Sportful’s Fiandre Kit Is an All-Weather Must

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta
Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

Climb into the back of your wardrobe and pull out some winter kit from when you were younger. I dare you. It’s horrible. Offensive. Uncomfortable. And it didn’t work very well. You either rode wearing an expensive bin bag—wetter with sweat than you would be with rain—or you didn’t ride at all.

These days it couldn’t be more different. All of the major brands are making innovative, stylish and extremely functional attire for the hibernal season. Excuses are now out of fashion. There’s no such thing as bad weather anymore, only poor sartorial choices.

I’d been hearing good things about Sportful‘s Fiandre—no prizes for guessing, it’s Italian for “Flanders”—range for some time, so when the opportunity came to test it after Il Lombardia alongside some of the guys from Team Tinkoff, I cleared my schedule.

The Race of the Falling Leaves is the autumnal classic, the final monument of the season, a testament to the beauty and the challenge of riding in cold and wet conditions, the perfect backdrop to a review of some extreme threads. So naturally, when we met outside the hotel on the the banks of Lake Como, the sun was splitting the rocks and people were more concerned with their shades than their thermals.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

Still, with a few chilly descents to deal with, the Fiandre No-Rain short sleeve jersey and its matching bibshorts were perfect. Good against showers and gusts, while still breathable enough for when the sun came out or the climbing got aggressive. Which it tends to do when you’re scaling Madonna del Ghisallo and the Colma di Surmano, desperately trying to keep pace with Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger and Sergio Paulinho, all three soft-pedalling and chewing the fat while we chewed our stems.

Heavy-duty items in the range had to wait a little longer for a proper testing, but after a couple of months worth of winter rides, they’ve now become firm favorites. I don’t want to ride in anything else.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta

The Extreme Neoshell Jacket is a marvel. Breathable and stretchy but completely waterproof. Cut to fit like a winter jersey, but warm enough to wear as a jacket even in the frostiest months. The chunky zipper and taped seams protect against drafts and soakage—and they look cool. Combined with the right kind of base layers or thermals, it could be the only top you need from autumn right up into the spring.

As a small aside, it’s worth trying this on while in your riding position because anyone who likes a snug fit might find their normal size a bit tight under the arms while standing. Once you’re riding, however, it’s like a glove and while offering an impressive level of protection, it feels light and unrestrictive.

The No-Rain bibtights don’t disappoint either, with plenty of features to keep you snug in the most inclement conditions. There’s an extra layer over the thighs and knees, which is always welcome when riding into piercing winter winds, and there’s even an extra rear flap for protection against wheel spray. Minimal stitching keeps things tight, and some reflective piping is a good idea for this time of year, when visibility can be low.

Pump. Pump. Pump it Up.

Photo: Jim Merithew/
KCNC’s pump head will have you pumping and jumping for joy. Photo: Jim Merithew/

I found myself in the back of the sag wagon pumping air into my buddy Marco’s third flat tire with nothing but a small hand pump. And all I could think of was why on God’s green earth did a sag vehicle not have a proper [email protected]#$%432ing pump and why can’t these people keep air in their tires.

We were well past the lunch stop on day one of what was going to be a rain-soaked, flat-infested, mud-packed 2016 Coast Ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.

I got on the phone and found out the second floor pump ended up in the other sag wagon, so we made a plan to meet up. At the next convenient moment I was handed a Lezyne pump, of which I am a big fan, with some bizarre contraption fastened to the end of it.

Turns out this little orange, red, and silver wonder is the KCNC Pump Head. Not the most enticing or marketing savvy name, but when something works this well who needs marketing. These things should sell themselves.

I was shocked how smooth and precise this little pump head operated and after repairing countless more flats I had to have one. The lever moves on ball-bearings and locks down going in, instead of out. Which after an initial “what the what” moment, is brilliant.

I found the KCNC’s website, but couldn’t find this little beauty on there anywhere. Luckily, the owner of this fine pump pointed me to Fairwheel Bikes who not only carries the KCNC Pump Head, but all sorts of other goodies, including tools from my beloved Abbey Tools.

Now, I’m not sure everyone is ready to plunk down $40 hard-earned to replace what is already a pretty reliable head on their Lezyne pump or whatever pump you are using … but if you are at all frustrated with your current pump head/bicycle valve relationship then you should definitely take a closer look at this little gem.

Photo: Jim Merithew/

Charlene Is Both Big and Beautiful

The Porcelain Rocket Charlene seat bag bring gear swallowing goodness to your bike. Photo: Jim Merithew/
The Porcelain Rocket Charlene seat bag brings gear-swallowing-goodness to your bike. Photo: Jim Merithew/

“How can you even pedal your bike with such a large …”

Hey. Hey. Hey.

Be nice.

I have been riding my bike, trying to cut out the pastries and not eat after 8 o’clock at night.

“No. No. No. Not your gut. That giant saddle bag.”

Oh that.

My Charlene seat pack from the Canadians at Porcelain Rocket has garnered its fair share of stares and comments, but I hardly notice it is there anymore … until someone makes a comment.

Now the Porcelain Rocket Charlene isn’t even their largest seat pack. As a matter of fact they call it the “little sister” to their behemoth Mr. Fusion V2 seat pack.

I have tried a lot of baggage options for my commute: bicycle messenger bags, handlebar bags, backpacks, fanny packs, my jersey pockets, etc. But it wasn’t until one of my friends at Seven Design showed up to work with his bikepacking rig, decked out in bags, that I decided to try the oversized seat pack.

As I started my search for the perfect one, I found out the bikepacking community is not only much larger than I had ever imagined, but also crazy—almost fanatical—about their bike, bags, packing techniques and weight savings.

I found the robust website to be entertaining, informative, and a nudge terrifying.

The idea of heading out in the great unknown with a bike packed with a hammock, a coffee grinder, duct tape, four old film cameras, and some beef jerky appeals to me about as much as a rectal exam.

I understand there are people, nomads really, out there who enjoy the whole getting back to their caveman roots and “roughing it,” but I think I fall under the … a hotel without room service is roughing it type.

I enjoy a long, hard, stupid bicycle ride as much as the next person, but at the end of the day I don’t wish to pull my sleep quarters from the bicycle roll attached to my handlebars. I prefer a hot shower, a pat on the head for my dog, a kiss goodnight from my wife and the comforts of a full-size pillow. More power to those of you who think a pillow is a pillowcase filled with your dirty cycling clothes.

Which brings us back to why on earth I have this giant seat bag strapped to my honest-to-goodness road bike. Well, you see, if you have been reading, I have a bad back. And wearing a backpack has been exacerbating the situation. So now instead of carrying my rain gear, commuter wear and other essential items on my body, I have been stuffing them in Charlene.

And I could not be any happier. The bag is made of 500D Cordura, comes in a handful of color choices (I chose multicam black) and cinches down pretty snuggly. If I have stuffed it to the gills, the bag has a tendency to sway when I stand up to climb, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise. For me this is a small trade-off to keep the weight off my body.

Every morning, I leave the house before dawn secure in the fact everything I need for the day is safely stowed in my big, ol’ oversized seat bag.

Cameron Falconer Knows the Best Tools Are the Simplest


Fire it up. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A couple of bikes. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A little bit of smoke from the welding. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Di-Acro Model 4 hand-operated bender awaiting orders. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Disco ball, a must have for every office. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Cutting metal. Photo: Stephen Lam/


A beauty shot of Cameron's personal Falconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Cameron's favorite tool: his hand-made chainstay subassembly fixture Photo: Stephen Lam/


Cameron welding away. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Shavings from the milling machine. Photo: Stephen Lam/


The workshop whiteboard Photo: Stephen Lam/


A well-used lathe. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Frame welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/


Cameron working away inside his shop in San Francisco's Bayview district Photo: Stephen Lam/

While many bike frames are made with exotic materials these days, Cameron Falconer, of Falconer Cycles, uses good old-fashioned steel.

Located in the Bayview district, a stone’s throw away from the original Trouble Coffee company, Cameron is one of a handful of frame builders that calls San Francisco home, not to mention the dude’s quite a fixture in the local cross-country/cyclocross racing scene.

Instead of complicated tube shapes, which which have become the norm, Cameron is out to build simple and functional, TIG-welded steel bikes. They are precision-made tools that are meant to be used/ridden/abused day in and day out. That’s no BS.

It’s been three and a half years since Cameron got into building bikes full time. We met up with Cameron recently while he was working on a special non bike-related project for a buddy. But what the heck, we chatted anyway.

Five words to describe your bikes:
Simple. Practical. Forms follow function. Tools first.

Best part about the job:
The best thing is being able to do something creative and be able to constantly refine what I do in trying to improve it. I find it pretty rewarding, to see people riding my bikes and enjoying it.

Once I deliver the bike to somebody it’s theirs and they can do whatever they want with it quite honestly. They can cut it up and make pry bars, bongs out of it. That’s not really my business but I prefer, much prefer people to ride them. And they do. It’s always really nice running into somebody and having them do something cool and having a cool experience on something I made. That’s what keeps me going.

Cameron Flaconer. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Cameron. Photo: Stephen Lam/

First thing you would do as a captain of a pirate ship:
Assumed I already only have one leg, I would make everyone brush their teeth, hygiene is important.

Uphill or downhill:
There’s no preference there, I like them both.

Describe your idea of a perfect holiday:
Ride a bike at somewhere interesting with people I like on mountain bikes … Bunch of real high places in Colorado. Oakridge, Oregon. I’d love to go to the Alps, never been there. A lot of places are just in the big mountains, pretty unique spots.

What’s it like at the transition from being a welder at a metal fabrication shop to a bike builder?
There were some challenges. I already knew the frame building trade from work at Ed Litton and a few other friends. I think you just keep getting better at what you do so I would never claim to say the stuff I made is perfect.

Design inspirations:
Ed Litton whom I worked for, Rick Hunter of Hunter Cycles whom I’ve raced for and still race on a team supported by him. I started racing for him in 1997. He’s been a super big influence on me. Sean Walling at Soulcraft. I am really lucky to have a lot of my friends around here who do this for a living. They’re really good folks and we help each other out, so there’s definitely a lot of cross-pollination going on.

As far as inspiration goes most of my inspiration are people who do stuff that I think is really well executed and really simple.

The local frame-building scene here is amazing. There are tons of talented people doing it.

How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Marin?
Let’s say there’s an average of 15 windows in a building, and how many buildings are in Marin County anyway … 100,000 at least? So a couple million windows give or take. Assumed that’s a few year’s work I would guess, it’ll be pretty monotonous so I want to see $150k a year to do that. Half a million would be cool. Someone would have to pay for my gas too.

Thoughts about the new wave of axle, bottom bracket standard and disc brakes? Does that affect you in anyway?
Yes it does. It matters. Thru axles are generally a good thing, particularly with disc brakes. The boost standard that’s coming right now is also potentially a good thing for real strength. Most of the new BB standards I think are a waste of time… Other than the new T47 standard. That’ll be a good useful standard.

In my world I think it is going to be adopted by a lot of people. There are benefits for people like me for sure but I don’t see it as a necessity in particularly for steel builders. If you’re building titanium where you need bigger diameter tubes there are some definite benefits to it. In steel, there are benefits as well. You can run different cranks and such. It’s easier.

Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Dummy axles. Photo: Stephen Lam/

Hardest part of the job:
It would be being responsible for every aspect of it. You’re the CEO but you’re also the janitor. So whenever something goes wrong or right it’s your fault. Whatever responsibility there is in here is all mine and it can be a bit much sometimes.

What would you cook for your friends:
Same thing I cook most nights probably. Big pile of vegetables and some sausages.

Chosen superpower?
My girlfriend asked a question like that the other night. We were watching a skateboarding video at a friend’s house and she was like if you can speak every language or skateboard like these guys … and both my friend and I were like we want to skate like these guys. It’s like defying gravity. I see it as nearly a super power. I would love to be able to get on a skateboard and do super high-level skateboard tricks. It’s totally outside of my world. I am the world’s worst skateboarder. It’s close enough to be a super power for my taste.

Guilty pleasures? Not really. Honestly I don’t watch whatever housewives, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or anything. I don’t even watch TV.

Favorite cocktail: Good proper margarita.

Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/
Getting ready to weld. Photo: Stephen Lam/

If you get to be any animal what would you be?
Maybe a marmot. Because they get to hang around in the rocks in altitude at beautiful places and sleep all winter.

Anything else you would like to add? Any tips for those who are looking into building bikes?
As far as people wanting to learn how to build bikes, don’t have any illusion to it … it’s a hard way to make a living and certainly not the best way to make money. It’s rewarding in a lot of ways but it sure as hell isn’t easy.

The stuff I make, I feel like if you’re buying from somebody you’re buying the tangible representation of what they think is important. So you should buy a bike from someone you get along with the best, regardless who that is, and whose world view in regards to cycling best matches yours.

Let Me Tell You About “My Guy”

Photo: Jim Merithew/
Photo: Jim Merithew/

I’m suffering with pain in my back.

I have been dealing with this pain for longer than I care to remember.

Or at least trying to deal with it.

And recently it was diagnosed as a pinched nerve in my neck, which considering what I have gone through to get this diagnosis is fairly encouraging news.

This pain has caused the first hour of my rides to be almost unbearable, as pain stabs into my shoulders, my arm tingles and it feels like someone is dancing the boogie woogie on my chest.

I have tried to suffer in silence, but when everyone rides away from me or when I just flat out refuse to ride with my friends … I end up having to explain.

And this is when it happens.

I’ve found out every single person I know who rides a bike has a guy.

“You’ve gotta see my guy.”

“Go. Try my massage therapist. She is the best.”

“My rolfer is amazing.”

“You should check out my yogi.”

“I swear my acupuncturist changed my life.”

“This guy, this fucking guy, is a life saver.”

“This pilates instructor in the neighborhood really dialed me in.”

“My guy understands the human body better than anyone I have ever met.”

“You should totally go to my chiropractor. She is the bomb.”

I find this incredibly annoying, but also super interesting.

Like all my friends who have succeeded I, too, want to find my guy.

I have tried acupuncture, chiropracty, rolfing, massage, self-massage, and as many home remedies I could stomach. I have read books on chronic pain and core training. I have tried heat and ice and ice and heat. And I have even tried whisky, like in the old western movies.

But, I have yet to stumble upon “my guy.”

I have heard enough tales woven by my friends about how they too did extensive and exhausting searches for a cure for their pain and then one day wandered into some yoga class or asian herb shop or new age chocolate/stone massage seance treatment center in search of a cure. And there, out of thin air, appeared their “guy.”

Recently, I have done the unthinkable, I have actually gone to see a doctor. And the doctor has told me my years of carrying camera bags and cameras, mixed with my years of riding a bicycle has caused my shoulder blades to separate. She has suggested I need to unstretch out my back, build my shoulder muscle back up and slowly pull my shoulder blades back together. She suggests I need to work on counter-balancing the stretching bicycling has caused with good old-fashioned, focused hard work.

And here I was just hoping to find “my guy” and have him or her tweak my little toe and make the pain go away.

Instead, I have started with a series of exercises, paying constant attention to my posture and how I carry my bags and being consistent.

The hard work has begun, but the search has not halted.

I’m not giving up on the “my guy” theory.

So, when I tell you about my back, feel free to tell me about your guy.

These Walkable Cleats Will Have You Striding Like a Boss

Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/

I’m clamoring down the stairs, both in an attempt to get out of the rain and to hopefully grab the BART train I can just hear pulling into the station below.

Normally, I would be sporting a pair of MTB shoes and my beloved Shimano SPDs, but today I’m “testing” the new Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable cleats.

I had given up on Speedplay pedals a number of years ago, both because I was having trouble with initial setup—mostly my fault—and because I was tired of skating all over the place on their crazy, raised, oddly shaped cleats.

I had a couple of friends who used to carry the Speedplay pedal cleat covers in their back pockets and swore it was totally worth it. They loved their Speedplay pedals for their lightweight, tensionless float, impressive adjustability and dual-sided entry. But the thought of having to carry cleat covers with me every ride, let alone remembering to put them on at the coffee shop had me looking elsewhere for my pedal fix.

Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Speedplay Zero Aero Walkable Cleats. Photo: Jim Merithew/

Now I was trouncing down those stairs, across the platform and onto my train without a single misstep. The new(ish) Walkable Cleats have solved the ice-rink feeling of the original Speedplay cleats and after a little tweaking from my fit expert I have finally fallen in love with Speedplay pedals.

I still won’t be packing the Cleat Buddies in my jersey pocket, but for my more finicky friends, they come with the cleats if you are this type of rider.

This Lezyne GPS Is Like Crack for GPS Data Junkies

Lezyne GPS. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Lezyne GPS. Photo: Jim Merithew/

Remember the days when the purple route line was just a highlighter stripe on a paper Michelin map? My old Polar CS200 had everything I needed before the days of GPS cycling. Then a particular company got us hooked on the GPS crack. And we all dropped a carbon wheelset’s worth of cash to see a grainy picture on our stems of the next 2.0 miles of our rides. Then topo maps. Gradients. Road databases. So much data—Rand-McNally right there under our sweat-dripping noses. You want data? You gotta pay for it. Until now.

Enter the Lezyne GPS. If you can still call a device that tracks your location on the surface of the earth from over 13,000 miles away “minimalist,” this is the embodiment. So is the price tag. Ranging from Mini to Power to Super GPS, Lezyne leaves off the map, but maximizes function and value. Want numbers? They have all the numbers you need.

Speed, time, elevation, time of day, lap splits, plus you can Bluetooth or ANT in your heart rate, speed, cadence, and power meters to bike-nerd it all out. On the Super GPS you can even Bluetooth in your phone and get text, email, and call alerts. Is your jersey pocket vibrating because Junior’s school office is calling or because work is saying “Lunch is over”? No need to guess. They have their own GPS Ally app for iOS and Android, plus they can auto-sync to the ubiquitous Strava for the ultimate social bike-geek data experience. But wait, it gets better. I have used the Super GPS for a whole month before recharging the battery. Watts for days.

So, what is wrong with the unit? Small stuff. You can only sync one activity at a time. No problem if you are always connected. If you go off the data grid for an epic week, well, you will have to take a few extra minutes uploading each gnar ride individually. The other downside? The bluetooth phone connection is somewhat finicky when switching between devices. I ran the Lezyne for a week on my phone connection with no problems. Then I let my wife try it out for a while. Getting it to switch between hers and my phone for alerts was a little trying and cumbersome, so, stick with what works first for you out of the box.

Bottom line, if you want to experience your ride and see the map later, look no further. Even if you have to adhere to a Zone-3 Over/Under 1 minute ON 1 minute OFF regiment, ” target=”_blank”>Lezyne still has you dialed. Look at the rocks now and the map later. Enjoy your ride. Outside is Free.

Editor’s Note: Lezyne responded to our article with a couple of tips on pairing.

Try these in this order:
Make sure the device has the latest firmware:
With the Super GPS plugged in, delete the “” file from the device. This will reset any screen customization, but reset all connections too. We’ve found this to help when pairing to a new phone.
Make sure the phone has the latest Ally app update, and unpair any existing Lezyne GPS devices in the phone’s bluetooth setting. Then toggle the Bluetooth off and on.
Then, try pairing to the Super GPS through the phone’s Bluetooth settings, rather than through the Lezyne App

I know this sounds like a lot of effort, but it’s really the nature of Bluetooth. It will become more reliable and robust over time, however.

Rapha Climber’s Shoes Are The Kicks You’ve Been Looking For

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/

I’m vain. You are too. Admit it. You don’t like it when someone compliments your bike or your kit? You lie. Cyclists are the peacocks of the sporting world.

From my first ride with Rapha’s Climber’s shoes, I was in love, because my buddy noticed them immediately. Sure, they performed well too, but I was expecting that. Anyone making high-end cycling products that don’t work flawlessly in 2016 should be ashamed of themselves. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to functionality. When it comes to fashion, however, it can often be slim pickings.

Designed in conjunction with Giro, they combine the latest technology from the American shoe and helmet maker—such as the uber-stiff EC90 SLXII sole—with classic looks that match right up with the Rapha aesthetic. The perforated body is a nod to shoes of yesteryear, while the simple velcro straps provide a nice, uncluttered appearance on top.

Rapha Climber's shoes. Photo: Colin O'Brien/
Rapha Climber’s shoes. Photo: Colin O’Brien/

The British brand’s minimalist offering differs significantly from their GT model, providing a pared back option for the rider looking for a fast, comfortable, good-looking shoe without any bells or whistles. The Climber model weighs in at 215g compared to the 320g GT version, and comes with three velcro straps instead of the ratchet or wire closure systems popular with other manufacturers.

They don’t look very “technical”—industry speak for designed in the dark—but they’ll perform with the best of ’em. Nothing fancy, nothing loud, just comfortable kicks you can put on and forget about. Some people might like something flashier, and that’s fine. If you like metallic colored shoes covered in flags and logos, go for it. Whatever floats your boat. But for yours truly, these were just the ticket. Understated, functional and lightweight—the holy trinity of desirable characteristics for any (wannabe) stylish cyclist. Now if only it were warm enough to take these pesky shoe-covers off.

Snuggle Into These Winter Sockies to Keep Your Feet Warm and Dry

Gore-Tex socks. Photo: Jim Merithew/
Photo: Jim Merithew/

I love my Gore-Tex socks. I have been wearing them in the rain. And in the cold. And in the cold rain. And my feet have never been cold or wet.

Well, there was that one time I got caught in the rain. The water ran down my legs and into these socks, but even though my feet were riding in a pool of water, my toes still never actually got cold. It was like a little hot tub in there.

Yes, my feet do have a tendency to sweat in them on the warmer rainy rides and I would guess in snowy conditions this could create a problem on really long rides. But, I am sticking with what I said before. I love these socks.

They are waterproof, windproof, breathable and have a touch of reflective material. If you ride in the cold and rain, do not delay, get some sockies for you toesies.

These Ibex El Fito Knickers Are Magic

The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/
The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/

As the snow starts to fly and temps continue to drop like Jeb Bush’s poll numbers, I find myself re-learning how to dress for winter on the bike. While the time tested mantra of layer layer layer is always in season, one piece of kit has changed how I look at the short days and long sleeves of winter.

The Ibex El Fito knickers are almost always codling my backsides in the cold season, not just because they are warm, but because they are as adaptable as a politician in New Hampshire. They are a blend of Merino wool, Spandex and Clima-wool softshell material, and this combo keeps the legs warm while wicking moisture and allowing freedom of movement. From 30º up to 60º, they simply disappear, regardless of the conditions. Below 30º or in the wet, a baggy short worn over keeps things cozy down into the teens. Wool is magic.

The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/
The Ibex El Fito knickers. Photo: Kip Malone/

The chamois on the El Fito is a mixed bag and a mixed blessing. It too is made from a wool blend, meaning it doesn’t stink after a one-hour ride, and can be worn a few times between washings if you’re ok with that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the chamois just isn’t as comfortable as many high end shorts, and after four or five hours in the saddle, distress signals begin arriving from below. Following the advice of some friends, I took a seam ripper and carefully removed the chamois from one pair and simply wear my shorts of choice under the Ibex on long rides.

The El Fitos come in both a bib and plain knicker ($145/$185), I own both and am looking forward to plenty of riding this El Nino winter.