Monday, December 21, 2009

Sidi Genius 5 Pro Carbon Shoe Review

This is an odd name for this shoe, since the sole is not fully carbon and it is not their "pro" shoe.  Maybe it was lost in the translation from Italian?  Anyway, I needed some new shoes, since my old Specialized shoes are starting to collapse to the right (too many stop lights...).  Can't remember the model, but they are six or seven years old, have a plastic sole, a click-type buckle (what the hell do you call those things?), and was not their top 'o the line.  Let me be clear - I love(d) these shoes - they are wide and I have wide feet and feel great when you jump out of the saddle and hammer (some sort of special "Body Geometry" crap that Specialized trademarked).  I really thought that I would go with another set of Specialized, but when I was looking at the new models, I noticed that, while the parts were replaceable, there were not as many as Sidi and they didn't have old parts.  I'm sick of throwing shit away because one little part is worn, but not replaceable - that's why I ride Campy.  Anyway, Sidi now makes a wide ("mega") size and almost every part is replaceable (and they still have old stock), so I figured I'd join the pack and get me some fine Italian pleather.

First off, these are some fine looking shoes - for bike shoes, that is.  Pleather uppers, with a clicky buckle and two velcro buckles.  The clicky buckle is pretty cool - there are two release tabs, each one acting as kind of a half-click if you need to loosen.  If you want to totally loosen, you press both at the same time.  Nice touch.  The velcro straps, as far as I'm concerned, are the best feature of this shoe - they have plastic teeth/grooves that secure the straps, which are essential, due to the fit (see below).

The soles are not actually fully carbon fiber (please take note, LBS Dude - do some research on products that cost over $200 before making such statements with confidence), but a plastic sole with carbon "injected" into it.  Supposedly, it is 37% stiffer than a plastic sole.  Hard to tell exactly, but these are stiff little fuckers - much more so than my old Specializeds.  Not sure how they compare to full carbon fiber, but are probably not as stiff.  As far as I am concerned, I like the fact they have a plastic bottom.  I have mild carbophbia, so the thought of scratching up a full CF sole scares me a bit - I really don't want my shoes crumbling beneath me.  I don't think you have to be overly paranoid about over-torquing the cleat bolts or getting a scratch or two on them.  Also, the cleat has a hole (and provided screws) for the Look "memory" tabs.  This is cool, since I use Looks - the memory tab is a little plastic piece that stays bolted on and allows you to have a perfect fit on new cleats.  The heel pads are pretty good and prevent slippage.

As for the fit, I must say, I'm not fully sold yet.  The uppers are definitely wide enough - there is more room in the toe box than my Specializeds, which is great.  My toes can wiggle and, therefore, they are warmer than my old shoes, even though they seem to have better ventilation (I'm writing this in winter).  In fact, the uppers are so wide, I really have to pull the velcro straps tight - good thing they have the special locking "teeth."  This tends to make my feet pull up very slightly if I am really hammering super hard out of the saddle in a high gear.  If you are a sprinter (I mean a real sprinter), I would look for something tighter, if you have wide feet.  That's not really a problem, for me, though.  The problem I am having is that the sole doesn't really seem to be for wide feet.  It's like they took a regular sole and put a larger upper on it to make it a "wide" shoe.  Not sure if the sole is the same as a regular width, but I wouldn't be surprised.  What this means is that the ball of my foot is slightly over the edge of the sole, making for some discomfort.  Since it's winter, I haven't done more than a 20 mile ride with these, which feels OK, but 100 miles in these might be tough.  My feet might get used to them - don't know yet.  I am getting a fitting tomorrow, so I'll see if an insert might help.  What this means is that I might be selling these on Craigslist soon, If I can't get the fit right.  The Specialized sole really is way wider on the ball of my foot.  Too early to tell if this is just getting used to a new shoe, or not.  I'll post something in a month or two to let people know how they are going.

Update: So, I had a PT do a bike fit and he tweaked the shoes with shims between the cleat and the sole.  The shims are tapered, so it tilts the sole upwards on the side to the frame side of the shoe.  Basically, this is just making it more like the Specialized shoes and their "Body Geometry" design.  He also put some Louis Garneau insoles in (thirty-odd bucks).  These two tweaks, along with proper cleat placement, basically eliminated the weird feeling I was getting on the balls of my feet.  My PT seemed to think it was the "flat" sole of the Sidis that caused this.  He also said that, in his opinion, the insoles of Sidi shoes are shit and that you should replace them immediately.  So, the short of it is that I spent more $$ to make my Sidis  more like the Specializeds.  If the longevity of this shoe is less/the same as my old Specializeds, then I'm going back, Italian coolness be damned.

Planet Bike Super Flash LED Rear Light Review

OK - kind of weird to be reviewing a $15 rear blinkie.  Not much to be said about this - I've been cycling through crappy rear lights (pun intended) for over 10 years and this is simply the best for two reasons: 1) it's bright as hell with the 1/2 watt led flash and 2) it has a solid bracket and mounting system.  I just bought another one so I'll have two of these going at once.

The brightness of this thing is superior.  You are visible from a long ways away and the blinking pattern creates a defining flash that really captures your attention.  You get two brackets with this - one for a seatpost mount and one for a seat stay mount.  You can also just clip the thing, sans bracket, on a belt, cloth loop on your bag, etc. (see below)  The seat stay mount is great if you have a short seat post with a seat post bag.  I assume you could mount the seat stay bracket on a rear rack, as well.  Once the thing is put into the bracket, it stays there.  I've lost many a removable rear lights through shoddy bracket mounts, so this is key for me - I commute on crappy pavement and have several bumpy downhill stretches, so I need something that won't go flying off.

One this really needs to be addressed by Planet Bike in order to make this the perfect rear light - it needs a locking mechanism on the "clip" so when you clip it onto a bag it doesn't come flying off.  Nothing fancy - just a little thumb screw that you can tighten that would "complete the loop" on the clip, preventing the thing from flying off of your bag when you hit a bump.  The other night, this new light flew off my Seal Line backpack when I was hammering home (late for dinner!) and hit a little bump.  I really appreciate the fact you can clip it onto things, but there needs to be a better way to secure it once it is clipped on.  For now, I'll make due with a piece of duct tape on the bottom.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

FSA V Drive MegaExo Crankset Review

Bought this for a Trek hardtail replacement frame that I have been using for a wet weather commuter.  Since I now have a new dedicated commuter, I'm slowly changing the frame back to a mountain machine.  I thought this would be a good choice because a) I'm a new fan of external bottom-brackets and b) it was pretty cheap.  The chainrings look pretty nice - pins and ramps abound.  The cranks are pretty lightweight - hope they are durable, since I have read some mixed reviews about their strength.

The bottom bracket cups went on pretty smoothly.  I had a "BB7000" model, which has a plastic "sleeve" between the two cups that the spindle goes through.  While this is cheesy, I'm pretty sure that it is largely irrelevant to the operation of the cranks (many external BBs doesn't have a "sleeve" at all).  The cups only require a Park BBT-9 tool to install, which works on Shimano and Campy external BBs - obviously someone screwed up since it does not require a proprietary tool (although FSA does have it's own version of the tool).  The crank  comes with a Torx wrench for the chainring bolts, in case you don't have one (and if so, might as well suck it up and get some - they are the future).

The only confusing part about mounting the cranks is that there appears to be several sizes of the BB and you need to know which one to use to determine how many spacers you need to install.  I never saw anything about different BB sizes when I bought the thing, so I'm not sure what the deal is there.  The one I have was supposed to be used for BB-mounted derailleurs, which I don't have.  I ended up guessing that the derailluer mount was about the size of one spacer and acted accordingly - I, of course, backed it up with caliper measurements.  The problem was that the chainline was off when after I installed, so I had to remove at put the spacer on the left-side cup (I initially put it on the right, since that is where a BB-mounted FD would have been installed).  Chainline was perfect after that.  FSA really needs to work on their installation instructions regarding spacers, BB size, and chainline.  By the way - one of the o-rings already came installed on the spindle.  This was a little confusing, since the instructions say there are two, but there is only one loose one (for the left side).

The spindle does not inspire as much confidence as my Campy cranks.  In my opinion, the hirth joint on the Campys appears much more stable than than the FSA - which is basically just secured to the left-side crank by a fixing bolt and two opposing 5MM bolts on the crank arms.  There are splines on the spindle that match up to the crank, but they are fairly shallow.  I'll see how this works out - I can imagine potential slippage due to a lot of touque, but only time will tell (might just be paranoid).  Once installed, the resistance on the cranks was way more than a normal, adjusted BB, but about the same as my external Campy BB when I first installed it (it loosened up after 500 miles, or so, but still has more resistance than a conventional BB).

As far as their operation, they are nice and stiff compared to the Shimano sealed BB I had on there before.  No creaking when riding and the bearings are loosening up (but don't think they will ever be as loose as a conventional BB).  The chainrings shift very smoothly.  So far, so good.  I'll update of there are any problems.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Seal Line Urban Backpack Review

Finally retired my Timbuk 2 bag after 10 years of daily use - the waterproof lining was pretty shot and it just wasn't waterproof anymore.  So, I decided to go with the Seal Line Urban Backpack.  I wanted something that was super waterproof (living in Seattle) and was a backpack.  I looked at Banjo Brothers biking backpacks and Ortlieb messenger bags.  Banjo Brothers pack was kinda ugly and the Ortlieb was a little on the expensive side and, well, are kind of everywhere in Seattle.  I ended up buying the Seal Line at Amazon for a pretty good price with free shipping.  The reviews I read were good (but were done by people getting free backpacks from Seal Line) and it is made in Seattle.  I also bought the organizer at Amazon.  I think that the organizer should be included with the backpack, but, alas, it is not.

First of all, this pack is quite roomy.  Out of all the backpacks I looked at, this was by far the biggest.  It was also lighter than the Ortlieb - not that I am a weight weenie, but lighter can't hurt, as long as it is durable.  I haven't really loaded it down yet, but I hauled a pretty good load the first day I was using it - including an eight inch cake still in the pan (long story).  The cake fit very nicely flat on the bottom, since the pack kind of has an oval shape.  All in all, I probably had a good 15 pounds in it.  I could really load this thing up with clothes and/or groceries, but haven't yet.  The organizer isn't so hot - it needs some bigger pockets, but it is better than nothing - I put a wallet, phone(s), checkbook, keys, pens, and a few other small items.  It also has a built-in outer pocket (the black "patch" on the outside) which is pretty roomy.  I put a small frame pump, some tools, and an ID badge in it - still a lot of room left over.  The pack does pretty well with a small load, but you can't "roll it down" more than the three recommended rolls, but it collapses fairly well and doesn't look that huge.

As for comfort, it is much better than a "messenger style" bag.  The sternum straps and waist belt stop any movement well.  I think you may not really need the waist belt, but I haven't tried it without yet.  I have an 11 mile each-way commute and it it felt great.  I'll have to wait for the summer months to try out the 40 mile "detour" (which was hell with a messenger bag).  One thing I noticed was that it doesn't help you keep your back straight, which a messenger bag tends to do, since it rides lower on your back.  This isn't a problem, but I always liked being forced to straighten my back, since I tend to bend it.  Overall, I really feel it is a better fit and design than a messenger bag.  One thing to note - I think this bag really does increase your wind resistance.  The design of the roll-down flap keeps the upper part of the bag sticking out beyond your shoulders.  I had a 15 MPH head-wind the other day and I'm pretty sure I could feel some slow down (above and beyond the usual).  This is a little concerning for me, but I'll live with it.  It also obstructs vision very slightly - a very casual glance back to look behind you and you see some of the top of the bag - I need to twist my head a little but more, but it is not a big problem at all.

Finally, for waterproofness.  The first day I used it I rode in a pretty raging Western Washington November storm.  It was raining, heavily.  After 40 minutes or so in this, everything in the bag (including the outer pocket) was bone dry.  I wonder about durability of the lining, but no way to tell about that after having it for a week.  The bag material is different than Ortlieb, which kind of looks like it is vinyl.  The Seal Line has kind of a cordura-like material, with what looks like a coating inside.  don't know the difference between the two, but they are different - might be worth some research.  The other concern I have about durability is the zipper on the outside pocket.  While it looks totally durable and is waterproof, I think that lots of use may take a toll on it.  Overall, I think it will work great and all I have read makes it seem like it will last, you never know until people have been using them for a long time.

Overall, so far, so good.  Comfortable, waterproof, light, and roomy.  Downsides are wind resistance and very slight vision obstruction.

BTW - Shoes in the photos are size 10 1/2....

UPDATE: Well, it's been almost six months with daily use of this bag.  It is holding up great.  There are no cracks/wear in the lining and the outside zipper is still working perfectly.  It wasn't the rainiest winter on record, but this thing was fully waterproof through some pretty heavy downpours.  So far, very durable.  I do not ride with the waist strap unless I am carrying a very heavy load, but the bag remains stable.   The only additional drawback I have noticed is a tendency for the straps to loosen slowly every few weeks.  Not a big deal - you just tighten up the Fastex buckle and you are good to go.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Flew back to Quito in the afternoon.  We decided to stay in a hostel for our last night, since we had to leave  at four in the morning.  Thought it would be nice to save a little money and there was a hostel that was supposed to have a great view of the City.  Sure enough, the hostel had a roof garden with a bar/restaurant that looked out over the city.  The problem was, people were drinking beer up there until quite late and the walls were pretty thin.  Lots of people yelling "woo hoo!" and such.  We decided we were too old for third world traveler hostels.

It's been a great trip.


We decided to take a tour of a nearby indigenous village, which we arranged in Cuenca.  Some of the people in the village started a collective for cheese and tourism, so all of the money from these tours goes to the collective.  I'm not usually into these kind of tours - going to an indigenous community and looking at the way they live kind of seems like gawking to me, never mind the fact that a lot of these tours really take advantage of these communities financially.  But, this tour was set up, run, and managed by the community itself, so it seemed less like gawking and more like um...a tour.

Anyway, when we got to the gathering point, it was clear that we were the only ones signed up on this day.  This especially made Allegra nervous, since the tour was in Spanish and she was going to be interpreting.  We took a cab to the village with our guide, Rosa.  The village was about 30 minutes outside of Cuenca in beautiful rolling hills.  Lots of dairy cows were milling about - obviously the source of the milk for the cheese.  We hung out with Rosa and some of the other villagers as they prepared for lunch.  We helped out a little bit, then went on a walk with Rosa.  We checked out the cheese making facility, which was pretty cool for me.  They make mozzarella, mainly - probably for all of those wood-fired pizza places.  It was a little problematic to understand Rosa, since her Spanish was heavily accented (she didn't really speak Qechua, but I think her Spanish was accented like she did).  She explained about the farming, local trails, economy, etc.  Interesting, but we didn't get everything.

Lunch was pretty cool - it was a traditional feast where they laid out a long cloth and then throw all of the food on it - everyone just digs in.  It was weird, however, since there were only about six of us - not so much a feast.  They told us about the agriculture in the area, textile making, and music.  We plaid with the kids a little bit, then headed home.  It was interesting, but a little weird.  The village was pretty prosperous, with a nifty school, internet, cars, etc.  As they becomes more developed, the less they use less of their traditional way of life, making it less interesting to tourists.  So, the tours become more disconnected from their actual, everyday lives.  This is good, I think (they seems to be happy with their prosperity - and why she they be denied of it?), but makes it a little less interesting for the tourists.

We had the best meal in Ecuador, tonight.  Went to a place that specialized in tangine-kind of things.  Great steak with a bunch of pickle and relish dishes.  I realized that one of the problems with Ecuadorian cooking is that their is little acid used - it is all pretty much carbs and fat - not much citrus/vinegar/etc.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


We had two full days in Cuenca, a city in the Southern highlands of Ecuador.  It is the third biggest city in Ecuador and was named a UNESCO heritage site.  I should add that UNESCO seems to throw around its heritage site designations like confetti, but at least it indicates it is not a total dump.  Cuenca did not disappoint - it it the most intact colonial city we saw in either Ecuador or Peru.  It is also the home of the Panama Hat industry.  Ironically, the Panama hat has always been made it Panama, mostly in and around Cuenca, but was mis-named because it was associated with workers building the Panama Canal that wore them.

We spent the day walking around the city, enjoying the architecture and the ice cream.  This is real dairy country, so the ice cream shops were everywhere and had great, homemade ice cream.  This was also our last chance to buy souvenirs.  We held off on a lot of shopping, since we were traveling with carry-ons and did not want to load up our bags.  I was also on a quest to buy an Andean-style fedora.  It is amazing that you see thousands on indigenous people wearing these felt fedoras, but you never see them for sale anywhere.  I did manage to finally find one made by one of Ecuador's most well-known hat maker.

Cuenca is quite a laid-back City.  It has more of a "cafe culture" than other places in Ecuador and people generally seem to like to mill about the streets, even at night (way more safer than Quito).  There was a small-scale riot going on the whole time we were there, but it was across the river in the university district, so we weren't really affected.  Not really sure what it was about, but we did see people cheering on the riot police heading to the scene, so my guess is that it was the usual college-kid riot.  People generally disregarded it, so we even forgot to ask people what it was about.

There was some sort of "tourist"celebration going on when we were there.  At night, we watched a free concert in the main square, which was fun (except for the group doing 70's soft rock hits in Spanish - "Killing Me Softly" and so on).  They even had fireworks. Mostly locals that were enjoying it, but there were a fair number of touristicos about, as well.


OK - just kidding, we were only in Guayaquil  for a total of an hour.  We flew back from the Galapagos to Guayaquil, Ecuador's second biggest city and its main business area, instead of Quito.  We heard kind of mixed things about the city, so we decided we would just take the bus to Cuenca without spending anytime in Guayaquil.  By some colossal bureaucratic slip-up, they built the bus station within walking distance of the airport, so we hoofed it over to catch a bus to Cuenca.

The bus ride to Cuenca was about four hours and, holy shit, was it a nail-biter.  The bus went from sea-level to 9,000 feet in what must have been about 100 kilometers.  Almost the entire length of road was under construction, there were sheer cliff walls a thousand feet high, and our driver was a madman.  When you see all of the locals on the bus clench their seats and throw up the Hail-Mary's, you know it is bad.  On the positive side, it was a beautiful ride - we went from wet, sea-level tropical to high-alpine dry in the course of a few hours.  The sun was setting out over the coast, throwing shafts of light on to the steep canyon walls we where headed over.  Luckily, we made it to Cuenca in one piece.


We got up super early, yet again, for our flight to the Galapagos from Quito.  What to say about the Galapagos?  It was amazing.  I'm not going to go into a day-by-day posting of our time there, since the days were all pretty much the same - we would get up, go for a hike with the naturalist on one of the islands, go snorkeling, eat lunch, go on another hike or snorkel, eat dinner, and go to bed while cruising to another island.  Repeat for five days.

Our boat was called the "Aida Maria" and held sixteen passengers, although there were only twelve of us on it for this cruise.  There were a scottish couple, an Israeli mother and daughter, a Swiss couple, an Austrian couple, and two young German girls.  Since there were two tables in the dining cabin, our group divided into the English speakers (us, Scots, and the Israelis) and the German speakers. There was also a naturalist, Ruben, who was our main liaison with the crew.  There were about five other crew members, but they kept to themselves, so it was kind of hard to tell exactly how many there were.  Overall, the food was great - in fact, the cook seemed to be the hardest working man on the boat.  Our "bartender" was by all accounts the most surly man every to be involved in the service industry anywhere in the world.  Part of this may have been due to the fact that the boat had absolutely no alcohol on board.  Usually, the ships make lots of money by selling booze to passengers (the only part not included in the price of the cruise).  However, the crew had apparently partied really hard the night before leaving and forgot to stock the boat with booze.  It seems that our crew had become the laughing stock of all of the other boats - as we we passed other boats, the crew members would yell out things, point to their refrigerators, make drinking motions with their hands, etc.

Anyway, we weren't their for the booze (as we all kept telling ourselves during dinner), but for the wildlife.  It was amazing.  The sea lions on the beach were oblivious to your presence.  You could literally get within inches of them (although we were told to keep a distance of two meters at all times).  Same with birds - we saw Boobies (Blue Footed and Nazca), Flamingoes, Albatross, Frigate birds, Gulls, Finches, and many others.  We saw iguanas - both land and sea ones.  While snorkeling we saw sharks, turtles, rays, and all sorts of colorful fish.  Also while snorkeling, the baby sea lions would swim up to you and play endlessly  - darting up and down, heading towards you, only to swerve away at the last minute.  It was amazing.

The only down side was the long haul between the islands.  They did them at night, so we wouldn't waste precious time during the day.  We did three of the islands (with small ones in between), but the distance between them was about a 7 hour boat ride.  This time of the year, the sea are pretty rough.  The first night, Allegra got pretty sick.  We did, however, learn two things after this: 1) always take seasick medication BEFORE you eat and 2) try to stay away from strawberry jello on rough seas.  After that night, though, things were not quite as bad.

We had a great time and wished we had more time to go to the other islands - especially the ones that had penguins and whales.  Next time.