Sunday, October 24, 2010

Neil Pryde Alize Review


Over the past few years, I've ridden a lot of different bicycles. Some people might say too many bikes, and it's gotten to the point now where I just receive a roll of the eyes from the significant other when a big cardboard box magically appears in the home. I generally go through a few frames a year because I'm a total bike geek, and love trying the different and new products that endlessly stream on to the market. I've ridden every material out there and even a few blends. From cheap steel to high end custom steel to ultra butted custom titanium to aluminum or aluminum bonded to carbon tubes to full carbon frame sets. These days it's all about carbon, and I'm finally able to comfortably state that carbon is where it's at. The material is lighter, stronger, stiffer where it needs to be, and smoother riding than any material on the market, and thanks to the diversity of carbon available, it can be manipulated in to nearly any shape and stiffness for that ultimate customized ride.

Recently I received a bike from a new company in the bike market called Neil Pryde Bikes. The company itself is not new, but they are fresh on the bike scene with two models introduced this year named the Alize and the Diablo. Neil Pryde is a respected wind surfing company, and they decided to use their knowledge of carbon fiber and mastery of wind to create a top notch frame set that's ready to compete against the big name manufacturers currently on the market. Both frames appear upon first glance to be very well designed and thought out, and are also comprised of very different carbon tubes. The Alize is the aerodynamic model, and the Diablo is their all around racing model. Both frames were designed in collaboration with BMW USA's design team. They were also tuned in the wind tunnel for optimal aerodynamic performance with data for backup to their claims.

The Alize retails for $2250 and the Diablo $2500 for the frame sets which includes a seat post and headset, and both are available direct through Neil Pryde Bike's website. Either frame can also be purchased as a complete bike with Ultegra or Dura-Ace builds, and come with a strong 10 year warranty. I received my bike via DHL Express, and shipping was incredibly fast. The bike was very well packed as were all the components.

Picking between the two frames was a touch choice. The weight weenie within whispered get the Diablo, while the experienced, practical side said get what you know will help you in those breaks you typically find yourself in - every second counts! So, the aero Alize it is. But, after such a difficult decision there's still more to deal with. Which color do I pick?? Neil Pryde offers three choices for each frame set. One with hints of blue and black and white, another with some red and black and white, and another stealth mostly black. I felt the red, white and black would match nicely with my saddle and a few other choice components so the decision was made. I opted for Dura-Ace. The weight weenie could accept nothing less.


The Alize frame weighs a little more than the Diablo, roughly 70 grams, coming in at 1040 grams for a 56cm which was the actual weight I got on my scale. I applaud them for this. So many times I've been extremely disappointed with the claimed vs actual weights. The fork on the Alize is slightly heavier than the Diablo fork at 350 grams, a 10 gram weight penalty.


Starting with the head tube (HT), the Alize has a tapered HT going from 1 1/8" up top to 1 1/2" at the bottom. This is to increase stiffness and offer more precise handling. Not only is there tapering, but Neil Pryde has carved out excess material creating an hourglass like shape for the HT when seen from the front. The fork is full carbon, and utilizes something Neil Pryde calls Rib Technology which adds stiffness to the overall design. The Alize fork is an excellent looking design that's not your run of the mill carbon fork. As you will see, this will become a theme throughout the tubes on this bike. A quick glance is not enough to appreciate the fine curves. The front is rounded, then quickly tapers to a ridge in the rear. The lower half of the fork is shaped nicely curving inward to continue the ridge so there is a smooth transition from the top of the fork legs to the dropouts. Another interesting thing to note is the seamless transition from the HT all the way through the fork to it's end. It looks like one piece when looking from above.


The down tube (DT) is a sight to behold. It's shaped to optimize aerodynamics not only from the front but also from the side. It's slightly twisted looking from the HT then terminates in to a very stout looking bottom bracket. Both derailleur cables are routed internally through the DT starting near the HT.


The bottom bracket area is huge. I thought my two previous carbon bikes had beefy looking bottom brackets, but this one makes them look tiny in comparison. It is also nicely shaped and not just a fat, round tube. Just glancing at it you know it's going to be stiff.

The top tube (TT) is flattened on the top and curves to a ridge on the underside. It also tapers from the HT to the seat tube (ST), becoming thinner as it nears the ST. The rear brake is internally routed through the TT.


The seat tube (ST) is another highly manipulated tube. It hugs the rear wheel so air flows right past the tube, and over the tire and rim to carry on with limited resistance. The tube is also tweaked above and is angled and tapered giving the appearance it will slice right through the wind. The seat collar is integrated and works as it should. I've experienced no slipping of the seat post. A very thoughtful addition above the seat collar is something Neil Pryde calls "QFIT." Whenever the seat post is removed or adjusted, the grey rubber piece stays on the seat post where the post is currently set so you always have a point of reference to work with for saddle height. No more inaccurate measuring!


The seat stays are shaped similar to the fork being rounded in the front and tapering to the rear. Again, heavy manipulation of the tubing is apparent. The transition from the seat stay to the chain stay is yet another area that clearly looks like thought was put in to the design. Often, I see ugly connections here, but the Neil Pryde Alize is rounded and smooth and very clean looking.


The chain stays are very large and rectangular shaped near the bottom bracket and gradually taper as the tube approaches the dropout, but retains the rectangular shape throughout. Roughly halfway back on the chain stay, the tube is carved out on the bottom half leading towards the edge.

The frame set comes with Neil Pryde's own aero seat post. It's slightly setback and offers very simple adjustment similar to other posts I've seen with a bolt up front that adjusts the saddle angle while the rear tightens it down. The post is carbon and is aero shaped. It's blade-like in appearance and quite thin. Compared to other seat posts I've used, I see less flex in this particular design. I generally see a good amount of flex in most posts under heavy pedaling probably due to the fact I have a large amount of post showing compensating for my long inseam. Also included with the frameset is an FSA carbon fiber headset and matching carbon spacers.

Like I mentioned before, I chose the Dura-Ace 7900 build but opted for a few of my own substitutions. I'm using my own saddle - selle san marco mantra carbon fx, wheels - Hed c2 bastogne, and I also used my own cranks - sram s900 w/ quarq - since I use a power meter. The cockpit is comprised of FSA SL-K parts. The stem has a chunky looking carbon face plate and the matching bar is compact. The bar I find particularly nice. I've never used a bar with a slightly flatted top portion and find it very natural feeling and more comfortable than a round bar. Excellent for long climbs. The drops are round throughout, and offer an easy reach to the brake lever. The overall build came to just shy of 16 pounds.

The paint job on this bike is incredible. Every tube has something interesting going on and the more you study it the more you see they actually took time to make this bike good looking. There are pin stripes and panels and other minute details that create an overall eye catching tastefully done design. Everywhere I go on this bike I find people staring at it, and if they get the chance they inevitably start asking questions about the brand, and it's origin and design. I've ridden tons of bikes and this has never happened before on such a regular basis!

The Ride

None of the above matters if the bike doesn't do what it's supposed to do. I've had the pleasure of putting about 500 miles on this bike over the past week and a half. The pedigree of this bike quickly became evident over the first few miles. This bike is made to be ridden fast, taken over the biggest climbs then pointed straight down and tossed in to corners at incredibly high speeds, and, finally, exposed to huge wattage (not mine!) as you sprint for the finish. At all of the above does this bike perform exceedingly well, but to be fair, my sprint is a mere 1250w max so take that for what it's worth. The bike feels incredibly responsive and smooth and I've no regrets with my choice of the Alize.

The first thing I noticed on this bike is the handling in the front end area around the HT and fork. It feels noticeably stiffer and more precise handling than previous bikes I've ridden. This rigid precision inspires confidence during high speed descents and truly earns that coveted line "it corners like it's on rails!" I've had this bike running at speeds up to 60mph on curvy, high speed descents and it never felt like I was pushing it too hard. Extremely stable, always, and ready for even more.

Last Saturday I went for a 70 mile ride and was exposed to extremely gusty winds. The bike gives the impression it's slicing through the wind instead of being caught and picked up by it. And it wasn't something that just "felt" that way. I could even see a difference when my teammates would get blown around a bit more than I. We were all on shallow rim wheels with the same components and we are even roughly the same size at 6' tall and 150 to 160 pounds.


Yesterday on a beautiful fall day, I took the bike for a 100 mile ride with 6,000ft of climbing on the epic NYC ride to Bear Mountain. I finished in high spirits and in great comfort after pushing the Alize to it's limits on a big descent off Bear Mtn and over the rolling hills of New Jersey and New York.

Overall, it's been a joy to ride this carbon wonder bike, and I can't wait to terrorize the race circuit next year aboard the Alize. Every year technology advances, and some companies manage to embrace and utilize it properly. The Neil Pryde Bikes company is one of them. They deserve a strong consideration for your next bike.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Iron Cross VIII race report

This weekend my wife and I headed out to Pennsylvania for some camping and 'cross racing. The race was called Iron Cross and it's billed as "America's longest cyclocross race" at 63 miles. I didn't do much (none) research to confirm that claim, but since most races are usually an hour long there's a good chance this ~4hr minimum race is what it says it is.

We decided to camp for a final dose of nature before the cold winter settled in the Northeast so we stayed at Mountain Creek campgrounds about 1.5 miles from the start of the race. It was a mix of mostly motor homes and trailers with what appeared to be people actually living in the trailers year round - wasn't confirmed though - and a small tents only section on an island surrounded by a forked stream. Our little backpacking tent did not fit in but no one bothered us so all was good.

Stinky pink. That's the name of the color on my Specialized Crux cross bike I built up and finished Friday evening, the day before we headed to PA. I hoped it fit and functioned properly. I ride a 56cm road bike so bought a 56cm specialized frameset. Later, after ordering, I found out often times 'cross bikes are sized 2cm smaller. Oops. I decided to stick with the decision since I saw the geometry and it looked OK, and I have really long legs so even if it was more like a 58cm I'd be OK. Luckily Specialized sizes their 'cross bike by the TT length so the bike fit exactly as anticipated and minimal adjustments were needed to make it work. I moved most the parts over from the Champion System bike so it was decked out in full dura-ace 7900 with an ultegra crankset. I decided to convert the Ksyrium Elite wheels to tubeless with Vittoria XG pro tires even though I read lots of negative posts on forums regarding 'cross setups tubeless. I've always enjoyed jumping in head first to events like this with minimal preparation and learning to swim. In an event like this I'd manage to iron out any sizing, body, or bike kinks and be ready to kick some butt at those silly 1 hour 'cross races coming up.


Sunday AM at 9 was the designated start time for Iron cross rev VIII. It was a balmy 40F upon waking at 7am. I wolfed down some granola and half a PB&J then prepped my bottles and food for the race. By 8:30 I was idling about in the sunshine near the start, staying reasonably warm, and mentally preparing myself for what was sure to be an epic event. Shortly before 9am, the race announcer explained how we would be starting, and tried to convince the slowest riders to go in the back and allow the faster riders to start up front. It seemed to work. I was a few rows back on the gravel road and it turned out to be a non-issue. The start was unusual, to say the least. We went through "the death spiral" before heading out on the course. What the hell is a death spiral??? Yeah, well, it's the weirdest thing I've ever had to ride through and I hope I get to do it again. Near where the race started there's a large field, a bit smaller than a football field, and it was completely taped off with a giant spiral which started us from the outside and worked it's way to a small middle then spit us out the side and sent us on our way. To my amazement, it really worked. I expected mass mayhem, but it was fluid and surreal and really cool seeing hundreds of bikers going in all different directions all at the same time.


After the death spiral, we popped on to a gravel road. I was in the lead group of about 20 riders and we were going at a pace that's...not the same as what I've been experiencing in cat 1 road races. It felt lethargic and my itchy trigger foot wanted to GO! So eventually I decided to hop on the front and upped the pace to around my own FTP. It quickly chopped the 20 or so riders down to around 10. We then rode through a beach...yes, really, a beach that had water bordering it, and everything else a beach usually touts. We wobbled and slid our way through the sand for 100m and the few riders still with us on mountain bikes floated over the sand and pulled away. Fortunately, after that we were back on fire roads for what was to be the first climb of the day. At only a few miles climb, it was easy in comparison to what was to come, but the pace stayed high and riders fell off one after another. By the top, it was down to about 6 riders and two of them were on mtb's. One a full suspension 29er.

After the climb we had a ripping descent on gravel/road and had a few rolling hills on road through farm land. We were down to 5 by this time I think. It was then we hit one of the bigger climbs which was also the KOM/QOM of the day. This was a longer grind of 4 or 5 miles but not terribly steep. I broke away with one other guy and we kept a steady pace a little below my threshold and crossed the KOM together at the top. He sprinted right before the line so got the KOM - had I known it was the KOM at the time, I probably would've tried as well. He then immediately dropped off during the descent and when I noticed I was alone I thought I had maybe missed a turn. I stopped, checked the situation, turned around and started riding back down the trail, and then almost immediately saw the few others who had crested the climb near us. I turned back around and soft pedaled and let them catch me and hopped back in to the line.

We rode together for the next few miles before the notorious very technical single track descent called Lippencote trail. I had read on a few blogs that this trail was treacherous on a cross bike, and have to mostly agree. It was certainly challenging, and not ideal with skinny tires and poor brakes on a drop bar. The two guys on the mtb's blasted by us weenies on the cross bikes and we didn't see them again until a few miles later. I went down fairly fast, and felt comfortable until a really steep and rocky section. This is where I developed a new technique, for me anyways, of using the front brake on the hood with a few fingers, and having my right hand locked around the hood with a death grip not using the rear brake. The trail was very technical with no clear line through the rocks, and I was going too fast to control my bike, so I was forced to grab what little front brake I could in a desperate attempt to keep the bike's speed under control while the right hand kept me a bit under control and pointed in the proper direction. It worked and I didn't crash. I came very close a few times to doing a superman over the bars, though. After clearing this nasty section it was back to some nice, smooth asphalt.

I emerged with one other cross biker, a guy by the name of Gary Pflug who's apparently notorious for kicking butt on a single speed on the NUE 100 mile mtb series, and we worked together to catch those pesky mtb'ers. It was easy. After 5 or so minutes we were back together along with one other cross biker who had managed to catch up as well. And then another gravel road climb began. One of the mtb'ers appeared to have run out of steam and he dropped away never to be seen. And then there were four.

During the climb, we 'cross bikers managed to dump the last mtb'er, temporarily, and it was up to us three to hold it to the finish. After the climb, I recall another ripping fast gravel descent. We then hit a double track trail and I saw way up high some power lines and a wall of rock and I could only come to the conclusion that this was the famed "wigwam" run up. Run up is laughable, truly a joke, and if you run up this you are a better man than I or the three others with me. We walked. Pflug had a trick up his sleeve, literally, a small pad stuck to his shoulder, I learned later on and moved a bit faster than us but not enough to worry anyone. Me and the other crosser kept the same pace while the mtb'er fell behind due to his bulky bike. So, this trail was a true hiking trail. There's no way you could ride up it seeing it was around a 40% grade. It was nearly vertical with loose gravel, sand and rock completely exposed to the sun and nearly a half mile long. If you were having problems before this climb, I'm sure they were suddenly amplified by 10. Quads tight? Let the cramps begin! Dehydrated? now you are truly sweating! I ambled on up the hill feeling decent, but hot from the sun, and finally hit a section that was ridable. It descended a bit then hit some sand so I got to slide around a bit before hitting another walkup. Up top were some folks heckling us or cheering us a long, however your mood is probably how you perceived it, and it was also a checkpoint with a bag drop so I resupplied my ammo.

Me and the other cross bike guy high tailed it after Mr Pflug and caught him fairly fast. The three of us rode together descending a nice gravel section and eventually came to another single track secition.

Now, this is true single track we speak of. Not some wimpy, smooth cruise with grandpa on a groomed gravel path. This trail was ideal for a mountain bike. Not A 32c cross tire with a gearing of 38x26. The three of us plugged along at a grumpy pace weaving and dodging all the nasty terrain. I was number two in line behind Mr Pflug, and at some point we lost number three. I learned after the race his wheel got messed up and then he flatted. So, and then there were two. We trucked along through the single track getting bounced all over the place, climbing the majority of the time, and eventually popped out on a gravel road. Ahead of us was another wicked descent.

I followed my partner in crime for a little while, and the pitch really went DOWN so I let go of the brakes and flew past him. After a minute or so I turned around and he was gone. Hmm. I know I didn't miss a turn since I was still passing arrows marking the course, so I figured he got a flat or crashed. After the descent I saw my moto pace dirt biker and told him he disappeared. He quickly rode back up and found out he flatted while I continued on a rolling paved road through the middle of nowhere country farms. And then there was one.

So, I'm all alone out front in a cross race on a bike I've ridden never before in a position I definitely did not expect to be in. Before this race I was just hoping to finish, and if I finished I was hoping for top twenty. I had not ridden at all for nearly a month and was unsure how my endurance would stack up against guys training specifically for this race. Never mind the fact I hadn't been on a trail since last August when I broke my ribs. Anyways...

I failed to mention, about an hour before this point my legs felt like cramps were coming their way. They never came out in full force but were a presence off and on. As I rode along the rolling road, I felt twinges here and there but nothing significant manifested so all seemed OK. I could not go as fast as I would have liked, but what can you do?? At some point I came across a check point and refueled and was told I was in store for a five mile climb up a gravel road. O, Joy. This climb was a true grind with my gearing. It was really steep, repetitively, and I was spinning away at a ridiculously low leg press-like cadence. Near the top I was caught by the eventual winner. We rode together for a while until he pulled away, and I apparently kept him within about a minute of me till about 8 miles to go before that dreaded section of single track and that even nastier walkup (run up!) and that extra gravel climb and then that rolling....yeah. Get the point? truly epic!

Again, I was all alone, this time in 2nd place. All alone in the woods with nothing but a tiny yellow sign and black arrow pointing me which direction to go. Had they not been there, I'd have been totally lost. That's how dense these trails were. At some points, I had to get off my bike and look around as no discernible trail was in sight. Had a few others gone through, it probably would've been easier, but I was numero dos, and things were very clean still. I hopped around, suffered around, cleared a million logs, hopped off and jumped over a few logs, nailed a few billion rocks, rode through a few creeks and got wet and muddy. It was awesome.

At some point, I emerged from this moving experience, and came upon the final run up. I walked it. I was hot, miserable, and didn't really care at this point. I felt sick having developed a cough and my stomach was a bit queasy. I was passed by a cross biker, and then by the full suspension mtb'er before emerging from the jungle and near the home stretch. All that was left were some rolling gravel hills and a final road section and the game was over!

I pedaled along at a less than ideal pace, and eventually came to the road where I saw my wife cheering me along, a big surprise, what was she doing there?, and I hit the road. I did not try very hard to go fast as there was no one in site in either direction. I limped along at a respectable pace and finished alone four minutes behind first place and a minute behind 2nd and 3rd for a 4th place finish around 4 hours and 7 minutes.

Overall, Iron Cross was a great experience. I hope I can do it again! The race organization was impressive from start to finish. The course markings were flawless, and the moto pacer was a huge help. If you like to suffer and own a cross bike make a note to DO THIS RACE next year. You won't regret it.