Until recently, I lived in Rome, where “winter” is something of a theoretical concept. Everyone’s heard of it, sure, but they don’t really understand what it really means. The minute the temperature creeps below 10ºC, people appear in balaclavas, snow boots and full-length insulated jackets, presumably to cover up the inch-thick thermal onesie that they’re wearing underneath.
It made me soft. My hardy Irish blood grew accustomed to the sunshine, and even though I rode all year round, I can honestly say that – trips elsewhere excluded – I went years without getting wet on my bike. And I was never cold.
And then I moved back to Dublin, immediately realising that my bike wardrobe was totally unprepared. It’s not that it ever gets properly glacial here; the problem is that it doesn’t ever get hot, and you never – and I mean never – know what it’s going to be in a few hours’ time.
Adaptable is the name of the game. And it’s exactly how I’d describe Castelli’s Alpha Ros jacket, an all-weather marvel from the Italian brand that harnesses all the goodness of their game-changing Gabba and takes it up a notch. The result is a product that redefines the standard for winter kit.
It’s not waterproof, in the strict sense of the word, but it works flawlessly in the rain. And it’s super soft, fits brilliantly, and offers plenty of ventilation when you want it, so you’ll be happy to use it in blue sky conditions, too.
The prominent parts of the seams are sealed, and Gore’s new (brilliant) Windstopper membrane is rain-resistant, so while I still carry a light shell for torrential downpours, this is all you’ll need in typical wet conditions. The two-layer construction separates the outer shell from an insulation layer, both of which zip up separately. It looks funny at first, but it’s a nice option to have when you just need to let a little air in without freezing.
There’s a nice and high double collar, complete with soft lining, and the seamless cuffs are similarly soft, with a snug cut that slots in perfectly underneath gloves without bunching up and leaving any exposed spots. And on top of the traditional rear pockets, there’s a zipped one on the front, too. Most riders will be accustomed to having three pockets, so this extra one isn’t strictly necessary, but I thought it was a nice touch.
So, is it worth the $350 price tag? That depends on how much you like being warm and dry. For me, it’s a resounding yes. It’s not cheap, but the Alpha Ros is a cut above anything else I’ve tried and it makes most of the competition look seriously out of date. And alongside some cosy new gloves and shoe covers to match, it’s enough to get even me outside when there’s a gale blowing.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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: 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
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
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
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.
POC recently brought a select group of journalists from around the country to Solvang, California to experience the new Fondo clothing line in its intended habitat: among friends and during adventure.
POC Sports, a Swedish brand renowned for an acute focus on safety, sprinted onto the road cycling apparel scene in 2013 with its research-driven AVIP line. Following quickly with their svelte Raceday Collection in 2014, the decade-old company has this year focused on the rider who is driven more by passion and love than results: the “Fondo” cyclist.
I arrived at our bucolic accommodations for the enviable task of riding bikes through wine country grueling product testing during early autumn, with little idea of who would fulfill the “friends” half of the equation. Luckily, it wasn’t long before I realized the other attendees would pilot wheels I could trust.
This was helped by a selection of beers crafted by Figueroa Mountain Brewing, a local brewery whose namesake we would conquer the next day. We had been brought there to explore the tenet of passion— clad in and aided by the Fondo line, to be sure, but not at the cost of adventure.
“I don’t climb.”
In line with the loosely defined itinerary, an exciting journey would soon follow. Setting out the next morning at 9:37 AM precisely, our assigned guide deftly navigated a brightly clad group past windmills and through wineries of the region — and promptly disappeared when the pavé began to ascend. (“I don’t climb,” he’d said. It turned out that he was being literal.) With little idea of where we were headed other than up, soon came the jokes and hopes about whether every rise was the top.
Dodging tarantulas sunning themselves and entertaining thoughts of getting intentionally lost on the fire roads of Los Padres National Forest, the ten-mile mixed-terrain climb finally relented after an hour and a half. Cresting what was ultimately determined to be the actual top at the height of the afternoon, we began our fast descent back toward the valley with little fanfare other than a cry of “WATER!” from a rider who had, like the rest of us, run dry miles beforehand.
An exciting half-hour of jarring twists and turns followed — the front brake of my rental bike howling each time I pushed toward its limit — until we happened upon our guide taking a siesta from the midday sun beneath a majestic oak tree. He had relied on an intimate knowledge of the area to circumvent the previous hours’ challenges and, with little concern over our thirst, informed the group that there was another 10 miles before we could be quenched.
The nonchalance was perhaps justified as we stopped for a moment before charging forth into the wind coming from town; we’d learned that the tree stood at the entrance of a property formerly known as Neverland Ranch, the notorious home of late entertainer Michael Jackson. Succumbing to star power (as many German tourists are purportedly wont to do), the lycra lineup posed quickly for a one-gloved salute before continuing on to the convenience store oasis which awaited.
A short time later we guzzled the Cokes we’d wished were 4,000 feet above while bantering with locals about the industrial implications of 3D printing — from teeth to automatic weapons to crazy things like bicycles. Replenished and riding high in a way that can be had only through a solid day of adventuring, we mounted our iron horses and pointed them back toward the ranch, tired and happy.
And the clothing? As anyone who is familiar with POC’s previous offerings may have surmised, it too hit the required marks with high precision: from clean, consistent design to quality materials and thoughtful construction, the Fondo Collection supported the ride throughout.
Ultimately, my adventure led to one question: do you Fondo, bro?
Look for an upcoming review of the 2016 Fondo Collection as well as a look at POC’s latest mountain bike gear, the Resistance line.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last year I took an unplanned hiatus from adventure motorcycle riding. It was caused by having to wait for my bike to ship back from abroad. After months of delays and then some wrenching to get it running again the day finally came to suit up and roll out.
As I attempted to don my touring suit I noticed a disturbing fact, one too many packets of double-stuffed Oreos over the last couple months had me doubling out of my pants.
Two short rides in, this Thanksgiving Belly in circulation-stopping pants signaled two things. One, I needed to get my fat ass into a workout plan. And two, half of my gut muffin topping out of my pants is a safety issue.
With a trip to Crater Lake approaching I desperately needed a new pair of riding pants for protection, as well as my own personal comfort. My girlfriend mentioned seeing a decent selection of moto-jeans at the Dainese store in Sf, so off we went.
Grabbing multiple pairs off the rack I headed to the changing room and instantly felt like a little kid who stole his dad’s 501s as every pair dragged the ground by a good foot. Stumbling out of the dressing room in the third pair the sales rep informed me that Dainese jeans are cut Italian style, meaning there is only one length and that they require hemming. Oh those Italians.
With that nugget of info in mind I preceded to go through the rest of the rack before deciding on the Dainese D1 Kevlar Jeans (now discontinued). These pants provided decent protection with internal Kevlar reinforcement combined with kneepads, deep pockets to ensure wallets and cellphones didn’t fall out, and bonus, they were on sale.
A day after taking them to my tailor (yes, that sounds totally douchey and any dry cleaners can do it for $10) they were ready to ride.
With only four days of freedom scheduled, I blasted up to Crater Lake in a day and half. As I rode the last ten miles to the ridge, snow appeared on the ground and the temperature dipped below 40 degrees. Thankfully I had packed a pair of long-johns for a second layer as the jeans didn’t come with any cold weather liners. The combination of the two was more than enough to fight off the chill.
I rode all the way to the only currently open vista on the lake ridge. As my feet crunched piles of white snow I noticed the knee pads rested comfortably below my knees. The standing position of the knee protector let me stride instead of having to adopt the squatty saunter of bulkier padded pants.
Checking the lake off my list I casually rode down to Fort Klamath where I had booked a room for the night just as the sun was setting behind darkening clouds. I lounged around my room as if in normal pair of jeans and casually thumbed to my weather app only to discover showers were on the horizon.
Sure enough, as I crammed breakfast into my face the following morning, droplets of water were already beginning to patter the lake outside. Not wanting to get soaked I hopped on the bike, spewing loose gravel behind me as I opened the throttle. Hightailing it south, the clouds got me good for about twenty minutes before letting up. To my surprise the jeans held up well without becoming soggy; though I was grateful when the sky brightened. Denim and water are always a bad combination.
Thundering past the storm I turned inland on the final leg of my journey, passing close to Sacramento in temperatures approaching 80. A decent wind was the only thing keeping me cool as the jeans do not have any venting strips. Most riders know there isn’t much venting strips can accomplish on a hot day, but I enjoy the placebo effect nonetheless.
Four days was barely enough to scratch the surface of the vast beauty of the Pacific Northwest and I have already planned to return when the weather warms up a little. In the future, I think the D1 Kevlar Jeans are serviceable for weekend rides and shorter range trips. For any longer journeys I prefer more built-in protection and layering options for versatility. For the biker who wears jeans on every ride, Kevlar moto-jeans are a necessary protection upgrade.