SRAM Replacement Cog Review

By: Kyle Mills

I admit it—I’m a serial granny gear user. 

There’s just no climb mellow enough that I don't want to throw my chain onto my 36 and spin away. This tendency was one of the reasons I liked the idea of the XX cassette. It had an aluminum large cog and because of that metal’s propensity to wear, SRAM was making it replaceable. Unfortunately, they reneged on that promise and steadfastly refuse to sell the part, leaving me with two very expensive cassettes sitting on a shelf, virtually pristine except for chewed up grannies.

Companies like OneUp and Wolf make innovative systems to put larger cogs on a SRAM cassette, but the last thing I need is the temptation of a 42. Enter Ari, an Italian maker of custom bike components. For 70 Euros and another 30 Euros for shipping, they’ll send you the replacement that SRAM won’t.


The website is a little confusing, written in a mix of Italian and creative English. I was having trouble making heads or tails of it and decided to just send an email. Valentina got right back to me and I ended up just ordering through her and paying via PayPal. A day later, I got confirmation that my cog had been shipped and four days after that it was on my doorsteps in Wyoming. I wish there was a cheaper shipping option, but at least you get service proportional to the price.


If you can remove and reinstall a cassette, you can put this thing on with no problem. The hardest part was separating the worn out cog, a process that took about a minute with a flat head screwdriver. Simply slip on the new cog and included spacer, line up the holes, and drop on the cassette body.

It appears that the cassette doesn’t press fit to the cog like the SRAM version, so they never become one unit. I've always found the way XX cassettes engage only a small section of hub spline a bit disconcerting and this seems to make the situation worse. Having said that, I’ve never heard of anyone stripping their hub with a SRAM cassette, so the engineers seem to be doing their magic.



I can't perceive any difference between this and the OEM cassette. Shifts are fast and smooth, even when I do them under more power than I should. No slipping, no vibration, no drama.  Basically, everything you want with the added benefit of a fun selection of colors.



This thing isn't cheap, particularly with the lack of a slow-boat-to-China shipping option. Beats throwing away a $250 cassette, though. And let’s face it, most of us don’t have anywhere near enough bright red Italian stuff on our bikes.

Sunscreen Shootout

By: Forest Dramis

Before we get into the actual review of the sunscreens in our test, it's important to understand some of the basics of what sunscreen labeling means. When shopping for sunscreen most people only consider the SPF (Sun Protection Factor). SPF is measured by the FDA as a comparison of how much UV exposure it takes to cause a sunburn versus when someone does not use a sunscreen. The higher the SPF number, the more protection against burning. However, because the SPF indicates only how much Ultraviolet B is being blocked, the spectrum of UV that causes burning, it doesn't give an indication of protection from Ultraviolet A, the spectrum of UV that causes melanoma. Under FDA regulations, any sunscreen labeled "Broad Spectrum" must block UV-A and UV-B at the same level. Nowadays almost every sunscreen on the market over SPF 15 is Broad Spectrum, but it's best to make sure. All sunscreen designations and claims assume you will reapply after 2 hours. Is your sunscreen "waterproof" or "sweatproof"? The answer is no. The FDA prohibits either terminology and only allows "Water Resistant" to be used if the SPF efficacy isn't drastically reduced during 40-80 minutes of water activity. 

So what exactly does the SPF number mean? SPF 50 blocks more UV than SPF 30, but how much more, and why does it matter? It matters because higher SPF sunscreen can be considerably more expensive than its lesser SPF companions. During our research we found that some companies' SPF 50 sunscreen cost as much as double the same sunscreen in SPF 30. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UV rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays. Is that 1% worth double the cost? Add to that consideration that the amount of sunscreen you apply is critical to your protection and I think SPF 30 is the best way to go. It should also be noted that the FDA considers SPFs over 50 to be "no more effective than SPF 50."

We tested 5 sunscreens: Coppertone Sport SPF 30, Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34, Trilipiderm Broad Spectrum SPF 30, Banana Boat Sport SPF 30, and Neutrogena Ultra Dry Touch SPF 30. (All of these sunscreens are Broad Spectrum.) Since the FDA regulates sunscreen, we can confidently assume all these sunscreens block approximately 97% of UV-A and UV-B. All these sunscreens will protect you on your ride or ski. That leaves a few metrics for us to use when deciding which to buy. Feel: How does it feel on your skin? Is it slimy, sticky, greasy or dry? Smell: Does it smell good, bad or innocuous? Price: Do you want to pay $15 for your sunscreen or $5? Here's what we found...

Most favorite: Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34  This was our favorite sunscreen in the test. After application my skin felt well coated but never felt sticky, slimy or wet. The smell was innocuous and the price was great.

Our second favorite was Coppertone Sport. Great feel on the skin, easy to apply and a smell that reminds us of the beach without being too obtrusive. Even though Coppertone came in 2nd during our test, because of its much lower price -- $1.34/oz versus $3.94/oz for Beyond Coastal, we feel that this is the best choice if you're on a budget.

Honorable mention: Neutrogena Ultra Dry  I'm giving the Neutrogena honorable mention because despite its steep price it has some desirable properties that shouldn't be ignored. While it misses the mark on the cost metric it does have one very important quality that active users shouldn't ignore: it didn't burn my eyes when sweating from under my helmet. All sunscreen will run when you're sweating hard, but this one seemed to run the least and also burned the least.

Least favorite: Trilipiderm Broad Spectrum SPF 30   We found this sunscreen to be quite slippery and slimy when applied. Our hope was that after a couple minutes it would "soak in" and be less noticeable, but no such luck. I'm sure it was moisturizing my skin and it was certainly giving me a glow....or shine...but the feel of this sunscreen had me trying to wipe it off. Not really what you want to be doing with your skin protection.

Bottom Line: Wear sunscreen. Every time out. Most of us live at altitude and play at an even higher altitude. There's every reason in the world to use it, and no reason not to use it. Based on our tests I've switched my regimen to use Beyond Coastal Active SPF 34....until I run out, then I'll switch to Coppertone. If it's going to be especially hot, I'll add the Neutrogena Ultra Dry to my face because of its sweat-related properties.

First Ride: Shimano XTR Di2

By: Forest Dramis

This week I was able to ride Shimano XTR Di2 for the first time. While a couple hours isn't enough time to thoroughly explore the nuances of such a complex and capable system, I was able to get a good sense of what it's like to ride this gruppo. If you're looking for weights, battery specs and marketing copy....go here. If you're looking for an honest impression of what XTRi2 can and can't do, and what it's really like to ride with it, read on.

The test's Pivot Mach 4 came equipped with XTR Di2 and everyone was excited to take it out and see what it was like. Our test loop on this day consisted of a 25 minute climb up singletrack and a 15 minute descent, all on single track. The climb was varied with flat, smooth sections as well as rocky, steep sections. All in all, a great loop for testing with varied terrain and grades.

The Pivot was set up 2x and included both a left and right shifter. Because of XTRi2's sophistication, only one shifter is needed, and I would definitely suggest eliminating the left hand shifter. (Both triggers on both shifters are completely customizable and can activate any combination of front/rear shifting.) As set up, the shifters use beeps to indicate three different moments in the shift pattern. At the high and low end of gears the system beeped once. In the middle cogs it beeped twice to alert you that the next shift would also shift the front chainring. I found the beeps annoying and would turn them off. (Like almost everything with XTRi2, shift alerts are fully customizable and can be shut off.) The automatic front chain ring shift is great. One need only decided whether you want to shift harder or easier, the system then shifts both front and derailleur into the most efficient position to achieve your desired gear. It works perfectly. Every time. Unlike Di2 levers, which I find a little vague and hard to feel with gloves on, XTRi2 has a very definite "mechanical" feeling in the trigger shifter. There is an audible click, natural movement to the lever and no dead feeling. If all you could perceive is the tactile impression of your fingers, you couldn't tell the if they were mechanical or electronic shifters. 

Shifting was predictably immediate and flawless. Even under full pressure. The system easily shifted both front and rear even when I was out of the saddle on steep sections. I would say it was only marginally faster than with mechanical XTR, but the benefit as I see it is being able to shift under full power. Coming out of a creek crossing in the wrong gear? No problem. Out of the saddle, charging hard and wanting to shift? No problem. Cash weighing down your wallet and want a quick way to get rid of all of it? No problem!

Yeah, it's expensive. Really expensive. Like it's brother Dura Ace Di2, you don't need XTRi2. But when was the last time you bought something cycling related just because you needed it? Mountain biking was pretty darn fun on a 26" hard tail with 8-speed shifting. But technology moves on. Rest assured, riding won't be any more fun with XTRi2, though when the servos shift it does sound positively sci-fi. But if you like having the newest toys -- who doesn't --and money isn't an issue, you could do far worse than plopping down for the future of shifting.