Friday, February 27, 2009

Tested: Oakley Jawbone

For most any performance optic, the idea is to increase peripheral view, hence all the frameless designs that allow you a greater viewing area. It’s why Lance always preferred the M-Frame, and why triathletes like the Half Jacket and Radar from Oakley, or frame-free designs from other brands.

Well, Lance ain’t wearing the M-Frame anymore, and guys like Chris Lieto are racing Ironmans in the new Jawbone. Why? Wouldn’t that be counterintuitive? We got a chance to test it, and find out why the Jawbone takes the conventional wisdom of frameless design and tosses it aside.
I recall meeting up with Oakley product manager Steve Blick at the Tour de France last year, and the world got its first look at these glasses, as Thor Hushovd and George Hincapie debuted them in Brest. I couldn’t believe how rad they looked. Then Chris Lieto wore them out front of the bike at the Hawaii Ironman, wearing a black and yellow LiveStrong version. After Kona I visited the Oakley factory in Foothill Ranch and it was the first question out of my mouth for Blick and Greg Welch: when are they coming to market?” “Soon” was as much as I could get out of them.

At the Tour of California Solvang time trial last week, Triathlete was invited to the official press launch of Jawbone. And yes, they have a release date.

The big selling point with this glass is SwitchLock: the lens is fully contained by the frame, which opens to allow lens swaps. The design is ingenious: the rubbery nosepad is a hinged pivot that can turn up, releasing a clasp on the lower “jaw” of the frame. The frame swings out of the way allowing for removal and swap of lenses, fingerprint-free. When the skies go dark, change ‘em out for lighter lenses, or clear. Voila.

But there’s a lot going on in the interior. Like the fact that the lens, while nestled in the frame alcove, is suspended off the frame, isolated from the flex of the frame. We noticed on our test pair a thin foam buffer on the inside of alcove that contains the lens edge. When you install the lens, it rests upon it instead of the plastic of the frame itself— and is isolated from the frame. “This way, all the compressive stresses have been removed from the lens orbital,” Blick says. What that means is that regardless of the size of your head, or the width of your helmet’s retention device upon which the frame temple sits, the flex of the frame won’t screw up the frame curvature, and thus distort your optical view. Since fully-optimized optic viewing is a hallmark of Oakley, it was an impressive detail that ought not be overlooked— and one that not to many other brands would even consider.

While SwitchLock is the hook, for us one of biggest thing is the smallest; the Jawbone sports thin little folding armpieces. I’ve been training and racing in Oakley’s Radar since they came out, and have loved, like all of us, the absence of a frame on the sides and bottom. But they have a thick armpiece that can be a hassle getting around helmet retention devices. Like all glasses, I had to place them over my road helmet’s retention device, rather than under (because putting them under creates a tension focus behind my ear, which gets painfully uncomfortable, especially on long rides. But the stiffness of the burlier temples still put some focal pressure on my temple.

Oakley countered it on the Jawbone with a thin, slightly flexy armpiece. And that would be my biggest question with Jawbone: would they hurt my head? Answer? Nope. The thin arms are meant to flex naturally over the The armpieces went under over retention device, and being so thin, flexed nicely, eliminating any painful stress points. It was awesome. “

Coming home, I tried it again with my aero helmet, another litmus test. Again, it worked, sliding into the tiny temple slots easier than any glass had heretofore. It was, again, awesome.

OK, so why so great for triathlon? Well, for the above reason is one. But the frame design is another.

That size, parlayed with your head position when in the aerobars (or on your hoods when on your road bike) put your eye level at about the top third of the frame. Meaning there’s plenty of view coverage below, and nothing obscured. But it’s the top where we care; we’re looking straight up the road, and the frame (and our helmet) are always in the way. “We worked with all the leading helmet manufacturers—some of who are our competitors—cooperating so that we can deliver the best experience for the consumer.”

The Jawbone’s upper frame is thin, butting up against your helmet to give you just that bit more viewing when you’ve got your head tucked. “Testing with Davis and Taylor Phinney and Brian Lopes and George Hincapie, we found we needed a larger field of view off the stem,” Blick said. “When your head is down, we minimized the obstruction at the top of the orbital as much as possible. So when they’re on, you’re not looking at the top of the frame, you’re actually getting a clear field of view.”

Other minutae about Jawbone:

• Each set of glasses sold will come with an extra nosepiece; the hinge of the nosepiece can be popped off, and replaced. Further, those nosepads have a bit of rise to them, which will help fit better with athletes with smaller, lower nose bridges, letting it sit off the face better. “Those bigger nosepieces really worked well for Hincapie and Cavendish on the wet climbs, helping keep air flowing through the glasses and keeping them from fogging up.

• Speaking of fog, Jawbone has option of standard or vented lenses, the latter being designed for greater air flow, warding off fog.

• Each set of glasses sold will also come with a spare set of glasses.

• It will come in eight colors options (I'd show them all, but the conversion to jpg ain't working so well, and the colors are all off) but the basics including an all-white frame, an all black frame are complimented by the neon orange Retina Burn top/black bottom that Lieto ran at Ironman Arizona, as well as a variety of lens options including photochromic, clear, vented and non-vented. Prescription option will be available as well.

• OK, so when will we all be able to get ‘em? Oakley promised a release in May. Pricing will vary, based on lens selection. Non-Iridium glasses will price around $190 Blick says, up to $250 for Transitions or polarized lenses.

Oakley was clearly proud of their product. There were easily 100 people who had a hand in the design of this optic,” Blick said. “It took us three years to create Jawbone, but we already working on something else—we’re not done yet. But this one’s ready to go.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Zipp ZedTech: Addressing Freud’s Model of the Psyche

Well, race season has begun, Fabian Cancellara took the prologue at the Tour of California (and summarily bowed out), and heading into today’s time trial, Levi Leipheimer has the lead as the sun is finally making a showing in California. Was it just me who found it intriguing that longtime Cerveloite Cancellara won aboard a Specialized? I loved the California bear motif on Levi Leipheimer’s TTX, and the understated matte black Lance had going on his rig. And we saw a bike with triathlon heritage, the Kuota Kueen K, cutting its teeth in UCI road racing on Team OUCH.
And of course, we saw an idiot steal the equivalent of a cycling Mona Lisa (aka Lance Armstrong’s TT bike), then return it on the sly. To quote Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights: "That's just dumb." I thought they would have to pull out this test bike, from when I was at the tunnel last fall during his fit and product testing session. We'll see what he rides today at high noon.

Yeah, it’s that season, to start seeing who’s on what, what prototypes are going on, which is why I’m in Solvang today; to not only watch the TT, but also see what everyone has on their bikes. The Tour of California is a bellwether to what we’ll see the top pros in triathlon upon. It’s my favorite time of the year. I got a look at Cervelo TestTeam on last Tuesday at the San Diego Wind Tunnel and saw some pretty wicked stuff, and I’m quite certain I’ll see some things that will be of keen interest and utility to triathletes. I’ve already been asked to a few team and camps, with the promise of seeing some special stuff.I spoke to the folks at Zipp Speed Weaponry, who pointed me in the direction of some athletes’ bikes to see some special stuff when in Solvang. While there’s a lot of sex factor to their goods (and rightly so), Zipp has been delivering wheels that are so well engineered, studied, tested, it’s no wonder the Indiana-based company is one of the leaders. I was reminded of that when Zipp’s Andy Paskins reminded me that there will be heaps of athletes this weekend running Zipp wheels unbranded, wheels that the teams pay for of their own impetus.

OK, why the leading headline? That’s quite a statement, eh?

Freud came up with three facets of the human psyche: the id, the ego and super-ego. The id is impulsive action, satisfying for the now. The ego reasons for long-term benefit. And the super-ego keeps it all in check, with reason that serves as a conscience.

Maybe Zipp has a psychoanalyst on staff; ZedTech creates the watering mouth effect for the id (can you say custom color decals and hubsets?); the desire for something for substantial drag numbers that the ego will require; and takes care of that nagging super-ego with the consideration that if you don’t have these wheels, you’ll be slower. And your mind finally gives, saying, I gotta have these.”

While on its face they look the same, The 2009 iteration of the Zipp line, including the ZedTech configuration, have undergone massive changes, that will improve us both fashionally and functionally.

ZedTech is all about, well, me. Well, I mean you. “Me” in terms of being able to show your style. While the ZedTech consumer gets the dimpled hubs (the rest of the Zipp consumer base does not have access to this option), it’s about the color and flash.

So like Burger King thing, Zipp says you can have it your way. To illustrate it, visit Here, you can visually build your wheels graphically. You can choose pre-created decal designs, or do it all on your own.

Zipp invited me to experience the ZedTech customer’s experience, and the fun part is picking the look of your wheels. At the website, you can select every aspect of the wheel; decal color, hub external cap colors, bearings (steel or ceramic) and spoke nipple color.

Designing your decal design is all you. You can use a full color palate to determine the colors of the individual Z-I-P-P lettering, background and Advanced Technology Group lettering underneath. Zipp marketing manager Andy Paskins tells me he’s seen some “interesting” designs so far. Very political of him not to make any judgements. I hoped the crew at Zipp didn’t laugh at my design idea, whatever I came up with.

I have bikes of mostly a red or blue motif, so I wanted something that would work on either bike. I also went to the University of Arizona, so I thought, why not an Arizona Wildcats color concept? I chose a red inner lettering with blue trim and white ATG lettering. The hubs would be red, spoke nipples a simple grey, and went with a simple standard bearing setup. The wheels? It would be the Craig Alexander Special, the same wheelset he ran to take his Hawaii Ironman title last fall: a 404 front and an 808 rear.

As cool as they look, the true advancement in the new wheels (not just ZedTech but all wheels) comes in the details. First, Zipp re-designed the rim shape, with a slightly more blunt and rounded apex to the rim. The brake track has been angled a bit more as well, Zipp says.

The biggest advance from a functional standpoint comes in the new 88 front hub and 188 rear hub, which are 276 grams a pair. Gone is the somewhat flimsy carbon fiber dust cap on the non-drive side. In comes a bearing shield, and a clinch nut on the non-drive side of the rear hub.

The bearings are now a fair bit more protected from the elements with that dustcap replaced by the bearing shield. But more importantly you and I now have the ability to set the pre-load on the bearings. There is a factory setting of .08 Nm, but if you feel like you want it a bit looser for a more free run when it’s set and secured into your dropouts wih your quick releasen, you can do it with a 2mm hex key. Of course, it’s your onus to be sure they’re not too loose, so as not to allow too much play that can damage your bearings.

The big, stiff 17mm axle is larger than that found in cross-country mountain bike version, and you have the choice of either ceramic bearings, or Swiss-made steel bearings that Zipp says are rounder than many other subpar ceramic bearing offerings on the market— 10 millionths of an inch of tolerance, which is 2.5 times tighter a tolerance than the other guys. So, the wheel will roll better and faster with less friction and drag with such a smooth bearing.

Hub manufacturing has other proprietaries that make the flanges more crack-resistant. And, each front and rear hub has its spoke holes cut specific to a rim, for the most direct, optimal travel of spoke from hub to rim—reducing stress risers. Boring stuff on its face, but when your high-strung wheel has a weak hub and it fails, it’ll matter. Especially on race day.

About two weeks later, the box showed up at our office, and for your spend, they deliver with a showroom-floor perfect polish. The hubs are gorgeous and with the color option really set off the complete complimentary look of your bike. They’re also a fair bit more silent than their predecessor.

Complete with a set of Zipp Tangente Tubulars to complete the I got to take a maiden test voyage up the Coast Highway from Encinitas to Carlsbad. Are they fast? Does a bear…. ok, I’ll just say they are hella fast, unreal light. Braking was great, but no better than it was ever before; maybe I need a screaming descent to test that re-design. Nothing quantative here, but I’ve been on lots of wheels, and the sturdy build, the engineering, the testing I’ve seen them do, lead me to have a hell of a lot of faith in them that they have proven the wheels as fast. So it’s the wheelset I often default to when I am packing my bike away for a race.As a tinkerer, I love, love, love the ability to adjust my own preload. For those who like to know every facet of the bike, you can really tailor your bike for race day, making sure that you are getting as much resistance-free play with the wheel in the dropouts as you want—the wheels will be fast, and you have the ability to ensure that’s so.
My test set will make their true race debut at Ironman 70.3 New Orleans, which I will be covering and racing in early April. Meantime, I’ll watch the pros roadies put this new gear through its paces. It’s a wonder if any of the guys know just how much work went into these new 2009 wheels. Fortunately, I get to hang out with engineers like Josh Poertner and talk about this stuff for an hour or so in the Sands Convention Center halls in Vegas during Interbike.

See, the things you learn when you stay out of the strip clubs. It's enough to... uh... placate your ego.

Off to Solvang to see these wheels put to work…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It was the talk of the office, that ad. You know which one I ‘m talking about; the thing ran in VeloNews and drew some readers letters. Of course, it delivered on drawing attention to the new iteration of the Octane line of apparel.

It’s one thing to sensationalize for the sake of it. Of course, Pearl Izumi didn’t build it’s legacy on slick ads and weak product. I remember wearing the ubiquitous Pearl Izumi socks on a daily basis when working at REI in Seattle many moons ago, and a bunch of us floor monkeys used to have a shop thing; wear the socks mismatch. One black, one white with blue trim. It was a dumb thing, but it was our thing, and it was only in those “IP” logoed socks.

Back to today. I spent a long time with Cache Mundy from Pearl Izumi while at the Tour de France last year, since I was around the Garmin team hotel most of my time before the race kicked off in Brest. So I got to see all the cool stuff that they co-developed with Allen Lim, like seamless aero gloves (shown in the new issue of Inside Tri), and the aero skinsuits that I wish I could race in out of the water. Of course, their design would prevent me from standing upright after the race, the stitch optimized exclusively for being in the aerobars.

Suddenly, Cache and PI marketing man Geoff Shaffer made me a testing guinea pig for a couple of pieces. I was one of the first to get to run in the newly revamped Peak shoes, supplying me with enough prototype pairs of the shoe to get through my first ultramarathon last spring.

Recently, I got a chance to test their hottest new offering, the Octane. Italian-made. Ultra expensive, and totally different to anything I’d ever been in, from any brand.

Now to be fair, I know what you’re saying: “Assos is the best.” And to be fair, I’ve ridden in the Swiss-made Assos bibshorts just once. I had a those of shorts that were summarily sent back to the retailer after one ride. They were very nice, nicer than most other shorts I’d worn….a great cut and a natural feel. But they were a bit small, and they didn’t have my size. Oh well c’est la vie. I opted instead for shorts that didn’t require a week of Ramen to financially recover from, some basic Pearl Izumi Microsensor shorts, which did the trick.

Such luck, I get a job where I get to test these shi-shi goods, irrespective of the cost. That totally aside, I can firmly say that this new Octane, is the Assos-killer—or at least a major rival to the brand. The Swiss do things nicely, but the Italians do it with more style, and in this case, a level of comfort than I’ve ever experienced. And with a few four- and five-hour rides under my belt in them, I have to say they are the best bib-jersey combo I’ve ever worn. Period. Some things are worth spending on. For comfort in saddle, the Octane can go toe-to-toe with Assos.

Tangibles? The ad spells out that the outfit is like a second skin. Most every brand makes a kit form-fitting, but this is in another realm altogether. The cut of the full-zip is very, very athletic—tight around the ribs, flaring at the lats, with a long back. So there was very little excess material flapping. At the same time, it didn’t bind, the materials moving seamlessly with me. It was like a tailor-cut suit. There’s mesh across the black back for cooling, anti-microbial underarms, all the basics. And all with a styling that doesn’t scream “dork” like so many ride outfits do.

But it was the bib shorts that were so damn nice that I am hand-washing them after every ride, hanging them in the shade to dry, because I want them to last forever.

Where do I begin? I guess in the chamois, where comfort originates. Pearl Izumi has several chamois’ through their line, but they use a brand-new PRO 4D chamois, its new best. It’s pre-formed, super breathable and thermal-regulated (so it stays dry). I’ve been riding my road bike all winter, and the upright position hits a raised section at the chamois aft that has a different density. Waaaay comfortable.

It also has four-way stretch for more comfort. When you build in a seamless, anatomically-designed short with just the right seam angles, the ride will be great. Add a stretchable chamois, and the comfort level just goes off the scales. There hasn’t been a short that moves as well in the saddle as this one, by miles, without a bit of exaggeration. Early or late in the ride, and of late, in the aerobars on my tri bike, it feels like you are in a custom-built kit.

So, it made sense that they did an ad with a chick in a fairly sheer kit. No, the kit’s not sheer (thank God) but like the ad purports, it fits like it’s that dialed. The bibs are $275 or $250 for a short, and $225 for the jersey. When paired together, you look so pro, it’s sick, as the alabaster whites, brilliant reds and glossy blacks that bring the outfit together are the epitome of Italian style. That is what set this apart visually from the rest of the chartruse-mottled or USPS team-outfitted yahoos out on the weekend ride.

But it’s what’s inside on the design that makes it better than any outfit I’ve ever ridden in. I commute during the week in whatever I have, but this kit I save for my epic weekend rides. And if I need to do a mechanical on my bike mid-ride, you better believe I’m packing a hand wipe, coz chain grease fingers ain’t touchin this kit.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Larsen goes Online with

When it comes to pro athletes, there are egotists (just a few), but mostly there are a ton of cool cats. And then there is Steve Larsen.

First, he’s a legend on two wheels. If it consists of racing, he has won a national pro title at it. NORBA mountain biking, junior road racing, cyclo-cross, whatever. Then he delved into triathlon, finished fourth at his first big race at Wildflower, and won his first Ironman at Lake Placid in 2001, blazing the bike on that hilly course in 4:33.

That year, Larsen opened Steve Larsen’s Wheelworks in Davis, Calif. and learned something I learned before my magazine days; retail bike storefronts are hard, hard work, especially when you’re training full-time and raising five kids. (OK, I didn’t have the kids or wife, but hey, I can sympathize that fitting athletes, installing bike racks, changing flat tires and explaining the merits between chamois A and chamois B is taxing. Remains involved in commercial real estate as well.
So he stands as a rare, rare bird—I mean, can you name another athlete who has represented America in world championship events in five disciplines: road, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, track and, of course, triathlon? Didn’t think so.

The guy has done so much, his brain is a fountain of knowledge, and he more than happy to share it. He’s always been approachable by age groupers (even when he was retired for a brief respite and participated an age grouper) who wanted his opinion on the best wheel setup for Lake Placid, or advice on bike position. Even my wife, who very rarely seeks advice, has taken some good advice from Larsen.

Now he puts that experience to work with his new online retail portal, All the good things about selling bike stuff, absent the storefront, staffing and other encumberances. Certainly he wouldn’t sell anything that he wouldn’t realistically use on his own, so that’s a level of endorsement in its own right. At the same time, Steve is available to customers to help them with their purchase, whether its his opinion about an aerobar, tire pressure. It’s like getting cooking advice directly from Bobby Flay.

I had a chance to ask Steve a few questions, simply because I wanted to know what his plans are for this year, how his new online site affected things, and hoped to be present for any of his races. For as much as I’m impressed when Normann or Torbjorn put the wood down on the bike, I get a special kick when I see Larsen—as he did at Oceanside last year—ride through a bunch of pro men like they are standing still. I hope to see him get back on the podium again in Kona—a sure thrill for fathers of five everywhere.

How much fun was it delving back into the race scene after five years away from it and how jazzed was your family seeing you racing again?
It was a lot of fun. We travelled a lot with my two oldest kids when I was racing professionally and I always imagined what great experiences those would be for them. As it turns out they remember very little of those trips so I thought it would be fun to get out and compete and share with them the good I think comes from sport and a healthy lifestyle. And although I still have high expectations, it was important to show them that winning was not what was most important, but instead embracing the opportunity to compete and challenging yourself to be your best regardless of your ability or time available to train.

How would you rate your season? You had a tough run in Kona, but short of that, you had what I would think to be a successful campaign; a nice podium against a solid field at Vineman 70.3, a solid qualifier at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, and a good swim/bike in Kona... before that run grabbed you.
Performance-wise, Kona was a disappointment as I know I was trained to go much faster. But aside from that, that race and this season were very gratifying. As a father of five kids running two different businesses I was very proud of what I was able to accomplish in those races against the world’s best endurance athletes. Without a doubt my result at Vineman, finishing behind Bozzone and Alexander was the most gratifying. It showed me that when it all comes together I still have the ability to compete amongst the best, which was something I wasn’t totally sure of until that point.

What spurred you to start a new online retail storefront? I'm sure it will be much easier than doing the true storefront thing.
I have been looking for a way to stay involved in the sport of triathlon for the long term. I enjoy what I have created with Steve Larsen Properties on the real estate brokerage side, but I am much more excited about the opportunity to educate consumers and share my passion for triathlon and its healthy lifestyle. We ran a successful brick and mortar store and were well aware of what that entails on a daily basis. Through online sales we can reach a much broader audience while maintaining a more flexible schedule than a retail storefront would allow.

How involved will you be with dialogue with customers? No doubt, your personal experience and insights is worth a lot for the guy who is considering Wheelset A versus Wheelset B.
I will be very involved, specifically in selection of the products we sell and doing my best to be available to answer customer questions. We are taking our time in building our product line and are committed to only selling products we have used and believe in. No matter your ability, we hope to offer good insight and recommendations that will allow you to perform at your best without breaking the bank. Over time, we will have very specific choices to help guide your buying depending on where you are currently in the sport. The newbie triathlete does not need a $6,000 dollar bike and $600 dollar wetsuit to enjoy our sport. It may not be what the manufacturers want to hear, but I know if we give people sound and honest feedback they will be customers of ours for the long haul. And if there is one thing I have it is endurance, so I am looking to help customers from their introduction to the sport to their eventual Kona qualification, not just one sale and done.

How will this new venture, along with your real estate workload and being dad adjust your race sked for ‘09?
As with everything, things can change, but what is in your crystal ball for races? For my own motivation (like many others) it is important to commit to racing each season. It is a different challenge for me now but one I look forward to nonetheless. My hope is to compete in three or four 70.3 races, perhaps one Ironman (I am thinking Canada), and a trip back to Kona. Best case, I would add two Xterras as they are still some of the best events around.