First Impressions: Louis Garneau Course Helmet

Every season, the bicycle industry seems to latch onto a particular trend. Recently, companies both large and small have been touting aerodynamics as the next big thing. Whether it’s bikes, wheels, or even helmets, each manufacturer claims that their wind-slicing product will save you time and energy. With helmets, however, those savings sometimes come at the cost of ventilation and cooling. To bridge aerodynamics and ventilation, Louis Garneau developed the Course ($239.99 MSRP) helmet by using a blend of labwork and real-life conditions.

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The helmet’s profile and ample vents help channel air over the rider’s head.

At first glance, the Course looks like a conventional cycling helmet. Compare Louis Garneau’s Course (with its 31 vents) to the aero offerings from Giro and Specialized, and you’re probably wondering how much aerodynamic benefit could come from such a well-ventilated helmet. According to wind tunnel testing performed by Louis Garneau, the Course can knock up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds off a 40 km time trial. Increase the distance to 180 km, and the savings bumps up to 14 minutes and 10 seconds (compared to a conventional cycling helmet).

While I may lack the facilities needed to qualify Louis Garneau’s data, I can tell you that the Course’s ventilation is excellent. The helmet’s ample airflow, combined with the X-static XT2™ padding kept me comfortable (and funk-free) during unseasonably-warm spring weather. If you have sensitive skin, or your current helmet’s straps just rub you the wrong way, you’ll definitely appreciate the Course’s ultra-soft straps (which are easy to adjust thanks to flip-lock Pro-lock dividers). To keep the helmet planted firmly on your noggin, Louis Garneau’s Spiderlock PRO II stabilizing system can be adjusted on-the-fly with one hand.

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Adjusting the retention system is easy thanks to the large, indexed dial.

There’s more to the Course than just improved aerodynamics and increased ventilation. For increased protection, the helmet’s in-mold construction is reinforced with ring-shaped plastic at the base of the helmet. Additionally, an internal frame reinforces the helmet’s structure so that integrity isn’t compromised by the large vents. On May 4th, I had the unexpected misfortune of testing the Course’s safety features. I was on a trail that I’d ridden hundreds of times. One moment I was riding along, and the next I was spitting out blood and dirt. I’m still unsure of exactly what happened, but I suspect that the bike’s front wheel washed out, I overcompensated, and then went down (head-first). Thankfully, the helmet took the brunt of the impact, which resulted in a large dent in the foam, and piercing of the outer shell.

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Impact damage to the author’s helmet.

The Course complies with CPSC, ASTM, and CEN safety standards, and is available in sizes small, medium, and large. My large sample helmet weighed 324g excluding the Spiderlock Vision LED light. Louis Garneau includes a second set of X-static XT pads with each helmet, as well as two CR2032 batteries for the aforementioned LED light.

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

First Impressions: Crank Brothers Candy 3 Pedals

While Crank Brothers’ Candy and Eggbeater pedals may be familiar to many of GRAVELBIKE’s readers, I must admit that I’m woefully late to the party when it comes to the Calfornia-based company’s line of pedals. Recently, however, my curiosity got the best of me when I was looking for a pedal similar to Time’s ATAC, but with less side-to-slide float. Crank Brothers’ Candy pedals appeared to fulfill those requirements, so I decided to give them a try.

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Candy 3 pedals in the red anodized finish (also available in blue or black).

In addition to the Candy 3 pedals ($120 MSRP) that I tested, Crank Brothers offers three other models that range in price from $60/pair (Candy 1), all the way up to $350/pair (Candy 11). The model 3 pedals feature needle and cartridge bearings (an upgrade from the cartridge/bushing combo found on the Candy 1 and 2 pedals), and cast-steel retention wings. While the materials used for the springs and bodies vary, all Candy pedals include the company’s premium brass cleats. My sample Candy 3 pedals weighed 318g/pair, with the cleats and hardware adding another 30g.

Like all Crank Brothers clipless pedals, the diminutive cleats can be configured for a 15° or 20° release. To change the release angle, one only needs to swap the cleats from left to right (and vice-versa). Unlike many of their competitors’ clipless pedals, Crank Brothers pedals do not have adjustable release tension (the company claims that their patented cleat design eliminates the need for spring tension adjustment). The stock cleats feature 6° of angular float (aka, rotation), but an optional 0°-float cleat is also available.

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Crank Brothers cleat with the optional stainless steel Shoe Shield.

Clipping into the Candy pedals is easy thanks to the unique, rotating-wing design. In addition to conventional toe-down entry, you can scrape the cleat along the top of the pedal from either direction. I found entry to be easiest when using a combination of downward and forward motion. Once clipped in, the pedals’ bodies provided plenty of support for my cycling shoes’ soles, eliminating any rocking or unwanted flex. This added stability can affect ease of entry, however. For shoes with very deep tread, Crank Brothers includes shims which provide additional clearance between the shoes and pedals. In some rare cases, you may need to sand or trim the tread to eliminate any interference between the sole and pedal body.

As I mentioned above, my desire for reduced lateral float is what originally prompted me to try the Candy pedals. While the Crank Brothers cleats do provide a small amount of lateral movement, it’s less than the 6mm float found on Time’s ATAC pedals. Even with additional stability provided by the pedal’s body, angular float/rotation felt less restrictive than Shimano’s SPD clipless system. Although I was initially concerned with the lack of tension adjustment on the Crank Brothers pedals, I never unclipped accidentally.

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The removable end caps provide easy access to the pedals’ bearings.

To keep your pedals running smoothly, Crank Brothers offers rebuild kits which include replacement seals and bearings (instructional videos can be found on the company’s website). It’s too soon to report on long-term durability, but I can tell you that the pedals did survive a crash that left me with a cracked helmet and plenty of road rash. If I do have one gripe about the Candys, it’s that they require an 8mm hex key for installation or removal. This is, however, not unique to Crank Brothers, as several other companies’ pedals eschew conventional pedal wrench/spanner flats.

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

First Impressions: Grand Cru Long Reach Brakes

If you peruse the current batch of purpose-built gravel bikes, you will undoubtedly notice that disc brakes have become the preferred stoppers for this increasingly popular segment of the two-wheeled market. Cantilevers and v-brakes, once considered the choice for unpaved riding, now rate a distant second for bespoke gravel rigs. But what about those bikes that can’t accommodate discs or cantilevers? Older road frames with sport-tourer or club-racer geometry are ideal candidates for gravel grinding, and companies such as Black Mountain Cycles, Gunnar, Rivendell, Surly, and SOMA offer contemporary frames spec’d with the extra clearances needed for fatter, gravel-friendly tires. For riders who wish to stick with conventional caliper brakes, Velo Orange’s Grand Cru brakeset ($170 MSRP) provides the necessary clearance and stopping power.

The term long-reach is a bit of a misnomer. If you’re old enough to remember when racing bikes make the transition from centerpull to sidepull brakes, you know that today’s long-reach caliper is what used to be known as a standard-reach brake. Terminology and history lesson aside, the Grand Cru brakes are designed to fit frames and forks that require recessed, allen-style mounting bolts, and have a reach of 47mm-57mm. The dual-pivot design is compatible with modern integrated brake/shift levers, and Velo Orange offers the brakes in polished silver or black anodized finishes. Our sample pair weighed 357g, including mounting hardware and pads.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder Velo Orange Grand Cru SwissStop BXP

The first thing you notice about the Grand Cru calipers are the thick, squared-off arms. This gives the brakes a distinctive, industrial aesthetic, but more importantly, the extra material helps improve the longer calipers’ stiffness. Velo Orange claims that the Grand Cru brakes are some of the stiffest long-reach calipers they’ve tested, and while we weren’t able to quantify the brakes’ stiffness, they did feel more rigid than Shimano’s BR-R650 long-reach calipers (we equipped both brakes with the same pads and levers). In use, the Grand Cru brakes had a very linear feel. This was a welcome contrast to the distinct on/off action of some dual-pivot calipers. The Grand Cru brakes could be easily modulated and controlled with integrated brake/shift levers from microSHIFT, Shimano, and SRAM.

During our review period, we tested the Grand Cru brakes with rims ranging from 19mm to 25mm wide. Adjusting the brakes to accommodate the different rims was quick and easy, and required only a T30 torx key (included with the brakes), and 2mm and 4mm wrenches. In use, the Grand Cru’s stock (blue) brake pads proved to be a step above the typical OE (original equipment) inserts, and remained squeal-free for the duration of the testing. As good as the stock pads were, braking power–especially modulation–improved noticeably when we fitted SwissStop’s BXP inserts. If you’re looking to boost your brakes’ performance, we definitely recommend SwissStop’s line of replacement pads (which are available for rim and disc brakes).

On our Black Mountain Cycles test rig (designed for 47mm-57mm brakes), the Grand Cru brakes easily cleared 32mm Clement X’Plor MSO tires. Fitting even wider tires was no problem for the brakes, but tire size was ultimately limited by the frame and fork’s clearance. Although the calipers themselves have clearance for wide tires and fenders, the quick-releases don’t open wide enough to clear certain rim/tire combinations. This is not unique to the Velo Orange calipers, though, as we’ve run into the same issue with other long-reach calipers.

The Grand Cru brakes prove that cantilevers or discs aren’t required for exploring dirt or gravel roads. If you’re riding a bicycle that needs long-reach calipers, you’ll probably run out of (tire) traction or flotation long before you run out of braking power. The Velo Orange brakes may not have the mud clearance offered by cantilevers, but their compatibility with modern integrated brake/shift levers makes them a boon for folks who don’t want–or need–a cross or gravel bike for mixed-terrain riding.

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