First Impressions: Cirrus Cycles BodyFloat Seatpost

While most recreational cyclists will never compete, racing drives a significant percentage of the bicycle industry’s product development and marketing. Terms like lighter, stiffer, and faster are all used to describe the latest and greatest products. But what about comfort? Are comfort and performance mutually exclusive? Not according to Cirrus Cycles. The company’s BodyFloat™ seatpost is designed to improve comfort and performance by isolating the rider from high-frequency vibrations. gravel grinder BodyFloat Cirrus Cycles Specialized Power saddle Body Geometry

A late-afternoon test ride on Cirrus Cycles’ BodyFloat seatpost.

Unlike telescoping suspension seatposts, the BodyFloat post uses a linkage system that produces a vertical motion–which, according to the company–does a better job of isolating the rider (aka, the bike’s motor) from vibration. That motion, combined with the system’s undamped coil springs, results in a quicker response, which is purportedly critical for quelling high-frequency vibrations. To accommodate different sized riders, Cirrus offers four spring rates in two sizes (1.5-inch for the top position, and 1.75-inch for the lower position). When you order a BodyFloat seatpost, you specify your weight, the type of bicycle (road, mountain, etc), and handlebar style (drop or flat). For review purposes, my sample seatposts included all four spring rates, so I was able to experiment with various combinations. gravel grinder BodyFloat Cirrus Cycles Specialized Power saddle Body Geometry

The twin springs are easily changed to accommodate cyclists ranging from 50 to 260 pounds.

As I’m very particular about my saddle height, I was initially concerned that replicating my preferred position would be difficult due to the BodyFloat’s vertical movement. To be completely honest, however, once I found the correct spring rate combination (orange/orange), dialing in my fit was no more difficult than swapping saddles or seatposts. One or two short rides spent tweaking saddle height were all that it took to find the sweet spot. Fine-tuning the saddle height and spring tension was easy thanks to the post’s pre-load bolt. And because the Cirrus post doesn’t rely on rearward travel, I was able to directly transfer my saddle’s fore/aft position to the BodyFloat seatpost.

Hopping aboard the BodyFloat-equipped bike for the first time immediately reminded of me of my old Softride beam bike. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Cirrus’ founders and engineers were involved with the original Alsop Softride beam design. And as I would do with that beam bike, the first thing I did was check the tire pressure to see if it was too low. Like a big, soft tire, the BodyFloat seatpost’s smooth ride is immediately apparent. Unlike those beam bikes, though, there’s no lateral sway with the Cirrus post. And once you’ve selected the correct spring rates, there’s no bouncing or bobbing with the BodyFloat post.

When I began testing Cirrus’ seatpost, I discovered that I had a tendency to hover slightly above the saddle when traversing broken pavement or bumpy trails. My legs and upper body would stiffen, causing me to expend additional energy so that I could isolate myself from road buzz and chatter. As I logged more miles on the BodyFloat, that tendency to brace myself subsided. After a couple of weeks, I was taking full advantage of the BodyFloat’s isolation capabilities. On a whim, I swapped out the Cirrus post with my bike’s original rigid seatpost. Using the same saddle and tires, the difference in comfort was like night and day. Broken pavement and washboard trails that went unnoticed aboard the BodyFloat post now felt like rock gardens by comparison.

Does the BodyFloat work as advertised? Absolutely. It’s does an outstanding job of isolating the rider (aka, the engine/motor) from road shock and vibrations. With the BodyFloat, your entire body feels more relaxed. That relaxation translates to increased efficiency–and enjoyment–because you’re not wasting energy by tensing up to brace against bumps and cracks. After four months of use, I’m completely sold on the product, and can’t see myself going back to traditional seatposts on my un-suspended bicycles.

With a price of $249 for the alloy model ($395 and $415 for the carbon and titanium models, respectively), some folks will undoubtedly balk at the BodyFloat’s cost. While not exactly cheap, you could easily burn through that much money trying to find a more comfortable saddle (or worse, an entirely new bicycle). And speaking of saddles… I tested the Cirrus post with a dozen different saddles, and models that were so-so on rigid posts felt much more comfortable when paired with the BodyFloat.

Disclosure: Cirrus Cycles provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: iSSi Clipless Pedals

How does a new company stand out in the sea of off-road clipless pedals? Well, if you’re iSSi, you do it by offering SPD-compatible pedals in a variety of sizes and colors. In addition to their original XC-style pedal, the Minneapolis-based company now offers a mid-sized Trail model. iSSi pedals are available with your choice of sealed bearings and bushings or with three sealed bearings. For maximum pedaling efficiency and comfort, spindles come in standard (52.5 mm), +6, or +12 widths. And for those fashion-conscious riders, iSSi pedals are available in eight colors.

I tested the minimalist iSSi II pedal ($75.00 MAP) in the bright silver colorway. With so many colors available, you’re probably wondering why I chose the plain silver finish. To be honest, I originally requested some of iSSi’s other colors, but due to their popularity, they happened to be sold out. So whoever said that cyclists don’t care about their bikes’ looks was either wrong or lying. At 308 grams for the pair, our sample pedals with 52.5 mm spindles came in under the advertised 312 gram weight. The Shimano SPD-compatible cleats weighed in at 52 grams including mounting hardware.

Right out of the box, clipping into the iSSi pedals proved easy and intuitive. As the cleats and retention claws broke in, entry became smoother and required less effort. Even with the pedals’ adjustable tension set to their easiest, audible and tactile feedback left no doubt that the cleats had engaged properly. Testing the iSSi pedals with mountain bike shoes from Five Ten, Louis Garneau, and Pearl Izumi didn’t reveal any difficulties clipping in or out. Despite running the release tension at the stock (i.e. lightest) setting, I never experienced any unwanted or unplanned exits. Unlike some pedals, the iSSi pedals’ tension builds up gradually as you approach the release angle (which is very easy to detect). This allows for plenty of body English in technical terrain, but doesn’t require that you crank down the tension to keep your feet securely planted (which can make entry more difficult).

With the majority of my testing taking place during late summer and early fall, dry trails were the norm. What little mud I did encounter didn’t affect entry or exit, but look for a follow-up review after the iSSi pedals have been through a typical Colorado winter. Despite a lack of wet weather testing, the pedals’ seals and bearings did survive multiple bouts with my gas-powered pressure washer. Should you need to service your pedals, only a 6 mm hex key and 9 mm socket are required. Like many clipless pedals on the market, the iSSi’s pedals are installed or removed with an 8 mm kex key. While I definitely prefer traditional wrench flats, swapping the pedals between multiple bikes was easy with the aid of a shop-length Allen wrench.

If you find traditional clipless pedals (or cranks, for that matter) to be too narrow, iSSi offers both models with +6 and +12 spindles. These add an extra 6 mm or 12 mm per-side, which can be particularly useful on fat bikes or for riders who have large feet or unique biomechanical requirements.  Best of all, the wider versions cost significantly less than similar pedals from competitors. I tested the stock 52.5 mm spindles with the aforementioned shoes, and found the clearance to be adequate on road, gravel, and mountain bikes (despite my heels-in pedal stroke).

Whether you’re looking for a wider stance or just want to add some color to your bike, iSSi’s line of pedals has a lot to offer. Stay tuned for a follow-up review after I’ve been able to log some winter miles on the iSSi pedals.

Disclosure: iSSi provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: SRAM Force 1 & Rival 1 Components (Part-II)

When SRAM released their CX1 components in 2014, the purpose-built group delighted gearing-nerds (including yours truly) who had previously cobbled together road and MTB parts to come up with road-worthy 1x drivetrains. The Chicago-based company followed up with the 1x™ Wonder (11-36) cassette, and in April of 2015, SRAM announced the Force 1 and Rival 1 component groups which offered even more gearing options.

Over the past nine months, I’ve logged nearly 2,000 miles on SRAM’s 1x (pronounced one-by) road components. Starting with the CX1 group in late 2014, I added the aforementioned 1x Wonder cassette to the mix, and then in May of 2015, I upgraded to the new Force 1 components. During this period, I tested four different X-SYNC™ chainrings (38t, 40t, 42t, 44t), three different cassettes (11-32t, 11-36t, 10-40t), and two X-Horizon™ rear derailleurs (medium- and long-cage). Braking duties were handled by Force hydraulic discs. Wheelsets tested included Rolf Prima’s VCX Disc and Zipp’s new 30 Course tubeless hoops.

Why would someone want only one chainring? According to SRAM, 1x road drivetrains are quieter, more secure, and offer a the rider a more simplified user experience. Getting rid of the front derailleur and second chainring also leaves more room for fat(ter) tires and fenders. An added benefit is that 1x drivetrains are easier to clean and maintain.

If you’ve spent any time riding a geared bike on dirt or gravel roads, you’re probably familiar with the sound of the bike’s chain slapping against the chainstay. It’s certainly annoying–and what’s worse–it can be the last sound you hear before the chain jams between the tire and chainstay. After riding thousands of offroad miles on bikes with 2x drivetrains I didn’t realize just how noisy they were until I started testing the SRAM 1x drivetrain. My Force 1-equipped Salsa Vaya was eerily quiet on the local trails. With chainslap all but eliminated, the only noise came from the bike’s tires crunching on loose dirt and gravel.

With conventional 2x drivetrains, the front derailleur does double-duty as a chain retention device. Even then, many riders rely on some type of chain catcher/keeper to prevent the chain from jumping off the small chainring. Having seen my share of dropped chains over the years, I was somewhat skeptical that SRAM’s X-SYNC chainring would be able to keep the chain securely in place. It turns out that my fears were completely unfounded. After logging nearly 2,000 miles on SRAM 1x, I’ve never a dropped a chain. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, either. I’ve bunnyhopped curbs, hit expansion joints at 30+ mph, and launched the bike off dirt kickers. Not once has the chain fallen off.

For most riders, shifting gears is a pretty simple process. Sure, things have become easier with the advent of integrated brake/shift levers, but the basic concept remains the same. One lever moves the rear derailleur, and the other lever controls the front derailleur. Rocket science it is not. Could removing one of the shift levers really change the user experience? It’s very subtle, but the answer is yes. The next gear–whether it’s higher or lower–is always just one shift away. You no longer have to worry about whether you should be in the large or small chainring because it’s simply not an option. If you do find yourself suddenly needing a much easier gear, you can shift up to three cogs in one sweep with the Rival 1 and Force 1 levers.

Will 1x drivetrains make 2x (and 3x) setups obsolete? The answer is, it depends. If your riding style or terrain demands a wide gearing range and small gaps between the gears, a 1x drivetrain may not be the best choice. While SRAM’s XG-1180 cassette offers eleven gears with a 420% spread, the gaps between gears are greater compared to a drivetrain with 50/34t chainrings and an 11-32t cassette. For commuting and non-technical off-road use, I found the combination of a 42t chainring and 10-42t cassette to be more than adequate (and quite enjoyable). That said, my 2x-equipped bike was usually a better choice for fast, hilly club rides where the smaller gaps between gears enabled finer adjustments to cadence (and speed).

Whether you’re converting an existing bike to 1x or building one up from scratch, be aware that SRAM’s XG cassettes (the ones with 10t cogs) require XD-compatible rear hubs or drivers. Most hub manufacturers offer XD drivers, but some wheels will require re-dishing after swapping freehubs. Also note that a standard 114-link chain may not be long enough for certain gearing combinations or frames with long chainstays. When testing an 11-32t cassette, 40t chainring, and medium-cage derailleur, a standard-length chain was all that was needed. Moving up to a 10-42t cassette, 42t chainring, and long-cage derailleur, however, necessitated adding a few extra lengths to the PC-1170 chain.

With the Interbike trade show right around the corner it will be interesting to see how many 2016 bikes are spec’d with SRAM’s Rival 1 and Force 1 components. Some manufacturers–including Marin–have announced models with 1x drivetrains, but will more follow? Stay tuned for GRAVELBIKE’s coverage of Interbike and reviews of more 1x-equipped bikes.

Disclosure: SRAM provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.