Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of things.

Mitch Docker and his Life in the Peloton

Mitch Docker has become a bit of a cult hero of mine, and he’s recently launched his own podcast, Life in the Peloton.

The Orica-GreenEdge rouleur has built up a bit of a profile through the OGE Backstage Pass, where he’s always a smiling presence on the team bus, but his own podcast featuring long, open interviews with teammates and others shows there’s a lot more depth to him.

Docker was in the break at Road Nats 2016, but was called back to help his teammates chase Jack Bobridge.
Docker was in the break at Road Nats 2016, but was called back to help his teammates chase Jack Bobridge. Here he is rolling along waiting for his team to catch up.

Docker lets his guests tell their stories, but has a natural flair for asking the right questions to keep the discussion moving along, perhaps the result of many hours spent travelling and staying in hotels with his fellow riders, combined with his natural curiosity about people and their motivations.

He comes across as a laid-back raconteur, with an emotional intelligence that is rarely displayed in public by elite athletes (Australians, at least). He teases out some revealing personal insights – the episode with Scott McGrory describing his path to Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 is quite incredible; and Alex Edmondson’s honest telling of the bullying he copped from older riders – he names one in particular – when he joined the national track endurance squad is another story you won’t see in a press release.

The overall impression is one of a real team man who just loves cycling, loves to chat about cycling, and loves being around people who cycle.

Nek minnit, drilling it on the front of the chase.
Drilling it on the front of the chase.

Docker suffered a pretty serious crash at his favourite race, Paris-Roubaix, where he bit the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest pretty hard. Here’s hoping he’s back on the bike and behind the mic soon. In the meantime, check out his work so far through his site or the usual podcast places.

Recommended for casual and serious cycling fans alike.

The Turbine: review

I reviewed the Turbine, an Australian-invented gadget that goes up your nose and claims to increase airflow and improve performance, for Techly. Click through to read the full catastrophe. WARNING: gratuitous snot references abound.

The Turbine makes pretty big claims about improved airflow, and celebrity endorsement from the likes of Tour de France champion Chris Froome, but Techly isn’t convinced that the fairly messy trade-offs are worth the marginal gains.

Read the full review at Techly.

Update: The crew at Rhinomed have contacted me with a research paper showing that during high intensity exercise, nasal breathing accounts for ~27% of all air intake. If we take Rhinomed’s claim that the Turbine can increase nasal airflow by ‘up to’ 38% at face value (and I will) then we’re looking at an increase in your overall airflow of ‘up to’ 10%.

That’s all well and good, but I’m still skeptical that it would result in much of a performance increase given that we still haven’t accounted for cardiac output, haematocrit, and peripheral factors (getting oxygen from the circulatory system into the muscle cells) further down the chain. There’s a reasonably clear summary here, but to summarise further, “some researchers have concluded that 70-85% of the limitation in VO2max can be attributed to maximal cardiac output“.

In other words, even if you can get a 10% boost in overall airflow, your aerobic capacity is probably being held back by your heart’s ability to pump enough blood, and your blood’s ability to absorb and transport oxygen. Getting 10% more air into your lungs is meaningless if your red blood cells are already saturated with oxygen and your heart can’t pump blood any faster.

And that’s before we get into efficiency and lactate threshold.

Hutchinson Atom tubeless tyre review

Comfortable, subjectively fast and grippy in the dry, but badly let down by poor wet-weather grip.

I’ve been riding road tubeless tyres for the last few months, and it’s time for a review.

First, a clarification: ‘tubeless’ refers to a system popular with mountain bikers, where the tyres attach to the rim with a bead, similar to a clincher, but without a tube inside. This is as much a review of tubeless road tyres as a concept than the Atom tyre specifically.

The supposed benefits include greater reliability, better road feel and comfort, and more grip, because you can run them at lower pressures without increasing rolling resistance, and there’s no chance of pinch flats.

They require specially designed rims that don’t let air out, or standard clinchers that have been converted using a ‘tubeless conversion kit’.

So, what happens when you get a puncture? Well, tyre manufacturers recommend you use a liquid latex sealant inside the tyre, which is forced out through puncture holes and seals them up.

Tubeless is popular with mountain bikers, where the ability to run lower tyre pressures is a huge advantage, and the whole system seems mature, but tubeless road tyres have struggled to gain much traction (haha – sorry) in the market, and only a few tyre manufacturers have released tubeless road tyres. Hutchinson was one of the first.

As it happens, my Shimano Ultegra wheelset is tubeless compatible. After riding them with standard clinchers for a couple of years, I decided to see what this tubeless malarkey is all about.

I chose Hutchinson’s Atom tyres, which are the lightest of Hutchinson’s tubeless models, because until I can afford a better set, I race on these wheels.

Installation

Installing the tyres is a similar process to installing clinchers. You need a special set of valves, which sit inside the rim with a rubber bung (because there isn’t a tube). The bead is tighter and stiffer than most clinchers (it needs to be, to create an airtight seal) but a bit of patience, finesse, swearing and brute force and we were away.

The difficult part is getting the tyre bead to sit properly on the rim before you start inflating them, otherwise the air just rushes out everywhere and the tyre never inflates.

After mucking around with my floor pump for half an hour and getting nowhere, a trip to my local Discount Mega Hardware Chain Warehouse to buy a cheap air compressor sorted it.

The air compressor “blasts” the tyre bead into place. You’ll know it’s sealed when the tyre makes a loud CRACK.

At first, I tried the tyres without sealant, to see how well they would hold air. The rear wheel was great, I probably lost about 10psi every few days. The front was losing air much faster, so I decided to add some liquid sealant.

I’ll come back to the sealant later.

All in all the first installation was relatively painless apart from the need to use an air compressor.

The ride

The Atoms are pretty slick, narrow, and seem to roll quickly.  The current vogue for wider 25mm tyres has been ignored – if anything the Atoms come in narrower than 23mm.

I started out running them at 90psi, as recommended for my weight (just over 70kg) compared to my usual 120psi for clinchers. There’s definitely less road vibration, but they certainly don’t feel sluggish. However, I felt the tyres felt a little too squishy under hard cornering, so I added 10PSI and I’m happier with the ride.

In dry conditions, the Atoms feel great – grip is plentiful and predictable. I feel confident throwing them into hard corners and fast descents. I wasn’t super keen on their narrow profile, but I’ve raced criteriums on them and pedalled through corners at 45km/h without a second thought, so I’ve accepted that.

They’re also comfortable, and feel (and this is purely a subjective judgement) fast. During races and training rides I’ve found myself rolling downhill faster than heavier riders with more aero wheelsets, which never happened with my old Rubino Pros.

In the wet though, they are awful. Even at relatively slow speeds, I have trouble feeling where the ‘let-go’ point is, which really doesn’t inspire confidence. I even pulled out of one (very wet) criterium because I felt so unsafe when cornering. I’ve tried them at different pressures, but every time I ride them in the rain I feel like a giraffe walking on marbles.

Strictly for good weather, then.

Punctures

As it happens, one of my regular training loops is along Yarra Boulevard, a few kilometres NE of Melbourne’s CBD. It’s a quiet road with rolling hills and plenty of space for bikes and the occasional car, and extremely popular for Melbourne’s cyclists.

Unfortunately, over the last few months there’s been a lot of sabotage along the Boulevard. Someone has been throwing hundreds of carpet tacks on the road, causing lots of punctures.

A few months ago I was the victim of one of these tacks in my front tyre.

The tack was in my tyre for a couple of kilometres before I stopped to see what was making a noise, but there was no significant loss of pressure until I pulled it out. I see that as another advantage compared to standard clinchers with tubes, which usually deflate very quickly when pierced.

So, what do you do when you get a puncture, if there’s no tube to replace?

The short answer is: use liquid sealant in the tyre, and hope the puncture repairs itself.

As I removed the offending spiky bastard from my tyre, I could see the huge hole it had caused and air leaking out. The sealant did nothing.

Thinking quickly, I rotated the wheel so the hole was facing downwards, so the liquid sealant would be covering the hole. Voila! Some latex squirted out, but the hole was soon blocked and the hole sealed. I lost some pressure, but not enough to hurt my ride.

I managed to ride 20km home without so much as a second glance, and a large tack is about as extreme a test as a road tyre is expected to cope with, so I was pretty pleased with this experiment.

However, over the following days the tyre continued to leak air slowly. I suspect the slow leak was because I hadn’t added enough sealant, and this turned out to be true.

About sealant

At first, using the tyres without sealant, I had noticed slow leaks from the tyres (probably from around the bead). Over a couple of days the tyre would lose about 30-40PSI. Between this and my puncture experience, I’m convinced that sealant is a must when using tubeless tyres.

Installing sealant can be a messy business. The instructions on my tyres suggested adding it by pushing aside the tyre’s bead and just pouring sealant into the tyre.

My attempts to do this only resulted in pouring liquid latex all over the floor, all over myself, and almost none in the tyre where it was aimed.

A much easier option is to use a large syringe and inject the sealant through the valves. Valves with removable cores are ideal for this – I invested in some from Effetto Mariposa (the company also makes a popular sealant). This made the whole process of adding sealant a lot quicker and less messy.

So, if you’re going tubeless, factor in the cost of sealant and some added equipment to install it.

The conclusion

I’m reasonably sold on the concept of tubeless tyres, as I think the efficiency and puncture resistance are great, but there are caveats. If you get a puncture that is too much for sealant to fix, you can install a tube, but this will be messy because of the sealant.

There’s also some maintenance required to keep the sealant topped up.

Then there’s the racing. Until I can justify a set of race wheels, these are my training and racing tools. Switching tyres is harder with the much tighter bead and sealant sloshing around, and that might be a problem.

As for the Hutchinson Atom specifically, I’m not able to fully recommend them. In dry weather, they’re comfortable, grippy and fast. But the wet weather handling problems are an absolute liability. I’m going back to something a bit wider and with a better compound for wet weather. Whether that’s another tubeless option, or tried and tested clincher, I haven’t yet decided.

If you’re interested in trying tubeless tyres and have compatible wheels, by all means give it a go, but I would suggest buying a different tyre. The Atom has too many flaws to recommend it.

 

Onipax M8 review

A functional foldie with decent specifications for the asking price, but not without its quirks and foibles. It’s no Brompton, but it’s 80% of the way there for 15% of the cost.

I’ve gone and done something which will forever undermine my bike cred. It marks me out as a hubbard – nay, as King of the Hubbards – and I may be stripped of my carbon fibre license. Pass me the corduroy trousers, I’ve bought a folding bike.

King of the Hubbards!
King of the Hubbards!

To be honest, it’s not the first time. I once owned a black Brompton S2L, when I lived in London. It was stolen in broad daylight from one of London’s busiest shopping districts, by a very well organised thief.  I was so angry.

Bromptons are great bikes. They’re beautifully engineered, fold up very compact, and ride quite well once you get used to their tiny wheels. They’re also not cheap, especially not in Australia. There’s a bike shop in Melbourne selling Brompton S2 models for more than $2K.

There are loads of other high-end foldies aimed at touring, performance, even off-roading. Companies like Bike Friday, Airnimal, Moulton and many others have their own cult followings. They all cost far, far more than I could afford to spend on a bike that exists only to dawdle a few k’s at each end of a train commute, a couple of days a week.

When I can, I ride all the way to work. But some days it’s just not practical, and I’ve found that taking a normal bike on a crowded peak hour train is a great way to learn a few new swear words. I needed something cheap that wouldn’t block the train doors. Not just ‘reasonably priced’, I’m talking ‘you could blow more on a night out and not even call it a proper bender’ territory.

Given that pretty much any foldie is the bike credibility equivalent of wearing sandals and socks, I’ll be damned if I’m buying fancy sandals.

So, cheap folding bikes. You’ve got your Dahons, and your Dahon clones. Aldi does one for $149, but it’s heavy and, well, I don’t trust a bike from a budget supermarket. There are Polygons from Indonesia. There are Terns, which are the illegitimate son of Dahon. There are rebadged OEM models of unknown provenance. There are Chinese ones on Alibaba and eBay.

I bought an Onipax, from Taiwan (via a local online shop). It was heavily on sale – I got it for $249 (plus shipping) down from a stated RRP of $699.

It’s the M8 model, in the middle of the range. It’s got a 6061 Aluminium frame, Shimano Alivio 8-speed rear derailleur (no front), Tektro V-brakes and levers. These are brand-name parts, which means the spec level is better than any other folder I saw at a similar (entry level) price, and we all know the Taiwanese build a ridiculous percentage of the world’s bikes. They generally know what they’re doing.

From the right angle, in the right light... yeah.... nah.
From the right angle, in the right light… yeah…. nah.

Onipax has a couple of higher-end models, including an 18-speed model with Tiagra. Even though the racier models are prettier, I thought that was overkill (hey, a bike with 20″ wheels is never going to handle like a standard bike no matter how much you spend) and opted for the M8, which lacks a front derailleur (less to maintain and less cables to interfere with the folding).

The most important piece though is the frame. Fortunately, the Onipax frame is solid, the welds are massive and it seems almost overbuilt. DSCF6934

Out of the box, there was a fair bit of assembly required. The derailleur seemed to have been bolted on without any adjustment. Only 5 of the 8 gears were accessible, until I had a major fiddle with the limit screws. Likewise, the brakes were poorly adjusted (in fact the arrangement of the front brake cable was such that the ‘noodle’ holding the cable onto the v-brake caliper kept popping out, leaving me with no front brake – that’s downright dangerous). The (huge, padded) saddle was loose. The headset needed tightening to eliminate a small amount of ‘play’.

Most of this is pretty minor stuff to fix, but if I wasn’t handy with bike tools, I would have been in trouble. As it arrived, the bike was not really in a state where it could be safely or enjoyably ridden. Really, the retailer should have sorted this stuff out. Keep that in mind if you’ve never assembled a bike and are ordering one of these online. If you’re not an experienced bike mechanic, factor in the cost of a trip to your LBS for a once-over.

Shimano Alivio is reasonable at this price point.
Shimano Alivio is reasonable at this price point, and the 8-speed cassette gives a good range of ratios for most urban riding.

Alivio trigger shifter isn't super crisp, but it does the job. The Alivio trigger shifter isn’t super crisp, but it does the job. The ride

You don’t buy a cheap folding bike for the ride, you buy it for convenience. It’s utility first, second and third.

Beefy welds are reassuring.
Beefy welds are reassuring.

That said, you don’t want it to ride like a pig. Folders tend to have a weird upright riding position, and small wheels  can give them twitchy handling.

The Onipax feels more stable than my Brompton (its wheels are a few inches taller) and it corners about as well as could be expected given the inherent limitations of small wheels and a frame with several joins. I can’t carve it through the office carpark like Nibali coming off the Poggio, but it’s actually pretty good.

That stiff frame helps. There is a slight flex from the extendable handlebar column (you might call it the stem), which is also too tall – it’s a real ‘sit and beg’ position – especially considering I’m above average height at 180cm. For a shorter rider, this would be like riding a chopper. I’d prefer a shorter, one-piece stem for stiffness and a more normal riding position, which would improve the handling.

There are some aftermarket stems available for other folding bike brands – the Onipax uses a threaded 1 1/8″ (28.6mm) fork which seems fairly common – something I plan to investigate.

To be fair, even Bromptons have a little bit of flex through the handlebars (it’s an inherent problem with having a long stem and a hinge) so I can’t be too critical.

Going uphill it’s not so good. On a road bike my preferred method of climbing is ‘out of the saddle and full gas’. On a bike with the geometry and small wheels of the Onipax, you can’t easily get out of the saddle. Worse, the high and slightly flexy stem means you can’t really pull hard on the bars. It’s a sit and spin deal, I’m afraid.

The 8 speed cassette has a wide enough range to get up most gradients, it’s just a bit slower than I’m used to. Overall, I definitely wouldn’t want to do Around The Bay on this, but for short urban (or suburban) hops, it’s functional enough.

That’s the key word: ‘functional’.

The fold

It’s your standard 3-place fold: mid-frame; stem; seatpost. The folding mechanism isn’t that smart, but it works well enough to squeeze in next to the doors on the train and stay out of the way of caffeine-deprived suits on their way to file TPS reports.

Yes, it folds.
There’s a little alloy stand under there to keep the chainring off the ground.

2014_1003_13031100 The stem also extends via quick-release, but even at its lowest it’s far too high for me, so I have no idea why anyone would want to extend it. It also has some plastic folding pedals, which are terrible. They will definitely need replacing. The main folding mechanism is a quick release with a safety catch. It’s effective, but a bit fiddly, which I suppose is vastly preferable to having it fly open unexpectedly.

The main frame fold is pretty solid, but the quick release is slightly fiddly.
The main frame fold is pretty solid, but the quick release is slightly fiddly.

There are no magnets or catches to keep it from unfolding, as far as I can tell. I’ve been using a leather strap from an old set of toe-clips to hold it together while carrying it on and off the train. I can fold/unfold it in under 20 seconds, and it’s light enough to easily lift and carry short distances. The looks There’s no getting around it, it’s pretty ugly.

In fact, this is easily the ugliest bike I have owned.

The weird mix of oversized round tubes, chunky welds, brace pieces, and the box-section chainstays doesn’t really add up to anything good.

DSCF6929
Those handlebars are just too high.

DSCF6862 However, at least the paint job is pretty good, the chromed hubs are handsome enough, and the geometry looks vaguely purposeful, for a folder. The slightly forward-sloping main tube hints at a normal bike.

It definitely won’t win any beauty contests, but then you wouldn’t buy a foldie because you want it to look sexy.

The wrap

The Onipax M8 seems well built, has good components for the money, and rides well enough for a folding bike. There are prettier, lighter folding bikes, and some of them fold up smaller, but they are more expensive.

Some assembly might be required, but most of the M8’s weaknesses are shared by other bikes in its class, so if you need a folding bike and can find an M8 on sale, this is a realistic option.

Time will tell if the hinges last, but my early impressions are favourable. Just don’t blame me if you buy one and everyone thinks you’re a total hubbard.

Fly6 camera review – Techly.com.au

Fly6 review-1

The Fly6 is a video camera for cyclists, integrated into an LED tail-light.

I reviewed the Fly6 camera for Techly.

If you’re interested in the camera and want to see more sample footage and a comparison with the JVC Adixxion camera mentioned in the review, click through to YouTube where you can watch extended video clips in higher resolution.

Notes: Fly6 supplied a pre-sale prototype for evaluation, although apparently it’s not too far off the final hardware.

The good

  • A really good idea to combine a tail-light and camera
  • Pricing is aggressive
  • Easy to fit
  • Versatile mounting kit makes it easy to switch between bikes
  • Standard USB cable, MicroSD card and video codec
  • Easy to charge and use with no hassles

 The bad

  • Video quality could really be better
  • Lacks image stabilisation
  • Setting time and date is a pain
  • No good if you use a saddle bag