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Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Wheels

RoadSnobWhy spend as much (or more) on wheels as you did on your bike frame?

S P E E D .

If you are tired of being the one person in your cycling group that’s always last, I advocate you take up a collection.  Get all those riders waiting for you at the top of the hill on their 700c wheels telling you that your 650c’s are slowing you down, to throw in a hundred bucks (or more), towards a set of 650c Zipp 404 Firecrest Wheels. You won’t regret it–though your fellow cyclists might.

Zipp has put impressive R&D into their Firecrest line of carbon clinchers that they are eager to share with you!  They’ve condensed a lot of data into this sixteen and a half minute video. Please take a look!

Their R&D team consists of a group of passionate wizards looking a lot like a team from Mythbusters on a quest to create the fastest carbon clincher wheel able to withstand tremendous heat and still maintain excellent braking power.

Don’t get me wrong, we love that their obsessive commitment is responsible for the ABLC™ patented dimple surface, which causes air to “stick” to the surface of the rim thereby reducing pressure drag, (a concept borrowed from golf balls).   Or that their relentless use of wind tunnel testing has been invaluable in developing the unique shape of their rim with careful attention to its back end (the part with the spokes in it), to both improve aerodynamics while also reducing cross wind sensitivity.  Did I mention that they’ve also borrowed an exclusive resin technology used in motorsports that tolerates excessive heat spikes while braking?  If you’ve ever ridden a 20 mile descent that was technically challenging, you know how important this is.

One could say, “why re-invent the wheel?” but that’s exactly what Zipp has done by re-purposing technology used by other industries and applying it to their 404 Firecrests. I love lateral thinkers! Even their hubs are manufactured with a technology usually reserved for avionics, formula 1 gearboxes and orthopedic joints, which provide a 6% stiffer wheel, making you faster with each pedal stroke.

Zipp has created a racing/time trial/just plain fast wheel that doesn’t feel like a kite on a windy day. If you find all this science a little overwhelming, remember this:  Aren’t you glad someone else is working so hard to MAKE YOU SO FAST?

Not only are the shape of the wheels revolutionary, but so are Zipp’s patented new brake pads –designed specifically for use with their carbon wheels to provide safe and efficient stopping power.

These wheels are peppy, that’s for sure.  They are so stiff and stable that there is a noticeable lack of tire drag.  They are so light it’s hard to resist the urge to climb out of the saddle especially while ascending.  The 404 Firecrests are responsive while cornering and oh-so-smooth on the downhill.  I keep hearing my husband remark that when he turns his head to see how far back I am, he’s stunned that I’m on his wheel.  On a recent ride in extremely windy conditions and on a significant descent, I felt like a fish.  The wind whipped me around like it always does but I was surprised at how I was still able to control the bike while gliding through gusts like they were currents in the water.

I tested these wheels with my favorite standard tire, the Serfas Urbana, which has an 28 mm width.  The tires slide on and off the rims with ease.   However, Zipp makes their own, specially designed Tagente Clincher Tire for optimal performance.  Because of the deep dish design of the rim, you will either need to purchase road tubes with a longer valve stem  (Zipp makes their own version), or purchase a set of extenders.

Zipp stands alone in their commitment to providing smaller riders with the same advances in technology that they offer taller riders—superior aerodynamics, stability and durability—in a wheel size designed to nurture our fierce inner athletes.  If you are a weekend warrior ready to impress the club, these are the wheels for you.

The Zipp Firecrest 404’s will once and for all put an end to the discussion that 650c wheels are somehow slower.  Their msrp at $2,725 (for the set), unequivocally puts them in the road snob category, but they are worth every penny.  I can’t tell you how many people ask me, “Are those Firecrest 404’s?”  It’s like I’m finally being taken seriously as a cyclist.  Did I mention Mark Cavendish rides the 700c size?



Zinn Custom Extra Short Cranks

ZinnCranksLennard Zinn has been ahead of the curve since 2003, making robust crank arms for the big boys who live on the right side of the bell curve. Since his wife stands a mere 5’ 2”, he understood her need for shorter crank arms as well,  and started manufacturing them for petite cyclists at the same time.

Made of 6061 aluminum, Zinn cranks have a beautiful, shiny, fast finish and are available as short as 130mm increasing up to 160mm in 5 mm increments. They are available for triple and compact crank set-ups.

They are expensive– running  $459 (+) for a set.  But once you have them, they will likely last you forever.

They are one of the best investments you will ever make towards the improvement of your cycling, and will change the way you ride.  I used to get dropped on every hill — even if it was just a bump in the road. Now — watch out.

Once you decide to purchase crank arms to match your body proportions, call Zinn.  In fact, if you are still not sure what length to order (even after using the formula of 21-21.6% of your leg length), call Zinn.  Service is part of his business.  His cranks are incredibly well made here in the USA.   I’m bummed that mine don’t have the Zinn logo on them–this would be handy as a conversation starter with other petite cyclists.

My only comment is that since the cranks were initially designed for tall men, the smaller ones may be a bit overbuilt.  While Shimano’s crank arms and bottom bracket weighed in at 595 grms, the Zinn set up I installed (with a Phil Wood bottom bracket) weighed in at 815 grams—220 grams more.  Remember, rotating mass significantly increases the overall weight of your bike in a 2:1 ratio.  Meaning: adding one gram of rotating mass is like adding two grams to the weight of your bike.   So while it takes more effort to get the weight moving, the momentum you gain will also be greater. My experience with these cranks is that the increase of power in my performance has outweighed (pun intended), any additional weight to my bike. And the good news is that if  Zinn cranks are overbuilt, they will probably never wear out!

Winter is a great time to get your cranks switched out if weather makes riding impossible.  The installation requires a square taper bottom bracket, so you will need to budget for that as well as the cranks themselves.  If you are using Shimano components (which I now advocate for a variety of reasons), there should be no compatibility issues. I do recommend you specifically communicate the model of your current cranks with the folks at Zinn.    Unfortunately, if you ride Campagnolo, the proprietary bolt pattern on their cranks and chainrings are not compatible with the Zinn Cranks, and so you will need to purchase new chain rings as yet an additional expense.

 According to Zinn, “The vast majority of our customers have reported increased power, easier and faster climbing, decreased times on local rides, less fatigue, less joint pain and overall performance increases when they went to the proportional length crank.”

This has definitely been my experience.  Please let me know how your new, shorter crank arms have improved your cycling!

By the way, if you are wondering why the issue of crank arm length didn’t arise when I first purchased my bicycle, let me explain.  To start with, information about correct frame size for petite women was sparse.  Debate about wheel size was, at the very least– convoluted, if not completely wrong, “650c wheels are slower than 700c,” and discussion about crank arm length was limited to “Are you a masher or a spinner?”

There was very, very little information out there about crank arm length as it applies specifically to smaller riders, mostly because availability beyond the standard (165, 170, 172.5 and 175 mm) options was severely limited. Click here to see my resource page on crank arm length!

Beljum Budder

bbtubedrwg2One of the best, “not just for cycling” products I came upon recently is paraben-free Beljum  Budder.  Though its manufacturer considers it a skin lubricant and chamois creme designed to address friction and chafing problems during cycling and other exercise, my experience is that it is far more.  When all else fails to seal in moisture and restore skin softness, Beljum budder comes through.

This product deserves a place in your first aid kit.

Recently, while drawing with pastels, the chalk had wicked all the moisture from my hands– leaving them parched and rough. Even coconut oil wouldn’t relieve the dryness.  Then, I remembered how impressed I was by  Beljum Budder’s ability to lubricate my skin and chamois when I’d last used it on a long hot ride.

I frantically  searched my house for the generous 8 oz tube.

The complement of natural ingredients including vitamin A, D & E  and a variety of botannicals provided instant relief, nourishing and softening my rough hands without leaving any greasy residue.

The makers of Beljum Budder want you to know about parabens and how dangerous they are to your body–especially in cases of prolonged contact like in a chamois while sitting on a bicycle seat.  Because they care about you, they  have left the parabens out as well as all fragrances and petroleum products. Although Beljum Budder is non-staining  and anti-bacterial, the makers recommend washing with soap and water as soon as possible after a ride and changing into breathable clothing.  I heartily agree.

Cost of an 8 oz tube is $19.95.  Check out to purchase online or find a retailer in  your area.



SweatHawg_Helmet_Liner_Black_with_Hot_Pink__10333.1390433092.1280.1280It’s not a sweatband, and it’s not a cap.  It looks like half of a cap, but it won’t fit on your head like a cap should.

That’s because it  is a helmet liner made of  a highly hydrophilic (water loving) black fabric with a terrycloth- like brow that is super absorbent and will suck up all that sweat on your forehead before it drips into your eyes. The sweat is then swiftly wicked away from the brow and through the head cover.  The headcover is light enough not to overheat in spite of it’s black color (I was a little skeptical about this).

I live in Southern California and it’s hot here.  The sweathawg is an efficient and discrete way to deal with all of that boyish sweat. The  tricky part is getting it correctly seated in your helmet and then onto your head,  and, if you have long hair, getting the ponytail through the helmet without disturbing the position of the sweathawg and helmet.

Sweathawg is made in Oregon (home of the best bike ride in America).
It’s guaranteed too– or your money back .  for $20. plus shipping

Some Hanky Panky has forced Me to Ask again

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