Sealskinz Super Thin Pro: Protects Feet And Blows Minds

The Sealskinz Super Thin Pro Mid Sock with Hydrostop is a waterproof, breathable, comfortable sock that protects feet and blows minds. This simple product will totally transform your footwear, adding water-worthy wading to airy trail runners and storm-shedding comfort to your cycling kicks.

I was initially skeptical these socks would live up to their waterproof promise – they seem constructed of a somewhat sturdy yet thin nylon material, not too different than a typical wicking fabric. Yet there I was standing for several minutes in a fast-flowing stream of Mount Hood snowmelt, my feet perfectly dry.

As an avid backpacker, my strategy for wet feet mostly centers on acceptance. To many backpackers, it’s simply not worth it to wear a heavy, waterproof boot on trips where rain and snow come and go. But imagine swapping to these waterproof socks when you hit the snow line on a pass? Or perhaps on a bike tour down the Pacific Coast Highway, when the rain clouds blow in off the ocean? Or maybe before a rainy trail run? These things seriously work, topped off with a grippy “Hydrostop” band at the top to keep out the splash.

You’d think that all this waterproofing comes at the expense of breathability. To test this, I wore the Super Thin Pro during my typical seven-mile bike commute on a sunny, 70-degree day. There was a bit of moisture by the time I’d hop off the bike, but it’s hard to say if it was any more than usual – and certainly less than you’d expect. Sealskinz provides a “thermal rating” for its products, and places the Super Thin Pro, which is also windproof, smack dab in the middle.

The Super Thin Pro feels a bit bulky in the toe box, but that mostly disappears once inside of a shoe. The socks are also heavier than the wicking wool I’d usually wear on a hike – way less, though, than a waterproof ​boot. I can’t speak for the long-term durability, but they seem like they can take a pounding. And with a name like “super thin,” they do indeed slip easily into svelte cycling shoes and whatever else you’re running.

So who’s the target audience of this product? The backpacker or bike tourist who wants dry feet amid changing conditions, or someone who wants to stretch the utility of their warm-weather footwear. If you can imagine a scenario where these would come in handy, just know – they work.


One Pair Of Bike Glasses To Rule Them All?

I hate getting ready to ride my bike, be it for a Saturday spin or as my commute to work. Where’s my flat kit? Are my water bottles clean? Do I need a rain jacket? And on it goes. Getting out the door takes 20 minutes, if I’m lucky.

I’m telling you all this because one part of my riding prep just got a lot easier thanks to the Julbo Renegade glasses. Instead of finding my roadie bike dork glasses for the weekend ride, then switching back to my non-dork glasses for the commute, or for lunch, I just wear the Renegades everywhere.

They’re amazing on the bike thanks to an ultra-lightweight build, great eye coverage, big rubber grippers on temple and nose, and photochromic lenses that change with the light. I live in the desert of the Southwest where you’ll die without sunnies and the Renegades get just dark enough to take the edge off, then lighten quickly enough to ensure I don’t go rubber-side up from hitting a piece of trash sitting in the shadows of an underpass.

And while the the colored lenses on my pair do scream bike dork just a little, the square frame design is muted enough that I don’t get second looks if I wear them with jeans and a button down shirt.

At $190 they’re a big investment, but totally in line with other cycling glasses and actually a money saver if you, like me, were using two pairs to start.


Focus Paralane: The Two-Wheeled Station Wagon

Focus Paralane eTap

The Paint. That’s right, the paint. It was the paint job on this steed that first caught my attention.

Sure, this is a terrible and vain thing to say, but the paint on this Focus Paralane was truly eye catching at the InterBike media preview night last fall (more on the paint later).

If you’ve never been to one of these preview nights, let me tell you, what gets shown is usually anyone’s guess. You see a whole lot of e-bikes, questionable contraptions, and a tiny bit of sensible stuff.

So there I was hopping between booths and the Paralane was literally chilling next to the Focus booth. The booth guys were pushing a really nice e-bike, but I couldn’t help but be curious about this brightly-colored endurance steed.

To be honest, endurance bikes, much like the American crossovers monstrosity (RIP station wagons), have never really enticed me. I am comfortable on my professionally-fitted road bike, I don’t intend to give that up anytime soon, and I love my station wagon.

Alas, a lot has changed since the introduction of the endurance bike segment and bicycles that fall within this growing category are pretty darn good these days. Standouts such as the Specialized Roubaix, Cannondale Synapse, and Trek Domane are just as fast, if not faster, than their pure-bred racing brethren in such that the line between a road bike and an endurance bike is so blurred, so difficult to ignore, just like the sentiment I got when I was shopping for a SUV recently and inevitably ended up looking at a bunch of crossovers. That’s not counting gravel bikes, either.

Focus Paralane eTap

So I put in a request to review the bike. Then things got busy and I completely forgot about it. So imagine the surprise when the Paralane unexpectedly showed up one morning in early December. Maybe it was a bit of #newbikeday hype or maybe because, unlike Roubaix or the Domanae, I just didn’t know much about this bike.

It has been almost four months since I’ve swung my legs over the Paralane, and even though I love it so much, it was not without its quirks, or shall I say, quirky personality.

The Paralane that Focus sent over came with all the bells and whistles one would expect for $7,999. A lightweight disc-only carbon fiber frame with shaped Comfort Improving Areas (C.I.A), a stiff BB86 bottom bracket for power, 142×12 and 100×10 thru-axles coupled with Focus’ proprietary Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T) to secure the wheels, with integrated internal cable routings.

e_FocusParalaneSL151

Flatten chainstays to absorb vertical bumps.

e_FocusParalaneSL086

Sculpted carbon forks for ride comfort.

e_FocusParalaneSL230

Room for up to 35c tires.

e_FocusParalaneSL240

Focus' own Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T) to enable faster wheel change.

e_FocusParalaneSL223

A quarter turn is all that's needed to secure the wheels

e_FocusParalaneSL210

The stock Prologo Scratch saddle was comfortable but also heavy

e_FocusParalaneSL188

Zipp Course 30 wheels with 28mm Continental Grand Prix 4 season rubbers

e_FocusParalaneSL200

A clean cockpit with minimal wirings.

Our bike was kitted with a full SRAM RED eTap HRD compact group set, an Easton EC90 Aero handlebar, a Prologo Scratch saddle mounted and a unique-looking 25.4mm BBB CPX Plus carbon seatpost that’s not to be confused with LaVar’s BBB brand.

Focus Paralane eTap

The only item that was not factory spec was the aluminum Zipp 30 Course Clincher (with factory spec 28mm Continental GP 4 Seasons). The bike will come with the Zipp 302 carbon clinchers and for comparison purposes, we spent half of our testing period on our benchmark Stan’s Avion Pro hoops with 25mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires. As an added bonus, the Paralane also ships with removal mudguards.

Focus Paralane

One thing that immediately made an impression was the taller headtube along with its generous, relaxed geometry. Much to my lower back’s delight, I get to sit a bit more upright at the expense of losing a few watts for not being aerodynamic, but that’s not what this bike is designed for anyway.

According to Focus, the Paralane was intended for “leisure cyclists who like to spend longer in the saddle and don’t mind unsurfaced roads.” Well, that couldn’t be more true given its generous 50/34 compact crankset and 11-32 cassette. Yet the Paralane is so much more than a leisure machine that labeling it as such almost feels like I am sandbagging. The Paralane is one flippin’ fast steed that you can totally race with.

On the less than perfect NorCal roads, the Paralane is smooth, responsive, and stable at high-speeds. Those Comfort Improving Areas, a.k.a shaped stays, worked as advertised to soak up all the shitty road buzz without the need of any suspension elements. The bike has handling that’s direct and firm like an expertly tuned car worthy of the autobahn. Coupled with the powerful SRAM hydraulic disc brakes, the bike accelerates as well as it can stop on a dime.

Focus Paralance eTap
It’s pretty cramped back there.

I found that the more I cranked up the distance, the more efficient of a bike it was. My body didn’t scream at me (as much) at the end of those 100+ mile rides. Those 28mm Continental GP 4 Season weren’t only long lasting but also grippy in all-weather, performing admirably when I took them off the asphalt for some light gravel rides. SRAM’s eTap has also grown on me tremendously with its car-like paddle shifters as well. I really like its crisp, mistake-free touch and the ergonomics finally feel right.

Focus Paralane eTap

I do wish there was more bar tape than just on the drops though, as the bare wing top, while gorgeous to look at, was slippery to behold. It’s a comfortable and stiff handlebar one would expect from Easton, but I would argue that an endurance bike like this one can be benefitted with more secure and padded hand positions, especially if unsurfaced roads are frequently visited.

Focus Paralane eTap

Coming in at 16.9 lbs with the shipped wheels and 16.19 lbs with Stan’s Avion Pro/ 25c Schwalbe Pro One tubeless, with Shimano Ultegra pedals installed on both setups, the Paralane can obviously be lightened up a notch given Focus claims a painted 54cm frame weighs 907 grams minus the R.A.T thru axle. I truly believe doing so will further unlock the bike’s potential. Regardless of its weight, though, the Paralane has quickly become my favorite go-to bike to log those early season miles regardless of weather. The longer the ride, the more this bike’s personality shines. With the bike’s decidedly worry-free parts and the BB86 bottom bracket that didn’t creak once during the four month test period, my personal SuperSix Evo was starting to feel left out.

And that eyecatching, colorful paint job matches nicely with just about all of my questionably, colorful kit choices.

www.focus-bikes.com


Zipp Tangente RT25: Tubeless Done Right

Zipp Tangente RT25

I take my rubber seriously. And in this case, I am talking about the rubber I ride. On my bike.

Since I converted to tubeless, I honestly haven’t looked back. I’ve also found myself paying much more attention to the tire market. Tubeless appears to be slowly gaining ground, but the choices are still limited. A quick search on Competitive Cyclist yields 18 tubeless tires in comparison to 34 clinchers.

Thus I get excited whenever I see a new offering.

Although Zipp is best known for their highend carbon hoops and sweet looking cockpit bits, they also make tires. The Zipp rubber might be a bit underrated and far less prominent than the wheels, we think they are still pretty darn good and they have a small, but loyal following.

Personally, I’ve settled on the Schwalbe Pro One for the past year or so and I honestly think the Schwalbe guys are onto something good. In fact, I love ’em so much I bought myself four pairs and they now sit next to my seldomly-used collection of tubular tires. With that said, the search for the tubeless holy grail never ends, which brings us to the Tangente RT25.

At first glance, the RT25 looks just like any other tubeless tire: All black everything (I am still hoping to see a tubeless tire with a tan sidewall, guys.) My test pair weighed in at 290 and 300 grams… very good considering Zipp listed these $74, French-made gems at 292 grams. Zipp wouldn’t divulge which manufacturer makes the tires, but there are only a handful of tubeless tire manufacturers out there, and there’s only one French tubeless road manufacturer I can think of…

The Tangente RT25 was one of the easiest tubeless tires I’ve ever installed. I guess Zipp really means it when they say “No tire levers needed or recommended for installation.” It slid onto my Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 carbon clincher so effortlessly I was worried that I was going to spend some quality (read: way too much) time trying to seat a loose fitting tire. Not so. Not only did it not need sealant to help seat the tire, it popped right into the rim bed on the first try as if it had a tube in it. Zipp does recommend adding some sealant against puncture, though. So I just deflated it, injected some sealant, and inflated. I really liked the zero-mess and zero-fuss installation.

Zipp Tangente RT25

On the road, the RT25 were impressive. I’ve been running mine at around 90PSI for the past two months and they were buttery smooth and lively. The 127TPI nylon casing was supple while the 60 shore A tire compound was both grippy and durable. Granted, the RT25 is a racing tire where tire wear takes second place behind performance but the RT25 has shown little wear, even for those not particularly deep water-siping patterns on the side that I was initially skeptical about. I haven’t had a flat yet, but there’s a Polymide layer beneath the rubber should those occasions arise.

Overall, it’s hard to find any fault with the RT25. It’s fast, grippy, and durable. There are definitely lighter tubeless road tires on the market, but the durability and exceptional all-around performance of the RT25 is well worth the few extra grams. The RT25 reminded me of the crowd-favorite Continental Grand Prix 400 S II clincher in many ways. The Tangente RT25 is a tire that won’t let you down and it’s possible I just found my new favorite tubeless road tire.


Williams Wheels Worth a Whirl

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review

Living in Northern California the brand Williams Cycling has always been in my peripheral like a good bike shop I’ve heard about but never got around to visiting. I don’t know what makes them stand out at races, but I can always count on seeing a handful of them in my own race group. Maybe it’s the fact everyone is faster than me and, thus, I am slow enough to see what others are rolling.

The wheel business is pretty wild these days. It seems like everyone is making or branding or rebranding a set of their own wheels. There are household names like Mavic, ENVE, DT Swiss, and Shimano. Then there are the halo wheels that are so rare that it feels like a Koenigsegg sighting. At the polar opposite of that spectrum, you can pick up a set of carbon hoops for under $400 on Amazon Prime, if you are feeling really adventurous.

And finally you can split the difference and get a set of Williams, such as their System 60 carbon clinchers tested here.

With its 60mm rim height, the System 60 is the middle child of the Stockton, California-based company’s new line up representing a balanced ride between aerodynamics and weight. Measuring 26mm externally and 18.4mm internally, the toroidal-shaped carbon monocoque rim is tubeless compatible and comes with a high temperature resin ceramic fiber composite brake track for consistent performance during heavy uses. The rims are laced to William’s own Virgo 20/24 hole hubset using top of the line Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples in favor of durability.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
Williams’ own Virgo hubs.

The wheels arrived straight and true and setup was relatively straight forward like most high-performance wheels. I did, however, have to toe the brake pads a bit more to get rid of a potentially glass-shattering squeal, but they’ve been effectively silenced since November. I am admittedly a fan of the cork pads that came with my Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 TLR, but the long-lasting Williams-specific blue brake pads weren’t too shabby and offered a positive, consistent feel.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
The rear hub features a three pawl, 36 ratchet mechanism for fast engagement. Not only were they smooth, they were also comparatively quiet.

Weighing in at 853 grams in front and 1,011 grams for the rear with rim tape, the System 60 is a tad heavier than its competitors, but it’s also significantly cheaper at $1,439 per set. The extra grams weren’t that noticeable other than the initial spin-up and the times I did some extended climbing – which, to be fair, is not why one would primarily buy it for anyways. The System 60 excels in rollers and flats where its 60mm rim height shines through with its aero advantage. The toroidal rim shape also handles surprisingly well in crosswind so I never felt as if I was going to get blown off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
Williams could have make the System 60 a tad lighter with aluminum nipples, but instead, they opt for brass to ensure long-term durability.

The System 60 offers a stiff ride but still does an admirable job in soaking up a lot of road imperfections that have been plaguing the Bay Area as of late. They stayed true even after a couple unfortunate encounters with potholes. The skewers, while heavy and gargantuan, were solid and securely held the wheels throughout the test. I did wish the pre-installed rim tape was tubeless compatible though, because why make a tubeless-ready wheel and put away that feature with regular tape?

Williams Cycling System 60 Carbon Clincher Review
The skewer.

Overall, the System 60 represents a wonderful option for those looking for a performance upgrade at a budget. It’s the  perfect wheel for rolling courses such as the Snelling Road Race and tight office park criteriums. The System is also offered in 45/60 and 60/90 combos for those wanting to mix their rim depths. Lastly, every set of Williams comes standard with a 2-year warranty and a crash replacement program.

http://www.williamscycling.com


Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket: Take Me Everywhere

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

It was a love at first sight when I first saw the Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket. I love the beige/camo/pastel green color combo with just a hint of orange highlights on the zipper. Me like.

As gorgeous looking of a piece of cycling kit as it is, the best part of the Versa Barrier jacket is that it looks like a typical softshell jacket from REI and honestly, I’ve been wearing mine like a regular jacket more than when I’m on the bike.

Its tapered back panel is nicely tailored so that my rear end remains covered for times like riding to the post office and teaching my son how to ride his balance bike.  Strategically-placed reflective accents also provide visibility in low lights. The DWR water-resistant finish on the soft Versa-Barrier fabric also keeps me dry from the elements during the morning fog drizzle around town or while dodging rain during a recent work trip in Seattle. The button closures on the pockets never unhinge on their own and their generous angled entry ways make access while riding a much-easier task.

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

Speaking of traveling, I also found the Versa Barrier Jacket to be a great companion to take on trips. It doesn’t take up much space in a backpack and it’s a decent layering piece in such that all I need is a thin thermo component underneath when the temperature drops. The flexible drawstring hood can be worn beneath a helmet and there’s even a built-in mitt on each sleeve for when I am stupid enough to forget my gloves.

Pearl Izumi Versa Barrier Jacket

It’s the perfect anti-cycling cycling jacket, if you know what I mean.

www.pearlizumi.com


Hillsound Armadillo LT: Perfect For Mushrooms

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Photo: Daria Gneckow

Whether you are crashing through the brush in search of delicious chanterelle mushrooms, hiking long miles to your next camp or bounding through the snow like a goofball, the Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT gaiters are an excellent option for a waterproof barrier that can take a pounding with panache.

Coming high up on the calf, the LT features a sculpted shape that fits close to the leg while leaving room for necessary layering in cold weather. This well-considered fit, which I consider half the battle in gaiters, is effective at keeping pesky dirt, water and snow out of the hiking shoes.  The design maintains freedom of movement when rock scrambling or bushwhacking.

The quality of the hardware is clear from the first time you zip these up. A burly waterproof zipper closes off the gaiter, featuring an oversized pull that is friendly to bulky gloves. A sturdy front retention hook slips easily under laces for a secure fit. The buckle, the strap that goes under the shoe, the cuff strap – all feels great, and inspires confidence that the model can hold up to serious use.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Out hiking and foraging mushrooms in Oregon. Photo: Daria Gneckow

I had no issues with water soaking through the fabric of the Armadillo LT despite hours of tromping through rain-soaked woods and six-inch-deep snow in the Pacific Northwest, and the gaiters seemed to live up to Hillsounds promise of breathability. The Flexia fabric also handled the abuse of spiny bushes and rock abrasion with hardly a scratch — the lower part of the gaiter is a tougher fabric, with a lighter and more flexible material up top.

Hillsound Equipment Armadillo LT Gaiter
Got ’em. Photo: Daria Genckow

At 315 grams for this tester’s large, the Armadillo LT is the lightest in Vancouver, Canada-based Hillsound’s lineup. It is also the least expensive, at around $49. Two models profess to offer greater durability and breathability, but at a greater penalty in weight and cost – the highest-end Super Armadillo Nano gaiter comes in at $79, and a weight of 380 grams in size large.

I believe these gaiters are a great fit for through-hikers putting in long miles and anyone looking for a well-fitting, quality piece. Mountaineers might lean toward the other models, yet I would confidently take the Armadillo LT on my next alpine adventure.

www.hillsound.com


Rapha’s Loopback – Function With A Splash Of Flair

When Rapha’s loopback jacket arrived to my apartment, the mercury was pushing 40ºC [I’m not sure what that is in fahrenheit, so let’s just call it “Hot AF”]. It was sharp-looking, sure, but not what you want to see during southern European summertime. Just the thought of it was enough to induce severe perspiration, and so, it waited patiently, for the weather to change and the autumn to come.

A couple of months later and it’s become a go-to, which is about the best thing you can say for any garment. But I do have one bone to pick, albeit a pedantic and totally silly one. Rapha’s own description reads: “Trucker jacket utility with the comfort of a jersey.” I’ve just travelled from southern Spain to northern Portugal, and along that 1,100km stretch of road, at not one single rest stop did we see a trucker wearing Rapha.

Trucker jackets usually come in heavy-duty fabrics like denim or canvas and close with sturdy metallic buttons. And while the lightweight loopback fabric used here would be fine against bare skin, this isn’t a jersey. I’m not sure why they’re trying to make either association. Perhaps “blouson” didn’t sound as cool?

Rapha Loopback jacket

That said, you’re buying the jacket here, not the marketing copy. And the only bad thing I can say about the product is that I was a little confused by the sales pitch. I’m not sure how much more I can add, other than to say that it goes well with a tonne of stuff, is very comfortable, and the reversible, high-vis and pink cuffs are a nice touch for anyone feeling a little fancy. The water repellent, wind-blocking material is quick drying, so it does a great job as a cycling commuter jacket, but thanks to some low-key retro styling and a smart cut, it does just as well on social occasions. All in all, a solid addition to any wardrobe.

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This Computer Refuses To Tell You Where To Go

Photo: Jim Merithew / element.ly

You can find bike computers that are cheaper, more intuitive, and just plain easier to use than the SRM PC8, but you won’t find one that’s sexier. Just look at it. Yowza.

The horizontal layout looks far more elegant than the vertical or square designs everyone uses these days. The gorgeous anodized aluminum body weighs just 93 grams, yet feels substantial and robust. Best of all, the backlit display is clear, concise and infinitely adjustable.

So why don’t you see a PC8 on every whip? Well, it’s expensive. It doesn’t offer navigation. The interface is a nightmare. And it’s expensive.

The PC8 costs $750 and if, heaven forbid, you lose that nicely designed magnetic download cable, a new one sets you back 30 clams. I understand the desire to design a sexy cable, but it seems so Apple. And as long as I’m ranting, can we all please agree on a cable standard?

Sorry. Back to the SRM. Given that you an pick up the excellent Wahoo Elemnt for less than half the cost of a PC8, paying $750 for a computer seems silly. Especially one that doesn’t offer navigation. That explains why I yank the SRM mount off my bike and rely on my trusty, if quirky, Garmin 820 whenever I’m in Europe.

Granted, the PC8 features GPS for data recording (500 megabytes of memory) and provides all your ride info when you upload data to Training Peaks and Strava, but you can’t use it to get home. If you regularly download routes from Strava so you can explore new roads, move along to better options like, say, the Garmin 1000 that we love so much.

That said, data junkies will adore the PC8. Add a cadence sensor, heart rate monitor, and power meter and this thing provides hours and hours of data to crunch. Want to know your average heart rate, power or speed? No problem. Want to know your 30-second power or your max heart rate? No problem. Want to know your altitude, ride time, distance, or the temperature? No problem. And you can configure the 240x400p screen to show seemingly endless combinations of this data in real time.

But that interface can drive you nuts. Setting it up through a laptop is a snap—you can play around with several configurations, choose one, and upload it to the PC8. But once you’re on the bike, all those menus and submenus look like an M.C. Escher painting. Accessing them requires holding down various combinations of the three buttons. Ugh.

Finish exploring the myriad screen options and master the digital dexterity needed to access them all, though, and the PC8 is a joy. I found the execution of intervals simple, the data presented elegantly, and uploading/downloading data quick n’ easy. The battery lasts as long as 45 hours, too.

There’s a lot to like about the PC8, especially if you love data as much as you love riding. Even if you can look past the lack of navigation, you’re still left with that crazy price. But, like the iPhone X, just looking at the PC8 makes you want one, and using it only makes you want it more.


Reversible style from Rapha

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

Am I the only one thinking that it’s about time Rapha’s city collection made the mainstream? Not that there’s anything wrong with the cosy waters of the cycling world, but Britain’s foremost pedal-powered fashionistas have been killing it with their civvy threads for a while now, and in my recent experience, their casual clothing garners the most lustful glances from those observers who haven’t ridden a bike since around the time their voices broke.

One of their latest offerings, the reversible wind jacket, struck me as peculiar when I first picked it up, because you can buy more technical jackets for far less, but the thing is … they don’t really look as good. This is not a coat for the darkest of winters, but in most climates it will do you year round with some creative layering because the wind-resistant fabric is really effective, and it’s now become a real go-to item when I’m running out the door.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly

It was the only jacket I needed in May during my day-job duties covering the Giro and on a recent vacation home to the old country, it stood up fine against the famously un-summery Irish summer. It’s super lightweight, which makes it perfect for those of us who like to travel, and reflective elements will keep you safe on your commute while at home. But my favourite thing about it? Subtly flipping sides while in the company of others, and waiting to see if they say anything. Add a hat or glasses for best effect.

Photo: Paolo Ciaberta / element.ly