Flat and Straight

Sounds like a bluegrass band name, or a hair style. Maybe I’ll ask for a flat and straight next time I visit my stylist (barber shop). Many roads I’ve ridden can be described with this hairstyle name, but I didn’t see any hair, not that I was looking for it either. FnS (Flat and Straight) bike routes or roads are good for the race of truth, and they can become KOM/QOM drag-strips.

The race of truth, or time trial, seems to be what I always did racing. I’ve only raced two TTs, but almost every race I’ve done was a solo effort. Maybe I’m that fast! But it’s the opposite, I’m probably slow. Most of my racing has been off-road, not the best place to be a foot behind a wheel, while needing to solve problems (obstacles) you can’t see until you hit them. Those two TT’s were on some of the most bland roads, nothing to see of interest, except for the distant horizon or mountains, brown landscape, no trees, fenced off, nothing to see. Roads like these are often considered very scenic, but not in the sense of the route being labeled aesthetic.

Stream crossing, Wongok. I always search for such jewels that add character to a route.

FnS routes have some appeal. That could be the shortest distance between two points you want to connect, or you’re after a KOM. Is there any other possible appeal to an FnS route? Some geographic areas have FnS’s that provide very distant views of far horizons. The only FnS rides I’ve enjoyed are riding through cities, or other highly populated areas. This works because it provides visual distraction. For me, that visual distraction is a major characteristic of an aesthetic route: curves, hills, or rapid overload of attractions. My bike riding began on trails. Twisting, turning, climbing, diving, rarely a steady view, and that constantly changing scenery is one aspect of cycling that really pulled me in. And I always want to know what’s over the next hill, or around the next turn, (that’s the addition part!).

So many miles of these narrow farm roads everywhere! Made a wrong turn first, then got to the correct left turn and the impending 16% climb with no approach speed.

For me, running has this same route requirement, must not be straight, at least. I admit sometimes I don’t need (want) to run uphill. And this developed from my favorite runs which are not road-based, but on trails. I’ve done a couple marathons, and they had at least three straightaways, no shorter than 50 miles, on these 26.2 mile routes! I don’t know how they designed those courses. I often wonder why marathons aren’t routed in hills. This oddity probably perpetuated from one of the main attractions to marathons- to create a standard that all runners can use for measure, or self-assessment, comparison, (I’m faster than you, at 26.2!). Many marathons do have an attempt at aesthetics, most are inside city landscapes, providing some type of visual distraction from those 50 mile long straightaways!

This section is just north of me, one of the many steep ridgeline passes. This one is around 16% on both sides.

Flat and straight. When planning a ride, or run, I study maps, and previous rides, and try to “draw” my plan without FnS’s. I’ll admit I did label a recent ride as the Jinwi Time Trial. And this was so close to almost flat (279 ft elevation gain) for 19 miles. It was an after work evening ride that I envisioned sometime after lunch, while crawling through afternoon tasks at the office. Doesn’t everyone use afternoons at the office to decide where to ride or run after work? Must have been a terrible afternoon to come up with a flat ride idea.

Moobong Dirt
Nice dirt road climb to Moobong Pass

I came to South Korea from New Mexico, and I knew SK was not flat before I looked out the airplane window, I studied a little, and I had passed through Seoul for a few days back in 1999. With about 38k square miles, most of the terrain is not flat or lowlands, 70% is upland or mountains (not flat). The peninsula has been likened to a sea in a heavy gale, because of the nonstop mountain ranges covering the land. Highway builders here are experts at tunneling, same for trains. There are a few tunnels that are bike friendly, and some I maybe shouldn’t have ridden through. But the beauty of cycling is riding over these ridgelines, but that’s not always possible. Although there are trails on every ridgeline, (SK Cow Rule #3), IMBA style switch-backing trails are near non-existent here, and many paved roads go straight up steep slopes.

As automobiles will usually take the quickest route, many of the older narrow roads over the mountains are left for bikes, and locals. As the old roads reach the end of the farmable lands in the valleys, they sometimes continue up. 10% grade is normal here, with many averaging 15%. I sometimes try to see the number on my GPS and I’ve seen it show 25% a few times. That was just before I dismounted to walk, the hazards of riding a single gear bike, (imagine Hans Gruber, in Die Hard, saying this instead of “The benefits of a classical education.”)

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This bridge was probably on the main road a few years ago.

Most of the FnS possibilities are along the rivers or through the farmlands. Why do I enjoy the farm roads so much? Before I moved here, I assumed there’d be many miles of dirt farm roads. After riding around here for three years, I’ve come to accept that less than .001% of all the miles of farm roads may be unpaved. Yes, not much on the dirt roads, sad, but I think the reason is to prevent erosion of the roads into the rice fields. But, I’ll say that I enjoy riding these narrow, one-car-width, roads! The faster you go, the narrower they feel, and when the curves come, it’s similar to riding a single-track on an mtb.

An aesthetic feature about the FnS routes here is that I ride many of the farm roads year- round, watching the full life of the many crops from rice to corn, is spiritual, in a nature sense (?). In the winter, the rice fields will be a dry hardpack, spring brings the irrigation then planting. Rice starts as a plug about 4 inches tall, become a monster stalk about 6 feet tall at harvest.

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Typical “road ride” feature I search for on the maps!

The farm roads will also take you through the older communities, with homes from older construction techniques, similar to southwest US, timbers, mud, straws, etc. These streets are narrow, barely one SK vehicle sometimes, not a place to reach for that KOM! But a place to slow and soak in life from an exciting and different culture. I’ve never felt like an intruder on these “intimate” streets, always see smiles, and as much as I’d like to photo everything there, I try to be respectful of their neighborhood!

Flat and straight is usually the least culturally valuable route. But FnS can display the mountains around the valleys in a beautiful composition of nature. Did I mention how green this place is? Mountains covered in trees, of many varieties. And any other plant that can, will fill the gaps between the trees. Even kudzu, just like the southeast US. While riding in the valleys, I’m always searching for trailheads into the trees. Every ridgeline has a trail, (SK Cow Rule #3). Only busted that #3 twice, and both times was after an unmarked straight-up hike, carrying the mtb. So, I look at the mountains and wonder if the ridgeline trail is worth the approach on the typically steep SK trails.

moobong-pass.jpg

Moobong Pass. Not very tall, but one side hits 24%!

Quite often, the twisty farm roads that skirt the valleys were the main road through the farm areas, staying at the edge of the forest and hills allowed maximum use of the flatter easier to farm lowlands. And not every old road continues, I’ve hit many dead ends while searching for the best routes through the flats, (SK Cow Rule #2).  I always get excited when I find a new twisty farm road that does not dead end, these are rare in the valleys, but not on the flats.

Avoiding flat and straight has resulted in many miles of amazing exploration in this country. With spare time, and the best maps, and ride files from locals, it is possible to draw some awesome routes, over the mountains, through the valleys, and into towns I’ve never seen. The narrow farm roads feed my avoidance of flat and straight, and these are my favorites; sometimes they lead to a single-track which adds a bonus to any road ride! If you are in South Korea, and haven’t ridden these jewels, you are missing the prize! The straight route is usually the easiest, but the twisty is always more rewarding! Aesthetics is important, and not just how you look on the starting line, but how that route looks from the handlebar! I could just ride the rollers inside if I didn’t need to be visually entertained by the constantly changing view out front.

Maybe applications like STRAVA, MAPMYRIDE, GARMIN CONNECT, etc., should add a data field for an aesthetic rating, but should it be Yes or NO, or a scale of 1-10? Or choices like BORING, or F!@#$NG AWESOME? I think the latter! But would you share your route if it got the BORING rating? Probably not, just like I will not be asking my hair stylist (barber) for the flat and straight!

https://www.strava.com/

https://www.mapmyride.com/

https://connect.garmin.com/

https://gopro.com/

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JAKROO Bike Clothes

I’ll never forget the first pair of shorts I wore on a bike ride. Or maybe it’s just that I’ll never forget how those shorts and underwear caused such pain, that I tried to ignore while riding. I eventually got a pair of bike shorts, after a few months of suffering in all the wrong shorts. I could not believe the difference the right material and some padding had on my riding! The chosen shirts worked a little better, but they were just t-shirts, hot, sweaty, and stayed hot and sweaty. I got a bike jersey maybe two years later, and immediately appreciated the difference.

That was in the 80’s, and like most cyclists, I’ve been through many different clothing pieces, and many team kits since then. Some were memorable, for the race results, and others because the bad design features. Some team kits look great, some looks like the designer was trying to create the most complicated layout that didn’t work in the end or sometimes lacked creativity. I know I’m not a great kit designer, I’ve tried a couple times and in the long run, I may have no imagination either. The worst would be to spend money on your personal design, only to hang it in the closet to never be worn after that first time it made your riding group nauseous. Fortunately, there are companies that provide design help!

When dealing with a committed team, it’s possible to organize a team order efficiently, and collect the money and order forms, and make everyone look alike. Sometimes there’s just a group who have a few things in common, and might be interested in matching clothing. I discovered JAKROO through another Facebook group, SINGLESPEED OR DEATH. They offered “team” clothing, but you could order whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, no collecting and placing an order against a schedule. I contacted JAKROO and got started!

Me n jakroo
Going uphill in South Korea

Me, the clothing designer? No, I think I covered that already. I asked for help from the JAKROO designers, gave them a few small suggestions, some items I wanted added, and it came out great! But there’s more to team kits than just looks, the pieces have to work. I read all the clothing descriptions before I committed. I do wish I had paid closer attention to two descriptors: the temperature ratings and the sizing charts.

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Tour Jersey, (with black arm warmers).

I don’t recall how I decided on the Tour jersey, but after receiving the Vuelta long sleeve jersey, I realized I may have chosen the wrong short sleeve jersey, due to the fabric. The Sapphire and Asteria fabrics create a nice jersey, but these do not breath as well as the Onyx fabric of the Vuelta jersey. I wear these clothes regardless of the temperature or humidity, but I would not recommend the Tour jersey for “high heat index” days, (although I do it anyway, vanity!).

 

JAKROO has a very unique feature in their jerseys. Along the vertical strip of reflective material on the right rear, there’s a vertical zippered pocket. The pocket is lined with a waterproof material. The design will keep items secure and dry. I’ll say the pocket is the size of a Samsung Galaxy S8, since that fits in there, although it could take thicker items, such as a typical wallet. A passport fits, but with not straight in. One note about that waterproof secure pocket is that it is on the outside layer of the right rear jersey pocket, so whatever you put in there will be on the outside.

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Secret Jersey Pocket

The Barrier wind jacket is a valuable piece in the transition seasons. It keeps me warm on cool days, and with additional layers, it can be used down to about 40 degrees F. The jacket provides a bit of rain protection, but not rated by JAKROO as water resistant or proof. One important feature for lightweight jackets is that it will fit in a jersey pocket, and the Barrier meets that requirement.

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Secret Pocket

The Peloton Pro bib sounded like the best choice, an upgraded chamois for long rides is key to my usual riding style. One of my many bold (humorous) cycling tenets is “Real road rides begin after 100 miles”. I have a few pair of worn out Voler bibs with their all day chamois, and this JAKROO bib has a comparable chamois, for all day use. One minor issue with this bibshort is with the height if the front area between the straps, it’s a little high. And probably only a male would realize this, during a natural break.

jersey front
Ridgeline Jersey front

The Ridgeline jersey and Rally shorts are good. No features on the jersey, but the shorts have great pockets. They also have adjustable Velcro straps on the waistline, these help with fit adjustment, and there’s belt loops if needed.

jersey back
Ridgeline Jersey back

At sometime in my life, I decided I am a medium. If there are lettered sizes, I’m a medium. If there’s a size chart, I’m medium in everything. I’ve bought from many bike clothing companies, shorts and jerseys, jackets, winter weight jackets, etc., and I’m always a medium. My mediumness has caused issues, and it was my mediumness that resulted in a few problems with the JAKROO sizing charts. The Tour jersey fit is good, the same for the medium Peloton Pro bib. The Barrier jacket is great, sleeve length is perfect. But a few items did not follow my medium requirements.

short front
Rally Shorts front

The Vuelta long sleeve jersey, which I got for the transition seasons, fits big and the sleeves are oddly long. The Peloton Pro bib I first ordered was a medium, but the length was noticeable less than other manufacturers; to solve this, I ordered a large, which matched the length of other bibs I’ve used. Maybe mountain bike clothing sizing is in transition from cartoon character baggy to slimmer more hipster styles. I didn’t look at the sizing charts and ordered a medium Ridgeline jersey and Rally shorts. Well, I had a friend that fit the shorts better, and I ordered a small which works better, but I could wear the extra small better. I was able to take the jersey to a local tailor who took a few inches out of the side seams, and a few inches off the bottom, for a couple dollars.

shorts back
Rally Shorts back

I’m sure you’ve noticed the placement of the US and Republic of Korea flags. The clothes are for the Bike Osan Facebook group. There are members from the US DoD, military and civilian, and members from our local communities who aren’t associated with the US. The flags are placed so they appear in the correct direction when on the bike.

This is my only “one off” clothing order. It costs a little more for this small count service, but it’s a luxury to create your idea in clothing. Our group has a store established at JAKROO, where anyone can order, if you know the name. The prices would be less if more were ordered, but again, making that arrangement with groups is not always easy, especially when it’s not a formal group like a competitive team. Working with the designers was simple and fairly quick. I learned a few things in this custom process. Always make sure the colors are exactly what you want, which is sometimes difficult using email and varied computer systems. And always use the free design services offered, these people have probably seen hundreds of nauseating designs by people like me.

It was about two months between beginning the process and receiving the clothes. I’ve been wearing these items for about a year and a half, and they are holding up well!

https://www.jakroo.com/us/

 

 

The Perfect Bike Shoe

Imagine you’re on your bike, pedaling for 10 minutes, or 10 hours. How often do you think about your feet? I usually forget they are there, completely. I’m usually thinking: thirsty for something not in my bottle; hungry for food I don’t have; moving my hands around the bar searching for the newest comfortable hand position; saddle sores; sore neck; sweat in my eyes; how many miles to go; why am I doing this, again; etc.  And then I stop, unclip, and remember my feet, as my full weight goes into the shoes. I take a step or 20 steps, and I’m noticing the shoe more with each step. How many steps before I realize I’m in cycling shoes? Is it the flex of the sole, or is traction an issue? Sometimes the “CLICK, CLICK, CLICK,” as I walk, reminds me I’m wearing bike shoes. And now people are staring at me, wondering why I click when I walk. If I were wearing the perfect shoe, I wouldn’t remember they were bike shoes until I got on the bike again.

I’ve had one pair of road shoes. The only time I thought these were advantageous was while riding fixie, that extra tight security of the Shimano pedal and cleat wouldn’t let my shoe release even at stupid high cadence on descents, and sometimes when I wanted it out. Otherwise, I was never sure why I needed stiffness and the inherent lack of walking traction of road shoes. I’ve done many long road rides, and a few races of varied lengths, but I never realized any advantages of a road shoe over an mtb shoe. Being a fan of Crank Bros eggbeater pedals, I love the float in the connection from shoe to pedal. There may be scientific data proving a benefit of that ski boot type connection to a bicycle that road shoes and pedals provide, (I haven’t seen it), but the needed effort to unclip and the difficulty walking far outweighed any advantages I may have gained. I do believe a more stable platform while pedaling is better for lengthy rides, but I’m not sure a complete lack of flex is necessary. There may be data…!

I’ve read a few studies on the potential efficiencies, or lack of, for the connection of the shoe to the pedal, either road or mtb clip systems. And I’ve been considering switching back to “real” bike pedals, (for some reason these are now called flat pedals; who decides these new names for historical items?) Since I’m better at getting the bike off the ground with that solid connection provided by my Egg Beaters, I have not started down the flat pedal revolutionary path. I’ve done many miles on a downhill bike, mostly with flats, but I never developed that full confidence with those pedals. Maybe I’m scared of change; just need to commit!

Giro 1
Got no sole?

 

Except for that one pair of road shoes, all my varied mtb shoes were perfect, until I replaced them, and then the new ones took that title. I do tend to wear a pair of bike shoes down to almost unrecognizable scruffy foot covers that somehow continue to hold on to the cleat bolted to the bottom side. I walk a lot in my bike shoes; that can happen riding steeper or higher altitude trails sometimes. I dream of a shoe that will take the cleat securely and walk like a trail running shoe. Maybe I shouldn’t take my bike with me while hiking.

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There’s still something there.

“Front pointing” (toes on the ground, heels up) on steep trails is a technique that works ok sometimes when choosing the exploration or adventure route. Stiff soles help, but heel rub may become an issue. Using “French technique” (one foot horizontal and the other up on the toes) relieves much of the discomfort from trying to walk straight uphill or front pointing. By now you should be wondering why I’m going straight up hillsides, this is usually the most difficult and is potentially the most ecologically damaging route to take. There are actual trails though, a few in New Mexico and many in South Korea that are straight up (and there are no IMBA style trails in SK). The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but not always the easiest or best, and not always rideable (up or down). Some trail builders may have never heard the word “switchback”.

Giro 1
Giro Privateer

 

As I buy new shoes, I keep the old pair around, just in case. I actually have my last two pair right now. The Giro Privateer worked great for a few years of abuse. I probably wore these much longer than would be recommended, but they still worked. The interior did not hold up well at all, the material on the heel was the first “wound” on the inside. The sole wore as expected for hard plastic.

PI
Pearl Izumi X Project 3.0

I really liked the Pearl Izumi X Project 3.0, these were noticeably more comfy than the Giro Privateer. But that same hard plastic sole wore away from walking on steep rough terrain. The interior held very well, the heel was lined with a smooth vinyl that did not create friction and cause an open wound. These had a slightly clear plastic on the sole but was not too “showy” and did not look out of place in the dirt.

I got these Giant Transmit Nylon Sole off road shoes around September 2017, from Bike Nara in Seoul. I knew nothing of this shoe until I tried it on. I walked in them in the store and was impressed, but knew it would be different with the cleats mounted. I was wrong! Many many miles of walking later and they are still cushy and silent.

The interior of the Giants are very comfortable, all contact points are padded sufficiently, and remains comfortable after eight hours of riding. The soft walking sole is the main aspect of this shoe that I really like. Some mtb shoes have a very hard plastic lug system, and these will bite into dirt or mud nicely. I have no test data, but I believe this harder plastic wears quicker, especially with my tendency or need to walk.

All three of these shoes have a mix of buckles and Velcro. Velcro? Yes, I know many riders do not like Velcro shoes. Some of my favorite shoes only used Velcro straps. Those straps still worked great after a couple of years of abuse. Maybe there are different levels of Velcro quality, and I got lucky. I always look at the full Velcro strapped shoes first when shopping, but they are getting rare. BOA connectors are replacing Velcro and buckles lately. Not everyone wants pro-level stiffness of the latest carbon footbeds and 1 ounce shoe, but we all want convenience and ease of entry, maybe BOA system should be on all shoes.

Giant 5

I was skeptical when I first saw those buckle systems on the side of mtb shoes, normal use would put those mechanisms in jeopardy. I’ve had at least four brands of shoes with buckle systems. Big differences were the location of the release mechanism. My Giro Privateers buckle had the “press and release” tab on the bottom of the buckle. For me, this was the best buckle design, getting out was easier. And when the BOA closure systems began appearing, I was once again skeptical, but they have proven their durability, just as the buckles, and (for me) the velcro straps. And many shoe designs are going back to strings lately. The first bike shoes I had were a touring shoe (1986), and they had strings, just as all other bike shoes before that time. I was always concerned about the strings getting bitten by the chain and rings. But many of the new “classic” shoes are nice looking!

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I don’t clean my biking items as much as some riders, you may have noticed this from many of the images I’ve posted. My theory- clean, spotless bikes and equipment don’t get used much, or somebody has a lot of time on their hands. Dirty implies a concentration on riding, not cleaning. I do clean my bikes and equipment occasionally, but I’m far from obsessive. The Giant shoes are something I do not like as much when clean. These were stupid shiny when new, SHINY GLOSSY BLACK DIRT SHOES! Road maybe, but why mtb shoes? Feel like I should be looking for Shoe Shine Boy while riding. (NOTE: when I say Shoe Shine Boy, the phrase is from watching the Underdog cartoon when I was a kid).

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How has he shine held up? There could be a reason for the finish, some type of protective surface seal to prevent damage, or soaking up water, or maybe it was just for looks. I wouldn’t want waterproof mtb shoes, that means inhibited breathing, could be bad in the summer. Maybe the finish is intended as a protection, like Teflon. Mtb shoes are always beaten and abused, scrubbed through rocks, mud, sand, and undergrowth, unusual to start with a dress shoe appearance. If the cleat would hit the floor while walking, maybe I could have considered them for a Broadway tap dance career! Not sure I’d look as good as those dancers back in the black and white movie days though, and the extent of my rhythm capabilities are pedaling a continuous cadence while secured to pedals on a bicycle. And that usually has no entertainment value for anyone but me.

https://www.giro.com/en/privateer-r-hv/p/7068401

https://www.giant-bicycles.com/us/transmit-nylon-sole-off-road-shoe

http://www.bikenara.co.kr/

http://www.sockguy.com/

 

The Perfect Water Bottle

I’ve seen many water bottle designs for biking, after about 35 years of cycling. The basic bottle hasn’t changed much over the years with plastic being the primary material used. Bottle design has always considered the grip of the bottle cages, to prevent losing them while riding. A key feature of the bottles is the ability to drink liquids while riding. Being able to close, or seal, the cap after drinking is one of the simple but great features of most bottles. People will use non-bike bottles sometimes but having to unscrew a lid while riding is not a skill I’ve pursued. Although some drinking valves work better than others, most are sufficient.

I don’t always remember to close the valves in bottles, but I’ll close them when they are nearly full or likely to spill. Closing the valve after every drink also means it will have to be opened again before drinking. I’ve squeezed bottles so many times, trying to get a sip of whatever miracle liquid I had loaded, only to get nothing because I closed the valve. Some riders believe unwanted things will enter that tiny opening, I’ve never noticed this but I’ve never really looked either.

Some bottles have caps that cover the valve completely, an attempt to keep the drinking valve clean from all the things that can splash up around a bottle while riding off-road. I’ve ridden dirt roads where cattle were the most numerous occupants, but I don’t think I’ve ever tasted their waste (from an exposed water bottle). I have been so thirsty at times that I probably wouldn’t care. Sometimes I’ll take in some liquid and realize it has chunks of dirt in it and I’ll spit it out, but it never tasted bad. However, I don’t know what cow waste tastes like, I doubt it tastes like a burger though.

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Camouflaged Dark Stuff 

As for the basic bottle valves, we always want to know they’re clean before starting a ride at least. Do you look closely at your bottles for cleanliness, or just a glance while filling? Some bottles have black valves and it’s not easy to see inside the opening. I recently found two older Specialized 1st Generation Big Mouth bottles that had an amazing layer of “black stuff” in the opening. I was very surprised at how well this black stuff blended with the darkness in there. So, I now suspect my entire of collection of similar bottles have the same problem. I hope to remember to clean all of them before using again. I haven’t inspected the 2nd generation Big Mouths or the Purists bottles I have, maybe I should.

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CAMELBAK Podium and Podium Chill

CAMELBAK created a unique valve a few years ago, The Podium. The Podium bottle came with the “Jet Valve”. This valve will not release liquid without a squeeze of the bottle. You could probably shake it vigorously and get some liquid to dribble out, but the valve is very secure. There’s also a lock position that definitely will not leak, this is a major gain for those who cannot keep their bottles standing upright during preparation or travel to rides. Even with this security I still don’t fully trust a bottle of sticky miracle liquid to not soak all my ride gear in a bag.

I’ve been using the Podiums for a few years now and am very satisfied with their performance. I got three new ones from Bikeworks ABQ, (in Albuquerque, New Mexico) a little over three years ago. These have been great, the logos may have worn a bit, but the valves are still working great. The Chills do insulate nicely for winter rides. As winter comes on, I’ll begin using warm water in the Chills, and even go to boiling water when the temps get way below freezing. Still, the valve has frozen many times on those cold morning rides to work.

With both models of the Podiums, I began noticing a “darkness” inside the silicone bite valve after some time. I learned the hard way that drinking from any container, straw or valve that has something “dark stuff” growing in it, can lead to a great week away from biking or running, while recovering from an odd collection of crappy symptoms that begin with a sore throat. I discovered this with my first CAMELBAK bladder drinking system, around 1992, just can’t use it when the hose doesn’t look right.

Podium set
“Internal Dark Stuff” and a Clean Valve

I decided I need to keep these Podium lids clean, so I learned how to disassemble these valves for cleaning. It’s not a difficult process, just time consuming. The first few times I did this, I just scrubbed the gunk out of each piece. Later I realized I could just let them soak in a bit a bleach and water in a bowl, and rinse well when all the parts looked new again. I usually do a few lids every few months, or more when using liquids other than water.

But water will do the same thing eventually, don’t feel immune to this problem. I would imagine some of our current miracle liquids will create the dark stuff sooner, and I’ve experimented with rinsing methods for after use, but there are so many surfaces in this assembly that can’t be easily rinsed.

So, you’re wondering why these bottles are worth the extra care, and I don’t blame you. I have just rattled on about the work involved in preventing the “gunk” disease. Back to that part about the valve not leaking, after a long bumpy ride, my bike frame is not covered in sticky miracle liquid that spilled from the bottles. Some residual drops will get on the frame, but I don’t have to close a valve to keep the frame from becoming a sticky mess. The dogs do like to lick the sticky from the frame though. CAMELBAK has changed the design of the Podium bottle recently, I haven’t tried one yet, so I can’t say if the time needed to disassemble and clean has been reduced. The website says they are easier to clean. I’ll let you know when I’ve had plenty of time with the new ones to report on cleaning requirements. I’ll closely track what liquids have been used that led to the growth of the black stuff, but I won’t let you know if I got sick drinking from them.

As for the perfect bicycle water bottle, it does not exist, yet. Every new design gets closer, but always has at least a minor weakness. With progress, some perfect items are never needed because we change the way we do things and no longer need that item. Either enjoy what’s available now, or wait for the future, but either way, I believe the Podium bottles are our current perfect.

http://www.bikeworksabq.com/

http://www.specializedwaterbottles.com/water-bottles/1g-big-mouth

https://www.camelbak.com/en/bottles/R02045–Podium_24_2019?color=0f7301121eb349b291bf26081660cc8b

Training Weight

Running was once a simple activity. I’d do around 10 miles on the trails with nothing but an ID card, in case my body needed identification found in an arroyo providing a lunch buffet for the coyotes. After the 10 mile distance, I thought I should take some liquid since I was getting thirsty. I tried carrying a small water bottle, not bad, but that got old. And then I decided I wanted music! The Camelback was next. I tried a few different ones I had, different sizes and features, but the load would flop around a bit, hard to compress into place. And the fitting of the bag was as close and secure as needed.

My bicycle jerseys have pockets, so I tried these. Small light items were ok, even my phone would settle into position after about 100 feet. I didn’t try to carry any liquids, too big, too heavy, I didn’t think they would ever not wiggle around. Got one of those arm bands for the phone, it worked, but was really messing with my tan line, and the headphone cord flopped even more than when it was hanging from a rear pocket in the bike jersey.

All of this was over a span of about 10 years. Had I continued running consistently over that time I may have gotten famous, and I wouldn’t be writing from this perspective, because I’d be a sponsored professional runner with no full-time job except running. I should have kept running! My running was more of a “while traveling” activity, since 2006, because the items needed took little space in my suitcase, and I could usually find a trail, or at least an acceptable road route anywhere I went. I jumped back in to more running in 2013, and eventually needed to solve the “I need to take more crap with me” problem.

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The Flip Belt was a great option for an ID, money, phone, and a few gels. This is a very simple tube of stretchy material, with four slots scattered around the belt. It hugs my beltline comfortably and fits under a shirt without causing anyone to wonder what I was trying to hide around my waist. With a phone, 5 gels, cash and ID, it does not jiggle of drop. This works great on short runs, but I wanted go further and thought I needed liquid. (“Needed liquid”- ignoring the hydrate or die sales pitch, we all eventually become dehydrated if not drinking. Our individual needs are not the same. There are guidelines we can follow, but we need to insure we have enough liquid and not take in too much. Drink when you are thirsty!).

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My first hydration vest was the Osprey Rev 6 Hydration Pack.  It met all my needs: pockets on front, pouches, internal storage, 1.5 liter bladder, adjustable height and length sternum straps. I did have to create a strap system to attach my SPOT device to this pack; it’s supposed to face the sky as clearly as possible and there were no pockets near the top of the shoulder straps or on the back. Pockets on the shoulder straps were great for gels and bars or the right side. The left strap had the Osprey DigiFlip pocket. This held my phone securely and when flipped open, I could almost read the screen and select the screen icons. However, the phone was a little too close to my eyes for serious reading, such as maps or messages. After having squandered my vision, getting closer does not help, only makes me look a little goofy, like I’m going to eat my phone.

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The side pockets, while a descent size for small food items, are difficult to access. Picture an arm folded tighter than imaginable, chicken wing style, with the wrist cranked almost painfully toward the rear, trying to get that tasty sea salt caramel Gu I had been thinking about for 3 miles.  After three years and two sore wrists, it was time for something with more pockets up front, no more chicken winging!

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CLIF BLOKS in the right “chicken wing” pocket.

To add motivation for a new vest, the bladder that came with the Osprey blew a seam one cold morning, as I was starting a long cold winter trail run. The seam was on the bottom of the bladder, and almost two liters of nice warm Accelerade poured down my backside, and it was right around freezing. Needing a new bladder justified a new vest. I tried to make this philosophy work with bicycle tires, but failed miserably, and had to apologize. (NOTE: Apologies always work better when they come in a blue Tiffany’s bag!)

With a move for a new job, and a shorter distance between home and work, run commuting was now an idea. I had been bike commuting for 30 years, but had only done a few run commutes, but with no hydro vest. I was skilled at prepositioning work clothes at the office, but I needed to take some food and other small items, there’s always something else. I did more research this time, because I had experience with one hydration vests and had a few ideas of what might be good or better. And after using one vest for a couple years and looking at a few vests and reading reviews, I decided I was an expert on the subject! The primary things to upgrade: easily accessible pouches or pockets in the front and more volume in the pack.

I decided against one that was rated as great for commuting, only because I thought it would be too big for racing. (RACING? WTF!?) I’d see a random advertisement for a trail race, and finally committed to one. So, now it’s about more serious running and commuting, and one vest was going to do both with success. I chose the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0. Pockets, pouches, zippered pockets, strap adjustments, pockets, so much storage, so accessible! There are two pockets up high on either shoulder strap that will hold the SPOT tracker in good position. The right strap has a deep pocket that holds the water bottle nicely, or holds a few GU BLOKS packs, or LARABARS in the center, or a few on the outer narrower slots. The left strap has a zippered flat pocket that looks designed to hold a phone, and does that nicely. Below these two premier sections of the shoulder straps are open or zippered pockets that hold many gels or similar size items.

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The waist belt has good sized zippered pockets, I can easily store my PETZL ACTIK headlamp with spare room, or more food or a wallet. There are two pull strings at the base of the backside, these are the “Comfort Cinch Technology”. Pulling these will draw in the length of the waist belt and bring the back section closer to the body, adding a bit more security. The adjustable height sternum straps are great, but can’t pull in slack around the waist like these two strings.

In the main area, the big zippered area is plenty big for my commute or can hold many additional clothing items for varying weather runs. A small key or wallet pocket is accessible outside on the left, and an open stuff pocket holds quick access items on the lower area. The draw string system is amazing! With additional anchor points, the string can be drawn outward and provides a wider “hug” on the bundle.

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The Adventure Vest did not come with a bladder, so I chose an Osprey 2 liter model to add to the pack. It fits nicely in the separate pouch, accessible by a zipper. There’s a bladder attachment strap in the top of that compartment, and the hose can exit either side easily. Adding a hose security magnet to one of the pole straps completes the hose placement.

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Each shoulder strap has a pole strap and straps below the front pockets will hold the other ends of trekking poles. I put the dirt end of the poles in the lower loops, something about that carbide tip being near my face just looked bad. One issue, if using the supplied bottle, it will not be possible to use the upper built-in pole strap on the left, and using either pole strap will reduce ease of use of some of the front pockets because the poles will be close in to your chest. The system on the right works, but adding a small additional strap to each side will make all pockets more accessible and it’s much easier to carry my Black Diamond Distance Z poles nicely!

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I’ve been using this for a year, in most conditions. I use hot water on the cold days, it keeps my back warm for a while but always cools eventually. Vests aren’t the most comfortable item in the hot humid environment here, but it does not bother me, it will gain sweat weight, not too much though. I’ve been able to take plenty of extra layers for cold runs and have been able to remove extra layers on warm runs. The only time the pack did not have enough food was when I didn’t load enough, and there was room for it. My longest activity was about 12.5 hours and there were a few food stops, but I should have taken more food with me and could have easily.

I’ve seen some pack descriptions as form fitting and aero looking, but I don’t think that’s an issue for me, I don’t run that fast and there’s nothing bad protruding from the Adventure Vest. But if I did run faster, I might not need to carry as much stuff, and I’d be done sooner. But then I wouldn’t be able to justify this really cool pack with all these bells and whistles! But one thing to always remember when shopping for any type of pack- you will usually be tempted to fill a pack to capacity, no matter the size. How much crap do you need to take? Will the pack compress to prevent movement? And can you pick it up after you put your Bluetooth speaker system in there?

https://www.camelbak.com/

https://flipbelt.com/flipbelt

https://www.osprey.com/us/en/

http://www.pacifichealthlabs.com/Accelerade-%C2%AE_p_13.html

https://www.tiffany.com/

https://ultimatedirection.com/adventure-vest-4-0/

https://www.petzl.com/US/en/Sport/ACTIVE-headlamps/ACTIK

http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en_US/trekking-poles/distance-z-trekking-poles-BD112208_cfg.html#start=5

https://www.osprey.com/us/en/product/2-liter-hydraulics-reservoir-2LRES_649.html

https://www.findmespot.com/en/

https://guenergy.com/

https://www.honeystinger.com/products/organic-energy-chews/organic-energy-chews

https://www.clifbar.com/shop/product_line/bloks-energy-chews

https://www.larabar.com/

 

 

Time to Put Away The Winter Clothes

As winter is coming to an end (I just tempted fate, probably will get the blizzard of the century next week!), I’m looking back on the bike clothing I wore mostly in the last few months. It’s all new stuff! No, it’s not new, two items are 9 years old and one is maybe 25 years old. Each year new items are designed, manufactured, advertised, and the companies promise that I can wear this new minimal layer in any winter weather and be comfy. I never believe those claims, but many of them could be true. When I feel like Randy from “A Christmas Story”, bundled so tight I can’t put my arms down, I begin to wonder about those claims from the new designs.

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Clovis Windlip

Three things can happen from cold: discomfort, hypothermia, and frostbite. The first two could happen even at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius). I hate being cold! But I have never been in a cold situation where I didn’t know if I would get a chance to get warm again. Some people find themselves in that exact situation, outside far from the car or home, or the tent, and something goes wrong. Every time I’ve been cold, I’ve tried to remind myself that it’s not permanent (or terminal), shelter was not far!

One key to maintaining your comfort range during winter rides is understanding how long you can be exposed in those conditions. Do you have 30 minute clothes or 2 hour clothes? And those time estimates are based on heat production and perspiration accumulation (This is getting too technical!). You need more insulation to go slower, and should be able to remove layers if you decide to crank for that KOM (King of the Mountain). A buildup of perspiration can eventually pull the heat from your engine, and that never turns out good.

Hypothermia and frostbite can occur when you’ve gone beyond the limits of your insulation, either by length of exposure or clothing failure. Stay dry and stay warm, and these will not happen to you! You can survive hypothermia, but frostbite is a permanent injury. But don’t forget, no matter how uncomfortable you are, you cannot get frostbite unless the ambient temperature is freezing or below. But dang, that discomfort of near freezing is never fun, but it does stick in our memory, especially when getting ready for the next ride!

Balaclava

Many years ago, I realized a balaclava would solve my cold neck when snowboarding. Nothing like a cold breeze around your neck all day to cause you to search for any solution. I found a simple balaclava the solution at REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), black synthetic, for about $15.00. I have used this in so many situations- snowboarding, cycling, mountaineering, and running. Thin, simple, dries quickly, and provides an amazing amount of protection from having a cold neck, ears, jaw, etc. It’s thin enough to wear under a helmet liner when cycling, and that gets me out on the colder days. I’ve even cut a few holes for headphone access.

REI tag

In early winter 2011, I decided I needed warmer riding gloves and bibs. I had been seeing the lobster claw gloves from Pearl Izumi forever, but I had a “connection” to Specialized. I got a pair of  full on winter gloves, and the “Therminal” winter bibs. These  bibs and gloves have done many many miles over eight winters. The two-piece design (of the gloves) allows the inners to be worn separately and when the temps really drop, slip into the outers for Thinsulate insulation and wind block. The inner-gloves work for me down to around 38 degrees F, adding the outer-gloves extends my riding down to the teens, depending on exposure time. Although these are cycling gloves, there are no padded sections in the palms or elsewhere, the insulation in both pieces provide some cushion for longer rides.

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A little wear visible on the thumb area, the soft absorbent material gets a lot of use in winter riding, for nose wiping. My nose runs as soon as I touch the seat.

Working a touch screen device with gloves has become a tech issue. Although I’ve been able to manipulate my GPS screen while wearing the inner gloves, my phone doesn’t always respond. The only issue I’ve had is with the design, not the quality. With the 3-1-1 finger layout, MTB breaking gets a little different for me. I’m a one-finger-breaker usually, and that one finger is usually my index finger. These outer-gloves group my index with the two outer fingers. Not a big deal, the finger grouping provides a better heating environment for the outer three fingers.

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The red grip material works great! Some separation after eight winters.

When I first saw the bibs, I thought they were made for diving. They have that neoprene appearance, slightly shiny. Never thought I’d need that level of winter protection, until I wore them the first time. The front provides a good amount of wind protection, and the rear of the legs is a more air flow friendly material, but still insulating. I was surprised that I needed the large size for my short body, 5’7” and 145 lbs. The medium was too snug on my highs, and the large was far from baggy. Next question was what do I wear under these? There’s no padding!

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I didn’t want to add another set of shoulder straps so I tried a pair of triathlon shorts that I had acquired. These were padded, but minimally, and they worked great. Over the years since, I’ve added other bottom layers to compensate for colder temps, and this did not cause any layer conflicts. There’s a small zipper up front that has worked great and the cuff zippers have performed well also. No issues with these pants eight years.

These bibs have been modified over the years, but should still provide the needed protection. The winter gloves no longer have the inner glove, and that’s one of the best features of this current version I have, I start with the outer-gloves and remove them if possible, and stuff them into a jersey pocket. Depending on how close a full insulation glove fits, you may be able to wear a sufficient liner and gain this same advantage.

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Dual layering in the knees. Bending does not bind, with the extra material bunched above the knee. A few reflective strips, mid thigh and on the ankle zipper. No stirrup on this version.

What would I change about winter clothing? I’ve wished these gloves and bibs would fall apart so I could justify a new pair. There must be something out there that can do the job of the bibs but thinner, maybe. My simple REI balaclava could come with a wind resistant section in the forehead area. But I did find a solution for that years ago, with some redneck engineering (RE), but that leads to something the helmet manufacturers could do, and this will be my first actual complaint:

You tease us with the most ventilated helmet each year, a new hole design or helmet shape that forces all the air in the universe to pass through our helmet and cool the beautiful locks of our professionally managed bouffants on the hottest summer days. Yet, you have no concern about winter riding. I do build a little heat inside a helmet, but I don’t need a full breeze to keep me dry enough for a longer ride. Please design a flow through prevention system for winter riding. How?

Design an automated system that would open and close all the vents by sensing our scalp moisture. And that would be ridiculous, and heavy. Maybe something much simpler. With each helmet design, produce a specific form fitting cover we can slip on, or remove when warm enough, and slip in our pocket (this could be useful on rainy days too!). How hard can this be? Or design a thin hard plastic shell, form fitting, that will snap in place for winter, put the same graphics on it, put your name all over it.

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Specialized Airnet. Great helmet! The headband visor is plus! You can see my electrical tape windblock system in place, and the old adhesive lines from previous tape installation.

My “RE” solution years ago was just put tape over the vents on the front 2/3 of the helmet. This blocked the cold air and allowed venting in the rear. Depending on what type tape used, it can look hideous, cool, stupid, or not even be visible without a close inspection. Simple, it works. Removable in spring, but sometimes leaves a residue. Right now I have two helmets, one with more holes than helmet, and one with taped holes. In my parts rotation, when I get a new helmet, I prep the old one for winter. The difficulty is finding matching tape sometimes, or just going with the complete tacky appearance of  a hodge podge patch job. Nothing like shiny silver duct tape in the pictures your riding partners delete when ready to post about the cold winter ride. Everybody has that one friend…

https://www.rei.com/

https://www.specialized.com/us/en/

 

Cold Feet

Feet can get cold in winter if insulation doesn’t work or if your feet get wet. If you don’t solve these problems, you could eventually get trench foot, (you can find images online). Trench foot isn’t fatal, and wasn’t invented by soldiers in wet trenches, but got a lot of attention when they could no longer walk. Although not fatal, and not as potentially harmful as other cold weather injuries, it’s a bad place to find yourself. Ever had sweaty feet, and not been in a situation where you could take your shoes off and let them dry out? In addition to the odors that can grow, as the skin continues soaking in this enclosed swamp, it will start loosening and detaching from the foot. And just like a freshly popped blister, you now have very tender and painfully sore fresh layers exposed. Ok, sorry about that disgusting situation, but avoid it!

Warm and dry feet are sometimes key to survival, or at least comfort, while outside in cooler temperatures. For me, the fun is over when my feet are going numb. First requirement: keep my feet warm! Although hands get cold too, we can always stop the activity and sink them into warmer clothing on our body or do the windmill to get some warm blood back into the fingers. It’s not as easy to strip your feet and put them in your armpits, not sure I could do that on a good day, with minimal clothing and in the comfort of home. Mental image: Riding a trail and finding another person with bare feet, trying to fold themselves into a knot to get their feet into their armpits, not sure it’s even possible, but it provides many minutes of entertainment!

If your feet get soaked in the heat of the day in the winter, imagine what happens when the temp starts dropping, they will begin to cool. How can we avoid this? Keep our feet and shoes dry. Some people have excessively sweaty feet and some have feet that behave well when contained in the socks and shoes of winter. Thick socks can provide more insulation, but also provides more storage space for perspiration. You need footwear that insulates and breaths or spend less time in the cold. What about cycling shoes?

Summer weight shoes breathe nicely, but don’t provide much insulation and most are vented and will let all that cold air in when you’re trying to take a KOM by flying down the bike deserted path at 30mph, or scaring hikers on that sweat stretch of singletrack. Time for winter solutions. Years ago, I learned a nice solution from a friend- cut two corners from a plastic grocery bad (recycling!) and put these over my toes and slip it into the bike shoe. This blocked the cold air from my toes and that helped tremendously, but if this caused perspiration to build, then my feet got cold. One cold day ride, I forgot to slip into my bags, I stopped at one of the dog poo bag dispensers, took a bag, and tore it into two pieces for my feet and continued my ride much more comfortably.

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Sugoi Zap Bootie, many reflective dots.

Booties are a great solution. There are many options, from basic waterproof to insulating, and some designed purely for aerodynamics. I have rain booties, Sugoi Zap Bootie, which will block wind from the feet and work as a shield in the winter. And I have winter booties, the Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Shoe Covers, wind proof, water proof, and insulating. Each have their strong points and will lower the effective riding temperature allowing you to chase those KOM’s when the traffic drops due to low temps, or just to ride to work.

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Pearl Izumi Elite Softshell Shoe Covers

But when you grow tired of slipping, or forcing, your shoe into booties, consider the next level- winter shoes. I got my first pair back in 2010, Specialized Defroster. Why did I wait so long? No more plastic bags, no more forcing shoes into booties, simply put my socked foot in a different, taller shoe, and on my way! Wish I’d had these at cyclocross nationals in Bend in 2009! I found that I could comfortably ride when the temps dropped below freezing.

I had developed a desire to ride to work on the coldest day of the winter, and now this would be easier, and without hobbling gently in the building on near numb feet, avoiding all obstacles to insure I didn’t bump my toes into something causing that jolt of pain surging through the remaining nerves that worked. I did find discover a limitation of these warm shoes. On that first coldest day of the winter with these shoes, before sunrise, as many of us work the dreaded 7:30- 4:30 hours of the loyal, it’s 14 degrees F, and I get a flat tire. So much for my confidence in tubeless, but I knew there was a problem. The tire had lost pressure the previous day, and I didn’t investigate why, I just added air.

While solving my tire problem, I’m working my hands and fingers through rewarming activities, and the bottoms of my feet are beginning to feel the cold frozen surface of the dirt road I’m standing on. That thick hard plastic foot bed is conducting my foot heat to dirt, just as science proves with surface contact. Fortunately, I got rolling again before my feet went numb, but that was a learning experience. And a year or two later, on another coldest day of the year, riding to work again, I got a flat. I’ll say that asphalt is no warmer than hardpack dirt before sunrise, at 14 degrees F!

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Northwave Celsius 2 GTX

The Specialized shoes were great for years, but at the six year point, I thought it best to upgrade before winter. Synthetic insulation in clothing and other items that get flexed and compressed often, will lose bulk over time. And shiny new shoes are awesome! Winter cycling shoes had gained more popularity since 2010, and there were many more options. I knew that I’d probably ride short distances down near 0, but that’s only short exposure time also. After realizing it would be difficult to justify the much warmer Artic rated boots, I decided on the Northwave Celsius 2 GTX MTB Boot.

I was impressed as soon as I opened the box! Probably because they were clean, unscratched, and the black, red, and silver color scheme was nice. The insulation felt thicker than the old Specialized shoes, the fit was good, and the tread was nice and think, plenty thick to protect the Crank Bros cleat. I was slightly excited for winter to arrive (I never say that!).

The Northwaves have held up good for three winters. The upper flexible insulated parts are holding up well, given all the flexing/folding while getting my feet in. The speed lacing system is simple, but I’ve always thought there could be a bit more security; the upper only has Velcro, the laces only go up so high. Although the fit is good, there is one issue, and I’m sure it’s normal by virtue of this being a bike shoe. While walking, yes I do walk in my mtb shoes on my local trails, because I ride singlespeed and things get too steep sometimes. Walking up steep hills is much more comfortable in a more flexible non-mtb shoe, picture a running shoe. Steeper hills cause friction and hot spots on my heels, and that’s with the shoe synched tight. With hardly any flex in the sole this is mostly unavoidable, and with generous implementation of “French technique” stepping, it’s no problem. (Yes, French technique, you should see some of the climbs here!)

When do I wear these shoes? I dig them out about mid-November and will put them away in March, hopefully. I can tolerate the insulation up to 55F, but only if I’m riding after work on a day with a cold morning. With my rain booties or the insulated booties, I could ride when a little colder, but I’m not sure I need to, or want to.

Northwave has changed the product since my purchase. It now has SLW2 lacing, similar to Boa, all on the outside of the shoe, unlike my older shoes. This should bring a little more security and should make it easier to get in and out of these shoes. They also have two additional colder models, providing comfort further down the thermometer, which I’d really like to have an excuse to try, but I don’t love winter that much. A friend once told me that he doesn’t ride when the temp is lower than his age. That’s sounds like a great rule, but I like riding year round, and not because it’s cold out, but just because it’s riding. But that doesn’t mean that I would avoid the opportunity to live in the tropics! Even in the tropics, there’s a chance your feet will get wet, and you’d have find a way to dry your feet in a humid environment, but at least you wouldn’t need to attempt to put your feet in your armpits to get them warm.

https://northwave.com/en/

https://www.pearlizumi.com/US/en/Shop/Ride/Road/Unisex/Essentials/Covers/ELITE_Softshell_Shoe_Cover/p/14381701021

https://us-store.sugoi.com/collections/bike-accessories/products/95005u-zap-bootie

https://www.specialized.com/us/en/defroster-trail-mountain-bike-shoes/p/155470?color=229751-155470