Flow’s Fresh Produce | Helmets from Specialized and TLD, a cassette tool from PRO, and Bontrager rubber

Hello Flow family, and welcome to another edition of Flow’s Fresh Produce. We hope you managed to stay dry through this week of exceptionally wet weather on the east coast.

Since the last time we caught up, it has been full gas here at Flow HQ, and we have been plugging away to bring you the latest on bikes and trails here in Australia.

The biggest news has been the long-awaited update to Trek’s Top Fuel. It’s strayed quite a bit from its lycra-clad, XC World Cup roots, and is the latest in a growing crop of race bikes designed for a bit of number plate free fun. So is it a long-legged Supercaliber or a Fuel EX cut off at the knees, click here to find out our thoughts. We’ve also finished our reviews of the Fox 34, and long term test bike, the Specialized Levo. 

Is the new Top Fuel a rowdy XC bike or a nimble trail bike? Check out our review to find out.

Rockshox has finally unveiled its robo-suspension system, Flight Attendant, Specialized revealed a metal Stumpjumper EVO, and we finally got our hands on the all-new Cannondale Jekyll.

It’s been a challenging year for event organisers across Australia, so we caught up with the folks from AusCycling, EMS Enduro, Rapid Ascent and Rocky Trail Entertainment, to see how they are doing, and what they’ve learned about operating races in this Covid affected world.

Last but certainly not least, we spoke to the folks at Mount Buller about the massive trail refurbishment project ahead of summer.

Now that you’re all caught up on what we’ve been up to, check out the latest gear that has rolled into Flow HQ.

Specialized Tactic MIPS Helmet

specialized tactic MIPS helmet
The Specialized Tactic trail helmet has been updated with the latest MIPS Evolve liner.

Specialized has just released its overhauled trail helmet called the Tactic. Featuring a substantial profile with deep coverage at the rear, the Tactic is built from a thick EPS foam core with a multi-panel, in-mould polycarbonate shell. You’ll find a MIPS Evolve liner on the inside, and the exterior has been designed to offer a seamless fit with modern wide-lens glasses and goggles. The generously-sized visor is fixed, though it’s designed to break away easily in the event of a crash.

According to Specialized, the Tactic helmet doesn’t just pass the usual safety tests. It also ticks off the Dutch e-Bike standard, which sees the helmet subjected to harder impacts at higher speeds.

So far we’ve found the fit comfortable, and it’s plenty adjustable. While slightly hidden, you can tweak the vertical position of the cradle via adjustable anchor points hidden underneath the padding. There’s a small wheel integrated into the helmet’s shell, though confusingly, the wheel tightens anti-clockwise. Perhaps it’s just because we’re upside-down here in Australia?

Compared to Specialized’s popular Ambush helmet, the Tactic routes the straps inside the helmet’s rim, so they sit closer to the riders face to better stabilise the helmet and reduce wobble. You can also now fit sunglasses arms on the outside of the straps.

There are no integrated brackets for lights or action cameras, though the two main vents at the top of the helmet provide plenty of room for threading a strap through, and there’s a large flat surface for sticking on a mount. We also really like the glasses storage at the front of the helmet, which is easy to access while riding.

The confirmed weight for our Medium-sized Tactic helmet is 386g, which is decent, though a fraction lighter than some of the other trail lids we’ve been using lately like the Bontrager Rally Wavecel (394g, $229 AUD), Fox Speedframe Pro MIPS (398g, $269 AUD) and Lazer Jackal MIPS (416g, $299 AUD) helmets.

Oakley Sutro Lite with Prizm Trail Torch lens

The Sutro Lite are great looking sunnies with a technical lens, but they don’t work with every helmet.

Based roughly around the Sutro sunnies, Oakley’s Sutro Lite ditches the bottom half of the frame and adds some face-staying grip.

The inside of the arms is coated with the American outfit’s ‘tackier when you sweat’ rubber, as is the nose piece, to help them stay attached to your face. The tension on the arms also seems to be a bit higher than the Sutro, meaning they squeeze your head a bit more, again to help them stay in place without causing discomfort.

That said, the arms are long, like really long — 133.2mm to be exact, that’s 8mm longer than the Radar EV Advancer. This, combined with the broad lens, means the Sutro Lite doesn’t play nice with every helmet, especially those with deep coverage. Of the lids we have on hand at our Queensland HQ, the Sutro Lites worked well with the Bluegrass Rogue, okay with the Met Terranova, and the arms uncomfortably overlapped the head cradle on the Lazer Jackal.

Oakley’s Prizm lenses are top-notch, and we’ve come to appreciate the Trail Torch tint. This lens technology uses selective colour filters to increase contrast and help your brain identify trail features more easily. The original Prizm Trail Lens felt like you’d taken all the sliders in Adobe Lightroom and turned them up to 175.859, creating a crisp and colourful world, so much so that it gave a lot of folks headaches. The Trail Torch turns the volume down a bit. Trail features still pop, but it doesn’t feel like you’re going cross-eyed.

The Sutro Lites are available in several colour combos, oddly enough, this Matte Black frame with the Trail Torch lens isn’t available through the Oakley website, but a few local bike shops we’ve poked our heads into have them, and so do online retailers like Pushy’s.

Pro Bike Gear 10/11T Sprocket Cassette Wrench

The PRO Cassette Wrench has found a permanent place on the workbench at Flow’s QLD HQ.

Chain whips are fiddley, they are annoying, and when used improperly, can result in bloody knuckles. So when we bent our beloved Abbey Tools Whipit chain whip trying to shift and an over-tightened lockring, it was the perfect opportunity to see what else was out there.

The Pro Bike Gear Cassette Wrench is similar to designs made by Pedro’s and Unior, using steel pins to interface with the cassette teeth instead of a length of chain. And friends, this tool has been a revelation!

The pins are slightly recessed on the underside and lock into the teeth on your cassette, so you can confidently put your weight behind it without fear of slippage. This tool, in particular, will only grab cassettes with a 10t or 11t smallest cog, meaning it won’t be universally compatible. Having said that, we can’t remember the last time we removed a cassette with a 12t or bigger smallest cog.

Bontrager XR5 Team Issue TLR MTB Tyre

The previous version of the Bontrager XR5 were solid performing tyres on dry and hard pack trails. With more siping and dual-compound rubber, we are excited to spend some time on the latest version.

Bontrager’s XR5 tyres have been around for a few years now, and for 2022 have received a glow up.

Still based around the same tread pattern as the enduro-ready SE5, alternating ramped rectangular knobs run up the middle, and the shoulders swap between block and L-shaped tread. This new tyre sees quite a bit more siping up the centre block, uses Bontrager’s dual compound TM-Grip rubber and Inner Strength casing and sidewall protection.

For the time being, Bontrager is only offering the XR5’s in a 2.5in width, for 29in and 27.5in wheels. We’re yet to christen these tyres with an inaugural trail session, but we have high hopes given the predictability and grip the previous version offered.

Troy Lee Designs A3 MIPS Sideways Limited Edition

TLD is offering its new A3 in a limited edition Sideways colourway, paying homage to some of the most eyecatching designs to come out of its paint shop.

The A3 is the latest and greatest helmet from TLD, with all manner of technical bells and whistles. This limited edition Sideways paint job allows the TLD paint shop to flex its muscles, with a throwback to the lids of yesteryear.

With a silhouette reminiscent of the A2, there is a bit more coverage at the temples and behind the ears. A three-piece polycarbonate shell protects the foam liner from dings and scratches, while a mix of EPS and EPP foam are designed to dissipate the energy from high and low-speed impacts. Inside there is also a MIPS B32 liner to offer protection from rotational forces.

Magnets replace the wingnut used to adjust the visor, and the buckle is a high-zoot Fidloc job.

TLD includes two thicknesses of pads so the fit can be tailored to your melon, and there are even markings to show where they can be safely trimmed, should you want the full custom experience.

Mick has been running the A3 helmet for a few months now and can vouch for its superb fit. Priced at $444.95 AUD, the A3 is an expensive helmet, but we should note that the A2 and A3 haven’t gone anywhere, and both are available with MIPS.

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