The Alé K-Tornado: A good jacket for bad weather

I realise that for most of the northern hemisphere, it’s still summer. But not here. The sunshine in Ireland has faded quicker than Richie Porte at a grand tour, and by the looks of things it won’t be too long until I’m digging out the winter kit bag.

A little wind, a little drizzle, the occasional ray of sun – that’s the Irish summer. There have been a few rides recently where the changeable elements called for something more than a jersey. And as luck would have it, I had Alé’s K-Tornado jacket waiting to be tested.

They say jacket, I say long-sleeve jersey. Alé suggests a temperature range of 6º to 12º Celsius (that’s 43º to 54º in old money). But depending on how you layer I’d say it functions well outside of that range. I’ve been using it with a base layer and short bibs to great effect in a variety of conditions.

It does a great job of keeping you warm and dry without the old boil-in-the-bag feel that used to come with a lot of wet-weather options. Can anything really be waterproof and breathable? Ignoring the marketing jargon, common sense would say no. But having said that, this jacket makes for a pretty good compromise. Alé says that their proprietary waterproof fabric features “billions of microscopic pores that allow sweat to quickly evaporate.” Sooner or later, the rain will get in, but I’ve tried running a tap over the sleeve and the water beads right off. At the same time, it’s a world away from a plastic rain cape in terms of general comfort, and I’m happy to pull it on even when it’s clear outside.

The zipper is waterproof and the stretchy material will keep out everything but very heavy rain. The long cuffs cover more on top without bunching up below your palms, thanks to an asymmetric cut. That leaves you both covered and comfortable, and while this next observation has nothing to do with functionality, I also think they look cool. A flap covers the pockets to help keep them dry, and the bottom of the jacket extends nice and low so you can cover your behind from tyre spray. There are also some nice reflective strips for added visibility.

Alé have been around for a long time, often making product for other brands. You’ll come across plenty of their stuff in Italy, but they’re no so well known internationally. They should be. Both the materials and the finish feels top-notch, and the cut will appeal to anyone who like a racy fit. Definitely worth considering when the weather eventually turns on you.

Julbo Aerospeed: High Tech Shades From A Historic French Brand

Julbo is a French brand that’s been in the eyewear game a long time. 130 years, to be exact. They started out when the company’s founder made a pair of specs for some Chamonix crystal hunters, people who climb Mont Blanc in search of precious stones (it really is a thing). They’ve been creating innovative glasses for mountaineers ever since.

Over the years, they’ve also branched out into skiing, trail running, and cycling. Two-time USA Cyclo-cross National Champion Stephen Hyde is just one of the many high-profile athletes they sponsor. Despite all that, I’d never heard of Julbo. And then, looking for something a little different, I got a pair earlier this year, right around the time Jakob Schiller posted a review of his own pair on here.

Photochromic goodness

I went for the Aerospeed model. It came with the company’s own Zebra Light Reactiv lens, which is photochromic, meaning it darkens upon contact with UV rays. If you live somewhere where the sun is always shining, this won’t make much of a difference. But for anyone dealing with variable conditions, or riding in areas that go from light to shade, like a forest, it works a treat. And, sartorial considerations aside, for me, it put a stop to staring out the window trying to decide which shades to wear on any given day. They’re good when it’s hot and sunny. They’re good when it’s grey and wet.

Straight out of the box, I was worried that the bridge was a little big and that it might obstruct vision. It doesn’t. Once they’re on, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing them. They’re light, and the combination of ventilation and anti-fog coating means that they don’t steam up, either.

Value for money … relatively speaking

I have a stupidly large collection of glasses. And I love them. But if you’re more practical than that, the photochromic lens alleviates the need to buy different glass for different conditions. Which is great, because the last thing most people want to do after shelling out $190 for something like Rapha’s Flyweight glasses is to reach back into their wallets for another $110 to get an alternate lens.

Speaking of which, I was a big fan of those Rapha shades, right up until the other day when the somewhat flimsy bracket connecting the arm to the lens snapped right off as I was putting them on. Not cool. The Aerospeeds aren’t quite as light as those Flyweights, but they’re close, and they feel a whole lot sturdier.

For $190 with a lens that you won’t have to swap around depending on the conditions, these Julbo Aerospeeds are a great option for anyone who wants something a little out of the ordinary. They might not have the brand recognition of the big players in cycling, but they certainly have historical pedigree and with that photochromic lens, they’re right up to speed in terms of technology, too. Overall, a solid choice.

A Sea Otter Retrospective

Last year’s Sea Otter Classic was a breather that I desperately needed and treasured. There was no PressCamp this spring so my schedule has been a bit bare, but as April inched closer, Sea Otter came tugging at my heart saying I should really go. Whether I like to admit or not, attending Sea Otter has turned into a yearly pilgrimage, an excuse to get out of town. Heck, it doesn’t even feel like work (until I have to sit down and type it all out).

This year’s Sea Otter, or Sea Weasel as some like to call it, was in a way more or less the same: Always held on the third week of April at Laguna Seca, lots and lots of walking, the dust bowl. The only difference was that I spent two days there instead of the usual one so I that I could pace myself between checking out gear, trying to get some general photos, and even some racing action.

If next year’s edition is as busy as this year’s then I think I need to be there for its entirety. Here’s a quick, off-the-cuff photo journal of my two days, minus the gear of course.

First, the expo was lit. (Overheard at some point: InterBike’s dead.) I don’t recall seeing that many booths in past years and we were told by the organizers that all the booth spaces were sold out this year. I believe them because I kept getting lost. It was a great workout, but terrible when you have to run to an event or a meeting. You know those wavy flags that booths like to put up so they can be easily found? They don’t work because everybody’s got a few, if they didn’t get blown over by the wind, that is.

Flag or flag-less, however, the place was buzzing. Look, there’s Rebecca Rusch talking about nutrition while cranking out smoothies effortlessly at the Clif booth, kids watching dirt jumps at the always popular Subaru booth.

And how can I forget the happy hour giveaway raffle at Fox? Thankfully, no RC cars or Float 40 were thrown off the roof of the truck, much to the dismay of the bros amongst the huge, energetic crowd (who doesn’t like free stuff?).

2018 Sea Otter Classic
Steel is real and this gorgeous orange Von Hof Cross bike deserved to be placed high up for all to marvel at.

Not far from the Fox crowd, however, was this quiet booth with two whiteboards full of ordnances found on Fort Ord, where Laguna Seca rests upon. Now, the ones shown are obviously inert but they served as a great reminder to stay on them marked trails.

As visitors continued to trickle in on Friday, the number of bikes with for sale signs chained to various fences also increased. Matt, your Demo 8 looks sweet and all but do those roadside ads ever work? Asking for a friend.

Besides the obvious information overload on gear, the riding portion looked good too. Throughout the first two days, I spotted plenty of juniors buzzing around on race courses going faster and being more enthusiastic and more organized in ways I only dreamt of when I was racing in their categories 15 years ago. I wish my parents would have allowed me to take days off from school to go racing, too. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging sight to see.

Sea Otter Classic 2018
The juniors warming up. Together.
Team Swift with the 1-2-3.

Moving on to pro racing. It dawned on me on the second day that Laguna Seca was a rather difficult place to photograph racing since getting from point A to point B “down the road” often means 15 minutes of walking in circles. My schedule was packed as if I were at InterBike, so I was only able to catch the pro women slugging it out on the short track aka criterium on dirt.

Sea Otter Classic 2018
The CLIF Pro Team were all smiles before racing in the Pro Women Short Track event.
Sea Otter Classic 2018
Kate Courtney (Specialized Factory Team) getting ready for her STXC race
Sea Otter Classic 2018
The kids were out to cheer for the women’s short track.
Construction Zone Racing-Scott
2017 US National STXC Champion Erin Huck (Construction Zone Racing-Scott) at the start line.
Sea Otter Classic 2018
19 year-old Sidney McGill (Focus CX Team Canada) in the pain cave.
Specialized Factory Team
But it was Courtney’s teammate Annika Langvad winning the event.
Sea Otter Classic 2018
That’s a lot of racers.

Lastly, don’t forget to pick up a bag of kettle corn from Cliff & Jan’s. Typically located at the bottom of the walk bridge off  Wolf Hill, these two grade-school sweethearts have been steadily popping corns at Sea Otter for the past 12 years and I can’t avoid getting a bag year after year, much like attending Sea Otter itself.