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MINI REVIEWS

Gear Shots - some of Pete's BCBR gear picks

Words Pete Roggeman
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Sep 14, 2021
Reading time

I'm no XC racer - we've already covered that - but I am going to be riding in the BC Bike Race in early October and while I'm not putting in intervals, I have been preparing in my own way. One of the things I need to get right are some of the gear decisions that are best made and vetted before you arrive at an event like BCBR. You'll know in a hurry if you screwed it up, and you don't want to spend your time dealing with issues you could have avoided with a little preparation and forethought. Below are a few mini reviews of pieces of gear I've been using on the Santa Cruz Blur lately.

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The Shimano XC9 has been on my feet a lot lately - good thing they fit so well and have worked perfectly through all kinds of ride lengths and conditions. The double BOA dials and forefoot cable lacing do a great job of perfecting the fit.

Shimano XC9 Shoes

As a big fan of Shimano shoes in the past, I wasn't surprised the XC9s fit me well, or that I liked their looks which are understated by XC race shoe standards (depending on which colour you go for - the Blue screams 'rider passing on the right' and the new white colour has coffee shop peacock written all over it). The double BOA dial system works really well to let you put them on and dial the fit quickly, and they come off equally fast. The other beauty about using BOA on an XC race shoe is that you're not likely to want to stop all that often to adjust the fit, and with double BOA dials, it's easy to do by reaching down from the saddle. I never understood how people break their BOA dials, but the placement of them on the XC9 feels pretty much impossible to break unless you're trying. Even if you did, BOA is quick to replace them if you have any trouble, and it's a quick and easy fix. The BOA dial on the forefoot is attached to a somewhat intricate lacing maze that effectively cinches an area that is traditionally difficult to adjust. All together, it's a lace-like fit that is snug without being cramped or pinchy anywhere.

The uppers are a synthetic leather that breathes well, cleans easily, and is certainly light. The soles are - surprise - carbon composite with a tread that is minimal but much better for walking in than other XC shoes I've used in recent memory, including some from Shimano. There is even some tread in the mid foot - which is where the Michelin badge appears - that makes log/rock crossings far less treacherous. It's reminiscent of when ski boot manufacturers started putting rubber in that area so you wouldn't look like Bambi on ice when traversing on rock and ice.

What really surprised me about the XC9 shoes is that despite having a Shimano stiffness rating of 11 (the ME7 Enduro shoe is a 7 and their top road race shoe is a 12), they don't feel stiff whether you're pedaling and they're also quite comfortable while walking relative to other similarly stiff race shoes. They're not flexy either, and I'm not saying that they aren't the stiff and efficient race shoe they're meant to be, but they are really comfortable to pedal in for rides of one hour or four. I've been riding flats more than clipless over the last year, but even when clipped in I usually use something like an ME7 which is still stiff enough to have a nice pedaling platform but certainly softer than an all-out XC race shoe. In the past, I've occasionally suffered from the dreaded hot foot that comes with shoes that are too stiff or lack support, but not so with the XC9s - they were perfect from day one and that balance is a big part of the awesome secret sauce of these shoes for me.

And perfect they'd better be, because they're priced like the top flight shoe they're designed to be. For many, that's more than is comfortable, but WC level tech and light weight comes at a price.

Shimano XC9 Shoes - 525 CAD / 400 USD

Rapha Trail 3/4 Sleeve Jersey

I was a little nervous when the Rapha stuff showed up. Its reputation preceded it and I had no doubt about the quality, but I did wonder if it would come with the kind of function and durability we need on the trails around here. I had nothing to worry about. From the time I took it out of the package, it was clear that Rapha did its homework before diving into the MTB market with the Trail series jersey and shorts. Rapha stuff is pricey but its fans point to its fit, quality of materials, and their commitment to standing behind their product. They also send a little patch kit with off-cuts of the material used in each piece so you can patch a hole - but they'll also repair it for you if you send it to them.

Let's start with the 3/4 Sleeve jersey, because it was the biggest revelation for me. Most jerseys don't phase me at all. Too many of them are bright and nasty or cut from material that smells like my soccer jerseys from 35 years ago. Give me a merino tech tee and I'm happy - 3/4 sleeves are even better for most days, especially if I'm riding overgrown trails with lots of snaggy or water-laden branches. The fabrics are a carefully chosen blend of woven for abrasion resistance on the sleeves and textures on the torso that are comfortable next to the skin but also breathe well, don't hold water against you like a sock that just came out of the dryer, and feature an antibacterial treatment that might allow you to wear it a second time without gagging at the smell of yourself. As with most things Rapha, it's really good-looking and not ostentatious. Their trademark arm band is reflective. The fit is fantastic and small touches like the lay-flat neck band and sleeves make it look sleek in a good way. It's 140 bucks but you can see what that money gets you and it's not just the five-letter brand name in italics on the chest. If I could ask for one thing it would be the inclusion of a glasses wipe under the hem - I didn't used to think I liked those, but I now really miss it whenever I'm wearing a jersey that doesn't have it. At its premium price, this jersey should include one.

Rapha Trail 3/4 Sleeve Jersey - 140 CAD / 100 USD

Rapha Trail Shorts

Another pair of black shorts? Another pair of black shorts. But so many of them have a fatal flaw, whether they don't have a pocket right where you need it, or too many pockets and a bulky fit. Rapha got it right with two hand pockets and two zippered side pockets with phone sleeves in either side - I put my phone in one side and thin wallet or energy bar in the other, and key fob in hand pocket, without it looking like Batman with a broken utility belt.

The fabric they chose wears nicely and offers a bit of water-repellency without sacrificing its nice feel and quiet pedaling manners. There are belt loops (!) as well as a belt and cinch system that's comfortable, low-profile, and stays done up. The top button is a clever slide and lock that is reminiscent of Kitsbow's buttons - it works well and doesn't add bulk like some shorts with buckles or other encumbrances.

The length is just right and credit to Rapha here because they designed the Trail short to be worn with or without knee pads. The latter method wasn't on my radar until recently but I either wear minimalist knee pads or none at all on XC rides, so it's nice to have shorts that accommodate either style smoothly.

If the Trail 3/4 Jersey is pushing the price limit slightly, the shorts take it a step further. It's a more hotly contested market, but if they fit you just right, I think it's justified - even if you crash, Rapha's included repair kit may save you, and otherwise they'll repair them for you. Nice peace of mind to keep them in your rotation for years to come.

Rapha Trail Shorts - 205 CAD / 150 USD

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The LoamLab Counterpunch is small but mighty. Barely noticeable on or off the bike - until you have a glancing blow off a tree and it saves you from an awkward moment at the least, and a painful injury in the worst case scenario. Photo: Pete Roggeman

LoamLab Counterpunch Pinkie Protectors and Single Clamp Grip

Sometimes the march of progress leaves mountain biking gear embroiled in a bit of an arms race with itself. As soon as one innovation pops up, we have new problems to resolve: eliminating the front derailleur necessitated the narrow-wide chain, carbon wheels exposed 35mm bars and stems to be uncomfortably stiff for some, and wider bars all of a sudden turned that narrow tree squeeze play on your favorite trail into a shadow boxing exhibition with the threat of clipping a tree and busting up the outside of your hand if you mess it up.

Whether you're a smaller rider running a 740 or a broad-shouldered beast pushing 820mm, there are trails with narrow spots between trees all over, and misjudging that gap can be annoying at best, and injury-inducing at worst. And as I learn a new trail network in West Sechelt, a few new opportunities for tree slalom have presented themselves. I'm hitting these trails faster as I get more comfortable, and s-turns through gaps in trees are the kind of place where a bar snag or pinkie smash could easily put me off the bike for a week or more (LoamLab founder Mark Haimes came up with the Counterpunch when a broken 5th metatarsal handed him a 6-week break from riding). Not ideal anytime of year, but especially not during the prime riding season and as I lead up to BC Bike Race.

So the longest preamble ever sets up a small, simple, and effective solution to the issue: Loam Labs' Counterpunch, which is a small aluminum hook that doubles as the outboard end cap of your grips and attaches by way of expander bolt. It's a dead simple concept, and nicely executed by the new brand out of Squamish. At first I wasn't sure how necessary this was and then I remembered a few areas where the ol' tree trunk boogie came into play, and I realized I wanted to try them out. One, they provide confidence that if you mess up and hit the side of a tree as you go by, your 5th digit and metacarpal (that's your pinkie and outer knuckle) will be protected. Two, they're small, unobtrusive, and light: the Counterpunch alone weighs 68g per pair, and paired with LoamLab's excellent single clamp grip, the total weight is 164g per pair. Three, they work as advertised - I have hit two trees with them since they were installed on my Blur, and not only did they provide protection to that sensitive outer part of my hand, they also worked to slide off the tree, rather than grabbing and potentially giving your bars a violent jolt. Four (bonus), as blackberry season got into full swing here, the Counterpunch directed some of the nasty brambles off of my knuckles.

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A top view of the Counterpunch as well as the LoamLab single clamp grip, which is more comfortable than most lock-ons due to the relieved sections of the plastic chassis that allow for more grip material. They felt great with or without gloves. Photo: Pete Roggeman

The Blur isn't necessarily the first choice for me for the Counterpunch - if I was riding my Sentinel more often right now, that's where I would have tested them - but I'm spending the most time on the Blur and riding it on trails I wouldn't just think were 'XC bike territory', plus that bike is stinking fast and clipping stuff at speed is easy to do. I don't notice the Counterpunch while riding except in a good way - I like the feeling of having a small surface against the outer part of my hand, and the protection is a sweet benefit with very little weight, or cost. Easy recommendation and I'll continue running the Counterpunch and grips, which I won't get into here except they are designed to be more comfortable than a typical lock on grip, and LL got the design right, because they're very comfortable and cushy, especially for a thinner diameter grip.

LoamLab Counterpunch - 39 CAD (59 CAD with grips) // Single Clamp Grip - 33 CAD

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Comments

Abies
-1 Pete Roggeman OldManBike finbarr Dogl0rd Tadpoledancer Angu58 Taiki
Simon Apostol  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:31 a.m.

I’m sure it’s not intentional, but it might be time to retire photos with the ok sign hand gesture… https://www.npr.org/2019/09/26/764728163/the-ok-hand-gesture-is-now-listed-as-a-symbol-of-hate

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+8 Dogl0rd solar_evolution Tadpoledancer Andrew Major jdt Poz mrbrett Angu58
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:34 a.m.

Not my intention at all and this may be a bit of an overreach in this context, but if you or anyone was offended, I apologize. I did a little looking around and the ADL has added the OK hand symbol to its list of potential hate gestures (as was mentioned in the link you included), but there's also been very little written or said about it since that happened in 2019 other than a few controversial appearances of the gesture by prominent people with obvious white supremacist tendencies.

I actually wasn't aware of the hand gesture's negative connotation, so thanks for pointing it out, but I think it's telling that even very liberal companies like Apple still have the OK emoji available for use across their devices, so they clearly don't think it's universally offensive. Wikipedia actually was an interesting glimpse into how many different meanings the gesture has around the world: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OK_gesture

I changed the image because I'm not falling on that sword and it was a very simple way to show that the ok symbol in the original title photo wasn't intended in that way, but no one that follows this site or its content would accuse us of white supremacy or hate speech. Still, as I said, if you felt the need to point it out, it's possible someone could misinterpret it or be offended, including you, and I certainly don't want that.

Let's get back to talking about gear now, please.

Reply

Abies
+5 Pete Roggeman Tadpoledancer Andrew Major jdt finbarr
Simon Apostol  - Sept. 14, 2021, 1:10 p.m.

I apologize and could have been more tactful with my message, it was really meant as more of an FYI than an accusation, which I thought was clear but maybe not. I am probably more sensitive to these things than most as a Jewish resident of a city (Portland, OR) that sees frequent violence from far-right extremist groups.

On topic - excellent reviews as always. The Rapha shorts look good. I don't think the price is THAT extreme, especially considering their reputation, and FYI for anyone considering them Rapha (at least used to) have pretty frequent coupon codes.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+5 Tadpoledancer Andrew Major solar_evolution jdt mrbrett
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 1:15 p.m.

I'm glad you said something, Simon. At first I was thinking: "man, really?" but I think that's the point - there's no right or wrong place to bring this stuff up. If it's in the public domain, it matters, and with a little context I better understand just how much it matters to you (even though - again, that's not the only reason it matters). So thank you again for making me aware.

The Rapha shorts are great. There are several other options that are equally good, one of which I'll be writing up soon, but that doesn't make them any less of a good choice. It's the jersey that stands out even more for me relative to most of the competition, though.

Reply

Abies
+2 Pete Roggeman finbarr
Simon Apostol  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:47 p.m.

Like you I'm a merino tee guy, but I suppose an anti-bacterial coating could push me over the edge. Patagonia also makes a nice merino 3/4 sleeve jersey.

Reply

cerealkilla_
+1 Pete Roggeman
jdt  - Sept. 14, 2021, 7:28 p.m.

Darn you both for robbing us of cheap entertainment by taking this the civil adult route. Great conversation to follow. Thank you both.

Counterpunches! Definitely among the best new products I've seen lately. Found it really important to get the control set up just just right, but once dialed in, there is the added benefit of no wandering on the grip. My hand goes where it belongs and then it stays there. 

No pockets on the jersey? Did you carry a pack in the BCBR or just keep everything strapped to the bike?

pete@nsmb.com
+1 jdt
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 15, 2021, 7:56 p.m.

jdt, this is a reply to you, but the comments system is a bit goofy. Sorry to deprive you of online drama!

BCBR hasn't happened yet - it was postponed due to Covid until October and because of that, it's also been moved into a clover leaf (ish) format centered in Penticton. I have a tiny USWE pack that I may use (still deciding) but otherwise have the Blur set up to carry most things, plus two bottles and food in SWAT bibs or baggy short pockets and I think I'll be ok. I'm also not racing at 100 so I'll take my time at aid stations.

Masacrejoe
+1 Kerry Williams
Michael Klein  - Sept. 16, 2021, 6:58 a.m.

Danish ministry of traffic years ago made a tv-spot encouraging drivers to give other drivers the OK sign when "being good in traffic". After running the campaign for quite a while, they discovered, that the same gesture in southern Europe predominantly means asshole.

It still means OK in diving, as 'thumbs up' means go to the surface.

Reply

xy9ine
+1 Pete Roggeman
Perry Schebel  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:47 a.m.

negative rise stem? you getting SERIOUS.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
+2 Perry Schebel Matt Lee
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:35 a.m.

It is a full-on XC bike. Every time I think about raising the bar height, I go for a pedal and love the position. Even on descents, it works with the bike. I rode all over Fromme last week and the bike surprised me.

Reply

OLDF150
0
Kerry Williams  - Sept. 17, 2021, 8:50 a.m.

I'm considering downsizing in travel from an Instinct BC to a Blur TR and your review was pretty inspiring Pete.  Thanks for all the good perspectives.

Reply

gubbinalia
+1 Pete Roggeman
gubbinalia  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:16 a.m.

Great thoughts on the XC9. I'm a diehard XC7 wearer for just about every use case short of full blown hike-a-bike missions. Yes, they look a little goofy paired with kneepads riding up the chair at the bike park, but the fit is so dialed that I think the goofy-ness is worth the trade-off for the performance advantage. Wearing a snug-fitting, stiff soled shoe increases how hard I can push through the pedals cornering and how much weight I can "drop" through the heels in a g-out. I think you're over-selling the stock insole in the XC-series shoes, though -- even the XC9 insole (which has denser foam than the XC7 insole does) is only worth a few week's riding before it starts to pack out in the toe box. Better to start with the lower price point on the XC7 and budget for some good aftermarket footbeds (Superfeet).

On an unrelated note, could this be the first time in NSMB history when not one but TWO contributors are running Level brakes?!

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:40 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:40 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 14, 2021, 9:40 a.m.

Yeah, I definitely didn't mean to do a sales job on the insole. Stock insoles are actually a common complaint from me so maybe my expectations are just so damn low. I do agree that the XC7 is kind of like XT here: all the performance minus a few small differences that most won't notice, at a much better price. And back in the day, all clipless shoes looked like that, so my old self doesn't think it's so out of place. I wouldn't wear these for full-on AM/DH riding, but mostly because I'd prefer a little more protection on the front of the foot and ankle, and a little more sole for hike-a-bikes, but as far as on the bike performance goes, they're excellent. The ME7 really does give you all of that with a slightly softer sole that hikes better, but that added protection and material on the sole does add weight.

Reply

khai
+2 Pete Roggeman tj7mesh
khai  - Sept. 14, 2021, 3:17 p.m.

Those shorts look like someone at Rapha went out and bought a pair of 7mesh shorts and then gave them to R&D saying "rip these off, but not so much that they could sue us".

That Counterpunch is interesting. I wonder how it compares with the mini handguards that some EWS racers are now using? To me, the mini handguard appears to offer better protection, but I haven't used either...

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pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 15, 2021, 8:01 p.m.

They're similar for sure. The EWS hand guards you see are more about protecting the front of the hand - Counterpunch is for the side. Different intentions. Might be useful for some to run both. There are a few EWS racers now running Counterpunch, I'm told.

Reply

tj7mesh
+1 Andy Eunson
tj7mesh  - Sept. 16, 2021, 12:40 p.m.

We know that all apparel is inspired by what came before it. That said...yeah, this one stung a little. Thanks for noticing!

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andy Eunson  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:19 p.m.

I was intrigued by the LL grip with the knuckle duster. So I ordered a pair this morning and the man was coming to Whistler anyway and delivered them in person. Put them on the hardtail and went for a ride. I’ll give them a few more rides to be sure but I will probably order a second pair for my squishy bike too. I was running Ergon GD1 grips which I like but they were getting on in age and none around at the moment. Oddly I did feel the need to move my brakes further out about a cm. Where my hands feel natural is closer in on the Ergon grips than the LL.

Reply

hongeorge
+2 hotlapz Timer
hongeorge  - Sept. 15, 2021, 12:55 a.m.

Those hooks for protecting you from branches look a lot like hooks for grabbing onto branches to me

Reply

hongeorge
0
hongeorge  - Sept. 15, 2021, 12:55 a.m.

Those hooks for protecting you from branches look a lot like hooks for grabbing onto branches to me

Reply

cerealkilla_
+1 Pete Roggeman
jdt  - Sept. 15, 2021, 11:29 a.m.

I thought that too at first glance. However, once you put your hand on the bars and ride a bit, it becomes clear that snagging is not an issue. The nubs are actually a rounded surface pointed slightly inboard at the end, and they basically sit flush against your pinky rather than sticking out. Only way to snag is if you take your hand off the bar, at which point you're probably screwed anyway - or by striking farther inboard - again, if that happens you're likely in trouble already. Think of it as pinky-armor rather than a bar extension. This is why control set -up is key, as you establish a more specific position for the hand, rather than having extra grip-length to wander upon. I've now put them to the test numerous times and can say the only snag issues I encountered were catching loopy brake-cable on my other bikes as I hang them on the rack.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 15, 2021, 7:58 p.m.

Exactly - they're for protection from the side, and I've also had a bit of ancillary protection against branches and things like blackberry bushes.

Reply

ShawMac
0
ShawMac  - Sept. 15, 2021, 5:03 p.m.

I bought the counterpunch and had them on for one ride. Hooked tree bark within 5 minutes that my regular bar would have just bounced off. It made me notice that I don't ride with my pinkies right out of the end of the bar, so they were pointless for me personally. If I cut my bars down further and tightened up the space between the counterpunch and the inside of the grip it might work for my small hands, but I didn't really want to cut down some carbon bars that already feel right.
Definitely has more potential to hook when there is a space between the knuckle and counter punch, but it definitely did grab a tighter hold on tree bark rather than bumping off of it like my plain plastic bar end plugs do. At high speeds that would save a pinky though if you do have your hands all the way on the edge

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pete@nsmb.com
0
Pete Roggeman  - Sept. 15, 2021, 8 p.m.

Interesting. Although if you hooked tree bark with the Counterpunch, it might be fair to say you were lined up to punch that trunk with more than just your pinky. Due to the in-turn design, it shouldn't snag anything except that which is already well more inboard than the outside of your bars.

Still, I do get that not everyone needs them - different trails, tendencies, etc.

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