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Posted by: | Posted on: March 19, 2012

Review: Planet Bike’s “Borealis” Winter Gloves

It seems that spring has sprung for most of the country…and so this review may seem a bit late for those of you looking for winter gear for your cold commutes. Since this was MY first real winter in over 20 years, I was expecting a ton of snow and ice in which to test Planet Bike’s “Borealis” winter gloves — I wanted to run these gloves through the worst conditions I could find, even snowball fights and epic sled rides. Alas, it barely snowed here and the longer I waited for Mother Nature to do her thing, the closer to spring it got…

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Here’s a bit about the gloves straight from Planet Bike’s website:

-Windproof back panel and forchettes
-Removable liner for quick dry time
-Ultra-soft Fleece thumb
-Reflective piping for night visibility
-Water resistant, reinforced Serino palm
-3-in-1 design allows flexible temperature range by using liners, outer shells only, or outer shells with liners
-Neoprene cuff/pull tab with hook and loop closure

This 3-in-1 system is pretty handy…wear the liners on cool days, the outers when you need windproof protection or liners and shells together when things get really nasty out there. I was on the cusp between sizes L and XL (I chose the large size)…so the liners are a bit snug but the outers, strangely, have just enough room to wear other liner gloves in my collection. The stock liners are fairly lightweight fleece, so a heavier liner was pressed into service when the temperatures really bottomed out. Here are the fleece liners:

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The fleece liners don’t have any grip-enhancing goodies on them, so they can be a tad slippery all by themselves. I didn’t spend too much time riding with just the liners — when it was warm enough, I had other full-finger gloves that I prefer using, and when the temperatures dropped I grabbed the outer shells (which have plenty of grip). Take a look at all the grippy stuff and reinforcement patches on the palms:

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Feature-wise, these gloves have a lot going for them…good reinforcements on the palm, a generous (and soft!) nose-wiping area on the thumbs, a neoprene cuff and simple closures that did a really good job of sealing out chilly drafts. And, despite their seeming bulk, I had no trouble manipulating the brake and shift levers on any of the bikes I ride. Even the small thumb-lever on Campagnolo Ultrashift levers was no trouble. Seeing as how this was my first time with lobster-style gloves, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that these gloves really didn’t interfere with the operation of the shifters as I had feared prior to riding with them.

The grey piping on the gloves is highly reflective, so the Borealis gloves are a good choice for nighttime riding or when extra visibility is key.

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(Don’t let the bright sunshine fool you…it was 15 degrees F when I took this picture!)

Although these gloves are not fully waterproof, they fended off most of the rain and spray from my rides. If you’re heading out into a downpour, however, there may be better choices in gloves for you…something with a vapor-permeable waterproof liner and taped seams. As far as temperatures go, I was comfortable down to around 10 degrees F…with temps in the teens, I could get about an hour of riding before my fingers started to tingle with cold, but below that, I would have to invest in hand-warmer packets, pogies or something else to keep my digits warm.

At a retail price of around $42.00, these gloves are a pretty smart choice for cold-weather commuters. The Borealis gloves are substantially less expensive than other similar “lobster” gloves, yet have most of (if not all) the features in those pricier gloves. And, of course, Planet Bike has you covered for other protective gear and accessories, no matter what season you ride in. Swing on over to their website to take a look.

Coming up later in the week, we will be reviewing some cold-weather shoe covers from Planet Bike. Stayed tuned for that!

Posted by: | Posted on: March 14, 2012

Commuting in Jeans – Why I can’t be a hipster.

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BIKING IN JEANS! Do you do it?! Image Courtesy of Cycle Kyoto.

Helloha saucy  Bike Commuters!  Since it’s only Wednesday, I don’t know if this counts as a “Friday Musing” but we’ll post it anyway.  Let’s just say if you’ve been reading anything authored by Meeee.r.I.Am this past year, then you’ll know that you are headed down WTF road, and there’s no turning back – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

I often joke with my family that I can never wear skinny/hipster jeans because I have a “calf-top” – that’s to say a pair of skinny jeans in my waist size can never make it up to my muffin top, because my calf top gets in the way!!!  My brother agrees, he too cannot fit a calf through a skinny jeans leg!  This has prompted today’s musing up for debate: Commuting in work clothes vs. packing them in a bag, or more specifically Commuting in Jeans. I don’t know how many of you out there have casual work environments where jeans are appropriate for a work day like Jack, but I do!  As a bike commuter and a more utilitarian fashion-person, there are several things to consider each morning when I dress OR pack my bag for work in the morning.  Let’s consider my inner monologue on any given work day:

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Me posing in my fave straight leg $35 jeans. With three pair sacrifices thus far to Bikelonius, I’ll be ready for some women’s Levi’s commuter jeans soon!

SLUM IT, OR JEAN IT!?

  1. Do I have any meetings first thing today? – Sometimes, if I am about to see a client upon arrival at the office.  In the morning, I’ll get dressed in office clothes first, make up etc., then ride “no-sweat speed” to avoid arriving in spandex or T-shirts with funny sayings on them only meant for commuting.  For me, “dressing” for work can mean jeans or business casual.  (Depende de… Numero 2!)

    LGRAB’s Dottie has got it down!

  2. What’s the weather like outside? – Of course, it’s been hot, showering, pouring, windy, and cold within the past few weeks of Oahu’s “Wimpy” winter.  If it’s wet butt commuter time, it’s jeans/dress clothes in the bag and Vanya chrome or anything quick dry on the bike.
  3. Laziness factor, do I really want to change clothes again?! – This one can go both ways, sometimes clean bike commuting outfit can double as PJs the night before (don’t call me a dirty hippie!) OR I can be too lazy to change at work and will therefore put on my jeans/dress and do the no-sweat speed thing to work.

    BIKELONIUS!!!

  4. Holes in my pockets factor: Sacrifice your jeans to the bike saddle gods? – Everyone has heard of  Bikelonius the greek god of bike commuters, who requires periodic denim sacrifices.  Whether it be chain grease smears, cuff snags, or inconvenient  and embarrassing holes in the lower saddle butt area, forcing the Bikelonians to make repeated pilgrimages to the scary Gap clearance rack/local thrift store/etc.  I have sacrificed three pairs of jeans to Bikelonius over the past 6 years.  Anyway, sometimes I don’t want to ruin my jeans so I’ll change clothes at work to avoid the holy butt scenario.

Got an extra $205 to spare? How about some Rapha Cycling Jeans?

Sometimes, it’s more convenient to show up in jeans and already be dressed.  Sometimes it’s worth the jeans-seam crotch pain if it’s a short ride.  And sometimes I wish I could be a hipster and fit my big-o-calves into some friggin’ skinny jeans so they don’t snag on the chainring!  (You gotta admit, skinny jeans or leggings ARE the best for snagless commutes!)  I dunno about you Cycle Gentlemen out there, but for Cycle Ladies, a commuter jean would need to be women-specific (AHEM! Listen up, Levi’s!) and bike specific before I would consider shelling out mas dinero for commuter pants…(Considering some of these “cycling lifestyle” jeans from SWRVE or osloh would cost me halfway to a new bike.)  Can you grind it out on your commute in a pair of your fave blues and roll up the cuffs?  Or would you rather stick to bike-specific/workout gear?

Posted by: | Posted on: December 27, 2011

Review: O2 Rainwear’s Calhoun Jacket

We showed you the O2 Rainwear “Calhoun” jacket in a teaser a few months ago…and at the time, it was dry and hot here in Ohio. Well, as many of my neighbors told me it would, the rainy season set in around mid-October and hasn’t let up. Being cold is tough for a longtime Florida resident. And, as a Florida resident, I’ve gotten caught in many a rainstorm, but our rainy season there was during the heat of summer, negating the need for stifling raingear. Being cold AND wet is about my least-favorite sensation, and since it seems to rain about every other day here, the Calhoun received a thorough test before I put my thoughts together for the review.

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Let’s recap a bit with a list of the details of the jacket, straight from O2’s website:

Product Details
100% 2.5Layer Rip-Stop Nylon
Waterproof, fully taped internal seam
Waterproof, Breathable, Lightweight, Compact
Supreme Wind & Water Protection
Waterproof, full length front zipper with garage
Reflective elements for low light visibility
Welded waterproof front Napoleon pocket
Form Fit
Pit Zips for additional ventilation
Breathability: W/R; MVP: 10,000g/m2/D
Waterproof: W/P: 10,000mmH2O;
Weight: Avg. 13 ounces depending on size

Normally, I wear a size small in cycling wear…as I mentioned in our sneak peek, Adam Ziskin, the owner of O2, sent me a medium based on my dimensions. As it turns out, the medium is just right — roomy enough to fit over an insulating layer on truly cold days. Thermal cycling jerseys/baselayers or even a fleece jacket fit under the Calhoun with no problems. Of course, like any self-respecting cycling jacket, the Calhoun has an extended tail to keep your butt dry in the rain. Off the bike, the jacket feels boxy…not particularly form-fitting and with gorilla-length arms. Once I got onto my bike, the genius of this jacket’s “cut” was immediately apparent: the jacket’s arms are long so that your arms are still covered when in the drops of a road bike, and there is no bunching or restriction as you stretch out into riding position. It’s still not a body-hugging fit and there is some flapping of the jacket’s material in the wind, but nothing I couldn’t live with.

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The fit can be tailored somewhat using the hidden drawcords at the waist and neck:

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The sleeve cuffs have simple hook-and-loop fasteners with enough adjustability to fit over heavy gloves or mittens…and help seal in the warmth.

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Because extra visibilty is key when the weather turns nasty, the Calhoun comes in neon yellow, and it has effective reflective accents on front, back, and sides. For those of you who don’t want that screamingly bright color, the Calhoun also comes in blue. Seriously, though, being seen by motorists when the rain is blowing sideways trumps fashion any day…yet it’s nice that O2 offers a choice.

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One thing that surprised me is that the Calhoun jacket doesn’t feel clammy when I put it on. I’ve worn some inexpensive rainwear over the years — you know, the stuff with the thick polyurethane lining or the rubberized fabric ponchos popular with campers. The Calhoun simply feels like a quality jacket. The interior of the jacket has a slick look to it, but it feels good against the skin, for what that’s worth. I can’t tell you how breathable the 3Flow Performance fabric is with any concrete quantifiers, but I never felt like sweat was bottling up inside the jacket. Granted, my rides have been in the teens to the low 40s and I just don’t sweat at those temps. When I did feel like I was starting to get a bit too warm, the pit zips did the trick to cool me down a bit. Simply unzip them, pull the main zipper down a bit and flush out the excess warmth before zipping it all back up. Worked like a charm!

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One of my favorite features is that the Calhoun packs up small…about the size of a big burrito (but perhaps a bit lighter). When the weather is iffy, the jacket can be rolled up and carried along in a jersey pocket, pannier or bag. A more practiced hand could probably roll this thing up even smaller!

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After all this, you’re probably wondering, “well, how does it work in the rain?” Rest assured, this jacket is waterproof to a fault. I still hate riding in the cold rain, but the Calhoun makes it substantially less miserable. And, the jacket’s fantastic windproof ability also makes it my go-to choice when it is clear and chilly. Take a look at the picture below — the coldest bike ride I’ve been on in 25 years or more, with starting temps in the low teens and highs in the low 20s. I was rocking a thermal jersey and baselayer, fleece-lined bibtights, wool balaclava, shoe covers and lobster gloves. I was afraid I looked like Randy from the classic “A Christmas Story”. What can I say? I ain’t designed for cold weather. Anyhow, the jacket accommodated all those layers and kept the heat in where I needed it. Thumbs up all the way!

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Perhaps my only gripe with the Calhoun is that the one chest pocket is nice, but I prefer to carry things in a pocket on my back. Perhaps I am just used to having jersey pockets for long rides, but a heavy smartphone just felt weird in that chest pocket. After a short time, I transferred the phone to my saddlebag. Luckily, O2 has other jackets to choose from that have other features you may desire. Also, I must say that at first, I was thinking, “gee, I really wish there was a hood on this jacket”, but I understand that hoods can be more trouble than they’re worth. I DO need to figure out a decent technique for keeping the rain out of my helmet, though.

The Calhoun jacket has an MSRP of $119.00. That’s pricey, but I feel you get what you pay for — this is a quality jacket that performs admirably when the weather turns sour. It looks nice, it has good features and visibility, and it is packable enough that there’s really no excuse not to bring it with you when you ride. Check out O2’s full product line by clicking here.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Posted by: | Posted on: November 8, 2011

Preview: Winter Gear from Planet Bike

A week or so ago, the good folks at Planet Bike sent us some courtesy samples of winter gear to test out. I could just see the marketing people at PB: “man, this guy Jack is going to be facing his first midwestern winter in over 30 years…he’s the perfect candidate to try out some of our winter products. Poor sonofabitch doesn’t know WHAT he’s gotten himself into!!”

First up is the Borealis winter glove system:

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From PB’s website:

-Windproof back panel and forchettes
-Removable liner for quick dry time
-Ultra-soft Fleece thumb and index finger
-Reflective piping for night visibility
-Water resistant, reinforced Serino palm
-3-in-1 design allows flexible temperature range by using liners, outer shells only, or outer shells with liners
-Neoprene cuff/pull tab with hook and loop closure

Next up, the Blitzen shoe covers:

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-Windproof fabric with microfleece lining
-Neoprene front panel for added warmth around the toe box
-Durable bottom with open design for a variety of pedal platforms and cleats
-Full Velcro back closure for greater adjustability and sizing
-Toe box retention strap keeps front of cover in place
-Reflective side logos

We’ll be putting these goodies through their paces over the next couple months…it’s already gotten quite chilly here, with low temps in the 20s and highs of only the mid-50s. Having lived in Florida for the past two decades, I was woefully underprepared for truly cold-weather riding, so these Planet Bike items will hopefully keep me toasty as I test them out. Stay tuned for reviews — I am hoping to try these items out in the snow, if possible.

Posted by: | Posted on: October 24, 2011

Layering: as easy as 1, 2, or 3

I tend to over-think things a lot! This quality of mine can be both good and bad. What I like about fall/winter riding is that dressing for it really is easy – you just need to know the purpose of each layer and best fabric for that task. Aside from those days when I start pondering other gear, layering is really quite easy – and leaves me feeling always prepared.

From fall through springtime in Chicago I either always carry with me in my commuting arsenal (water resistant pannier) OR am already wearing on my body (esp on the colder winter days) the following items: extra glove liners + extra gloves or mitts, wool knee warmers, a Warmfront, extra wool socks (in case one pair gets wet), rain or wind pants to block wind and keep the road spray off my clothes, silk or wool long underwear for top and bottom (I especially like SmartWool and L.L. Bean wool), beanie cap that covers my ears, Hedz headwear, and wool/fleece balaclava – topped off by my most visible layer…. a hi-vis wind- and waterproof jacket. I rarely have a need for any more than 3 layers worth of clothing – base, mid and outer suffice in any weather; so while our skin may consist of 7 layers, for me, the gear only needs to be 3 layers deep at most … most of the time. (If you live in a much warmer or colder climate, I realize your needs for layering may vary; please adjust your technique accordingly and share with us what works for you in the comments.)

When I first started to bike through the colder, yuckier weather months in Chicago, I did a lot of my own research for what to wear and soon learned about the fine art of layering. (My go-to resource at that time was a blog authored by a woman in Alaska living a bike adventure life and recording it in her blog – I think it was called Up In Alaska; she has since moved and renamed the blog to Jill Outside.) A few of her posts detailed her layering technique and gear. Another site that has also helped me over the years is the Icebike website, brimming with strategies and gear designed to keep you warm (without overheating) while out bike riding or enjoying other winter activities for long periods of time. Last, but not least in deserving credit, is Chicago’s Bike Winter — a grass roots effort that has supplied me with how-to knowledge and an awesome DIY fleece balaclava designed to keep as many Chicago cyclists pedaling through the winter as possible.

If Jill could make it work for rides in Alaska and these Icebikers and fellow Bike Winter-ers could do it, I knew I could apply the layering strategy to my Chicago commutes; below I provide you with the layering technique that works for my urban bike commutes and the importance of each layer.

Chicago’s recent bout with chilly, windy and damp fall days reminds me that I really do have all I need already in my wardrobe (even though I’m always thinking of the next best gear or tip most of my winter “gear” is not really cycling specific gear). Take a photo gallery tour of these layers I recently wore during a damp fall commute (temps in the high 40s/low 50-degrees):
Base layer: long sleeve microfiber shirt (easily substituted for wool or silk on chillier days). A good base layer will wick the sweat away from your skin so that you don’t overheat OR get chilled from damp skin. Wool and silk are also naturally odor-resistant = bonus! I’ve learned to avoid cotton next to my skin at all costs, since it tends to keep the perspiration close to your skin.
Mid layer: vest (or wool or cashmere sweater in winter). A mid-layer helps insulate. This layer continues to challenge me during the fluctuating temperatures we get during the spring and fall, but in winter I usually turn to a cashmere or wool turtleneck sweater. During warmer months, I may forego this layer or opt for just a vest or stick to a cardigan sweater that can be zipped or unzipped as needed.
Bottom: REI cargo pants (with long underwear when the mercury dips below freezing). Depending on the level of chill in the air, I adjust my wardrobe – from jeans to lighter weight khakis to stretchier fitness style pants. As a female, I also have opted for wool tights and a skirt – and have found this combo to be just as warm as pants. I also keep a pair of wool knee warmers (or leg warmers in you prefer) around just in case I need a little more buffer.
Feet: midweight wicking socks (I live in wool hiking socks come winter), Vasque waterproof hiking shoes (and NEOS overshoes in the worst of it!). Just the other day I wore mid-calf Bogs boots with a neoprene liner. Once it’s freezing and below, my feet prefer the thicker socks and waterproof shoe. For commuting I don’t usually ride with clipless pedals, and in the chill I prefer the added warmth of regular hiking/winter boots – just make sure they allow your foot/ankle enough mobility for pedaling. You may even want to ride on wider BMX-style pedals to accommodate the clunkier footwear.
Hands: Gore bike gloves (new this year!); Headsweats lobster shell gloves (mittens and hand warmers on standby for temps below freezing). Up til this year I used a pair of wool gloves I acquired at the Army-Navy Surplus store and paired those with the shell gloves or with a pair of REI mittens. Mittens keep my hands warmest on the sub-freezing days. Hand warmers helps when it drops below zero.
Outer layer: Loeka (or other waterproof) commuter jacket with pit zips, Marmot rain pants. A jacket -even on the coldest of days – need not be thick and heavy. The best outer layer provides maximum wind resistance so as not to allow the chill in and is also waterproof; a sports-oriented jacket will have pit zips to allow added ventilation and help prevent your body from overheating. Given the lack of daylight during winter, I stick with hi-vis and reflective jackets to keep me as visible as possible to fellow road users.
Head: HAD microfiber tube to cover my neck, REI Novara cap (new to my arsenal this year… and I wonder how I lived without it all these years!) to cover my head and ears, helmet. In winter my layer below the helmet is a wool/fleece balaclava; sometimes I use the microfiber tube like a neck gaiter beneath the balaclava and will pull it up over my nose so I’m not breathing in the bitter cold air. My mom always stressed keeping my head warm; to this day, I cannot argue with my mom’s advice. For me, if my head and neck are warm, the rest of my body seems to naturally be warmer.
And last but not least Eyewear: Sunglasses with an amber tint in daylight AND clear or yellow tint glasses in darkness suffice for me most of the time (all my sunglasses have come from Solar Eyes (an online retailer)); in the winter I switch to ski goggles (rose tint works day and night even navigating the well-lit urban roads at night).

As I mentioned above, as a female I love having the option to wear wool tights and flashy rubber boots to spice up my winter cycling wardrobe, too, when I feel so inclined.
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One final note: it’s best to feel slightly chilled during the first few minutes on your bike. If you start out already warm, you could easily overheat. I find that less is more to avoid overheating. Folks at work think I must be so cold given my thin layers, but I assure them that by the time I reach the bus stop at the corner, I’m already warm from generating my own body heat; those folks waiting for the bus are the ones who look so cold just standing there. Rather than overdress, it’s best to carry an extra layer, so you can always stop and put it on if you need it or if it turns chillier for the bike commute home later that day. My commute is about a half hour each way and in the stop-and-go traffic of the city, so I’ve adjusted my layering accordingly. Those of you with a shorter or much longer commute may have other tips and tricks to share. Noah shared a few of his tips last year, including starting a log of weather conditions and your clothing choices.

Since my gear – most of it not cycle specific – seems to be accounted for, it gives me time to ponder getting a bike with disc brakes this upcoming bad weather season…. to at least improve my stopping power in the dampness. Then again…. I could finally try adding a more full coverage helmet (like a Nutcase or Bern)… options….