Friday, April 18, 2014

Review; Voler Black Jersey & Bibs

As mentioned in my ride report for L’Etape du California I wore the new Voler Black kit. This is not the first ride in this kit, nothing new on race day and all that, but it was by far the longest, and given the intensity of the day it was a great opportunity to put it through its paces. The photos in this post were taken not take during L’Etape but on a different ride when I could ride up and down the road getting decent photos.

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Black is bold move by Voler to introduce a premium line that avoids the fanfare of team or sponsorship logos and is targeted against other brands where the cache is the brand/badge/logo of the manufacturers, think Castelli, Hincapie, Santini and the like. It’s a limited line in terms of items of clothing currently only offering bottoms; bibs and shorts, top; undershirts, jerseys, vest and jacket and thermal booties. It combines all the elements found in their proven team kits and serves them up in a highly functional and cosmetically simple but satisfying formula.

The kit itself lives up to its name and is only available in all black or black with red trim. Both have a reflective accents and there is a mix of technical fabrics to ensure maximum breathability, moisture transfer and sun protection (UPF28+) 
The Jersey; there is no doubting the quality of the fabrics when you slip the jersey out of the bag, it’s super soft and amazingly lightweight, if it was any lighter I am sure Newton might roll in his grave as gravity is denied. There is a full length zip (YKK) and a two piece collar, the newer fashion of abandoning a collar might be neat in the Pro peloton but I like a proper collar and it keeps the morning chill off my neck.

At the back you have the customary three pockets and the added benefit from a small zippered pocket, ideal for a Credit card or cash and handy when reaching behind you grab a gel and don’t litter the road with all your valuables. There is some reflective trim on the back too. At the bottom there is a silicon strip to stop the jersey from riding up etc.

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The side panels and the panel at the base of your neck are made from a moisture wicking and heat dispersing fabric, this works very well in letting you cool off.  While the day may start cool this time of year in California we are still seeing temperatures in the 80F range and black may not seem an obvious choice of color for a fabric to wear in the sun but on all three of my rides well over 100 miles in total I had no issues with heat management.

The most noticeable feature on the jersey is in the sleeves, specifically the Power Band which are dotted with tiny gel dots to ensure gripping to your arms. Now while I do not have a shoe lace arms of a Pro cyclist or the muscle laden ones of a body builder this feature was really nice in making sure the sleeves stayed in the right place. They also did a great job of holding onto my arm warmers during the early hours of L’Etape to avoid that 1” gap between jersey and sleeve where all the cold air accumulates! The sleeves are also a little longer than usual but I am tall so that wasn’t a problem. Every seam on the jersey is flat so there is zero chance of chaffing or rubbing!

The jersey is pitched as race fit, at 6’1 and around 175lbs it was the perfect length but it was a bit loose in the body. I am at the lower end of the weight scale (170-190) and the higher end of the height scale (5’10-6’2) and had a size large, so a medium would have been snugger but too tight across my shoulders and too short for sure. I have other Voler jerseys (Hammer and 53X11 Coffee) and they are all large so I think the large was best for me. Without going custom made one this is the curse I have to carry!

The Bibs; if you ask any cyclist bibs vs. shorts you will pretty much find that 99% of people prefer a bib. While they might look unsightly they are a world apart in terms of comfort and the Black bibs reinforced this. Similar to the jersey when you slip these out of the bag you can feel the quality. Silky and soft but with an awful lot of strength inside. Made from compression fabric that just wants to love and hug you these bibs feel super comfortable. The chamois is new chamois for Voler; the Comp Hp. Made by Cytech. This is the description from Voler’s website which does it much better than I can;

The Comp Hp is the evolution of the Multi-D Comp, one of Cytechs most successful pads. This updates version features pre-molded wings and an integrated top for a smooth, seamless look. While the overall dimensions are almost the same, the ultra-high density foam inserts have been enlarged in order to deliver a greater degree of comfort during longer rides while in the road bike position. While keeping the minimalist, flat design of the original pad, the central channel has been slightly modified to provide more relief along the perenial area. A reduced usage of the back liner makes the pad even more lightweight and breathable, allowing greater freedom of movement”.

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Wow well there you go!

Actually what this means is that it’s really comfortable, I mean really, really comfortable, it’s not like sitting on telephone directory (unlike some I have sat on!). It’s very body fitting and it can stretch so it moves with you as you move on the seat or stand up. The different thicknesses of padding is really effective in ensuring you have the right thickness in the right place, it doesn’t bunch or fold! Rated for long rides (6 hours) I can certainly see this being the case as my L’Etape ended after 4:30 and I was heading out for another 90 minute loop without any issue!  Like the Jersey the bibs also have FS (Flat Seams) too…flat what you ask, I’ll let Aaron explain;

What you need to now about FS is that it's a good thing! Similar to the sleeves the bibs have a Leg Power Band in lieu of the usual grippers, I really like this feature as it provides the right amount of support and it doesn’t drag on your legs or give you sausage leg and you don’t get those really nice tram line indents that last the rest of the day! it’s a much more professional and quality look.

Overall I really liked this kit. There is something to be said about the understated less is more look. It’s not always necessary to have the look at me jersey and bibs and to be honest I shy away from replica team kits.

Things I liked;

  • There is no doubting the quality
  • It manages moisture and heat really well
  • The Power Band leg grippers
  • The little zippy pocket on the back
  • The understated look
  • Super comfortable all round and a ride all day chamois
  • Price $129 for the bib, $99 for the jersey which is less that comparable quality products

Things I didn’t like;

  • The jersey sizing is not quite right for me
  • The fabric is textured and could be prone to snagging

Yup that’s it! So in conclusion, if you’re looking for something that is understated and want to add a classy subtle kit to your collection that’s going to turn a few heads for a good reason and don’t want to lay out over $300 for the entire kit then look no further!

Black is made in Grover Beach USA in fact 99% of what Voler make is made in the USA. The name may sound French (it’s pronounced “Vol-lay”), and the style may err on the side of the Mediterranean but the elbow grease that goes into them is good old fashioned USA!

This Product was provided by Voler. See previous gear reviews in the Reviews tab above. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me atquadrathon@gmail.com

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Rules…

It’s even more simple than you’ve been told. 

The Rules

1. Don’t be a dick.

2. Ride whatever the hell you want.

3. No one gives a shit if your bar tape matches your seat.

4. The bike comes first, right behind family and friends and making a living.

5. Riding in bad weather makes you better. But don’t be stupid about it.

6. If you aren’t having fun, stop.

7. Don’t overlap wheels. Just fuckin’ don’t.

8. Don’t be late to a group ride. Be early.

9. If you’re dropped three times, do your own thing. (See Gentlemen’s Ride)

10. If it’s a no-drop ride, don’t drop people. Ass.

11. Support your local bike shop. And bring them food sometimes.

12. If you race more than 3 times a year, you are in Sport division. If you podium twice, move up. If you win, move up. Getting dead last in Expert is better than winning in Sport. Getting DFL in Pro is better than winning in Expert. No one cares if you win. We all have to go to work on Monday. Test yourself.

13. If you get plate number 13, you turn it upside down. You just do.

14. Do not make start line excuses. “I haven’t been riding”, “I’ve was sick last night”, “I’m too hung over”, “My bike is too heavy”, and the like, are all your fault. Just ride, congratulate the winner, and hang out with your pals after. It’s all good, man.

15. Blogs are stupid. Don’t listen to them, and never take them seriously.

Glossary

Coffee Ride: Easy, Pease-y. You ride bikes slow and go to a place to drink coffee. Do not fuck up the coffee part. Jeez.

Gentlemen’s Ride: A group ride consisting of any number of riders. Fast but conversational pace on the flats, with hard efforts on climbs. Strict rolling regroups over the top of climbs. Everyone gets back on the first time, no exceptions. Second climb, rolling regroup. If you are dropped two or three times, do the gentlemanly thing and finish the ride alone. If you’re crushing everyone, do the gentlemanly thing and make sure the bulk of the ride stays together. Most of the group should finish together. Ride leader makes any other decisions.

No-Drop Ride: No one is left behind. Ever. That said, make sure a pace is announced and enforced, and do not get in over your head. If it is no drop at 18mph and you can only do 14, think long and hard about going.

Ice Cream Ride: No spandex. 10-12mph. It ends in ice cream, preferably out of a small,  miniature Detroit Tigers helmet.

Recovery Ride: If someone says they are going on a recovery ride, they are going to try to drop you on every climb. Guaranteed.

Borrowed from here

Sunday, April 13, 2014

L’Etape du California

A week late but that’s always going to happen when you’re trying to blog and get married in the same week, but that’s life! So on with the ride report.

The L’Etape du California this year follows the same final Stage (Stage 8) of this year’s Amgen Tour of California which starts next month and finishes in the title sponsor’s home town of Thousand Oaks. It’s four laps of a local climb and loop known as Rockstore. I have mentioned this before and Becca and I have ridden it several times in preparation. In fact I actually crashed on part of the circuit in January…fun times!

The circuit is basically a 20.5 mile square comprising of a Cat 3 Climb which is 2.5-2.7 miles long depending on where you measure it from/to with Strava and with a Grade that averages out around 6-7%. After the climb you get a short downhill followed by another easier climb for a mile or so and then a tricky technical decent with a maximum drop of 21%. At the bottom you had a flat section but you had to keep concentrating as this is where the bulk of the traffic was as well as the Start/Finish line in a local hotel.

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For me it was all about the climbing and while this wasn’t a race it was going to have a KOM/QOM section on the Rockstore climb for those riders who completed the four loops. Four loops would total at 82 miles and 8800’ of elevation gain it. I came out to watch the Pro’s do the same loop 3 years ago and saw them whiz by on the flat!

The previous day we had picked up our race numbers, very smart fabric ones that would attach to the back of our jerseys and a sticker for our helmet. There was also a nice technical T short in the swag bag, which will double as a recyclable grocery bag in the future. There was a safety brief; open course, traffic signs, aid stations etc and an opportunity to buy the ride jersey and bibs and cotton T shirts etc.

After that we headed home and I set to cleaning up the bikes for the next day. I had planned to just wipe the worst off the bikes and not tinker but I had cleaned up my cassette the week before so after washing off her frame I stripped off Becca’s cassette which was, to be honest, filthy and gave it a good clean and did the same with her chain. After a good wash down with some degreaser and the application of some new lube her bike was ready. I washed mine off and removed the chain to get to all those nooks and crannies that accumulate road crap and while reassembling that’s where I ran into trouble. I couldn’t get the chain to fit cleanly back together, the link was so tight that it wouldn’t bend and subsequently wouldn’t shift cleanly. With my limited knowledge and a quick look on the internet there was no obviously cause so rather than spend a too much time decided to use the chain from my TT bike, I removed it, installed it, checked there gearing and I was good to go. With the intention of getting there early and checking in with the SRAM Mechanics who along with a local bike shop Wins Wheels were providing support for the day. My TT bike was left looking somewhat neglected with now no chain to match the removed cranks. It’s going to need some TLC in the coming weeks to get it back road ready for Vineman. So with that said we were ready for the next day.

We drove out to the start and unloaded our bikes and I headed off to the SRAM mechanics to have them have a look at my not-so-handy-work and double check on the shifting which wasn’t quite as crisp as I would like. Ten minutes later I was set. We rolled over to the start line and waited for the National Anthem. In total there was about 500 riders, the ride had 1500 entries but for whatever reason had only sold a third of its slots. By far the majority of riders were local lycra clad regular riders but there was a smattering of hybrid’s, some fixie’s a handcrank and even a tandem!

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Unceremoniously we started and rolled out. For anyone who has done a mass start like this it’s always a little wobbly; lots of bike and people and nerves make it a bit ginger and this was no different especially as we were navigating our way out of a hotel parking lot with speed bumps and tight turns. Within a mile or two though we were spreading out. For the first 5 miles until we turned off the main road we had Police outriders so that made it easier and we could ride through junctions without stopping.

With much ado we were on the first climb of Rockstore. Becca and I had agreed to meet at the Aid Station at the top, (of the two, one at the top and one at the bottom) this way we could ride up at our own pace. I was keen to ride it hard but was conscious of the fact I had three more loops to follow. I sat in for most of the climb focusing on form and just moving up the hill only standing during the last hairpin.

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It had been a bitterly cold start and I only had arm-warmers on compared to other folks in leg warmers, tights vest etc, I knew it would warm up once the sun was on us and so I enjoyed the work of the first climb and the heat it generated just pulling down my sleeves halfway up. At the top I waited for Becca and chatted to a friend who was working the AS. The second part of the climb went without issue and other than being buzzed by folks on the descent the first loop was in the bag and we started the second.

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This time round I had more of an idea on the climb but I still held back, that was until someone tried to jump on my wheel in the last 500 meters, so I dropped it a gear and pushed hard and there was nothing to push against! I wobbled, unclipped looked down and saw I had snapped my chain!

Without much ado there was nothing I could do so I walked up the last of the hill with the call on “I’ll send someone back” coming from all the folks passing me! I got to the top and pulled out a Belgium waffle that I had in my jersey, stuffed the waffle in my mouth, picked up the chain using the tin foil and coasted to the Aid Station!

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Mike who was working the AS was able to fix my chain but had to shorten it so I could not go Big/Big. This wasn’t going to be a problem really given all the climbing. We left the AS and made our way back down without issue.

It was warm by this point and I was glad of only wearing the arm-warmers as I saw people pulling over and pulling of layer after layer of clothing that was stuffed into pockets and tied around waists (oh the shame)! While stopped at the bottom AS we were lapped by two groups that were setting a blistering pace! The next climb was warm and by this time we were pretty strung out, I worked hard going up and was happy to catch up and ride over someone who had passed my lower down.

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Again at the top we regrouped and rode the descent. We had been umming about the fourth lap and we had agreed to go for it as without it there would be now KOM time. We passed the start line and a mile down the road that was an almighty bang; I had blown my rear tube, not only that I had blown the tire off the rim!

And that was that! We made the sensible decision to bank our luck, it would have been a very nasty blow out 5 or 6 miles earlier while descending and while I am pretty quick at changing tires with the extra time spent walking to the AS and repairing the chain we were a good hour behind schedule!

So discretion was the order of the day and I simply stripped off my shoes and socks and walked back across the Finish Line…I didn’t want to scratch up the pretty Carbon soles!

We parked our bikes and grabbed the pasta lunch that we had bought tickets for enjoying the warm sun.

Once home we were able to look at the time posted on the KOM stage, my three climbs were;

  • 17:18
  • 19:41 (inc walk time)
  • 17:41

So working on the basis that my fourth climb would have been around 18:00 I would have finished with a time in the region of 1:13 (ish) putting me 30/122 AG and 70/510 OA. Of course as I didn’t finish the fourth loop it’s all moot!

With all that said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I will admit there were a few choice words uttered during my mechanical issues! What shone through was the proof of the training. This really proved the quality of the plan and having followed the training plan for the prior 9 weeks mostly on the trainer I was really happy with the results. I felt strong throughout the day and while I was with a mixed bag of abilities on the KOM stage I was only passed by 3 riders in total for the whole day on this stage.

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I also got a chance to put the new Voler Black kit through it’s paces and there is a review of that coming up and wear my new Louis Garneu Coursehelmet which replaces my LG Quartz helmet that I crashed in in January!

I should say a few words about the event itself. Both Becca and I really enjoyed it, it was very well organized. The loop lent itself to making life easy for the riders and while it was not a closed course it was well marked and well supported with plenty of road to ride on I am not sure I would be so happy had they sold out all 1500 slots but once the riders were strung out it was not a problem. The local bike shop that supported the event (Wins Wheels) was great and there was plenty of food provided by Cliff.

All that remains is for the Amgen Tour to come to town next month which we are both looking forward to as we are volunteering for two local stages and will be heading back up Rockstore…only this time with beach chairs to watch the Pros do it!