Go under the radar with this Thule Covert DSLR backpack

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For me, the chase of finding the perfect camera bag is as difficult as finding freaking Nemo.

You see, over the years I pretty much have what some might call a collection of camera bags, and the collection is still growing. There are bags I use everyday (ThinkTank ShapeShifter, AirportSecurity), some are seldomly used (the good ol’ LowePro Stealth AW), and some, such as my giant Pelican 1650 where I bought solely to photograph the America’s Cup a few years ago, are essentially one hit wonders. There’s even a repurposed Timbuk2 messenger bag with inserts for small flashes and lenses when I need to go light and stealth.

All of those have been my “system” and they have worked for me for a variety of assignments from shooting the Super Bowl, wildfires, sitting in presidential campaign motorcades, CEOs, weddings, and bike races.

But, as if the N+1 rule extends to camera bags too, there’s always room for another one.

The struggle is so real that I now sympathize with my wife whenever she goes bag shopping. Okay, maybe not about the last part but you get my drift.

So here comes the Thule Covert camera backpack.

Better known for their extensive line of roof and bike racks, Thule has been making inroads into various products to help consumers bring whatever they want along, hence their motto of “Bring Your Life.” So out in the wild are Thule phone cases, luggage bags, strollers and backpacks.

On the outside, the Covert looks just like any other roll-top backpack that has been all the rage lately. It’s a pretty inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream “HAVE CAMERA. ROB ME NOW.” Awesome.

From the top, the roll-top lid is neatly tucked away with adjustable buckles, and unrolling it will reveal the zipper to access the main compartment.

The main compartment can be divided into two with its removable partition that seals the top half of the bag from the lower half that houses the camera insert.

Halfway down the bag is a second flap that covers a generous zippered organizer for small items such as batteries and keys. There are also two Velcro pouches that I found to be perfect for storing external hard drive and charge for my Macbook Air.

As if there isn’t enough space, there is one more pouch on the lower half of the bag where I can comfortably store a u-lock or a Nalgene bottle. There’s also another zippered pocket behind the lower center pouch to carry more ClifBars.

So yes, lots of pockets for those who 1: Like to carry a lot of stuff and 2: like their bags to be organized.

On the right side of the bag is an open pouch with an adjustable opening that’s meant for bottles and a small travel tripod. Also good for beer.

Moving on to the left side of the bag, there are side-entry zippers to the laptop/tablet storage and the heart of the bag: the camera pod.

the SafeZone camera pod Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

While the idea of a removable camera compartment isn’t new, Thule deserves giant kudos for making the compartment right. Dubbed SafeZone, the pod’s dividers are some of the best I’ve ever come across. They’re denser than the ones from my other camera bags and cases. They also have origami-like ridges to facilitate folding for a customized fit.

I’ve been using the bag on and off for the past few months and it’s now my go to when I have to travel with my camera. During a recent wedding shoot in Mexico where I needed to divide up my gear for security, I was able to fit my essential kit (a Canon 1Dx Mark II, a 135mm f/2, a 50mm f/1.2 and a 24-70mm f/2.8) into the pod. The removable-nature of the pod also made going through custom inspections an easy one since I was able to just pull it all out at once. The partitioned top half of the backpack also meant the rest of the gear wouldn’t fall out of the side door if you go for the camera or remove the entire pod.

For short in-town trips, I could pack a 70-200 2.8 and a 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to Canon 5D Mark III straight into the compartment with room to spare. The carrying chassis of padded shoulder straps and the back panel are ergonomically shaped to stay comfortable. I do wish Thule included a waist strap for better stability though.

Maybe I am a sucker for a multifunctional backpack with an understated look, but the more I use the bag the more I actually enjoy using it. For me, the Covert hit the sweet spot of what I want in a travel camera backpack: Keeping my essential camera kit safe while leaving plenty of room for everything else. By removing the divider and the camera pod, the Covert can be quickly converted into a regular backpack for those last minute grocery runs. The water-resistant material and overall construction are good quality and it is well thought out from its pockets and dividers, all the way down its zippers. At $199.99 and a lifetime warranty, the Covert is made for the long haul and will carry all your gear, or lots of six-packs, with ease.

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Thule Covert next to a Canon 200-400 attached to a 1Dx Mark II

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Yup. I can shrove a Canon 200-400 f/4 with a 1Dx Mark II into the Covert. With the camera pod and divider removed, of course. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

 


Treat Yourself to an End of Tour Shopping Spree

Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

I normally associate the end of Le Tour the unofficial end of summer: When I was in school, the end of the Tour meant it was time to start thinking about the mandatory quarter/semester textbook ripoffs, and when I graduated from j-school the end of the tour meant, well, shit there’s no more cycling on TV for a while, perhaps I should work and bike more.

But one consistent summer activity I remember well is gear shopping. It’s a pretty cute idea to have a Tour De France-themed daily sale, to get all your year’s worth of Scratch on stage one and wrap it up with buying the 11-23 Dura-Ace cassette on the final day at Champs-Élysée.

So here are a few products we’ve been pretty smitten with lately. They are the few I won’t regret buying or recommending to my friends. You are my friend too, after all.

Kitsbow Geysers’ Jersey

Kitsbow Geysers' Jersey Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

We’ve been a fan of Kitsbow‘s offering for a while and the Petaluma company’s first foray in road-specific apparel did not disappoint. Clean, understated lines and it’s quickly becoming a favorite go-to for those long, all-day adventures. The Geysers’ are made of a 43% Merino and 57% Polyester blend so they’re slightly thicker and more durable (more on that in a sec) than your average typical spandex jerseys, yet they still breathe unbelievably well.

The fit was spot on. Not too tight and doesn’t like you’re letting it all hang out. Longer sleeves are also a welcomed addition. Kitsbow deserves a big high-five for the Geysers’ well-executed pocket arrangements. Besides the three standard rear pockets, there’s also a chest pocket for small items (perfect for credit cards), a water-resistant pocket in the back (for your phone), and there’s even a pump sleeve inside the center rear pocket, that I use to store sticks of CLIF Bloks.

I was in a pretty good crash while wearing one at the PressCamp MTB ride in Park City. I went over the bar and dented my helmet but the Geysers’ remained in one piece. Not what I expected from wearing a road jersey on a full-on mtb ride. Didn’t rip, didn’t break. I am now a fan. Extra credit: Kitsbow even included a microfiber cloth in the chest pocket for your phone/computer/glasses. It’s all in the details.

King Cage Titanium Water Bottle Cage

King titanium water bottle cage. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

I’ve had my run with water bottle cages and the one that I keep going back to is the King titanium cage. It’s a classy-looking, light as a feather (28g, thank you titanium) cage individually made from a one-man shop out of Durango, Colorado that just keeps working. It’s the only cage that I’ve used in which I haven’t lost a bottle with. Unlike carbon fiber cages, the bottle retention is actually adjustable so it’ll hold even that odd-sized bottle from your last grand fondo. If $60 is too steep of a price tag, King also makes an identical, albeit heavier version out of stainless steel that works just as well for $18.

TUFMED TUFRELIEF

TUFMED TUFRELIEF rub. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Ahh, muscle and joint sores. With a raging one-year-old at home and touting all the cameras for work (and my bike), my dominant shoulder hasn’t really been the same. I’ve tried plenty of over-the-counter rubs for relief in the past with decent results but TUFRELIEF is my current favorite. It’s non-toxic, non-greasy, made in the U.S. with no banned substances and odorless: I can now rub it all over myself and go to work (or any coffee shop) without smelling like I just got out of a medicinal hotbox.

Giordana EXO compression knicker

Giordana EXO compression knickers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

You read that right, there’s a knicker for a summer gear product review. I was never much of a knicker type of guy to begin with, but Giordana’s EXO compression knicker was impressive to say the least. Unlike most knickers on the market, the EXO is actually designed for warm weather riding and extends further down the knee for better zone compression by integrating eight (!) different types of fabrics throughout. It’s perfect for those morning rides around San Francisco where it doesn’t get either super warm or super cold. Giordano’s variable thickness Cirro OF chamois is also worth mentioning because it fits just right and is oh so comfortable. Heck, the proprietary chamois even has memory foam and aloe vera infused right into it.

Giro Empire SLX

Giro Empire SLX. photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

There’s been plenty of reviews in print and on the ‘net about this shoe because of the shoelaces so I’ll just go straight to the point: Don’t hate until you’ve tried it (I know there are still many of you out there). The Empire SLX is freakishly light and comfortable. The Easton EC90 SLX carbon sole is stiff but Giro still managed to keep it so thin that I never felt disconnected from the pedals as if I was riding with a pair of Jimmy Choo Portia 120s. And the shoelaces? I was skeptical about them initially but I am now a fan.

ITW Tac Link Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

ITW Tac Link: Not exactly a cycling specific product but all you carabiner-wearing people will rejoice at the fact that you can use this without feeling like you’ve just connected yourself to your keys by the ways of a boat anchor. Just don’t go climbing with this one.

Kuwahara Hirame pump head

My Kuwahara Hirame pump head has gotten a bit of rust and scratches from constant use the past few years but I am sure it will outlast just about every single toy in my garage. Plus what's not to love for a bit vintaged look (and feel?) Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Similar to the KCNC pump head Jim reviewed earlier this year but this has been one of those tools I am super happy with. My teammates were a bit confused with this whole solid piece of brass at a team camp a few years back, but honestly I haven’t had one of those pump heads flying off the valve incidents since I got this, and it’ll even clamp on the slipperiest tubular valves with authority like no other

Knog Binder MOB Kid Grid

Knog Binder MOB Kid Grid in it's element. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly

Let’s just say this little guy’s totally lit. Silicone mounting brackets are simple to use and won’t mar, or slip off your fancy carbon seatpost. Five modes from its grid of 16 (!) LEDs to choose from, low battery indicator and even an integrated USB charging plug. Oh, and it’s waterproof. With all those features, you’d think it would be as big as a phablet but no, this is one well designed and executed taillight.

Jagwire Elite Link shift/brake kit

Jagwire Jagwire Elite Link brake kit. Stephen Lam/element.ly

Okay, it’ll take more time to setup than traditional cable kits but the tradeoff is well worth the extra time and money spent. Concept wise it’s similar to Nokon, Alligator, and Power Cordz Swift by connection small aluminum links over a slick Teflon liner to create a lightweight and compressionless system that’ll play nicely with tight bends. I’ve been running both the brake and shift kit on a Dura Ace 9000 group for about a year and am happy to say it’s so durable, accurate, smooth and crisp that I don’t ever want to go back to regular cables. Pro tip: The housing squeals every once in a while but a small dab of Tri-Flow between the problematic links will take care of it.


The CamelBak Quick Stow Flask Quenches Our Thirst For a Reliable Bottle

CamelBak Quick Stow flask

Insulated (top) and regular (bottom) CamelBak Quick Stow flask. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

CamelBak Quick Stow flask

The CamelBak Quick Stow Flask, folded. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

At last year’s PressCamp, I got so many water bottles that I ran out of space in my luggage. So while packing for this year’s PressCamp, I thought I could get away with not bringing any. Well, day one and there’s no bottles in sight. Joke’s on me now.

But, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Seth from CamelBak came to the rescue and I ended up with two of their new Quick Stow flasks for my gravel ride.

Let’s be clear: Soft bottles aren’t a new “thing.” They’ve been around the market for quite sometime. What CamelBak did with the Quick Stow, however, was incorporate their technical know-hows to improve upon a soft bottle.

At first glance, the existing CamelBak hydration pack user will feel instantly at home given that the water bottle uses the same blue polyurethane material (BPA and BPS free in case you’re curious) from their hydration reservoir. For the cap, CamelBak designers incorporated the design cues from their podium bottle, plus a self-sealing silicone bite valve similar to the ones found on the hydration packs. There’s also a lockout switch to prevent leaks during transport.

I was given both the normal ($20) and the insulated version ($28) and both worked very nicely. The cap was easy to thread on/off with an opening large enough for ice cubes and drink powders (whisky anyone?). And it never leaked. The textured surface also gave it a nice grip while I was sweating under the Utah sun.

The Quick Stow holds 17oz of fluid, a bit less than your standard water bottle but overall that’s not a huge deal. It’s wonderful for short rides, or longer rides where you want to carry a bit more fluids without the clumsiness/real estate issue of a hard bottle. Its small footprint also allows one to stow it inside the pocket of say, a Specialized SWAT liner bib … plus it’s great for traveling.

Now, the insulated version works the same way but with the addition of an insulation wrap that will keep your drink cold for about twice as long as its non-insulated brethren. After a few rides with both, I found myself liking the non-insulated version as it was packed down smaller and was slightly easier to squeeze given the single wall design over the double-walled insulated version. Alas, that’s just a personal preference.

Available this October.


The New Rapha Pro Team Aero Jersey Is So Fresh and So Clean

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Aerodynamic. Versatile. Team Sky. Something called “Coldblack technology.” There’s no shortage of buzzwords to accompany Rapha’s Pro Team Aero range, but they weren’t what hooked me when a colleague fired the full, fresh-and-clean kit at me. Using the the age-old, unimpeachable rationale of cyclists everywhere: I liked it because it looked cool.

The data print style—a graphical representation of performance data collected from a pro rider during a grand tour—is a move away from Rapha’s almost trademark tendency towards understatement, and for this hack at least, that’s a good thing. Because if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, those designers in London should be extremely pleased with themselves.

Rapha have redefined cycling’s aesthetic over the last decade—chapeau—but as an inevitable consequence, it’s all gone a bit identikit. There are now hoards of Rapha-wannabes, all trying to sell us the same clean lines and muted palette. No one wants to go back to the luridly shameful ways of the 90s and early 2000s when skeuomorphic denim prints and a plethora of sponsor logos were the order of the day, but a little colour never hurt anyone.

The Pro Team Aero range is a happy medium. As well as the staple black, the block color jerseys come some bright—but not offensive—colors while the data print option allows the flashier among us to express themselves a little without making their riding partners nauseous. The bibs are understated, but the use of some fluo for the branding means they pop just enough.

There’s also some performance benefits to be had. The shoulders, seams and pockets have apparently been reworked to make the jersey more aero. It’s the kind of thing marketeers refer to as “free” speed, though at $195 for the jersey and $290 for the bibs, it’s hardly gratis. Crucially, then, for gear in Rapha’s price range, this is some well-made kit and once it’s looked after, should stand the test of time better than a lot of the competition.

They’ve taken elements of Team Sky’s racing skinsuits and bundled them into a more versatile jersey package. As a nice pro touch, there are still loops to hold race radio cables—or headphones for the mere mortals. And the aforementioned “coldblack” material reflects more heat than standard fabric, while some nice mesh on the back and sides makes it all very breathable.

Rapha claim that Sky have been riding various versions of this kit for the last few seasons, and that the Aero has become their go-to jersey. Assuming you’ve got the bank—and the physique to suit its tight, race-cut lines—it could very quickly become your favourite kit, too.


Camp in Comfort With This Big Agnes Sleeping Pad

Big Agnes Q Core SL sleeping pad
Big Agnes Q Core SL sleeping pad. Photo: Kip Malone

I don’t sleep well with others. Just ask any of my numerous ex girlfriends. Ask them and they will sigh, roll their eyes, and tell you just what a dainty delicate sleeper I am. They will tell you about my many pillows, about long sleepless nights, earplugs, separate blankets, couches, spare beds and long uncomfortable silences over coffee.

When it came to replacing my patched and maturing sleeping pad, I convinced one of said exes to accompany me to REI for a romantic evening of pad evaluation. Over the course of an hour I tried each pad, flipping, flopping and turning, staring at the ceiling, laying on my side, owning that section of the store until my mind was made up.

The Big Agnes Q Core SL sleeping pad is a four-inch thick insulated pad that is more comfortable than some hotel beds I have slept on. At 27 oz for the 20×72, there are plenty of lighter options out there, but after feeling many them under my backside I decided it was worth the extra ounces.

Big Agnes Q Core SL sleeping pad
Photo: Kip Malone

The insulation in the pad does a great job, and I am able to pack a lighter bag and stay warm, making up a good bit of the weight penalty. The outer edges of the pad are slightly higher then the middle, and its done a great job of keeping me from sliding to the earth even when sleeping on less that flat ground. With proper pressure I can even sleep comfortably on my side, a whole new experience in tent camping.

All of this has made for better sleep and a better time in the backcountry. I was very comfortable on a recent two-night trip with my girlfriend, although she did keep me up with all her moving around. She has requested separate tents for our next outing, and I think I’m ok with that.


Review: A Magic Carpet Ride on the Boardman SLS 9.4

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The bike in all its livery, four months into the test.

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The front Di2 derailleur just shifts so nicely no matter what.

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White frame with yellow trim. I like.

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That's a pretty, stiff and comfortable fork

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The surprisingly-comfortable Fi'zi:k Ardea saddle

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Have yet to miss a shift even with an intentional dirty chain

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Subtle branding on the carbon seatpost

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The Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain is as good as it gets. Rides just about the same as its Dura-Ace brethren at an much affordable price point

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Simple and elegant yellow trim plus height marker.

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A drain hole on the rim for those rainy training rides. Or a race.

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Who needs ceramic bearings when there's Shimano cup-and-cone bearings?

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The white bar tape is slowly showing its age after nearly four months of constant riding, but the Ultegra lever and Di2 shifting is as good as new.

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The head tube logo.

Unless you were a cycling fan in the 1990s, you’ve probably never heard of Chris Boardman or Boardman bikes. Time to change that.

The company produces meticulously crafted bikes under the critical eye of their fearless leader. We recently got the chance to spend time aboard one of their beautiful bikes, the Boardman SLS 9.4, and were immediately impressed.

The design is unique and flashy, the weight is competitive with some of the best out there. The build they sent us was absolutely lovely. It’s one heck of a magic carpet ride.

Living on the hillier part of San Francisco means my typical ride starts with a 10% descent through an ever abundant amount of road construction and potholes, yet the bike handles all the high speed bumps and sudden movements nicely. It’s also nice to know the Ultegra brakes are plenty powerful for those downhill stop signs at the end of every block.

The Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain is as good as it gets. Rides just about the same as its Dura-Ace brethren at an much affordable price point
The Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain is as good as it gets. Rides just about the same as its Dura-Ace brethren at an much affordable price point

Once out of the City, the open roads in Marin County really bring out the true beauty of the SLS. It’s stiff, lively yet without that muted carbon feel. The frame and the 25mm wide Continental Grand Prix Sport soak up the buzz and the bike just disappears beneath me like a quiet professional. When I decided to open up on the climbs, the bike moved gracefully forward, absorbing every single vertical foot as I commanded it.

On longer rides, the compact crankset and 11/28 cassette helps keep me fresh but also left me wondering whether the SLS would be even more fun with a sub-compact for even more punch.

The stock Fi’zi:k Ardea saddle was a pleasant surprise in that it was comfortable for both a tester that loves narrow saddles such as a Selle Italia SLR and another that loves thicker, more padded saddles like the Fi’zi:k Aliante. Again, gearing ratio and saddle are arguably a matter of personal taste.

While on the topic of personal taste, I found the stock carbon seatpost to be difficult to adjust. It’s not the most difficult seatpost I’ve ever worked on but the forward bolt was difficult to reach with a standard torque wrench. Same goes for the seatpost clamp. It’s pretty and minimal-looking but I had a hard time trying to get a proper torque reading. So I certainly wouldn’t mind adding a few grams in exchange for a better seatpost clamp. Other than these two minor details, the bike was trouble-free throughout the test.

If you’re the kind of person who will buy a bike online, go pick one up. Otherwise, we suggest finding a Boardman dealer near you and arranging a test ride.

All photos by Stephen Lam/Element.ly


Five Pieces of Kit You Should be Rocking Right Now

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
It is time to pull some new kit on.Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Bike kit just gets nicer and nicer. We’ve never ridden in such comfort, and style. The big brands are doing good work, but a lot of the new development is also thanks to the smaller brands—companies that might only produce a handful of items.

What follow are five pieces of kit we’ve been riding, and loving, day in and day out, be it on our weekend riders or our commute to work:

Read on for our reviews.


Giro Empire VR90 shoes. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Giro Empire VR90 shoes. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Giro Empire VR90

I finally got shoe game back on track in a sweet, styling way. If you told me a couple of years ago, I would be lusting after a pair of lace up bicycle shoes, and in a particular a pair of lace up mountain bike shoes, I would have called you crazy. And even after seeing Taylor Phinney hammering his bike in a pair of metallic silver shoes with bright green laces, I still couldn’t quite get my excitement on. It wasn’t until I almost had my hands, nay feet, on a pair of the limited edition camo Giro Empires when the hook was sunk.

And now I finally got my hands on a pair of the new VR90s I am officially smitten with laces. There have been plenty of reviews and online chatter about the benefits of the lace system. If they are to be believed you can get a overall better fit without hotspots, over a buckle system. I have never suffered from hotspots, so I can’t speak to this claim. But like almost all the Giro shoes I have worn over the last few years they make some of the most comfortable riding shoes, right out of box, being sold today. Sure, lacing up takes a little more time and adjusting on the fly is nearly impossible, but damn if I don’t look pimp and feel surprisingly cozy.

—Jim Merithew


Cadence Collection Tempo Light Kit. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Cadence Collection Tempo Light Kit. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Cadence Collection Tempo Light Kit

I want one of everything Cadence Collection makes. I can’t say that about very many companies, but it is completely true about Cadence. I’m not sure how they do it, but they make some of the most distinctive, stylish and comfortable kit being put out by any of the small players. They seem to be able to straddle the line between distinctive and poppin’ without ever rolling over into the garish or distasteful.

I’ve been on a couple of big fondos in the last couple of months and I almost always find myself wanting to yell CADENCE when I spot someone in their kit. Which must mean they are doing something right. We’re digging the Tempo Light in particular.

—Jim Merithew


7mesh Revelation Jacket. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
7mesh Revelation Jacket. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

7mesh Revelation Jacket

This has been the rainiest spring I can remember here in New Mexico. Every afternoon it clouds up, the winds start whipping and then it dumps. The weather is great for the local aquifer since we’re in a drought, but it’s a pain in the ass to ride home through. My saving grace has been the 7mesh Revelation Jacket.

The thing is made from Gore-Tex Pro, which you don’t see for bike jackets, and it’s like wearing a force field. I stay bone dry, plus it cuts the wind and cold. The design is also spot on, with a perfect cut for the bike, and side vents that let me reach in and access my jersey pockets. The cost is WAY up there—nearly five bills—but think of it like an investment. You should have this jacket for decades to come.

—Jakob Schiller


Kitsbow Haskell Short. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Kitsbow Haskell Short. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Kitsbow Haskell Short

People like to talk about one-quiver bikes, and one-quiver skis—well, the Haskell is the one-quiver short. They’re great for riding your mountain or commuter bike with a slim cut but a huge range of motion.

They’re also great for picnics, playgrounds with the kids, soccer, watching television, drinking beer or anything else you can think of. I literally live in these shorts when the weather’s warm. All that movement comes from a nylon/spandex mix that’s wicked stretchy but also plenty tough. If you take a spill in the hills the shorts will be fine. And if you get caught in the rain a DWR finish means you won’t look like a wet dog.

—Jakob Schiller


Topo Designs Work Shirt. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Topo Designs Work Shirt. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

Topo Designs Work Shirt

This shirt is not a piece of bike kit. But whatevs. It’s cool, and I use it on my bike anyway. Just last week I had it on while I road through the foggy streets of San Francisco and it kept me warm but breathed just enough so I didn’t sweat out when I had to climb a couple hills. Made by the smart folks over at Topo, it stands out just enough from the normal flannel and is plenty nice to wear into work, or the bar, or to your inlaw’s house for dinner.

—Jakob Schiller


You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’Til It’s Gone

Peter Rubin's ride of choice. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

It was a rainy winter. Or maybe it was a regular winter, and the past two winters had been so dry that I wasn’t ready for it. But the upshot was the same: hastened by the permeability of the shed behind my house, my road bike developed a nasty cold.



It’s my fault, really; I didn’t take good enough care of it. I kept it clean, sure, but I took it for granted. And when the tickle in its sinus began, the shifting got little wonky. It’s January, I told myself. The shop’ll take forever. So I wiped the bike down instead, and gave it some new tires. Then it got sluggish, and I dropped the chain going down to the little ring. I’ll bring it to in this week, I told myself. It’s the right thing to do. So I wiped the bike down instead, and made sure the chain was lubed.

But then, toward the end of a Sunday spin last weekend, my rear shifter cable gave up the ghost. Just…snapped. Somewhere up inside the brake hoods where mortals dare not tread. I pulled it out of the derailleur, stuck the housing in my pocket, and rode the last five miles on a singlespeed, 82 gear inches into a bitch of a headwind, cursing my negligence with every mash.

Now, my bike is out of commission until the shop can get to it—which happens to be eight days from now. All of this is to say, don’t be like me. But that’s obvious. So it’s also to say that while you might not even be aware of the rhythms that have developed between you and your steed, they exist, and they are sacred.

It’s plain when you jump on another bike for a ride. Climbs are guessing games, descents a gamble. It’s not like my backup bike is 30 pounds of creak, either. It’s more than sufficient, and it’s taken me through centuries and up mountains. It’s just not my real bike.

To be fair, it’s not like I knew my bike was my real bike when it first came into my life. My line of work allows me to ride a lot of different things, most of which are lighter than a loaf of bread and all of which are thoroughly above my pay grade. That’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also given me an almost monastic aversion to the idea of bike permanence. So the first thing I thought when I saw my bike was “I guess bikes are murdered out now.” Specialized’s Roubaix line of Classics/endurance rides has been around for more than a decade, but 2013 was the first year it was available in stunning black on black.

It was also the first year the company had married the idea of comfort with its SL4 top-tier frame—so while my first impression was visual, my second was “smooooooth.” That wasn’t a thought, it was an actual involuntary utterance when I hit a chattery stretch of road. (And in Oakland, “chattery” is close to the best you can hope for until you get to the blacktop up in the hills.)

Everything about it was perfect, but subtle. Dura-Ace, but not digital. An 11-speed cassette that got me up just about anything, and Zertz dampers that let my legs feel the road without my…other parts feeling the road. Brakes that I trusted, on in-house wheels that were light without leaving me vulnerable to crosswinds. It didn’t jump off the line, but it didn’t need to—it got there fast, and it gave back to the road everything that I put into it. It made me stronger. Faster. And now it’s gone.

Look, yeah, I get it. It’s not gone forever. I’ll be back on it in a week. But mark my words: I’ll never take it for granted again. Q-tip was right: Joni Mitchell never lied.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly