upgrade easily (though 10 speed probably won’t be available much longer).  Also, if you don’t know all of the little nuances involved in picking a new crank, it might be a good idea to let a bike shop acquire it for you…. picking a crank with the proper chainrings, right arm length, for the correct bottom bracket can be a little daunting unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

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So, if you’ve got Shimano 105 or better on your entry-level bike (I did), don’t worry about upgrading the drivetrain unless you want to.  With an 8 or 9 speed rear cassette, getting into an 11 speed would be a good idea and it’ll actually save you some weight over both the 8 and 9 speed transmission.  You’ll need new shifters, new derailleurs, a new cassette and enough know-how to put it all together… along with the aforementioned crank.  This upgrade is expensive.  I’d go with 105 for a budget and Ultegra if you’ve got some cash to spend.

That’s all of the big weight savings items.  Depending on your original equipment, you’ll be down about three or four pounds at this point.

Next in importance is the stem.  Most people just go with what comes on the bike, but you can save almost a quarter-pound with a decent stem upgrade.  I went with a FSA carbon fiber wrapped alloy stem and saved about 100 grams.  This upgrade own’t make a difference in performance so it’s not entirely necessary – especially considering a good stem will set you back almost $200.

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Lastly, and this could be a big deal depending on how entry-level your bike was when you bought it, I bought a decent set of brakes for my Venge.  The 105 brake calipers that came on the bike were fantastic but I dropped a little weight picked up a lot of style points for the upgrade.  If you’ve got something like Axis brakes on your bike, the upgrade should save a little bit of weight and your brakes will likely work much better.

 

Last up, you’ve got the bottle cages.  Alloy cages are heavy.  Plastic cages are a little better, but decent carbon fiber cages can really add to an already nice bike’s looks.  They add nothing in terms of aerodynamics and only drop a handful of grams, so they’re unnecessary unless you’ve got the want to and about $60 to $80 for the pair.  Mine are from Blackburn:

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In the end, you’re going to want to figure out what you need and what you want… and what you can live without.  The wheels are a must.  Decent brakes are wise.  The crank and drivetrain are nice if you’ve got some money to spend, and the brakes and stem are more in the luxury category.

Whatever you do, push those pedals hard and ride that ride with a smile.

Ican 38mm Carbon Fiber Clincher Wheelset 1,000 Mile Review

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I picked up my Ican 38mm clinchers at the beginning of September and rode them most of that month and a few times this month – when the weather gets cold and the toe covers/over-shoes come out, that bike takes its place in the bike room in the house. I’ve got 1,100 miles and change in September and 600 so far for October, so I’m pretty sure I passed 1,000 miles on them somewhere. The importance isn’t the exact mileage, though, as they’re the same today as the day I took them out of the box… Rock solid, fairly true, fast, and smooth.  On the fairly true part, well, they came out of the box with a minor wobble in the rear wheel – less than a millimeter and it just wasn’t a big enough deal to mess with.  Most people wouldn’t even notice it, I’m just that picky.

Shod with Michelin Pro 4 Service Course 25mm tires (which were an absolute bear to get on the rims – but that has more to do with the tires than the wheels – Specialized Turbo Pro tires are much easier to work with), the wheels are smooth as glass, and we’ve got some pretty rough roads we ride on. It used to be my Trek 5200 was a just a touch more comfortable than the stiff Venge with the rail for a saddle but that’s not the case anymore. With the Ican wheels on there, I have a hard time reaching for the Trek. The ride is exceptional.

With that, 1,000 miles in, I don’t have a bad thing to say about the Ican 38mm carbon fiber wheels.  At $400 they’re a steal.

As a final note, I had a conversation with one of the mechanics at the local bike shop about the wheels, specifically the less expensive Chinese carbon fiber wheels.  It was his opinion that if the company that makes them (Ican, Superteam, etc.) is willing to put their name on the wheels, they’re pretty solid.  It’s when you get into the off-brand wheels that he sees trouble.  As far as Ican goes, I feel like I got away with something every time I ride my bike.  They’re that good.

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Check them out here:  Ican