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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!

Nor wind, nor rain, nor snow, nor sleet… (but I’m no hero)

… we continue to prove that bike commuters ride through it all. Just on the news this morning, I heard that over 2/3 of the U.S. is experiencing wintry weather (especially the Midwest).

Last night’s commute home offered me a full wintry mix of conditions. First, the wind gave me a nice push; the wind coming out of the southeast provided a welcome push and facilitated pedaling through the slush quite nicely. Then the wet slushy snow flakes completely soaked me – at least my legs (still seeking better waterproof rain/winter pants). And finally sleet pricked my exposed cheeks.

winter slush

Luckily the temps remained in the upper 30s and kept the temperatures mild and and roads wet (and just a bit slushy) but no ice.

Today as the winds pick up and bring the freezing weather, many of us can expect blowing snow and blustery (likely icy) conditions.

Yesterday when I rode in, my co-worker called me a hero for riding in the snow. I’m no hero and I know when the conditions are too dangerous. I don’t want to be a hero. I’m just out to safely enjoy the ride.

Winterizing – the Green Machine Rides Again

This morning I fully intended to ride my regular commuter bike – El Toro (as I’ve deemed her) – with new narrower bullhorn handlebars and a new stem for better reach/height (more about the commuter fitting I got coming soon). However, a few snafus during the part swap led to El Toro taking a few days off and me putting the Green Machine (last year’s winter bike) back into service. Perfect timing, too, since flurries danced through the air as I rode to work.


Lincoln Avenue on a wintry weather morning - flurries in the air.

I know it’s winter in Chicago when the extra layers get added to the wardrobe and I take time to consider the bike choice (since last year I’ve chosen to ride the mountain bike in winter) and tire choice (should I add studded tires this year?).

In fact, with my extra winter layers on, I’ve been told I’m not recognizable by folks who never see me sporting the helmet, jacket, balaclava, gloves, boots, etc. The layering process is a post for another day, but wisely selected layers are invaluable.

My choice to switch to the Green Machine came after a couple of winters on my old ten-speed and doing some research on how other riders battled the elements. Ideally, I’d love a Pugsley, especially after reading about it on the blog Up in Alaska; if she can ride in Alaska, I can certainly ride through Chicago’s winter!

What bike do you ride in the foul elements? Anyone got experience with the studded tires and their effectiveness on snow/ice? Each year and each season I continue add to my arsenal and my knowledge as a bike commuter.

Green Tuesday: Well, almost

If I can finish this post in 45 minutes or less, then technically it will still meet the deadline to legitimately be “Tuesday,” well at least here in Arizona.

I went to Nashville, Tenn., this past weekend and just got back home this evening. And while there is nothing “green” about flying across the country, allow me to share part of the weekend festivities.

My best bud and old college roommate, Will, met me in Nashville since I haven’t seen him since last September. I wanted to show him around Nashville, particularly downtown, so we decided to cruise the streets on our bikes. It was a great way to see the city at our own pace, enjoy the cold Tennessee air, and not have to set foot in a car.

Downtown Nashville is not a particularly large area, but there are tons of venues for live music. Nashville is proclaimed to be the country music capitol of the World, after all. The city is steeped in music culture, especially country and bluegrass. We stopped at the Gruhn guitar shop, which serves as THE go-to place for many of country music’s and Nashville’s finest musicians. The next time you are in need of a $15,000 Gibson banjo, check out Gruhn.

The city has lots of these guitars placed all over, but this is the only one we were able to find.

We climbed the steps of the State Capitol building and got a pretty sweet view of the downtown area.

The Ryman Auditorium is one of the top music venues in the country, especially for country music. The Temptations and the Four Tops are playing there soon apparently…

I love bluegrass music, which is popular in Nashville, but have never been a big fan of country. However, the feel of a downtown environment that is rich with the community of music is a really cool thing – you can hang out downtown any day of the week and hear free music from some really talented people just playing on the street.

For the observant ones amongst you, you might notice that Will was riding a Specialized Langster London. These bikes have been quite rejected by the cycling community because of their big-brand capitalization of a more independent style. In my eyes, if it gets someone on a bike and out of their car, then that is green enough for me.

So just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you have to stay out of the saddle. I was fortunate enough to stay with someone that had a bike I could ride – but many Local Bike Shops will rent out bikes for your touring pleasures. In larger cities, you can also find bike touring companies that will rent bikes for your touring pleasures. The car is not the only way…

First Impression: Sette Elite Carbon Road Shoe

I must have been a good boy this year because, after breaking a strap off of my cycling shoe, Santa Claus surprised me and brought a new pair of road shoes from Pricepoint.com: the Sette Elite Carbon shoe (MSRP: $210, PP.com: $89.98).

Here is what Pricepoint has to say about the shoe:

The new Sette Elite Carbon Road Shoes with their ultrastrong and ultralight carbon fiber sole providing excellent stiffness and torque transfer. Not to mention the four air vents in the toe and midsole combined with a breathable mesh upper to ensure your feet remain cool and comfortable all day. The Elite Carbon Road Shoes feature a premium fit and support that is provided by a molded heel cup and two hook and loop straps combined with a quality metal ratchet closed tab with quick release for easy adjustments.

I am young, and not rich, so this is a pretty fancy pair of shoes for me. My only other pair was bare-bones compared to the Sette Elite Carbon, so it might take me a while to get used to a better shoe.

The Sette Elite Carbon comes with a 2 strap and 1 ratcheting strap design, allowing for a nice, snug fit – as long as you are not in a hurry to get the shoe on as quickly as possible (it’s the triathlete in me…). The buckle is easy to manage with one hand, both for tightening and loosening, making it easy to get on and off. It also seems to be really sturdy and I am confident it would hold up to the stress of use as an everyday commuting shoe.

The shoe is incredibly comfortable – with no pokes or scratches on the inside – and good looking. There is a neoprene (or something like it) tongue that provides a really snug yet comfortable fit to the top of your foot. I bet this material makes the shoe extremely comfortable in the summer when your feet tend to get hot and sweaty. I could not get a feel for how functional the air vents are during my ride today because it was a “room temperature” kind of day: not hot or not cold. I am confident I will get to evaluate their cold-weather comfort in the weeks ahead and will report back with more detail!

The carbon sole provides a nice stiff “backbone” for a cycling shoe, which is good for optimum power transfer. I honestly don’t notice a HUGE difference in pedal-efficiency between my old, non-carbon shoes and the Sette Elite Carbon, but then again I have only used the shoes once on my flat commute. The winds were too strong today for me to have a desire to do a little sprinting or climbing…