Archive for Product Reviews

Nineteen Frequency

Posted in Triathlon, Wetsuit with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2011 by brianestover

Since I currently am sans wet suit, the good folks at let me borrow two for my race last weekend. I choose the Nineteen Frequency to do the race in leaving the other suit at home.

The Frequency is Nineteen’s top of the line wet suit. The main chest panel and legs are 5mm to float you high and make you fast. The arms, lats and lower back have a very flexible 1.5mm #40 rubber panelling. This enables the arms to have a full range of motion. I did not notice any restriction when swimming. The 1.5mm arms also make the suit very easy to peel off the top of your body.

Nineteen Frequency

Wingspan System

There are several features and a lack of a feature which make this suit an awesome suit. Lets get to the lack of feature because it’s this lack of feature that helps a suit swim faster. There are no water gripping panels in the forearms. It seems every top of the line suit has some sort of panels. While I’ve not seen the data for the latest round of suits (2010 and on), I have seen data showing that these gripper panels at best have no propulsive function and in many suits actually cause the suit to be slower then the same suit without gripper panels. Unfortunately most companies view gripper panels as a must have to satisfy the I need another gimmick crowd.

The features that make this suit a good suit include the 2mm panel on the back of the calf and the legs that facilitate easy removal of the suit in transition. The suit is also cut higher in the back of the legs to help slip over your heels. Nineteen calls it EasyOff Legs and the suit does come off easily.

The other feature that in my opinion Nineteen does better then many of the brands is what they call Kungfu grip arms. It’s a small piece of silicone around the inside of the wrists. This helps keep the suit locked to your wrist and helps prevent water from flowing up into the arms upon entry and catch. During my race I never noticed any water flowing up into the suit. Unlike some other suits I’ve swam in, this suit is easy to remove over the wrists and hands. My previous wet suit always engaged you in a wrestling match to get out of it. The KungFu gripper tape works better since you are not wasting your time or energy wrestling with it in T1.

KungFu Arm Gripper

There were two small things I did not like about his suit. The first was upon jumping into the water I noticed water immediately entering trough the zipper area. The second was the velcro closure. The side that closes over the collar sealing it shut has been reinforced. While that reinforcement makes it easy to grab and open upon exiting the water, it took several tries to position it so that it did not scratch my neck. The neck collar itself is very comfortable and well designed. I never thought about it, did not get a wet suit hickey even without body glide and never had any water leak in while swimming. All of which are very, very good things.

Collar Tab

This is a very well thought out and designed suit that fits true to the size chart. It’s non gimmicky, it’s designed to keep water out, float you high, help you swim fast and make T1 as easy as possible. If you are looking to get out in front of the crowd and swim fast, this could be your suit. You can read more about it here.

Brooks Ravenna 2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2011 by brianestover

This is my third pair of Brooks Ravenna running shoes. These are the shoes that a person named Chrissie Wellington wore on her feet winning her first IM Hawaii title, Challenge Roth and a few other Ironman races. My interest was piqued in these shoes after talking with the marketing director at Trisports after the Brooks rep had talked to them during product training. I was searching for another shoe and the marketing director suggested I try these. A suggestion I’m glad I took.

Brooks Ravenna 2

Brooks calls the Ravenna 2 a Guidance shoe. I’d label it a lightweight neutral trainer. Brooks claims 10.8 ounces, but it runs lighter and feels lighter when you handle it. The Ravenna 2 has a DRB – Diagonal Roll Bar and a DRB Accel, which is it’s medial posting and thermoplastic shank for it’s medial posting. Mild over pronantors which I happen to be on the right, will like that it works with out being intrusive. Neutral runners, which my left foot is, will not be hampered by it. The heel sits around 26mm off the ground, the ball of your foot about 13mm. One of the unique features of the Ravenna 2 is the biodegradable mid-sole called the BioMoGo. This shoe fits well. Snug in the heel, enough room for high volume feet in the forefoot without pinching or numbness. The lacing system works well and Brooks includes enough shoe lace to tie a double knot with ease.

BioMoGO midsole


Enough of the technical stuff. How does the Brooks Ravenna 2 run? The answer is – Awesome! This is a shoe you can run every day pace in, run fast in, run long in or run fast and long in right from the box. My first run right out of the box was just over 13.5 miles on trails through a forest. The Ravenna 2 handled the off camber, the wet leaves, rocks, roots and mud with no complaints. It handled the tempo portion of the run through wet grass with no slipping during toe off. My second run was 10 miles over dirt roads and a little pavement. Again there were no complaints from the shoe or my feet even on the steep paved up and down hills. The bottom is aggressive enough with out being a mud collector nor does it take away from the feel of running. I had just over 3 hours on this shoe in the first two runs. No blisters, no black toes, and once I set the laces to my liking I never thought about these shoes again while running over any type of terrain.

Ravenna's sole

The Ravenna 2 would make a great long course triathlon or marathon racing shoe, as Chrissie has proven multiple times. In fact I’m torn between the Ravenna 2 and the Asics Gel DS 16 which I reviewed here for my long course racing shoe. The Ravenna 2 would also make a great shoe for track or faster running days while being durable enough for an everyday trainer. Unfortunately Brooks has not capitalized on Chrissie’s wins, nor have they told the masses how good the Ravenna 2 really is. A little publicity could take this shoe a long way. There are many lessor shoes being worn at races in greater numbers. The Brooks Ravenna 2 is a front pack running shoe worthy of the podium but unfortunately Brooks has yet to make a name for the Ravenna 2.

Saucony Kinvarva

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by brianestover

Through the years I’ve tried Saucony shoes. A pair here, a pair there, but I never found them to run as well as most of the other shoes in the rotation. Saucony has hit a home run with their Saucony ProGrid Kinvara.

Kinvarva running shoes

This shoe is Saucony’s answer to the minimalist fad that is vogue now. I picked up a pair of these on a whim in early December. This shoe has a low heel, minimal drop and a wide base in the forefoot. I was a little concerned that the wide base would constantly clip my legs when running. I can not recall a single incident of this happening which continues to be a pleasant surprise.

Wide forefoot base

My first run was a 7.6 mile jaunt or just under 55 minutes of running. About 5 miles into that run, my legs were wishing the run was over. I could feel the added stress that the lower heel induced. Other then that first run, I found no other runs were needed to adapt to the difference between these shoes and any other shoe I have reviewed. Before you rush out to buy a pair of these shoes, you should carefully think about how you run and why you want to run in these shoes. They will not be a shoe for every runner, nor should every runner adopt the minimalist approach to running shoes.

Most of my running is on groomed trails that are free of rocks, thorns or sketchy footing. Saucony has many other shoes that I strongly suspect would be a better shoe to run in on rugged, technical trails. My physician with whom I run with now and then has run these on some trails and said they seemed to do well. I still think there are better shoes out there for rocky trails.

This shoe feels good when you put it on. I find it a bit narrow across the ball of my foot but rather accommodating for those of us with high volume feet. Unlike some other brands, the shoelaces are plenty long on this shoe. The Kinvarva has an aggressive lug pattern on the sole, has a lower ankle notch, less material on the sides then most other shoes and runs quite well. Saucony claims 7.7 ounces, but I think it runs like a shoe that is heavier. The previous pair of shoes I reviewed weigh 2.3 ounces more but run faster then this shoe.

Diamond Lug Design bottom's

The Saucony Kinvarva’s currently are one of the top three pair of running shoes in the rotation handling more then their fair share of the weekly running. It’s not a matter of if I will get another pair of Saucony Kinvarva’s but which of the seven colors will I get.

Asics Gel DS Trainer 16

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on March 3, 2011 by brianestover

It’s no secret I love Asics shoes, or most of them. The Asics Gel DS Trainer 16’s are a shoe I love, so much in fact, that I have two pair, one of which will be my long course racing shoe this season.

Asics Gel DS Trainer 16

What’s not to like about this shoe? Two things. The first is very short shoe laces especially if you have high volume feet. The second is the final bit of the lacing system at the top of the shoe, which they call the Clutch Collar. Your heel sits snug in the shoe, but other Asics shoes accomplish this with out the Clutch Collar lacing system. Change for the sake of change is not always a good thing. I feel there could have been a better way to design this important part of the shoe.

DS 16 Clutch Collar

One the flip side, what is there to love about this shoe? The fit is awesome – it feels like a slipper when you put it on. There is enough room in the toe box for wider feet. It runs like a sports car – firm, fast and handles well. I had no problems putting this shoe on for the first time, running 6k, then starting an interval session. There is no break in period required. It runs fast right out of the box.

The Gel Trainer 16, like most of the shoes before it in this line, has a dual density mid sole. Those who pronate will appreciate this feature. If you run neutral, the dual density mid sole does not hinder the runability of this shoe.

Dual density mid sole

Your foot sits about as high in this shoe as an Asics GT2150 but you feel lower to the ground. This is probably due to the 2150 being an everyday trainer and the Gel DS 16 being a faster shoe for running. Don’t take this to mean that you can not use the DS 16 as an every day training shoe, you can. I often log 12-14 miles during an interval session, with 3-6 miles for warm up and/or 3-6 miles after the intervals.

Heel and toe

If you want a fast running shoe for interval sessions, that can double as a daily trainer you may want to give the Asics Gel DS Trainer 16 a shot.

Zipp 1080- Scary Fast or Scary and Fast

Posted in Triathlon with tags , , , , , on December 29, 2010 by brianestover

Even though I’m on vacation, for you 17 faithful readers I’ll do a product review. Getting away from running shoes, for now, it’s onto wheels. More precisely the Zipp 1080. The deepest front wheel you can own other then a disc.

Zipp 1080

Until Zipp released their 808 Fircrest, the 1080 was one of their fastest front wheels. About :06 faster then their often praised 808 over 40km. But that speed came with a price. In anything other then mild to moderate cross winds this wheel is a bitch to handle. It’ll cause you to pucker faster then a prisoner who has dropped soap in the shower. The outcome of this wrestling match is often a question. Will you end rubber side up or rubber side down? I know I’ve been a bit worried on two occasions. More often then not though, I’ve ridden this wheel with nary a thought to handling. It’s when the wind grips it from the side and you start doing the swervy wervy that you notice it.

On courses without heavy winds this wheel rocks. It corners well, climbs well and tracks straight. It’s a no fuss stick it in the dropouts and go fast wheel unless it’s very windy. Best of all it makes that whump whump disc sound. If you want to go fast, and it’s not going to be extremely windy this is a wheel to think about sticking on your bike.

If you are a one front race wheel type of person, this isn’t your all purpose every race race wheel. With it’s stability problems in heavy crosswinds, I feel this wheel cost me more time then something with a smaller profile, like a Hed 60 or Zipp 404 or 808, would have. If you have a few different front race wheels and want something faster for those days with no to moderate winds, this wheel will help you get to the front faster.

My final verdict: A very fast wheel that will see use this next season. But I’ll also bring a smaller profile front wheel to races as security blanket should the forecast call for windy conditions. Or maybe I’ll bring the 1080 as the back up to whatever else I have for front race wheels. Either way, it’ll get raced on…selectively.

Asics 2150

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 17, 2010 by brianestover

The Asics 2150 is a shoe you can bring home to momma. It’s just about everything a running shoe should be plus it only gets better with time. Right out of the box these shoes are a little stiff. Give them a few runs to break in. It seems it takes 20 miles or so before they lose that stiffness. After 40 miles they have that comfortable feel good goodness to them. There is a reason why theses shoes are the category leader, for at least the last 10 years or so. I’ve been a big fan of their 20xx and 21xx line up as you can see from the family portrait I took of my last three pairs of this shoe family.

What’s good about these shoes? They hold up well, they run well and more importantly they run well over a wide variety of terrain from rocky trails to crushed dirt and gravel paths to concrete. They fit well, although people with high arched, high volume feet may find they have to play with the lacing system some. Moderate pronators will be happy with the double density midsole for control. You can get a lot of miles out of these shoes. I probably average just north of 400 miles per pair before I demote them to grocery store/dog walking shoes.

What’s not to like about these shoes? The long answer is not much. If I could change anything, and this seems to be a theme on all of my Asics running shoes of late, it would be the laces. I’d make them a bit longer and I’d make them so they stayed tied. If you have high volume feet, like I do, you will find out there isn’t much left over to tie your shoes with. You might also find out, as I do for about a third of my runs, that one or both of my shoes come untied. It is annoying to have to stop at some point that doesn’t involve one of the two traffic lights I encounter on my usual run. It’s not a deal breaker to me. Year after year, the 2100 line gets it’s annual update, the 2160 is the latest model, and year after year it’s a damn fine running shoe that will meet a lot of runners needs and wants.

K-Swiss Blade Light Run

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 2, 2010 by brianestover

I really liked the K-Swiss Blade Light shoes from the moment I tried them on. When I say really like, I mean as in let’s date like. Running shoes are something I view as a long term commitment. When you find a pair you like, clean out the store’s inventory and run in them. But never buy multiple pairs before you try. Always give them a few whirls around the block.

The K-Swiss blade lights felt fantastic when you put them on. Slipper like, very comfortable. Smooth insides, seams were where they should be and not were they shouldn’t be, same with the uppers. They ran so well out of the box, it was like a dream. Firm heel cushioning, great cushioning under the foot without being bulky or clunky. They run light, they feel quick, they feel good. I can remember thinking I’ve found a new shoe, time to go grab a few more pair. Some shoes run better after you put 20 or so miles on them, these shoes run great straight out of the box.

But in many relationships, as time goes on, you start to see some cracks at the seams. At first it becomes a shoe for your shorter runs, then you notice you are avoiding that shoe when it comes up in the daily shoe rotation. Maybe you even shun it once in a bit. That’s what I found happening as I got more and more miles on it. Trisports University reviewed the shoe and gave it pretty good marks. I’d be willing to bet that the testers had under 50 miles on the shoes when they wrote the review. As I accumulated more and more miles, I noticed that the shoe broke down pretty fast. Especially compared to some of the other shoes in the rotation. Especially the foot I tend to pronate on. In fact it’s only the foot that pronates that feels like and looks like it’s broken down. Within 50 miles it was noticeable and now after having over 100 miles on the shoes, the breakdown under the ball of my pronating foot is very severe. Severe enough that these shoes are going in the junk pile. I’m sorry K-Swiss Blade Lights but it’s not going to work out. It’s you not me.

There were two other minor complaints I had with this shoe. The first is the sole collects pebbles. If you want to be a pebble hound this is your shoe. The second complaint is it didn’t run well on uneven surfaces like grass and packed trails.

The final complaint I have with this shoe isn’t with the shoe per se, it’s the market the shoe is designed for. My problem is with triathletes who think they need special gimmicks in their training shoes. This shoe has tiny holes to allow water to drain out. I’ve been running for a few years now, have about 10-15000 miles in my legs, a couple of those in the rain or in races where I’ve gotten water in my shoes. It’s rare when I wished my shoes would drain better. The industry joke about triathletes is stick any dog product on the market and put the word triathlon on it. It’ll become a best seller. Sad but true. Triathletes buy more gimmicks then any three runners or cyclist combined.

It’s a shame about this shoe. K-Swiss has dumped a ton of money into R&D and a ton more into sponsorship of some of the world’s top triathletes. Unfortunately until K-Swiss can make up some ground on this shoe compared to the front runners it’s not going to capture significant market share. I was able to listen to Mike Rouse, one of the K-Swiss product managers, speak about the process of designing and building these shoes. He talked about the development that has gone into the shoe and what they are trying to accomplish. They have a lot going right with this shoe, especially with the fit, feel and how blissful it runs right out of the box. If they could improve the durability of this shoe and change the bottoms a bit, they might find themselves latching onto the pack ahead of them.

Bigger IS Better

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 27, 2010 by brianestover

We have all heard the old adage bigger is better. While not always the case, when it comes to the Genuine Innovations Top Dog Legend floor pump, the adage holds true.

Yes, believe it or not, I am doing a product review on a floor pump. While not exciting like a disc wheel, a good floor pump is essential to cycling and triathlon. The average floor pump stands about 26in tall with a 38 inch long hose and a pump head adapter that is about 1.5 inchs long and has two air openings. One for presta valve and one for schrader valve. The Top Dog Legend has a 48in long hose, a 3 inch long adapter head and only one air valve that does double duty for both types of valves. The top dog takes a tire from flat to 110psi in 20 pumps, it took my other floor pumps 29. Both the longer hose and higher volume of air per pump should be positives if you are tech support facing a long line of people needing air.

There is a top mounted gauge making it easier to read. The longer hose allows you to inflate more tires with out relocating the pump. This would be especially handy at races where transition space can be at a premium or you have multiple bikes and wanted to inflate all the tires with out moving. For stability the base is a mix of plastic and metal. Most floor pumps come with just plastic bases.

It’s nice to not have to bend over so far to pump tires, it’s nice pumping them up in less time. The gauge is very easy to read and the dual valve head is a plus. But as nice as it is, and as much as most other pumps are mediocre, is it worth paying 2-3 times what a normal pump costs? Probably not, well maybe double. It is a rather sweet floor pump, but not triple. Would I go out and buy this pump if my only floor pump broke. At the right price or faced with crappy pumps, damn right I would.

Preventing Grrrrrrrr

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 19, 2010 by brianestover

How often are you out training and the conversation turns to which shoes you like or which wheels you like? How often does your training partner say “You need to try this stuff, it’s awesome!” How often do you think about the gear you use?

If you are like most triathletes, you think a lot about the gear you are using. You research online to check prices and availability, maybe you even go to a bricks-n-mortar store to touch the product. You see if any of your friends are using it. Then you have to make the decision. Do I buy this widget or not? You open up your wallet. Mr. Visa comes out. The clerk swipes your card. A few days later you find out Brown did do something for you. You rush into the house with a hello to the spouse, you rip open the package, grab the latest widget, run back down the stairs yelling out “I’ll be home later, see you.” You love your widget you just bought! It’s awesome, it’s shiny, it has that new widget smell. You inhale the scent happiness. For about two weeks. Then you find out your widget is not what you thought it was.

The latest and greatest isn’t the greatest after all. You’ve been robbed, you scream. But no one hears. We’ve all been there. It sucks. Sucks ass.

Well my friend, I’m going to try to prevent that, one widget at a time. Coming soon to this blog will be product reviews. You are going to get the good, the bad and the pretty, pretty ugly if that is what it really is. I’m not getting paid to write reviews, I’m not beholden to anyone. I’ve got no dog in this fight other then helping you make an informed decision. (If you are fighting dogs, bad person.) Stay tuned folks, I’ve already got two products in mind. One I’m very happy with and one product that my happiness has decreased in tandem with utilization of this product.