• A Look Into the Life of a Collegiate Cyclist

    My thoughts on cycling and life, racing experiences, training, training tips, and various cycling product reviews!
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Review: Specialized Romin Pro Saddle

One major component of being successful at cycling often boils down to being able to withstand a lot of pain, for a long time. In the moment, this pain may seem like it will last FOREVER, and its hard to get that thought out of your mind. Lance Armstrong once said “pain is only temporary, but quitting lasts forever,” which might be my single most favorite quote.

If there’s one kind of pain that I simply can’t handle on the bike, it’s the pain that comes directly from the saddle or the “nether regions.” Since I began racing, I’ve been on the search for the “perfect” saddle, but have never come close to this goal. With the Specialized Toupè I came very close, but it just doesn’t do it for me on those longer rides. Putting it all out on the table, I have a serious issue with numbness on the bike, which is extremely uncomfortable. With this, choosing the right saddle is more crucial to me than any other equipment I may own. An uncomfortable saddle leads not only to numbness, saddle sores, etc., but also to not riding to ones full potential. If you’re focused on how uncomfortable you are, you simply can’t be giving your maximal effort on the bike.

While building up my new racing bike, I can finally say that I have found the PERFECT saddle for myself. One of their newest racing saddles, the Specialized Romin is quite different from their Toupè model. The first thing that you notice on this saddle is the enormous cutout that actually extends for the entire length of the saddle! Second is the upward sweep in the back, compared to the board flat look of most racing saddles. I was somewhat skeptical at first coming from a flatter saddle, but after my first long ride I knew that the Romin was for me. Even after a good five hours on the bike, I had not experienced one bit of numbness. Some complain that the saddle is more firm than most, but I did not notice this at all and was 100% comfortable the entire time. For the first time in my riding career I can go for a ride without having to think about what I’m sitting on.

Where I find the saddle really shines is while climbing and riding in the drops. Because of how the cutout extends for the whole length of the saddle, there is no going numb while in the drops for me which was usually when it happened most frequently. The sweep in the back enables me to get a little bit more leverage while climbing because I have something extra to push back on to squeeze out that bit of extra power. One aspect of the saddle that people should be aware of though, is the width of the nose of the saddle. Although I did not find it uncomfortable, it was noticeable at first coming from a very narrow-nosed saddle such as the Toupè. After getting used to it, I actually prefer this characteristic because I feel as though it helps to disperse some of that pressure when hammering in the drops on the nose of the saddle.

Though there are several different models, the “Pro” version comes standard with carbon rails which you can bet makes this saddle fairly light at around 170 grams. Most carbon railed saddles will run you a hefty price, sometimes above $300. The Romin Pro retails at $150, which was actually cheaper than the alternative alloy railed saddles that I was looking at.

Overall, I truly cannot explain how happy I am with this saddle and I can finally fully enjoy those longer rides. Do yourself a favor and test ride one of these from your local Specialized dealer, you may kick yourself as I did for not doing it earlier! Keep in mind though that saddles are very individual and one that is perfect for me may be like a torture device for others. Regardless, I feel that the Romin is in a class of its own when compared to the other high-end saddles, and its at the peak of saddle comfort. Specialized, I applaud you!  No more complaining from me! (At least from saddle discomfort)


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Review: Raw Revolution Energy Bars

If there’s one thing that can be frustrating to me when on a long ride, its getting the right amount of food into my body at the right time. Most of the time, its when I don’t even feel like I want to be forcing something down, and it gets even worse when its cold outside and my nose starts to run. If you’re like me, the same old Powerbar, Cliff Bar, Hammer Bar, etc. can get old very fast. On top of this even when you try a new flavor, half the time its too dry or chunky to get down as quick as you would like. The last thing I want, especially in a race situation, is to be wasting time of trying to choke down an energy bar. Perhaps you’ve also experienced struggling to get an energy bar wrapper open only to find a half melted treat waiting for you. None of these are things that I like to go through, especially when I’m in pain on the bike!

For all of the stated reasons above, I’ve never been big on using energy bars, and have usually stuck to gels as much as possible. After moving up to Mars Hill and being introduced to a new product through the team, this preference has completely changed. For once, I’ve finally tried an energy bar that I’ve been completely satisfied with on all levels, even those that I normally wouldn’t consider. Raw Revolution energy bars has totally changed the way I eat while on the bike, and has even made it so I can enjoy and look forward to eating on the fly. Being raw, organic, as well as vegan, you can bet that not only are these bars healthy for you, but they’re LOADED with tons of nutritional value. It’s nice to know while eating one of their bars that not only are they enjoyable, but extremely healthy.

What can you find in one of these bars? Taken directly from the ingredients information from a Lemon Dew Raw Rev bar: Organic Dates, Organic Sunflower Seed Kernels, Organic Hemp Protein, Organic Agave Nectar, Organic Lemon Powder, Organic Sprouted Flax Seed Powder, Organic Lemon Extract, Organic Wheat Grass Powder, Organic Spirulina Powder, Organic Spinach Powder, Organic Oat Grass Powder, Organic Kale Powder, Organic Broccoli Powder, Organic Barley Grass Powder, Organic Broken Cell Wall Chlorela Powder. Overall, and if I wasn’t clear enough before, the ingredients would allow your average person to come to the conclusion that Raw Revolution bars are, in fact, organic!

The important thing for you potential Raw Revolution energy bar users though is not just the health factor, because you might as well stuff some raw fruits and veggies in your jersey pockets, its the ease of use and taste. As I stated before, I’m in love with the taste of these bars. On top of this, with upwards of 13 different flavors, they don’t get old! Here’s what I love about the taste. When you bite into a, for example, Apple Cinnamon Raw Rev bar, you don’t taste fake flavoring. You can actually feel bits of apple and other nutritious substances, which is not something I find from my usual Powerbar. This flavor bomb is the same for all of their flavors, my favorite being Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough! The ease of use with these bars is just icing on the cake. The wrapping on the bars are very easy to open and the bars DON’T MELT (as far as my experiences go). Too many times have I fumbled around with other brands’ wrappers only to get the corner torn off or the first half of the wrapper off, leaving the rest virtually impossible to get off without having to jump out of the pace line. If you’re curious about pricing, since the rush for organic foods as people want to become “greener” has led to increased prices, there’s no need to fret. The cost of one of these bars will run you the same as with any of the others, about $1.99.

All in all, if you don’t  give these bars a try you’re missing out! I was skeptical at first to abandon my tried and true Powerbar, but after using Raw Revolution energy bars, its all I want!

Want more info? Check their website: Raw Revolution – Organic Live Food Bar

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Update and Pre-Review: Blue Axino

When it comes to cycling, but more specifically cycling equipment, not too much comes cheap. The idea of buying an entire new bike for most is quite a daunting thought. I was in the market for a new racing bike, when I was informed by the Mars Hill Cycling coach, Hugh Moran, that the team would be given a deal with Blue Bikes. I had already been looking at their AC1 aero frame, but caught draft of a new frame for 2011, the Axino. Without hesitation, and on a budget, I checked out this mysterious new frame.

Because it hadn’t been released yet, it was difficult to decide, but after taking one look at the bike on Blue’s website the decision was made! The Axino simply screams “race” with its compact geometry, BB30, sleek internal cabling, and downright badass looks. A frame weight of 995g doesn’t make the decision too difficult either. When the frame arrived at my door, I knew that I had made the right choice, and carefully tucked it in bed with me that night.

True to my word from a previous post and with no regrets, I built the frame up with SRAM Force, though the entire specification can be seen on the “My Bikes” page.

The first pedal stroke I took on our first journey on the road together, I seemed to move forward with ease. The Axino is undoubtedly fast, and after only a few rides I can already tell you that this is my favorite bike I have ever owned. It’s speed, stiffness, and comfort make it absolutely perfect. Adding to this perfection is the fact that the geometry “fits me to a tee.” My old bike left me a bit stretched out, but with the Axino it feels as though I’m on a custom frame!

As I get more rides in over the next few months, but more importantly take it out for racing, I will post a detailed review about the bike.

Blue is beginning to make a much bigger name for themselves in the U.S. cycling scene, and with this frame along with its fair pricing, its sure to be a huge success!

Keep an eye out for the upcoming review!

Click here to see more details about the Blue Axino.

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Review: Handlebar Comparison – Shimano PRO Vibe 7S vs. 3T Ergonova Pro

To some, like me, choosing bike components on a new ride can be a laborious task. Picking out handlebars for myself is no exception to this, and I find is actually one of the harder components to choose from. When taking into consideration your comfort while on the bike, as well as positioning while trying to remain somewhat aero, it’s easy see why this can be such a hard decision.

Two handlebars over the past several months have caught my attention, and I’ve had the chance to test both out to see if they live up to all the hype. Although they are two very different styled handlebars, they are both used for the same function which means its basically all out on the table.

First, is Shimano’s PRO branded Vibe 7S handlebars. These bars utilize a 7050 grade aluminum to have maximum rigidity and stiffness. On top of the material choice, the entire bar is oversized, not just at the portion where the stem clamps to like most handlebars. What this means is that you’re getting an incredibly stiff bar that maintains a respectable weight of 285g, not bad for an aluminum handlebar. To give you an idea of the level of stiffness, this bar was the choice of world-class sprinter Mark Cavendish for some time before he released his own version of the bars (same bar, different name). The bar is available in anatomical, compact, and traditional bends. Because it is what I was used to, I went for the anatomical bend. After using the bars for sprinting, climbing, you name it, I fell in love! They felt amazing under power and I quickly grew to prefer the oversized portion on along the top to hold onto when doing longer rides and climbing. The issue I found was that some bar end plugs wouldn’t fit perfectly because of the oversized tubing. Unless you have expanding plugs, you may find yourself having to wrap some extra electrical tape around the bar end before inserting it in the tube.

Next on the list was the 3T Ergonova Pro Aluminum handlebar. I have to admit that I was much more skeptical when purchasing this bar. I’ve never been a huge fan of the “winged” top handlebars, but I thought I’d give it a shot. Another feature of the bars that I was a bit unsure about was the fact that it has a flare. Handlebar flare is when the hoods are actually more narrow than the drops. Normally I ride a 42cm c-c bar, so I wasn’t sure if I should go wider to have the same width on the hoods. In the end, I decided to stick with a 42cm width meaning that the hoods measured about 40cm c-c. The main reason that these bars appealed to me so much is because they have both a shorter reach and drop than most handlebars. The reach is about 77mm and the drop is around 123mm, making it a little easier for those of us that can sometimes have a sore back. The final difference between this and the Vibe 7S is that the Ergonova has a compact bend. Compact bends generally make it much easier to get in and stay in the drops, and give you much more available hand positions while riding in the drops. Overall, I found that I was a lot more comfortable while using these bars. Once I got used to the wider winged top and compact drops, I couldn’t imagine riding anything else! There is without question a noticeable difference and increase in comfort when riding in the drops with the Ergonova bars. As an added bonus these bars come in a little bit lighter than the Vibe 7S, weighing around 260g.

Although the PRO Vibe 7S may be stiffer and have a little bit more “coolness” factor (personal preference), had I the choice to purchase another set of bars I would go with the 3T Ergonova’s. One thing to note is that the Vibe 7S is available in a compact bend, but the reach and drop is still higher than its competitor, meaning it may not be quite as comfortable (as least for me), leaning the odds again in favor of the 3T.

You may have noticed that I chose not to get the carbon version of either of these bars. Although at the time I had the option to get the carbon version of these, I now always stick with aluminum. Unless you just love the looks or want to be a weight weenie, I would seriously consider going the aluminum route. In a wreck with carbon, they may not always break, but you never know what tiny cracks could develop into an eventually break when you hit a nasty pothole going down a hill. To me adding a few extra grams is well worth avoiding the risk of injury.

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Review: Sram Components (Red vs. Rival)

VS.

With the many advancements being made in the world of cycling, there are so many new products out there that are pretty incredible. The only downside to this – the price tag.

I’ve had the chance to ride the three biggest competitors in the road components category (Sram, Shimano, Campagnolo), and Sram has won my favoritism without question. I made the “leap” to Sram when I purchased my current racing bike in summer ’09, going for their flagship “Red” group. It didn’t take too long to get used to the doubletap shifting Sram has incorporated into their unique and visually appealing shifters. When compared to the other two groups, there are some differences to be aware of, most good in my opinion. The most noticeable difference is that Sram components are going to sound much louder than both Shimano and Campy, especially if you are using the OG 1090 dome cassette. Second, is that the rear shifts are definitely more reassuring. By reassuring, I mean that the shifts are not quite as smooth as the other two component groups. Even when using the Red group, you’ll feel and hear a loud “clunk” when you shift. Personally, I prefer to have this attribute, especially while sprinting. The one bad thing I have found is when shifting into the big or little front chainring. When being compared more so to Shimano’s Dura-Ace, too much power on the pedals when shifting can sometimes result in a dropped chain with Sram.

Despite any flaws, I absolutely love everything about the Red groupset, so much so that I decided to sell an older Campagnolo Record group on my spare bike to replace it with Sram’s lower-end Rival groupset. After riding the new Rival set for several weeks, I’ve come to some surprising conclusions based solely on my own opinion and not hard facts. Overall, other than the weight and aesthetics, there wasn’t too much of a major difference that I could tell between Red and Rival. The most noticeable was the lack of the “ZeroLoss” function on Rival’s right shifter. Basically, it took a little more effort to shift the rear drivetrain. The second thing was that Red definitely shifted quicker, smoother, and more precise at times, but not by a huge margin. After looking at the differences, I find it somewhat hard to justify the $1000+ price difference!

Had I had this knowledge prior to purchasing Sram’s Red gruppo in 2009, I can honestly say that I would have settled with the middle-ranged Force group. Though Force is functionally the same as Rival, it’s a tad bit lighter, looks nicer, and only cost around $400 more. The only thing I might consider changing would be to use an all Force group with Red shifters to have the ZeroLoss to make the rear shifting just a little quicker.

Some people might just like to have the top of the line equipment, but my advice for next time you’re going for a purchase is to research every little thing and always have a test ride! You might just be surprised…

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