This week's Tech Roundup comes courtesy of UK distributor Zyro's Open House dealer show and stars high-end Spanish cycling kit from Etxeondo with a legendary racing heritage, super-light disc rotors - possibly for road use - from Ashima, patriotic Cateye computers, new shades from Tifosi and some clever lubes from Fenwicks.
That's just a fraction of what we saw there and in the coming days we'll be telling you about Xentis wheels from Austria, some cool new iPad training apps from Minoura, genuinely impressive new GPS computers from Bryton and a fascinating helmet from Abus that neatly follows on from a previous road.cc story from 18 months ago.
The Thirsk-based warehouse of Zyro Ltd is packed with the kind of staple products your preferred bike emporium stocks for every eventuality. Literally tons of sensible stuff from companies like Zefal for pumps, MKS for the definitive range of everyday pedals and, as of this year, the equally practical Hamax childseat range. But they do shiny things too, which is why we scamper like eager schoolboys to the sweetshop once a year for their annual dealer shindig to see what's new for the coming season and hear seminars from manufacturers such as 'Mr Minoura' whose name really is Mr Minoura-san and 'Mr Fenwick' whose isn't.
First of all the gang from clothing company Etxeondo were keen to make sure we were pronouncing their native Basque language right and it's 'eshtay-ondo' after the name of the barn that the business was started in. What they couldn't agree on initially was what Etxeondo actually means but it turns out 'near the house' is good so we're glad that's cleared up.
What isn't in dispute is that Etxeondo has been going for 36 years - founded in 1976 by Francisco Rodrigo and wife both of whom came from a background in the fashion industry with Dior and Balenciaga… so pretty top drawer stuff. Right from the off they put the emphasis on creating high performance cycling kit that combined the latest in high tech materials with the highest standards of craftsmanship and tailoring.
They take the cut of their garments VERY seriously at Etxeondo to the extent that it's done by hand to make sure that each panel has the correct bias for the way it will need to stretch in the final garment - even if that means more wastage than if the material was cut by laser hitched up to a computer program. All their garments are made in-house.
These days Etxeondo rule the roost when it comes to high end cycling kit in Spain and over the years they've kitted out pretty much every big Spanish cycling team including Once, Banesto, Liberty Seguros and of course Euskaltel-Euskadi.
The brand has been available in the UK for ages from clothing specialists Prendas Ciclismo and also Always Riding. Recently with the international rise of interest in sporty road cycling Etxeondo have been having a bit of a rethink about where they stand in the great scheme of things, even going so far as to pull out of top-level sponsorship a couple of seasons ago.
Women's Bibshorts have a snap buckle front and back for pitstops.
That's not to say they don't kit out any pros these days. Some top riders are keen enough on their shorts and in particular the pad - which Etxeondo have made to their own design – that they wear them inside other company's shorts. The Etxeondo boys had the pad their's had replaced from a very famous cyclist's shorts to prove it, too. Indeed such is their exacting attention to detail in this particularly crucial area that their man Francisco Rodrigo reckons that if the placement of the padding in the shorts is just 1mm out of alignment it can dramatically reduce its effectiveness.
That's not their only strongly held belief when it comes to cycling shorts. Etxeondo have a bit of a downer on chamois creams which they reckon inhibit the pad's ability to work properly, ditto over-printing on the pad; their reasoning is that while it might look techy the silicon-printed layer reduces the breathability of the pad and they don't do silicon leg grippers either for much the same reason. Plus they reckon that if your shorts are cut properly they should stay where you want them without the need for silicon.
Etxeondo say their pads are so well designed and stitched in place that no kind of chamois cream is necessary.
Recently they've gone through something of a reorganisation with the aim of upping their game by being available through a larger number of retailers outside Spain, albeit the ones that stock high-end road kit, but they're pointing out that despite trying for 'bigger' the garments are still 'better' and all still made at their San Sebastian base. Plus chock-full (is that a Basque term? - ed) of clever and innovative ideas as well as nice quality materials and stitching. Particularly impressive, we thought, were their Feather bibshorts - at 117g the lightest available apparently - with a dense and firmly-compressing structure despite the light weight and pads.
To test them a couple of the Etxeondo chaps rode them the 700Km from San Sebastien to Barcelona; they're that comfortable and without chamois cream, too. We'll look forward to trying the Feather Bibshorts, especially as they're at the top end of the price spectrum at £169.99.
Two good new things we saw from Fenwicks: a non-latex-based product called Airtight Tubeless Tyre Sealant that is claimed to last three years inside your tyres instead of six months and best of all sets to a jelly when it's not moving, therefore not going all over the place when changing tyres. Also a new chain lube called Stealth - because it makes your chain silent - in road and mountain bike versions which Fenwicks claim will last a best-case 400-500 miles per application once it has dried in place after careful application using the dropper. Their Jonathan Smith reckons you can drip Stealth lube onto all 114 links of your chain in 30 seconds although he may have been practising.
Like a lot of engineers making 'technical' products, Mr Smith says they were fairly criticised for giving their UK-made bike lubes and cleaners obscure names and then expected everyone to understand what they were intended for. This year everything will get a new name describing exactly what it does but they'll keep the product colours the same so if you're used to seeing their FS10 looking pink in a clear hand-spray bottle, it will still be pink but helpful for the uninitiated to know that it's now FS10 Bike Cleaner. There are also QR codes on each product leading straight to a video showing the correct procedure for use.
Oh, and a third item but it's not really new; their Fenwicks chain cleaning sponge looks like a work of genius and furthermore they claim that when used in combination with their Foaming Chain Cleaner it's more effective and economical than a chain-bath-machine-type device and a lot less messier, plus you don't have the post- chain cleaning quandry of what do with the contents on the chain bath once you've cleaned your chain. We have a sample and will report back.
The Fenwicks chain cleaning sponge: they reckon that when used in combination with their Foaming Chain Cleaner it does a better job and is more economical than any of the chain cleaning machines.
Apart from some classy new workshop tools that are still at the pre-production stage, the disc brake and cable specialists Ashima were showing a prototype superlight two-piece disc rotor/aluminium carrier combo with 3-bolt fixing code-named Neon. "Could that be for road use?" we all asked in unison. "Why, yes." replied the nice man from Ashima. Meanwhile their more conventional and existing 6-bolt rotor has been further lightened to an ethereal 67 grams.
The Japanese tyre company Panaracer were showing a supple and beautifully-made - in Japan - new 23mm tubular tyre called Race Type A TT to complement their range of top-end fast clinchers with dual compound rubber and puncture protection. Explaining the 'TT' bit, the tread is what used to be called Matt to signify a textured finish but without any pattern as such to imply its intended use on fast, smooth courses. Triathletes and time-triallists pursuing personal best times on their aero wheels will love it and the £69.99 price is competitive. Weight 280 grams, the thread count of the casing is 290 threads per inch; that's what you call fine.
If the large Protein Plus recovery bars in various flavours provide almost a complete meal replacement on their own, the new smaller 35g versions costing £1.40 are designed to offer more of a post-workout snack. There are larger, more economical tubs of the existing Isomax and Isoactive energy and salt-replacing powder mixes and a new product described as a 'pre-workout loader' called Charger. Intended to be taken 30-minutes before exercise, the energy components including caffeine are boosted with creatine, Leucine and L-Arginine, the latter an amino acid that boosts blood flow. A large 1.2Kg tub contains enough for 27 pre-workout big bottles and costs £47.99.
SQlab have been going for ten years in their native Germany, offering a range of saddles majoring on comfort but there are 'performance' options, too; the cro-mo railed model 601 being a case in point which weighs 369 grams in its narrowest guise. So it isn't exactly super light but nor is it at all heavy especially as SQlab set great store by first measuring your pelvis width by sitting you on a hard surface to make an impression on a cardboard sheet and then selling you the appropriate width from a choice of three. The 601 is not cheap either at £109.99 but the chassis is designed to rock laterally up to 7°, damped by a choice of three colour-coded elastomer mouldings with the idea being to allow for minor differences in leg length and/or an asymmetric pedalling style. There's also an otherwise identical but even lighter 611 model with titanium rails weighing 289 grams and only £10 more. All the saddles in the range starting at £49.99 are strictly flat across the widest part but have a forward groove to allow for comfort in your naughty bits.
Our Tony pulls down to make the right impression on his cardboard bottom-measuring sheet while Zyro's Neil Mountain supervises.
For stock arriving in July, the Japanese company has pulled off the seemingly impossible by slimming down the popular Velo Wireless computer while also increasing the screen size which makes the numbers easier to see. The button has gone to be replaced with the 'Click Tech' function from the Strada model where the whole bottom edge of the unit body clicks for cycling through functions and there's also now a backlight which comes on briefly when you select any function. A nice touch will be that the potentially 7 functions can be pared down to just the ones you want to see when you cycle through. Price will be £45.
The top-end V3 computer gets a complete overhaul inside and out with reconfigured buttons that are easier to work with gloves on and the circuitry now communicates with a new sleeker speed & cadence sensor via the 2.4Ghz protocol. The new unit will cost £110 with the optional heart rate monitor in a new simplified fabric design for £40 or £135 for the complete set. An extra speed & cadence sensor for a second bike costs £40; the new electronics now mean the V3 'knows' which of the two bikes it's attached to. Clever.
A new slimmer Digital version of the Strada wireless computer in July will utilise the same 2.4Ghz wireless technology meaning that the sensors, either from the crank and rear wheel or heartrate from the chest, will be interchangeable with the V3. Price with HRM will be £100.
Sooner than that, though, in April will be a Union Jack 2012 Olympics version of the existing Strada model that already comes in a nice selection of bike-matching colours for £50.
We're already pretty sold on Tifosi glasses having reviewed various models from the US company's enormous range with generally satisfying results. The idea is to provide most of the optical features and quality of the 'premium' brands but without the sponsorship deals that push the price Sky-high - see what I did there? - when you want to look like Cav. Tifosi are particularly proud of the NXT photochromic technology that they licenced from the patent holders when Rudy Project pulled out of cycling glasses. They have a particularly impressive demonstration of how the lens changes from light to dark in 15 seconds and they claim that because the technology is an integral part of the polycarbonate lens rather than a scratchable coating, it's very durable.