Freshening up the winter steed

We’re over half way through Octover now, so it’s officially time to start thinking about winter. Today I pulled out the tired-looking Ribble (which had been sulking in the corner with a broken gear cable) and gave it a good freshen up ready to tackle the forthcoming foul weather commuting duties. I’d been putting it off, riding to and from work on my Kinesis Aithein instead as it’s much more fun.

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Firstly on went the Continental GP 4 Season tyres. I’ve found these to be a fantastic winter road bike tyre; grippy, heard wearing and with excellent puncture resistance without giving up too much in the way of speed. I really should just use them all year round. Then new gear cables, new rear brake, new chain and cassette.

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The winter steed runs a workhorse 10-speed groupset, 50/39/30 up front and 12-27 out the back. The rear wheel is a bombproof (read: heavy and slow) 32-spoke Mavic rim laced to my Powertap SL+ hub. As I won’t be setting many Strava PB’s, training to power keeps me motivated.

image4No winter bike would be complete without a good set of lights. I run two rear lights (one flashing, one constant) and now that it’s dark enough a seriously bright 1200 lumen Lezyne Super Drive XXL on the bars. I’ll be able to spot those suicidal squirrels a mile off with this beast!

Yes I’m aware there’s no mudguards so it’s not a “true” winter bike, but unfortunately the Ribble doesn’t have eyelets or much clearance. I have a set of SKS Raceblades I throw on when it rains. They’re no match for proper full length guards, but they’re good enough. Now here’s hoping the weather stays fine for a while longer!

Beautifully Loud: De Rosa King XS Dura Ace

The Italian supermodel. Renowned worldwide for her superior style, sassy edge and a reputation for working hard while partying even harder. Sharing many a common trait with supermodels of Italian heritage, the lush looking King XS sits at the top end of Italian manufacturer De Rosa’s road bike range.

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Thanks to the guys at Bike Swanky I was given the opportunity to take out this Italian supermodel for a week-long love affair demo ride.

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Imagine if you will, a bike designed by flamboyant Italians for flamboyant Italians and you’d not be far off the De Rosa King XS Dura Ace in vivid pink. If you’re a shy and retiring type, this colour scheme is not for you (others are availaible). It’s pearlescent violet gleam is impossible to do justice in a photograph. You simply have to see it in the flesh. Turning up to the club ride on this machine is guaranteed to turn more heads than Britney Spears at a bachelor party! It’s bold, it’s brash, it’s brilliantly beautiful.

Adorned with stylish Prologo and 3T finishing kit plus Dura Ace running gear the King XS performs almost effortlessly whether cruising to the cafe or dropping the hammer along your favourite Strava segment. The Fulcrum Racing 3’s supplied on my test bike are a great wheelset, but feel a little under-specced on a bike of this price.

31e3b357-ffb5-4be5-8fa6-e44b0abc0dc0The King XS is a performer – although during the ride you may not notice. It’s one fast ride but does it all without you even realising it, which is the King XS’s blessing and also it’s curse. Comfortable, light, agile and very responsive, the King XS will have you ticking off Strava PB’s with ease and it does all of this without breaking a sweat. Personally I’d like to feel a bit more excitement from this Italian steed. It’s like a Ferrari without that signature exhaust note; still just as much the supercar but not quite the same.

Where you will notice the difference is when you point it up a smooth, winding gradient. Every last drop of power you push through the pedals is transferred directly to the rear wheel, propelling you forwards with ease. I found myself tapping through a few extra cogs on the 11-speed Dura Ace on my way to a PB up the famous Box Hill Zig Zag, even after sitting on the front of the club ride all the way to Dorking.

Coming down the hill on the other hand is not quite as awe inspiring. The rest of the groupset may be top end but the brakes are Tektro, a real let-down on an otherwise full Dura Ace equipped bike. They just don’t have the stopping power you’d expect for a bike of this calibre. It’s akin to making your supermodel girlfriend wear shoes from Tesco, except those shoes increase the risk of hitting an errant squirrel darting across the road in front of you.

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Apart from the braking issue (easily resolved) the King XS is a superb bike. This is the sort of machine that an Italian playboy would load into his Maserati before heading out for a café tour through the Dolomites. You can picture it parked outside a champagne bar in Monaco at 10am in the morning, while it’s proud owner sips an exquisitely crafted espresso. It really is every bit the “supercar” that it looks.

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It does come with a “supercar” price tag to match though. Retailing at around £4800 it’s not a cheap purchase. At this price point I’d like to see it fitted with Dura Ace brakes to match the rest of the groupset and a set of 3T Accelero 40 wheels.

Apart from those points the King XS is hard to criticise. It does everything exceptionally well (except braking) and without you even realising how good it is, but for me it lacked a bit of character. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s one hell of a bike and had me smashing it around the Surrey Hills in style.

Sure she has her faults, but what supermodel doesn’t? And just like any supermodel worth her salt, the more I rode her, the more I fell in love.

BikeSwanky.com

REVIEW: dhb Aeron Pro bib shorts and jersey

A big thanks to Wheelsuckers for providing me with the kit.

It’s 6am on a Sunday morning. Breakfast is eaten, my bottles are filled and I’m almost ready to ride down to meet a bunch of my club mates in Guildford for the AAT Surrey Sportive. Instead of my usual club kit, I’m pulling on dhb’s Aeron Pro bib shorts and matching short sleeve jersey. The Aeron Pro range, from Wiggle’s in-house brand is billed as their high performance collection offering the “perfect balance of comfort and performance at a great value price.” Today’s 65 mile sportive, plus the ride there and back should serve as a fitting test.

At 8am we’re called forward to start and from the gun the pace is higher than I was expecting. We’re soon whizzing through the undulating countryside. I feel very “pro” in the kit. The black/white colour combination with chequered detailing on the arms creates a stylish yet understated look. The cut is body-hugging. Not race-level aero cut, but it’s certainly close. Brand snobs may flinch at wearing Wiggle “own make” kit, but I am nothing short of impressed. Replace the dhb logos with ASSOS and nobody would bat an eyelid!

Full gas in the drops (through the rain) with club mate Steve H holding my wheel.

I spend a large proportion of the ride hunkered low in the drops as the Woking CC express train hurtles along at full gas. The jersey performs faultlessly, keeping me cool, comfortable and most importantly aero. The silicon arm bands remain flat against my skin and there’s minimal bunching around the front as I get low out of the wind.

Chasing the guys in front I leap out of the saddle, stomping on the pedals. The leg grippers hold firm against my smooth cyclist thighs. No amount of Cavendish-esque sprinting or powering over inclines can shift them, ideal for comfort and cultivating laser sharp tan lines. The bibs come with dhb’s top of the range “Tour Air Cyctech” chamois pad. It performs respectably, but on longer all-day rides I’d be inclined to go for a little more padding. After around 80 miles in the saddle I found myself shuffling a little to remain comfortable.

The bib shorts come with dhb’s top level chamois.

By 10am the miles are flying by and we’re covering ground at an exponential rate. The temperature continues to rise with the pace, but paired with a summer base layer I am kept cool and well ventilated. Mesh panelling in all the right areas aids this. On longer drags I find myself reaching for the zip for added air flow. There’s no fumbling, with the tab easy to locate and smooth in operation. Likewise reaching behind into any of the well-proportioned three rear pockets is a breeze.

Surrey Sportive 2015 by SussexSportPhotography.com 08:29:35Refuelled on chocolate brownies at the final feed station there’s talk of relaxing for the home stretch. Of course this never materialises and we’re once again bombing it. In fact as we edge closer towards the finish the pace is lifted even higher.

What was in those brownies? A smooth section sees our rolling paceline nudge 28mph! Like a moth hypnotised by a 60W bulb I’m focused solely on keeping contact with the wheel in front. Regardless, I’m effortlessly comfortable thanks to the smooth stitching and expert tailoring found in the bibs and jersey.

Crossing the finish back in Guildford I’m glad of the respite, it’s been a fast and ferocious ride. Sure it’s not a race, but I later learn I’ve finished 28th quickest overall (thanks in no small part to the faster boys driving the Woking CC road train).

I finally arrive home after a furious 95 miles, throw down a recovery shake, collapse on the couch and reflect over the ride. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the jersey. It’s sublime. Perfectly cut, professional looking, three rear pockets plus a fourth zipped one, full-length hidden zipper, arm hugging silicon grippers and ventilation in all the right places. The bib shorts are not far off perfect either, let down ever so slightly by the chamois pad (a purely personal preference).

Compared to the CAPO Pursuit kit I reviewed last year the dhb Aeron Pro range is a cut above and then some, plus it’s cheaper too. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this kit to anyone after a tight fitting summer combo. This is one set of cycling kit that is going straight to the top of my “go to” list!

The dhb Aeron Pro short sleeve jersey and dhb Aeron cycling bib shorts retail at £49.99 and £64.99 respectively and are available exclusively through Wiggle online.

Photography thanks to SussexSportPhotography.com

Project Aithein: Groupset Choice

Choosing a groupset for the Kinesis Aethien was a bit of a tough call. My criteria was that it had to be either Shimano or possibly SRAM as per my other bikes and that preferably I would stick with 10-speed to match.

I didn’t really want to “upgrade” to 11-speed, I don’t see a huge advantage to one extra gear, but the new Shimano 105 11-speed was available at a really good price, too good to pass up. It worked out even cheaper than sourcing individual parts on eBay or forum sale ads! It does get great reviews online and in magazines and the weight penalty is less than 200g over the much more expensive new Ultegra.

For less than £300 for the entire groupset you can’t really go wrong (I think Shimano price it so aggressively to push more people into the new tech).

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I had to buy it with an Alpine conquering 11-32 cassette as they were out of stock in other combinations. That’ll be interesting seeing as I can get up most climbs in my current 39/27 bottom gear! I’ll be switching out the cassette for a much closer range one later on. Now, where did I put my Allen keys?

GP 4-Season Tyres: 1500 Miles

You may recall I posted a quick first impressions review of the Continental 4-Season tyres back in November of last year. Since then I have covered around 1500 miles through the English winter and now into Spring. So how have they fared?

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Over the past months I’ve had the pleasure (?) of riding these tyres through all types of weather and varying road surfaces. There’s been the notoriously potholed and rough Surrey Hills, mud strewn single track lanes and everything that the English weather could have thrown at me (besides snow). The tyres have performed faultlessly, offering a marked increase in confidence over my summer tyres.

There is hardly a single cut to the tread or sidewall. The logos and brown cross-hatching of the Duraskin Wrap have faded somewhat (possibly a good thing) but structurally both front and rear are still in great condition. I’ve picked a few flints out of the tyres, but so far nothing has managed to penetrate the double puncture protection later. The rubber compound of the 4-Seasons seems much less prone to cuts than the GP4000S does.

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In my initial review I noted that that when pushing hard the 4-Seasons felt a fraction slower than the GP4000S tyres. I still believe this, but it’s such an insignificant difference that it is hardly worth worrying about it, especially in the winter months when your average speed is affected more by other factors.

In fact, I have been so impressed by the Conti 4-Seasons tyres that I am seriously contemplating leaving them on my road bike permanently and saving the faster tyres for my race machine. After all, they are billed as “four seasons” not just for winter! They really are that good.

Pros

  • Excellent grip levels in the cold and wet
  • Confidence inspiring handling
  • Hard wearing yet still comfortable to roll on
  • Extra puncture protection layer over GP4000S tyres
  • Bolstered sidewall damage protection

Cons

  • Possibly more expensive that the competition (buy when on special)
  • Not the best looking tyres

Ride Review: Tannus Aither 1.1 Solid Road Bike Tyres

Since my first look in February I’ve been giving the Tannus Aither 1.1 solid tyres a thorough workout on my road bike. I’ve covered enough miles now to be able to write a more in-depth appraisal of their real world performance. They promised a lot, but did they deliver? You can read my full review over on Wheelsuckers, who kindly provided me with the tyres. Click on the link below to be taken to the full article:

Review: Tannus Aither 1.1 Solid Tyres

AITHER_REVIEW_01That’s right, I stuck safety pins into my tyres. So what? ;-)