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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Review: B’Twin 500-series mountain biking shorts

So I’ve talked about Decathlon and its cycling house brand B’Twin on two separate occasions now: my visit to their branch in Singapore a few months before we got our own, and my test of their 500-series cycling bib shorts. But what about our mountain biking brethren?

I lauded the bib shorts for their low, low price, but one could say their MTB baggy shorts are an even better deal. Coming home from that initial trip to the Singapore Decathlon store, I had purchased one pair of their 500-series baggy shorts for the equivalent of PhP680 in our money – or PhP750 when bought locally. I’ve been wearing them for about ten months now, primarily on my ride to work. Let’s see how they’ve held up.

FEATURES

  • Designed for occasional riding
  • Offered in sizes S-3XL; size XL tested
  • Snag-resistant fabric
  • Three pockets
  • Belt loops on waistband
  • No chamois pad

IMPRESSIONS

While these shorts are a little loose around the waist, the length and cut are spot-on.

Immediately obvious is the slightly odd sizing on these shorts. When it comes to spandex, I’m used to the XL size, but these same-size baggies fit pretty loose around my waist, necessitating use of a belt at all times. The shorts would slowly fall off my ass, otherwise.

They’re the correct length, though, with a hem that terminates just over the knee, and a nice cut that tapers toward the bottom. This slight tapering towards the leg opening ensures that the fabric doesn’t snag on your bike or your water bottles as you pedal or dismount and remount.

Out of curiosity, I had another pair in the next-smaller L size, and they were clearly too small – there wasn’t enough in the waist to let me close the top button. The smaller shorts never made it to my saddle.

Attached to B’Twin’s own liner shorts. Photo from decathlon.ph

Hidden in the waistband are a pair of small buttons. They are unobtrusive, and they sit on your left and right flanks when you wear the shorts, but it seems like they’re in there to hook up to a pair of liner shorts on days when you want to ride with a chamois pad on your bum. I thought that was a neat bit of design. Unfortunately, I was never able to test these as I don’t have liner shorts.

My only real complaint: no rear pockets.

The two waist pockets have a very useful depth, and the third pocket on the right thigh is set at a slight angle, covered by a flap you can lock with a button. While the pockets were all great, I wish B’Twin had added a few more, such as two on the bum and another on the left thigh.

My shorts are black, and its fabric is pretty hard-wearing. It’s stood up to repeated launderings just fine, with nothing in the way of threads coming loose or discoloration. That large white B’Twin logo on the left thigh is still there, unlike the reflective B’Twin logo accent on their bib shorts that peels off easily. Worn off the bike, it’s quite easy to live with these shorts as casual wear.

Looking at the seat area shows just how well these shorts have held up. There are a few tiny areas where the threads got worked off their stitches, but nothing catastrophic. More importantly, the fabric shows very little sign of friction wear; no danger here of wearing a hole through these shorts after a year’s worth of riding.

VERDICT

Admittedly, these are a pretty basic pair of shorts. Then again, they do the basics pretty damn well, and cost a very reasonable price. They even have thoughtful touches like the buttons for liner shorts. For bike commute duty, Decathlon’s offering is money well spent, in my opinion.

The clipless diaries, part 8: SPD cleat setup and adjustment

So I wrote about my new pair of Shimano MT5 shoes, and mentioned that I had already set up my cleat positioning. Here’s how I went about doing it.

You’ll need

  • shoes with two-bolt cleat mounting
  • two cleat nuts
  • waterproof sticker (bundled with many of Shimano’s shoes)
  • an SPD cleat set – I used my old SH56 multi-release cleats
  • a 4 mm hex wrench
  • a torque wrench
  • grease or thread locking compound (e.g. Loctite 243 blue)
  • a bike mounted on a turbo trainer will help massively

A look at the MT5’s outsole shows the cleat pocket, and the two parallel slots within it that are cut into the midsole material. On the photo above, they are covered up by the insole, so that has to come out first.

With the insole removed, we see the midsole. Molded in its front toebox area is a recessed pocket for accepting a cleat nut.

Provided in the box along with these shoes is the rectangular cleat nut, with four holes tapped to accept the threads of the two cleat bolts. Also provided is a sheet of two large, rectangular waterproof stickers, but we’ll get to those later. For now, just drop the cleat nut into the recessed pocket on the inside of the midsole.

Take your cleat bolts and smear the threads with a bit of grease or medium-strength thread locker. While holding the cleat nut in place inside the shoe, thread the cleat nut through the SPD cleat and tighten it with your hex wrench so it’s just snug, but loose enough for adjustment.

What I like to do to find my initial cleat position is put on the shoe and feel where the ball of my foot is along the length of the outsole, then mark it with my finger or a piece of tape. That usually serves as a good baseline. Line up the widest part of the cleat along with the position of the ball of your foot, then tighten with your hex wrench.

Test the position by pedaling a few times on the turbo trainer. If the position feels off, dismount, loosen the cleat bolts, then adjust and retighten. Then try again.

Not wearing the MT5s here, but you know what I mean.

In the case of the MT5s, I had to make a few adjustments. I moved the cleats to push out the shoes away from the crank arms to avoid interference, and brought them closer to the balls of my feet. Keep retesting each change until you’re satisfied.

Once you’ve found your final cleat position, break out the torque wrench and tighten the cleat bolts to 5-6 Nm. It’s important to tighten the two bolts alternately by a little bit until you get to correct torque, as tightening only one side too much will throw the cleat position out of whack.

With the cleats torqued down and set, peel off the waterproof sticker from its backing and put it on the recessed midsole cleat pocket, behind the cleat nut. Return the insole, and you should be ready to ride.