Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Old School Cool

Humphrey Bogart riding a bike has more cool in the hand in that pocket than I will in the rest of my life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Rain Returneth

One year after the driest summer in Ever, we've had a particularly temperate year - August didn't always feel like living on the sun!   In the last few years we've had dry, sunny Autumns, but this one has started with a wet and rainy bang.  Over the last 6 weeks or so I've started taking Jeet Kune Do, and to keep my knees intact while still kickin' butt, I quite literally HAVE to bike back and forth to class.

In the summer, cycling is a very lightweight proposition - just throw on some flip flops and shorts, and come on down.  The equipment necessary is so simple!  But then the temperature starts to drop and the rain starts to fall - suddenly you and your stuff need protection!  But in the rain the world is quiet, the streets seem to roll a little faster, and the streets glow with reflections from the street lights.  Autumn rain is truly one of my favorite times to ride.

That in mind, I thought I'd go over my equipment for riding in the rain in the hopes that it will inspire others to give it a try.  For beginners, understand I've not only been cycling for years, but I also sold bikes for several of those years and have had time to acquire a lot of gear.  You don't need to rush out and get all this stuff at once (but having it sure helps).

Stuff for the Bike:


Everyone should have these anyways, but during the summer when the sun sets late and the visibility is good, it's less of a huge deal.  In autumn the sun sets earlier, and in the rain a driver's visibility is significantly lowered, as is their ability to control the vehicle in case of an emergency.  Good, bright lights with functioning batteries ensure you're seen.  I personally have used the Planet Bike Superflash and the Blaze 1-Watt for YEARS with fantastic success.  It's simple, extremely bright, and mine have lasted through multiple years of riding in the rain, on trails, and have still been there after accidentally leaving them on with the bike on the back of my car.

What's pictured there is the set - I bought mine individually, so my tail light is red instead of clear, but they both flash red.  However, in the state of Texas, a bicycle is legally required to have a red reflector on the back, and my red tail light qualifies.  I wouldn't recommend this headlight for people who consistently commute through truly dark areas - the Blaze 1-Watt is fantastic for getting seen from quite a difference but in pitch black I'd prefer to have more light with which to see.  My other criticism of these lights after extended use is that the bracket tends to slip ever-downward and in 4 sets of handlebars on 3 different bikes, I've never gotten the fit quite right.  Despite these criticisms, however, I'm still using the lights and don't want to get a different one, so there's a lot right about them as well.

Whatever your product choice, safety truly DEMANDS lights, so you may as well get some good ones.


Fenders, known in Europe as "Mudguards" are those thingies that go over the wheels.  Basically their job is to keep the crap splashing up from the road and your wheels where it belongs - not on you.  Visually they have a very dominating aesthetic influence on the overall look of your bike, and there's a fender for almost every look out there.  I've even seen a set of old 29-er tires cut and turned into a set of fenders.

I'm rocking some Velo Orange aluminum fenders because I decided I was going with the Chrome look on my bike, but over the course of a couple years of heavy use, they've gained a lot of Beausage (the beauty of usage).  I've added some stickers, dented them chaning the bike to poles, and did something at some point that means my front fender literally always has a low-level rattle.  But I absolutely love my fenders because when the rain starts to fall, I am the dryest, happiest cyclist in just about any group.

Some sensible tires

I have mismatched tires on my bike, but they both fall into the "Sensible" category.  You want something with low rolling resistance, but enough tread to wick water away from the centerline of the tire (i.e. the contact point with the road).  Wide enough for stability.  Any bike shop can steer you in the right direction, but I personally have had phenomenal experience with Continental tires.  My front tire is  a Freedom Cruz 26x1.5, my back tire is a Continental Contact 26x1.5.  Honestly, they both work fine.  Work with your local bike shop to find something within your price range that will have you sitting pretty when you go for a corner in the wet.

Stuff for the Person

Waterproof bag

This can be just about anything, but my hands-down winner of over 3 years of ownership is the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Rear Panniers.  You've seen them before in pictures, but I never draw too much attention to them and there's a very good reason for that - they fade into the background of my universe.  A piece of equipment works flawlessly if you never think about it.  You just use it.  They're totally waterproof (I've taken an SLR camera in them in a rainstorm with no worries).  They're extremely adjustable.  They have reflective thingies pointing backwards, providing additional visibility to traffic.  I love them.

I complement them with my usual go-to everything bag, a black Timbuk2 Classic Messenger in the extra small size.  I've had one of these bags with me just about everywhere since 2008 - the only reason my old one was replaced is it needed a few repairs.  I emailed Timbuk2 about it, and rather than repairing the bag, they gave me a new one.  The old one is now in the possession of a friend, who still uses it.  Aside from the durability, the bag is totally waterproof as far as rain goes.  Cell phones, snacks, fancy designer items....they've all stayed dry.  I took a fall in a creek carrying it once and the only thing damaged was my pride.

A Jacket

As someone who used to work in the industry, I tend to own more technical fabric than anything else.  My jackets include the REI Taku and the Novara Verita.  The Taku is a heavier jacket, which is fitting as it was originally made for backpacking, ice-climbing, and hiking.  It's stretchy, but the stretchiness does make a compromise in the waterproofness.  As it's a heavier jacket, it's also way easier to overheat in if the weather isn't cold, even with the zippered vents open.  But on a day where it's drizzling and cold, or if I need the hood, this is it.

The Verita is made of a material called eVent, which is basically the latest and greatest in waterproof breathable technology (or at least it was when I was selling stuff as of a year ago).  It breathes to such an extent I've personally witnessed a jacket steam when a person ran out into the cold from sweating inside a hot building.  It's a cycling specific jacket, meaning the sleeves are cut longer, it has a drop-tail hem, and does not include a hood.  However, as far as I can tell, this jacket is completely waterproof, and breathes like a CHAMP.  With a layer underneath it, you can stay warm and dry down to some pretty decent temps.  It does look a bit funny off the bike, but most cycling-specific clothes only look natural in the position of riding.

A sense of humor

All these items aren't going to guarantee you get to your destination with perfect hair, or with nary a splash on you.  But you'll experience the freedom of the world when everyone else stays inside.  You'll smell the tang of ozone before a storm and not be worried.  Don't take things too seriously, and smile!  Life's not so bad.

So there you have it.  That's my setup, and it makes riding in the rain one of my favorite times to be on the bike.  Even though I have a lot of fancy gear, there are a lot of options out there that aren't as expensive - do some snooping to see what you can come up with!  Then go ride.

The way home glows in the rain.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pushin' Pedals

In the project of building the Surly to my exact specs, the one piece that had never come together were the pedals.  As many of you know, a Surly doesn't come with pedals and when I built the bike, I'd just spent a whole bunch of money on clipless pedals for the Cannondale, a rack for the Surly, Brooks Saddle, and so on - there wasn't a lot of spare cash laying around for pedals.

So, I threw the original platform pedals that came with the Cannondale on the Surly and never looked back.  That is to say, a set of black plastic Wellgos I'd dented on a curb at some point or another.  And until a little while ago, that's what I'd had on the bike.

However (despite my recent lack of things to say), I never stop biking and questioning my setup, and have been getting a decent amount of numbness in my feet recently.  I was also tired of constantly scratching my legs and feet up while wearing sandals and shorts, the uniform for Austin in the summer. I snooped.  I browsed.  I eventually sat, trapped between the MKS Touring, the MKS Grip King, and the MKS RMX, also known as the "Sneaker Pedal."  All beautiful, all well-made.

The Sneaker Pedal caught my eye for a few reasons - the biggest being price.  At $28.00, they were similarly priced to many "cheapo" pedals that work fine, but didn't bring quite what I wanted.  They had a nice big platform in a BMX shape, and no sharp edges to destroy my shoes and scratch me up.  They had MKS quality, meaning they spin smoothly and work without issue.!  After much pondering, I ordered them and installed them while sitting on the floor of my living room as my boyfriend watched my enthusiasm with amusement.

I've had the pedals on about a month and feel I can finally comment on them.  The issues I was experiencing with numbness in my feet seems to have cleared up, which is great!  They seem to grip my shoes just fine, and I never have the sensation of being on "the wrong side", which can happen with some platform style pedals with no foot retention.

One thing I like about these pedals is they're very easy to find with my feet without looking.  This goes with the no-scratches thing - the majority of scratches I've gotten from pedals happened while I was trying to "find" the pedal with my foot and watch traffic at the same time.  My old pedals also had a side that was comfy, and a side that poked weirdly, even with shoes on.  These ones I can ride in barefoot!

The Wellgos from my Cannondale served me well for years, but I've already given them away to a coworker, because I'm never going back to the land of numb feet and weird nubby feelings in the soles of my shoes.