Adventures in life and photography out West

Archive for December 16, 2012

Bang for the cycling buck

Last time we covered the little things, stuff we all need and could be classified as stocking stuffers. This time, we up the ante. We look for good value in good gifts.

I’ve written about contact-point purchases before. When on a budget and dealing with one item versus another, spend the money on what make direct contact with you, between you and the bike. So if you have to choose between spending on shoes or pedals, blow the wad on the shoes. Choose comfortable shorts over a cool jersey. That said, let’s look at good buys, as well as quality stuff.

With shoes, my feet prefer Italian. That’s strictly for bicycle stuff. They fit my feet better. I seem to have a narrow heel and apparently wide across the balls of my feet. For me, this means neither Shimano shoes, Lake or the Performance house brand fit me very well. Sidi’s one of the most popular brand, and for good reason, fit me very well. Sidi, however, is aware of their cache, and are built by honest-to-goodness Italian artisans. This means the second-from-top Sidi road shoes, the Genius 6.6, run $375. Ouch, but if you have the money, well worth it.

I discovered way back when I bought my first pair of real cycling shoes, that Specialized shoes are also built in Italy. The top Specialized shoes are only $25 more than those pretty Sidis. More on both brands next time. If, like me, you watch those pennies, the second or even third-tier Specialized shoes will be delightful.

If you are in the market for a new groupset, you may want to make due for about 7-12 months. Shimano’s top component group, Dura-Ace, just came out with an eleven-speed setup. Like so many things, Shimano likes to trickle down the technology, like with their Di electronic shifting. Shimano introduced the first Dura-Ace Di shifting a little more than two years ago. By last summer, the technology was on the second-tier Ultegra group. I’m betting this will soon happen with the 11-speed rear cog, as well.

The other part of this that makes it worth the wait is that the new DA cranks and chainrings are built around a 110mm spider, the arms that extend from the crank out to the bolts where the chainrings attach. So what? Well, until this new setup, larger chainrings, say 53 teeth, mounted on a 130mm spider and only compact rings mounted on the 11mm setup. This meant if you happened to be big and strong, you almost had to buy two crank sets, one for flats and one for mountains. With Shimano making their new 110mm DA crankset, they engineered all of their rings to fit the one spider, from the mountain-taming 50 tooth rings to the massive 56-tooth time trial rings. Wait a year and Shimano will likely build a cheaper version for their Ultegra line.

ImageIf you have a yearning for pricy labels, but not the bank account, first, you are not alone, second, look at the Assos Fan Pack for $65. Assos is the top of the top for cycling apparel. Know for their prices, $300 dollar shorts, $650 jacket, as for their unmatched fit and function, Assos realizes not everyone can spend, or is willing to spend that kind of money on cycling clothes. We still, however, want to be associated with this kind of quality. So Assos put together their Fan Pack, consisting of an espresso cup and a hand towel, both adorned with their famous logo.

Everyone can use new tires. About once a season, at least for non-competitive riders, a new back tire is a good investment. Every-other is good for the front. My favorite is the Continental Grand Prix 4000s. It has a slick center section and just enough tread on the outside to give you confidants while cornering. It is a great all-round tire. I use it both for training and racing. It’s a tough, long-lasting tire with good side-wall protection. Normally, it sells for about $75, but this time of year, you can pick one up for $65. This might seem pricy, but you won’t have to even think about another tire for at least another year.

For those times when you need to recover, or the weather is just too bad, or, like me, you or the cyclist on your list likes photography, Velopress has released “Merckx 525″, a coffee table book filled with words and images of the most dominant cyclist of all time. The 525 represents the Cannibal’s wins over his career. Eddie Merckx, himself, authorized the book and said that it contained images that even he had not seen before. It is 13″ x 9” hard cover with 224 pages. Order it at Macdonald Books for about $60.

This is not top of the line stuff, but certainly worth the price. Any of these gifts would set your favorite cyclist’s heart aflutter.

Have fun, be safe. I’m still shopping.


I realize shopping for the cyclist is not the easiest thing in the world. I know, when I’m checking out the newest offerings from a certain Swiss clothing manufacturer that I have scant chance of seeing one of these products when I open presents this holiday season. Bicycling stuff is expensive. Fear not. I have suggestions for presents for your beloved biker for under $100.
One sure way to show you care for you two-wheeled obsessive without clearing the college fund is a head lamp or tail light. While some lights can go for as much as $600, NiteRider makes several models for under $80. The NiteRider Mako 200 USB, Mako 200 and Mako 1 Watt commuter lights will add a bit of safety to a morning or evening ride, allowing motorists to see the rider and give him or her a safe space.

For great big value, CatEye, known best for their cycle computers, makes a bundle of their Vectra wireless cycle computer, EL120 Sport Opticube LED headlight and TL-LD 170 tail light. Each item is light and easy to mount with long battery life. Nothing says love like helping a rider’s survival, and for $80, your wallet will survive, as well.

Cleaning supplies might sound a bit lame for a present, but if your cyclist is, shall we say, particular about the look of his or her ride, they might need Finish Line Bike Wash. I use this, myself and can vouch for the manufacturer claims that you just squirt the Pepto-pink stuff of your bike’s dirty bits and then turn the hose on it. It claims “little of no scrubbing, but there’s always a little scrubbing. That’s okay, though, because the results are nice. Takes mud and turt off the frame and grease off the chain and drive train. It comes in a handy squirt bottle for about $13.

Grease Monkey Wipes are the perfect thing to get gunk off the rider. These heavy-duty, multi-purpose wipes have an all-natural citrus cleaner than removes grease, dirt, oil, paint and general muck from skin. They even come in a convenient 30-wipe pop-up canister for about $7.

Believe it or not, tires are a legitimate gift. Even casual riders go through a pair of tires in the space of a year. The best bang for the buck is likely the Continental Ultra Gatorskin wire bead road tire. Not as light as the Continental racing tires, but extremely durable. I’ve put a few thousand miles on mine and am just to the point of replacing the back tire. The tough casing is puncture resistant with great sidewalls. They have a fast, smooth center section and grippy shoulders for safe and confident cornering. I bought mine after the 2011 Courage Classic and they lasted all through the rest of that summer, all of the training and riding for both Ride the Rockies and the 2012 Courage Classic. I have no complaints. If you poke around, you can at least find one for $55. If you are really lucky, you might find a pair for $100. Worth every penny.

I find myself collecting the retro-style riding caps, these days. If you’ve seen the old black and white images of the Tour, you may have seen the cap I’m describing. They come in a wide range of colors and even a range of quality, from the cheap, light cotton cap one can pick up for about $10-$15 to the twill version made by higher-end manufacturers running in the $30-$40 range. My favorite, however, is my wool cap.

Have fun, be safe. I’m going shopping.