Quick Review – CamelBak Bottle

It’s about time I start talking about some of the gear and accessories I’ve been buying to accompany my new ride. First up is the CamelBak Podium Big Chill. Since I purchased what is essentially an entry level Cyclocross racing bike, my Focus Mares AX 2 isn’t loaded with with features for touring or commuting. Case in point, my bike has only one bottle cage mount on the frame. It’s easy to find frames with two bottle cage mounts and you can even find some touring frames with mount points for three.

With a single bottle cage, I decided to go with a big water bottle. After searching around a bit, I decided on the 25 oz version of the Podium in the Clear / Carbon Color scheme.

CamelBak Podium Big ChillI’ve used this bottle a few times and so far it seems like a good choice. The Big Chill is an insulated bottle and CamelBak claim it’s double-wall construction will keep your water cool twice as long as a regular bottle. I’ve always started my bottle by filling it with ice cubes and water. The ice has always been melted when I finish my rides but the water does seem to stay cool for at least an hour in temperatures around 80 degrees.

The main reason I selected the CamelBak over a different brand of insulated bottle was because of the unique self-sealing Jet Valve. Rather than having the standard valve you open and close by pulling it with your teeth, the Jet Valve opens on it’s own when you squeeze the bottle. You can lock the valve closed but it’s not required to keep water from leaking, even when you turn the bottle upside-down.

In practice the Jet Valve seems to be working pretty well but I do have one complaint. In order for the Jet Valve to open a bit of pressure in your squeeze is required. Squeezing the bottle causes the valve to open and the water tends to “jet” out of the bottle. You have to think a bit before you squeeze or you’ll end up jetting water directly down your throat. I ended up coughing a few times even though I anticipated the result. After using the bottle a few times, I’ve decided the best way to use the bottle is to place the valve on my lower lip and aim it towards the inside of my cheek. To get a better idea of how the Jet Valve works, check out this video from CamelBak.

Aside from the issue with the valve, I think the bottle is a good choice for a large capacity insulated bottle. Here’s a shot of the bottle on my bike so you can get an idea of the size.

Do you have a water bottle that you like? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Dusting off the Cobwebs

It’s been over two weeks since I have posted here. I’m feeling guilty about that. After months of searching I finally got a new bike and since then I’ve been too busy to update my blog. What’s worse, is that I’ve only managed a couple of good rides.

My first good ride was two Sundays ago. I met my longtime friend Chris for a ride along the American River Bike Trail. Chris and I rode just under 15 miles according to Strava and my Cateye bicycle computer.

Strava Map

It was a good first ride and the weather was great. It was great to get out and ride and 15 miles was further than I’ve rode on a bike in probably 20 years.

This past Sunday, Chris and I rode again. We met at the same spot on the American River and this time we rode West instead of East. We rode from out starting point to the zero mile marker on the American River Trail in Discovery Park. From there, we continued on to Old Sacramento were we stopped for a smoothie and a break. This time we rode just under 18 miles. I figured we had to ride a few more miles than the week before. =) Here’s a few photos from Old Sac.

This morning my dear wife and I went for a short ride, her first ride in quite a long time as well. She rode the old Univega mountain bike and I rode the Focus. We’ll have to get her a new or newer bike at some point too but for now, the Univega is working. I’ll have more on that in a future post.

I Got a New Bike!

On Saturday 5/26 I purchased a bike. I am now the proud owner of a 2011 Focus Mares AX 2. While searching for new bikes over the past several months I have also been checking craigslist for bargains. Searching craigslist can be a long and often disappointing process. I’ve seen a lot of junk for sale on craigslist. I have also seen a few nice bikes here and there but never anything in my size or the exact style that I wanted.

This past Friday however, my luck changed when I discovered this Focus Mares AX 2 aluminum cyclocross bike, in my size and in my area. The owner had even posted a number of decent sized photos. Often when I see something for sale on craigslist and it has tiny photos I think the seller is trying to hide something.

After contacting the seller on Friday night, I arranged to see the bike on Saturday morning. After I slept on it, I started to have seconds thoughts because the Focus wasn’t one of the exact bikes I was thinking about. Heck, I’d never even considered the Mares, in fact I didn’t really even know it existed. I had heard of Focus before from my test ride of the Cariboo Peak hybrid back in April but I had never looked into their CX bikes. After tossing it around in my head for a bit I decided it was worth it to drive out and at least take a look at the bike.

Before I jumped in the car to leave, I found a site that had some good recommendations for what to look for in buying a used bike. Check out the Bicycle Inspection page at usedbicycleguide.com. Armed with my inspection tips I was on my way. I stopped at the bank to pickup some cash and broke up some of the money into smaller bills so I could haggle with the seller. If you’re going to be buying something expensive from a craigslist seller, please play it safe. Meet in a public location (oops, I broke rule number one) and bring a buddy along. I always like to have the cash on hand when I’m dealing with a private seller. If I were selling something, I wouldn’t want to hold onto the item while someone when to the bank or whatever it took to get the money. I want to extend that same courtesy to seller I meet. Plus you don’t want to leave a good deal sitting there, giving the seller time to find another buyer.

After talking with the owner for a bit, I asked him if I could inspect the bike. I checked everything I could think of, looking over the bike. The seller said that he had only rode the bike about 40 miles and from the looks of it, he was being honest about that. The bike was in almost perfect condition. I took the bike for a test ride around the block a few times, shifting into all the gears, listening for noise, etc. Everything seemed to be in order so I made the guy and offer $200 less than he was asking. He countered for $50 more and I said sold! I paid the money and I was on my way.

The buyer had purchased the bike from Performance Bicycle. Focus is a semi-exclusive retailer of the Focus brand in the United States. It just so happened that there was a Performance shop right near the sellers house. I stopped in there on the way back and told them that I had just got this bike and that I thought one of the front brakes was rubbing and asked if they could take a quick look at it. The guy at the service counter said no problem. So I took the bike in, they made a quick adjustment to the front brake and for future reference, showed me how to make the adjustment myself. They also gave the bike a quick once over and a clean bill of health. Yeah!

I’ll have more to come about my new bike soon but for now, here’s a bunch of photos I took of it this past Saturday when I got it home and shined it up a bit. Enjoy.

Test Ride – Salsa Vaya

I made arrangements with the owner of Endless Cycles in Castro Valley, CA. to test ride the Salsa Vaya 2 on my way home from the Sea Otter Classic a few weeks ago. Since we were already near the Bay Area it made sense to make a stop and test the Vaya. Though Endless Cycles is nearly 100 miles away from my home, they are the closest Salsa dealer to me. I have to admit, a 90 minute drive to a Salsa dealer for parts and service does curb my enthusiasm a bit.

I realize that I can and probably will perform many repairs myself. I also know that a LBS closer to home would be able to work on the Vaya. However, I still think it would be nice to buy a bike from a dealer that’s closer to home. Bike shops often extended discounts to clients that have previously purchased bikes. Setting aside the distance aspect, Endless Cycles is a nice shop and they had a lot of Salsa bikes on the showroom floor. If your living in or around the Bay Area and you’re shopping for a Salsa, I recommend you give Endless Cycles a try.

Salsa Vaya

The Salsa Vaya features a double-butted  CroMoly Steel frame and fork. Salsa designed the Vaya as a drop bar touring bike capable of handling any road, paved or not. Whether your looking to do a hundred miles or getting ready to set out for a month or two of riding, the Vaya is well equipped to handle the task. With rack, fender mounts and clever design elements the Vaya is also a very capable commuter.

I test rode a 54 cm frame Vaya 2 but a 56 cm would probably be the correct size for my height and build. Endless Cycles didn’t have a 56 cm Vaya built up but the test ride on the 54 cm was just fine to get a feel for the bike.

I live near Sacramento, CA and the landscape around here is fairly flat. Castro Valley on the other hand is moderately hilly. I took the suggested test ride route which was a basic one mile loop but it started out with a short climb up a hill. I’m not in horrible shape and I made it up the hill without walking but it was certainly a workout. The trip up the hill and then back down gave me an opportunity to test the full range of gears on the SRAM Apex 2 x 10 setup. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if the Vaya had an extra gear up front when I was climbing that hill. More time in the saddle will help remedy that problem.

My test ride of Specialized Crux led me to start looking at more cyclocross style bikes. Specifically, I was looking for something a little less race bike and a little more practical as an all-rounder than the Crux. The Vaya fits that bill very well. I get the feeling the Vaya can take just about anything you can throw at it. The real beauty of the Vaya is in the details. Rack and fender mounts are only the beginning. For example, the rear disc brake mount is found on the chainstay rather than the seatstay making it easier to mount those racks and fenders. With it’s focus on touring, the Vaya is equipped with three water bottle cage mounts. These functional design elements are no doubt appreciated by touring riders.

Salsa Vaya Dropouts

I find all of these little details quite appealing. Here you can see the replaceable derailleur hanger and one of my favorite little features of the frame, the Salsa logo integrated into the seatstays. Though the Vaya is a mass produced frame it feels a lot more like a custom bike than anything I’ve tested before.

The Vaya is available as a frame only or in one of two different complete build configurations. The Vaya 3 is the base model where the Vaya 2 that I rode is an upgraded model with higher spec components. The Vaya is also available as a Titanium frame or complete bike. I’m quite satisfied with the steel framed Vaya 2 and I appreciated the SRAM Apex group and Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes on the Vaya 2.

After test riding the Vaya and then spending some time to think about the results, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Vaya is the most practical bike I’ve tested. The Vaya would suit my current needs very well and offers plenty of room to grow. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to an all round, do everything bike. This is the bike I should buy and start riding. Still, the Vaya lacks a certain je ne sais quoi, I found in the Specialized Crux. Salsa describes the Vaya as having, “stable geometry” that,  “keeps the bike from being twitchy, and makes the bike a pleasure to ride while loaded.” Those are the exact qualities which, I believe, takes just a bit of the fun out of riding the Vaya or bikes like it.

To draw analogies to the automotive world, I would call the Vaya an SUV. The Specialized Crux on the other hand is more akin to a rally car.

Ford RS

You won’t find any cupholders or utility items in cars equipped for WRC. In racing it’s all about performance and weight reduction whether car or bike. Of course after a long trip in an SUV you’ll arrive at your destination fairly comfortable and with no concern you’ve ruptured your spleen.

So the contenders at least at the moment are the Specialized Crux Comp Disc Apex and the Salsa Vaya. While both bikes share a few similarities for the most part they are different bikes. I’m really no closer to making a final decision but I still have a bit more time to decide. Unexpected expenses and my desire to pay cash for this purchase have cause a bit of a delay.

So what do you think? Should I go for the practical Salsa Vaya or the performance oriented Specialized Crux?

Good Looking Bike

In all the research I’ve been doing on bikes, I’ve run across a few really good looking bikes. These are bikes that I find pleasing to the eye. They appeal to my sense of style or have a character I find to be captivating. So this is just a fun bike gawker kind of a post.

2011 Raleigh RX 1.0
2011 Raleigh RX 1.0First up is the 2011 version of the Raleigh RX 1.0. This is one good looking cyclocross bike. I personally love the military theme paint job on this bike. Army green with red and small mustard accents probably wouldn’t sound all that appealing if you were explaining it to someone over the phone but in photos I think it works. This RX is a bike I would be proud to have in my garage. It’s beauty isn’t only skin deep, with the Shimano 105 group, rack, fender and bottle cage mounts, it would suit my needs and desires quite nicely. There’s probably one out there somewhere if you can’t live without one and if I could find one within a couple hundred miles in my size, I would probably go check it out.

Redline Metro Classic
Redline Metro Classic
Next let’s look at another Cyclocross style bike. This is the 2012 Redline Metro Classic. I wouldn’t call this an all out racing bike, Redline has other models that are probably better suited for racing but like the Raleigh, this is a damn fine looking bike. I’m glad that Redline offers some nice large images of their bikes online. I also like the fact that they don’t display them in some silly Flash based pan and zoom viewer. I’m looking at you Specialized. Other manufacturers should follow Redline’s lead here. If you make quality bikes why not post some large high quality images of them for people to enjoy.

The Metro Classic is the perfect name for this bike. I love the orange paint and tan/cream colored accents. The cream colored sidewalls on the tires are the icing on the cake. I would love to see this bike with a 105 group or SRAM Apex but I suspect the Shimano Tiagra group will serve most buyers just fine. With the triple crank in the front and the 12-28 cog set in the rear this would make a great all-rounder kind of a bike. I think it’s perfect for a beginner who’s looking for a bike with drop bars. There’s room for bigger tires, mounting points for fenders as well as racks. The steel 4130 Chromoly frame and disc brakes round out the “do everything” package. Finally, the $1099 MSRP isn’t bad for what you get. I would absolutely love to test ride this bike.

Electra Ticino 20D
Electra Ticino 20D
This is the Electra Ticino 20D, the retro vibe is in full effect on this bike. The classic styling on this bike is beautiful. I love the Root Beer like paint that Electra calls Chestnut Metallic. Equipped with racks front and rear, this stylish commuter / town bike is sure to turn heads. The chrome hammered fenders on the Ticino are a standout element on this bike. To me, they are really the one touch that ties all the retro pieces together. The Ticino is offered in 6 different models for men and one for women. The 20D is the top-of-the-line model for men. This version is equipped with a Shimano 105 group, bar end brake levers, and downtube shifters. The real beauty of this bike is in the details. Saddle Up Bike has a nice write-up on the Ticino and a gallery of photos that showcases all those details. While I’m not in the market for a bike like the Ticino, I think it would make a great second or third bike in my stable.

Electra Ticino 8D
Electra Ticino 8D
Last in this round up of beautiful bikes is the Electra Ticino 8D. This is the one and only ladies version of the Ticino. This version with it’s low step-over toptube is another stunning example of this retro inspired bike. The 8D gets by with a single chainring in the front and a Shimano 2300 8-Speed cassette in the rear. Shifting is handled by a single mountain bike style Rapidfire Plus trigger.

So what about you. What’s the bike you find to be the fairest of them all? Let us know by posting a comment.

Test Ride – Specialized Crux

After testing a dozen different hybrid bicycles over a number of different visits to several bike shops, I still found myself looking for something more. While all of the hybrids I tested were solid and I assume reliable bikes only one, the Jamis Allegro, really felt fun or exciting. Based on this, my decision was to keep looking. One thought that remained in the back of my head was the idea that I would like to be able to take longer rides as my fitness improves. Everyone seems to recommend drop bars with their multiple hand positions over flat or riser bars for longer rides. Here’s a photo of a typical drop style handlebar.

Drop Bars

To put it very simply, flat bars are those typically found on mountain and hybrid bikes and drop or road bars are typically found on road bikes. If you’re not familiar with the many different types of handlebars you might find on a bicycle, I found a good article on the subject over at Urban Cyclist.

While I was testing hybrid bikes I did test ride one road bike, the Specialized Allez Compact, an entry level aluminum road bike. I didn’t care for the bike. The short wheelbase, narrow 23c high pressure tires, and overall geometry simply isn’t my style. I was uncomfortable in the riding position and felt like I would fall if I wasn’t devoting all my attention to riding the bike. That test ride turned me off to the idea of a road bike but not to the idea of a bike with drop bars.

Back at my computer, I continued to research bikes and brands online. I stumbled on to an article at Urban Velo on cyclocross bikes for commuting. While the post is a bit dated, it turned me on to the idea of riding a cyclocross style bike. One of the bikes mentioned in the post on Urban Velo is the Specialized Tricross, a bike that’s at home on the pavement, on dirt or perhaps even on some light single track. A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to check out some more bike shops. At on of the shops I visited that day, I met a very experienced salesman and long time bike industry professional. Mike, the salesman, really took the time to explain a lot of things to me about bikes. The information he gave me has really been a great help in narrowing down my choices for a bike. While we were talking, Mike did mention the Tricross but the shop didn’t have any in stock. After a long conversation, I decided to test ride the Specialized Sirrus, a bike I had already tested at a different shop. Not much had changed from my first test ride, the Sirrus is a comfortable, solid and stable bike. Still, it just isn’t all that exciting to me.

2011 Specialized Crux Comp

While I was out testing the Sirrus, my salesman setup a 2011 Specialized Crux Comp, the closest thing they had in stock to the Tricross. Before I headed out Mike, told me there was “something special” about riding a bike with geometry like the Crux.

Before I continue, I want to take a moment to talk about the equipment found on the Crux. The Crux Comp comes with SRAM Apex equipment and shifters. Operating the SRAM shifters is different than operating the shifters on the Allez I had rode weeks before. The Allez I tested was equipped with Shimano Sora shifters which I really didn’t like all that much. The Sora combination brake lever / shifters or “brifters” pull inward like you would expect to apply the brakes. The brake lever also pivots inward to shift up to the next larger cog or chainring. Shifting to a smaller cog with the Sora shifters requires your hands to be placed “on the hoods” so you can reach a small tab with either thumb to click down to a smaller gear. I don’t like how you’re required to move to the hoods to shift down nor do I like how the brake levers pivot to shift up. The SRAM Apex “double-tap” shifters have you pivot a smaller lever behind the brake lever to change gears. Pressing the lever a bit inward will drop you down to a smaller cog, pushing the lever further will move the chain up to a larger cog. After riding the Crux, I decided I liked the SRAM setup better than the Shimano Sora shifters. I feel more confident knowing that the SRAM brake levers only serve one function and I like how you can shift up or down while your “riding the hoods” or “the drops.”

Okay, now back to the test ride. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go. My last test ride on a bike with drop bars wasn’t my favorite. The Crux, while similar to the Tricross, is a full on Cyclocross racing bike. I also wasn’t quite sure what to make of the salesman’s comment that there was something special about riding a bike like the Crux.

I started my test ride in a empty part of a parking lot behind a supermarket. As I began to ride the Crux up and down the parking lot past the grocery store loading docks I started to get comfortable with the bike. Once I got comfortable, I started pedaling faster and began making gear changes. After only a few shifts I knew I liked the SRAM Apex group better than the Shimano Sora group that was installed on the Allez. After bit of riding, I noticed that my hands were more comfortable on the Crux as well. When I rode the Allez my hands started hurting even after only riding a few blocks. This could be attributed to any number of things, the adjustment and placement of the bars, my seating position, the differences in geometry between the two bikes, or even just the handlebar tape. I really didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing it, I just noticed that I was comfortable riding the hoods and didn’t feel like I needed to move my hands to different positions on the bars to maintain comfort.

After playing with the shifters and the brake levers, I started to focus just on the ride. The ride was firm but compliant. I began to feel comfortable and confident riding the Crux. I started to make some more aggressive turns and the Crux delivered. My skill level is admittedly low but nevertheless, I felt assured riding the drop bars of the Crux. This led me to test the handling of the bike. I began to look for the rough spots in the pavement, the bumps and ridges between cement and asphalt sections of the parking lot and I pointed the Crux right at them. Over the rough spots the Crux maintained it’s composure much like my old mountain bike.

After all that, I began to notice the sensation of speed. The Crux feels quick and nimble. You point it in the direction you want to go, pedal and you’re there. From a stop it doesn’t seem like it takes much effort to motivate the Crux. I felt like this bike had faster acceleration with minimal effort compared to just about all the other bikes I have tested. As I started pedaling it seemed like I was speeding along at a rapid pace even after only a few revolutions of the pedals. This is a fantastic sensation. It was almost as if the Crux was a sports car and all the hybrids I’d been riding were SUVs. The only other bike that gave me a similar sensation of speed was the Jamis Allegro. I won’t pretend to know all the reasons why the Crux feels quicker than the other bikes I’ve tested. I just know that I like it.

I kept riding the Crux for and expanded my test ride beyond the parking lot before returning to the shop. As I rolled in at the shop, my salesman, Mike was coming out the door. One thing was different about this test ride, as I got off the bike and started talking to Mike, I was smiling the entire time. My grin is what’s been missing in all the other test rides I’ve taken. Mike was right, there was something special about riding the Crux.

Though I would have liked to, I didn’t take the Crux home with me. I figured it would be best to test more cyclocross or cyclocross style bikes before making a decision. While the Crux was a blast, it’s a racing bike. I don’t have any aspirations of racing cyclocross, at least not yet. The Specialized Tricross with it’s ability to mount fenders and racks would probably be a better choice for my needs. The Crux however, would become the new basis for comparison. Any bike I would test ride from that point forward would be compared to the Crux.

2012 Sea Otter Classic

My wife and I attended the Sea Otter Classic this past weekend. It’s the first time either of us have ever been to this event or really any event like it. The temperature and humidity were both pretty high for the area. The temps were higher than normal for this time of year in general here in Northern California. Had it been a bit cooler or a little less humid it would have been perfect. The Sea Otter Classic is held at the Mazda Laguna Seca raceway and if you’ve ever been there, you know there is very little shade.

My main interest this year was visting the vendor booths. I wanted to check out all the brands and equipment choices. Being new to this sport, I was a bit overwhelmed at times. I have a good idea of what I’m looking at when it comes to bikes but, I’m still learning about all the components and extras. I was able to see some bikes that I would probably have a very hard time finding in a local bike shop. We saw unique brands and semi-custom bikes that you just don’t find in as many bike shops as say a Specialized or a Trek. Even fairly well known brands like Diamondback for example. There’s simply no stores, at least not in my area, that sell anything buy Diamondback’s entry level bikes.

The weather kept us from sticking around to watch any of the events or races. It also muted my interest in test riding any bikes. I believe Giant, Trek and Specialized were offering test rides but those are all brands I can ride at a local bike shop. After making the rounds to all the vendor booths, we decided to call it a day.

After leaving SOC at Laguna Seca, my wife and I headed into Monterey for a late lunch at Hula’s Island Grill, a great place to eat if you’re ever in the area. After eating our fill, we headed to the cost for a short but beautiful scenic drive along the ocean. We pulled off at near the Point Piños Lighthouse and did a bit of exploring on the beach, the rocks and the tide pools. The tide allowed us to access an outcropping of rocks that juts out into the ocean. While we were exploring and cooling off, I was able to get some nice photos and my wife spotted a real Sea Otter sunning himself on the rocks.

Overall, it was fun to attend the event and it was also a great weekend getaway. I hope you enjoy the photo gallery.