Welcome to our regular roundup of small parts, gear & accessories reviews. These are the things we’ve tried and (mostly) liked, whose merits we can convey in a few short paragraphs. This week we reviewed:
- Birzman Crown Race Remover
- 45NRTH Wölvehammer BOA winter cycling boot
- Trail Butter nut butter ride nutrition
- Specialized Element Shoe Covers
Birzman Crown Race Removal Tool
If I’m being honest, I’ve used more than my fair share of flat head screwdrivers to chip and pry a crown race off of a fork. Admittedly, I’m probably doing this far more often than you since we’re reviewing new forks several times per year. Or I have to move them between bikes to test a new frame, etc. Unless you work at a bike shop, you might have to do this…never.
But assuming you do, like most tasks, having the right tool not only makes the job easier, but also less likely to damage parts. This is especially important on carbon fork crowns and steerers. (If you’re new to this, the crown race is the bottom piece of a headset that slides over the fork’s steerer, rests on the fork crown, and provides a smooth, beveled interface with the headset’s lower bearing.)
The Birzman Crown Puller makes quick work of removing the crown race, and drastically reduces the likelihood of scratching or nicking your steerer…as long as you don’t overtighten it. Alloy steerers won’t really have this issue, but it could start biting into a carbon steerer if you keep wrenching it down after it’s all the way under the race. (This is an issue with any similar crown removal tool, not just Birzman’s.)
From the looks of it, I thought I’d need to hold the nut on one end of the bolt with a wrench while using a second wrench to turn the opposite nut. Turns out, no, thankfully…once it’s snug, it works just fine turning only one end. That said, I’d still prefer to see one end captured.
If you’re in the business of swapping forks often, the Birzman Crown Puller is an inexpensive way to safely and efficiently remove the race from your fork.
45NRTH Wölvhammer BOA Winter Cycling Boot
It’s no secret that 45NRTH makes some of my favorite winter cycling gear. That’s not surprising, they’re located in the heart of fat bike country, in Minneapolis, MN. It took a while, but the previous generation of the Wölvhammer had become my go-to cold weather fat biking footwear. Naturally, I was pretty excited to try out the newest version, the Wölvhammer BOA.
In spite of adding a removable quilted synthetic liner, the new boots are lighter – and they also seem quite a bit warmer. Probably a combination of the Aerogel layer in the bottom of the boot, and the added insulation of the new liner + outer boot.
It also uses a single BOA dial which I welcomed at first. It seems like it would be an easy way to quickly get the boots on an off. Unfortunately, the single BOA struggles to tighten the full boot evenly. I find that it overtightens the top, while leaving the bottom too loose. You can sort of flex your ankle and work the lower section tighter as it flexes, but the old draw cord actually seems to work better.
I normally love BOA dials. But in this case, I think it could use a second dial to split the boot into two zones. That would also help with the bunching that occurs around the ankle if you get them tight.
The BOA dial isn’t a deal breaker, but for me the sole is. Namely, the cleat pocket position and the resulting increase in q-factor.
Compared to the previous generation Wölvhammer, the cleat pocket has been moved inwards by about 10mm on each boot. That has an effect of increasing the q-factor by around 20mm. You can make up for some of that if you’re using cleats that offer horizontal adjustment, but those like the Time ATAC cleats (a favorite of many fat bikers) are fixed laterally.
Depending on your size, and sensitivity to q-factor, this may or may not be a huge deal. Also, if you’re riding a normal mountain bike and you find that winter cycling boots often hit the seatstays or chainstays of your bike, these boots could actually be beneficial. But in the world of fat bikes where companies are actively working to decrease the q-factor of super wide cranksets, these boots seem like a step in the wrong direction. For me, that means I’m going to keep riding my 45NRTH Wölvhammer Red Wing Edition boots which are still my favorite – as they break in, they keep getting better.
Trail Butter NW IPA nut butter ride fuel
A little over a year ago Trail Butter added this limited edition hoppy beer-flavored squeezable trail snack to their line-up. And while this particular flavor isn’t around anymore, there are plenty of others to choose from, like a new Spiced Chai and Apple Strudel flavors. All essentially follow the same formula – mixing natural almond butter with other nuts, seeds & berries to create healthy “paleo & keto friendly” nutrition to eat on the go, without feeling super sugary.
I’ve now had the Dark Choloclate & Coffee, Maple Syrup & Sea Salt, Original Trail Mix, and this NW IPA flavor and can recommend them to anyone looking for an alternative to sugar gels… with a small caveat… bring plenty of water! Maybe a classic banana to wash it down?
Have you ever eaten peanut butter out of the jar (like me)? These Trail Butters are like 200% stickier than any Jif, Skippy, or any organic Whole Foods peanut butter you’ve ever tried. And you have to knead them quite well to mix butter & oils before you eat it. Think, taking a mouthful and your tongue could become fused to the roof of your mouth. But they are super tasty – and the distinct hop flavor of this IPA one was quite unique. Just have that water bottle ready.
Trail Butter comes in many flavors, and various sizes. On the bike, I’d have to recommend the single serving (33g) 200-calorie Lil’ Squeeze packs because they also double as a very effective tire boot for when you cut a giant hole in a gravel tire far from home! The small packs cost $24 for 12, $7 for a 3-pack sampler, with a 10% discount if you subscribe to regular deliveries.
A larger 128g/4.5oz multi-serving Big Squeeze pack is also available (and a tiny bit easier to knead) but more bulky for cycling, and actually more expensive per gram. All options & flavors are available on Amazon w/ free Prime shipping.
Specialized Element Shoe Covers
For 2021 Specialized updated its Element shoe covers, adding a taller cuff, universal cleat opening, and water-resistant softshell fabric. Shoe covers are a must-have in most areas, but we usually need separate models for road versus MTB, right?
Maybe not. The Specialized Element shoe covers work equally well in both worlds. The toe box’s design is robust and resilient enough to handle mountain bike adventures, both on and off the bike. A tough rubber toe cap covers the shoe’s frequently impacted areas, and the slight tread underneath is enough traction for any little off-road stops.
On the road side of things, the covers adapt to the larger cleat with no problem. The opening is easily expanded when putting the shoe on/off and doesn’t have that “is this gonna rip?” feeling that sometimes comes with shoe covers.
The Element shoe covers are available in a vast size run ranging from; 38-48. In general, the 43-44 size fits my 43.5 shoes but runs a bit small in the cuff. The shoe cover’s overall performance is excellent, and the more extended cuff hit at just the right spot – right under the calf. Not impeding any pedaling sensations but adding to the ankle’s ease of movement and not binding the forefoot.
The fabric is hefty but pliable enough to make adjustments to BOA dials hiding underneath. The reflective bits are a nice touch, knowing that these will most defiantly see dark skies. The Talon zipper is dependable, though it takes some time to break in. The overall warmth of the cover is excellent.
I’ve used these with toe warmers and wool socks down to the single digits with no discomfort. My only gripe with covers is the fabric choice for the front of the ankle. The fabric is super stretchy but rips if you catch it on branches or ratchet-style shoe buckles.
All in all, they are a fantastic shoe cover that will make any cold ride more comfortable in temps from spring morning to all out freezing winter. At $70 a pair, the Element shoe covers are right on the money for a good winter investment. If you hate frozen toes and frequently train outside in cold, wet conditions, these should be on your shortlist.
That’s it for this week. Tune in on weekends for more mini reviews!
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