First Impressions: RedMonkey Sports Grips

If you want to experience sensory overload, check out the grip section of your favorite bike shop, or better yet, one of the large online retailers. We’re talking hundreds of grips in a staggering array of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Despite all those options, RedMonkey Sports‘ founder Michael Nasco wasn’t satisfied with what the market had to offer, and the result is the company’s Sports Kärv family of MTB grips.

The US-made RedMonkey grips are constructed from a unique silicone formula that’s designed to deliver improved vibration damping and comfort, while still remaining durable. Knowing that one size rarely fits all, the company produces their grips in two versions: the 5mm Sports Kärv, and the 6.5mm Sports Kärv(xt). Both models measure 133mm in length, and are compatible with standard MTB-style handlebars (i.e. 22.2mm or 7/8″ OD).

For our testing, we chose the thicker Sports Kärv(xt) grips (MSRP $19.95). Installation was a snap thanks to a dab of clear hand sanitizer gel (a tip that we picked up from Jeff Jones). Once installed, our sample grips measured 34mm in diameter. The included end plugs (7g/pair) fit–and remained secure–in our test rigs’ steel and alloy handlebars. With an actual weight of 71g for the pair, the RedMonkey grips are on par with competitors’ products of similar shape and size.

Wrap your hands around the Sports Kärv(xt) grips for the first time, and you immediately notice their tacky feel. Whether riding with gloves or bare-handed, the RedMonkey grips’ smooth texture is surprisingly grippy. Unlike heavily textured or position-specific grips, repositioning your hands or adjusting your grip is quick and effortless. If the grips become dirty or greasy, cleanup is easy with a little liquid dish soap and water.

What impressed us most, however, was the Sports Kärv(xt)’s cushioning. Whether commuting over chip seal pavement, or navigating rocky singletrack, the RedMonkey grips provided a near-perfect blend of comfort and control. This is no accident, as the company utilizes a different silicone density and compression deflection ratio for the thicker (xt) grips. Despite this increased squish-factor, the grips didn’t require the death grip needed with thick, overly-soft grips.

Karv(xt)-Combo

RedMonkey Sports’ products are available at select retailers or directly from the company. A portion of each sale is donated to various cycling-related charities. In addition to grips, the company offers clothing and accessories that feature the RedMonkey Sports logo.

Disclosure: RedMonkey Sports provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: SQlab 611 Race & 611 Active MTB Saddles

Saddle choice, by its very nature, is an extremely personal preference. Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes, but even identically sized riders might prefer different saddles. SQlab GmbH of Germany recognizes that riders have different seating needs, and offers a range of saddles suited to riders of all sizes and disciplines. Recently I was given the opportunity to test the company’s 611 Race and 611 Active MTB saddles.

Like many other manufacturers, SQlab saddles are available in multiple widths. Determining your particular saddle width is a simple, two-part procedure. The first step is measuring your sit bones’ width using a piece of corrugated cardboard and a chair. Once you’ve determined that measurement, you then add 0-4cm depending on your preferred riding position (the more upright your position, the more you add). If you’re between sizes, SQlab recommends sizing up to the next width. My calculations put me in between the 14cm and 15cm sizes, so I selected 15cm test saddles.

SQlab 611 Active MTB model.

SQlab’s 611 Active MTB saddle.

Measuring 302mm in length, SQlab’s 611 Active MTB saddle is one of the longest off-road saddles available. The extra length, combined with the amply padded nose, translates into more positions for technical, off-road riding. For improved comfort and efficiency, the 611 Active saddle features the company’s T-Beam suspension system. Instead of attaching the base of the saddle directly to the rails, the shell is suspended via an elastomer which allows the saddle to track the rider’s pelvic movement.

The 611 Active MTB saddle’s unique profile serves two purposes. The flat rear portion supports the rider’s sit bones, and helps move pressure away from the soft tissues. Further relief is provided by the stepped fore/aft profile, which keeps pressure off the perineum. Dialing in the Active MTB saddle’s position required some tweaking over a few rides. In my case, that meant moving the SQlab saddle approximately 1cm farther forward than my other saddles.

SQlab 611 Race model.

The SQlab 611 Race model.

Designed for on-road use, the 611 Race saddle features a more conventional profilel. The 279mm long Race saddle retains the 611 Active MTB’s flat, supportive rear portion, but lacks the latter saddle’s more pronounced stepped fore/aft profile. Interestingly enough, I found that less trial-and-error was required to determine the 611 Race model’s correct position, and the preferred setback for the Race saddle ended up being almost identical to my other saddles (Selle Anatomica, Specialized, WTB). With a weight of 280g, the SQlab Race model was comparable to saddles of similar size and construction.

During this review period, I split my time evenly between the two SQlab saddles. While not designed specifically for off-road use, I found that I preferred the 611 Race model for both paved and unpaved riding. I did notice, however, that the 611 Active MTB saddle’s suspension was superior for reducing trail chatter and vibration. Both saddles were tested with a variety of seaposts, and I’m happy to report that SQlab saddles remained free of squeaks and creaks for the duration of my review.

Disclosure: Radsport USA provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.

First Impressions: New Albion Cycles Privateer Frame

New Albion Cycles is a new brand of frames and complete bicycles distributed by San Francisco-based wholesale distributor Merry Sales Company. While this new marque may not be a household word just yet, the company’s other brands–SOMA and Pake–have built loyal followings. New Albion Cycles looks to continue that success by offering affordable, classically-style frames and bicycles.

Sold as a frame only, the Privateer ($279.99 MSRP) can be built up as a medium-duty tourer, commuter, or all-roads explorer. The TIG-welded frame is constructed from Tange Infinity double-butted chrome-moly steel main tubes and tapered seat/chainstays. Our 54cm demo bike came assembled with a chrome-plated SOMA cross/trekking fork, and was rounded out with a mix of components from SOMA, Sugino, SunXCD, and Tektro.

The Privateer is offered in 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60cm sizes. The frames feature horizontal dropouts, extended head tubes, cantilever brake bosses, and fittings for racks and fenders. To make assembly easier, the Privateer is requires a 68mm bottom bracket, 27.2mm seatpost, 28.6mm front derailleur, 1-1/8″ threadless headset, and is compatible with 130mm or 135mm rear hubs. Geometry for the 54cm model that we tested was as follows:

Seat Tube Length (center-to-top) 540mm
Top Tube Length (effective) 560mm
Heat Tube Angle 72°
Seat Tube Angle 73°
Head Tube Length 155mm
Bottom Bracket Drop 72mm
Chainstay Length 435mm
Wheelbase 1022mm

That geometry, combined with the relatively upright handlebar position (tops level with the 73cm saddle height), translated to a comfortable, relaxed fit. Handling could best be described as neutral. Whether descending at 30-plus mph, or climbing in the granny gear, little attention was required to keep the Privateer headed in its intended direction. While we didn’t test the Privateer with a rack or panniers, we found that the bike’s handling didn’t suffer with the added weight of a Carradice Nelson saddlebag and Bagman support. Despite the New Albion’s relatively low price, the frame’s ride was reminiscent of SOMA’s higher-priced Saga frameset.

When pavement turned to dirt or gravel, the Privateer proved to be a refreshingly capable backroad explorer. The bike tracked predictably, and the Tange-bladed steel fork did an excellent job of soaking up bumps and trail chatter. Our test-bike’s 700×38 SOMA C-Line tires may not have the aggressive tread found on dedicated gravel or ‘cross tires, but the C-Line tires transitioned easily between paved and unpaved surfaces.

As mentioned previously, our Privateer came equipped with a mix of components supplied by the folks at Merry Sales. We did, however, swap out the saddle and pedals for our personal components. The Privateer’s mix of retro-inspired parts complemented the frame’s simple graphics and paint scheme. Our own bikes all feature indexed shifting, but we grew to appreciate the simplicity of the New Albion’s 3×9, friction drivetrain. If given the choice, though, we would have preferred mini-v brakes over the Privateer’s wide-profile cantilevers.

New Albion Cycles has successfully delivered an affordable, versatile frame with their Privateer model. With features found on frames costing much more, it’s an outstanding bargain that should deliver many years of service to recreational and utility riders alike.

Disclosure: Merry Sales Company provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation for this review.