A FEW OF MY FAVORITE CYCLING THINGS

More than 50 years ago, Julie Andrews sang the words below in the stage and film versions of The Sound of Music.  The song quickly turned into a Christmastime classic with its lyrics suggesting that thinking about your favorite things can overcome any fears you may have.

Lyrics to My Favorite Things

Well fear not, I have a list of a few of my favorite cycling things and perhaps it’s one you as a fellow road cycling enthusiast can relate to.  After all, don’t we ride in part to put life’s concerns out of our mind, at least for a little while?

After reflecting on the different gear I evaluated and posts I wrote over the past year, I came up with list that follows.  To set the mood and match the intensity we roadies feel about our favorite thing, I suggest you listen to the soaring version of the song played by my favorite saxophonist, John Coltrane.

ENVE SES 4.5 – My favorite wheelset

IMG_1573

Riding the ENVE SES 4.5 was a revelation for me.  I knew I could ride faster on wheels in the 50-60mm deep or ‘aero’ depth, but I never thought I could handle them as well as an all-around wheelset 25mm or so shallower.  As I wrote about in my review of this category of wheels here and about this wheelset specifically here, all the things I worried about sacrificing with deeper wheels – comfort, handling, weight, crosswind control, stiffness – went out the window with the 4.5s.

In addition to these being non-factors, the speed, braking, ability to climb, DT hubs and look of these wheels put them well ahead of anything else in this class.  Indeed, if I had only had one wheelset to choose from for all the different kind of riding I do, I’d pick these without a second thought.

Available by clicking through these links to Competitive CyclistTweeks Cycles.

CASTELLI ALPHA – My favorite anytime bike jacket

Castelli AlphaIn the second half of 2015, I began to evaluate clothing more seriously and put up my first review on the best performance or technical kit here.  As I wrote in my post, the clothing game is a bit of a jungle with what seems like as many brands and models as there are bikes and perhaps more.  I’d had a head start, however, with the Castelli Alpha jacket, buying it a season ago and riding it through fall, part of winter, spring and again this fall and early winter.

I have found it the most versatile jacket of any I’ve evaluated so far and it works great from freezing temps up through 50F/10C.  A nearly waterproof, robust wind-breaking, very insulating yet breathable outer layer that fits like a jersey and is vented and designed overall with ingenuity.  It’s so comfortable that I wear it when I’m coaching ski racers in the winter; it keeps me as warm as a fleece yet its cut reminds me to stay in an athletic position going down the hill.  Needless to say, I get a lot of use out of it, which turns its price into a good value.

Available at Competitive Cyclist, Wiggle, Hargrove, Merlin, Chain Reaction, Ribble.

SHIMANO ULTEGRA 6870 and 6800 – My favorite groupsets

Yes, I love and for years rode a Dura Ace groupset. The SRAM Red is balls.  Campagnolo’s Super Record is, for many, iconic.  Di2 has been a huge step ahead and SRAM’s wireless Red looks very exciting.  I’ve written about most of it before here.

All great stuff.  But do I really need it to ride faster or more effectively?  Especially when I can get all the performance for half the price … or less?

Shimano’s Ultegra family of groupsets – the Di2 6870 and the mechanical 6800 – does all of what most anyone needs, does it well and does it at a remarkable discount to the top of the line groupsets from Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.  As a road cycling enthusiast on a budget, I need to decide where to spread around my money to get all the things I need and some of the things I want.  The Ultegra gets me all that I need so I can spend some on what I want (see above and below).  You get all the technology that ‘trickles-down’ (someone should ban that phrase!) from the Dura Ace.  You give up none of the functionality or performance.  I know, it’s a few grams heavier.  Sorry, much as I’d like, the weight difference is not going to matter.  Believe it.  Spend it where it will.

Ultegra 6870 Di2 groupset is available at ProBikeKitMerlinAmazon and Wiggle and the Ultegra 6800 mechanical groupset is available at ProBikeKitMerlin and Wiggle.

STAGES CYCLING – My favorite power meter

No matter how you look at it, power meters are one the most happenin’ places to be in cycling these days.  New companies are getting in.  Established companies are retooling their units and dropping their prices.  More cycling enthusiasts are buying PMs and using them to get new training benefits.

Yet as the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.  At least for now.

Many of the new entrants are ‘not ready for prime time’.  Few have been on the bikes of cyclists like you and me for even a season and several still have first generation bugs or worse to work out of their systems.  The retooled units of older players operate more or less the same as they did before but at lower prices.  Powertap is about the only established company that’s changed the way it measures power, surpassing some of the other PM makers with pedal and spider models.

All the while, for my purposes, Stages is still in the lead.  What are my purposes?  As a road cycling enthusiast, I want to improve my fitness and performance.  Better power and better power at a given heart rate will get me there.  Training routines based on knowing my threshold level of power.  Doing it inexpensively.  I wrote recently about why and how to train with a power meter to achieve those objectives recently in this post here.

Unfortunately, most of the buzz around power meters these days surrounds getting lots of features that the better than average road cycling enthusiast will never use and certainly doesn’t need to improve their power and efficiency.  Some of these features, like independent left and right power measurement, still have the most well-known training experts trying to figure out what to do with the information.

I recommended the Stages Cycling power meter a while back (here and here) and continue to use it.  Their PMs have only gotten better, cheaper and made for a wider variety of crank arms.  I’ll be posting an update of the above mentioned reviews soon, but based on the performance and cost analysis I’m doing now, it remains the favorite.

Available in LBS and direct from Stages US/CAStages EU and online from Tweeks Cycles for UK residents.

COMPETITIVE CYCLIST and PROBIKEKIT – My favorite online bike stores

Earlier this year in my review here of the best online bike stores, I laid out the benefits of online stores – price, selection, inventory, service – versus those of LBS or local bike shops – community, knowledge, see & touch, bike fitting, repair.  I also wrote that while I have long had loyalty to my favorite LBS (Landry’s), I make most of my large purchases at online stores these days because those benefits far outweigh those from even my favorite LBS.

Indeed, customers who have rated online bike stores for independent survey firms like TrustPilot that are compiled and published by Google’s Trusted Stores service show outstanding ratings for about 30 of the roughly 60 stores I evaluated around the world.  I set the “outstanding” bar at customer ratings of at least 4 out of 5 stars overall with no more than 10% of customers rating a store 2 or 1 star.  Surprisingly, there are several well-known online stores in the US, UK and Germany that don’t clear or even come close to this bar.  FYI, I only link you to those stores that meet or exceed this outstanding level of customer satisfaction.

Of these, there are two that are special favorites of mine for different reasons.

Competitive Cyclist is a US-based online store that has product knowledge and selection that far exceeds any LBS I’ve ever been to.  You can chat with them online or over the phone during most waking hours and they are fast and know their stuff.  Their web site is rich with color and zoom photos, has a tone of useful descriptions and information and is incredibly easy to use.  They ship quickly and will take back most anything without question.  They carry the best gear, bikes and clothing you’d ever want and the service is better than most retail stores I’ve ever been in.  It’s a place you really feel special shopping at.

ProBikeKit, or PBK, like many of the major online bike shops, is based in the UK but they sell gear in a dozen currencies to cyclists in more countries than I can count from Andorra to Zambia.  What I like most about PBK is they are as competitive in their pricing as any store I track and they offer promotions that matter from those for first time customers to those on the most popular and highly rated gear I review from Shimano, Zipp, Campy and others.  They also get what this site is about and offer exclusive deals to you as readers.

If this store was a cyclist, they’d always be in the breakaway, nose in the wind, pulling and setting the pace.  I think that’s great because while I’m willing to take my pulls, I like to ride in someone’s draft as much as the next guy, especially when it means I save some energy, or in this metaphor, some money.

There are other shops I like a lot and have become as loyal to or more than my LBS.  They come up frequently in the sidebar on each page an throughout my reviews.  But for now, Competitive Cyclist and ProBikeKit are the first places I look when go I shopping for gear.

HOW TO RIDE FASTER ON YOUR BIKE – TRAINING AND TECHNIQUE – My favorite research for a post

faster featured imageDoing the testing, evaluation and research for In The Know Cycling posts is generally a lot of fun.  That’s because I often get to try out new gear I buy or demo (and return) for a review.  But for the first of two post about 10 ways to ride faster that you can read in full here, I didn’t buy or demo anything.

So why was it my favorite research for a post?  Because I learned more about how to ride faster than any other post I’ve ever done and realized how I can save myself and all of you fellow road cycling enthusiasts a lot of money at the same time in our quest to ride faster.

What became clear as I really dug into the numbers is that while the right gear and kit will certainly help you ride faster (see here), there are six ways – largely training approaches and riding techniques – that will lead to gains greater than those you’ll get from gear and that you should adopt if you want to take your riding to the next level.

CONTINENTAL GRAND PRIX 4000SII CLINCHER – My favorite tire

RR Compilation Chart wSchwableWho thought something so relatively low tech and low-cost as tires could be so important to your riding experience?  I found a lot of people asking me what model and size tire to put on the wheels I was recommending so I dug into the data this year and came up with some answers for this post.

No matter which way I looked at it – rolling resistance, aero performance, puncture resistance, handling, inflation levels and another half-dozen criteria I used – a short list of tires came up as the ones likely to help you go the fastest with the least hassle and best price.  The 23C size Conti GP4KSII came out atop the list in almost every situation.  I’d used it and a number of others on the list before but now I know why I should continue using it in most situations.

Invariably, most of the questions I get are about using a 25C tire instead of a 23C.  And invariable, I must respond that unless you’ve got a very wide wheelset, you’ll ride faster and handle better with the 23C.  There’s a lot of testing, at bunch of charts, about 8,000 words and over 100 comments on topic in that post if you want to dig deeper.  But for me, the Conti is a great choice and my personal favorite.

Available at Competitive Cyclist, eBay Cycling, Amazon, ProBikeKitWiggle, Chain Reaction.

SHIMANO DURA-ACE WH-9000 C35 CL – My favorite do everything anytime wheelset

photo: Wade Wallace

photo: Wade Wallace

If you can’t afford the ENVE SES 4.5 wheelset I raved about at the top of this list and want one wheelset to ride rain or shine, uphill or on the flats, through sickness and health, that does most everything well anytime you are out on your road bike, the Shimano Dura-Ace C35 clincher is my favorite.

It is incredibly versatile, a great alternative for those who feel the need to buy event-, terrain- or weather-specific wheels and the best choice for those who have carbon brake track fears.  It’s deeper than most alloy wheels but not as deep as carbon aero ones, has an alloy brake track but brings the strength of its carbon fiber wrap, is light enough to climb up hills but also aero enough to zoom down and between them.  It’s got Shimano quality and is always on sale somewhere for 60% of its retail price.  I’ve previously written it up as the best all-around alternative here and the best climbing and descending wheel here.  It just works well no matter what you are doing.

Available at Competitive Cyclist, ProBikeKit, WiggleMerlin.

HED ARDENNES PLUS SL DISC – My favorite road disc bargain wheelset

HED Ardennes SL+ DiscRoad bikes with disc brakes are here and they are gaining ground fast on the kind of road bikes with rim brakes most of us have ridden our whole lives.  I wrote a series of posts earlier in 2015 that you can find here about why they are both the present and future and what stages of development the bikes, components and wheelsets are at now.  Unfortunately, the wheelsets are furthest behind with most being merely heavier retrofits of their rim brake wheels.  While the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc Clincher wheel is an outstanding, built-from-the-ground-up disc wheelset that’s actually lighter than its rim brake sibling, it’s also one that most cycling enthusiasts who just shelled out for a new disc brake bike will find hard to spend the extra coin on.  I get it.

As with nearly all new bikes however, the stock wheels that come with them aren’t worth the proverbial bucket of spit.  So, you’re often left wondering what to do to make your new bike purchase sing without making your wallet cry.  Fortunately HED makes a great option in the their Ardennes Plus SL Disc wheelset reviewed here.  Amazon and Competitive Cyclist have been selling it at a considerable discount to it’s $1100 normal retail.  You often don’t find the words HED and discount together in the same sentence but you do often find the company at the head of the line (sorry) when it comes to new technology.

This disc wheelset is wide (almost 21mm inside width, 25mm outside), comfortable, handles extremely well, is plenty stiff, tubeless and weighs an unnoticeable 80 grams more than its rim brake brother.  It’s essentially future proof, or at least good to go for at least the years you may need to recover from the money you put out for your new road disc bike before you would want to step up to a newly designed all-carbon road disc wheelset.

KASK PROTONE – My favorite helmet

Kask CollageIt was time for me to get a new helmet this year and coincidentally, within the last two years most of the major helmet companies had introduced a new type of road helmet that was more aerodynamic than standard ones but not as geeky as you see track cyclists wear.  I bought a half-dozen of the best ones and wore them during the summer while also doing a lot of research on their wind-tunnel performance.   All of this came together in this post I wrote in the fall.  I picked and now wear the Kask Protone as my new favorite helmet.

The Protone uniquely combined a lot things I liked.  It was comfortable even on the hottest days, faster than most of the others and within a few watts of the traditional long, pointy aero helmets, and it looked more like a road helmet than an aero one.  Yes, it was also more expensive than the others I reviewed by about $50/£35/€45/AU$60 but it was incredibly well made from the padding running between my head and helmet to the leather straps running down my face and under my chin.  Of course helmet style and fit are a bit of a personal choice and there are a couple other good ones I recommended that you may prefer but wearing an aero road helmet now can help you pick up about 2/3rds the drag reduction benefit you get with much more expensive aero wheels while still looking like you’re just one of the group.

Available from Competitive Cyclist, eBay Cycling and Merlin.

BIKES NOT BOMBS – My favorite cycling charity

Cycling has given me so much over the years.  I joke that it is my ‘drug of choice.’  It makes me healthy, brings me lots of pleasure, has introduced me to a lot of people I now call good friends and, well, it’s just a kick.  Without it, I’d certainly be a wreck, my wife and family would probably disown me and I’d be heading to the fat-old-man scrap heap as fast as many of my colleagues are who don’t ride.

There are never enough ways to give back for the good that has come the way of someone like me who can afford to buy the kind of gear I write about.  I’m a very lucky man indeed and tremendously thankful for my good fortune.

Through my friends at my favorite LBS Landry’s, I found my way to what is now my favorite cycling charity, Bikes Not Bombs.  Their mission is to use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change by repairing donated old bikes they then ship to people in developing nations and by creating programs that provide those people the skills, jobs and sustainable transportation to mobilize community transformation.

In addition to giving some of my old bikes to them this year, I’ve donated a portion of the money that comes back to the site when you buy gear though the links to the best prices and stores I post throughout my reviews and on the sidebar of every page.  It’s a win-win.  We can’t have too many cyclists out there doing good in the world.  Feel free to join me in supporting Bikes not Bombs or find and fund your own favorite cycling charity.  I haven’t finished the testing or written the post yet but I’m pretty sure that donating to a cycling charity will make you ride faster!

YOU – My favorite cycling community

bike_ridersBy any measure, it’s been a great first full year for In The Know Cycling.  While the site has certain grown in the number of you who view the posts or keep up with the site through Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and e-mail notifications, what’s amazed me most has been the community that seems to be developing around it.  To get as many comments as you provide on some of the posts I write really tells me you are engaged in a highly constructive way.  The feedback you’ve given and questions you’ve asked has pushed me to think about things I’d never considered before and motivated me to look anew at many aspects of the site’s and my personal mission to figure out what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.  I’m learning a great deal from you and becoming a better cyclist for it.  So thanks, big time.

All of this support and your willingness to make some of your cycling purchases through the store links I provide supports my ability to buy and make the time to evaluate and review more of the gear.  It also allows me to continue to be your humble, fellow road cycling enthusiast and keep the commercial interests of advertisers, suppliers and other potentially conflicting influences clear of my focus and the site’s pages.

Yes, like you I have a group of cycling buds that I ride with regularly and a club that helps me to meet new people.  But knowing that you are going to ask me a good question at the end of one of my posts or are expecting me to really take the cyclist enthusiast’s perspective when I’m evaluating a new piece of gear makes me feel like I’m out riding with many of you at the same time.  It definitely feels like we’re in this together, drafting each other as we go down the road.

So thanks to you, my favorite cycling community, for reading, engaging and supporting In The Know Cycling.

Please tell us all about about a few of your own favorite cycling things this year in the comments section below.

17 comments

  • Thanks for the quick articles. Really look forward to them.

  • Would love to see a deep dive into the performance benefits (read comfort and protection from elements) of different clothing brands. Is there a noticeable benefit of a 210 AUD Rapha lightweight jersey vs a Castelli equivalent $80-100 cheaper for example.

  • I live in the sf bay area where temps are pretty moderate. I’m looking for a water resistant jacket that is comfortable between 45-60 Fahrenheit for damp winter riding here. I’ve been considering the Gabba 2 convertible jacket. Good choice or not? Other ideas? I do not want a rain jacket, I’m looking for something that I can wear to get me through some showers on a 3-4 ride.

    I like to ride in Zone 3 and 4 so clothing that is breathable and modular is important. I’ve been riding with a Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket but I am tired of the poor fit and performance. Thanks.

  • What do you think of the Gabba 2 convertible jacket? Good for 45-60 degrees? I ride in the SF Bay Area and need a winter jacket that can get me through some showers on 3-4 rides. Other recommendations?

  • Steve, for the past few weeks I’ve been deep-diving your website and I wanted to thank you so much for what you do. For your thorough and very easy to understand reviews and articles, especially for a newbie like me. I’m relatively new cyclist having only started in June 2015, but I thoroughly enjoy it and ride 2-3x week, time permitting, anywhere between 10-30 miles. I’m riding for fitness and recreation. My bike is a 2015 BMC Team Machine SLR03 with a mostly 105 group set, except for the crankset and brakes which are Shimano but lower than 105. The Wheels are Shimano RS010 alloy clinchers and came stock. (everything on the bike is stock).

    I’d consider myself a heavier rider (around 180#), and have been considering upgrades for my bicycle (my budget is wide). I’ve read on many sites that upgrading stock wheels is likely the best first upgrade one can make on a bike, so I’ve read your article on the best all-round road wheels, and have come to the conclusion that potentially the Fulcrum Racing 3 would be a very good all-round wheel, but I’m also a bit of a geek, and the idea of SRAM Red eTap is alluring. Although I’d love a set of all carbon clinchers like the Zipp 303, I’d like my investment to last a while, and I’ve read about carbon brake tracks being less reliable than alloy.

    What is your opinion on the best upgrade or upgrades for my bike, if my intention is that for my next bike: purchase a new frame and move over the components / wheels. (My current frame is not capable of internal cable routing).

    1. Full 105 groupset (Crankset, chain, brakes) + Fulcrum Racing 3 (or similar all round wheel set )
    2. Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite wheel set or similar more expensive wheel set for my weight (do you have opinions?) + replace my crankset with 105 (if you’re wondering I don’t want a carbon break track wheel set)
    3. SRAM Red eTap full groupset + Fulcrum Racing 3 (or similar all round wheel set)
    4. SRAM Red eTap full groupset only (due to the potential price of moving to the full groupset.
    5. Or should I just go all in and consider as a more expensive wheel set option a set of zipps or similar and a groupset upgrade later?
    6. Anything else I haven’t considered?

    • Sal, Welcome and thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated. I can see you’ve been bitten by the cycling but and some of the potential excesses that go with it. As far as upgrades go, first I’d encourage you to ride more to get a better sense of what you like and don’t like about cycling and your bike. If you are into riding for fitness and recreation and plan to continue the kind of distance and frequency you are doing now, I wouldn’t upgrade anything other than getting an under $1000 upgrade wheelset like the ones I recommend in my upgrade post for a more comfortable ride. Nothing else on your list will make a noticeable difference toward your goal. If, after the coming season you’ve decided you want to race or do endurance rides and you plan to up your training, distance and frequency, then lets have another conversation. Steve

      • Thanks for your advice Steve. You’re right, I’ve been bitten, and likely need someone to hold me back and slap some sense into me before I go overboard. My wife thanks you :-).

        I’ll consider the wheel upgrade as something worthwhile for now. Cheers!

        • Because of my weight, I’m having trouble settling on wheels which offer the stiffness and performance which I can transfer to my next frame in the next year or so. I’d like not to get a “good” replacement wheel upgrade, but one which can be considered to be worthy of keeping when the rest of the bike is upgraded too (ie. new frame, etc). The three below are based on your other article for best under $1K wheel upgrades, but I’m willing to pay a bit more for performance.

          Fulcrum Racing 3
          Fulcrum Racing Zero
          Easton EA90SL
          Another suggestion?

          • Sal, At 180lbs, your weight isn’t an issue but if you want something better check out my post on all-around wheelsets here: https://intheknowcycling.com/2015/05/01/best-all-around-road-bike-wheels-2015/. It might cost you another grand (creep) than the ones you listed above but the recommended wheelsets in that post are better performing, stiffer, more compliant, wider, lighter, etc. I expect the Fulcrums and perhaps the Easton to be updated in the next two seasons to a new model. Steve

          • Hey Sal,

            I almost never comment on the internet, but want to give you some thoughts because I also have a BMC.

            Like you, I bought my BMC Teammachine SLR02 (57cm) in August 2015, with the 105 components. I’m 6’1 and weigh 195lbs when I started, now I weigh 180lbs. My weekly average is about 100-120 miles with hills. Just cleared 2,100 miles. My bike is stock and I’m going to upgrade to Shimano Dura-Ace C24 wheels in the Fall this year. BTW, they were as low as $635 on Merlin’s Cycle in Dec 2015. My stock wheels are Shimano RS 11, heavy wheels for sure.

            A couple of things:

            1. The biggest bang of the buck.

            In addition to my general fitness improvements, the biggest performance boost I felt was from upgrading the tires to Conti GP 4000 S II. Merlin has the lowest price and if you wait, Amazon actually has better price. This upgrade made me go much, much faster on flat and hills. They are also super quiet. The second largest boost is from upgrading to Shimano Ultegra pedal and Shimano R170 shoes, from Shimano R540 pedal and a pair of pretty heavy Northwave shoes. As you can see this is probably due to the weight reduction.

            2. Nice things to have on your bike.

            I bought Elite water bottle cage and BMC elite water bottle, they are great and absolutely fantastic on the bike. I also bought BMC Pearl Izumi thermal Long Sleeve Jersey (on eBay), and they are the best, so far riding from 6F – 50F I’ve had no problem. They are not windproof so your torso will get cold, but I tend to run hot, so it was fine for me.

            3. Weak links on BMC Teammachine.

            The weakest link I felt on my bike, is the Shimano 5800 105. Especially the shifting. The front cog has 4 positions and I’ve always had problems with shifting, never smooth. I’d definitely upgrade to Ultegra as soon as my crank wears out.

            I hope this is helpful, enjoy the BMC!

            -Alex
            New York City

  • Alex, thanks so much for your advice. In fact, I’m making it a point to stop by my LBS (BMC dealer) later today to talk with them about new wheels and potentially upgrading some of the groupset as well. I’m sure with the new wheels, I’ll run the tires that you’ve suggested, which match up on Steve’s “Best Tires” post as well on this site.

    Bottom line is that I need to commit to riding more than I do now, which will be difficult with work and family commitments.

    I wasn’t entirely accurate when I said my bike was all stock. The LBS threw in Speedplay Zero pedals, which I really like, and since I have wide feet I’m wearing Giro Apeckx wide shoes. I’ve also gotten a proper bike fit, so the bike is very comfortable as well.

    I agree with you about the 105 components being the weakest parts of the bike.

    I’m going to ask the LBS what it’d run me to upgrade to full Ultegra mechanical + Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels, which can currently run under $1000 for everything online.

    Though I’m drooling over the Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite wheelset. If I splurge for those wheels, I might just upgrade to full 105 and get fitter before considering something else.

    • Hi Sal, that’s awesome. Make sure you get the 25mm tires, they are a great match to the BMC. I also have wide feet so I went with Shimano 170W. I’ll also check out the Giro Apeckx. Cheers, Alex

      • Alex, Sal, I welcome you and others exchanging ideas and there are some good ones in Alex’s comments that will help Sal and others. I did want to jump back in and share my thoughts on a few things that have been said that I don’t think are necessarily correct so people don’t go off the path and end up spending money on things you don’t need or may not fully understand.

        1) Shifters – While not the best shifters available, the 105s should be perfectly adequate for what Sal is doing and even for the distance that Alex is riding. While I prefer the Ultegra shifters and groupset, the shifting problems that Alex described could be due to any number of things but probably not the inherent quality of the 105 or any other Tier 3 shifter (e.g. SRAM Rival, Campy Chorus or Athena). Cables may be stretched or frayed. Deraileurs may need adjusting/re-indexing. Chain may be worn. Cogs or chain rings may be worn. Check those first before assuming there is something wrong with the shifters themselves and upgrading them. I’ve had bad shifting on top of the line Dura Ace shifters for these and other reasons.

        FWIW, cogs are in the back and most bikes today only have two rings in the front chainset or crankset. Using the ‘four positions’ (though I’m only aware of three) refers to the two rings themselves and the position you can put subtly shift into on Shimano groupsets between them to reduce the effects of cross chaining if you are an experienced shifter and want to ride a small chain/small cog or large/large combination. Finally on this topic, you wouldn’t normally change from a 105 to a Ultegra groupset or even crankset when your ‘crank wears out’ to get better shifting. You’d replace and perhaps upgrade the rings which are the part that wear out.

        2) Pedals – Pedal weight will have an indiscernible difference to the enthusiast rider. Pedals are generally a matter of preference for clipping in and out rather than having performance effects. Wide or narrow feet don’t align with one pedal brand or another. People may prefer Speedplay Zero for the fact that they allow you to click in on either side of the pedal, can be adjusted to give you less float and that their settings and spindle length allow for a more precise fit for those with certain hip needs. But they are more difficult to get into than the one-sided Shimano’s SPDs pedals used in DA, Ultegra and 105 groupsets. I’ve owned them both and prefer some attributes of each. But weight or foot width are IMHO immaterial to pedal choice or peformance.

        3) Wheels – Know that the Fulcrum Racing Zero and Zero Nite are dressed up Racing 3s. Some cosmetic differences, some hub material differences but the rim material and dimensions are the same and the performance is not going to be discernibly different. Marketing. Like getting different trim packages on your car.

        4) Tires – I agree on the Conti GP4KS but don’t recommend you put anything wider than a 23C version on any of the wheels discussed unless you are basically planning to go straight. Having that much difference between the rim and tire widths leads to lousy handling. You should match tire width to rim width not your bike model and make sure you adjust your inflation level to your weight first and desired comfort second.

        Steve

  • I still haven’t gone to my bike shop, but I wanted to thank Steve and Alex for your comments. I know I’m being drawn by marketing and looks when I consider the Racing Zero/Nite over the Racing 3’s. I’ve been doing more reading and saw that the Racing Zero have ceramic bearings vs cup and cone (non-ceramic), from a longevity and maintenance perspective, is this investment worth the upcharge? I’ve got a sneaking suspicion the answer is no.

    • Sal, ceramic bearings will last longer than steel ones yest but you can easily replace steel ones and it will be a lot cheaper than buying ceramic ones as part of the price of a Zero. And at your distance, even at the distance of most road cycling enthusiasts, you might change steel bearings once before you buy a new wheelset. Steve

  • Just an update. I splurged and upgraded my wheels to the Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite, with the recommended GP4K 23mm tires. I also upgraded the stock below 105 crankset to a 105 crankset. So now the entire drivetrain (except the KMC chain) is 105. Very proud of this not-very-handyman did all of the work on my bike myself at home in the garage. Well, except for the front tire. Two tube pinch flats, for 2 attempts at putting the tire on the wheel. I threw in the towel and had my LBS do it for me – and the gentleman did it without levers, even for the last bit of bead opposite the valve. Ugh.

    Although my ego was bruised that I couldn’t do the last bit (one wheel / tire / tube myself), I’m glad I got my hands dirty. It certainly makes me more comfortable in doing other work on my bike, like replacing cables, or other components in the future.

    That being said,I went on my first ride today – it had to be cut short because of rain. I know it wouldn’t be a night and day difference, but the bike got up to speed and held the speed quite well. It doesn’t “coast” as well as the stock Shimano RS010, but that may be due to the ceramic bearings break in. I was reading online that Fulcrum / Campy really grease up their bearings, and it may take a few rides before they fully break in, who knows.

    All I know that the short climb which I usually do in my neighborhood felt easier, and likely a combination of the wheels / tire, and new stiffer crank, I really feel like my power (what little there may be), is mostly going to the back wheel. Thanks everyone for your help.

    Now I just need to practice putting in a tube / replacing a tube and tire.

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