I discovered that I was best in cycling

Isabelle Beckers
Isabelle Beckers. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Racing in her fifth year as a professional and in her fourth season for UCI Women’s World Tour team Lotto Soudal LadiesIsabelle Beckers had a comparatively late, yet speedy foray into professional bike racing due to injuries from competitive track and field and many friends telling her, “Just do the same.” The former Belgium 400 meter track star and physical education teacher got her first start in triathlons because “I could ride my bike, I could still do some running, and I could do some swimming,” she explained.

After two years of racing triathlons and working full-time as a pharmaceutical sales rep, she eventually found her true calling.

“I discovered that I was best in cycling. I was like, ‘Okay. I’m 29 now. It’s now or never.’ So I decided to go 100% for cycling.”

Today, aside from her day job racing and pulling domestique duties for her teammates, the multi-talented Beckers works as a curator for La Ridley, a women’s cycling community founded by Ridley where one can read up on a wide variety of topics ranging from everyday questions such as how to fix a flat tire, to stories inside the pro peloton.

How long have you been riding for Lotto-Soudal? How long have you been racing?

I’ve been racing for five years and this is my fourth season with Lotto-Soudal.

Your most memorable race: 

Gent-Wevelgem two years ago. It wasn’t really rainy, but there was so much wind that we felt it in our arms because we were leaning into the wind. It was such a hard race because we were fighting the wind constantly, and you would see girls getting dropped the whole time and then just get off their bikes, so we were like “Lotto-Soudal, okay, that’s another one. And then another one, and then another.”

We were like the last ones.

That was such a cool experience also because I had my teammate with me. We were the last ones in the race because they (the commissaires) were taking everybody out. Everybody got dropped. There were riders all over the place and she was the one telling me, “Isabelle, keep eating. Keep drinking. We can do it. We can do it.” And I was like, “Okay Anouk (Rijff), that’s great.” After that she was the one being very hungry and couldn’t do it anymore.

We didn’t drop (each other). We did a time trial until the finish. (Only 65 riders out of a field of 169 finished the race- Ed.)

Biggest challenge as a professional cyclist:

The biggest challenge would be getting selected for races like the big classics… And really finish them and do a real good job.

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Uphill or downhill?

Uphill.

Your speciality and main role at Lotto-Soudal:

I try to specialize in Time Trials. I don’t have enough explosive power to be a sprinter. But I can ride really hard for a longer time. I am 183cm tall which makes me too heavy to be a good climber even when I’m very skinny. But I absolutely love climbing certainly the longer climbs where I can ride tempo and be the ‘busdriver.’

My job at the team is mostly to be a helper/domestique. And if I get the chance to be in an early break, I can grab it.

What’s on your playlist when you’re warming up for a time trial?

Dance music, like Tomorrow Land kind of music.

Favorite place to ride in Europe?

I have never done it but I would love to do the Stelvio.

Any recommendation if I was to visit Belgium tomorrow:

Oudenaarde. Because that is really the center of cycling. That is the center of Tour Flanders. Right there.

Do you see any difference in the cycling culture between the US and its European counterpart?

The difference I could experience so far is indeed that in the US, people are very serious about their cycling. Training with coaches, schedules, powermeters, newest tech. All the racing on the road and even on the track. I was impressed! Even in every age group!

In Europe the amateurs ride their bikes in a less professional way. Power meters you can only find with the pro riders at the moment. What you do see over here is a rising trend in granfondo’s, triathlons etc. The real endurance stuff. People want to make it to the finish line but the result isn’t that important.

I’ve been told that you’re also a talented artist, a Renaissance woman type:

To say that I am an artist, is a bit over the top, I reckon. I wish I had more time to draw. I work with crayons because I like the texture it gives.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:

A lot of nature, adventure. I don’t really like resorts. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl.

Your spirit animal:

I was with the girl scouts and there they give you an animal name during your last year. I was a swallow. They say they’re artistic fliers or something.

What about a favorite meal?

Meatballs with tomato sauce, together with warm cherries, cherry sauce and mashed potatoes with no gravy.

First thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?

Just go to a very beautiful island.

What would you be your chosen superpower?

Fly.

How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Is it a Belgian school bus? 10,582,361.

What is a coffee ride and what do you do when you’re on one?

I’m very good at coffee rides… It’s just riding a little bit and drinking coffee most of the time. We ride much slower than most of the tourists in a coffee ride. It goes really slow, it’s not doing serious stuff because we do that all the time. We look forward to doing coffee rides. It really is part of training and it’s just a day that you can really enjoy bike riding.

One embarrassing fact people don’t know about you: 

I basically fell over my first race bike with clipless pedals the first time I hopped on it. My dad was standing there and he brings up that story every time in every race or whatever- whoever he is talking with… Another thing also with pedals.  I was lost during our training camp. So we had to stop at a red light and I was all being cool… So I just grabbed a car who was also waiting at the red light, but they had green before me. I nearly fell while the whole team was there.

What would you like to see/improve in terms of women racing and cycling?

What I would like to see improved in cycling in general, is safety.

On the road and in the races. Do you know that team leaders and staff don’t even need a first aid certification to do their job? They are the first arriving at a crash during a race! To me this is just crazy. It’s not even mandatory to have a first aid kit in the team bus/car. We take so many risks during a race but if something goes wrong it could really go wrong.

The accident of Stig Broeckx is the perfect example. The ambulance following that day wasn’t even checked before the race. I think first aid courses should be followed by the staff of every single team and every year to be able to get a race license.

Women’s cycling could use more professionalism. That all starts with more TV-coverage or media attention. This way sponsors are more interested and budgets could rise. And wouldn’t it be great if it would be mandatory to have a women’s team next to every men’s team at the Pro Tour or World Tour level? They have huge budgets and could make it possible for every girl to get at least a minimal wage. Maybe I’m not thinking realistic but it’s not wrong to dream, right?

Anything else you would like to add about your job as a cyclist and as an ambassador at La Ridley our readers should know about?

Anything is possible. I’m proof that where there is will, there is a way.

Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops
Impeccably clean and laced Converse High Tops. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Sea Otter was a much needed breather

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I thought hard about whether I should make a trip to Sea Otter this year.

No doubt last year’s inaugural e-bike race at one of America’s premier bike festivals was fun, but I could really use a day off, especially after what turned out to be an intense Saturday in Berkeley.

So I somewhat reluctantly made the drive down to Laguna Seca and in the end, I am glad I did.

As I walked toward the entrance, a friend I haven’t seen since InterBike came out of nowhere and we spent 10 minutes catching up as we treaded closer to the blue overpass. The conversation ranged from kids, life, and a bit of bikes.

Pretty spontaneous but it felt like family.

Once over the blue overpass, my initial plan of attack was to fly under the radar around the expo as long as I could. However, just like my previous conversation, my hopes of staying down low was all but evaporated within five minutes into the expo when I walked by the Boyd booth.

Old pal Richard was there showing them hoops with a couple of Factor O2s, industry chatters…

Want. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Somewhere along the way, test rides were offered but since I only had a day there, that just couldn’t happen. With more than 400 exhibitors, even quick drive-by booth visits quickly added up to a significant chunk of time as I jumped between the seemingly sprawling booths and race venues that littered within and outside the famed corkscrew race course.

As cheery racers went to claim their podiums from the day’s criterium and enduro races one after another, I slowly came to realize that Sea Otter is more than racing and new products.

Up and personal. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

It’s a family gathering of all disciplines where little rippers can share pump track tips with their older brother-in-arms of whom they’ve only seen in YouTube videos; Where aspiring cross-country racers in USA Talent ID jerseys rub shoulders with GT’s Anneke Beerten as Brett Tippie goofs around while filming his latest Just The Tip segment; And eBikes getting along with just about everyone, including them electric surfboards.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

In it, I find myself a brief reprieve from the constant barrage of what’s happening around the world.  The feeling where you’re so thirsty and suddenly the GU booth just magically appears like a desert oasis on the horizon, along with all the food samples and drinks you can have.

And I am not even mad about falling into one of the many gopher holes, or, as one of my teammates joked, bomb holes that lined the dual slalom course.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

With that in mind, perhaps I should treat next year’s Sea Otter as if I was coming home for Thanksgiving.

Until next year. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Cleaning the Steed gets friendlier with the Wash Buddy

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

I love washing bikes.

For me, there’s something to be said about getting your hands dirty only to get the bike looking new, all lubed up and ready to rock.

I would never win a timed bike washing contest but I really don’t mind taking my time scrubbing and tweaking, granted made more enjoyable with some wine and music thrown in. Maybe it’s my personal woosah from the never-ending daddy/husband duty, including the realization I washed my bikes far more often than I washed my car last year.

We can talk about this love for bike washing all day, but you’re not here for that. And honestly, I am not going to write it either since what I’m supposed to tell you about is this Team Issue Washer Buddy from Abbey Bike Tools.

Amongst the unsung heroes in my cleaning kit has been the Morgan Blue Chain Keeper that I reviewed a few years ago. In fact, I loved it so much I bought a second one for traveling and washing multiple bikes. It is a bargain for $7. But as much as it was stupidly affordable and extremely durable, it had its limits, namely the inabilty to shift the rear derailleur, and lately, its incompatibility with thru axles.

There are products from other brands made specifically for thru axles, but I wanted a chain keeper that could do it all.

It seems I’ve finally found the perfect buddy.

Designed by Jason Quade who bought us the ingenious Crombie tool, the Team Issue Wash Buddy is hands down one of the most well-made chain keeper I’ve ever had my hands on. So good it should be on everyone’s holiday stuffers list this year.

At its core is a pulley made with DuPont Delrin for low friction and chemical resistance to solvents. Coupled with the stainless steel spindle where the pulley spins on, the Wash Buddy is made to last. And instead of a set stationary location where the pulley stays during use, the Pulley on the Wash Buddy is designed to glide along the spindle to allow shifting of the rear derailleur.

Plenty of room for the delrin pulley to move as you shift. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

On my 11-speed bike, I was able to shift to all but the 2 smallest cogs without the chain popping out of the pulley’s deep channels. It’s a small but welcoming design detail I found to be super helpful whenever I need to rid the gunk trapped between the derailleur body.

To top it off, Abbey uses a gorgeous custom skewer from Chico’s Paul Component for its quick release. It’s the same proven design off Paul’s wheel/seatpost skewer, and the lever action has stayed buttery smooth even after repetitive pressure washer treatment.

Smooth curves and small details. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

So what about bikes with thru-axles? Well, the easiest way, as Quade personally showed yours truly at Sea Otter, is to insert only the pulley onto your bike’s axle. While it is entirely possible to use the entire Wash Buddy with the included Paul Skewer by unscrewing and reconnecting the quick release as I did on my very first try, I wouldn’t recommend doing just that though since the whole installation felt rather awkward.

The Team Issue Wash Buddy retails for $75 with the Paul skewer. But Abbey will also sell you just the pulley for $15 should you wash your bike so much you manage to FUBAR yours, or are already all-in with 142×12 thru-axles.

All scuffed after repeated washings but everything still works as new. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Cross over to the SuperX

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Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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More of that slick finish on the all-carbon disc fork. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Toptube logo. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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The SuperX utilizes Shimano's flatmount for both front and rear disc brakes. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Schwalbe's excellent X-One knobbies were fast and predictable. I just wish they were tubeless ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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The Shimano 105/RS505 levers worked brilliantly but the slight bulge inside the hood was a bit awkward. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Grippy Cannondale gel bar tape. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Fabric's excellent Scoop Shallow Elite was comfortable and easy to clean. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Just can't get enough of that paint job. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

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Instead of the heavy stock wheels, we spent half of our test period using a pair Stan's ZTR Avion Team and the difference was night and day. Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

You’re probably asking why I’m reviewing a ‘cross bike now that cross season is all but over.

But hear me out for a few minutes here.

After InterBike (I know, so long ago), I was told that a SuperX was on its way directly from the show floor and I was stoked! I’ve been hearing a lot of great positive things about the SuperX and simply couldn’t wait to give it a run. But before I got the package, I got called out to cover the Loma Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So the wife had fun lugging the giant box into the garage. Thank goodness the bike was light.

When I got back from the fire, the box was sitting there taking up all the space in the garage, but wait, there’s a crack in the box. Let’s see which SuperX we have here:

It was the SuperX 105 with arguably the best paint job in the entire line up. I mean, just look at the fork.

But I am not here to review paint jobs and how much it weighs. I want to ride it and maybe abuse it a little to see how much it can or can’t do.

Fast forward to February 2017, the bike is now on its way back to Cannondale and I am sad to say that I am smitten with the SuperX.

Compared to a lot of cross offerings on the market, the SuperX has a rather different geometry than most in such that the headtube notably has more slack (71 degrees) with the fork using a bit more offset. This results in the bike handling nicely on low speed technical stuff yet staying rock steady as speeds head north. I took the SuperX to the Super Moon ride (in the dark) and the more time I spent riding it, the more I realized how much confidence-inspiring the SuperX is even when I was essentially riding blindly with merely the moonlight. Its carbon fiber frame will take all your lines and soak up all your mistakes comfortably.

On the race course, the SuperX takes loose off-camber turns like a champ and the 42.2 cm short chain stay feels agile with plenty of traction at the wheel. The thru-axles (10×100 front, 12×142 rear) also make a difference on long twisty descents when I use it as a gravel bike. Speaking of riding gravel, while the SuperX is a pure-breed cyclocross race bike at heart, it will do gravel very nicely.

Now, I know Cannondale offers a bona fide gravel bike, the Slate, but I don’t care. The SuperX is arguably lighter (our test bike was weighed at a respectable 19.5lbs) and better as a gravel bike than using the Slate as a cross bike, plus I can still use my old wheels as long as 1: they’re disc and thru-axle compatible, and 2: able to re-dish the rear wheel 6mm toward the non-drive side to play nicely with the SuperX’s asymmetrical chain stay (they call it Asymmetric Integration (Ai)).

The stock Maddux 2.0 wheels, though, were a bit of a disappointment. They are tubeless ready alright, but they felt sluggish as if the bike got bogged down by a pair of boat anchors. For comparison sake, I swapped the stock hoops with a pair of Stans’ ZTR Avion Pro (of course I re-dished the rear), a $2,300 upgrade that costs as much as the SuperX 105 itself but the difference was night and day as if the red bull got its wings.

So my suspicion was confirmed: With a good set of race wheels, the SuperX will fly.

And Cannondale, the Schwalbe X-One tires had just about everything I had hoped for in an all-around cross rubber: Plenty of traction and rolls fast, but why not throw in the tubeless version instead? And while I am going to nitpick here, I am just going to say that I am not a fan of the shape of the 105/RS505 hydraulic STI shift brake lever. Functionally, it worked beautifully but the bulbous bulge located inside the lever just never felt right.

So if you’re still wondering why I am writing about a cross bike in February, it’s because…

She stole my heart and I’m ready for cross season to be all season long.


Wahoo Elemnt: Short on vowels, big on functionality

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

Bike computers are my kryptonite. Yes, even Garmins. I know I’m in a tiny minority on that one, but they’ve always bugged the hell out of me. I can never stop the beeping. Ever. And the problem has gotten the worse the better the computers have become.

No matter how hard I try to work the wireless syncing, I always end up dragging ride files from the unit with a USB cable and dropping them into Strava. I have no patience left. I don’t want to learn how to sync anything. I want to be petulant. I’m proud to be a luddite.

All of this is undoubtedly a user issue. A bicycle version of PEBKAC, as in, problem exists between keyboard and chair. This problem exists between bar-mount and saddle. I know this. But I don’t care. I have no interest in the Quantified Self. I know I suck. I don’t need a computer for confirmation.

Part of the issue is device overload. Life these days can seem like little more than hopping from one screen to the next. Laptops, phones, tablets, smart watches, wi-fi kettles, intelligent fridges … I’m genuinely convinced that someone I know is going to become a real life Theodore Twombly – Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the film Her, who falls in love with his OS – in the next few years. I have some suspicions that it’s happened already.

I’m not going to start talking to the Wahoo Elemnt, but I am smitten. The simple screen is crystal clear and always visible, no matter what conditions you find yourself in, and the uncomplicated interface belies serious functionality. There’s all kinds of connectivity with Bluetooth 4, ANT+, and Wi-Fi, including automatic uploads to social media or everyone’s favorite ride-tracking site, and alerts for incoming calls and messages.

Route directions come with eye-catching color-coded alerts on the LEDs on the side of the unit; if you see those red lights, you’ve made a wrong turn. The LEDs are also customizable to indicate performance and exertion levels. Wahoo claim that it’s waterproof up to five feet, which means that unless you’re the sort who washes their bike in the deep end of a swimming pool, you should be ok. And the battery lasts for ages, even when it’s giving turn-by-turn directions. When used for more basic purposes like data and ride-tracking, it should last for several outings without a charge.

Photo: Stephen Lam/ element.ly

The monochrome display, which is not touchscreen, will be a deal-breaker for some, and a boon for others. Were it not for its myriad features and excellent connectivity, you might call that low-fi. As an overall package, I prefer to think of it as paired back. No computer on the market is easier to set-up or personalize, thanks to its accompanying app, which also checks for updates and warns you if the battery is low. You just pair it quickly with a QR code and unless you want to individualize the info displayed on screen, the process is practically done. And though it’s obviously subjective, I also found it easier to use on the bike. Is it a match for the mighty Garmin? It’s another option. A fool-proof one. Which is great news, for fools like me.


Have extra kidney, need Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 Wheels

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The Bontrager Aeolus D3 TLR Carbon Clinchers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The Aeolus D3 uses Bontrager hubs with DT Swiss internals throughout and it has been buttery smooth and problem-free this past year. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Subtle AND removable graphics on the rims mean you can go totally stealth if you so choose. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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At 67g front and 70g rear, the included Bontrager skewers are not going to win any weight weenies battle anytime soon, yet they are very comfortable in hand with a smooth and sure-footed cam action that's close to the venerable Shimano Dura-Ace offering. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Still have plenty of cork left after one year of use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Dried sealant and an inverse-patched tire patch. That's what the inside of the Bontrager R3 TLR Hard Case Lite looks like after one year of riding. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Let me make this clear: I did not expect myself to like tubeless road tires. My tubulars work just fine.

Plus, I have plenty of spare tubulars (intentionally) aging in my garage waiting for their turns.

Unfortunately, their call-ups might take longer now that I find myself enjoying, well, smitten over these Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 carbon clinchers that we’ve been playing with this past year.

But my love for tubeless road tires didn’t begin this way. In fact, it was like that very first shitty first date.

When the box showed up this past spring, I was as excited as kids running to their gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas day. Coming in at 1,439 grams  (644front/795rear) with the tubeless strip pre-installed and with the tire valves, skewers, and brake pads included, the Aeolus 3 was ready to rock straight out of the box. A bit of elbow grease and voila, got some 26mm Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tubeless tires installed and off we went.

Then I got a flat on the first ride. Boo.

A 2mm cut from a piece of glass went through the tread and I had just enough air to limp back home thanks to a can of Vittoria Pitstop and pumping more air whenever I could.

It wasn’t pretty and the cleanup aftermath was a pain. Nevertheless, I was able to ride home instead of walking home.

Frustrated but undeterred, I repaired the tire following instructions from Stan’s NoTubes and the tire worked like a charm. When I finally replaced the tires about 10 months later with Schwalbe Pro One , the tires had three major repairs and a handful of cuts that would normally spell the end of a clincher tire. But each time I was able to ride home without having to put in a tube (still have to pack a tube and repair kit with tubeless). And in a few instances, I didn’t even know I punctured until I stopped for my mid-ride coffee.

They have won me over since then and they’re now my go-to wheels. Yes, I reckon my tubulars are still lighter and arguably smoother, but I did find the extra peace of mind and the convenience of road tubeless tires pretty hard to beat. I can pick and choose my tires for the ride/weather without worrying about gluing in advance.

But what about the rest of the wheel? Well, one year of abuse did not do anything to the DT-Swiss internals. They’re still smooth and quiet while the wheels remained true the entire time. The 35mm tall OCLV carbon rim also proved to be durable and comfortable throughout the test. One word of caution: the rims on the Aeolus 3 are significantly wider, measuring at 27mm on the outside with a 19.5 mm inner diameter, so make sure your bike has adequate clearance.

In the crosswind, the Aeolus 3 TLR D3 was easy to handle due to its lower rim height and rim shape, but my oh my, these wheels felt just as fast as some of the taller-rim hoops I’ve been on. Regarding the braking department, Bontrager recommends using their own cork brake pad with the wheels. While cork might lack absolute immediate stopping power, it makes up for its shortcoming by providing a very consistent and manageable lever feel that’s not so bad after getting used to it.

I also love the Aeolus’ overall minimalistic graphics. Big enough to show its maker yet not overly obnoxious as if I was a rolling billboard. And for those that want even more stealth, rejoice my friend, the decals on the rims can be easily removed since they are not water transferred decals with a clear coat on top.

If there’s any cleft with the Aeolus 3 TLR, it would be its $2,400 price tag. Pricey, yes, but a worthy prime candidate for those who are looking for those holy grail hoops for both training and racing with the added benefit of being tubeless. This is a set of hoops that could go fast without beating up the rider. I am addicted.


Showers Pass will take whatever Mother Nature is Giving

 

Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

If you are attracted to the idea of spending a wet winter bicycle commuting in comfort and safety, the affordable Showers Pass Club Pro Jacket, a heavier-duty shell fit for layering on the bike, could be a great cornerstone of your regular getup. Yet if you are looking for an on-off stowable jacket for conditions that evolve over the course of a recreational ride, you might want to look elsewhere in the lineup.

The Club Pro shell is of a classic design, made of a waterproof fabric that drops lower in the back and sleeves cut for a better fit on the bike. It also features zipper-clad vents at the armpits, ventable pockets on the torso and a large horizontal vent above the shoulder blades. A drawstring closure at the waist, Velcro wrist cuffs and a soft fabric neck keep things cozy.

This particular model also features a color so shockingly fluorescent that this tester swore the pigment must have come from another dimension. Showers Pass offers this jacket in a spectrum of hues, all with reflective features.

The fundamental design challenge for a jacket like this is to balance rain protection with ventilation. A garbage bag provides great rain protection, for example, yet will quickly become a horrible swamp during physical exertion.

Rain was a non-issue while wearing the Club Pro during a 14-mile jaunt across a rainy Portland, Oregon. Moisture accumulation within the jacket itself was also not a problem, no doubt thanks in part to the large back vent.

Reflective tape right above the back vent. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Toward the end of the trip, with things getting a little toasty, the other vents were easy to unzip while wearing heavy gloves and provided plenty of cooling without water intrusion. It’s notable to me that the pit vents are short and shielded by the arm, compared to rain shells designed for other outdoor pursuits that tend to have very long vents running along much of the torso.

I’m no stranger to rainy-day cycling, having ridden hundreds of cumulative miles in the pouring winter wet while much of the cycling public was cultivating its love/hate relationship with the turbo trainer. It is absolutely possible to ride in total comfort with the right gear, which hinges most of all on the right rain shell.

To me, this shell is best for very cold and wet commutes, rather than high-intensity recreational rides. The fit is rather generous in the torso, making it easy to layer up with a bulky fleece and other items that are unlikely to come off during an early-morning ride.

The material of the shell itself is burly, making this a garment that does not pack as well as other options. Yet for something that will stay on over the course of a ride, it’s not a bad thing to have something that seems likely to withstand a lot of abuse.

Those looking for something packable still have options from Showers Pass, including the lightweight Spring Classic Jacket. Yet at just over $100, compared to $289 for the Spring Classic, the Club Pro is a solid and relatively affordable option in a shell likely to last several years.

As for the color — with the sun low in the sky in the winter months, assuming the sun is out at all, you are wise to have a little extra visibility. But if radioactive yellow isn’t your thing, you’ve got options.

View from the back. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
And it was all yellow. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly


Riding under the Supermoon

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9:05 p.m.: Ask and the gate shall be opened. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:01 p.m.: A rather chilly mid-ride break. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:45 p.m.: Late night posing at Marincello. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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11:47 p.m. On our way home with just a tiny bit of San Francisco looming over the hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:25 a.m.: Midnight regroup/goodbye at the Conzelman roundabout. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:31 a.m.: A few of us continue to climb to the top of Hawk Hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:34 a.m.: The view from above. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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12:14 a.m. Can only go as far as you can see in the dark. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It essentially started along the lines of “It’s supermoon this weekend… let’s do a night ride.”

Okay.

I was itching to ride, but after photographing three days of post-election protests with a bit of teargas thrown in, my body was telling me to just sleep. But wait, I have a mandatory baby shower for Saturday. Life of being a grown up.

But it worked out. Got home just in time to make dinner for the family and suit up in time for the 8:30PM meet up at Golden Gate Park.

Other than the occasional bike commute at night, I must admit that I’ve never done a full-blown night ride. So yes, the unknown excitement was just brewing and I wanted to ride and make a photo. Or two.

As we slowly rolled through the Richmond district, we picked up a few more friends to form a group of nine. It was more than just a night ride now. It was a freaking party. Amongst us were 29ers, cross bikes, gravel bikes, full-suspensions, hardtail, 26ers, and even a (vintage?) 1994 rigid Merlin with fenders original WTB cantilever brakes. Despite different wheel sizes, fitness levels and ages, we rode as a group and got along just fine. It was definitely a welcoming sight to behold after all the divisive politics in the air.

Here comes the view of the Golden Gate Bridge that we just crossed, then there’s Downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge just a bit out at a distance. Damn, that view never gets old.

After a quick dirt refresher down Coastal and what must have been a 15 degree temperature difference, we were all too eager to connect to Miwok. A friend suggested that we all turn off our headlights somewhere around there. Miwok is more or less a wide fire road so it’s not even remotely technical but I thought the dude was crazy.

We did it anyway.

One by one, we turned off our headlights and soon enough we were literally riding with just the moonlight. It was so dark that 8000 ISO and a 35mm F/1.4 lens meant nothing. But over time, the supermoon brought out this surreal luminous landscape, with our shadows and the occasional view of the City just looming just far enough for us to gawk at. We rode in complete silence for a few minutes, taking it all in with only the sound of our tires gripping the trail beneath us. It was glorious.

Eventually we worked our way into Tennessee Valley, rode Marincello and went back to the headlands via Bobcat. In keeping with the fun, we kept our lights off for the climbs and went full power on the descents.

11:47 p.m. On our way home with just a tiny bit of San Francisco looming over the hill. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It was already past midnight when we slowly cruised up for the final break/photo op up at Hawk Hill before we bombed down Conzelman with lights blazing again to trek across the deserted Golden Gate Bridge. Bridge control must have seen us coming because the gate opened up before we even managed to push the button. Thanks guys!

12:34 a.m.: The view from above. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

It was a little after 1am when I pulled into my garage. My headlight ran out of juice two blocks from home and my Garmin just so happened to lose the ride but the ride really brought back all my childhood memories of just going out and exploring on my bike for hours. It’s been a long while since I’ve felt so strongly after a simple ride.

Plus, being able to talk smack while suffering with friends is a major plus too.

12:55 a.m. Jeff making sure no one gets dropped. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Rapha’s cotton trousers: Fashion meets function

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We could say a lot about Rapha’s cotton trousers. For one, we think they’re snappy looking. They’re also really well made, with a couple of pleasing features like the high-vis pink tabs and the hidden pocket zippers that set them apart from the competition.

They also offer an awesome blend of off-the-bike style with on-the-bike functionality, something that every sartorially-conscious commuter will tell you is hard to find. And the little bit of lycra woven into them makes them super comfortable, all day long, no matter what you get up to.

All of this is great, of course, but that’s not why we really love them. No, these pants get an unequivocal seal of approval because they were complimented by someone with no interest in bicycles or the culty, lusty status us roadies give to brands like Rapha. With some bonus points thrown in because the flattering remarks came from a member of the fairer sex.

The trousers are a slim fit and taper towards the lower leg but the sizing is accurate and a little more generous than Rapha’s casual offerings in the past. The fitted look is eye-catching, especially with the hot pink pocket tab on the rear and the coloured seams that you show off with a crucial roll-up at the hem, and the zipped side pockets are great for keeping valuables safe while you ride. They’re bike-friendly, but fashionable enough to be an alluring choice even for people with no interest in two-wheeled transportation.

What more do you need to know? At $150, they’re not the cheapest pair of slacks you’ll find on the rack, but then, if you’re shopping at Rapha you’ll know that their good looks and quality construction rarely comes cheap. Threads like these are a practical investment in your wardrobe, and they’re worth it for anyone who values bike-friendly clothing but doesn’t want to go all courier chic – or worse, show up dressed like a Fred. Because no one likes those.

 


CrossVegas: Thriller in the desert

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Pro men at the starting grid. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Racers wait for the call-up for the Wheelers and Dealers race. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Reigning U.S. cyclocross national champion Katie Compton chatting it up with a friend Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Pink gorilla sighting. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The sandpit where only the pro men managed to ride through. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Nice shirt, dude. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Kaitlin Antonneau of Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com waves to a friend during her warmup. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The lead group of the elite women navigating the course Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Almost done. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Crystal Anthony reacts after racing CrossVegas Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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FYI. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Post-race recovery. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Getting Ready. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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The crowd at CrossVegas. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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(L-R) Jeremy Powers, Wout Van Aert, and Michael Vanthourenhout at the line. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Stephen Hyde getting it done in the sandpit. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Wout Van Aert cruising to a solo win. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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After. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Elite women's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

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Elite men's podium. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Racing cross at a place named Desert Breeze Soccer Complex is such an irony because it was hardly a breeze. Okay, the weather at CrossVegas this year was noticeably more tolerable but it’s a World Cup damnit. There’s nothing easy about that.

during UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup CrossVegas 2016 at the Desert Breeze Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 21, 2016.
When the bikes on the rack cost more than the car hauling them… photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

For the spectators, however, CrossVegas was a blast. Quality racing, great atmosphere, and plenty of hospitality. It’s also a much-needed break from listening to and giving product pitches at InterBike. Two highlights:

Sophie De Boer out sprinted Katie Compton and Katerina Nash on the finishing straight for the win while Nash worked her way to claim second after a crash in the sandpit. Impressive.

Sophie De Boer attacks for the win photo:Stephen Lam/element.ly
The moment Sophie De Boer attacks for the win. photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

The sandpit got everyone talking about whether anyone would be able to ride through it. The announcers joked it was “the finest sand imported from Tahiti”. The elite men did it like hot knife through butter. Then there was the Wout van Aert’s solo win that was so thrilling that he made it look easy even though it was obvious the warm, dry heat affected just about everyone, including the supposedly ice-cold beers. Still, the turnout and the atmosphere was pretty cool. Can’t wait to go back next year.

The lead group of the elite women race during UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup CrossVegas 2016 at the Desert Breeze Complex in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 21, 2016.