KNOW’S NOTES – DISTANCE, TRACK, TRACE
What does this cycling gear tester do during a pandemic?
Same as everyone else. Distance, test, trace.
At first, I spent hours and hours every week, more hours than I ever have, riding long distances going nowhere on my trainer. That put a lot of distance between me and my family and the rest of the human world and well within 6 feet – more like 6 microns – of other Zwift avatars.
This was physical distancing, yes, but I wasn’t social distancing one bit (or one byte?) with the rest of my cycling peeps and the whole cycling psyche. We were living as one group of nerdy, cult-like, stay-at-home, ride-in-place road cycling enthusiasts putting in all kinds of virtual distance.
That was awesome!
For about 2 weeks.
I wasn’t testing anything except maybe my saddle and my wife’s patience with totally soaked base layers.
Since then, and for most of April and May, I’ve been riding outside, officially distanced in a state-allowed kind of way.
At first, it was like riding on Christmas day or an early Sunday morning. I didn’t see cars for hours at a time. And only a few riders.
Eery. Ghost-town like.
Then more riders started coming out. But, we didn’t get close. We didn’t even talk from a distance. We acted like each road cyclist was a rolling covid infection rather than a fellow roadie. Rather than asking if we could draft off of one another, we swung out to pass them, crossing the center line even, something we would never dare do in normal times and could only wish that cars would do every time.
Weird. But it worked. Riding with next to no cars on the road was a silver lining in a time when thousands of people were getting sick and dying with no end in sight. It was an escape. And with all the stress of family, job and health considerations, I did plenty of escaping. More miles, more TSS, more cold and windy riding than I’d ever done.
After a while, the cars returned. People took to driving not to go anywhere in particular – most everything was still closed – but just to go somewhere other than home. Just go for a drive.
And I also began seeing groups of 2, 3, even 5 or 6 riders on the road. Most were recreational riders and what looked like members of the same household riding together. Others looked like serious road cycling enthusiasts, part of the same cycling club, and definitely not living together.
Yeah, we were evolving as a cycling species. $600-$1000 bikes were (and still are) selling like toilet paper. Anyone who ever rolled on two wheels at some time in their life was now rolling again. That made me smile and imagine new bike lanes and a future of socially distant drivers keeping their two tons of 4-wheeled metal boxes at least 6 feet away from riders at all times.
One can dream, right?
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been re-opening. Whatever that means. On the road, it has meant more and more cars, nearly as many as normal and riding as purposefully (and closely and selfishly) as normal.
There are more of us roadies out too, retaking our positions and being nearly as friendly as ever. Some are wearing masks and passing closer and riding in larger groups (many without masks).
How long will it be before the “new normal” looks like the old normal, at least in the daily world of a road cyclist getting in his or her miles? Group rides, pacelines, close passing cars, and oh yes, pastry shops and proper bathrooms. Take the good with the bad. I’m ready for it.
For me, I’ve developed some new habits and kept some old ones. To stay “close” to home, I’m doing A-B gear testing as part of the same ride, doing a 25-35 mile road loop near me on one set of gear and then doing it again on another set of gear.
I’ve also been riding a 13-mile loop of mixed paved, dirt, and gravel roads that I can drive to complete with my toolbox, stand, pump, extra sets of wheels and do laps on. My pit crew (me) doesn’t do the changeovers very quickly, especially considering that I make notes after every lap, but, hey, it’s a great way to compare gear.
So, you can say my distancing has become loopy. Road loops during the week and mixed pavement loops on the weekend. A1 vs. B2 in loops one day and A2 vs. B1 the next. That may not make sense now to you but to this loopy rider, it’s become my new normal.
Coming back from every ride, I feel like I’ve just done a covid test. My legs may be aching but if my chest feels clear and my forehead isn’t warm and I’m able to get up and do it all again the next day, I pretty sure I’m free of the virus. That’s my daily testing protocol.
When it comes to cycling gear testing, we (me along with my fellow testers Nate and Miles) are busier than ever. While you may not have seen a lot of new reviews from us of late, we’ve been testing a whole lot of gear.
In a few weeks, you’ll start seeing a stream of reviews that looks like the reopening of the Mall of America.
Well, not quite. But, there’ll be a lot of them.
Here’s what we’re testing now.
Aero road disc wheels will send you as fast as you can go on human-powered legs and have been giving Nate, Miles, and me a thrill no binge-watching of Tiger King can match. We’ve already reviewed the Reynolds Aero 65 DB and Mavic Comet Pro Carbon SL UST here and are currently testing or plan to test the Roval CLX 64, Zipp 404 NSW, ENVE 5.6, HED Vanquish 6 and Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6.
That’s a lot of 6s!
Lightweight climbing wheels
Normally around this time of year, a lot of us are making plans for those 1000ft per 10-mile and more summer climbing events. While the formal events have all been canceled, we can still climb and are testing wheels to help us get uphill. We’ve posted a review of the multi-talented ENVE SES 3.4 AR, a wheelset with climbing capability in its portfolio. We’re are also testing the low profile Campagnolo Bora WTO 33 and recently completed a review of the new Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37, a 1350 gram pure climbing wheelset.
It seems some of the leading brands are finally making $1300 or so carbon wheels a priority. I reviewed the Zipp 303 S and the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 37, the first two wheelsets in the value-carbon category that I’ve ever recommended. And I’m waiting on the ENVE Foundation 45 and 65 wheels later this spring or summer.
This is a category of wheels that I’ve not found any “bests” that I can wholeheartedly recommend as yet. Hopefully, we’ll have one or more later this year for you value-conscious rather than performance-obsessed riders.
2020 was setting up to be the year of gravel cycling. Pros were leaving road racing behind for curly bar riding on dirt gravel trails, new gravel events were finding their way onto roadie calendars including my own, and a lot of us were searching for that new bike, set of wheels and tires to give us new challenges.
Due to the pandemic, a lot of that isn’t happening this year. What is happening though is a crapload of gravel testing at the In The Know Cycling test track, aka the Assabet National Wildlife Refuge shown in the Strava map above and the photo at the top of this post.
I’ve been honing my gravel grinding skills there while testing 4 carbon and 3 alloy wheelsets including the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V and Pargidgm Elite 25, Easton EA90 AX, ENVE SES 3.4 AR, HED Eroica Carbon and Alloy, and Reynolds ATR X.
I’m expecting more over the summer, but these offer some seriously gnarly, rad, and stoked upgrades over what came on your gravel bike and in time for the rescheduled year of gravel in 2021. (Still working on coming up with better modifiers.)
Road & gravel wheels
And then there are some wheels that are HC, hors categorie, or beyond category. Not in the super steep classification true meaning but more in the sense that they don’t fit any one category. They can ride on the road and on gravel with the best or least expensive of them.
While I won’t spill all the beans here, I will tell you that I’m working on a review of a one size wheelset fits and performs well on all surfaces recommendation or two that also saves you a ton of money.
One hint, this smack-down will come from a selection of those wheelsets I’ve mentioned or pictured above.
Tubeless road tires
Tired yet? I’m not. Well, actually I am quite tired at the time I’m writing this but not so much so that I can stop myself from telling you about all the tires we’re testing.
Sorry to disappoint all you tubeless-haters but tubeless is happening and outperforming tubed clinchers and tubular on the road. It’s where the money is being invested, where the development is focused, and where the best performance results are showing up.
I’ve long ago planted my tubeless stake in the ground here with tests of 6 models from leading tire companies including Continental, Hutchinson, Mavic, Maxxis, Schwalbe, and Zipp.
And along with all that testing comes some improvements in our evaluation and recommendation approach. You’ll see a much more real-world and performance-oriented decision-making framework that I think will be a big step forward in how you choose between road tires. Along with it, you may also see a new Best Performer among tubeless tires.
Tubed road tires
Yeah, yeah. I know. Retro-grouches and the majority of roadies ride tires with tubes for all sorts of good and retro-grouchy reasons.
I’ve not forgotten you. We’re working on a review of the best of what I call “tubed tires” for the better 2/3rds of my fellow road cycling enthusiasts.
Included in this review and currently under test are the Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite, Continental Grand Prix 5000, Michelin Power Competition, Specialized Turbo Cotton, and Tangente Course. We’ll add a few more and be using some of the improvements in our evaluation and recommendation approach that I mentioned (but didn’t reveal) above.
Back to the future, we’re also riding gravel tires. Couldn’t test gravel wheels without tires to go with them, now could we?
Here, I’ve also laid down a marker already with a pre-covid post in January that detailed how to choose gravel tires based on the surface you ride (and the events you were planning to do). Hint: it’s not just about picking tire width.
I thought we did a pretty awesome job of detailing the surface mix of the leading 25 gravel events across the US with a rich enhancement of the definitions and photos of the classes of dirt and gravel you’ll see in those events and your local gravel trails.
Now I’m working on performance comparisons of Semi-Slick, Small Knob, and Large Knob type tires best suited for those surfaces. I’m confident it will be unlike anything you’ve read before because I think I’ve read everything ever written about gravel tires and seen nothing like what I’m working on for you, my fellow groadie.
You can read the first installment of this series in which I review Small Knob tires in a post I simply call The Best Gravel Tires.
This is a long list of tires but includes, in the Bontrager GR1 Team, Kenda Alluvium Pro, Maxxis Rambler EXO TR, Panaracer Gravel King SK, Schwalbe G-On Allround Evo, Specialized Trigger Pro, Continental Terra Speed, and WTB Raddler.
And if you think I’m only focused on wheels and tires, you’d be mostly right. But, I’m also beginning to bring in kit for reviews of light, airy helmets, gravel shoes, and… wait for it… womens shorts and bibs.
To pull off that last review, I’m working hard to recruit an analytically-minded, cycling gear curious, awesome-riding women tester or two. I know you’re out there (in the greater Boston area). I just need to find you or have you find me!
Have I missed something you are interested in? Very likely. Let me know what you’d like to see us review from this randomized list. That will help me add to my wish list.
Is some or most or all of what I’ve written about what we’re doing news to you? Have you not seen any of the photos I posted before?
If so, you aren’t part of the In The Know Cycling Tracing Program, aka our social media feeds.
I’ve been posting up a storm, or at least a fairly regular series of updates on our social media accounts about what we’re doing. That’s the best way to trace all the contacts we’ve had with cycling gear and keep up with what we’re planning to review.
Come on, I know you are spending a lot of time on social media during these stay-at-home, bored-to-tears-at-times days. Close your TikTok app for a few minutes (or at least try to) and check out what’s happening at itkcycling, our social media handle.
Our Instagram account is new. Be one of the first 500 people to join and you’ll win… cool cycling gear photos!
Deals and Discounts
I’m sure you’ve read that cycling stores are actually very busy during this pandemic. Most of the sales are in the recreational end of the market. Gear for enthusiasts like us isn’t selling very well and stores are offering lots of deals and discounts in an effort to move it.
If you are looking to buy something now, here are two services we offer to help you find the best prices and that helps source and review all the gear I’ve written about above.
Our Know’s Shop gives you the current prices on 50,000 cycling products from over a dozen US and UK online stores I’ve recommended for their competitive pricing, enthusiast product selection, customer satisfaction ratings, and reader support.
You can search for bikes and gear in the categories you see below and filter by price, brand, and store.
At the bottom of each page at Know’s Shop and on our home page, you’ll also find a regularly updated list of links to the best store- or category-wide deals and discounts I’ve found. These typically get you at least 10-20% off the regular or sale price and some are exclusive to you as an In The Know Cycling reader.
Take advantage of them. That’s what they’re there for.
In The Know Cycling supports you by doing hours of independent and comparative evaluations to find and recommend the best road cycling gear and kit to improve your riding experience.
You can support the site and save yourself time and money when you buy through the links in the posts and at Know’s Shop to stores I rank among the best for their low prices and high customer satisfaction, some which pay a commission that helps cover our review and site costs.
Click here to read about who we are, what we do, and why.
Finally, on this Memorial Day weekend in the US, I encourage you and all of my fellow road cycling enthusiasts everywhere to keep yourself and loved ones free and safe and remember those that fought and died trying to do so. While I’m excited and hope to have excited you about all that we’re doing to bring you new reviews, I recognize that we’re still in a very rough and tragic time of sickness and death and job loss and hunger and stress all around the world from this pandemic.
Don’t let up practicing social distancing, wearing your mask, and following all of the scientific and public health advice about what are the smartest things to do to keep yourself and those around you safe. Together, we’ll beat this thing.
Keep riding and stay healthy!