Tag Archives: First Impressions

First Impressions: Road Runner Burrito & Drafter Bags

Words and photos by Aaron VanDerlip

Be prepared. There are still plenty of places where riding means being out of cell phone coverage and far from the nearest services. Keeping yourself out of trouble involves carrying a few extra items such as a toolkit, tube, food, and maybe some extra clothing. One school of thought is to put everything into your jersey pockets. The other strategy is to store these items somewhere on the bike.

Road Runner Bags is small company based in Los Angeles, California. Their product line consists of domestically produced, made-to-order bike bags. They sent GRAVELBIKE two bags for review: the Burrito handlebar bag and the Drafter saddle bag.

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First Impressions: The Service Course B.Y.O.B. Wash Kit

Let’s face it, most of us would rather ride than clean our bikes. We put it off as long as possible, and when we do finally break down and clean our rides, it’s usually with repurposed kitchen or household brushes. If you want to clean your bike like a pro–and spend less time doing it–look no further than the Service Course’s B.Y.O.B Wash Kit.

The Service Course started out as a blog back in 2005. When founder Ryan Newill decided to branch out into hardgoods, he kept the brand name, and in 2013, Service Course, LLC, was born. Currently the company offers three products–the Original Wash Kit ($55.00), a mechanic’s hand and nail brush ($5.50), and the B.Y.O.B. Wash KIt ($40.00).

SC BYOB Wash Kit

Service Course’s B.Y.O.B. Kit

Like the company’s Original Wash Kit, the B.Y.O.B. includes three different shaped brushes and a microfiber towel. Instead of a bucket (the second B in B.Y.O.B.), though, Service Course provides a mesh bag for storage. All three brushes have wooden handles and feature natural tampico bristles. What’s tampico, you ask? Tampico is natural fiber made from the Agave Lechugilla plant. According to Service Course, tampico bristles holds more water than synthetic bristles, and they shed dirt and grease more easily.

Pick up a Service Course brush for the first time, and you immediately notice the superior quality. There’s a reassuring heft that’s missing with plastic brushes. Even when covered with soap and water, the wooden handles aren’t slippery. Each brush is intended to serve a particular purpose. The flat brush is for the frame, fork, and wheels. It’s used like a sponge, but unlike a sponge, it won’t get caught on cable guides or chainrings. For getting into tight spaces such as under the fork crown, between the stays, or behind the bottom bracket, the conical brush is ideal. If you want your chainrings and cogs to sparkle, reach for the solvent brush and the short, stiff bristles will make quick work of dirt and grime.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM CX1 Salsa Vaya The Service Course Speedplay Frog Feedback Sports Rolf Prima

Ready for the rinse cycle.

Does the Service Course B.Y.O.B. Wash Kit outperform generic kitchen or household brushes? Absolutely. Compared to plastic or synthetic brushes, the natural bristles do a much better job of removing dirt and grease. Because the tampico bristles hold more water and rinse better, you actually use less soap and degreaser. Thanks to the brushes’ effectiveness, we found ourselves cleaning our bikes more often, but taking less time to do so. After two months of heavy use, our sample kit has shown no major signs of wear (but we would like to see varnish or other protective coating applied to the brushes’ handles to reduce the ravages of harsh cleaners).

You probably won’t find Service Course products at your local bike shop, but wash kits can be purchased directly from the Service Course. They make a perfect gift for the cyclist in your life, and as an added bonus, the kits work particularly well for cleaning your car’s wheels and grill.

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

First Impressions: Arundel Bottle Cages

When it comes to bicycle accessories, water bottle cages aren’t considered terribly glamorous. That’s definitely not he case for the guys at Arundel Bicycle Company. They’ve been living and breathing bottle cages since they founded the company in 2000. Now, fifteen years later, Arundel’s lineup has grown to include ten bottle cages (in addition to seat bags, bar tape, and even bells).

We recently tested three of Arundel’s lower priced cages–the Flip Flop, Loony Bin, and Sport. All three cages feature design elements from the company’s more expensive cages, as well as some totally unique features. The Arundel cages were tested with bottles of various sizes from CamelBak, Elite, Hydrapak, Polar, and Specialized. Our test rigs included road, gravel, and fully rigid mountain bikes, and each cage was ridden for several hundred miles on terrain that ranged from paved roads to technical singletrack.

Flip Flop
Carrying a full-sized bottle on a small or crowded frame often presents a challenge. Thankfully, the 56 gram Flip Flop ($24.95 MSRP) can be configured for right- or left-sided entry. Arundel’s two-piece convertible design enabled quick-and-easy reconfiguration, and the fit remained precise even after dozens of installations. Unlike the some competitors’ side-entry cages, Arundel’s Flip Flop uses both upper and lower tabs for maximum security. Removing bottles from the Flip Flop cage didn’t require any extra effort or special technique compared to conventional top-entry cages, but replacing bottles sometimes took more than one attempt.

Loony Bin
If you only carry conventional cycling water bottles, Arundel’s 52 gram Loony Bin ($24.95 MSRP) might not catch your eye. But if you want to easily–and safely–transport something like a sports drink bottle, the Loony Bin is the right cage for you. Arundel’s adjustable cage uses a ratcheting dial to accommodate bottles of various sizes (the cage also works well with small stuff sacks and dry bags). The cage also proved especially handy for storing the tool rolls we’ve been testing for another article. Be careful with using very large bottles–some testers noticed that the Loony Bin brushed the insides of their calves when the cage was mounted on the seat tube.

The 49 gram Sport ($17.95 MSRP) cage may lack the clever names of Arundel’s other cages, but it’s anything but basic. Sure, the Sport doesn’t have the flashy looks of the company’s pricier carbon cages, but it quickly became one of our favorites. Getting bottles in and out was a breeze, and the nylon-reinforced plastic cage kept even the biggest bottles secure on our rigid 29er test bike. With nine colors to choose from, the Sport cages will complement practically any color scheme.

In more than three months of testing, we never lost a bottle from any of the Arundel cages. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying–we descended rocky singletrack, crossed railroad tracks, and bunny hopped curbs without ejecting a single bottle. The cages remained unscathed even though they were regularly swapped between bikes. The three Arundel cages may cost more than the generic knock-off cages you find online, but the outstanding security and peace of mind proved invaluable.

Disclosure: Arundel Bicycle Company 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-I)

Every few years, drivetrain manufacturers add yet another cog to our bikes’ rear wheels in hopes of attracting dollars and market share. Chicago-based SRAM has kept pace with its competition, cog-wise, but the company has also worked on simplifying drivetrains by reducing the number of chainrings. SRAM’s 1x™ (pronounced one-by) movement began in their MTB category, where it was praised for its simplicity and security. In 2014 the company brought 1x technology to cyclocross with the introduction of the Force CX1™ group. And now, with the company’s announcement of their Force 1 and Rival 1 lines, SRAM brings the 1x option to road, gravel and adventure riding.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM Road Rival 1x Zipp 30 Course

© Nils Nilsen N2Photo. Used with permission.

What Exactly Is 1x?
At the center of SRAM’s 1x drivetrain is the company’s X-SYNC™ single chainring. When combined with a wide-range cassette and dedicated clutch rear derailleur, the result is a secure, quiet system that offers a range of gears comparable to a traditional double-chainring (2x) setup. Benefits of the 1x drivetrain include less weight (approximately 175 gram savings), simpler shifting, fewer parts to maintain, and better chain control.

It’s important to note that SRAM is not abandoning the traditional double-chainring (2x) drivetrain. The company acknowledges that road 1x technology isn’t ideal for every application, and they remain committed to 2x drivetrains. The new Force 1 and Rival 1 groups complement their 2x counterparts by delivering increased chain control, simplified shifting, and reduced noise.

Is Less More?
You don’t need a PhD to figure out that a 2×11 drivetrain gives you twice as many gears as a 1×11 drivetrain. It’s obvious that 22 is more than 11, but what exactly do you give up if you switch to a 1x drivetrain? Having logged thousands of miles on SRAM’s WiFLi™ 2x drivetrains, I found myself asking that very same question when it came time to demo the company’s new road 1x groups.

SRAM’s WiFLi 2x drivetrains offer a staggeringly wide range of gears. The combination of a 50-34 crankset and 11-32 cassette have a range–or spread–of 428%. On mixed-surface (pavement, dirt, gravel) rides, I typically find myself using use most–if not all–of that range. Can a 1x setup offer the same range? In short, yes. By pairing a SRAM 44-tooth X-SYNC chainring with one of their 10-42 cassettes, the result is a gear range that covers more than 98% of the WiFLi 2x system’s range.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM Force Rival 1x WiFLi 11-speed

What’s New?
SRAM is expanding nearly all of its new 1x offerings into the renamed Rival 1 and Force 1 groups. Last year’s Force CX1 group is now known simply as SRAM Force 1. In addition to the aforementioned single-ring cranksets and chainrings, the new 1x Force and Rival groups include hydraulic and mechanical disc brakes, DoubleTap® (drop-bar) and trigger (flar-bar) shifters, 11-speed chains and cassettes, and rear derailleurs available in short, medium, and long cage versions.

When SRAM introduced the CX1 group last year, the X-SYNC chainring sizes were limited to 38 through 46 teeth (in two-tooth increments). The new Force 1 chainrings are offered in 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 48, and 50-tooth sizes (110 mm BCD). For those riders who favor bigger gears, 52 and 54-tooth ‘rings will be available in 130 mm BCD (Rival 1 chainrings are only available in 110 mm BCD, in sizes 38 through 50-tooth). Both Rival and Force cranksets feature removable spiders. The Rival 1 (pictured below) and Force 1 X-SYNC chainrings share the same square-tooth design and wide-tooth undercut, but the Force 1 chainrings have additional beveled troughs designed to help shed mud and debris. All X-SYNC road chainrings are compatible with 130 and 135 mm rear spacing.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM Road 1x Force Rival Specialized AWOL Comp

© Nils Nilsen N2Photo. Used with permission.

In a move that’s sure to bring a smile to gravel and adventure riders, SRAM is offering two 10-42, 11-speed cassettes for the Force 1 and Rival 1 groups. Both cassettes have the same cog sizes (10-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32-36-42), but differ slightly in construction. The Force-level cassette (XG-1180) utilizes a mini-cluster design where the three smallest cogs are CNC-machined from a single piece of steel, whereas the Rival-level cassette (XG-1150) relies on the company’s Full Pin™ technology to hold the eleven cogs together. Both 10-42 cassettes require XD-compatible hubs or drivers.

SRAM’s 1x road derailleurs incorporate the same technologies from their MTB counterparts–namely, X-HORIZON™, ROLLER BEARING CLUCH™, CAGE LOCK™, and Exact Actuation™–but in a road specific-package, including the addition of a barrel adjuster. Short cage models are compatible with cogs up to 28T, mid-cage up to 36T cogs, and the new long-cage derailleurs are compatible with cogs up to 42T. If you’re not ready to take the plunge to 11-speed world, the Force 1 and Rival 1 rear derailleurs are also compatible with SRAM’s 10-speed cassettes and DoubleTap shifters.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder SRAM Road 1x Force Rival Specialized AWOL Comp

© Nils Nilsen N2Photo. Used with permission.

Riding The 1x Setup
When SRAM invited me to their road 1x product roll-out, I assumed that I’d get some limited exposure to the new components, but there would be little in the way of hands-on testing. I was, to put it mildly, wrong. SRAM provided each journalist with two demo bikes that were outfitted with the new Force 1 and Rival 1 components. These weren’t just any demo bikes–each one was spec’d for the respective editor’s particular area of interest and expertise. My main ride was a Specialized AWOL Comp that had been kitted out with Rival 1 components, Zipp 30 Course wheels with Specialized 1.9″ tubeless knobbies, and finished off with Zipp Service Course handlebars, stem, and seatpost.

Our testing grounds were the roads and trails near Santa Margarita, California. SRAM scoped out a mixed-terrain route that would highlight the new components’ features and versatility. As such, the course included plenty of climbing and descending (see elevation profile below). Thanks to an early-morning storm, the unpaved sections ranged from peanut butter-esque mud to hero dirt. In other words, perfect testing conditions.

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel grinder ride everything SRAM CX1 Force 1 Rival 1

What goes up must come down.

Having already logged more than 500 miles on SRAM’s CX1 group, I was really looking forward to trying the new road groups’ additional chainring and cassette options. At the same time, I wondered if the long-cage derailleur needed for the 10-42 cassette would shift as crisply on the smaller cogs. Any concerns that I may have had regarding the new systems’ shifting quality and performance were quickly erased. Whether shifting up or down the cassette, the Rival 1 setup never missed a shift (even when coated with mud and grime). Additional testing will obviously be required to assess long-term durability and performance, but based on past experience with the company’s CX1 components, I have high hopes for SRAM’s Force 1 and Rival 1 groups.

Disclosure: SRAM provided airfare and hotel accommodations, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.