Product Reviews November 11, 2013

Easton EA90SLX Stem and EA70 Handlebars

Having ridden the Grand Wagon for 9 months or so, I figured this was long enough to know that the riding position was not ideal. In my previous review of the bike I mentioned that the handlebars were only 42cm ride and I found this made more of a difference than I gave it credit for. It meant that my arms were not parallel with my shoulders because of the width of the bars. As a consequence my breathing felt slightly constricted. This, combined with the challenging gear ratio (45:17) meant there were no free rides on this bike. To make it more accessible, something needed changing. The gearing I could cope with on the basis this would toughen me up for the other bikes. However, the hand position was definitely up for debate.....

Even handlebars come in a bewildering array of different shapes and sizes. The steam was oversized so that narrowed the choice down marginally, but it was the precise shape and form of the handlebars where I was stuck now. The Specialized-branded handlebars on the Allez Elite were comfortable from the word go so I looked for a similar profile. (During an earlier upgrade) I had fitted the Specialized with an Easton EA90SLX stem.....now we were potentially looking at stem and handlebar replacement.

On closer inspection, my internet friends at wiggle had stock of a number of different types of SLX, from the 2010 through 2013. My previous stem purchase was the 2010 version and from what I could see other than some minimal styling differences, there was nothing in it. Fixings were the same and so was the weight - just 245 grams. The EA90SLX is Easton's top of the range aluminium stem and only weighs 35 grams more than the carbon version. It also costs at least £60 less (give or take the discount). It was a no-brainer. Same logic applied to the handlebars. I looked at a pair of carbon SLX90 ergo handlebars to the point where they were in my basket. Summary? I potentially saved a paltry 20 grams and they were £160 more. Instead I purchased the Easton EA70 Aero. I could not justify the supposed cost-to-weight benefit. Just not worth the difference (for my riding). I would do better losing weight. Besides they were being fitted to a retro steel bike. May as well stick to ‘metal’. As a result my new riding position had cost me £114 instead of nearly £300. Maybe I was becoming 'responsible'? Unlikely……

The final touch was handlebar tape. I bought some Cinelli leather look tape because it was the closest match with what the bike came with. However, I was also keen to see if I could reuse what was already there, although I was weary that:- 

(a) the adhesive might not last the peel/re-peel process and 
(b) I might make a fist of it trying to rebind the tape to the new handlebars - especially as they were 4 cm wider than the pair they were replacing. 

The only other change to note was that the stem/handlebar configuration had switched from polished aluminium to black. No big deal, as all the spacers were black. It might even look better I mused.

The predictably super-efficient wiggle delivery service meant within a couple of days I was the proud recipient of my new bicycle components. The following evening I took the plunge and decided to make the switch. Removing the tape from the original handlebars I paid particular attention to how it was bound. I noted the placement of the brakes was the most important part of this process because the handlebar tape was bound around the hood fixing. After some trial and error I was satisfied they were in the right place. I tightened the handlebars so they were in the right position and started recovering them in the old tape. It seemed to be ok. Right side first, then left side. Surprisingly, it looked like a half decent job! Time for a proper test.

I had removed one headset spacer since the depth if the stem was greater than the original Kona fixing. That, plus a radically different riding position meant this felt like a new bike. The additional width made a significant difference and my chest didn't feel so constricted. Riding with my hands on the positioned on the hoods meant I didn't feel perched on top of a peak. On the drops, the position felt more sustainable. On reflection, I would probably shift the brake levers up the bars more than I have done as it's still a little stretch to operate the brakes. Better than before, but still not completely right. I needed to more rigorously test the riding position before committing to ‘the tape’. I'll know for next time. 

Adjusting the ride position was a good decision. It makes the bike more comfortable - and after all a bike is for riding! I am going to Calshott Velodrome in Hampshire early in 2014 and I hope to use the Grand Wagon during the tutorial. Hopefully my refined riding position will improve my lap times. (I’ve been warned it’s steep!). As for Easton, I can't quite build a bike out of my upgraded components......but I am making progress!

Postscript:

I rode the recently upgraded Grand Wagon to work, from Saltdean to Burgess Hill. The riding posture was much improved despite wearing a rucksack. However I did notice a minor 'judder' from the front fork when it came to 'proper' braking. I put this down to not tightening the headset properly, which I did, when I returned home. It seemed ok. Maybe not perfect, but ok. Needless to say when it came round to getting the bike serviced for the Winter, my handiwork with the headset and handlebars had been noticed. The additional spacer had been added back in and the headset was now free of the ‘judder’; it had not been tightened to the correct torque, despite a couple of attempts by the bikebritain ‘hack’. I am also pleased to report the knocking sound from the crank has also been remedied. So now I am truly ready for Calshott.

Easton products can be bought from all good on-line retailers including www.wiggle.co.uk.

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