I've tried to review things that I change fairly often, such as handlebar grips, tyres etc, rather than whole bikes and big things. If you want to know about bike reviews, read the mags. I tend to expand this section as I go, so if you have a good product that you rave about, let me know
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Wheels Chains Handlebar Grips Front Tyres Rear Tyres Camelbaks Shorts Cables Chain Lubes Socks Bike Computers
|Wheels||I'd always gone with Mavic rims on
Shimano hubs for quite a while, but I decided I wanted some trick wheels to go with my new
bike, so I invested in some Mavic Crossmax. Wow these babies are light! They
really are the most awesome wheels. I would recommend them to anyone, light wheels
make a huge difference to the handling of a bike and should be considered as one of the
first upgrades you make. Anywy let me tell you a quick story about the Crossmaxes:
Summer '99, I went to the Les Gets in the Alps for a holiday. On the last day we were riding above Morzine on a pretty minor track that was steeply downhill. All of a sudden WHACK! I was over the bars and nursing a badly sprained wrist (so bad I couldn't grip the bars for about a week after) and a bit of a sore head. I picked myself up to see what had happened and found a log wedged in my front wheel. It was about 4inches (100mm) diameter and stuck between the spokes. As there is only 26 spokes in a Crossmax front wheel, there are big gaps between them, but the log had bent the spokes around it to such an extent that one had a right angled bend in it. Anyway, I pulled the log out from between the spokes and the wheel was not buckled at all! I could not believe it, it just sprung back into shape. Anyway, 6 months later, the spoke snapped, but I guess I can give them that!
|Chains||I've used Sedis chains for a few years
now and never had a problem, but after upgrading to 9 speed earlier this year I've snapped
my PC89 twice. I'm hoping it was just a faulty chain, as I've just bought another
one! They do look good though with slotted links.
|Handlebar Grips||Currently I'm running Yeti grips, but I
find that the grey harder rubber that runs round the ends and all the way inside is not
grippy enough to prevent the grips slipping round the bars, even with a generous coating
of cheap'n'nasty hairspray. Shame, cos there a really nice feel.
I used to use Onza Ules grips, which I liked, but they are pretty thick. The other downside is the rubber is high density, so compared to the Yeti ones, you don't get much padding effect. The benefit is of course that you get a positive feel!
I've used all sorts of other grips in the past, but won't bore you with the details, safe to say if you have foam grips - get rid of them!
|Front Tyres||I decided to trade in my
Specialized tyres and try something different towards the end of 2000 so I
bought some Panaracer Fire XC 2.1's. I was impressed with the way
these handled in the dry dusty conditions on holiday in California, but
when I got home and the winter kicked in I found them lacking
somewhat. This was really brought home to me during a trip to Coed Y
Brenin, where I found they were pretty much useless on wet rocks and
roots. After scaring myself a few too many times on the North Downs
when I got back from CYB I decided to put them on the shlef until next
summer. I thought of going back to the old Spec's, but was still
curious for something new.
I saw some Tioga Factory Muds going cheap and bought them. These tyres rule! I wouldn't want to use them in dry conditions as they would have the rolling resistance of a very slow rolling thing, but in muddy conditions they just never break away!! The front is better in the soft than my benchmark Specialized, but the Specialized still wins as an all rounder.
As I say elsewhere I'd always run a Specialized Team Control 2" up front. I've had about my third or forth of these, they're brilliant for nearly all the riding I tend to do. I've used the 127tpi one (red stripe) which is really light, but even the yellow stripe ones aren't bad for weight. The only time I can say I wished I had something else on the front would be when I am riding on the road (or the South Downs way mid summer!), when a semi slick would obviously give less drag and corner better.
Other tyres I've tried before I found the Spec include WTB Velociraptor, Panaracer Magic, other Specialized etc but none compare
|Rear tyres||Recently I have run a
Panaracer Fire XC 2.1 and Tioga Factory Mud. The rears have the same
sort of characteristics as the fronts, so see above. Hats of to the
Tioga though - I recently rode across a banked slope that I thought I
would never have the traction for and the damn tyre just held solid!
Well, before that I was running a Specialized Team Master tyre, and was my third, so it can't be all that bad, but I just couldn't get excited about it, especially knowing the front was so good. I recently bought a Specialized Evil Twin Soft Conditions tyre for a holiday in the Alps, I wanted something that wouldn't pinch flat - not something I do too often, but you always ride hard in the Alps. I was very impressed on those steep hard tracks - but I had to take it off when I got home as it just floated over the sandy trails we've got locally (it's a 2.2") giving less than average performance. The other thing is it is bastard heavy! But one thing is for sure, you ain't gonna pinch flat one!
Other tyres I've tried are the IRC Mythos XC which is actually a surprisingly good tyre and light too, but I found it wasn't really agressive enough for our varied riding diet . Another tyre that is popular that I've riden is a WTB Velociraptor. I found the rear pretty good, cleared well and I was tempted to buy a second, but I got sidetracked onto the Spec, I guess I had to have matching tyres! But anyway, I would recommend one, good in mud.
Another tyre I've had is distictly old school, the Continental Cross Country. I found the tyre was superb when new, climbing really well, although the narrow carcass (1.95) doesn't go downhill so well if it's narly. The problem comes when it wears. As soon as the blocks get slightly rounded off, I found that it really lost its earlier promise.
As for the Panaracer Magic I had when I went to Moab and Winter Park, I think it was for the best that I wore it out in that 2 week holiday!
|Camelbaks||Well, with a full sus bike, there is no
other way to go unfortunately, unless you don't ride much. Actually, once your
riding, you just don't notice them at all. Ideally, I would prefer to carry a small
bum bag and water bottles, like in the 'old days', but there you go. The first bak I
bought was a Rogue. I liked the fact that it was simple, small and didn't have much
carry space, after all, I figured I didn't need to carry much. I soon realised that
the storage capacity was woefully inadequate and had to purchase a slip on Camelbak
Pakster to give me more luggage capacity. This was fine for about a year, but then
the velcro went and I had to buy something else. The biggest problem with that bak
was the fact that the bladder was such a git to get into its rucksack.
After that I bought a Jack Wolfskin thing, that had large capacity, primarily by having a large zip compartment in the middle. The problem was the bladder capacity was only 1.5litres. So I used my old Camelbak bladder, which just about fitted. The bag was OK, but not as comfy as a Camelbak. Eventually the Camelbak bladder split, and I started to use the 1.5l bladder that came with the sack. BIG Mistake! The bladder is crap! Bought a new Camelbak Mule the next day! Shame, cos the bag is actually pretty good, and really cheap too.
I've just started using this new Mule and it's really big and got a 3l bladder (I'm sure I'll use it in the summer). They seem to have sorted the problems with getting the bladders into the sacks cos this drops in real easy. The only disadvantage is that it takes up quite a lot of space on your back (read more sweating). Time will tell.
|Shorts||An English Company, Lusso, make the best
quality for money shorts I've tried. For £30, you get coolmax lycra, 8 panel
construction and a comfy insert. The lycra isn't that hard wearing if your riding
through brambles etc but they'll easily last a year or so of hard riding.
I just can't get the price of some of these shorts - £50 plus I just find a total rip off for something that is just 8 bits of lycra and an insert - there not even real chamois any more! I've also wanted to try some baggies, but these are even more expensive - I'm not that much of a fashion victim! And you can only wear baggies for about 3months a year here! Mmmm, Cannondale make some nice ones, may be next year.........
|Cables||Make up your own mind:
One thing about the Goretex cables though is you can just use them for the back gear system (as the front gear and brakes doesn't really need it). As you have to buy two gear cables, they will then last twice as long as both inners are long enough for the rear.
Additional points on Cables:
Firstly, my Goretex cables broke! The end of the cable where it is bolted down to the rear mech snapped, and when I did some maintenance and tried to re-attach the cable, it frayed all over the place and wouldn't do up properly. I then bought some Shimano XTR cables (grey ones) which seem to be Ok, but as they are not sealed they only lasted a few months. You need to be particularly careful on my bike as it is full sus.
So I've just bought some Avid Flack Jacket cables, which are of the same mould as the Gortex cables, but are cheaper. There pretty well sealed, so we'll see how they go. I liked the carbon effect outer casing, goes well with my carbon bike! (not a poseur honest!)
|Chain Lubes||I've been using Makt or Gozon, it works
in our conditions really well. Used to use WD40 though, which is really crap for
I've just tried Finish line also as I couldn't get any Makt and it seems just as good as my old favourite, although probably a little stickier.
For cleaning it all off after each ride I strongly recommend X-lite Muck Off. The stuff is excellent. Also does a good job on the old alloy wheels on my car! Just don't spray it anywhere near paint!
|Socks||Well a real boring item but actually
really important. The best bike socks I've used are coolmax ones from WL Gore.
I've tried those Aereater ones, but they are nowhere near as comfy. Another
good sock I've found recently is the short coolmax ones from M&S. They also have
the benefit of being about half the price of cycling socks which are another rip off item!
Bargin, I'll have several pairs!
|Bike Computers||Great for working out how far you've
gone, but all seem to have reliability problems. Probably because there designed for
road bikes and get shaken to pieces off road. I've used many over the years and all
seem to have a 1 or 2 year life. Now you can get cordless ones fairly cheaply they
seem to last much better as the cords were constantly getting broken before that.
Currently I running a Sigma which seems OK but it has a pretty basic attachment method
(zip ties) and the sensor gets knocked around the fork all the time (especially when you
put the bike in the car).
Previously I have used Cat Eye computers, but gave up once I gone through about 5 corded fitting kits (see above). Still got one on my road bike and its reading about 8000miles though! (OK not impressive if you're a pro, but if I do 100miles in a week on my road bike it's a big big week!)
Previously to that I had several Avocet computers, but these were crap - however it was a long time ago and I'm sure they're much better these days!