LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD – EARLY SPRING
It’s been a busy few months with lots of action here at In The Know Cycling. I thought I’d pause for a moment as spring actually shows up in the Northern Hemisphere and look back over the last few months of activity and forward to forecast what’s coming. I’d also like to share a few thoughts with you about this blogsite and get your input on what will be of greatest value to you in future posts (and offer you a chance to win $100 for doing so).
I posted three category-wide, reviews this winter that each covered most or perhaps nearly all the best performing products in each field. These were 15,000-word, exhaustive (or at least exhausting to write and probably to read) reviews that evaluated an entire category of gear or kit on specific performance, design, quality and cost criterion.
In December I posted THE BEST POWER METERS FOR ROAD CYCLING ENTHUSIASTS (click the story name to go to it). It offered my explanation of what should matter (and shouldn’t) to enthusiasts trying to choose between power meters, how I chose from over 20 proven ones, and which I found are the best.
In January you all had the chance to get in on a $500 giveaway to anything at Power Meter City just for commenting about your 2017 goals and how a power meter would help you achieve them. Your comments provided some great reading and, in more than a few cases, some impressive targets for this year.
Note also that Power Meter City gives you fine In The Know Cycling readers an exclusive 10% discount on all power meters (except Garmin and Stages) when you click through one of the links on this site to theirs and enter the code ITK10 at checkout. Most power meters are sold at full retail price (aka MSRP or RRP) so that’s a fine deal indeed.
Coincidentally, I updated this review just last week adding my own take on a couple of relatively new power meters that have now passed independent accuracy and consistency tests. One of these power meters provides the fascination (though I don’t believe the requirement for enthusiast-level training) of independent left and right leg power measurements for just $499/£485/€563. You can read about it here and see who’s got it and all the other power meters I reviewed and recommended here.
This winter I rode the trainer a lot and got out on the road when the weather allowed to wrap up some other reviews on gear that I and my fellow tester and wicked fast and wicked smart cycling friend Nate started last fall.
With this testing done and spring on the way, I posted THE BEST SPRING AND FALL CYCLING KIT in February which reviewed a range of clothes and accessories from base layers to bib shorts and tights to jerseys, jackets and a vest to gloves and added in a few socks and booties and arm and leg warmers for extra measure. Phew, I think I need to add a wardrobe consultant to the ITKC team to keep this all straight.
As I write this with snow falling outside, I can tell you that I’m still wearing this gear and probably will for another month the way the forecast looks. Thermal bibs never felt so good!
Piggy-backing on this cycling kit review, we did a £200 giveaway to anything at ProBikeKit UK which I called the Get-Off-Your-Trainer-And-Back-On-The-Road giveaway. To have a chance to win, you told me and all our readers what months you planned to ride on the the roads this year and what kit you needed to ride comfortably. Many of you blew me away by telling us that you ride outside year round regardless of the weather while others impressed with their plans to extend their road season earlier into spring and later into fall this year.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you that ProBikeKit UK also gives In The Know Cycling readers 10% off everything in the store up to a maximum of GB-£45 and about US-$55, CA-$75, EU-€50, AU-$75, NZ-$80 depending on exchange rates. Just go to the store from a link on this site, enter code ITK10 at checkout and you’ll enjoy another benefit of reading this site.
Recognizing that some of you catch up with some of my posts well after I’ve first published them and others come back to them several times during the year, I took the opportunity to update the spring and fall kit review just this past week by adding reviews of 3 more base layers, 2 bibs, a jacket and vest.
Finally, I posted our BEST ALL-AROUND CARBON RIM BRAKE ROAD BIKE WHEELS – 2017 a couple weeks ago. It compared 11 models including new ones from Zipp, ENVE, Mavic, Fulcrum and HED and selected a new Best Performer (that’s it to the right). I also wrote a new section on what developments we’ve seen in this wheelset category of late and what I expect we’ll see coming so you can make your decision of which all-arounds to buy within a broader context that you might not get from reading one-off reviews about today’s wheels or stopping in at your friendly bike shop that only sells a few models in this wheelset category.
As with the earlier two reviews, I’m working to put together a giveaway around this one and will add or update reviews as more of the recently announced wheels become available. I welcome your thoughtful suggestions and questions about all of this in the comments section at the end of the post.
You can also read A Few of My Favorite Cycling Things posted in December which is my current ode to the gear and other cycling things I love the most from all of the reviews I’ve done.
There’s a good deal of gear in the hopper I hope to review for me and you this spring. I’m not going to describe what’s coming up as my “editorial calendar” and try and sound like a publisher or even play one on the internet because I’m not. The rules are different for those of us regular road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who are trying to get an independent take on what gear is worthy of our precious money.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me share my hopes and dreams with you… at least about the cycling gear I’ll be reviewing.
The next big project is finishing my 2017 Best Disc Brake Wheelset Reviews. One challenge I face in trying to give you comprehensive, category-wide reviews is that there is often quite a lag time between when new products are announced and when I can actually fully evaluate them. Some new products get splashy announcements long before they are ever available. Others are announced and then get a lot of hype in “first look” reviews done by press that are flown in by wheel makers to get a ride or two on the new wheels. (I don’t do those because of all the potential biases it can create and because it’s hard to tell a lot from a couple rides.)
But then, many new wheels often aren’t available on the market or to test for months after they are announced or ridden and written up by the press. It then takes another period of months after they become available to really test them out to the point where I’m comfortable giving you my take on their performance.
This is the case with more than a few wheelsets in this disc brake wheelset category. So, please be patient. I’m often just as frustrated as you are.
On the other hand, I will have a new 2017 Best Summer Cycling Kit post coming around the end of May. I have picked out the bib shorts and jerseys I will test and am just waiting for it to feel a bit more like summer (or even spring) before I start riding with this new kit.
I will also be adding a couple new wheelsets to the Best Road Bike Wheel Upgrades and Best Aero Road Bike Wheels posts this spring. I can say this with confidence since I already have them in my possession.
There are a few new performance level shoes I’m looking to evaluate and add to an already pretty good set of choices for the Best Road Cycling Shoes review that I posted at the end last summer.
The world of groupsets moves quite a bit slower than wheels, clothes, shoes and other cycling categories at least as far as the rate of change and new product releases goes. There have been, however, some notable new introductions since I did my last review of that category. Look for a comprehensive new groupset category review or two later this summer.
Just to give you a feel for how I’m combining some of the product evaluations, the photo above and atop this post has the SRAM eTap groupset, Zipp 454 NSW aero wheelset and Quarq DZero power meter that I begin testing this week and will ride for three months. Now add me riding it with a new spring/summer kit and pair of shoes on and my head exploding with all the mental notes I’m taking while riding and you’ve got the picture. (I actually do pull over during rides from time to time, pull out my phone and make some digital notes.)
Every few months I revisit the Best Online Bike Store Ratings for road cycling enthusiasts, updating my research on the pricing, selection and customer satisfaction reports of about 100 stores that are selling gear online. I actually last did this update at the end of February so go click on the link above and see which stores are worth your considerable coin. (I should have included this one in the Looking Back category above and taken credit for something else I did this winter. Damn!)
The store ratings are actually pretty stable but I still find it somewhat amazing how many stores I’ve come across that you shouldn’t shop at because their level of customer satisfaction is unknown or subpar and in some cases maddening as reported by fellow cyclists to the independent services that track this.
So before you jump to buy something at a store that has something you want at an incredibly low price, I encourage you to look for it on the list of stores my research leads me to recommend you do buy at and steer clear of those mentioned later in the post that didn’t make it.
What you won’t see in 2017, and perhaps longer, is another post on road bikes with disc brakes. I started doing those in early 2015 when I thought it was important to call attention to the benefits and best options in what was then a new category that a few bike companies were starting to get into.
Now, most every company is making road disc bikes and it’s become the dominant cycling platform for new models of enthusiast level endurance bikes. I love mine and think road disc brake bike acceptance and dominance will also come to racing bikes in the next couple years. All of this is probably good reason to continue to evaluate them but there are so many that I just don’t feel I can do a good job of it any more.
I will keep focused on road disc brake components and wheelsets, two categories I also began to review more than a couple years ago. Road disc and rim brake platforms will continue to coexist for many years and I’m happily riding and reviewing gear, just not bikes, used on both.
SHARING SOME THOUGHTS
When I started blogging reviews of gear just about 3 years ago now, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but was unsure of what it would become.
For me, it’s become a way to express my passion, exercise my analytical mind, and cut through the B.S. to find the gear I want to ride and share my take with my personal and virtual riding friends. It was never my intention and this site has not become and never will be a job or a business for me. That would take all the fun out of it and change the way I do things. Not happening.
You’ve undoubtedly noted that we do things a little differently than most of the other gear review blogs, web sites, cycling publications, etc. For one, I do long, in-depth reviews and comparisons of products across an entire category. Along with a couple of other like minded cycling friends, we do hours of testing for each review and include input from other independent reviewers and riders I respect. I also respond to questions and perspectives you share in the comment section of each post.
As I alluded to above, the site puts out a lot of content but isn’t a traditional cycling publisher or even a typical online one. I don’t run ads or sponsored stories, don’t go to media or industry events, have never worked at a bike store or company, and buy or demo whatever I test.
It’s not that I’m trying to be different, it’s that I and my fellow testers are riders like you with jobs and families and budgets like you, and use and buy cycling gear in the same world you do. If I move away from that, I move away from seeing things the way those of you I write for do. So like many of you, I try to get as much information and insight as I can and consider the performance trade-offs before making a decision, filtering out the hype and finding the best prices from stores I can trust before buying something.
Perhaps the only significant difference is that my passion for cycling and cycling gear causes me to carve out more hours than most of you could find to evaluate and write up what we’ve found.
Judging from the number of you that visit the site each month and read my posts, it appears the site provides some value to you. Many of you provide very kind feedback in your comments and ask very good questions about what to buy that suggest I may be helping you. I’m gratified by all of that. Thank you.
Along with the growing numbers of readers and comments each month, I see growing expectations from you as well. Some are truly disappointed that I haven’t reviewed something you are very interested in buying or that I haven’t finished and posted a review yet of a wheelset or other piece of gear I mentioned I had begun to ride.
As I have learned from advising business execs during my career, I like to have answers ready to questions they haven’t asked yet but I expect they will, outperform their expectations and feel personally satisfied if I’m able to help them improve the performance of their business. I’d like to be able to do the same for you, my dear fellow cyclists.
Things don’t always go according to plan however, either when I’m advising clients or trying to meet what I perceive to be your expectations for this site. If you can believe it, my expectations of what I’m trying to do are pretty high already. I’m always looking to improve what I’m doing and take on feedback (that’s what the next section of this post is about).
To the former, and as mentioned above, I have recruited some of my cycling friends who have a similar passion and perspective about gear but different riding talents than mine to join me in this effort. I’ve mentioned Nate before, my club’s 23-26 mph “bullet train” A-group ride leader and crit racer. Moose is my 195lb Spartacus-like max power riding friend who punishes weak riders and exposes underperforming cycling gear. I’m the stereotypical middle aged cycling enthusiast always looking to spend money on gear to take me beyond the limits of my God-given 20mph endurance ride talents and excuse-riddled training program. And I’m on the lookout for a light, woman enthusiast who will add a whole different perspective to what has admittedly been a man’s view and experience with cycling gear.
I’ve also tuned the format of my posts with more summaries and links at the top and attempted to de-clutter others with interesting but not essential content. I’ve removed a lot of posts from the site that are out of date and could lead you to wrong decisions compared to the gear that is now available. I’ve also tried to provide more links to posts and the best prices on more of the gear I’ve recommended while keeping you up to speed through social media on what’s going on across the site. And I continue to try to respond to your comments as soon as I see them come in and can break (and sometimes, brake) from what I’m doing.
In addition to doing annual posts of the gear categories you read the most, I’ve also expanded coverage to new ones you’ve requested in some of the polls embedded in the reviews including shoes, kit, and power meters. I also hope to do more on different categories of disc brake wheelsets and components this year.
You can help make this site better and get more of what you want out of it by buying at the stores I recommend after first clicking on the links to them on the site. I put those links up because they take you to stores that have a combination of high customer satisfaction level and the best prices for the gear I’ve reviewed and also have a broad selection of the range of gear we enthusiasts look for. With the small commissions that some of the stores provide the site after you link to and buy from them, I can go out and buy more gear to review. It doesn’t cost you a thing and it helps fund the reviews you get. It’s that simple and transparent.
Thanks for understanding and respecting that this site is different because it’s by and for fellow cycling enthusiasts. And thanks for supporting it through your online purchases or, if you prefer, your contribution here. Together we can do more of what you want to help you make better decisions about what cycling gear to get next and where to get it.
REQUESTING YOUR INPUT
OK. So you’ve read all my blather about what has appeared on the site, what’s coming and what we each need to do to keep it coming. Now I’d like to pick your brain… and fill one of your pockets.
I’ve designed an In The Know Cycling Reader Survey to get your input about a few things that will make this site better. Fill it out, enter your name and e-mail address at the end and I’ll send one of you $100 to use at the online or local bike store of your choice.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Enjoy your ride safely.