Review: Lazer Tonic helmet

The first cycling helmet I bought, a Fox Transition hard-shell, had seen better days. Five years on a helmet that’s seen lots of use is plenty, as the primary EPS (expanded polystyrene) material does degrade with sweat and sunlight exposure. Despite never crashing on it, its foam padding had also disintegrated to the point where I couldn’t sew it up to keep its shape any more.

While it had served its purpose, the Transition was also a cheap, heavy thing with poor ventilation. The loud graphics and yellow shell maximized my visibility while bike commuting, sure, and many friends thought the Transition looked bad-ass, but as an actual helmet, it really wasn’t all that great.

Having had a Lazer Blade for about two years now, as my introduction to the MIPS head trauma reduction technology, my impression of it was favorable but not without criticism. On the Blade, the MIPS liner is sort of an afterthought, so it blocks much of the ventilation baked into the helmet’s basic design. Also proving a bugbear was the worsening hold of the helmet’s foam pads to their Velcro retention points, and the disappointing capacity of the brow pad to absorb enough sweat to avoid it being a distraction while riding. I’ve since replaced most of the padding with those from my broken Specialized Centro helmet, and those work leagues better.

Still, I liked the Blade MIPS helmet enough to give Lazer a second chance. I ended up with their entry-level Tonic road helmet.

FEATURES

  • Weight: 243 g at size Medium (55-59 cm head circumference)
  • TS+ Turnfit System adjustable retention mechanism
  • Adjustable ear strap and chin strap junctions
  • 28 vents for ventilation
  • In-mold construction
  • 8 color variants
  • Small, Medium, and Large size options
  • MIPS version available at a premium

IMPRESSIONS

Ben Delaney of BikeRadar rated the Tonic highly, saying that with its fit and finish, it doesn’t feel like an entry-level helmet at all…and I agree. You could do far worse with an entry-level helmet from other brands.

Compared to its other Lazer brethren, there are a few differences. Most notable is the TS+ Turnfit System, which is how Lazer reconfigured its Advanced Rollsys fit mechanism into a more afforable, more generic format. Advanced Rollsys helmets, like the Blade, are adjusted with a stepless knob at the top rear of the shell. In contrast, the TS+ Turnfit System uses the same, smoothly operating wire-and-cradle guts, but is adjusted with a ratcheted knob in a more conventional location on the bottom rear. That does mean the Tonic is less accommodating of riders with ponytails, but in terms of adjustment, it works just as well.

The Tonic also uses a simpler but larger complement of pads. The brow pad is a huge T-shaped thing that also extends to the scalp on the top of a rider’s head, while two smaller pads flank it left and right. I prefer this arrangement over the Blade’s, since Lazer is more generous with the Velcro attachments on the Tonic’s shell. This helmet is excellent at handling my high sweat output. At first glance, the thin pads don’t look like they’re up to the job, but I’ve had zero saturation problems, and sweat never threatened to drip into my eyes.

The five-level rear cradle adjustment is as stubborn as always.

In terms of basic fit, the Tonic fits on my head as well as the Blade does, retaining a trim, svelte form factor. The plastic cradle can also move up and down within a range of five steps, but it’s just as stubborn to move and is best left alone once set to preference. The cheaper helmet trumps its bigger brother by offering a lot more scope for adjustment, mainly in the longer chin strap.

The Blade MIPS has these black decals that turn reflective when hit by light, but they’re recessed into the rear vents.

The rear reflective stickers on the Tonic are larger and more easily seen.

Aesthetically, the Tonic is a treat. It’s a smidge taller in profile than the Blade, and it’s styled a little rear-heavy, although it still keeps the generally trim shape. While not the last word in visibility, and despite Lazer not sponsoring Team Sky, the blue-on-black color scheme on mine looks pretty sharp. Here again, the Tonic trumps its Blade brother by including larger black reflective stickers on the rear, in addition to all the reflective “Lazer” decals.

Close to rated weight, at 250 g

The Tonic has a slightly higher and more upright profile compared to the Blade.

With 28 vents, the Tonic offers lots of exposure to the air and wind, and should offer good ventilation in theory. In reality, it betters the MIPS-compromised Blade, but not by much. The internal air channeling cut into the foam shell isn’t quite that deep, so there’s not much of the “wind rushing through your head” feeling at speed that you’d feel more of from the Specialized Centro. Still, the Tonic works well and should help ward off overheating on hot days. The huge rectangular vents also double as convenient sunglasses storage.

VERDICT

Entry-level, in Lazer’s case, costs PhP3,000. While competitors such as MET can undercut it purely in terms of price, the Tonic makes up ground in perceived quality. In many ways, I get along with the Tonic better than I do the Blade, and in the quality stakes, there isn’t much difference between them at all. Recommended.

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Fabric on your handlebars?

As a brand, Fabric is no stranger to this blog. In the years since launching with their saddle lineup, they’ve diversified into many other interesting products, among them a ratcheting multitool, a cageless water bottle, and a couple varieties of handlebar tape. With Hyro’s recent total cable replacement, I decided to call time on my double-wrapped handlebar experiment and start fresh.

I’ve seen Fabric’s “knurl tape” hanging from the walls of local bike shops for a while now. Curiosity got the better of me: how will these compare to my benchmark, Fizik’s 3 mm bar tape?

Most bar-end plugs are the kind you press into a handlebar with either hand force or taps of a rubber mallet, and they stay in there purely by friction against the excess bar tape you stuff into the end.

By contrast, Fabric springs a surprise as you open the box, and uses expanding bar-end plugs. As normal, you stuff the excess bar tape and push the bar plug in, but here you take a 3 mm hex key and tighten the bolt on the plug. This drives a wedge that expands the fingers of the end plug against the inside of the handlebar and provides better security. Prior to this, the only expanding bar-end plugs I’ve seen were expensive metal items from Nitto and similar premiere marques, costing upwards of PhP1000 a pair. Granted, Fabric’s plugs are still plastic, but nobody else I know makes the expanding type and bundles them with bar tape. These look about as reusable as Fizik’s plugs, too, which is not something I can say about most brands of bar tape.

The “knurl” on Fabric’s bar tape is finely cut into it in a diamond pattern.

Something else I like about the Fabric bar tape is how stretchy it is. One of my few complaints with Fizik’s leather-like microfiber material is its relative resistance to tension, which is an improvement over cheaper synthetic cork bar tapes, but takes a bit of getting used to if you wrap your own bars. Over time, if you wrap your bars in a figure-eight manner like I do, it may lead to gaps forming around where the control levers’ clamp bands meet the handlebars. Fabric’s tape material is a happy medium between the two, and helps provide better coverage that resists walking up or down the bars.

The “knurl” in the name is evident in the texture. Knurling, for the uninitiated, is additional repeating texture added to a surface to improve grip; you see it on the control dials of cameras and the grips of pistols. Most knurling is a fine diamond-cut pattern and it’s the same here. It improves grip over equivalent Fizik bar tape, whose leathery texture is nice to hold, but a little more slippery.

The real win, though, is how Fabric’s bar tape material provides better cushioning over Fizik’s, despite retaining roughly 2 mm of thickness and doing away with foam backing. The rubbery material dampens vibration quite well without bulking up. If you can get over the loss of handlebar thickness, you might even get along with the Fabric tape as a replacement for Fizik’s cushy 3 mm stuff.

Which leads me to Fabric’s final argument: the price. Currently, a box of knurl tape is just under PhP800. I used to buy Fizik 3 mm tape at that price, but nowadays you’re more likely to find it for PhP1100 to PhP1300 a box, with PhP800 getting you the 2 mm variety. If you’ve got the money, Fizik 3 mm is still top of the bar tape heap. Between the 2 mm options, though, I know which one I’m going with.

Review: Park Tool IR-1 internal cable routing kit

Longtime readers will know that with Hyro, my 2014 Giant TCX SLR 2, I had a couple of trepidations. First, it was designed around press-fit bottom bracket bearings, and second, it routes all but one of its cables internally. After two sets of cranks and bottom brackets, my fears of the former were allayed…but I did not know what to expect from the latter.

Seeing how the LifeCycle mechanics used to wince when I sent Hyro in for replacement of a frayed and broken rear shift cable…I went through the process of discovery in a rather tentative manner. The LifeCycle guys never even touched Hyro’s cable housings, and they stayed in place for almost four years, with only the inner cables being swapped out. I found out for myself the aggravation of swapping Hyro’s rear shift cable for the first time as it ran through the drive-side chainstay. Subsequent inner cable swaps went smoother, but when horror stories abound about how it takes many professional bike shop mechanics at least 45 minutes fishing a cable out of a frame’s routing holes, I was dreading the prospect of having to perform a full cable replacement a little.

While looking for anything to help my odds of a successful DIY cable replacement operation, I came across the Park Tool IR-1, which was launched at the 2014 Eurobike trade show…and I just knew I had to get it for myself someday.

FEATURES

  • Three guide cables, each 250 cm long, all with magnets at one end
    • Threaded barb adapter
    • Rubber sleeve adapter
    • Bare guide cable
  • One guide magnet
  • Plastic carrying case

IMPRESSIONS

The IR-1 is the logical extension of bike mechanics’ tips and hacks when dealing with running cables through a bike frame with internal cable routing: tying cotton thread to an inner cable and using that to pull the cable through, or taking a more direct approach with a strong rare-earth magnet. What Park Tool did is to incorporate these tricks and build them into a dedicated tool.

All the guide cables have a magnet at one end. At the other end awaits either a rubber sleeve, a threaded barb, or nothing at all (just the bare guide cable). You can use the rubber sleeve to grip electronic shift wire or cable housing from outside, or screw the threaded barb into the cable housing’s inner lining and grip it that way, which is my preferred method. These should also work with hydraulic brake hose. The adapter-less guide cable is meant for use in places where the cable routing holes are just too small for anything else to work.

The threaded barb guide cable found the most use with me.

The fourth item is an anodized blue handheld “guide magnet” about 5 cm long…and this thing is pretty strong. The way it attracts itself to anything made of iron or steel, I’d guess it’s made out of some rare-earth metal such as neodymium – traditionally used for applications that require strong magnetic attraction properties.

Generally, Park Tool recommends the IR-1’s guide magnet to do most of the work of routing and navigating either the guide cables or bare inner cable through the frame. Best results involve a push-pull motion, pulling with the guide magnet while feeding the guide cable in. Once that’s through, any cable housing attached to the guide cable can follow suit.

The guide cables are all strong enough under tension. While pulling cable housings through the routing holes of a frame, they were in no danger of snapping…even when you’re negotiating stubborn compressionless brake housing out of a tight cable routing hole.

Using the manual guide magnet to pull the magnet end of the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

Routing the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

This is the tightest cable routing hole on the whole bike. It’s made even more complicated by the general reluctance of compressionless brake housing to bend.

When I replaced all of Hyro’s cables by myself for the first time, it took me about three and a half hours for the whole job – and this is with the IR-1 helping me out. Imagine how much longer it might have taken me had I not had this tool at my side. Six cable routing holes, three sections of cable housing, 45 minutes spent fishing housing from each hole…you can do the math. Had I not had this tool, I may have been permanently put off from performing DIY cable replacement altogether. I can only imagine how much of an investment this tool can be if part of your everyday job requires that you re-cable other people’s bikes with internal routing.

The video below is the final persuasion I needed to buy the IR-1, as the second demonstration bike featured is a 2014 TCX SLR 1 – an identical frameset to Hyro in everything save for the 15 mm through-axle fork.

VERDICT

As Park Tool themselves will tell you, you can’t actually buy the original IR-1 brand-new any more. They’ve replaced it with the IR-1.2, adding a fourth guide cable that they say is better meant for the wires of either a Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS electric-shifting groupset. It also adds around US$10 to the original US$60 price. Frankly, I’m not sure it needed the upgrade, as the IR-1 was already capable of dragging Di2 or EPS wiring through a frame.

If it’s not already obvious, I highly recommend this tool if you’ve got a bike frame with any internal cable routing at all. If you run a local bike shop, and you believe that time is money, not availing of a couple IR-1s is the equivalent of leaving money on the table. I liken the IR-1 to a torque wrench: it can feel expensive at the outset, but it’s so essential at what it does and has very little in competition that it’s easily worth its price.