It’s great to be able to try out new and different products on a fairly consistent basis. The shop’s buyers and sales reps alike have been really good about letting me get my hands on everything from bikes to cookbooks. One of my favorite things to try out are new tires as different rubber can really change the way a bike rides.
After my brief love affair with the Specialized S-Works Turbo 24s, and the realization that I couldn’t in good conscious run them when not racing (given my disdain for repairing punctures) I found myself in the buyers’ office dropping off some coffee beans (I know what keeps the wheels turning around the shop). There, Kelly asked me about the Turbo 24s and then patiently listened to me bemoan the Turbo’s apparent propensity for flats on open roads and then praise their amazing cornering prowess and ride feel. In an effort to make me feel better, or to get me out of his hair so he could get some work done, Kelly reached in to his bag of tricks and presented me with a pair of Michelin‘s new Pro 4 Endurance tires.
The Pro 4s are not really a new tire. In fact, I reviewed the Pro 4 Service Course last Winter. That tire, which leans towards the race end of the scale, became a favorite and got fairly good rotation in my tire selections over the course of the last 12 or so months. The Pro 4 Endurance, as the name clearly implies, is more of a training tire. After my frustration with recent punctures, I was ready for something burlier, but I wasn’t sure how far back I was willing to swing the pendulum, and I wasn’t at all familiar with how far afield of “race only” the Endurance might land.
The Pro 4 Endurance is packaged just like it’s Service Course brethren. And, like the Service Course tire, it feels supple in hand and is a real bear to mount for the first time. Rather than use the Air Comp tube that Michelin recommends, I stuck with the latex tubes I’ve been running all year. The use of those tubes, which are lighter and slightly more puncture resistant than butyl tubes, combined with running the stock wheels on my Tarmac, is an effort to reduce as many variables as possible when trying out new tires.
The Pro 4 Endurance shows it’s intended purpose as soon as you toss it on a scale. This is not a race only piece of equipment. Rather, it’s meant to be ridden–for miles, and miles, and miles. Whereas the Service Course model sports a claimed weight of 200 grams, and the Turbo 24s came in just under that impressive figure, the Pro 4 Endurance came in at an average of 255 grams on the shop scale. I know. 55 or so grams. Big deal. But for folks that care (I’m not particularly one of them when it comes to road bikes) it’s a big deal. To me, the added weight was something I only noticed when staring at the tires on the scale.
Mounted up, the tires look nice. I’d rather run an all black tire or something really retro with gum sidewalls. But the two-tone black and gray Pro 4 Endurance tires with their white lettering look good against the all black Tarmac and it’s dark gray accents. And the tires feel pretty good too on the open road.
The Endurance Pro 4 shines on smooth pavement. Of course ALL tires feel good on smooth pavement. But you get the sense that there really is an effort to create a tire that has some ride feel, some character while still being a bit burly to prevent premature wear. It wasn’t quite the fast feel of the Pro 4 Service Course model or the incredible grip of the Turbo 24s, but the Pro 4 Endurance felt quick and stable albeit quite firm in comparison.
Over rougher roads I could tell I was dealing with a tire that moved away from race-day only application. The tire didn’t grip as much over rough texture, particularly if going through a loose or bumpy corner. Not that I expected them to. The Endurance didn’t feel like it was going to let go, but it did have a tendency to bounce more even at slightly lower tire pressure than the Turbo 24s did. That’s the difference in ride quality changing tires can make that I was talking about earlier.
When I reviewed the Turbo 24s I wrote that most of my riding is just cruising around. Looking over my ride journal, since I put the Endurance tires on I haven’t had a chance to make it out to the Driveway even once or one of the myriad crits or stage races that have happened in just the last 4 or so weeks. But I have ridden the Pro 4 Endurance tires nearly 1,100 miles since April 16 and I’ve had one puncture that I can recall. And the tires seem to show no wear. Given their intended application, I think Michelin has the Pro 4 Endurance spot on.
And that’s the rub when it comes to rubber. Where are you riding and how much are you riding? For what I’ve been doing lately, the Endurance may well be the perfect tire. Loads of miles over chip seal and worse with little concern for small debris, road seams, and small potholes. As much as I want to ride very high-end race tires all the time, the hassle of punctures and the cost of replacements versus sublime ride quality makes it an impractical bargain. I’m sticking with the Pro 4 Endurance and it’s like.
To thy own self be true. Especially when picking tires.
Odds are that you’re intimately familiar with Strava, the cycling and running site that’s one part performance data collection and aggregation and one part social network.
I’m late to the game and am only now somewhat familiar with it. I’ll be the first to admit that for the longest time I didn’t really get it at all. Racing “virtually?” King of the Mountains when nobody else is around? Fastest person to ride the length of your own driveway? Huh? If you want to race, go to a race. If you want to see which of your friends is fastest to the top of City Park Road, ride there with your friends. Need to know your fastest commute to work, use a watch. Simple, right?
Now that I’ve tried Strava I see the appeal and see that it’s not that simple.
Strava allows you to download ride data from your GPS device or Strava’s own smartphone app to your computer. Of course, programs abound for such data collection. But what Strava also does is compare your ride against every other person that has ridden that same route or sections of it and your performance is ranked against others who have covered the same “segments.” Segments are user-defined sections of road or trail that riders “race” for bragging rights.
It’s pretty fun if I’m being honest. After all, it’s easy to say I’m faster than my buddy down Cournevaca if I beat him down the road one day, but how do I stack up against local pros, or against my buddy when he’s on his best day if I’m not there? I mean, I’m probably not going to ride with any pros tomorrow and I can’t always ride with my pal. Strava let’s me measure up against the pros–not well it turns out–and let’s me see all my friends’ best efforts, and in a funny way, motivates me to ride more.
The other thing that Strava does that seems to push folks to ride more is it pairs with other cycling industry companies and hosts challenges. In April, Strava and Specialized presented the Classics Challenge challenging riders to cover the distance of all the Spring Classics–1,319 km–over the course of April. It was in fact folks around the shop talking about this challenge that got me on Strava to check it out. For May, Strava and Castelli are hosting the Battaglia in Montagna Challenge in connection with the Giro d’ Italia. Ride the distance of the 5 major summit finish Giro stages–813 km–in 14 days between May 13 and May 26. (Castelli, a company that’s really into social media, is also hosting a corresponding Instagram photo contest.) Folks who complete a challenge get the previously mentioned bragging rights in the form of a digital “badge” on their Strava dashboard and often times goodies of some sort from the partnering company. For the Battaglia in Montagna, there’s a chance to order a limited run Castelli jersey for completing the challenge.
So you’re “racing” friends and strangers along roads you ride all the time as well as ones you may only ride once. Strava’s not only collecting your ride data and ranking you against others along the various segments on your route, but you’re also able to follow friends and other riders, give them “kuddos” for their rides (akin to the ubiquitous Facebook “like”) and share your own rides on other social networks. As the social media saying goes, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. So not only is it a performance metric service, but it’s also a chance to socialize about your rides and share ride stories as cyclists are apt to do. Pretty clever.
For me though, more than the sharing of rides and following friends and strangers alike to see how their riding is going, it’s the data collection and breakdown that I find most appealing. There’s a value to the person who is looking to improve their riding in not only collecting ride data, but also being able to easily parse it. Strava’s clean user interface makes seeing totals, averages, and best performances pretty easy when compared against Garmin’s Garmin Connect or the free version of Training Peaks, both of which are adequate, but not as easy to use or as visually appealing in my opinion. (Strava offers a premium paid version of their service which offers even more data analysis than the free version.)
There’s a fine line between racing and riding. If you’ve ever been first to a city limit sign on a ride with friends, seen how fast you could clean a section of trail, or timed a bike commute, you’ve raced. Strava is in some way an extension of that concept–making riding fun and challenging and creating stories to share on future rides.
Happy riding. And Stravaing.
I lobbied hard to go watch Rebecca Rusch, also known as The Queen of Pain, make a run at setting a trail record for the Kokopelli Trial from Moab, UT to Fruita, CO. The event coincided with Specialized’s launch of their new women-specific 29″ platform, the Rumor. In their infinite wisdom, shop management elected to send someone that can actually ride a mountain bike well and someone who could appreciate the Rumor’s thought out design. Here is Lamar store assistant manager Rachael Cook’s report from Fruita:
Ladies, Oh Ladies!
If you have been waiting to be swept away by a mountain bike that fully delivers on its promise of design for women, meet the Specialized Rumor. I got to ride this new for 2013 bike on the Kokopelli Trails and Lunch Loops in Fruita, CO with some wonderful ladies from Specialized as well as other North American retailers this past weekend at the bike’s launch. The well-executed Rumor delivered a two-day trail tryst that exceeded every expectation that I had.
While it would be easy to get caught up in the spec sheet offerings of either of the reasonably priced Comp or Expert versions, let me just touch on a couple. First, both bikes have Specialized’s proprietary AUTOSAG feature on the rear shocks. AUTOSAG makes rear shock setup so painlessly quick and easy even this single speed hardtail riding girl doesn’t mind setting it up trail-side. And then there’s what you can’t see. Just like Specialized’s size specific tubing and carbon layups on their road bikes, the tubing on each size of the Rumor is designed specifically for riders appropriate to the size of the bike. No other company can claim this level of attention to detail that gives riders of every size the best experience available.
Now, onto the ride! I threw everything I had at this bike, and I was limited by nothing but my own skill level. Even when I got myself into sketchy situations the Rumor got me through what I expected would turn bad. Multiple times I was going way too fast into turns or downhill or off ledges and came upon unexpected obstacles in the trail that I thought for sure would knock me off my rhythm. The Rumor, seemingly of its own volition, moved through and past them with uncanny ease. I felt like this bike was almost as in tune with me as my custom Independent Fabrication, even though I only did a quick seat height adjustment trail-side.
I’m proud that Bicycle Sport Shop represents a brand that embraces and empowers women’s riding experiences whether off road, on road, or around town. We will have a size run of Rumors arriving this May. Come check it out for yourself and see what makes this a total trail machine!
Ever wonder where all the bikes in the shop start out at?
When you come into Bicycle Sport Shop to look for a new bike, hopefully you get a warm welcome from a knowledgeable staff member who shows you a number of options based on the riding that you want to do. Maybe you talk custom bikes from Independent Fabrication, Co-Motion, or Serotta. Perhaps you look at stock bike offerings on hand like those from Trek, Specialized, Sunday, Santa Cruz, Salsa, or others. Whether it’s a custom or stock offering, a road or a mountain bike, a child’s first bike or a 50th birthday present to yourself, a commuter or a BMX rig each bike in the shop has a life before someone ever throws a leg over it. Here is a brief look at that life.
Each bike starts on Scott’s desk. Be it a stocking order that he and others have planned for the year, a special order for a stock model based on a customer’s specific need or request, or a fully custom bike, Scott orders every bike that comes through the shop.
The warehouse is where the bikes land at Bicycle Sport Shop. Every bike, regardless of which shop it ultimately ends up at comes through the warehouse and is tagged and accounted for by the warehouse crew.
After being received and tagged each bike lives in the boxed-bike room. This is the where the builds department takes over. Brandon and his group of guys build bikes for inventory based on input from Scott as well as from sales staff looking for a particular size or colorway that might not be currently built. The builds department is really comprised of two sets of mechanics. First there’s the mechanic that builds your new bike. Second, there’s another set of wrenches that double check the work of the original build to make sure nothing was missed.
From here your new bike heads to Lamar, or Research, or Parmer. As you consider your options and make a decision not only on your bike but accessories for it, your bike takes one more trip to the service department. The final time the bike goes up in the stand is not only to install your accessories that will enhance your ride experience, but also to have a third mechanic safety check the bike and make sure it’s fine tuned and ready for your first ride.
There’s far more to the bike on the rack than just the bike. There’s Scott and others going through available models to pick those that the shop feels offer the greatest value, there’s the warehouse staff receiving each bike and the builds staff and service mechanics making sure that each bike is triple checked, and there’s the sales staff who hopefully helped you find the perfect new bike!
“For racing only.”
It says that right on the sidewall. Of course, throwing caution to the wind, I’ve run these tires for just over 460 miles since March 28th. While I raced them some, the majority of those ride hours were around South and Southeast Austin, towards San Marcos and points beyond.
As I mentioned in my original post, the tires are great. Easy to mount, fast feeling–even at lower pressures (90-95 psi), and amazing cornering grip. A few of my rides since that first post have been in the rain and if anything the wet conditions seemed to enhance the remarkable cornering characteristics of the Turbo 24s. Perhaps being inspired by the ride quality, I left them on for longer than I should have.
I’ve flatted twice more because of sharp road debris. The tires’ great suppleness, which gives them their quality ride feel, likely allowed them to perhaps more easily pick up small glass shards that worked their way through the tire and into the tube. I can’t say another tire that I’d normally run, be it a Michelin Pro 4 Service Course, A Continental GP 4000, or similar rubber would have or wouldn’t have flatted. All I know is that two flats in two weeks is probably one too many for me. Such is life.
Today I washed my bike after some wet rides last week and I pulled the S-Works Turbo 24s off. I think I’ll save them for their intended purpose–racing.
It pays to follow directions.
Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day. It’s one of those events where we almost always have an over abundance of participants and volunteers. Everyone wants to be a part of it, because it’s just plain fun. Introducing kids to the joys of cycling and the fun and challenge of riding trails, in an environment where they can learn from peers and eperienced riders alike. What’s not to like?
To hear the kids that participate tell it, it’s a really great event. And for a few kids, it gets them hooked on mountain biking in a way that takes them from cruising neighborhood trails and riding to school to TMBRA races and podiums–all while maintaining that initial sense of fun and excitement.
Once such rider is the Bicycle Sport Shop Mountain Bike Club‘s Grant Spring. Grant has participated in Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day in the past and plans to again this year. (The first one, this coming weekend, is actually full but there are more scheduled for later in the year!)
We sat down with Grant to get an idea of what mountain biking means to him and see where is riding has taken him recently.
Grant, we know you’ve been riding mountain bikes for a couple of years. How old are you?
GS: I’m 12 right now.
When did you learn to ride?
GS: When I was three and half or four (without training wheels).
That’s pretty young to be riding. I didn’t learn until I was 10! When did you get into mountain biking? How did you get into it?
GS: I started trail riding three years ago. Living in Steiner Ranch there are plenty of great trails nearby. Instead of traditional “sports” practice, I would go out and ride the trails near my house.
When did you do your first race? How did it go?
GS: My first race was two years ago at the Camp Eagle Classic. I ended up sixth out of nine riders. I had high expectations and learned that I realy liked the challenging, technical parts of the race.
So we’re opposite riders. I like the open, power sections of trails. Maybe you can teach me to ride technical stuff! The first Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day is coming up. Have you ever done one of the Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day rides? If so, what did you think?
GS: Yes. I loved it. Having ridden before I ended up helping some of the other, younger riders on the trail and helped lead our group. I also learned some very valuable skills that I still use racing and training. I’m looking forward to this weekend and the other rides in the series.
Do you have a favorite ride or race?
GS: I really like the Bicycle Sport Shop Pace Bend Race (ed. coming up April 21st) and the shop’s Six Shooter cyclocross race. But all of the races are exciting!
TMBRA has changed the mountain bike calendar for this year and we’re well into the race season. How has it gone so far? Any goals for this season aside from having fun?
GS: It’s going great! I’m in second place overall and I’m looking forward to racing all the way through September. My goals are to podium at every race I go to and to win the overall series for my age and category.
Do you participate in any other sports or extra curricular activities?
GS: Not as of right now. But I’m looking forward to running track next year in seventh grade and participating in my church youth group.
I know you race cyclocross too, and had a really great season last year. How does the mountain biking help with that and vice versa?
GS: Cyclocross taught me a lot. It showed me a more physical side with my bike (running and jumping over obstacles). It also got me in better shape for mountain bike season.
If you were talking with a friend who wanted to get into mountain biking, what would be the number one piece of advice for them?
GS: Forget about worrying if your good enough or not, just get out and go have some fun. Enjoy your bike!
Mom and dad, any advice out there for families with kids that are interested in mountain biking ?
Mom and Dad: Get involved in the area mountain bike clubs and participate in the events in and around your community. There is an age category for all ages so it can be a family event as well.
Thanks for letting us sit in, Grant! Good luck this season and see you at Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day!
It happened again. I got a demo product late in the week and the fact I wanted to ride it a few times pushed my post back. There are worse problems to have. Particularly when you’re talking about something as nice as the Specialized S-Works Turbo 24 clincher.
Specialized’s new S-Works Turbo clincher debuted last year at the Tour de France under Tony Martin, one of the best time trialists in the business. What was essentially a product launch didn’t have the golden aura that the then new Roubaix SL4 had under Tom Boonen last Spring. Martin punctured and the tire, touted as the fastest around, went somewhat quietly into that good night. The debut had been thwarted by road debris and a faulty tube.
But punctures happen. We’ve all been there. We’ve all flatted “puncture resistant” tires, sliced tubes full of sealant, maybe even rolled a tubeless tire, or had the heartbreaking experience of destroying a tubular. It happens. To all of us. Even pros. That’s not to say that some of these products aren’t best in class. It’s more a testament to the fact that often times luck plays a roll in cycling, whether on the sport’s biggest stage or the commute to work. Lady Luck aside, the S-Works Turbo 24 tire is undoubtedly best in class.
Most pros in fact do not run clinchers, the tires us recreational riders find on the majority of bikes in bike shops. Pros typically run tubulars, also known as sew ups, where the tube is essentially sewn into the tire casing and the whole contraption is glued–yes glued–to the rim. When you have a small army of mechanics behind you, and sponsors that provide multiples of everything, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. But for most of us the thought of gluing tires seems archaic. And the thought of potentially having $90 (or more) flats, nuts. So we run clinchers. But some of us would also like to experience the ride quality of what many of the pros ride. Enter the S-Works Turbo 24 clincher.
Specialized’s tests show that the clincher version of the Turbo 24 creates less rolling resistance than the tubular version of the same tire, and it tests similarly well against other high-end tires from other major manufactuerers. Because of cycling’s, and particularly road cycling’s, dogged determination to cling to tradition, it wasn’t until last year and that auspicious start that Specialized sponsored pros were convinced to give clinchers a go. And those riders, even Martin, have stuck with the new rubber, taking this year’s Terrino-Adriatico time trial win in wet conditions on them.
Why stick with a product where one of your first experiences wasn’t perfection? Well, there’s the recognition of the aforementioned luck factor. And there’s the fact that these tires ride great. Period.
The S-Works Turbo clincher features a folding bead and a rubber compound that’s primarily synthetic, as opposed to primarily natural, like on Specialized’s other tires. This allows for the incredibly supple sidewalls, which not only aid in cornering (more on that later) but also in making the S-Works Turbo 24 one of the easiest tires to mount on a wheel in my experience. Also on the Turbo is a small tread pattern, almost like a miniature file tread, which goes not only across the top of the tire, but also fairly well down the sidewalls. It’s this tread which lends itself to the tire’s superior cornering feel. Finally, because the tire has to be ridden in the real world (despite the “for race use only” suggestion on the sidewall) the tires sport Specialized’s BlackBelt flat protection layer–not that flats can’t still happen, but every little bit helps. Perhaps it’s that effort to give some measure of durability that gives them a reported average weight of 205 grams. The “race only” designation is an acknowledgment that the overall life span of the tire, with its extreme suppleness, is shorter than the company’s other high-end clincher offerings.
I mounted the tires to the 2013 Tarmac SL4 last Wednesday afternoon, knowing that I’d be taking the bike to the Driveway Crit Series the following evening. As I rode over to the race from the shop, I leaned the bike into a few turns and noted that I felt firmly planted as a pushed my outside foot down and straightened my outside arm. Through some road debris and over a couple of potholes and road seams I held my breath. And the tires held the 95 psi I had put in them. After getting to the race, getting situated, and getting lined up it was time to really have a bit of a go on the S-Works Turbo 24s.
The tires didn’t disappoint. Around the turns faster and faster the bike never felt like it was going to give up its hold on the circuit. Even when I hit a small stone that had found its way on to the course and the front tire skipped it immediately grabbed the track again and the bike held its line. And when the shifting pack put me on the outside of the course and over a rounded curb into the dry moon-dust like dirt, the tires never faltered. But those two brief oddities aside, the Driveway is like riding velcro, a fairer race test would be some rough and tumble chip seal roads like those that many Central Texas road races cover.
So Saturday I lined up with 25 or so other riders for a “leisurely” 75 mile ride over to Lime Creek. Gravel strewn roads, bumps, cracks, climbing, descending, town line sprints it was all there. Three or four other riders flatted, but I never did. As the roads got rougher the further we got from town I noted that the Turbo 24s road much like another favorite high-end tire of mine–Vittoria’s Open Pave EVO CG–the clincher version of the somewhat well-known green tread tubular many pros ride in the Spring Classics. Both of these tires have a “softness” that makes them feel more comfortable than other offerings out there. But what the Turbo 24s have over the Open Paves is that the Turbo 24s also feel faster, more akin to the Michelin Pro 4s I rode for a while last season. It’s the combination of ride feel and speed that the Turbo 24s seemed to have locked onto.
Roughly an hour of crit racing and 4 hours of road riding and the tires were doing great. Then I flatted. But it wasn’t the tires fault. The latex tube I was using in the rear tire had a seam split. Ces’t la vie. A quick flat fix and I was ready for Monday’s ride, a fairly leisurely spin through Southwest Austin. Another 2 hours and the tires felt good. Over some loose dirt as I traversed a neighborhood and off a curb and I was beginning to forget that these were “race only” tires. Besides, it seemed sort of silly to me to go around changing tires just for a race.
Then it happened. I punctured. The smallest, and quite possibly sharpest piece of metal you’ve ever seen punctured my rear tire. I’ve seen similar pieces of road junk pierce basically every other tire I’ve ever run. And, save for tubeless set ups I’ve used, they’ve all resulted in flats. But this time, luck was on my side. The debris stayed in my tire resulting in a very, very slow leak. The tire wasn’t flat until after I was out of my kit, showered, dressed, and eating breakfast.
If only Tony Martin had been as lucky at the Tour last year. The S-Works Turbo 24 clinchers would have gotten the initial praise they deserved.