Well ventilated, superlight lid that doesn’t break the bank. At least that’s what a standard Lazer Blade Review will say. And to be honest it’s very hard to argue that. I’ve been using the Lazar Blade in a gloss black and Belgian blue for the best part of 3 years now. I’ve never had a bad off in this time so it would be hard for me to vouch for its primary job, which is protecting your head. But Lazer have been making helmets since 1919, so I’m pretty sure they have the protection side nailed down.
The most obvious element of the Lazar Blade is its 22 vents. This makes for a very cool and well ventilated helmet. You can really feel the air rushing over your head and keeping you cool. I used this helmet riding around the South of France in 38’C temperatures and it did the job. Don’t get me wrong, I was bloody hot but I couldn’t imagine doing that ride in my aero lid. With ventilation comes less material and with less material comes less weight. Coming in at 220g, I genuinely think you’d be hard pressed to find a lighter helmet at this price point. And if it wasn’t for the slightly awkward retention system, it would almost feel as if you’re riding around without a helmet on at all.
I’ve mentioned the awkwardness of the retention system, so I need to elaborate. It comes in a unique system where the barrel adjustment sits at the top of the helmet. However I found it difficult to get the fit right and often found myself readjusting on longer rides. This isn’t a problem I’ve had with other helmets I’ve had. Also the part of the helmet that cradles the back of the head felt a little less supportive. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t ‘confidence inspiring’ and almost gave a perched feeling which I didn’t really like. I must say though that this may bit in part of my massive oddly shaped dome!
Hard to fault?
The straps were fine and highly adjustable. If a little difficult to get right at first, once they were set, they felt comfortable and looked tidy enough. The only other thing I didn’t quite like was the Sunglasses dock. I wear Oakley Jawbreakers and I gave up on trying to hold them in my helmet vents early on. They didn’t feel secure and also the arms on the sunglasses dug into the top of my head.
How did it look? Well I personally though it looked great, for a bike helmet. Usually in this price range (and often in higher price ranges,) they are bulky and ‘mushroomy’. My head is 60cm so my Lazer Blade was a large, but even in its largest form the Blade looked slick and fairly low profile. It looks a lot like the Z1, Lazers high end offering but obviously at around 1/3 of the price.
There are plenty of colour choices in the Lazer Blade’s range and there is also the option to fit an Aero-Shell to save you those extra Watts. This isn’t something I ever used, although its worth mentioning as it certainly increases the versatility of this lid. All in all the Lazer Blade is an atheistically pleasing, well ventilated superlight lid, albeit not perfect. However, at £40 I think you would be very hard pressed to find anything close to as good as this helmet for the same price.
If you’ve kept up with my blog journal then you are probably aware that cycling outdoors isn’t an option for me right now. I am currently in a rehabilitation phase after knee surgery, which means that scratching my cycling itch is is left solely to an indoor turbo trainer. My bike times has mostly been spent spinning away around the island of Watopia in the highly popular cycling MMO, Zwift. However, I’ve recently joined the Beta for a new kid on the block, ‘Road Grand Tours‘, and here are my initial impressions.
Zwift has always had its competition, for example, a while back I wrote a comparison against The Sufferfest. Then there is Trainer Road which although a more training and numbers focused program, it too has also been kicking around as an alternative to the more gaming centric Zwift. And since the rise in popularity of smart trainers and virtual cycling simulators, other similar Zwift-like programs have begun to emerge including Vitruago and now the Strava heavy Road Grand Tours.
I was put onto Road Grand Tours by a friend, at that time I was willing to try anything in an effort to mix things up a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zwift. I love the racing, the workouts and even just jumping on for a quick spin. However, I was happy to have the opportunity to try a new environment and a new world to explore.
I set up an account and signed up for Beta. I instantly received access and loaded up the program in anticipation. Road Grand Tours didnt really offer much in terms of character creation, other than a selection of different coloured Adidas Kits and an 8bar Crit kit, a Laser Bullet lid and a choice between a Ridley Aero bike or different variations of the BMC Teamachine. This is Beta however, so it was probably to be expected. It would be unfair to compare Road Grand Tours content to Zwift which has been making waves a good few years now. Besides, I like the Teamachine in a laser blue.
Out on Mont Ventoux
There are several courses you can choose to and although I’m yet to try them all, those I have tried are interesting enough. My first destination was the infamous Mont Ventoux. I rode the real thing last summer, so I was interested to see how real life compared to the virtual version. The route on Road Grand Tours isn’t the famous grand tour climb from Bedoin, but the less popular and just as difficult route from nearby Malacene. First impressions were that the graphics were good and the game was stable. There was absolutely no issues with synchronisation between my turbo and the program and I was effortlessly able to jump into the South of France and start riding up a bloody big hill.
The environment was fairly accurate, the game even had the hotel I stayed in last year with the adjacent car park at the base of the Malacene climb. I was impressed at the level of detail. The gradients also felt accurate, as did the few changes in direction. I didn’t manage to go all the way to the top (I’m in rehab remember), but I’d be interested to see how they captured the lunar landscape and meteorological station at the top. Albeit a short taster, I had no issues what-so-ever, the drafting felt intuitive and the changes in gradient felt instantaneous as my Tacx switch up the resistance in order to replicate the ever changing steepness of Mont Ventoux.
It’s safe to say that I was interested to try more of what Road Grand Tours had to offer. My initial experience was very good. The program felt polished (certainly for BETA) and in many ways more realistic than its main competitor. Maybe it was the more realistic colour tones that the graphics engine had to offer? But it wasn’t just the graphics and design of the game that felt realistic. The drafting seemed really intuitive, and when riding with my brother up the iconic Cap Formentor. I was able to position my bike and sit on his wheel with relative ease. The amount of times I chase down a fellow rider on Zwift in order to catch a tow, only to shoot past them at twice the speed! This just didn’t seem to be the case on RGT. Add to that a handy percentage value on the UI which gave me an figure for my drafting benefit. This meant I could carefully adjust my output in order to get maximum wheel sucker mode.
London, Italy, etc.
The following day I tried the nighttime crit-course of Canary Wharf and also the hilly but short circuit of Pienza, and was equally as impressed. Both were shot circuits, but the environment was interesting enough. Familiar Short sprint sessions with leaderboard tables were a welcome addition to mix up the pace a little bit. They also link to Strava as segments which is a great feature. RGT doesn’t offer the ability to change direction or explore like you can in Zwift, but there is a wide variety of different real-life courses like the previously mentioned bucket list climbs, as well as some more I haven’t yet tried. I’m looking forward to trying out the famous Stelvio and its numerous switchbacks.
You don’t get the scheduled events and racing (soon to be added) or a work out mode either. Also the volume of other riders is significantly lower than Zwift. But when I think back to Zwift Beta, I can’t help but be excited for whats to come in Road Grand Tours. They say the game is close to complete, but I’m sure more would be added to as the platform moves out of BETA. And the future will probably be a monthly subscription model. Right now its free to try and I would certainly recommend it as a welcome alternative.
It’s that time of year isn’t it? Christmas shopping is starting to ramp up and my wife deems in necessary to drag me round the shops in an effort to get our present buying done early. This time though there was something in it for me! An opportunity to check out the new Rapha Outlet (or ‘Rapha Archive Store‘ as its called on their website) at the Bicester Shopping Village.
I’ll start by saying that my experience of Rapha Clubhouses is limited to say the least and although I do own a couple of Rapha products, I have never once purchased anything in store at a ‘proper’ Rapha shop. That being said, I’m no stranger to similar ‘high-end’ cycling shops and often frequent my local luxury cycling cafe/shop Cafe Ventoux which I consider to be one of the best in the country.
Now I’m not going to dwell too much on the quality of the kit, but more the experience in the store. Most of us already know that Rapha make some bloody great kit albeit quite expensive. But the old adage of ‘you pay for what you get’ often rings true and I believe that this is the case with Rapha’s products. Yes it is perhaps a little too pricey, but if you do splash out then with you are guaranteed to get great quality, nice fitting, good looking kit.
Now this Rapha Archive Store isn’t an ordinary Rapha Clubhouse. It’s basically an Outlet Store that sells mostly last seasons products that is no longer available in normal Clubhouses and at a discounted price. There was plenty of range in the store, from standard race fit cycling kit to their commuter targeted City collection and it wasn’t your usual XS and XL sizes that you sometimes get in outlet stores either. They had plenty of caps, mitts, bidons, bags and a whole host of other bits and bobs for both Men and Women (no Sunglasses though or at least I didn’t see any).
If money was no object I would have walked out with a suitcase full of stuff but alas, even the discounted price meant that a pair of last seasons Bib Shorts were still £125 which is around £50 to £75 off Bib Shorts in a Rapha Clubhouse, so not too bad really but still on the expensive side. They also had Jerseys in there at around £60 – £80, so again a decent discount.
I would say that if you in the market for some new gear and you don’t mind wearing last seasons product then its definitely worth checking out the Rapha Archive Store. The Staff I spoke to were great, obviously keen cyclists which was nice and they really couldn’t do enough for you. It just had a nice atmosphere. With a few TV screens showing a bit of the Giro, some nice fixtures and fittings… it generally just had a nice, clean, decent vibe.
Not an Ordinary Outlet Store
They run various club rides also, which was nice to see that despite it being an Outlet they still had the various features that a normal Clubhouses would have. They also had a Coffee Shop instore! It wasn’t exactly busy, but my flat white was great and it perfectly complimented my gluten free Brownie.
All in all, I would definitely recommend checking the Rapha Archive Store at Bicester out. If only to grab a few minutes while your Missus is in TOD’s down the road looking at shoes. Be careful though, because you may end up spending a few quid!
A race ready lightweight road machine, with skinny tubes, compact geometry, full Ultegra groupset, and carbon tubeless ready wheels.
Upgrading from entry level
I’ve come from a 2014 Giant Defy, so any race oriented bike would probably feel light, stiff and agile compared to the relatively comfy yet equally enjoyable aluminium Defy. However I tested many bikes from rival bike manufacturers in pursuit of a new steed and for me the Giant TCR stood out. Let me point out that at first I wanted my new bike to be “anything but a Giant”. Not because I didn’t like my Defy, in fact I loved it. It was everything I wanted from my first road bike; however after thousands of miles on the Defy I wanted something lighter, racier and different to what I’m used to.
Love at first sight?
I tried a few alternatives, actually I tried several. Yet I eventually succumbed to the matte black classy decals and the smooth compact geometry of the TCR’s frame. Along with the integrated seatpost clamp, fat downtube, internal cable routing and discreet RideSense Bluetooth/ANT+ sensor, this made for one understated and slick looking bicycle. So I decided a test ride was in order at my local Giant stockist. After already falling in love with the bikes aesthetics, I didn’t need the afternoon I had with the bike to fall in love with the ride quality, I just needed 10 minutes. A few hours later I was back at the bike shop placing an order for a Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1.
Many miles later…
A month and nearly 1000 miles in the saddle has passed and I’m still every bit as excited now when riding the TCR as I was on that first test ride. The thing the Giant TCR has in spades is its stiffness and its explosive feel on the road partly due to the Advanced Pro’s highly rated OverDrive 2 head tube allowing you to zip into and through corners as if you’re on rails. The TCR wants to be ridden aggressively, effectively transferring every bit of power from the legs through the bike most notable when accelerating out of twisting descents or up into climbs and despite the snappy and firm ride; it never seems to translate to discomfort. Perhaps it helps that by running tubeless I am able to run slightly lower pressure or maybe it the amount of seat pin on show due to the sloping top tube?
The stock wheels on this thing are incredible and by far out do most bikes in its price range. Giant specs its own wheels on their bikes and the Advance Pro 1 is fitted with tubeless ready SLR1’s which are lightweight and pretty hard to fault. Again the tyres are also Giant’s own and come in the form of the Gavia SLR 25mm tubeless. They come in slightly narrower than 25mm but they grip the road well enough (even in the wet) and ‘touch wood’, I haven’t had any issues with punctures yet despite the shockingly rough rural roads of Leicestershire. Although I’ve never ran tubeless before so I’m dreading the day I do have to use my tyre worms and super glue!
The groupset on the Giant TCR Advance Pro 1 is Shimano’s ever reliable and exceptionally good Ultegra. My Giant Defy was equipped with Shimano 105 which I consider as one of the best (if not the best) around in terms of value for money. If I’m honest though I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with the upgrade other than the obvious weight reduction, but the Ultregra shifters are possibly slightly more positive when changing gear although the benefit is minimal. Check out this write up by road.cc for a head to head with Ultegra v 105
I’m hard-pressed to find any negatives about this bike. I suppose Giant as a brand is slightly more common than others however that isn’t something that bothers me and I am yet to pass another Giant TCR with my paint scheme. Also I start to feel the saddle a bit on anything over 50 miles, so that may be something I choose to swap out in the near future however that is more of a personal preference. The only other slight negative I’ve found is with the integrated seatpost clamp and that my seat slipped down after a few rides. Although I’d probably put that down to the setup by my LBS rather than the capability of the clamp itself as I haven’t really had any problems since I put an extra couple of turns on the clamp screw.
To sum up, the performance of this bike is second to none, especially if you’re riding it hard! It’s light, responsive and it makes you feel fast! The value for money is great, punching well above its price tag and being equipped with Giants excellent in-house ancillaries, it isn’t a bike where you will be looking to swap out the wheels ASAP. In short, if you are looking for a race ready bike straight out of the box, then this is it!
I’ve owned the Chapeau Café Jersey now for almost a year to the day. I know this as it was an anniversary present from my wife, who bought it for me as I was after a Jersey that was more for my weekend rides with friends rather than training or even racing. I’d had my eye on Chapeau as a brand, and even though at the time I’d never owned anything by Chapeau, I liked what they were about, stylish, reasonably priced and not too common.
My wife paid £50 (full price) for the Chapeau Café Jersey, bought from their online store. Delivery was “prompt” according to her and upon receiving the gift I was suitably impressed. My wife bought me the design titled “Blue Chest Stripe” as requested and with the Café range described as “a relaxed fit jersey… suitable for casual weekend rides and commuting” the cut certainly reflected that. It’s not something made for marginal gains. I’m 6ft and at 75kg the top hung quite low and loose on the biceps and chest. When I say loose, it was tight for a t-shirt but certainly looser than cycling jerseys I’m used to. The fabric had the feel of a cotton based material (apparently 64% bamboo/polyester) so it made for a comfortable feel and again very different to any other cycling jersey I own.
Not designed for efforts?
For the first few months I loved the Chapeau Café Jersey and it actually became my favourite jersey for a good while. I even wore it for a couple of local sportives, however I did notice some issues. The rear pockets started to sag on longer rides if you store stuff in them. In fact I’ve found that after just holding my phone in my rear pockets for a couple of hours, the material stretches to a point where it starts catching the underside of my seat when I climb out of the saddle!
Another issue is perspiration concealment. This isn’t normally an issue and if you stick to rides that the Jersey is designed for i.e. casual rides to the local café, then it probably won’t ever be an issue either. However, if like me you sweat at the mere mention of a ‘hard effort’ then this jersey probably won’t display you in the best light when you reach your destination. The sweat really shows on this jersey, similar to that when wearing a t-shirt on an indoor turbo trainer.
Again though, the Chapeau Café Jersey isn’t really made for hard efforts and intense workouts. If you want that then the Chapeau Tempo range would probably be the best choice to make. I do have one final gripe though. The Chapeau Café Jersey hasn’t aged well. Even though it’s a year old, I used to save it purely for my weekend rides and the odd jaunt out in the week with friends. Even then I barely wore it through the winter months as I opted for slightly warmer gear. However, even with so relatively little use, the Jersey now appears washed and overly worn. The material looks like an old t-shirt I’d decorate the front room wearing, which is disappointing for something that’s not expensive but not exactly budget. Maybe it would age better if hand washed only?
I like the look and style of the Chapeau Café Jersey when I was out with friends (long beard optional). First impressions were comfortable, good quality and reasonable pricing. However it has not aged well and the fact that the material and longer cut means the rear pockets are borderline unusable for anything other than a credit card means I probably wouldn’t buy again.
Zwift vs Sufferfest, which one came out on top for me? Which platform kept me motivated longer and delivered results faster?
The days when toiling away on a turbo trainer was comparable to medieval torture are long gone. In the new age of smart trainers like the Wahoo Kickr or the Tacx Vortex, riding your bike indoors can actually be quite fun (other Turbo Trainers are avaliable). Riding on a turbo won’t be improving your bike handling skills and I don’t think it could ever truly replace the feeling of being outside in the elements on your bicycle, however using platforms like Zwift and The Sufferfest mean that you don’t have to stick on the Corrie Omnibus to grind away those hours spent training indoors.
Turbo training increases your fitness… fact. A major advantage of the turbo is the consistency it provides. I don’t know of many roads where you can pedal constantly for an hour, just focussing on the effort without worrying about vehicles, traffic lights and junctions. In terms of the work you can do in a given time it beats the road hands down. According to some, 60 minutes on the turbo can equate to about a 90 minute outdoor ride, plus its quick and easy. With no need to put on any cycling specific apparel, you could just jump on the bike in your pants if it takes your fancy. How you ride your bike in the pain cave is your business though!
So how about the platforms that I’ve had the pleasure of using? The Sufferfest and Zwift have their highlights and both offer very different experiences. The Sufferfest is slightly less impressive and unlike Zwift where you are put into a virtual world where you can ride with other people, you are instead following a video and expected to match certain cadence and power values based on your FTP. It sounds super straightforward and simple compared to Zwift and it is, but thats not say its bad. The videos are designed to be highly motivating and in most cases I find that the Sufferfest videos hold my interest much more than the comparable Workout Mode in Zwift. Time seems to pass quicker and at no point did I find myself desperately waiting for it to be over. As you toil away, The Sufferfest will place you in a famous race or in some cases a solo ride up an epic climb. Motivating and often humorous messages will flash up across the screen to help break up the monotony of turbo training and overall the package helps provide an immersive and entertaining experience.
Also The Sufferfest now taps into the mental and recovery aspects of improving your fitness and performance with cycling specific Yoga and Mind training videos as part of the software’s catalogue. I certainly consider both of these invaluable factors in improving your cycling fitness and conditioning. Especially the mental training which I wrote about recently on my blog.
Like The Sufferfest, Zwift has more than just workouts. In fact Workouts are really only a subsidiary of Zwift and a recent addition to the platform. Thats not to say that the Workout mode is inferior in any way. If fact quite the opposite, with an extensive catalogue of different Workouts and also the ability to import your own that you or possibly your coach has created and tailored specifically for you, Zwift pretty has everything you need. No, it doesn’t have the motivational on screen text or music that comes with The Sufferfest, but what it does have is other real life cyclists riding with you. Cyclist you may want to ride with or maybe even beat to the top of Box Hill? As I ventured out around the fictional island of Watopia or Richmond and London, I often found myself joining group rides for recovery sessions or even just jumping on for an hour with my friends, competing against each other in sprints, trying to hit the summits first etc. But where Zwift really came into its own for me though was the community led racing events. I was addicted to it. Not only that, the racing on Zwift is pretty much full gas out of the blocks and stays at that level right up to the finish, meaning you get an extremely good workout.
Zwift is effectively a video game that keeps you fit. You earn XP for riding, finishing workouts, completing sprints and KOM’s. The more XP you earn the more gear you unlock or different bikes you can ride. This sort of stuff makes you get back in the saddle. You start to want those better wheels so you can be faster on those virtual races, and the only way to get them is to ride more.
So which is better?
Firstly, whatever training platform you choose to use, if you put the time in, you will get fitter on the bike and you will enjoy your time on the Turbo Trainer ten fold compared to slogging away looking at your garage wall. I found that both platforms delivered results, improving my FTP, increasing my performance an ultimately providing me with the motivation to get on the bike. In the end the only thing that matters is that you get a good training session instead of becoming a couchlandrian!
If I’m honest, I find Zwift slightly more up my street as its not as one dimensional as The Sufferfest is. I think what The Sufferfest does, it does brilliantly. Workouts are enjoyable (as enjoyable as absolutely killing yourself can be anyway) and they are effective. Another thing worth mentioning is that I have never had a problem with The Sufferfest software. It has never crashed, disconnected or lagged out in any way, where as I’ve had very few, but still some connection issues with Zwift. Having said that, Zwift as a package I think is unparalleled in what it can offer right now. Workouts, social rides, racing, even just bumming around London on your own! The world is incredibly immersive and although not quite as good as getting out in the real world, its definitely as close as it gets right now.
If you only want to use the Turbo trainer for workouts and improving your FTP for the Summer season then subscribe to The Sufferfest. You will get plenty of good hard quality sessions to keep you occupied throughout the winter and in prime condition for the summer season. However if like me, you want more that just workouts, then Zwift is for you. Join a social ride, sit in a group, race in a Crit. Do all the things you want to do in real life but in relative discomfort of your home! And when the sun comes out and you get back on actual tarmac, you will be stronger and faster than ever!
Just to note, I’m yet to use TrainerRoad hence the reason I’ve not mentioned it. However I am lead to believe that it really stands out if you want a structured training plan. Perhaps I will try it for a future blog post!