Product Notes

With D2R2 behind me, I thought I’d share some notes on various products I’ve acquired since the spring. Dee Two is about the roughest thing I can put myself and my equipment through, and if this stuff held up against the dirt roads of Deerfield it can stand up to any abuse.

Assos T.FI.Mille Bibs

I have no idea how they name their products, but they work. I’ve been wearing these bibs, which are marketed as long distance bibs, since the the late spring. I bought the first pair because I wanted to see what the hype is about. I’ve been wearing Pearl Izumi bibs, but I needed another set for the rotation and the Pearls were starting to show some wear after a year of heavy use.

To be honest, trying the first pair on at home scared the crap out of me. I’d bought them at a shop that welcomed me to return them if they didn’t fit; however, more than a month had passed between the time I purchased them and got around to putting them on. Pulling them on for the first time was horrifying because they felt so tight and unusual (not uncomfortable) compared to the PI bibs.  I thought the straps were too short and the legs ungodly snug-fitting.

Then I went for a ride. It turns out that the Assos marketing information and product use instructions are worth reading, at least when it comes to their bibs. You might notice on their website that many of the models are hunched over. That’s because the bibs are designed for riding position, not standing around. Once I rode in the bibs, everything was right in the world; the straps were not too tight and the legs were comfy. The chamois is better than the PI product, but pads are so subjective it’s impossible to explain how and why. Suffice it to say that I’ve been on many long rides and haven’t had any issues in the nether regions.

I’m no textile expert, but the Assos bibs seem to have superior construction to any other bib I’ve owned. No frayed stitching, seams are perfect, everything is just right. There is an abundance of labeling and little reflective tabs on the garment. I’m not sure why they felt compelled to put tags in areas that no one can see, but they do not impact the wear-ability of the bibs. I got through Dee Two without thinking about my shorts. ‘Nuff said.

They are expensive, though. There’s no denying that nearly $300 is more than  most sane people are willing to spend on sports attire. Here is how I rationalize it: I ride my bike a lot and deserve to be comfortable. $300 is a small price to pay to avoid a saddle sore, particularly when the garment is so well made I expect to get several years use out of it. My PI bibs are already having issues after 1.5 seasons, so why not try something better. I bought a second pair of FI.Milles two weeks ago, so now I have the PI bibs for “beater” use and the Assos for longer rides.

Schwalbe Ultremo 28c Tires

I bought these specifically for D2R2 based on recommendations from members on the VSalon. I wanted something fatter than the 25c tires that came on my Seven, but not as fat as my 32c Grand Bois. Next year I’ll roll the 32s, but that’s another story.

I’ve had other Schwalbe tires; in particular, the Marathon touring tires. They make fine tires and the Ultremos are no exception. They mount up easily, look nice and roll smoothly. I didn’t hear a peep from them on D2R2. They handled all the little-and big- rocks without complaint, and kept me upright in high speed descents on the dirt.

Shimano Di2

I am generalizing this into Di2 and not Dura Ace vs. Ultegra Di2 because I think they are probably comparable in terms of performance. I’ve been riding the Dura Ace version since receiving my Seven in July. I chose the DA over the Ultegra because my last bike purchase was a decade ago, so I decided I should splurge for top-of-the-line in terms of drivetrain. I’m glad I did, but most of the commentary on the interwebs suggests the two models perform similarly.

The Di2 shifts faster and more precisely than I can. Maybe that makes me an awful cyclist, but it is so much easier to tap a button and watch the chain fly onto the big chain ring than to do it manually. It’s also nice to tap a button and dump a bunch of gears all at once. And it is especially nice to tap two buttons and shift both front and rear at the same time and not have to think about the process.

I found the last feature particularly helpful this weekend. For example, when approaching a climb I tapped to shift into the small front ring and a smaller cog in the rear, something I did not ordinarily do on my Co Motion because it would grind and protest. The electronic servos in the Di2 are so precise, there is no issue with shifting front and rear at the same time, or using front -rear combinations that would cause grinding or chain drops in a mechanical system.  The system is so quiet you do not know it is there; in fact, you might not be sure you even shifted.

Some people worry about durability, but I cannot see that being a significant concern unless you drop or crash the bike directly against the derailleur. In that case, I think you’d be screwed even with a mechanical group. 

I wouldn’t buy another bike without Di2, with the unlikely exception if I were going to ride around the world and be in places with absolutely no chance of product repair or support. It’s probably the coolest bike “thing” I’ve ever purchased.

Where Not To Buy

I purchase all my gear with my own money and credit cards. So this isn’t a plug for a retailer; rather,  it’s a plug for brick and mortar shops in general.

I like nice things. Nice things are often expensive. I’d rather save some money on the nice things than waste it because a retailer has an unrealistic expectation of what the market is willing to pay. As such, I frequently shop online to save some money. 

Now let it be clear from the start that I would never, ever go to a local shop, try on clothes or test ride a piece of gear and then buy from a dot-com site. If I try on clothes and they fit, I buy them. If they don’t fit, I leave. I don’t use brick and mortar shops to “try out” items I subsequently buy online. By the same token, if I go to a shop and the price tag is wildly inflated, I’ll walk out and buy online.

Case in point: I was at a LBS looking for items for my kids. The shop had the Schwalbe tires mentioned above on the rack for $74.99 each. That seemed steep so I went home and poked around online. I found the same tires at Chain Reaction Cycles (CRC) for about $47 US each. Chain Reaction is in England and wouldn’t have been my first choice to purchase from but my usual US sources were out-of-stock. I posted some questions on a message board inquiring about CRC and got mostly positive responses so I placed an order.

I should note that a few people on the message board took me to task for saving money at the expense of local shop owners. 

My CRC order included free shipping. The items arrived super fast. As in two days later from England! I can’t get my mail from the next town over that quickly, so I have to hand it to CRC’s shipping department. My package, however, arrived damaged. The outer carton was ripped open to the point the contents could have fallen out. That’s DHL’s fault, not CRC’s. I called CRC to inform them of the mishap and they gave me a credit of about $38.

Just before leaving for D2R2, the DHL bill arrived. I thought, “WTF! why am I getting a shipping bill for a box that arrived nearly destroyed?” It turns out the bill is not for shipping but for customs duties in the amount of $38. So whatever money I may have saved on the tires by purchasing online (and from another country, no less) I gave right back to some customs agency.

As such, I wouldn’t suggest trying to save money by purchasing from foreign internet sites. Even though I was under the impression that there would be no customs duties, and the box arrived damaged, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to avoid the “hidden” customs fee. For the amount of time and aggravation this transaction has caused, it would have been worth it to buy the items locally.

That’s it, review is over. Get out and ride.


About robertkerner

Educator, registered nurse, attorney, inquisitive mind
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