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Tag Archive: cycling

What’s the Deal with Gravel? (In a Jerry Seinfeld voice)

So I feel like the kid in the 1950s pot commercial; I rode gravel once and now I’m hooked and my whole life has been turned upside down. I just can’t see the road the same. I now see cars and replace them with trees, signal lights are now steep hills, cement streets are now dirt paths… Everything has flipped and I love it.

I had tried cross and it was plenty fun. Not like every day fun, but fun once-in-awhile-fun. I will/must/don’t want to admit how bad I am on a mountain bike. On a road bike is where I was the most comfortable. Gravel does not come natural for me even if I’ve tried most of what cycling has to offer. For me it’s not the descents because I’m not all that confident in my skills. It’s the views as I suffer and drag my 200 pound butt up these climbs that normally lead to some hike-a-bike situations. The climbing can be brutal but like the Instagram inspirational quote with a majestic background says, “It’s just a hill, get over it.” If you can, then you will get a new perspective; your eyes will open to everything you’ve missed on a road bike or a mountain bike.

On a road bike you ride with your eyes wide shut. That’s the appeal for me, a lot of it is just not thinking and just going; you can zone out on a climb and even forget about the views. On a mountain bike you are more aware but there is still a level of letting the bike do it’s job and going for it. The closest thing to riding gavel (on a rigid bike with drops), in my opinion, is riding a fixed gear bike. On a fixed gear bike you have to be aware of everything around you. From the cars to the road conditions, the signal lights to the pedestrians, you are on full alert all the time. Not having real brakes will do that to you. Gravel is somewhat like that, you have an idea of control but it’s more controlled chaos then precision.

The real beauty of gravel [(…and I get a ten-cent commission every time I type G R A V E L)- Gravel] riding is that it’s not just about riding, hiking is also a big part of the experience. On a road bike you can take another route, on a mountain bike you have a lot of gearing and a more capable bike, so when you get to a section that’s above your pay grade you either push yourself or hike-a-bike. You go on a ride and you really don’t know if you are going to be able to ride every section of it. How much of a route you can manage changes as you improve and get more confident/stronger. I tend to fall more on the climbs than the descents. I’ve also done a lot to improve my gearing.

Nonetheless, gravel is my new obsession. So much so that this summer I am planning a Summer Adventure Gravel Series (SAGS) around the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. The adventure part is that there will be no routes given out. We will have to stay together, this will help avoid douchebagery. This is not a race. This is not about being first, fast, or better. This is about the people next to you, the landscape that surrounds you, and the route in front of you. Aside from maybe the Cannondale Slate [(with a gearing upgrade) no pun intended] there will not be a perfect bike for every situation. After, I hope we question our bikes but not our time in the saddle. I’m currently doing recon for the S.A.G.S ride- details will come.

Product review: SealSkinz Fingerless Cycle Gloves

At the beginning of summer, the kind folks at SealSkinz offered us a pair of their new summerweight cycling gloves to try out. You may know SealSkinz as a maker of waterproof socks, hats, and gloves for outdoor activities such as hiking and hunting, but they’ve also got a number of cycling-specific pieces in their lineup.

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The SealSkinz gloves are lightweight, with a lycra back and a synthetic leather palm that is textured for grip. The middle and ring fingers have extra material at the tops that are fashioned as “pull tabs” to get the gloves off easier. There’s a hook-and-loop wrist closure, and reflective accents on the back of the glove.

The pair I tested is a size Large. They felt true to size, but with a small amount of bunching between the fingers (we’ll get to that in a bit).

The padding on the palm is rather thin, and at first I thought I’d have issues with that — my own hands are not particularly padded, and prefer a glove with dense padding in the palm, where possible. The SealSkinz gloves, despite the thin padding, didn’t let me down in terms of comfort, even for longer riders of 30-40 miles. Beyond those distances, I think I’d rather have something with more padding.

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For those who have read glove reviews I’ve done in the past, you may remember that the nose-wiping area of a glove is VERY important to me, summer or winter. The SealSkinz didn’t let me down there, either — the entire thumb is made of a soft microsuede material, with no protruding seams to rough up the sensitive nose area. I can wipe all day in comfort!

The grip is fantastic with the gloves, as is overall durability. I wore them all summer and racked up serious miles with the SealSkinz, and they still look pretty new, even after a couple of washings. The stitching and seams remained tight throughout the testing period.

The reflective accents on the backs are a nice touch, but I don’t know how effective they might be. The reflective effect is pretty subtle, and I was unable to get a good nighttime photo of the reflective bits in action.

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Perhaps my only gripe with the SealSkinz gloves is the cut of the fabric panels prior to sewing. I did notice a lot of extra material, especially between the fingers. I can’t help but think that the cutting patterns could be refined a bit to reduce some of this excess, helping to streamline them a bit and reduce bunching between the fingers. Since the material is naturally stretchy, this excess material isn’t needed to accommodate wider fingers than my own, either.

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The SealSkinz fingerless gloves retail for $35, and are available directly from the SealSkinz website. As of this writing, they are not in stock and do not appear on the company website even though they ARE a current product. I checked with their PR person just to make sure they weren’t discontinued for some reason. That $35 buys a well-constructed, lightweight glove that is ideal for warm-weather riding. The gloves are 100% designed in Great Britain, with much of the manufacture occurring in Great Britain as well. Take a look at the SealSkinz cycling lineup for a wide range of products to suit any rider at any temperature.

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

Velo Transit Metro 20 Pannier

For the past six weeks, I’ve been testing the Velo Transit (VT) Edge 40 backpack, as well as the Metro 20 Pannier. My review of the Edge 40 can be found here.

The Metro Transit is one of VT’s more basic panniers, and retails for $119. However, that doesn’t mean VT didn’t put a lot of thought into this pannier. The mounting hardware – what VT calls “KlickFix” – works extremely well – I tried it on 2 very different racks and didn’t have a problem mounting it to either. Adjustment and attachment are both reliable and intuitive.

Inside, there is one unzippered and one zippered pocket – both mounted to the hard plastic shell that gives the Metro 20 its structure. The rest is all open storage. On the outside, there is one large zip pocket with a vertical zip – however, this is not waterproof, so don’t stick your laptop there on a rainy day!

Like the Edge 40, the waterproof claim is one of the high points of this pannier. Also like the Edge 40, I never got to check it out on my commute during our test period. I did subject the pannier to the same sprinkler test (about half an hour), and it passed with flying colors – no water made it in! I wasn’t surprised though – the top of the Metro 20 is designed very similarly to waterproof bags I’ve used while kayaking and hiking, although it has an extra strap to pull the top back into a nicer shape.

The Metro 20 proved to be a great regular commuting pannier. Although simple, I was able to get everything I normally carry into it – in an organized fashion – without any trouble. The one caveat I’d mention is that it might be on the small side for commuting during colder weather, when I might want to carry bulkier clothing at some point. However, you can always buy 2 (or the smaller Metro 15) if you need extra capacity!