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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Customer product test: Assos sV.blitzFeder

Many thanks to Simon (he of the bigger bike fleet than our entire shop....) for this review. Full marks for also testing the product in different countries and at different altitudes!
I warmly welcome as many contributions as possible and hope we can all benefit from our collective experiences.

It is of the SV. blitzfefer, which is an ultra-light 'gilet' that folds up into its own little pocket. I loved it and recommended it to as many riders as I could as its small size meant there was no opportunity cost for always having it on you, especially when doing epic rides when the conditions can be so variable.


Hope all is well. Here is a contribution to your customer reviews project.

I bought this Assos blitzfeder vest from you in June. I have used it pretty extensively since then. In the Summer, it has been great for those cold morning starts because you can stuff it in your pocket when it warms up. I used it this Sunday, when it was a pretty chilly November morning, over the top of a standard long sleeve top to provide a bit of insulation. Again, absolutely fine.

It breathes really well, much better than most other shells. So you do not "boil in the bag". I think you can use it in a wide variety of temperatures, probably from 5 degrees to 25 degrees. It really is very versatile, and it genuinely packs away to nothing. You can always have it with you.

On the downside, it will provide only a modicum of rain protection, and (because it is so light) it is really difficult to put on when you are on the move. But this is just splitting hairs. Of course it is expensive for so little material, but you have to accept that with Assos. You are buying the best.

To show the vest in full use, here is a picture of me this "summer" on the climb from Tirano to Livigno on the Swiss/Italian border. It started off at 20 degrees at the foot of the climb, before the heavens opened.

The road became a stream. Temperatures plummeted as we neared the 2000m mark. The vest was the only extra clothing I had with me. It was fine on the way up, due to the climbing effort over the best part of 25km. I was cold on the way down, but by then I was truly soaked.

You can see from the photo that I was joined by Gesink and Barredo from Rabobank on a pre-Tour training ride. I say "joined" in the loosest sense - because while this picture gives the optical illusion that I am pulling away from them, the reality is that they absolutely rocketed past me and left me for dead!


An email from Enda

Chaps I thought I would share this with you, if for no other reason than to inspire your winter cycling as you dream of the European summer once more....

Hi Barry and Ben,
Once again thank you for all the help with the Parlee I really enjoyed it and I have included a couple of photos including one of the Stelvio, I have climbed it twice and its the most amazing road in the world!

Thanks for the update re the Assos clothing, I received it on Friday (the day after my Birthday, too late for birthday gifts but timely for dropping Christmas hints!!!)
Its good to see that your business is expanding and that the website has improved.
I’m actually off the bike and all training at the moment – a cyclocross induced broken collar-bone, but that makes me a real cyclist now, except that through comfort eating and a lack of training I have gained a few kilos.
Have a happy Christmas and I hope to visit you guys when I am in London in 2012

Friday, 25 November 2011

A re-appraisal of the toe-cover

I have never seen the point of toe-covers. They reminded me of those North Face Nuptse Vests that lots of my friends wore when I was in Scotland. If I was cold, I wanted the full jacket to keep my arms warm. Likewise when the weather warmed up (rarely I concede...) a big vest seemed bulky and overkill.
So it was neither fish nor fowl

And that is exactly the way I viewed overshoes - I was of the view its either nothing or full booties.

The benefits of running your own shop (and being an Assos Pro Dealer) is that I can justify new purchases as due diligence. You look a bit of a muppet if a customer asks if you like product x and no one in the shop has an answer apart from it looks nice!
So with that in mind I have been wearing the new Assos toe-cover everyday on my commute and on the weekend rides.

And I have loved it!

Now I do suffer from the cold, and cold hands and feet really do kill morale. But so far, even with very early starts, I have had no issues with my toes at all. But likewise when the weather warmed up around 11 am I have not felt massively cumbersome and over-dressed. They also keep my expensive shoes in far better condition than would otherwise be the case around the lanes of Kent and Surrey.
I have been advised that this years model has a far better rubber gripper and so far they have not moved an inch but time will tell on build quality. But so far they seem a great addition to the wardrobe.

FINALLY - All the Assos winter gear is here...

Bring on the rain, snow and sleet!
We will be ready with rain jackets, winter gloves, winter booties, rain caps, winter hats and lovely warm base layers.
Let us know how we can help your winter wardrobe

Monday, 21 November 2011

Next years training started yesterday...

I have not done my usual long ride for 4 weeks now. Sam is 3 weeks old - see a trend? Plenty of variations of the same excuse based around the fact I had not slept a wink the night before, or that my wife had not slept and I was now on the daylight patrol....

But yesterday it all came together and Brett and Dean met at mine and we had a great 3 hr ride together. Nothing structured, just go hard when we wanted, and easy when we wanted to chat (and there was lots I wanted to ask Brett about Kona). The weather was also wonderful - crisp and sunny (with a few cheeky fog patches).
I came back revitalized and determined to do as many Sunday rides as possible.

However, with 2 little boys under 18 months old I know my 'free' time is very limited so will be very focused on getting the best bang for the buck.
That means a maximum long ride time of 3 hrs, lots of hard turbo sessions and a big winter focus on biomechanics with Ben.
Ben recently damned me with faint praise - he said that whilst I have ''a smooth pedal stroke, just not a powerful one'. So this winter is all about becoming a big gear monster, and learning to better activate the glutes.

I am hoping 30 min sessions with Ben will turbo-charge my cycling. Bring on 2012 !!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Stuart's Firefly

This is one of the nicest Ti bikes we have ever seen
It is for Stuart and has all the tricks the master craftsmen at Firefly could think of; brushed finish with custom anodized decals, internal Di2 battery (in the seatpost), Pressfit 30 BB and the bigger HT44 standard
The thing looks beautiful and mean at the same time !

Another picture of the huge head tube -this will be one stiff race bike

The decals are plain white outline with some blue anodization. The blue changes colour in the light. Its very, very cool

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Campag Electronic soon here....

This is an article the excellent James Huang of Cyclingnews has just posted

Quote of the article is the following:

The cost of the Record EPS group is said to be in-line with Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 group, while Super Record EPS was simply stated to be ‘more’

Love it......

The full link is here

Twenty years and four generations in the making, Campagnolo has finally presented not just one but two electronic groups, Record EPS (Electronic Power Shift) and Super Record EPS, both with identical functionality but slight differences in weight and bearing performance just like the mechanical analogues.

"A very compelling package and demonstrates yet again that the Italian company is not to be ignored or forgotten"

Just like Shimano's Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 electronic systems, Campagnolo promises foolproof shifting accuracy and reliability plus faster gear changes than with mechanical groups. But EPS will also uniquely offer riders a lever feel that more closely mimics mechanical systems for genuine tactile – and audible – feedback, not to mention even better multi-shift capability of current Record and Super Record groups, all at a weight penalty of around 200g.

Electronic gutspaired with pseudo-mechanical feel and multiple shift capability

Campagnolo's new EPS group share some basic characteristics with Shimano's next-generation Di2 systems: dedicated switches in the levers sending signals to a centrally located 'brain' that then relays those messages to the motor-equipped front and rear derailleurs. Campagnolo, however, has done a better job of mimicking the feel of its much-loved – and virtually identically shaped – mechanical Ergopower brake/shift levers, however. The throws are very short as was expected but the high spring force is more akin to a cable-actuated system and there's a very tactile and audible click each time a button is depressed.

Granted, that tactile and audible feedback is different for the upshift and downshift paddles but it's feedback nonetheless – something we've always found lacking in Shimano's otherwise functionally refined system. The EPS downshift paddle is in the same familiar spot as on the mechanical Ergopower levers, too, but Campagnolo has moved the thumb-actuated upshift paddle lower down for easier shifts from the drops.

Campagnolo has also managed to actually improve on Ergopower's Multi-Shift capability. Whereas current Super Record and Record levers can downshift up to three cogs and upshift up to five, EPS can move the chain across the entire cassette with one command. Instead of having to repeatedly push the button, EPS's switches are time-sensitive, meaning the rear derailleur will move more positions depending on how long the rider holds down the button and you only need a 1.5second-long push to move across all 11 rear cogs.

There's unfortunately no feedback mechanism to let riders know exactly how many gears they've selected, though – Campagnolo marketing and communications director Lorenzo Taxis says riders will quickly learn "with their legs and brains" once they use it.

While certainly technically more advanced than the company's current mechanical systems, Campagnolo stresses that EPS isn't merely an engineering exercise but actually offers tangibly better performance, especially under the demanding racing conditions for which it was designed. According to in-house testing, EPS groups can successfully execute a front shift (in either direction) with nearly 70 percent higher chain load than Super Record while rear shifts are completed on average in just 0.352 seconds vs. 0.469 seconds – a small difference for sure but one that's still within the human range of detection.

Just like Di2, however, EPS should also need no adjustments whatsoever after the initial setup. Unlike with conventional cables and housing whose performance can change over time, EPS's digital signals will remain consistent for more predictable performance and reduced maintenance.

Record EPS versus Super Record EPS

Much like the mechanical groups, the Record EPS and Super Record EPS groups differ by way of materials and small design details. For example, the Super Record EPS Ergopower levers feature additional sculpting and engineered relief to further shave weight.

These design differences carry on throughout the components where carbon is replaced for alloy in the outer half of the front derailleur cage when comparing Super Record to Record, likewise the front derailleur motor and gear housings are alloy and steel respectively. Out back,the Super Record rear derailleur employs aluminum gear housing and ceramic pulleys, were as the Record version uses a steel gear housing and standard pulleys.

Then, of course, there are the differences between the mechanical support components, which are the same found when comparing the mechanical groups. One of the biggest performance differences is Super Record’s use Campagnolo’s CULT greaseless ceramic bearings, while Record employ the USB bearings.

Battery life, weatherproofing, and wiring

One major configuration difference with EPS as compared to Di2 is the battery and wiring. Whereas Shimano opts for a removable Li-ion rechargeable battery, the EPS's power is permanently housed with the system's 'brain' and isn't easily removable. As we suspected back in April, recharging is done via a small port located on the bottom of the power pack.

Some users will invariably regard this as being less convenient but Campagnolo argues that its one-piece, ultrasonically sealed unit is more resistant to weather. In fact, the company certifies all of the EPS components to be waterproof to a depth of one meter and we witnessed Movistar team mechanics subjecting the components to point blank pressure washings during this season's races.

Also, Campagnolo says its EPS battery will last longer, too. Whereas Shimano claims roughly 1,600km of battery life under average conditions (in fairness, we've experienced much longer lifetimes in practice), Campagnolo quotes roughly 2,000km when ridden about 2,000km per month. Less frequent use will bring that figure down to about 1,500km if the bike is used only 500km per month, which reflects a certain degree of power drawdown when the system is just standing by.

Campagnolo certifies the EPS battery for 500 charge cycles, at which point the complete power pack (and the associated wiring) will have to be replaced in entirety. That sounds short on paper until you consider that 500 charge cycles equates to about 40 years if you consistently ride 2,000km a month year-round. Charge time for a fully depleted battery is said to be 1.5 hours.

Speaking of wiring, EPS will thankfully use the same port sizes and positions as currently required by Shimano's Di2 system. Even better, Campagnolo won't have multiple wiring kits depending on how the system is installed – the leads from the power pack to the individual components are supposedly all long enough to accommodate a wide range of fitments and extra wiring will just need to be tucked inside the frame (assuming internal wiring, of course).

Weight and cost: lighter than Di2, with final prices TBD

Campagnolo’s pro teams are scheduled to be on the production components in the next few weeks, while manufacturers will have OE components in December. Riders looking to buy the parts in the aftermarket should be able to find the parts for sale in January.The cost of the Record EPS group is said to be in-line with Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 group, while Super Record EPS was simply stated to be ‘more’ – by how much we don’t know as final prices have yet to be determined.

With weights claimed at 2,184g for Record and 2,098g for Super Record it’s lighter than Shimano's Dura-Ace Di2— which we’ve weighed at 2,262g—at least according to Campagnolo’s claims; so here we have it, EPS promises to raise the bar yet again for what we consider to be state of the art for bicycle transmissions.

And while we still don't think electronic transmissions will ever completely supplant mechanical ones but with now that the second of the ‘big three’ manufacturershas entered the fray, the increased competition will assuredly up the development ante with all consumers standing to benefit.

Why did it take so long?

While consumers are only just now seeing the production version of Campagnolo's new electronic group, the company actually first began its first development work in 1992 – back when eight-speed drivetrains and integrated brake/shift levers were still considered state-of-the-art and about a year before Mavic's first ill-fated commercial attempt.

Campagnolo's first working prototype was – like everything else in those days – an eight-speed system and the company's developers tucked the electronics and battery inside a gutted water bottle. The necessary derailleur motors and actuators were quickly deemed too heavy and bulky to be practical, though, and the idea was relegated to indefinite development status. While the company was convinced a motorized transmission represented the next logical step in terms of performance, it nonetheless also felt no pressure to bring a system to market on a specific timeline.

And so we waited.

In fact, Campagnolo admits that it was on the edge of launching an electronic group back in 2005. System performance was excellent in real-world and lab testing, and even the prototypes we'd spotted on pro team bikes back then looked remarkably finished. However, Taxis said one system failed after being treated to an unusually rigorous water resistance test atop a fast-moving team car after a stage of that year's Giro d'Italia and since Campagnolo intended for its electronic group to be its premier package for racing, development was again halted.

In the meantime, Campagnolo's mechanical division unveiled a new Ergopower lever shape and an upgrade to eleven rear cogs and naturally, the electronic group had to follow suit – back to the drawing board yet again and pushing the group to today's long awaited release.

Current company president Valentino Campagnolo himself even admits that while dearly loved by its fans, Campagnolo's future depends on the success of cutting edge products like this and can't afford a high-profile hit to its well-earned reputation.

"We want to develop this technology even more in the future," he said. "We are confident that these days are very tough days with the economic crisis also affecting bicyclists. Also, we suffer from this. But we try to manage the company while keeping costs under control. We are pushing hard to develop and invest for our future and in fact, never in the past has Campagnolo developed such a tremendous amount of new products because we invest in our future.

"There is a part of the market that is willing to accept very advanced products, not just aiming for the best performance but also reliability and long lasting during the use which is a traditional characteristic of Campagnolo production," he continued. "We are sure that the future – our future – will be with mechanical products but with important emphasis on product development with electronic technology."

Skeptics have already begun making comparisons of Campagnolo's Record and Super Record EPS groups to any number of Italian automobiles of ill repute and their electronic gremlins. However, with so much development time behind them – not to mention Campagnolo's often frustrating resistance to releasing the seemingly complete earlier versions – one can only hope that for Mr. Campagnolo's sake and ours, those gremlins will only be in our imaginations and not actually tearing at the wiring in the wing.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Customer review: Bontrager RL Windproof Softshell Jacket

I would love as many 'reader reviews' as possible. These are not meant to be fawning reviews, but rather 'real world' reports. If an item is great, please say (and why). If it sucks, please say and we will no longer stock it! Either way these reviews are meant to aide your fellow riders.

This is from Tony H. It is his first review, I have told him given how much kit he has bought he has alot of reviews to do !

I love the occasional chats I have with drivers in London - but "I didn't see you" still has a lot to do before it becomes the start of a great friendship. so "Being Seen" is probably just worth accepting as part of the tapestry of urban riding. Having said this I struggle with getting into Health & Safety jackets that are more suited as mainsails for a round the world yacht race and get instantly clammy when wet. So I was pleased to see the new Bontrager orange softshell jackets hanging up at Barry's new shop - and I thought I'd give one a go.

First impressions - the sizing seems to come up a little small, and it's an Assos style fit that leaves no flapping fabric - (in fact if you enjoy your mince pies zipping up could be an issue, so try before you buy). Arm length was excellent, not leaving them short like a lot of commercial jackets, and as I found out on the bike later, the zips were very smooth and easy to operate - so no need to bite the jacket whilst performing a mid-ride zip up.

The features on the jacket are well thought out, and very bike specific - this isn't a running cross-over jacket. Just a single chest pocket on the front, ideal for a phone (left hand side, so more friendly for us righties) whilst there is a left rear access to a cycling jersey inside, and a right rear internal net pocket. The main central rear pocket is a bit skinny, but I'd guess you'd be wearing a standard jersey underneath in any case - so stuff you need in a hurry, like your pound coins for the Box Hill cafe. I haven't tested the jacket in heavy rain, it worked well in light drizzle, but I would guess this jacket would struggle in a continued downpour like most other jackets.

And then there's the colour - glowing Christmas tangerine that will play havoc with perfectly co-ordinated Assos or Rapha wardrobes, but here's my point. At dawn or dusk in the city, when we do a lot of our cycling in Autumn or Spring, it needs to stand out. IMHO reflective strips just don't work like they do in the country, and black, grey and blue just disappear into the background. You've got to back it up with lights, but this just improves your chances of snapping that dozing driver back into reality before they end up decorating their bonnet with you.

The other nice thing is that it's "only £90 (or £89.99 to be exact), so you can save your posh Assos for the next sunny club run, which I'd guess would be about next April....

Robert kicking ass....

This is my man Robert tearing it up on the Irish cross scene. Since I have known Robert he has done some Triathlons, sportives and road racing. He tells me that nothing is as fun as cross, and you can see why in this picture!
Go Robert !

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

First Dogma 2 arrived

This is a quick pic of Julius's new Dogma 2. It will have Super Record and carbon clinchers. He flies in from Hong Kong on Tuesday to do the final fitting and bike hand-over. I am sure he will be thrilled
The blue looks amazing in the flesh - it has a real depth to it....

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Specialized BG Element Wiretap glove review

We geniunely only stock products that we rate
And to prove this I want to start doing far more tests/reviews. I would like this to be as interactive as possible, so if you have your own feedback (good or bad) on any products you bought from us please do email in and we can put this in a review. I want Bespoke to be as interactive a community as possible...

To start us off, here is Ben testing his new Specialized BG Element Wiretap glove

After limping along on my old iPhone 3G for 2 and a half years, finally my shiny new iPhone 4S has arrived, just in time for winter. Trying to use a touch screen phone while wearing gloves is totally impractical. Fear not though, for I have also just bought a pair of the Specialized BG Element WireTap™ Gloves. In addition to a Gore windstopper upper, they have a very clever WireTap™ system built into the thumb and fore finger. This allows the phone to detect your touch through the gloves meaning that I’ll never miss a call again while trying to take off my gloves in time. I’ve been zooming my maps when I’m lost, writing emails, all while inside the cosy warmth of my gloves. Add to that the fact that the BG pads are perfectly positioned to cushion wrists and only cost £39.99, I think they are the best value early winter gloves I’ve ridden in.