KNOW’S NOTES – ON THE WAY BACK
If you go into your local bike shop these days, you’ll likely see a site similar to the photo above that I snapped on a visit to my LBS this past weekend.
New bikes are everywhere and there are a lot of cyclists looking around. At this time last year, those same spaces were packed with bikes in for service rather than for sale and Covid restrictions prevented only a few customers in the store at a time if at all.
But, as I don’t need to tell any of you who are looking for anything from a bike to a tire, we aren’t back to where we were before the pandemic turned our lives inside out, drove demand for cycling gear through the roof, and broke cycling supply chains.
As the store manager at my LBS told me, most of the bikes in stores now are e-bikes, recreational bikes, and mountain bikes. Enthusiast-level road and gravel bikes are still hard to find and have long lead times. The same goes for some components, wheels, and tires.
In their latest quarterly financial summary, Shimano said that in the face of continued “high demand” in Europe for bicycles and bicycle-related products, “Market inventories of completed bicycles remained at low levels despite signs of improvement.”
Shimano also stated that “while demand for bicycles continued to be high” in North America that “market inventories, centering around entry-class bicycles, began to approach appropriate levels.”
And in Asia and South and Central America where demand is “cooling off,” there are “higher than appropriate” inventory levels of commuter bikes.
So it looks like the industry is nearly caught up with the demand for bikes from cyclists who started riding again or anew during Covid and for whom much of the industry prioritized their limited manufacturing capacity over the last 18-months. That should free up more capacity for the bikes and gear that we enthusiasts buy.
And that’s consistent with what I found when I spent a couple of days last week updating several hundred links in my reviews to stores I recommend that carry the gear and kit we’ve tested and written about.
Yes, there are still some gaping holes in the availability of some products that were recently introduced like tires and groupset components. Yet others, like many of the best performing and best value wheelset models that had long in-store lead times last year, are now immediately available online. And some products like power meters, bibs, shoes, and helmets, are widely available and even discounted in some cases.
So it looks like we are on the way back to being able to get more of what we want, when and where we want it. Check out my Know’s Shop to see if what you’re looking for is available, compare prices, and order from one of the stores I recommend based on their good prices, selection, satisfaction, and support.
Done But Certainly Not Dusted
I finally published the results of my “winter project” that felt more like a senior thesis than another one of my long cycling gear reviews. Titled How Wide Wheels and Wide Tires Can Make You Faster, I hope it opens the door for you and other enthusiasts to some new thinking about your wheel and tire size choices while at the same time encouraging you to experiment with tire pressure.
Around the same time, I did a major update to my review of The Best Tubeless Tires. I added two, the Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR and Veloflex Corsa Race TLR, and dropped four that no longer compete. I also mounted, inflated, and measured the best tires in 25mm and 28mm widths on eight wheels ranging in rim width from 19mm inside, 26mm outside to 25mm inside, 32mm outside, totaling 70 combinations.
That made for a long weekend. (Sorry family.) But there’s still more work to do to get in enough road testing on the Conti and Veloflex to finish out those reviews. Check back in a couple of months for a further update.
I also posted a review of what fellow tester Miles and I have found to be one of the best all-road wheelsets we’ve ever tested. That is if you’re roads include paved climbs, gravel, and grass.
And as a long-time Speedplay pedal user, my review of the Wahoo Powrlink concluded that the wait is finally over for those of us who have wanted power in our pedals since the Brim Brothers developed but failed to deliver the first pedal power meter of any type, and in a Speedplay no less.
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Updating the Trainer Suspension Hack
In the mid-January issue of Know’s Notes, I wrote about my “improvement” to a hack that uses a $3.99 can of racquetballs under the feet of Wahoo Kickrs as an option to a full-on and way-too-expensive rocker plate for a more road-like feel when riding indoors.
Since then, two things happened that have caused me to write this update of that recommendation.
First, I moved from base phase training and all the wonderful sweet-spot and endurance workouts prescribed during that early-season part of my training program into the build phase made up of less-than-wonderful threshold, VO2 max, anaerobic, and sprint interval workouts.
In short, the racquetball hack and even the original, less squishy $1 Pinky Hi-Bounce ball hack doesn’t work when you are going back and forth between sub-threshold and above-threshold intervals and doing the above-threshold efforts. Even with a third ball that I added under the front of the center leg to add some dampening.
Unless you go into an above-threshold interval very smoothly and then do the interval with very little side-to-side motion – the exact opposite of what you do on the road and want to simulate with your indoor suspension system – the wheels will fall off the wagon.
Or more accurately, the balls will come out from under your Kickr’s legs at some point. Even with a good cushiony sweat matt underneath me and pockets built into it to keep the balls in place, they don’t stay there when you are rocking and rolling between 105% and 140% of your FTP, let alone sprinting.
Further, the front-to-back movement with the balls in place during the above-threshold workouts couldn’t be accommodated by the block under my front wheel. I had to deal with the noise and stress on the plastic with it moving around or remove the block altogether.
So it’s a great hack for recovery, Zone 2, and sweet-spot workouts but not for efforts in higher training zones and shorter intervals.
Second, after reading the comment from a Wahoo representative (that looked more like an ad and I’ve since deleted) about their KICKR Axis Action Feet, I gave it a try. I hadn’t known about these before.
The Axis Action Feet replace the feet on the side legs and the front and back feet on the center leg of Kickrs made before the 2020 version 5 model. As you can see in the inset photos, the grey rubber pads are part of the replacement feet. They come standard as part of the version 5 Kickr.
Compared to a rocker plate or the balls used in the hack, I felt far less cushioning from the Axis Action Feet. At the same time, they provide noticeably better cushioning than the regular feet that came with my Kickr.
There are three pad diameter options for the side leg feet. The directions guide you to use the diameter that aligns with your weight, with the largest ones suiting heavier riders and smaller ones being best for lighter ones. I tried them all.
In my experience, the cushioning seems to be done mostly by the center feet regardless of the different diameter side leg pads I tried.
The amount of travel I could get when I threw my bike left and right was controlled by the side leg feet. But, how far I screwed in those feet seemed to matter nearly as much to the left-right travel as the diameter of the feet themselves.
If I had them screwed in fully, they didn’t press into the matt and were essentially unweighted compared to the center feet, and would travel more than if I had them screwed in less, in which case they would put less pressure on the center feet and aid more in the cushioning.
In all of these different combinations of feet diameter and screw-in depths I tried, the Axis Action Feet keep the trainer and the front wheel block in control no matter how hard I was going above threshold or sprinting or transitioning during intervals between above-threshold and recovery outputs. I never felt the bike moving forward and backward.
Whereas the Wahoo Axis Action Feet appear focused on adding cushioning and left-right travel or “action,” the racquetball or pinky ball hack gives you more of a suspension feeling than a cushioning one but can have too much action to keep the balls and front wheel block in place when you are riding above-threshold.
Based on the reviews I’ve seen of the new Tacx Motion Plates, they appear to be focused on giving you more front-back action but just a limited amount of left-right motion. But like the ball hack, they don’t seem to work well during hard efforts, not providing enough front-back travel when you are sprinting. And they are priced at $300.
All of this is subjective and dependent on what kind of training you do and where you do it.
If I only did sub-threshold, 1-hour or less workouts, I’d be perfectly happy with the ball hack. For harder or longer efforts with intervals, I like the slightly added cushioning and left-right movement of the Axis Action Feet and think they are worth the $80.
If I were doing hard Zwift races all the time or trying to simulate the full outdoor racing feel, I might go for a full-on rocker plate (if my race earnings could justify the price of the rocker).
Also, my trainer sits on a decently cushioned matt on a basement tiled floor. If I went for a thicker matt or set up the trainer on a hardwood floor with more give, there might be enough cushioning without the need for a hack or the Axis Action Feet.
On The Road
Back in January, I listed More Brands, More Value, More Categories, More Apparel, More Connections, and More of What Works as the themes for what I was planning or at least hoping to write about this year.
Let me summarize what’s in and on or soon to be on the road now.
We’ve begun testing new tires from Veloflex (more brands) and Conti (more of what works). Road wheels including the Scribe Aero Wide+ 50-D (more brands, more value), Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO 45 (more of what works), and Bontrager Aeolus Pro 51 (more value, more of what works) are in, mounted, and either rolling or soon to be. The Corima G30.5 gravel wheels (more brands) are ready to roll once the snow and ice melts from the New England gravel roads and trails.
And I’m ordering another half dozen wheelsets this spring that will further fill out the more brands, value, and what works themes.
More apparel in the form of road and gravel shoes from brands we’ve not reviewed before or recently are in the works. You’ll see a review next week of a new pair of value sunglasses that are as good as the more expensive ones we reviewed last fall. And we’re wearing new men’s and women’s bib shorts from brands we know that work and brands we are testing for the first time.
Conor, our newest tester who lives in the gravel paradise of Vermont (think Rasputitsa, Overland, Rooted, and so much more), will be expanding our reviews in the gravel wheelset, tire, shoes, and other off-road categories. And Aiyana is expanding our coverage of women’s kit and unisex gear and kit from a women’s perspective.
So there’s a lot coming and it’s all free of paywalls, subscriptions, ads, supplier influences, and the like. I welcome your support by buying your gear and kit using the store links you see on the site and any of the other 10 ways you can help keep our reviews coming in our unique, independent, comparative, and comprehensive way.
What Makes For A Good Review
As I write In The Know Cycling reviews and read others available on the web, I regularly judge the words in them to see how much value there is for me and you as cycling enthusiasts looking to get the most out of each of our individual riding goals, profile, and budget.
When doing that, these are some of the key questions I keep in mind.
- Does the review speak to me or for the product supplier?
- Does it give me options and help me decide what to buy or tell me mostly about the product with little context?
- Does it appeal mostly to my rational thinking or emotional impulses?
- Is it truly a review representing the writer’s thinking or mostly a product announcement sharing the supplier’s talking points?
- Is it objective or does it appear to come in with a bias or pre-established point of view?
- Does it tell me mostly about the product’s performance from actual use or is it mostly filled with the backstory behind the product and its specs?
I’d argue reviews that do more of the former and less of the latter in response to each of those questions are the ones that will be most helpful to me and you in getting the most performance and pleasure from our cycling time and budgets.
As you read my reviews this year, hold me to the correct side of those questions. Drop me an email ([email protected]) if you think I’m not or have suggestions on how I can do better. That will help me help you all the more.
Thanks for reading and supporting the site. Stay healthy and enjoy your rides, every one of them. Steve