The loss of fitness and the gain in weight since my crash has been…quite obvious.

After two months of absolutely no saddle time, I decided to take matters into my own hands and reclaim what I lost.

It’s been roughly a month or so of slogging away at the turbo trainer. While I’m still nowhere near what I used to weigh, and I don’t realistically expect to lose any weight, I am feeling the lost fitness slowly creeping back.

Looking over my activity log on Strava reveals I’ve been repeating one particular workout. GCN has a workout set against the Passo Sella in the Dolomites, with erstwhile fan favorite Matt Stephens motivating you through twenty-eight minutes of intervals at 9/10 effort, at 100, 80, and 60 rpm.

This is highly convenient, both for days when I’m starved for time but still need training, and as a barometer of my fitness. The three screenshots below are a good track of my progress.

November 11, 2019.
Average speed/heart rate/cadence: 19.9 km/h, 153 bpm, 73 rpm.
November 22, 2019.
Average speed/heart rate/cadence: 20.8 km/h, 141 bpm, 75 rpm.
December 3, 2019.
Average speed/heart rate/cadence: 21.4 km/h, 138 bpm, 76 rpm.

In a nutshell, I am hitting faster road speeds and spinning at higher cadences, yet at a lower heart rate. Subjectively, I find that I can finish my sessions without feeling depleted.

This is tangible, measurable progress. And it all came to fruition on my first real outdoor ride, where JC Peralta and I hit the rolling hills and false flats of Alabang.

I’m still a heavy bastard, and still an easy target for fat-shamers. Very few people know or understand what goes on behind the scenes. Even so, the small wins need to be celebrated. If you cannot be proud for yourself and your achievements, nobody else will do it for you.

First look and review: Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoes

Part of my haul from the 2019 Philippine Bike Demo Day expo was this unassuming black pair of shoes. It’s only upon closer inspection that they reveal themselves as something special.

Two BOA dials, a carbon fiber outsole with rubber lugs, a titanium cleat plate, an upper made of Dyneema, and the S-Works branding. This is Specialized’s top-dog cross-country mountain bike shoe of 2017: the S-Works 6 XC.

Had this pair been sold at retail, it would have cost PhP22,600. That’s more than US$400. Two years later, I got it for a mere PhP6,800. Apparently, when these flagship unobtanium cycling shoes go on sale, they really go on sale.

Having had middling success with the Shimano XC5 and Northwave Core Plus shoes, and seeing as these S-Works kicks have most of the traits I have not yet sampled in a cycling shoe, perhaps it was time I bit this (much more digestible) bullet and saw for myself what $400 worth of cycling shoe can get you.

Now, you can do a search on Google for reviews of these shoes; most cycling media outlets have already said their piece about them. I’ll just write about my experience with them personally.

Remember how I prize walkability in my shoes? It’s precisely why I got the Shimano RT33L and MT5. These things…don’t really fit that same bill. Basically, you can take the RT33, eliminate any and all give in its sole by replacing the material with very stiff carbon fiber, then shave off all the rubber on the outsole and give it raised rubber lugs as hard as the plastic ones on, say, Shimano’s old XC31 shoes. That is how the S-Works 6 XCs perform as a walking shoe: they can do it, but grudgingly. Walking polished office floors feels (and sounds) like walking in clogs; grip is quite limited. Worse, to satisfy Specialized’s lightweight remit, the upper and tongue are quite thin and tend to dig into your ankles – most felt when I have to articulate them to go downstairs! Thicker socks are a must.

I have not seen naked carbon fiber outsole on one of my own cycling shoes before.

I’d imagine these kicks would do better in the sticky mud of a cyclocross race or the loamy soil of a mountain bike trail. The lugs are beefy, and you can mount toe spikes for more soft-surface purchase. For my purposes though, these are essentially “walkable” road cycling shoes that happen to use long-lasting two-bolt cleats. That sort of makes sense as these are identical to the S-Works 6 road cycling shoes in basic construction. They were made for efficient pedaling; walking is much farther down the pecking order.

The revelation with the S-Works 6 XCs, though, is in how comfortable they are. At first, it makes little sense: How are shoes this stiff and unyielding more comfortable?

Taking the tape measure to them shows the narrowest part of the outsole yielding just about 6 cm of width, which isn’t special. It appears the secret of the S-Works 6 XCs is really three things: that famously tight heel cup; the shape of the outsole, not just the outright width; and the toe box design.

Much ballyhooed for its tight hold, the heel cup just works. Once the shoe is worn, it and my heel work together as a captive ball-and-socket joint. On my size 45 example, it’s not as unyielding as some people may find, but at the same time it doesn’t require that special “cat’s tongue” fabric on the inside for grip, either.

See how the carbon fiber actually reaches upwards from the sole…AND feeds into the shiny heel cup? It does the same to the Dyneema upper. Very clever, Specialized.

Specialized’s next party trick is in how that stiff carbon fiber outsole is shaped. With the XC5 and Core Plus shoes, the outsole is decidedly very flat. Coupled with the not-very-generous outsole width at its narrowest, and you have a recipe for unwanted forefoot motion. By comparison, the S-Works 6 XC seems to use its stiffness more intelligently, curling upward and bracing the foot crosswise along its length – effectively baking in some arch support. I suspect the unyielding Dyneema upper has something to do with it, too, as the wonder material is found precisely at the area where I’d been sore prior: the lateral forefoot.

The final trick: Unlike the heel and the midfoot, the S-Works 6 XC has quite a roomy, unrestricted toe box, and going up a size seems to have helped this more. This is in contrast to companies like Bont, where the entire outsole is essentially a little snug-fitting carbon bathtub for your foot. It works great for many riders, but some have complained of the edges of this bathtub leading to irritation on the perimeter of the foot. No such problems here. A short Velcro strap, similar to the Core Plus shoe, helps adjust the volume of the toe box, and it’s more effective in this application.

By the way, have I told you that this shoe has reflective logos?

While we’re talking about the upper of the shoe, two BOA S2-Snap dials provide the enclosure system. No quick-release mechanism means they’re fiddlier to wear and take off, but the system does provide even pressure across the top of my feet. Whatever ankle pain I was getting going downstairs was definitely not from the BOA dials; the tongue is just way too thin.

Top: Ergon Solestar IP3 insoles in a size EUR 44.
Bottom: Specialized Body Geometry low-arch insoles in a size EUR 45.

The S-Works 6 XC comes with the low-arch version of Specialized’s Body Geometry insoles. They seem to be made of a thin foam, but are more resilient, with heavier shaping than other shoes’. While they have nifty features, like a metatarsal button and some arch support, they can’t quite compare to Ergon Solestar IP3s in material stiffness.

So yes, the S-Works 6 XCs are generally terrible for my kind of walking. I pray for your ankles if you have to go down ten flights of polished stairs in these. Treated as a specialized (haha see what I did there?) cycling shoe that you can occasionally walk around in, however, these are excellent.

On the bike, it’s fascinating how quickly I forgot about them and simply went on with the business of pedaling. The heel hold is superior, the sole stiffness exemplary, the power transfer something to behold after persisting with cheaper, lesser shoes. Hammering away on the turbo trainer with a hard effort, my lateral forefoot displays some natural physical strain, but the shoe just sucks it up. That somatic whisper from the shoe saying that it’d take care of my forefeet for a long spell on the saddle – that was the all-important icing on a very convincing cake.

I dislike that Specialized is such a big patent troll, and that their bikes historically tend to be overpriced for what they offer, and that they can insist on proprietary technology. But man, are they great at identifying problems and addressing them with their own solutions and products. It helps that they’ve become much less egregious in the overpricing and proprietary tech fronts too. These S-Works shoes were obscenely expensive at launch, and their successors still are, but it’s quite obvious where the money was spent. Recommended.

After three years! Returning to the 2019 Philippine Bike Demo Day

Since attending the 2016 Philippine Bike Demo Day, I had every intention of going back to this unique event. Unfortunately, life and commitments got in the way, and I was not able to attend the 2017 and 2018 editions. Things finally lined up favorably and I was able to return for the 2019 edition, which sees it having become arguably the premier Philippine bike industry event of the year.

Arcovia City’s Arco de Emperador is a scaled-down homage to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

One reason I was not able to join previous editions was its move in 2018 from Filinvest City in Alabang to Arcovia City in Pasig, accessed along the northbound stretch of Circumferential Road 5 (C-5). While not favorable to me in terms of travel, I do have to admit its present location elevated the event’s profile.

The exhibitors are a veritable who’s who of the local bike industry, spanning the budget gamut from affordable to affluent. I visited with my wife and roamed the grounds for about three hours. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to take my helmet, so I didn’t get to demo any bikes. Here’s what we saw.

Pat Miranda, Pam Angeles, and yours truly.

Pat Miranda and Pam Angeles of Bikeary Bicycle Lifestyle flew the flag for the bikepacking crowd, offering offbeat “cycling contraband” such as reflective safety pizzas, full-length fenders, dynamo front hubs, and extra-large bottle cages. Ever the laid-back fellows, they even had beer on offer at the grounds.

What I found truly interesting were the two separated booths that made up the Shimano exhibitors’ presence. Notably, both booths had a noticeable presence from Lazer Sport, the Belgian helmet company. This reflects Shimano’s completed purchase of Lazer in 2016, to supplement their other corporate entities Pearl Izumi (clothing) and PRO (accessories).

Lazer Bullet 2.0; vents closed.

Two helmets stood out on the display. First was Lazer’s premium helmet, the reworked Bullet 2.0. The original model had the headline sliding vents feature which allowed for ventilation or aerodynamics by sliding the top cover open or closed, respectively, but wasn’t universally loved. Lazer stuck with the concept but refined it into this 2.0 iteration.

Lazer Bullet 2.0; vents open and visor deployed.

Aside from generally improving the helmet’s ventilation and slimming down its profile, Lazer gave the Bullet 2.0 a removable visor that secures to the helmet with magnets. Neat.

When not in use, the visor can be stowed on the back of the helmet, where a third magnet point keeps it on. This is similar to how many road cyclists poke the arms of their sunglasses into their helmet vents backwards.

The Bullet 2.0 is said to retail for about PhP8,500. That’s not bad for a helmet with aero leanings.

Lazer Century; Twistcap in maximum aero mode.

The second helmet I took interest in is their Century model. It uses the same concept as the Bullet 2.0 but vastly simplifies the execution. Instead of a sliding mechanism to open and close the vents, Lazer uses a central “Twistcap” piece that attaches to the middle of the helmet with magnets. Depending on how you attach it, you can go for maximum aerodynamics, some ventilation, or maximum ventilation – the latter of which involves taking the Twistcap completely off.

Lazer Century: Twistcap in ventilation mode.

The Century is friendlier to your wallet too, set to go for about PhP5,300 if memory serves. My one disappointment here is neither the Century nor the Bullet 2.0 demo helmets had the MIPS rotational injury system installed; MIPS versions of both do exist.

Since we’re talking about the Shimano booth, we might as well look at their footwear.

The first thing I noticed was they had the new XC5 (a.k.a. SH-XC501) on display. Unlike the outgoing model (a.k.a. SH-XC500), this uses a single BOA dial and gets rid of the laces, and also looks quite a bit better ventilated.

It retains the old carbon-reinforced sole with Michelin rubber lugs, though.

If the XC5 is gravel shoe lite, then Shimano’s all-new RX8 is the full-fat counterpart. Outwardly, it is very similar to the XC5 in the upper, down to the single BOA dial, Velcro toe box strap, and larger perforations.

The main difference is in the sole. The RX8’s sole looks a lot less like the XC5’s, and more like a much burlier version of the RT4 and RT5 – even dropping the sticky Michelin rubber and ability to mount toe spikes. In return, the sole has more (visible) carbon fiber in it and boasts a higher stiffness rating.

When I asked for samples to try, curious about how these new kicks fit versus my current XC5s, the Shimano representatives told me that they were essentially just demo units and meant as teasers for the show. Both the new XC5 and RX8 are supposed to go on sale in February 2020, they said.

These balance bikes looked pretty nice. Start ’em young!

Junni Industries, the erstwhile distributor of Dahon and now exclusively handling Tern folding bikes, was in attendance as well. I gravitated toward their Tern BYB folding bike, which is a significant evolution of the long-running Dahon/Tern KA-series folding bike frame. The BYB’s party trick is that it folds into a much more compact form factor than pretty much any folding bike based around 20″/406 mm wheels has any right to, because it introduces a second frame hinge just behind the head tube, and it folds up vertically. Its rear rack also has an integrated pair of roller wheels for easy movement in folded form.

I pored over the BYB P8 on display, equipped with a Shimano Acera 1×8 drivetrain. Ever the mechanical geek, I reckon it may be possible to give this bike a double chainring drivetrain with the removal of the stock chain guard, as the seat tube appears very similar to the 34.9 mm size used in many Dahon and Tern bikes, and should fit a LitePro-style front derailleur adapter.

Quite a few friends from the Manila Coffee Cycling Club had a presence at the show. Leroy of The Brick Multisport was there, with a smattering of Pearl Izumi goodies on discount.

Maximus Athlete’s Shop Cafe had its array of Chapter2 road bikes on Tacx Neo smart trainers – a state-of-the-art three-rider Zwift setup.

On the other side was RYAO cycling kit and the Alpha6 Saber triathlon bike on display.

I dropped by Dave Bikes‘ booth, too, and asked about their handlebars. They had stuff on display from Planet X and On One.

Last but certainly not least, JP Carino of Gruppo Veloce Sportivo and La Course Velo was there too.

Days before the expo, he announced a tie-up with Serk Cycling, accepting reservations for a Kyrgyzstan bikepacking expedition in 2020. What better way to do so than with an Allied Alfa Allroad gravel bike festooned with Apidura bikepacking bags?

Closer to home, La Course Velo also had this Brompton on display. At first, it doesn’t look like anything special, but look closer and you’ll see it has a full pedal-assist electric drive system tucked into the tiny triangle within the frame. Apparently, the electrics drive a little roller that turns the rear wheel via contact with the tire tread. The compactness of the setup is amazing.

The LifeCycle/Giant booth was pretty busy the whole time.
Indonesian bike manufacturer Polygon had an extensive mountain bike lineup on display. The brand is famous for well-kitted-out bikes at affordable price points.

That sums up my time at the 2019 Philippine Bike Demo Day. Traffic congestion aside, I had quite a bit of fun. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take me another three years to drop by again!