The marks are wearing deep on my workshop threshold, as boxes are pouring steadily forth from the FedEx and UPS trucks. With the race season all but dried up, save for cyclo-cross and some track, product testing time has become a top priority for BikeRadar's US office. Here are some first ride impressions from the past week.
It certainly helps that the southern peninsula of San Francisco is enjoying a sublime dry and warm autumn. Temperatures hover in the mid to high 70s, with some fog clodding things up in the mornings. One strike against us for the next two months or so is the recent daylight savings time adjustment, which bites into our evening saddle time. This, of course, is easily remedied with proper lights, also part of our testing.
Specialized Globe Centrum Sport
This US$550 singlespeed commuter benefits from a smart but simple hydroformed aluminum frameset, with Shimano disc brakes and plenty of braze-ons for mudguards and racks. It's becoming one of my favourite grab-and-go bikes, thanks to the smart pedals, simple drivetrain, and comfortable reach to the bars.
Look Keo Carbon Ti road pedals
Look's enjoying its status as the number one pedal brand in the US, thanks in part to its Keo line. The injected carbon body of the US$399 Keo Carbon Ti model, coupled with its titanium spindle, make the 95g (each) pedal one of the lightest on the market. I've appreciated the audible and precise "click" of engagement my first few rides, and look forward to many happy revolutions.
Lazer Genesis RD road helmet
Belgian-based Lazer helmets has enjoyed its share of the spotlight in recent years, providing head protection for the last three world championships of QuickStep's Tom Boonen (2005) and Paolo Bettini (2006 and 2007). My own Belgian heritage, and a quest for a better fitting helmet, landed the US$175 Belgian national team coloured Genesis RD helmet on my skull. So far so good on the fit; no temple pinch or dead skull feeling after a few hours in the saddle. The one-handed fit dial on top the helmet is nothing short of genius.
crankbrothers Mallet M pedals
The 455g Mallet M dirt pedals have a nice, wide magnesium body, especially nice for big feet. The US$99 double sided, four-way entry pedals have performed well on their maiden voyage through Saratoga Gap.
FSA SL-K Light compact carbon road crankset and chain
At a very respectable 740g (including bottom bracket), the US $449 FSA SL-K Light compact carbon road crankset (50/34 tooth/110 bolt circle diameter) has thus far made an indelible impression on me after just three rides. It's no wonder Team CSC has done so well the past few seasons; coupled with the US$48, 240g FSA SL-K 10-speed chain, I feel like I'm using a belt drive. Whisper quiet so far.
SRAM Force vs Shimano SL
I've pedalled several hundred miles on both the Shimano Ultegra SL and SRAM Force gruppos this year, and will be reporting on each component's performance separately in BikeRadar's Bikes & Gear section just below our main carousel in the coming days.
Shimano has enjoyed its pavement and dirt dominance for several decades, and its new Ultegra SL gruppo is a step in the right direction. While many roadies view its Dura-Ace gruppo as the ultimate in road riding performance, the Ultegra SL is not to be overlooked for several reasons.
For years, Campagnolo and Mavic ruled the pro peloton, because the pro peloton was ruled primarily by Italian and French teams. Shimano Dura-Ace entered the pro ranks in 1973, but it took Lance Armstrong's 1999 Tour de France victory to move the Japanese company into the upper echelon.
Armstrong's seven consecutive Tour de France victories boasted Shimano's legitimacy in the pro peloton, and contributed mightily to Shimano's trickle-down technology between 1999 and 2007. It certainly helped to have Discovery Channel teammates Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer bookend the 2007 Tour de France podium after duking it out astride their Shimano-equipped Treks in July.
The 2008 Ultegra SL gruppo is Shimano's attempt at bridging the gap for weekend racers, sportif riders, while acknowledging SRAM's introduction of its Force and Rival gruppos in 2006.
While SRAM-sponsored Saunier-Duval had its peaks and valleys in 2007, SRAM benefitted mightily from its affiliation with David Millar and Gilberto Simoni's team-issue Scott bikes and kit in its Tour debut. And with the SRAM Red sub-2000g gruppo taking aim at the vaunted Dura-Ace, 2009 should be an interesting year indeed from the folks at Shimano.
Look for complete reviews on these products and more in the weeks to come.
© BikeRadar 2007