Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Decision Time

Now that we have finalized what wheelsets we will be getting from Spinergy, we need to decide what color spokes. Should we be total dorks and go with something that matches the bikes? Spinergy offers the PBO spokes in several colors including white, black, red, yellow, and blue. Since our frames are going to be painted white with blue stickers and red trim it seems we have three different colors that would work. Now its just a matter of deciding, easier said than done in some cases. SRAM is also offering us the choice of colored hoods in both red and white. I like the idea of white hoods, but am afraid that they will just become instantly filthy. Sure if we had a team mechanic to scrub down the bikes after every ride the white hoods might make sense, but I don't see that happening. The other thought we were floating around was red hoods with red tape, or red hoods with white tape, or red hoods with blue tape. I know this sounds really bogus, but we want the bikes to look good. Hmm what would a PRO do?


Mark McClusky

Review: SRAM Force Road Gruppo
Courtesy of the very nice folks at SRAM, and especially their media person, Michael Zellmann, I was able to get a chance to ride their new Force group of road components. The high-end component market has been dominated by Campagnolo and Shimano for the 20 years that I've been riding bikes -- in fact, SRAM's gruppo is the first full road group that's been released in that period of time.
Armed with a lovely Specialized Tarmac SL equipped with the Force components and Roval full-carbon clincher wheels, I hit the roads in Northern California to see if Force is a legitimate challenger to Shimano's Dura Ace and Campy's Record line.

The crankset is a lovely piece, wrapped in very pretty carbon fiber. The chainrings are shot-peened, and have a nice grey color to them. Although you can't see them, the bearings for the bottom bracket are outboard, similar to Dura Ace.
I had no compaints with the crank/bottom bracket combo. It was plenty stiff, certainly for the amount of power I can generate. There was no creaking or play in the bearings, and the build seemed very solid. Frankly, there's not a lot that can really go wrong here, and SRAM didn't make any mistakes.

One real problem I've face with my bike (equipped with Dura Ace) is getting it to shift well on a compact crankset. Especially on the way from the large to the small chainring, it's very prone to throwing the chain completely past the chainring, and onto my bottom bracket. Which sucks.
I was very impressed by the front shifting on the Force. There's one front mechanism that's used for either standard or compact chainrings -- but there's a clever way to lower it to make sure that the tolerance is right for the size you're running. Also, the cage is wide enough that there aren't any trim settings to mess with. You just get it to the right chainring, and forget it. All in all, a major upgrade for me.

In the back, shifting was equally good. There was a very solid feel -- some might argue inelegant. With Dura Ace and Record, you sometimes aren't quite sure if your shift has finished; by the time you're trying to sense it, it's already over. But with Force, there's a very positive action, almost a THUNK, that lets you know for sure. Some people might not care for it, but I like it.
The other nice thing is how unfussy it seems. I feel like after (or during) most rides, I'm tweaking my cables just a bit, trying to insure that upshifts and downshifts happen with the same speed, and equally smoothly. After adjusting the rear once, I didn't have to futz with it at all, even after swapping out the cassettes, which I have a hard time imagining with Dura Ace. One of the things that SRAM is touting in their marketing is that each shift requires the same amount of cable to be pulled (unlike the other groups), and from my testing, that consistent mechanical action does show some benefits.
Not pictured here is the SRAM cassette -- I had to wuss out and put on a 25 in back for the hills around here. SRAM is going to be shipping an 11-26 rear cassette, which is great news, I think. Perfect for compacts in tough terrain like NoCal.

Here's the cockpit. Like Campy Record, all the cables are under the handlebar tape, leading to a nice, clean look. It's a little hard to tell from this shot, but the left and right hoods are sculpted differently, and are canted slightly to fit the hand -- they were comfortable while on the hoods, and provided a good platform on top. They're a little smaller than the Shimano hoods, a similar size to Campy.

In this closeup of the left brake lever, you can see the cant I was talking about.
The shifting on Force uses what SRAM called Double Tap. A small inward movement of the lever downshifs to a higher gear, a longer throw upshifts into a smaller gear. It's was actually completely intuitive -- imagine using the upshift lever on Record for all the shifts, but just tapping is slightly to get bigger gears. Seriously, it sounds much, much more complicated than it rides, and I didn't find myself having to think about it at all, even after just a few miles.

I found the brakes to be really nice looking, especially the cutout in the top arm. Modulation was very good, and the action at the lever was smooth and controlled. Stopping power was harder to evaluate for me, as I was riding a test bike with carbon rims, and therefore had cork pads, and not the standard pad that SRAM ships for most wheels.

Another look at the calipers, this time up front.
Overall, I was really impressed by Force. SRAM's done a ton of work and research to get this right, and it's a hugely ambitious undertaking. It's certainly right there with the top of the line from the big two, and I'll definitely consider it when I need new gear.

Wise Words

"It doesnt get easier, you just get faster"-Greg Lemond

The Kits Have Been Ordered

After dozens of hours of design and several revisions by Ed Garza-"Decade 1324" we have placed an order for our 2008 team kits. The kits are being produced by a company out of New York City named Champion System, and will be a completely custom uniform. As a team we decided that to make the best impression in 2008 we needed a kit that would become easily recognizable from the rest of the peloton. We also tried to incorporate a red, white, and blue theme with a bit of a twist. When we were in the design process we wanted a look that would stand out and have bold color blocking to it. I feel that Ed came thru in all departments and developed a design that not only highlights our sponsors, but also brings a bit of class to the road. In order to have the PRO look we also opted for the full hidden zipper on all the jerseys and jackets, I love being able to unzip all the way in the summer.

All in all it was quite a sizable order for a relatively small team, hopefully Champion System can bump us up in their production schedule. As it stands today we should recieve everything no later than March 9th, just in time for Hillsboro-Roubaix. The order consisted of 15 different items and nearly 200 individual pieces including 41 jerseys.

We do plan on re-ordering sometime this year, however, it is too early to say for sure when. The good news is that the quantities are actually pretty small on the re-order. There has also been speculation that after the Hillsboro-Roubaix race we may have riders interested in joining the team. The opinion is that we will be presenting such a PRO image, not only through our kit, but also through our ability and our level of organization, that riders will come flocking to us.
In the event this does happen, we have ordered some extra short sleeve jerseys.

If anyone is interested in ordering any additional items or would like to see Champion Sysytem's complete line check out Personally I have my eye on both a long sleeve skinsuit and a cyclocross skinsuit for the fall. Champion's prices are incredible, and their quality is top notch. We certainly will not be disappointed when the shipment shows up in March. Heck if their stuff is good enough for Toyota-United and Jelly Belly, it is certainly good enough for us.

80 Days to Go!

In my opinion the countdown has officially begun. Countdown to what you might ask, Hillsboro-Roubaix 2008 edition. From what I have heard this is the toughest race in Illinois and that gets me excited! A 44 mile course with rolling hills the entire race, pave' sectors, and the possibility for really bad early spring weather, I can't think of a better combination to race in. Not to mention the fact that this will be our first race in full kit, on our new bikes, and the days can't countdown fast enough. We will probably be bringing down at least 6 guys so we should be able to stir things up a little. I say bring on the pave', bring on the hills, and even bring on the rain!


It looks like we may have finalized everything with Spinergy. We still have to decide which wheels we will be using next year but we know for sure we will be getting 8 pairs of wheels. While the Stealth wheels are pretty sweet, I think we will probably go with the Xaero Lites which are a more practical wheelset. Not bad for a few phone calls and a couple of e-mails back and forth. Now we just have to come to a consensus as a team and figure what tires we should all be riding on. I guess that is n't too big of a problem to have though, all things considered.