Category Archives: Equipment

Product Test: C-BEAR Bottom Brackets

As cyclists, we have a tendency to spend a ridiculous amount of time (and money) on making our bikes faster.  Lighter frames, stiffer wheels, improved aerodynamics, taking out weight and maintaining a highly efficient drive-train are all arguably easier than giving up wine, chocolate and pastries right?

As an competitive racer, I do try to stay on top of my weight and body composition (no point being skinny if you are not strong) and in parallel to that, I train hard to improve my strength and fitness – but gains are gains – so I am always looking for ways to make the machine between my legs as quick as it can be.

I was very excited when the brown package covered in all sorts of stamps and marks turned up from Belgium – containing a brand new C-BEAR bottom bracket for my mountain bike.

My S-Works Era is running a 1×11 setup consisting of a SRAM XX1 rear cassette, XX1 rear derailleur, carbon cranks and now a PraxxisWorks 32T chain ringI usually put a new chain on at the first signs of wear and I am absolutely meticulous about making sure the whole setup is clean and lubricated before every big ride or race. A clean bike is a fast bike!

In all honesty, the one aspect I have previously overlooked has been the bottom bracket and bearings. Maybe this is because unless it’s making horrible noises you don’t really acknowledge the existence of your bottom bracket. It also seems to be a bit mysterious, especially for a beginner or someone with only a basic level of mechanical knowledge.

However when you consider the role this important part plays in the transfer of power and overall drivetrain efficiency, it quickly becomes clear that a good bottom bracket is critical. That and bottom bracket creaking can seriously drive you insane!

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Installing the new C-BEAR bottom bracket was straight forward – the boys at Cyclery Northside literally just pressed it in and put the drivechain back together (leaving me bemused with how rotten by old bearings were).  Given C-BEAR makes a wide range of specific bottom bearings (over 70 different combinations), the need to fiddle with adapters to make it fit is greatly reduced.

Once on, the cranks were spinning with practically no resistance.  It didn’t occur to me that my old bottom bracket was bad until I had the new one on – which instantly felt amazing. It is also as quiet as a little church mouse (C-BEAR pride themselves on making a super quiet product), which is more than can be said about my pedals at the moment.

The first big test for the new BB was the Kowalski – a dry and dusty race though 100km of single-track.  C-BEAR not only make products with incredibly low friction, but they have a range of specific mountain bike bottom brackets which give extra protection against water and dirt – which as every mountain bike rider knows, has a way of getting in every small nook and cranny.

Since a flawless performance at the Kowalski, I’ve done a few hundred kilometres in a variety of conditions (including mud, water, sand and dust). I have two mountain bike marathons and a stage race this month, so there are many more opportunities to put it through it’s paces. A long term review is definitely on the cards, although given C-BEAR offer a two year warranty, I have confidence I’ll still be happy in six months time.

So far, I have been incredibly happy with C-BEAR’s product. Apparently so has the Andre Gripel and the Lotto Soudal professional team, who have been using them for years.

If you are looking for high performance bearings for your high performance bike (road, mountain or cyclocross), visit the C-BEAR website. They don’t have an Australian distributor just yet, but it is easy enough to buy online and either install it yourself or like me, get your local shop to do it.

Finding the right bottom bracket for your bike can be bewildering – for Specialized bikes, C-BEAR have created a Quick Reference Guide that makes it simple to identify which one you need. This Chart can also be of help for other brands and models.

Long Term Test: S-Works Era

What is it?
The Era is the twin sister of the Epic – Specialized’s flagship XC racing bike. Designed for women, the key differences on the Era include lower stand over height, shorter wheelbase, shorter top-tube and a suspension set-up better suited to females (or smaller, lighter people).

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Why do I ride one?
In the time Before Era (BE), I was more than happy riding my “dirty white” Camber Elite around the place. The perfect all-rounder, this bike had me on XC podiums one weekend and nailing challenging rock gardens the next.

After watching Annika Langvad ride an unknown Specialized bike in the world marathon championships however, my eyes started to wander. It’s not that what I had was bad in any way (quite the opposite in actual fact), but a little obsession had started. I was stalking the new bike on Google Images, refreshing bike review websites for any newly released information and possibly most perverse of all, I was thinking about this new bike while riding my Camber.

My first ride on the Era was at a Specialized “Test the Best” event at Wylde Mountain Bike Park in Sydney’s west. I was sweltering in the 40 degree heat and feeling pretty fragile after a hard fought criterium race earlier that morning. At this point my new rig was already on order through Specialized but that didn’t stop me immediately jumping on the phone to the team at Cyclery Northside and demanding they do all in their power to expedite it’s arrival. After all, I had jumped on the demo and just taken every “Queen of the Mountain” on practically every segment out there.

Some people will tell you that you can’t buy speed. Obviously, these people didn’t go out and buy an S-Works Era. If I had to describe it in one word, that word would have to be FAST.

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Specifications
The S-Works version of the Era spares no small detail. The FACT 11m carbon frame (in a really bad-ass matte black colour-way) brings together Roval SL 29 carbon wheels, a SRAM XX1 drive train, the inverted RockShox RS-1 front fork (100mm travel),  a Fox rear shock, carbon bars, cranks and a seat post holding the women’s specific Myth saddle. The little details are there too, with a SWAT chain tool top cap and a multi-tool tucked away in the frame (which to be honest I didn’t discover until well after, but now use all the time).

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Like the Epic, the Era includes the automatically locking Brain suspension technology. The shocks remain locked out until a bump from below, which opens the valves to soak up the impact. Most people are used to having an open and a closed setting on their shock – it’s kind of like that, except the shock opens/closes like magic based on the terrain you are riding.

Climbing
You cannot get any faster up a hill. The Era absolutely flies up anything gentle, steep, rocky or loose thanks to it’s racing geometry, weight (mine is a shade over 11kg), stiffness and suspension set-up (thanks Mr Brain).

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Descending
Coming from a Camber to the more aggressive Era, I did find descending was a little bit more challenging. That said, Specialized have done a wonderful job in mixing a steep head-tube angle with control, as it was a lot less terrifying on rocky downhill sections than I expected.  The stiffness of the frame and wheels means that the Era handles like it’s on rails – it feels right at home on sweeping berms and long switchback descents including Stromlo (ACT) and Blue Derby (TAS). At the end of the day, the Era is still a XC race bike and may not be as forgiving as some other models for less experienced riders.

Upgrades
Out of the box, you hardly have to do anything. Over time I’ve swapped out the S-Works stock seat-post for a mini Command Post (dropper post) that gives me about 2 inches of extra clearance (helpful for unfamiliar descents at high speed). Foam grips have replaced the standard grips for my precious little hands. I am also running the tougher Maxxis Ikon tyres with greater side-wall protection on sharp rocky trails.

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Recently I upgraded to a C-BEAR bottom bracket to really supercharge the drivechain – it’s completely silent, deals incredibly well with poor conditions and feels as smooth as melted butter.

2,500 km’s on the Clock
Like most of Specialized’s bikes – the Era hasn’t really missed a beat. They are well built and will last forever if you keep them well maintained.  Over time I have had the suspension serviced twice (preventative rather than responsive), replaced a few bearings and bushes, put on a new chain or two and swapped the front chain-ring a few times (to better deal with hilly verses flat courses).

The only issue of significance I have seen is with the Magura M8 brakes – which after working perfectly for the first 2000km, suddenly needed all sorts of work and lots of bleeds. While Magura’s warranty and service department have been great, I swapped them out for Shimano XT’s given some of the issues I occurred were right in the middle of a heavy racing period.

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Why Buy One?
The S-Works Era is an absolute monster. I haven’t been able to think of a name for mine so I just refer to it as “the Crotch Rocket”. It is seriously fast – but also seriously expensive – still around $11k AUD RRP. That said, there are also Expert and Comp models in the line-up, which come in a lot cheaper.

This is one to test ride if you want to get into XC racing. It’s probably not your first bike (it also might not be your only bike), but it will make you faster. It’s lightweight, nimble and rides like an absolute dream.

I still have my Camber. It does get a little bit jealous, but it knows it’s still my number one if I am challenging myself on seriously technical terrain.  

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Cycling Fashion Fails – Part 1

Looking good on the bike comes naturally to some and not so to others. As cyclists, we are already misunderstood creatures – the general population don’t get why we wear Lycra and our partners probably don’t get why we wear bib-knicks (or like mine, likens you to a little Mexican wrestler). Let’s not make the issue worse by looking like complete clowns. Instead, follow a few simple rules around what you should and should not wear while riding your bike.

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In contrast to some other sports, like football or basketball, team kit is for team riders only. If your name is Simon Gerrans, you can wear an Orica GreenEdge kit. If your name is Richie Porte, you can wear a Sky kit. If you ride for a team, go for it,  otherwise steer clear. This rule also extends to National jerseys – you can only wear the stripes if you earn them.  Sorry to break it to you every Englishman that rides a bike, but you are not actually Bradley Wiggins.

Matching Kit
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At a very minimum, your jersey should be matching your shorts – keeping in mind that most things match plain black. Worst case scenario is mixing team kits (breaking two rules at once) – I have actually witnessed someone mix an light blue Astana jersey with green Cannondale shorts. I was too busy throwing myself under the nearest car to take a photo.

Sockssocks

I have previously written a very in-depth guide to socks, which you can read by clicking here. In summary, a tall sock is ideal and a mid-height sock is a pass mark.  Ankle socks, knee high socks, compression socks and fluffy woollen socks are all frowned upon. Not wearing socks, a common practice by triathletes (strange human beings) is inexcusable.

Jerseys
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One for the banned list.  Your jerseys must ALWAYS have sleeves. They can be short or long (winter only), but your upper arm is always to remain covered. Riding in hot temperatures is not an excuse either – there are plenty of lightweight options available.  I don’t see this very commonly on men, but I do see a lot of female upper arms. Trying to use your tan lines to give the impression of sleeves (as pictured) is only going to end in tears.

Leg Warmers
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I could almost write as much about leg warmers as I did about socks, so I will attempt to summarise. Firstly, knee warmers are preferable to leg warmers, which should only be worn in extreme climates (i.e. riding in a blizzard up the French Alps, or in Canberra in winter). As with all kit, make sure the leg warmers match your shorts (black and black is the safest bet). Unless you are a team rider and are contracted to do so, do not EVER wear bright red, yellow or blue leg warmers. Always ensure the warmer sits under the short and that there is no gap between the two (the skin must never show – keep that gap closed).

Overshoes
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This is really quite simple – don’t wear plastic bags as overshoes.  I have heard of some cultures (the English in particular) placing plastic or tin foil on the inside of shoes, which is acceptable if evidence is never sighted. When looking to prevent wind or rain from infiltrating your shoes, your best bet is to buy some proper overshoes that are going to match your kit. Oversocks are cool too – just keep them clean!

New Bike Day: S-Works Crux 2014

There is no doubt Cyclocross (CX) as a sport is starting to gain some momentum in Australia, with races popping up all over the place, with more and more entrants and spectators across every iteration.

For mountain bikers and road riders alike, there is something appealing in riding through deep mud on relatively skinny tyres, carrying your bike up a steep hill on your shoulder, off camber cornering in the drops, navigating strange obstacles like a small show-jumping horse and having beer thrown on you (OK, maybe it’s just the beer), all while your heart rate red-lines for 45 minutes.

Growth in the sport however is not the only aspect driving growth in CX bike sales – riders are picking up CX bikes for commuting, for a bit more flexibility on and off-road and in many cases, because it’s so damn fashionable (especially if you have a tattoo and/or a beard – I have the former and therefore qualify as a CX Hipster).

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I started riding a Focus Mares AX, which by all accounts, was an excellent bike for the price tag. This bike taught me the fundamentals of CX and helped me to a great result in the State Championships, as well as getting me to and from work on many occasions. As with everything, it came time to upgrade to something a bit better…

I can’t even compare the S-Works Crux with my older CX bike – it would be like trying to compare a Toyota with a Ferrari. Every aspect of the ride has been improved and upgraded – making it an absolute thrill to ride, each and every time.

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The FACT 11r Carbon Frame is light, stiff and responsive, with a geometry that makes it easy to handle (noting that I am a size smaller than what I would be on my road bike) and easy to shoulder when racing.  The matt black finish, combined with the red and white is just mean (and on a practical level, easy to clean). The little detail on the top tube – mud splatter with the logo – is a nice finish.

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The bike comes kitted with a SRAM Red 22 (2×11) groupset – which was probably the most significant upgrade. For those who don’t know SRAM – it uses “DoubleTap” shifting, whereby a short “tap” of the lever changes on to a smaller cog and a longer “push” of the same lever takes you in the other direction. A bit different if you have used Shimano or Campy, but I can’t really say it’s better or worse – just different.

The benefits of the Red 22 groupset are that it’s smooth, quiet, crisp and powerful. You can also shift up to three gears at once – which has helped me out of a few tricky situations with unforeseen steep grassy hills. Mostly though is the Yaw in the front derailleur, which on a simple level means you can cross-chain (big front cog with smallest rear or vice versa) without chain rub – meaning you genuinely have 22 gears.

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The Crux also comes fitted out with SRAM Red Hydraulic Disc Brakes – which offer powerful stopping in all conditions, including knee deep mud (I’ve tested that one).  The brakes deliberately have a large amount of movement at the lever, which eliminates the instant powerful grab which can be unnecessary at times. It hardly takes anything to move the brakes (hydraulics are such a wonderful thing) and the overall experience is very smooth. I did find a little bit of noise in the wet with the Avid rotors, but swapping these out for Shimano rotors seems to correct the issue.

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The Stan’s Ironcross ZTR wheels pictured are my day to day wheels – strong and light alloy wheels with a fantastic hub that have responded well to the battering (some might call it learning) I have given them. I’m running tubeless (no question in my opinion) on Specialized Terra CX tyres, which are more designed for mud than tarmac, but we will see how they go. The bike also comes with some phenomenal Roval Carbon Disc wheels with tubular tyres. An amazing set of wheels I will be saving for races!

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Another cool inclusion on the S-Works model is the Roubaix seatpost – which helps dampen some of the vibration, especially on cobbled or rocky surfaces. It does put the seat position back a little (check your stem to seat end measurement or get a bike fit) but I do appreciate the added comfort and curious looks from other punters. I have kept the Phenom saddle on – it’s light and comfortable enough over 3+ hours, but this is purely a personal thing.

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Finally, the carbon S-Works cranks just add to the finishing touches of the bike. Beware though, although these are tough as nails, my adventures off road on rocky singletrack have put a few scratches on these guys, which lead to me getting the little rubber caps for the ends.

The S-Works Crux is the Ferrari of Cyclocross bikes. Not only does it perform without exception, but it looks the goods. I couldn’t be happier with the upgrade from the Focus, although like I said, it is probably unfair to compare the two I was riding.

If you are looking for a CX bike for either fun, practical riding or racing, have a look at the entire Crux range at your local Specialized Dealer – such as Cyclery Northside.

New Bike Day: Specialized Camber Elite 2015

I have been riding a Specialized Rumor Comp for almost a year now – a full suspension 29er built specifically for women.  This bike has seen me progress from Hopeless Newbie to Marathon Racer, with greatly improved technical skills and trail knowledge.

I have a deep seeded love for the Rumor. While I can’t even begin count how many times I have fallen off it, we have been through so much together, including the lows of a shoulder reconstruction and the highs of winning my first 7 Hour Solo Race.  The Rumor has been an excellent bike to learn my trade on – comfortable, durable and completely at home on single track and technical terrain alike.

Now that I have developed as a rider, it seems like a good time to step up to a carbon frame. The Specialized Camber Elite delivers a great all-round combination of “performance, capability and value” – it is lightweight, stiff and with geometry similar to the Rumor, it is suited well to the technical trails I often ride.

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Photo’s don’t do the “dirty white” coloured frame justice. The combination of white, red and black looks really good. I am amazed at how different the carbon frame feels compared to my alloy one. Obviously a lot lighter and quicker up the climbs and a lot more responsive through tight corners, but the handling on the descent was an unexpected bonus. Flying down the famous Skyline/Luge track at Stromlo MTB Park, this bike felt like it was on rails.

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On the rear the Camber Elite carries a FOX Float CTD Performance Series shock, with three settings for climbing, trail riding and descending.  On the front, a menacing black RockShox Revelation RC with 110mm of travel, ready to take on some rocky, technical A-Lines. The suspension setup gives me a sense of confidence as well as a bit of a fallback if I am fatigued or take the wrong line.

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One of the things I love about this bike is that it comes with the SRAM X1 11 speed group-set. Only one ring on the front means dropping the chain is a thing of the past, yet I felt comfortable with the range the setup gave me (10-42 on the back and 30 on the front) when put to the test over 100km and 2,500 vertical meters of climbing (with a fast section on the crit track to start).

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Another great thing about the Elite is the inclusion of Shimano SLX Hydraulic disc brakes. Without doubt, the best brakes I have ever ridden (I upgraded the brakes on the Rumor to SLX). Not included on the base model are the ENVE carbon bars pictured – they were a sneaky addition post purchase.

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The Camber Elite also comes with Specialized’s integrated dropper post – the Command Post. For me, a dropper post has made a big difference to my confidence and capability descending technical sections on the bike – with the saddle out of the way (press a button and it drops down) I can get my weight back easily. Once I know I can ride a section, I tend to then be able to do it with the seat up.  Having a Command Post on a Specialized bike means no messy cables – it is all done internally.

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Another noticeable difference in my upgrade was wheels – with an improved set of rims and hubs, the Camber rolls faster and is quicker off the mark. Oh and the rims are red and look a bit badass! I am running Ground Control tyres – 29×2.3 on the front (good grip) and 29×2.1 on the rear (quicker).

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the way the bike performed in it’s first big test, which included a mix of technical climbing, switchbacks, rocky sections, sandy sections, camel humps and a massive descent full of sizable berms (Mt Stromlo for those playing at home). Given it’s geometry, it won’t be the fastest bike on long flat firetrail (see the Era or the Epic), but it feels totally at home on technical tracks. It’s a weapon!

 

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My Camber was lovingly built by the team at Cyclery Northside. If you want expert advice or to buy a new bike, don’t look past them.