A comparison of stark contrast: Continental Cyclocross Speed and Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Tire Reviews

EDIT:  SEE THE UPDATE, follow the link.


This review is a comparison of two starkly different tires: the Continental Cyclocross Speed and the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial.  In this case, the comparison is between a 700x35c Cyclocross Speed and a 700x40c Marathon Mondial.  Both tires have been used on my Salsa Ti Vaya, known as the Vaytanium.

Continental describes the Cyclocross Speed as “the top choice for a pure cross tyre thanks to a diamond-coated centre section and coarse stubs in the shoulder lugs.”  The Conti is offered in two different 35c tires; one with a folding bead and one without.  The folding bead tire (reviewed here) is rated at 350grams with a recommended pressure range of 58-85 psi.

Schwalbe describes the Marathon Mondial as “the ultimate touring tire, made for roads, tracks and trails of all continents.”  The Mondial is available in the Evolution line, with a folding bead, and in the Performance Line, with a wire bead.  The Evolution version (tested here) is rated at 650 grams, and comes with Schwalbe’s latest and greatest flat-fighting technology, “double defense”, with a triple rubber tread compound.  They have a recommended pressure range of 45-80 PSI.
As tested, the Schwalbes come in just under the rated weight, with mine averaging 647 grams.  The Conti’s also came in just under the rated weight (originally) at 348 grams.  After significant use, they’ve dropped in weight to 320 grams.  Both tires have been used on the same, North Central Cyclery hand built Velocity A23 rims on Chris King hubs.
The first time I pulled the tires off the Vaytanium and saw this labeling, my burger was flipped.  It really made my day.
The wheels, as measured, are 22.8mm wide to the outside of the rim (braking surface at the widest point) and 17.8mm to the narrowest point of the inside of the rim (lip of the hooked rim).
If only Bike Snob followed me…<sigh>…he’d love all of the disembodied hands.
Comparison of the two tires, mounted:
Note that because the Conti has some mud on it, it appears wider than it truly is.  Also, note the wear on the Conti.  This is after ~1,500 miles of road/path/gravel.  I’m guessing it has, maybe, 500 more miles in it before it’s slick in the middle.  The Mondial has ~250 miles on it, thus far.
A few glamour shots of each, in the every lovely RATG garage:
Note the nice reflective striping on the Mondial.
Lovely, dirty Cyclocross Speed
The Mondial has a uniform tread of relatively large tread blocks in the center that make for a smooth ride on paved and gravel surfaces, with more aggressive tread near the rounded edge of the tire, that dig into mud and soft soils for better traction in off-road situations.  Again, this is after only about 250 miles.
Apologies for the blurry picture, but the Contis have a uniform diamond tread, with slightly larger tread blocks at the outside edge.
Again, that’s after about 1,500 miles; this was the rear tire for most of that mileage, and it shows nearly twice the tread wear as the front.  As can be seen in that picture, the tread blocks on the side are effective for one thing in soft conditions: packing up with mud.
Mounted on the Velocity A23s, the Contis measure a true 33.3mm at their widest point (with no mud) at 60psi.
The Mondials measure just under 41mm wide, also at 60 psi.  (They don’t really change in size appreciably between 50-85 psi).
At this point, you might be wondering why I’m including both tires in a single comparison.  I mean, in the weight comparison, there’s about 3 Royale’s with Cheese difference in weight between the two (about 3/4 of a pound), per tire.  That’s 3/4 of a pound of rotating mass, at the furthest possible extreme of the wheel/tire.  What do these two tires have to do with each other, then?  Well, as it turns out, they have a lot to do with each other.  They represent two different philosophies on the same general idea.  If you’re contemplating a mixed use tire for a cross/touring bike, these are the tires you should be looking at.  The Cyclocross Speed is fast, agile, light, and incredibly quick rolling.  The Mondial is sturdy, puncture-proof, wide, and durable.  When I’m contemplating what tire to run on the Vaya on a given day, the best explanation of these two tires is as it was put to me on MTBR.  I posted a question looking for a good tire to run in gravel endurance events like Dirty Kanza or the Gravel Metric.  The best answer I received: the Conti is what the guys who want to win the race ride on.  The Mondial is what the guys who just want to finish run.  They are both perfectly logical tires to run on a multipurpose bike like the Vaya.  And as I’ve run them both, I’ve learned a lot from them both.  Even though I’ve only had the Mondials for about 250 miles, I’ve put them through their paces.
A very obvious observation has to be made: the Contis are light.  Waaaaay light.  And comparatively, the Mondials are stone heavy.  If you want to ride fast, the Contis will always, always be faster.  There’s just no comparison.  And while the Mondials are much sturdier and more durable, I’ve put the Contis through their paces over the past 1,500 miles.  In that time, I’ve ran them on gravel, pavement, mud, single track, sand, and just about everything you can imagine.  I’ve ran them at pressures from 30psi to 85psi.  And I haven’t had a single flat.  They’ve been far more durable and reliable than I have any right to expect.
The picture above shows the Mondials on a recent single track adventure.  The Mondials performance is about exactly what you should expect, based on the tread design.  On dry roads or gravel, they’re absolutely perfect–lots of control, great traction, very predictable and gradual breakaway when you exceed their tractive limits.  For a touring-oriented tire, the traction on wet paved roads is somewhat surprising…in that it’s pretty bad.  It shouldn’t be surprising, based on the large, chunky tread blocks down the center of the tread.  They ride fine and the breakaway is still predictable, but the handling limits are pretty low on wet, paved surfaces–low as in not much more tractive than slicks.  In softer conditions, when you either run low pressure or get into something soft enough that the tires sink in, the relatively aggressive tread blocks along the edge of the tires dig in and offer great traction.  This was one of the great surprises for me–in mud, the center tread blocks pack up with mud quickly, but the corner/side treads offer far better traction than one might think.  The picture above was taken with loaded panniers–about 60# of weight on the rear (plus my 155#).  The Mondials’ handling with weight doesn’t change appreciably.  The tire casing is relatively solid, and they perform well with minor pressure adjustments to accommodate different loading.  As far as pressure goes, while they are rated to a relatively high pressure, I’ve never run more than 65psi in them.  At 65, they have no appreciable squirm or deformation–they really don’t look like a radial tire.  A more common pressure for me, for ‘normal’ riding, is closer to 50 psi.  For gravel adventures, 40-45 is easily enough to support my weight.  And on the recent single track experiment, I kept dropping pressure until I was down to just under 30 psi.  At that pressure, they had enough traction to keep digging in some relatively slick ‘thawed mud over hardback’ conditions, and yet I didn’t have any issues flatting while climbing over roots or rocks.
The picture above shows the Cyclocross Speeds after a B-road excursion this past year.  Let’s start with the brutal truth: they suck in mud.  They pack up completely and turn into slicks.  The somewhat aggressive corner tread blocks pack with mud as well.  Continental is right–they’re great for hardback and frozen conditions.  They are also amazingly great on road–in dry and wet conditions.  On rainslicked pavement, they’re far superior to the Mondials–and the tread design shows why.  For 35c tires, they do about as good as you could hope for in gravel–which is to say they’re pretty darn amazing.  When I took a foray into cyclocross this fall, the Contis did a great job if the conditions were dry.  If there was even a hint of wetness (dew on the grass, etc.), they were slipping and sliding everywhere.  They just do not like wet conditions off-road.  I ended up running Michelin Mud 2 clinchers for my Cyclocross racing, which I loved for that purpose–but which totally suck if you’re getting anywhere near pavement.  It’s a review for another day, but on pavement, the Mud 2s are completely unpredictable, and breakaway suddenly and without warning.  The Contis are progressive, and have limits far higher than they should–they perform like slicks on dry pavement, and perform better than slicks on wet pavement.
As for tire pressure, I’ve varied the Contis quite a bit.  This summer, using the Vaya on the road quite a bit, I was running 80psi in them.  I noticed that at this high pressure, the center of the tread wore incredibly fast.  Based on that experience, I wouldn’t run them over 65psi under any conditions.  For mixed rides of gravel and pavement, I run around 60psi.  For gravel only, I run around 50psi.  For wet conditions, I’ll drop to 35psi.  And on one particularly crummy ride on wet limestone paths, I dropped to 27psi.  That is absolutely the bottom limit for tire pressure for these.  I was incredibly close to flatting a couple times, just running over sticks.  But 27psi is asking a lot of these tires–even at my weight.
In the end, I’m very pleased with both tires, for their respective purposes.  If I was setting out for a bomber run with a couple of the local hammers, or if I was setting out on a 60 mile gravel race, I’d mount up the Contis in a heartbeat.  For commuting on wet roads, for venturing into the (local) unknown, I’d run the Contis.  They are far more durable and have survived through a lot more than I could ever have hoped for.  And if I hadn’t run them at 80psi on the road, I think I could hope to get a lot more miles out of them than I do now.  (For that matter, the front tire has double the tread of the rear tire).  If speed and time matter, the Contis are my mount.
On the other hand, if I’m heading out on a multiple day excursion, or if I’m planning on a long-distance gravel enduro that won’t be timed, or if I’m carrying heavy weight, I’d throw the Mondials on.  They are rugged beyond compare, and incredibly reassuring tires.  For that matter, if I was headed for mud and wet off-road conditions, as between the Contis and the Mondials, I’d run the Mondials.  Given a choice, I’d probably run my Michelin Mud 2s, under those conditions, though.
The Continental Cyclocross Speeds get a resounding A from RATG.  They’re everything you could hope for in a cross/touring tire, as long as you can avoid mud.
The Mondials, as good as they are, have a lot of limitations, a lot of weight, and cost $90/tire.  At that price range, they should be lighter, faster, and better.  They’re great tires that I’m happy to have, but I think they’re a pretty narrow compromise.  If you’re loaded touring, look no further.  Otherwise, think carefully.  RATG gives them a B-.


One of the things that I love the most about cycling is that it enables an escape from a difficult day.  When work goes wrong, when something is amiss, when I’m irritable…cycling provides a positive tool for eliminating stress, burning off negative energy, and inducing a state of fatigue that is more conducive to relaxation than stress induced anxiety is.  And I remember a time, in the not so distant past, when I could bury myself in a ride and seemingly not tire–a time when I could ride harder and harder, never hitting bottom…or at least never hitting bottom for too long.  That was a feeling of empowerment, of betterment, and of constant, perceptible growth in my abilities.

One of the most frustrating things about dealing with Celiac’s is a different kind of being buried.  It isn’t watching others smother a piece of sourdough or french bread with butter before downing their pasta dinner, all while polishing off a nice, hoppy IPA–I mean, that’s not terribly fun, but I can get past that.  But for the past–??–maybe five or six months, I never know what kind of rider I’m going to be.  Some days, I can go out and ride to my full potential.  And other days, I just get buried.  I’m not out of breath, but I’m out of legs, and far too soon.  I try to dig deeper–to groan, to curse, to breath faster, to breath slower, to try a higher/lower gear and a faster/slower cadence–but nothing works.  Nothing quells the growing stiffness in my quads.  Nothing dulls the ache–not a burn, but an ache–in those muscles.  And all too quickly, I start to feel buried.  Riding with the pack becomes hanging on, becomes staying in touch, becomes giving up on riding with the pack, gutting it out, and riding my own ride.  It isn’t pretty, but I’ve not come up with better solutions yet.

I’m hopeful that with time, a stable diet, and full recovery from anemia, this all becomes a thing of the past.  I’m just so angry with myself that this is happening–this feels like excuses.  It feels like I’m just giving up too early, cutting myself a convenient break, and blaming my riding failings on a convenient scapegoat.  It feels like something that I’d be critical of in another person; I can see myself hearing someone else talking about this issue and thinking, “he just isn’t trying hard enough.”  And yet, no matter how many times I beat myself up over this issue…no matter how many times I analyze and reanalyze my rides, my GPS data, my performance over the past year…I cannot come up with another plausible explanation.

Getting dropped tonight was a good thing, I’m telling myself.  It allowed me to get in those extra 7 miles I needed to reach my unstated, yet hotly anticipated 2011 goal of a century for each of my 32 years.  That accomplishment just seems to ring hollow, seeing my average speed decline since July, and feeling knowing that while my technique may have improved, I was a stronger, faster cyclist 1500 miles ago.

Often, when I’m working on a writing project and reach a mental block, I’ll just start typing so I can see words on the screen.  The simple act of tapping away at the keyboard, something I spend altogether too much of my life doing, can get my thoughts flowing again and can help me lead myself out of the block.  And yet, looking at this on the screen, it isn’t the catharsis that I had hoped for.  It’s just a statement of something that’s painfully obvious to me, without a clearly defined path to progress.  So here’s to the hope that the coming new year reveals something worthwhile in terms of a resolution to this issue.  Until then, I’m going to ride until I’m dropped and then stop for a moment, to contemplate the continuation of this syndrome and to ensure that whomever I’m riding with doesn’t feel compelled to wait for me, then lower my head, clip back in, drop down a gear or two, and keep riding against the grain.

Fatbikes–Poacher Friendly?

I had a curious experience today.

The weather, here in Northern Illinois, warmed up to the low 40s, with sunny skies and light wind. I had a few hours to get out on the Mukluk and get some dirt under my tires. As it turned out, I went to some local trails and found the conditions to be less than optimal. There was a mild coating of greasy, slick mud (remnants of ice and snow that were melting) atop a relatively solid base. I expected that this would cut my ride short, but on a whim, I dramatically reduced my tire pressure and–to my great surprise–the Mukluk floated over everything I threw at it. The Big Fat Larrys did an excellent job of hooking up under just about any conditions, and despite the greasy conditions, I was not leaving a trail, track or rut. In fact, I’d venture to say that the Mukluk left less of a trace than a hiker would have (and I base that guess on my direct experience–as when I stopped and put a foot down, my foot would sink into the muck).

On my ride, I came across a gent in his mid 40s, riding a hard tail 26er.  He was sporting some relatively aggressive tires in the 26×2.3(ish) range, and was cutting ruts everywhere he went.  I stopped and talked with him about the marks he was leaving, and he was relatively huffy about me being a hypocrite–criticizing him for riding when I myself was riding.  And that leads to the question of the day.  Are fat bikes set up to be ideal for poaching trails?  Should we, as fat bike riders, refrain from riding when the conditions are too poor for standard bikes to ride (even though we can ride without leaving a trace)?  Was my discussion with him hypocritical?

I tend to think not.  There are many times when my Rumblefish, on 2.2″ wide tires, would cruise through the woods without leaving a trace, but if I tried to ride on 35c cyclocross tires, I’d be cutting ruts left and right.  I think the answer is: right tool for the right job.  And if you don’t have the right tool, don’t ride.

Today, the right tool was the Mukluk.  And it was oh, so right.  But Mr. 26er–I wasn’t trying to be a hypocrite.  I was trying to preserve our sport and our trails, so we both could continue riding another day.

Story Update: There was a bit of misperception regarding this post.  In no way am I meaning to suggest that riders should poach trails on which they are not permitted, or otherwise trespass.  What I am suggesting is that fat bikes can “poach” otherwise lawful trails by riding them on days when conditions don’t permit use of a “standard” mountain bike.  That’s all…

Gore Fusion GT AS Jacket and Pants Review (Gore-Tex Active Shell)

1/21/12 Update Here


In the Gore Phantom Jacket review, I indicated that I’ve been using a system of Gore products for cycling this winter, to great effect.  This review is for the shell and pants that I’ve been using over the Phantom: the Gore Fusion GT AS Jacket and Pants.  For cyclists, Gore has long offered a series of very high quality weatherproof jackets and pants, with the top of the line models offering there Gore-Tex fabric.  However, as the product line has previously been constructed, they would offer models oriented more towards road biking, and models oriented towards mountain biking.  The fabric durability and abrasion resistance varied, as did the cut of the clothing.  The Fusion GT AS is kind of a ‘best of both worlds’ product, and they market it as both on and off-road appropriate.

Manufacturer’s descriptions:

FUSION GT AS JACKET: “Perfect all-arounder. Trail or tour, mountains or city. Lightweight, packable and robust weather-protection jacket with GORE-TEX Stretch and the extreme breathability of the new GORE-TEX Active Shell.”

FUSION GT AS PANTS: “All-weather, all purpose pants. Trail or tour, mountains or city. Lightweight, packable and robust weather-protection pants with GORE-TEX Stretch and the extreme breathability of the new GORE-TEX Active Shell.”

Glamour shots in the garage:

Note the reflectivity, and the left sided Napoleon pocket.  No other pockets on the front.  The Napoleon pocket has a waterproof zipper, and is mesh on the inside, with one divider.  It is surprisingly spacious and has plenty of room to hold keys, an iPhone, a wallet, and a couple snacks.

Rear of jacket.  Note–no pockets on the rear.

Integrated hood in collar.  Available if you need it in a pinch.

Pants.  Note the tapered profile.

Amazingly effective thigh vents, with waterproof zippers.  They are mesh lined.  Amazing is the appropriate word here…the difference in leg temperature with these open versus closed is significant.  For some reason (possibly because of their placement on the front of the thigh, into the wind), they seem to be far more effective than similar zipper vents I’ve had in ski pants in the past.

Rear view of pants.  Note reflective stripes.  When riding, these are perfectly displayed to rear/side traffic.  At the top/middle, you can see the small rear pocket (the only pocket on the pants).  It has a small mesh insert and a waterproof zipper.

There are two sets of velcro at the bottom of the pants.  One set (at the very bottom) secures the pants at your ankles.  When combined with my Shimano MW81 boots with neoprene ankle booties, these allow for an amazingly waterproof fit.  Rain/snow/splashes/puddles drain right off the pants, down over the shoes, keeping your socks and feet warm and dry.  The second set of velcro is about six inches higher, and secures the tapered fabric over the calf, both to keep clear of your chainrings, and to prevent loose fabric from flapping in the breeze.

They do not let you forget that the pants and jacket are Gore-Tex.

The seat, crotch, inner thigh, and everywhere you’d want to be reinforced is appropriately reinforced.

And, as per RATG’s standard practice, a few pics of the jacket and pants in use:

In use (with snowy Muk).  Note the Gore Phantom layered underneath.  On this day, temperatures were in the upper 20s with a damp breeze.  I was sporting the MW81s, a set of tights over bib-shorts, a short-sleeve jersey, a Nike Pro-Fit long sleeve undershirt, the Phantom and the Fusion GT AS jacket/pants.  As you can see, in trail riding on the Mukluk, I was on the warm side (hence the open zippers).  Plenty of adjustability in the ventilation department, for greater comfort.  You can also see the effectiveness of the lower-leg velcro, keeping the pants tight against your legs and avoiding chainring interference.

I included this picture (photo credit to Tobie DePauw of North Central Cyclery) not because of the scenic bridge (though it is scenic), but rather because you can see how the cut of the jacket is longer in the rear…so it very easily covers jersey pockets full of stuff (here, I was sporting a camera, a Mukluk tube, a multi-tool and some CO2), and gives you a waterproof back, down over your pants.  Excellent coverage.

I won’t pretend to know the difference between all of the various types of Gore-Tex out there, but this setup is amazing.  It has the best ventilation of any waterproof fabric I’ve ever used–equal in performance to Gore-Tex Proshell.  The stretch fabric is great.  I’ve had a number of falls in these (including one ice-induced, sliding fall onto pavement) and there are no abrasions, holes, tears, or other signs of wear.  As noted above, I typically wear these in combination with my Phantom jacket, and have found it to be an awesome combination.  The Fusion GT AS jacket and pants by themselves appear to be completely waterproof and windproof–but with as breathable as they are, you will need a warm layer under them for winter riding.  (And again–the vent action is excellent, if you start getting warm).

I’m about 6’1″ and 155# with long arms and typically wear 32/34 pants–everything is cut appropriately to fit with adequate arm length and leg length.  I cannot overemphasize how well the ankle/calf velcro works to secure the pants and keep your feet dry/warm.  I’ve had a couple other people try on the pants and jacket, and it seems pretty accommodating up to around 210#.  For those with incredibly large calves, it may be advisable to try them on before ordering, or order a size up.  I have a Large in the jacket, and a Medium in the pants–I followed Gore’s ordering size chart exactly, and the fit is great.  The pants do have an unusual taper in the legs…it looks weird on the hangar, but when you’re riding, the fit is excellent.  The pants are obviously made for cyclists.  And as noted above, the cut on the rear of the jacket is long enough that it doesn’t leave a plumber’s crack when you get down in the drops.

I haven’t been able to use them in warm weather yet (I usually just get wet when it’s raining and warm out).  I have used them for road biking, mountain biking, fat biking, mud biking and similar escapades.  They have held up to everything I’ve thrown at them, from high-cadence distance rides to slow slogs through muck.  With as durable and waterproof as they have proven to be, I’m amazed by how lightweight they are.

Complaints?  The pocket on the rear of the pants is useless.  I suppose it would work for credit card touring, but that’s about it.  The zipper pulls are very small.  When riding, it is hard to manipulate the thigh vents or jacket zipper to adjust your temperature.  It’s much easier to use two hands–which can be annoying.  The Napoleon pocket could be totally waterproof (lined inside) so your iPhone doesn’t get soaked from your sweat.  Uhhh…they don’t automatically turn you into a Tour de France competitor.  I’m reaching, here.  There is really very little to complain about.  If there were some longer pulls on the zippers, I’d have zilch to complain about.

As noted above, they’re marketed for both on-road and off-road use.  The cut, fit, durability and comfort level seems to be appropriate for both uses, and I have no hesitation about putting them into service on just about any ride you can think of.  I’ve come to rely on this setup for rain, snow, wind, and cold-weather generally, with or without precipitation.  I’ve only put about a thousand miles on these so far, as they’re new this season (a new Gore product for 2011), but there are absolutely no signs of any kind of wear.

My customary advice on where to buy: your local bike shop.  (Or my local bike shop, which just happens to be a Gore dealer, if you’d like).

I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit sheepish about grades on this product, because so far, everything that’s been reviewed has received an A.  In all honesty, that’s because I’ve been reviewing the products that I love the most, that I’m the most excited about, and that are among my ‘go-to’ items for a pleasant bike ride.  With that in mind, RATG gives the Gore Fusion GT AS jacket and pants both a resounding A+.


1/21/12 Update Here

Gore Phantom Jacket Review

Today’s featured product review is the Gore Phantom Neon Jacket.

To start, allow me to say that this is the first year that I’ve attempted to put together a cycling-specific set of outerwear.  Last year, I was adapting skiing clothes to biking, which worked well for some purposes, but not for others.  This year, I made a commitment to riding more in the winter, and to ensure that I don’t have any excuses not to ride, I’ve put together a great winter riding kit.  When I started looking for winter riding clothes, a great deal of research kept leading me back to Gore, again and again.  I ended up corresponding with Gore’s corporate headquarters, and found them to be incredibly, incredibly pleasant and helpful.  The person I spoke with was a cyclist himself, and he offered some unique insight based on his use of Gore products in the Northeast–with chilly, windy, wet weather.  His suggestions ended up being right on the money.  One of the suggestions was the Gore Phantom Neon Jacket.  Manufacturer’s picture and description:

“Windproof Soft Shell jacket for ambitious cyclists. Versatile – jacket, functional jersey and vest all in one. Better visibility thanks to neon-colour.”

A few pictures of my jacket (stylishly modeled in my garage):

The reflective stripes are very, very visible at night.

The back of the jacket features three large, elastic jersey pockets.

The jacket is convertible; there are two zippers that attach each sleeve, and they are easily removed for rides where the weather–or the cyclist–warms up.

And… a few pics of the jacket in use:

The jacket is very, very visible at night, both from the bright color and the reflective piping.  Please note that my jacket is the yellow color, not the neon yellow color (that’s the only difference).  The jacket is made from Gore Windstopper fabric.  The zippers are very, very high quality, and have a good, tactile feel to them.  The pockets on the rear are nice and large, and the elastic in them holds items relatively securely.  My jacket is a medium; I’m around 6’1″, and about 155#–it fits me perfectly.  I usually have a problem with clothes either being too baggy, or having too short of sleeves.  This jacket is nice and trim through the torso, and has nice, long sleeves with elastic closures that hold them in place (either down at your wrists, or up your arm if you choose to push them up).

The Windstopper fabric performs admirably in…well…stopping the wind.  It also does a reasonably good job of being water-resistant.  This isn’t a jacket to wear in a downpour, but in light rain, fog, light snow, or other moderate conditions, it will keep you dry.  It also does a very, very good job of being breathable, and not holding in moisture.  Other than the three pockets on the back, there are no other pockets within the jacket.

I had originally thought that the zip-off sleeves were a relatively useless feature of the jacket. However, after using it for several months, I’ve come to appreciate them.  With layering, the jacket is very versatile.  With just a jersey underneath, the jacket is great for early fall days where the weather starts around 50 and warms up to the 70s.  As the weather warms, the jacket can be unzipped, and the sleeves can be removed.  The only downside: the sleeves are somewhat bulky, and if you stuff them into the pockets on the jacket, they take up 2 complete pockets (of the 3 available).  With a long sleeve undershirt and a jersey underneath, the jacket is comfortable down to 40-ish.  As it gets colder (or wetter), adding an additional layer makes sense.  With a long sleeve undershirt, short sleeve jersey, this jacket, and a Gore Fusion GT AS jacket on, I’m comfortable in any conditions from 40 down to around 20 (as cold as it’s gotten thus far, this year) whether riding on the road, off-road, at high or low intensity.  Zipper adjustments can make a huge difference in the warmth and comfort level.  The back panel of the jacket is a slightly different fabric that allows for greater breathability and comfort.

I should also report that I’ve had the jacket on a number of mountain bike and fat bike excursions, and have suffered a number of falls while wearing it.  It has shrugged falls off, and has also endured a number of machine washings, and shows no wear or ill effects.  The jacket really cannot be distinguished from new, even looking at it carefully.  I’ve had the jacket for some time now, and it has really held up well.

The manufacturer’s description talks about this jacket being multi-functional…and it really is.  With the jersey pockets, it works well in a number of conditions and for a multitude of uses.  And I cannot give enough positive comments about the fit–the slim fit through the torso works well for me, and allows the jacket to be used comfortably by itself (without excess material flapping in the breeze) or under another layer or two, when the weather gets cold.  The slim fit does preclude wearing heavy layers under the jacket, though.  An athletic fit undershirt (e.g. a Nike Pro-fit) and a short or long sleeve jersey fit comfortably, but that’s approaching the practical limit.  I have, on occasion, slipped a slender Polartec vest underneath with good effect.  Also, as the jacket is slim fit, you will have a hard time loading up your jersey pockets and wearing the jacket–much less accessing your jersey pockets.  But the jacket has 3 jersey pockets on the back of it that prevent this from being an issue.

The downsides are relatively few and far between.  The Windstopper fabric does retain odors relatively easily–that necessitates more washing than I’d like to have to do on a jacket.  As noted above, it isn’t waterproof–but then again, it isn’t intended to be.  While the fabric is very breathable, I’ve yet to find a way of fully regulating temperature that allows me to be comfortable when hammering at high intensity, that doesn’t result in freezing when taking a brief respite from pedaling.  That’s not so much a criticism of the jacket as it is an issue with personal temperature regulation.  While the jersey pockets are very convenient, at times I do find that I’d like to have a secure, zippered pocket to throw stuff into–perhaps a small Napoleon pocket as on the Gore Fusion GT AS jacket.  And while the fabric is brightly colored and there are reflective stripes, if you’re contemplating wearing this at night, you will need to supplement it with other reflective gear and lights to be fully seen.  All in all, pretty insignificant criticisms.

Where to buy?  At your local bike shop, of course.  Any Gore dealer should be able to order this for you.  If you can’t find a Gore dealer, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with mine.

RATG gives the Gore Phantom an A-.

These Boots Were Made for Biking…Shimano MW81 Review

Woo-Hoo!  Bike Gear Review #1!!!

Today’s featured product is the Shimano MW-81 winter biking boot.  Shimano’s stock photograph:

And the boots, live and in person:

They are gore-tex lined shoes with a synthetic, water resistant outside.  The sole is glass-fiber reinforced polyamid, with standard mounting points for mountain-bike cleats.  I use Crank Brothers 2 hole cleats on them, and have used the shoes with both Eggbeaters and Candy pedals.  There are 3 velcro straps that go across the foot, and a fourth velcro strap secures a neoprene bootie that covers the ankle.

The boots are very waterproof.  Yesterday, I put my foot down in a puddle (accidentally) that was nearly up to the top of the boot.  I quickly saw my mistake and retracted my foot, and there was no water intrusion at all.  Even after repeated dunkings to a few inches of depth I was very pleased with the waterproof performance.

From a sizing perspective, I usually wear 10.5 in shoes, and 44 (Bontrager) cycling shoes.  My feet are relatively narrow.  Saloman shoes fit me about perfectly in a 10.  My Bontrager road and MTB shoes are both 44s, and fit very well with thin socks.  I ordered the MW-81s in a 45, and find that they’re about perfect with a really thick pair of socks.  Even with my skinny feet, I have no problem cinching down the velcro tight enough to be comfortable (and to not have repeated foot movement).  A 44 would be perfect in these if I wasn’t wearing thick socks.  With the thick socks, the 45 is helpful.  The shoes have a good deal of internal volume to deal with sock mass.

The shoe shape is very comfortable, and I have no heel slip at all.  Speaking of the velcro, it is without a doubt the nicest, heaviest-duty velcro that I’ve ever used, on any product.  It holds firmly, cleans easily, and is very convenient.  I’m typically more a fan of buckles on bike shoes, but these work very well–no complaints at all.

The polyamid footbed is relatively rigid; I can bike all day in these and not have any foot ache or discomfort.  The seam sealing and neoprene bootie work well to keep water out, as indicated above.  The ‘tread’ on the bottom of the shoe is not very aggressive (this is an area that could be substantially improved), but there is mounting for cleats, and that can aide a great deal.  In addition, the tread that there is on the shoes is ‘rubbery’ and not ‘plasticky’, and thus does have some grip on solid surfaces.  Off-road, the shoes are not very tractive.

Speaking of tractive, let’s talk about attractive.  As in, “my, your MW-81s are not very attractive.”  True, true.  But they are good performers.  In cold weather riding, my normal wear would be a pair of cycling bib shorts or knickers, a pair of Bontrager thermal tights, and a set of Gore bike pants (reviews on those to come).  I wear thick, Smartwool socks under that setup.  On the road, the shoes are comfortable down to the high-20s.  By 25 degrees, my feet get cold after an hour, no matter what.  Off-road, where there’s more foot movement, standing, and other motions that encourage foot bloodflow, I can ride these down to the low 20s.  Below that, you’re looking at platforms and boots.  My setup is to tuck the tights right into the boots, close the velcro ankle closure over the tights, and then pull the Gore pants down over the ankle closure.  This does an excellent job of keeping crud, snow and water out, and keeping warmth in.

I only have a few hundred miles on them so far, and a majority of that has been road/path riding.  I’ll update this in a few months with some wear and tear reports, but the boots have been great to date.  If you’re looking for a cold-ish weather boot that is waterproof and comfortable, these are a great place to start looking.

Where to buy?  Your local bike shop.  Call or email them, and ask them to order you a pair.  Can you find them online?  Yup.  I’m sure you can.  But if you’re like me, you value the availability of a LBS to get your products from, so: 1) when you have an issue, you have immediate, local product assistance; 2) you can get expert help selecting the best product; and, 3) you can have a place to go and drool at bikes, without risking shorting out your keyboard.

RATG gives these an A, thus far.

*****UPDATE OF 12.29.11*****

I tried the MW81s with adhesive foot warmers (just like hand warmers, but slightly rounded in shape and with an adhesive that sticks to socks) last evening.  My comments on the bottom end of comfortable temperatures is now revised.  Even with thin socks, riding on the road, with wind, I was very comfortable in the high 20s (and by very comfortable, I mean there was no discomfort at all).  I’m not sure what the bottom end of temperatures would be, but I suspect that with thick socks and foot warmers, the MW81s should suffice into the low teens.


Retirement Strategies: Investing in Precious Metals. (Bikes, that is).

Over time, I’ll give more details on each individual bike, but for now, a brief introduction will have to suffice.  All of my bikes have come from North Central Cyclery, in DeKalb, Illinois.  With no further adieu…

The whole fam-damily (pre-Mukluk).

That’s the Vaya, the Ridley, the Rumblefish and the Big Dummy.  Individually, then…

The Vaya.  56cm Titanium Salsa Vaya, from before they offered a complete Ti Vaya.  Or, as I like to call it, the Vaytanium.

NCC built Velocity A23 wheels, SRAM Rival, BB7 Road disc brakes, Eriksen Ti Sweetpost, Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals, Deda bars, Chris King hubs.  To quote a friend, “all stops pulled.”  Photo credit goes to the  talented eyes at Transit Interface.  The Vaya is good at, well, everything.  It gets pressed into long gravel rides, commuting, cyclocross, road rides, winter rides, prairie path rides, etc.  Although not pictured, it is now sporting a Tubus Carry Ti rack on the rear, and handles wonderfully with panniers.  It also features the (now discontinued) Winwood Muddy Cross carbon, disc-friendly fork.  If I could only have one bike for the rest of my life, it would be the Vaytanium.

The Ridley.  58cm Ridley Noah, with integrated seatpost.  Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels, full Ultegra gruppo.  Crank Brothers Candy 3 pedals (for interchangeability with the Vaytanium).  Not a lot of great pics of it, but it is the weapon of choice for high-speed summer pavement assaults.  It is fast.  Faster than I have any justification to ride.  And it’s light.  How light?  Well…

Ridleydiculously light.

The Rumblefish.  Gary Fisher Rumblefish, with Ergon grips, Easton Haven UST 29er wheelset, Maxxis Ikon EXO tires, and either Vault pedals or a set of Eggbeater 2s.  Formerly, it sported a Crank Brothers Joplin adjustable seatpost, but after 2 rebuilds in as many months, that was dropped.  The Rumblefish is used for all things off road, as well as the occasional gravel blitz.

And the Big Dummy.  Just about every Xtracycle accessory there is, although usually sporting a flight deck, freeloaders, and a Peapod.  It also rocks the Rolling Jackass Centerstand and a Jones Loop bar.  The Big Dummy faces occasional commuting service, and frequent suburban trips (to town, to parks, to Home Depot, and to places that sell food).  I’m going to show you a picture, but you’re going to have to pardon the wicked Ergon moose antlers (now gone), wicked seat (now gone) and wickedly bad photo angle.  You’ve been warned.

The latest ride to join the fleet is a Salsa Mukluk 2.  Starting with a base Mukluk 2, this one adds: 1) Big Fat Larrys; 2) one removed gear from the cassette (to clear the aforementioned BFLs); 3) Thomson stem and dress-up kit; 4) Jones Loop Bars; 5) Thomson Masterpiece seatpost; and, 6) Avid SD-7 Brake levers (and Ergon grips).  It also occasionally sports a full set of Porcelain Rocket frame bags, Salsa Anything Cages, and a Bontrager Back Rack 2.  For pedals, it either sports a set of Vaults or a set of Eggbeater 2s (just like the Rumblefish).  The Mukluk has been pressed into service on a few gravel/mud/B-road/powerline/where’s the path trips, and will be a snow bike supreme this winter.  A few pics:

As the title of this post suggests, my retirement strategy involves investing in precious metals.  Aluminum, steel…hopefully more titanium into the future…and even a dabble or two into carbon fiber.

That’s the fleet.  More details to come…