FMB: Tubulars explained.

By: Embrocation Nov 18

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Our newest freelancer, Philip Gale, has been doing a fair bit of globetrotting in the interests of drumming up new and exciting content for our upcoming print journal. His travels included a trip to the workshop of our favorite craftsman, François Marie, of FMB fame. We hope you enjoy Philip’s images and a brief reminder of why it is that we are so religiously partial to these tyres—yes, tyres.

A tubular tyre is simply an innertube sewn into a casing. On the outside of that, the base tape and tread are glued, and yet such a simple thing can have such a huge effect on your performance. Traction and ride quality are two of the top features that have to be considered for any tubular. Both of these are key elements to riding fast in cyclocross. If you do not have traction in the varied conditions found on any circuit, you can have all of the power in the world, but your dreams of a bike race will turn into a nightmare of a running event.

For those of us who are not fans of taking their cyclocross bikes for a run, we stock FMB’s SSC and Supermud tubulars. Handmade by France’s last tubular tyre company, these tubulars really give you an edge. The natural materials used—cotton for the casing, natural latex for the inner tube, and natural rubber for the tread—is the secret. Constructed by one of only 4 workers at FMB, likely even François himself, the end result of meticulously sourcing these materials is a tubular which has higher puncture resistance and is more flexible than other tyres on the market.

Why are these two qualities so important? It’s pretty straight forward. Added puncture protection from the closer weave of the cotton means fewer flats, while the more flexible carcass allows the tread to form to what it is in contact with, having a larger foot print on the ground, which gives the rider more grip. A knock-on bonus of this is that FMB tubulars have the same (or greater) level of flex as other tubulars, but at higher air pressures.

Another bonus to FMB artisan-crafted tubulars is their sharper tread. The other well-known European handmade tubular maker does not use the same tread patterns, and this means that FMB’s treads can cut into the dirt, mud, or snow more deeply, which will see you flying over the off-camber and carving turns like a fighter jet.

Text and images by Philip Gale


Giro Shoes

By: Nathaniel Ward Nov 10

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A new season should bring new shoes, and this year, for several of us around here, those new shoes have been Giros. As a longtime top-of-the-heap helmet and sunglasses company, Giro have recently branched out into both road and mountain bike shoes, and the results are pretty fantastic. Anyway, we like ‘em.

If you look closely at Jeremy Powers’ feet these days, you’ll notice he is one of the few top pros who isn’t wearing the magic yellow slippers. Instead, he’s wearing a traditional looking black shoe with a red liner. That shoe is the Giro “Code”, and it is awesome. It has a super light and stiff Easton EC 90 carbon sole, Giro’s extra comfy velcro and ratchet buckle combo, and comes with the “SuperNatural Fit Kit”, which consists of two different sets of exchangeable arch supports to meet most fit needs right out of the box. I have been riding and racing in these shoes for a few weeks now, myself, and I have to say I have been really impressed. It’s a light shoe with a fairly aggressive and grippy tread, which is great for running in ‘cross races, and the EC 90 carbon sole definitely feels firm on the pedals. Being fussy about my footwear, pressed for time, and generally kind of neurotic about changing anything having to do with my riding position, the thing I like most about these shoes is that they fit well right out of the box and felt good on the first ride.

Sometimes it’s nice to change things up, equipment-wise, when said equipment isn’t going to be raced any time soon, and you can therefore take a long time to get used to the new stuff. This, and a wife with a knack for just the right birthday present, had me setting up a new pair of road shoes in mid-September, just in time to not road race for six months. My new pair of Giro “Trans” are my favorite pair of shoes, ever, and my training rides and trainer rides have been remarkably more comfortable and efficient these days. Despite the allegedly somewhat less stiff EC 70 carbon sole from Easton, (as opposed to the EC 90 of the Code) the Trans is incredibly stiff, and also light. Once again, as with the Code, the shoes fit well out of the box, and they manage to provide a feeling of comfort and security at the same time: the shoe doesn’t wiggle around on your foot and the power transfer feels efficient, yet the toe box is roomy and your feet don’t feel pinched.

Now that we have been riding and racing on these for awhile and we’ve convinced ourselves they’re up to our standards, we’re ready to pass them along to our readers and customers, so look for a selection of Giro shoes here in the web store soon.


Product Review: Osymetric Chainrings

By: Nathaniel Ward Jun 16

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Ok, so they’re funny looking. Stop laughing: they work. For years, cycling aficionados have lumped together in their minds any and all chain rings that are something other than round; hence the incorrect interchangeable use of the terms Q-rings, Rotor Rings, Biopace, and Osymetric rings. These are all different products, with different engineering and physiological principles at work, and some (Biopace) were clearly failed attempts. What we’re talking about here is Osymetric rings, how they work, and where you can get them.

Going back to the late 90’s or early 2000’s, astute cycling fans will have noticed Bobby Julich riding some bizarre looking squashed-oval shaped chain rings. He managed to win some li’l ol’ races in 2004-’05 like the Criterium International and Paris Nice riding those same funny looking rings. Over the course of recent seasons, the sharp-eyed Tifosi should have noticed an impressive and convincing array of ProTour riders using the rings to great effect in big races. Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) won this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné on the rings; Greg Henderson (Sky) rode the field off his wheel to win one of the sprint stages of the recent Amgen Tour of California; David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) won the final TT stage of the 2011 Giro D’Italia, and a host of races in 2010 using the rings, and the list goes on.

Early this year, former 7-11 team rider and Julich’s former teammate from the US domestic powerhouse Chevrolet/LA Sheriff’s team of the 90’s, Thomas Craven, decided to tackle the project of licensing the Osymetric design for US manufacture and distribution, and thus was born Osymetric USA. The traditional rings are still available in Europe and are hard to get in North America. The new, American made version, however, are coming soon to a dealer near you, and are made by American craftsman in Mebane, North Carolina.

“It’s like an intervention”, says Craven.

“You can’t tell people they should try the rings, they have to be open to it; they have to want to do it. But when people do try them, they almost always love them, though they do take some getting used to and aren’t for everybody.”

“At this point in the sport” Craven elaborates, “people assume the bicycle has been perfected, but it hasn’t. People spend all kinds of money on power measuring devices, nutrition, and as we all know, God knows what manner of performance enhancing drugs. So why not take a look at some of the science around pedaling? If I was still racing seriously and a product that cost $300 could give me a measurable and legal gain in performance, I would jump on it, no question.”

Fair enough, and there is certainly no hard sell at work, here. So apart from the history of the product, the real question is how the hell do they work, and doesn’t it feel bizarre to pedal like that?


For those inclined to geek out on scientific specifics, there has been quite a lot of objective academic research in a variety of places done on the science behind these rings, using world class riders as test subjects. The results are impressive, and reliable. In more practical, day-to-day terms, what the rings essentially do is to shorten the “dead spot” or weakest part of your peal stroke, and lengthen the gear at the point in your pedal stroke where your muscles are the strongest. Even simpler: try to pry a boulder off the ground with a 12” pry bar; then try with a 3’ crowbar. The longer lever is more effective, yes?

So science is science, but what do they feel like? Well at first they feel weird, no question about it. But the strangeness is more in the way of highlighting how odd it is to try to adapt one’s muscles to spin circles in the first place. Where in nature does that occur? After a ride or two on the standard 52×42 tooth set up for 130mm BCD cranks, I noticed that I stopped noticing the rings, and my first experience on a proper climb of 10 minutes or more made me a firm believer. The effect of the rings is most noticeable at low cadences when the extra torque or leverage is particularly wanted. At higher cadences you will likely forget that the rings are even there, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. Out of the saddle accelerations on climbs and in sprints are greatly improved by the simple availability of the longer gear—imagine if you could shift to a 56 or 57 tooth chainring for only the distance between 12 and 3 o’clock in your pedal stroke during a sprint. Magic, right? That is essentially what these rings do for you: you get more gear where you have the power to turn it, and less gear where your muscles aren’t doing much, anyway.

One other thing that may require some getting used to is the odd sizing. Many riders may balk at the idea of pushing a 42 or 44 tooth small ring uphill, but it is worth suspending your disbelief to give it a try. Owing to the squashed oval shape of the rings, there is a limit to the sizes available. To quote from the Osymetric website, “the dramatic patented Osymetric curve can not be created any smaller because of the closeness to the chainring mounting holes.” Our own experience here at Embrocation has been that given the fact that almost everyone is riding a 12-25 or 11-26 cassette these days, there is really plenty of gear available for even stiff and sustained climbs. Also important not to overlook, is the effective gear length of the ring, which means that a 42 tooth ring measures out to feel like a 37 tooth ring on the short side of the pedal stroke, and a 47 on the long side. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it feels surprisingly natural and simple.

The only widely reported issue with the rings that we are aware of is that some folks seem to have difficulty dialing in the front derailleur. For this reason, each set of rings comes equipped with a set of spacers to adjust the setback on clamp-on style derailleurs, and to widen—if necessary—the spacing of the cage, itself. In my experience, however, this was not at all a problem. I simply installed the rings, tightened the cable, and off I went, with perfect shifting. It is a good idea to lower the height of the front derailleur slightly so that the teeth of the large chainring are almost rubbing (see pictures). The rings are not ramped or pinned like most modern rings, so some finesse is required when shifting; but again, in my experience the shifting has been smooth and consistent, and I have yet to drop the chain after a series of varied terrain rides and races. Nevertheless, it is a problem for some, and some ingenuity, and occasional tweaking of parts is required at times. This problem is being addressed, however, and as the folks at Osymetric USA streamline and perfect their installation instructions, you can expect to see more riders giving these rings a shot.

We now carry several configurations of Osymetric chainring sets. View them in our store.


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