Sunday, August 24, 2014

WTB All Terrain CX Tire Review


It was a beautiful August morning here in sunny Florida. I took my CX singlespeed onto the Legacy trail in Venice to get in some miles and carve through a few local parks. For some reason my seat was not cooperating, it squeaked and twisted under my weight giving me some early saddle pains. I was not off to a good start. I broke off the trail into some dirt, cutting corners but trying to keep her steady.

My Kenda Small Block Eights were not holding up their side of the bargain. That bargain exists between every rider and the rubber they count on. We put trust into that compound, they must withstand abuse and not let us down when it matters most. 16 miles later my Kenda's failed. Sand spurs, ever the scourge of Florida trails, had brought me to a compete halt.

I was 3.8 miles away from my car in the unforgiving heat with no help and a minor limp from an earlier injury. I pushed my bike back but with a grudge, I had trusted my tires and they let me down. It was not the first incident but it would be the last. Time for an upgrade.


If there are two things I have always preferred, it's a hard casing and a larger width. My soft rubber Kenda 32c failed on the job so my local bike shop Real Bikes Englewood sold me on a pair of WTB All Terrain 37c. I had been researching new tires but this one wasn't even on the radar. A brief check over at MTBR brought up several reviews that focused on the MTB version of the tire. They were mostly on the favorable side but with a few notable drawbacks. I would take all of them into consideration for my own tests.

Switching rubber was easy enough. The WTB's fit on the rim quickly and easily. They were noticeably more sturdy with firm sidewalls. I even liked the larger tubes. My longing for a tougher tire was slowly being satiated.

The next day the dark clouds looming in the distance threatening to shorten what was already going to be a very mellow ride. With my injuries still throbbing I took a 6.5 mile stroll around the neighborhood just to get a feel for the wider rubber. It was plush. Granted there is a 5 centimeter difference between the two but wow! It was like riding a whole different bike. Sidewalk bumps that used to jar my bones would melt away almost as smoothly as if I were riding my mountain bike. Brief stints on hard pack shared that same easy flow.


Another day another ride, once again avoiding the summer storms I took a 14 mile road ride into the community of Rotunda. Shaped like a pie, the roads arc around like large slices of pizza. The slices have very little traffic so they are ideal for biking but no matter what you do, you can't avoid the wind. This was another easy cruise but on my 37c plush rubber it was the gentlest stroll I ever enjoyed there.

During the ride it occurred to me that I can no longer compare the WTB's to the Kendas. They are too dissimilar in size and style. However, earlier this year I spent some time on a Foundry Harrow Cross Race that rolled on Bontrager CXO 38s. Those tires impressed me, mostly off road, where I was unafraid to take on any terrain. The WTB's matched the CXO's in size and feel if not tread. The trails would be the next challenge and it should be a daring one for these tires to distinguish themselves.


Battle of the Beasts!

As the master of unfair comparisons I decided to pit my CX bike against my MTB in a battle of the beasts! Two weeks ago I took my MTB on the local loop for a solid 2 hour excursion using a countdown clock on my watch to time the ride. I hit all of the trails including the secret ones where only I dare. The result was an exhausting 16.5 mile ride that included a bridge crash and a fox sighting.

Putting my CX (With the WTB tires) through that same gauntlet of trails, including some I've never ridden any CX on, gave me a surprising result. The thing is - it wasn't a flawless ride. One half mile section known as The Grind brought me to a heaving halt. In fact I hit the anaerobic wall at least three or four times. Also, there was a higher than usual amount of traffic on the trails. I hit my brakes for runners, people walking their dogs and a mid-sized payloader that was clearing branches. I was sure that the distractions and difficulty would have resulted in less distance covered but I was wrong. In the same 2 hour period I handled all those obstacles, including dismounts/remounts. Plus, I covered just over 18 miles.

The WTB tires performed flawlessly in this battle. Even my seat didn't hold up to the ruckus. It came loose after a boggling remount where I hopscotched four logs. I had to ride back very carefully so as not to loosen it further. When I got home I found that several sand spurs attempted to pierce the hard casing of the tires only to have failed. The rubber crushed most of them leaving no holes at all. That revelation left a big smile on my face.


Additional rides brought up three notes of interest.

1. These tires are directional but they can be ridden backwards. I took them on a 23 mile ride, mostly road, and there was no recognizable difference because they traveled mostly on the smooth center tread.

2. They track well in sand. I hit the deeper sand, the soft stuff that forces you to control your balance and momentum. The tires tracked well, allowing me to stay upright. I never even put a foot down.

3. They hold air very well. My Kenda's needed the air pressure adjusted for EVERY ride! The WTB All Terrain tires can hold pressure for days with little to no adjustment.


The WTB All Terrain 37c tires cost me $31. each at retail. That is a fair price as Cyclocross specific tires usually range a little higher. The big tests will come when I bring this bike to the CX races in the fall and to the Gravel grinders over the winter. In the meantime I will update this article with any relevant information. I'm super happy with the tires so far. They have exceeded my expectations and I look forward to further testing.

Update: I entered the bike into a 10 mile gravel time trial but first I practiced the course a couple times. After 30+ miles of bumpy riding, I was very happy with the results. Being able to manipulate the air pressure I found the perfect balance between speed and plushness. I hammered the race beating my practice time by 8 minutes. It was the fastest TT I have ever completed.

Update: On a training ride a piece of metal stuck into the rear tire causing a flat. It was a pretty vicious tack that might have popped a MTB tire. However, my bike shop threw in a new tube and I went on to complete another hundred miles and a then a CX race so there was no real damage done. Very impressive durability.

Check out the WTB website for all their tire offerings.



Thursday, August 21, 2014

SPEG Ferro Cycling Shorts Review


After a recent case of saddle sores I thought it prudent to grab at least one more pair of padded shorts. In the past I have used shorts from Pearl Izumi, Specialized and Louis Garneau. They have done their jobs admirably but not to my full satisfaction. For this reason I have never before written a review of cycling shorts. They all seemed the same - adequate for the job but also lacking that little extra which would be deserving of praise.

Having said all of that I decided to try something new when I visited the Cycle Clothing Shop in my hometown of Englewood, Florida. I was pleasantly surprised by their prices which made me suspicious of the quality of the apparel. Aren't good shorts supposed to cost a lot of money? Isn't it expensive and difficult to create a high quality product? Or, is that what we are taught to believe?


I was introduced to a variety of SPEG shorts, from intro to pro, from a basic thin pad to the orange cushion in the Ferro design. That orange pad caught my attention not because of the color but rather the touch. Squeeze it with your fingers and you'll be in love. Thick, firmly cushioned with the feel of small inner stitched blocks of padding which avoid the stale spots that create sores or rubbing. I had to try a pair.

Keep in mind that clothes are usually not judged by the same standards as bikes or components. The latter require constant, repeated use over a long period of time in various conditions to find flaws. With clothes, even performance gear, you are either comfortable or uncomfortable right away. It might take a while for a disc brake to squeal but if your shorts don't fit or if they rub you wrong, you'll know immediately.


My first test was a big one. I wore the shorts for a non-stop 18 mile CX ride on my local trails. We're talking about bumpy, sandy paths on a bike with no suspension. This included hard stops, almost constant seat contact except in those moments when I would dismount and remount to jump obstacles in Cyclocross fashion. This was a hard, deeply satisfying ride that pushed me into the red zone more than once. I was dirty from the sand and cooking in the heat.

First impression: Wow! I have been riding/racing mountain bikes for 5 years and I have never once ridden without some saddle pain. There has always been just a little hurting on that most sensitive of contact spots. On this day, on the first ride in these shorts - No Pain! None, zero, nada, zilch! Can you tell how excited I am by this discovery? Can you see why I wanted to write a review? I had gotten so used to saddle pain that I assumed it was unavoidable. I have now learned otherwise.


Here is the list of product details directly from their website.

Description:
* Highly flexible and fast drying 200g Nylon/Lycra® blend.
*High quality sturdy construction with thicker elastic
waistband with added drawstring.
* Super soft-on-the-skin integrated one piece 3D 'CoolMax®'
 SILVER antibacterial pad for both comfort and hygiene in the saddle.
Durable, non-migratory silver based bacteriostatic additive
suppresses generation of odors by inhibiting microbial growth on the fabric.
 Effective for the lifetime of the garment, even after repeated laundering.
* Black flatlocked side panel stitching.
* Discreet raised black logos with great quality rubber feel.
* Pro grade Silicon leg grippers to prevent shorts riding up the legs.
* Suitable for all cycling activities.


I don't know if they possess anything special beyond the quality of the pad. I found the shorts to be comfortable and well fitted. The silicon leg grippers do not budge once they are put in place. The waist is both elastic and provides a drawstring. They also held up well in the wash. Subsequent rides have not shown any diminishing of the pad's effectiveness.

Having said all of this, I left the best surprise for last. As many of my readers know, I am a bargain hunter. Having said that, in the past I have spent up to $80. on big name shorts only to be a little disappointed by the performance. However, I purchased the SPEG Ferro shorts at retail for only $35. plus tax. You can get them on their website for even less - $29.95 with FREE shipping!


I'm not promising any miracles, merely relating my experience. People have different tastes and styles in their gear. These shorts suit my body and my budget. If you are in the market for a good pair of cycling shorts and you happen to live in southwest Florida, stop by the Cycle Clothing shop at the address below. They have a friendly staff, a wide selection of cycling clothes and they also design custom apparel.

The Cycle Clothing Shop
648 N Indiana Ave,Towers Plaza
Englewood, Florida
(941) 474 5600




Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bog Dogs Reach Half a Million Views


Lately I have been trying to practice Amor Fati, a love of fate. The problem is that you never know where fate might lead. I never imagined that one day I'd be a widely followed blogger. It was a job that didn't exist when I was young. Growing up there was no internet so there was no such thing as blogging. Back in the 1980's writers scribbled in isolation and hoped one day to be noticed. Luckily I got noticed very early on.

My journey started at 12 years old when a few of my poems were published in a school poetry book (You can read the story here). I didn't know it back then but that was the start of my writing career. It was a bittersweet beginning because although I liked having a talent, I didn't want to be a writer. I certainly didn't want to be a poet.

The truth is that I wanted to be an athlete. The problem was that I sucked at organized sports. As a kid I played 2 seasons of soccer, 1 season of baseball and 1 season of basketball. In all cases I was the worst player on each team. Outside of sports and far away from school there was one thing I was really good at - exploring. I loved the woods and was always leading adventures with my rag-tag group of friends known as the Hawks Foundation.


That's me in the black beret. I gathered a group of friends and led them on exciting little treks through any dark nook we could find on the south shore of Massachusetts. Growing up in a military family I had a collection of Army gear that we used for practice drills in the woods. While many people had a bible on their bedside, I had the soldiers manual of common tasks. I was a bit of a fanatic.

While we considered ourselves a military preparation group, our parents, others teenagers and the police preferred to call us a gang. Well, there was some truth in that. I had been bullied in elementary school so I studied martial arts and started fighting back. However, the kids I faced in high school were much larger, stronger and more clever. That was why I needed friends and weapons to defend myself.

We got involved in buying guns, ended up in street fights and even committed a few drive-bys. We started carrying weapons in high school, just in case. Conflict in the classrooms reached an apex when I was finally expelled for fighting at the end of my Junior year. At this point the only option left for me was a career in the military.


My leadership abilities were not appreciated in the U.S. Army. Despite coming in 1st place in my physical training test and passing both basic and advanced rifle marksmanship plus an expert score on the grenade course, I was too rebellious for such a rigid chain of command. Worse yet I had no respect for my drill sergeants who were wimps compared to my father.

I had come into basic over-trained and under-disciplined. That was the ruin of me. I returned home and fell into a terrible depression. I had no idea where my life was going. I dived into work and even went to college studying English literature. That didn't last long either. Sitting in a classroom was so boring. Clearly I was a man meant for action but my underlying emotional problems were hampering everything I attempted. This was a problem that would get worse before it got better.

After surviving a few near attempts at suicide the truth came out. At 21 years old, during a fight with my father, I was told that I was adopted and then I was thrown out of the house. It turns out that I had been the family secret, everyone in my enormous family knew the truth. They had been lying to me all those years. This sent me into a tailspin. While it did explain the deep feeling of loneliness that I had experienced my entire life, it was also so astonishing that I didn't know how to react.

In the following years I opened the door to any possibility, letting my creativity run wild. I traveled with a circus troupe out of New York, I filmed and starred in small budget movies and I worked on stage plays. I joined a backyard wrestling federation, boxed in Florida nightclubs and bought my first mountain bike. I even tried my hand at political activism. During this time I worked at over 50 jobs and wrote more than 50 short stories. That was, until I met China Smith.


Let me give you some back story. My adopted father used to box at Brockton's Petronelli's gym back in the 1970s. That gym was famous for producing such stars as Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano and Middleweight Champion Marvin Hagler. My father's love of the sport rubbed off on me. I was reading boxing magazines before I started reading books.

While I fought a few amateur bouts, my love for the sport was more as a spectator and analyst. I educated myself on its history, met some prominent fighters and then decided to get involved in the magazines. At first I merely sent in letters to the editor but my name became well known rather quickly. In fact, Nigel Collins, the editor of Ring Magazine would later call me, "A prolific letter writer." Ten of my letters were published. The first time that a picture of Welterweight Champion Andre Berto appeared in a boxing magazine, he was standing next to me. I had come a long way in short time. This dream of being a boxing magazine writer seemed quite possible.

Enter the Dragon. I met China 'The Dragon' Smith at a nightclub in Sarasota, FL. I had a bout that night and afterwards he made an announcement about his upcoming fight nearby. I went to his fight and was blown away by an electric performance. I sincerely believed that in terms of talent, this guy could be the next Mike Tyson. I got a hold of his manager, convinced him to sign me as a boxing publicist and eventually China got a shot at headlining an event on Showtime Championship Boxing.

Ring Magazine received the article I wrote about China but it would have to wait pending the outcome of his fight on Showtime. Unfortunately he lost that bout in spectacular fashion and he never fully recovered from the loss. Just as quickly my credibility in the sport of boxing was knocked out as well. My dream was laying on the canvas covered in blood.


Whenever progress careens into a ditch, I return to writing. People loved hearing the crazy tales about the things I had attempted. They loved the gang stories about how we risked our lives every weekend as teenagers. This sparked a revelation. Maybe people would pay to read these stories? Many years later while living in Orlando I finally turned my adventures into novels.

I wrote fictionalized versions of my time with China Smith, my backyard wrestling matches, my political escapades and our crazy gang adventures. Then I found a way to get these books published. At that point I assumed that my fate had been fulfilled. I had become a novelist. My books were on the shelves, my face was in the newspapers and reviews appeared in magazines. I was doing booksignings and selling copies on Amazon.com. It all looked to be moving in the right direction.

However, I am a pretty crappy businessman so 5 years and 7 books into this new journey the trickle of sales never grew into a river. The media spotlight faded. During that time I had grown bored of the isolated lifestyle and was frustrated by a lack of interest from the publishing industry. Just as quickly as it had sparked up, the flame extinguished. Fate had eluded me yet again. It was time to move on.


At 35 years old my girlfriend and I were back living with my parents in Massachusetts. I was depressed, overweight and sick. I had no idea what to do next. One day my brother Kevin and I were flipping through coverage of the Beijing Olympics on television when they announced a brand new event - Mountain Biking. We had no idea that that mountain biking was a sport. We started researching it on the internet and found that people of all ages could compete.

It didn't take long before Kevin and I got into riding. Mountain biking brought me back to what I was good at - exploring. Now I had new adventures to write about. However, since the books weren't selling, I decided instead to keep an online journal known more commonly as a blog. On September 12th, 2009 I posted the first few posts. My wife even came up with a catchy title, we would be known as The Bog Dogs.

We hooked up with the local trail group which was part of the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA). Coincidentally one of the ride leaders was a well known mountain bike writer by the name of Bill Boles. I told Bill about my blog and past writing history and he encouraged me to send my work in to the magazines. Click, another door opens.


My blog started with one picture and one paragraph about what happened at a given ride or event. As we met more people we included them in our stories, posting the photos for free on Facebook. It didn't take long to gather a small following. One of my letters and a later article were published in Dirt Rag Magazine. That was followed by 2 articles in NEMBA Singletracks magazine. Had we finally grabbed fate by the handlebars? Not quite.

Massachusetts was expensive and we didn't have a stable place to live. Many of the races were a hundred miles away and even with a sponsorship bike upkeep was pricey. The blog didn't earn me any money so we simply couldn't afford to maintain an active racing schedule or even live in the state. We missed Florida so it was time to return home.

In late 2010 my wife and I moved back to the sunshine state where we traded down for smaller tires by taking up the sport of  BMX Racing. It was here that the Bog Dogs Race Report grew from a personal journal into a news and event website. We volunteered at the local track, raced in the state series and joined teams. In less than a year we were interviewing competitors, promoting races, producing highlight videos and taking thousands of photos.



The Bog Dogs Race Report was getting 2,500 views a month while covering BMX news from all over the State of Florida. We had picked up advertisers from within the sport and readers from around the world. We got the attention of the NBL, the ABA and I was even nominated to the board of the Sunshine State Association (I didn't accept the nomination). The website had become the most successful venture I had ever created.

In terms of racing we weren't doing too bad either. I had won my class in the 2011 SSA State Championship race and Terri won her class overall in the 2012 SSA Series. Together we competed in more than 100 races at nearly every track Florida. Our collection of trophies fills a room in our house.

My wife and I were neck deep in the sport of BMX racing. In addition to reporting news, making videos and running the website I also ran websites for other BMX tracks in the area. A year and a half into this endeavor the income had started to look promising. For once we were in the black, taking in enough money so that the website paid for itself. I finally had a rope around fate and it was not getting away... well, that's what I thought anyway. I'd been wrong before.


Returning home from a weekend race in Orlando, I learned that the company I was working for had gone out of business. With my day job gone I decided to devote all of my time to the website and perhaps even expand it. I created a Kickstarter account and proposed to raise money for a BMX video webseries. The plan was that the money would get the show started and added advertising would keep it going.

We successfully raised $2,400. and used it to fuel six months worth of video and website news. While people had rallied to get the project moving, we had exhausted all possible avenues. BMX racing is a niche sport that is made up mostly of kids. Our video numbers were dismal, our financiers were tapped out. Instead of picking up new advertisers, our old advertisers were running out of money, some were going out of business. After covering the first major race of 2013, we were broke. It was over.


The Race Report had become a sinking ship. The sport had gone through some dramatic changes during our time and the new rules did not favor our inclusion. The newly formed USA BMX racing company was publishing national news, rider profiles and track pages into one all encompassing website. The SSA started a new website of its own that reported the state news. In no time flat, we had become obsolete.

When the going gets tough, the tough go running. We slowly let go of our ties to BMX and instead my wife and I took up running and returned to mountain biking. Using a new blog called Bog Dogs Secret Stash, we cataloged our 5k races and mountain bike rides. Working with the Sarasota County Off Road Riders and Zoomers Running Club we were simply doing what we are good at, she took pictures while I wrote stories. Some of the articles were later published in the Zoomers 'Finish Line' newsletter.


Over the last two years we have built up a whole new audience which has doubled the readership that we had at the Race Report. The Bog Dogs Secret Stash attracts 5,000 views per month. Between the two sites we have finally reached 500,000 views. Granted it only brings in a trickle of money through Google Ads but this site and all of its stories are a labor of love. We don't plan out our adventures, we simply go where the wind takes us.

So, I never became a great athlete or a great novelist but I have become a popular and respected blogger. I also know that this is not the end of the journey, who knows where we'll go next? Ok, I do know where we are going next, I'll give you a hint - the sports initials are CX.

Regardless of direction, every day I try to remember that timeless phrase Amor Fati in an attempt to appreciate who I am and what we have accomplished. Perhaps it can be best summed up by the Amy Steinberg song "Exactly" which sings, "I am exactly where I need to be."


Note: While 500,000 might not sound like a big number, it is what's called a 'hard number.' We don't use advertising, cookies, pop-ups or any other nonsense that provides some websites with false clicks. Our readers find us through Google, Facebook, Reddit or links on mountain bike, BMX and running websites that are posted by enthusiasts. The average visitor represents 5 to 10 views thus giving us a readership of more than 50,000 people over 5 years.