Over the winter, I purchased a new set of wheels (Shimano Ultegra hubs, Mavic Open Pro hoops, and 32-count DT Spokes with alloy nipples) and put Continental Ultra Gatorskins on them. Their maiden voyage was Saturday afternoon. What an amazing improvement. The difference is quite remarkable. All things considered, this was a relatively small-scale upgrade (i.e., in terms of the options and total cost), but the impact on my ride is huge. I can only imagine what it must be like to ride on a set of legitimate racing wheels.
The bike feels lighter and quicker, and it stops fast. What I really notice, though, is how much smoother the ride feels. The Alex Rims that came stock on my bike were total garbage. The hubs weren’t sealed, and both had to be rebuilt at one point due to pitted cups and cones. Even with the overhaul, the quality was severely lacking. After riding on the new wheels, I now realize that, when riding on the Alex wheels, I could actually feel (and too often hear!) the hubs themselves (in addition to the road). With the new wheels, it’s as frictionless as glass.
The truth is, I don’t really know how to describe the difference in the feel, which begs the question of why I’m writing a post about it. All I can say is that it was very and immediately noticeable. The bottom line is that this is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to seriously upgrade your bicycle.
Seeing as how I’m all about big returns on small investments, I want to say a few words about my new shades. Serfas is a brand known for comfort saddles and other cruiser-style accessories. Recently, however, they’ve entered the sunglasses market. Our local bike shop carries their stuff, so I decided to check them out, as I had been thinking about getting some new glasses for a while. At least two of the guys who work in the shop own these, one of which owns two pair. They had nothing but good things to say. I settled on the Portal model. These glasses were $50 retail, which is only about $10 or $20 more than what I paid for the cheap Nashbar brand shades I’ve been wearing. The Serfas glasses come with four sets of lenses (bronze polarized, brown, rose, and clear), a hard case, and a soft bag that doubles as a non-scratching lens cleaner. They’re noticeably lighter, sturdier, and more comfortable. They’re designed to work with helmet straps, and the nose piece allows the fit to be adjusted. I particularly like that the lenses on the Portal model are vented to reduce fogging. The glasses are clearly designed for the sport, but you can wear them when you’re off the bike without looking like a dork. I highly recommend these glasses to anyone who’s looking for a more serious pair of shades but isn’t too keen on the idea of paying big bucks for a well-marketed name brand.
OK, I guess there’s one more thing. Lest anyone think I always manage to make a good call, or that I like every piece of gear I purchase, alas, after considering and comparing an assortment of helmets for a good long time, I ordered a Louis Garneau Avant helmet. I knew better than to order a helmet online, but I did it anyway. I’ve spent months trying to convince myself that it’s suitable. I guess it is, in fact, suitable, and there are a number of things I like about the helmet. But I could have done much better. I’ll never buy a helmet online again. I promise.
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