Category Archives: Reviews
Words and photos by Morgan Taylor unless otherwise noted.
Six months ago, I hung up my modern mountain bike and began riding a fat bike with thumb shifters and cable brakes as my only bike. Accustomed to the niceties of lightweight wheels, four piston brakes, and an 11-speed drivetrain, I’ll admit I didn’t have a lot of faith in this experiment. I had a feeling I would be itching to get back on my other bike long before the snow melted.
You see, not especially long ago, I held some fairly strong opinions about fat bikes. I worked in mountain bike media, had access to all the newest technology, and was convinced that fat bikes were so far outside the realm of acceptable mountain bikes that I chose to write them off.
Cyclocross bikes may be designed to race for 45 minutes to an hour in various conditions, but their beauty lies in their versatility. I’ve put in a lot of time on my cross bike over the years, and only a fraction of those hours were spent racing. Instead, my bike’s been on road, trail, dirt, gravel and frontage road rides. With the right gear range, which is now as simple as a cassette or a chainring swap, a cyclocross bike could very well be the only drop bar bike you’ll need.
Companies like Niner are banking on that and while they offer a few ‘cross bikes, the RLT9 Steel is their flagship steel rig. Made from oversized Reynolds 853, with a pressfit 30 bottom bracket and a sweet carbon fork, the RLT9 Steel is being marketed to the “adventure” crowd.
What better way to test a bike’s capabilities than to pull one right from the box, strap three day’s worth of camping gear on it and chase 20 people around the mountains, roads and singletrack in central California?
That’s exactly where my relationship with the RLT9 Steel began… In the San Jose airport.
While doing reviews of higher pricepoint products like the Kitsbow Alpha Snap Jacket, I’ve found it’s best to set the expectations in the opening paragraph, so here I am, setting those expectations. Now, this jacket is close to $400. It’s made in Canada, from Polartec® Alpha® insulation, a fabric used by the military for years. Read that as very expensive fabric please. This review’s intent is to answer if indeed, the Alpha Snap Jacket is worth the pricepoint, addressing anyone who might be considering the purchase, yet want more information.
I’m not trying to sell every single reader of this site a $400 jacket, I’m simply showcasing some details and thoughts of said jacket to help anyone who has considered buying it. If you want to read on, please do, if this jacket isn’t for you, no worries, no harm done.
For the most part, I only wear sunglasses on the road, at least here in Austin anyway. With all the sharp, spiky plant life here, sometimes I’d force myself to wear eyewear but was never 100% content with it. I’ve always had an issue with how sunglasses read the splotchy light found in the woods on my local trails. It was either intense and white, or shaded and dark, leaving little to no middle ground or time to adjust and it was difficult to make out details.
A few of my friends here started wearing these Oakley Prizm Trail sunglasses and swore by them for trail clarity, so I picked up a pair. Sure enough, after wearing these glasses for a few rides, the difference was clear. Let me clarify that, they made a huge difference. Oakley achieves this through a material they call Plutonite and while it sounds like a marketing ploy, the performance backs it up incredibly well.
Entry Level Fun on the State Thunderbird ‘Cross
Words by Andre Chelliah, Photos by John Watson
I see it all the time at the bike shop I work at. A young, college-aged kid comes into the store and strolls the aisles. They take in the smells, sights, and sounds of cycling. They have just seen the newest Svenness video and are ready and stoked to dip their toes into the timeless obsession that is bike racing. Then, they flip over a price tag and that excitement quickly turns into a nearly impossible math problem- how can I afford to pay for school as well as buy a quality bike to race on? This sentiment resonates strongly with me.
Being a student at The University of Texas and racing bikes on the weekends, there are times when I have to pick between textbooks and race fees. In an area where collegiate teams are not extremely supported or competitive in disciplines other than road racing, the best thing to do is pay your own way through the cross or track season. When Mehdi from State Bicycle Co asked me to shred on The Thunderbird, their $1000 singlespeed ‘cross bike, I was ecstatic to have time with a bike that could be a buy for new racers looking for something with quality, style, and affordability.
I know this isn’t cycling-oriented, unless you’re the smelly guy in the pack…
Over the past three years, I’ve helped my partner Lauren develop an all-natural deodorant at our home in Austin. I’d grown tired of hippie options and found most of them didn’t work anyway. After mixing various essential oils together, Lauren came up with a recipe that not only worked, but was remarkably effective over long periods of time.
From the hot summer months, to wearing layers upon layers in the winter time, Serota’s Underarm Balm works for me, as well as a few of my close friends who received early batches. I’ve been using it for three years and couldn’t be happier. We’ll also be developing a special Radavist scent over the next few weeks.
At any rate, I’m stoked for my partner as she launches a new brand.
You can read all about it, including how to apply, what it’s made from and read testimonials at UnderarmBalm.com, or if you’d like to pick up a container, it’s $19 shipped in the USA. Each container lasts around 3-months, depending how often you apply.
Where do I eat? What’s the weather going to be like? Where can I ride? Where’s a good bar? What shop can I ship my bike to?
See the full spread below.
People have asked me this more than just about anything else when it comes to bicycle camping: tent or hammock? Before we dive right in, I want to clarify that those aren’t the only options. You can also use a bivy or just a sleeping bag on a tarp. I’ve done it all and over the years, I’ve dialed in what I would consider a great system for selecting which will work for you.
Products that are designed to work within a system, but also operate just fine on their own are crucial to a brand. What if I don’t want to use your company’s rack? No problem. Blackburn’s Barrier Panniers are meant to be integrated into their Interlock racks – a system that allows you to lock your panniers for security while running errands around town – yet they work with any rack, even low-riders.
I recently gave these Barrier Universal panniers a go on a three day bicycle camping tour and loved them. Check out more below.
ESI has been making grips in the good ol’ US of A since 1999. Their silicone grips are my absolute favorite for a MTB bar – easy on, easy off with a four to six month lifespan. They’re tacky in the rain and offer plenty of grip through sweaty hands or gloves. While just about everyone will have nothing but positive things to say about the ESI grips, I’d never heard of their RCT Bar Tape before.
Dubbed RCT for “road, cross, triathlon”, this bar tape is re-usable since silicon is tacky enough without the use of adhesive. You can pull it hard and get it a bit thinner than it’s shown here, but I actually like the thickness, especially on a cross bike that gets ridden on trails. It’s easy to clean and doesn’t crawl around on the bars like other tapes do.
So far, I’ve had it for a few weeks and it’s taken its share of spills without showing any wear or tear. Time will tell how long it’ll last, or if it will replace my other favorite bar tapes – Fizik and Lizard Skin – but for now, I’m excited to have ESI products on my MTB and cross bikes.
You can see just how thick this stuff is by looking at the photos below. Head over to ESI for more information!