First Ride Gore Oxygen GT AS

Just in time for Vancouver’s “Bike to Work Week” I’ve decided that I didn’t want to wait any longer and get wait in my old winter/rain jacket.

On the expert advice of Karen (on the Rivet), I bought a Gore Oxygen GT AS. The main selling point (beyond the advice and reports of other happy commuters) was the lightness, waterproofness and breathability of the fabric, Active Gore-Tex.

My main doubts and criteria not fulfilled that I was looking for: double-zipper, some kind of pocket, pit zipper, velcro closures, many reflective patches.

I was delighted to see “Engineered in Germany” stamped in the jacket and the “Made in Turkey” is just fine with me as well.

So, early Monday morning and lo and behold it’s raining (this is Vancouver in almost-November after all). Over the weekends I saw some reports from German football (Bayern finally lost) that featured games in snow already and parts of Canada have had snow for weeks now, of course, so not complaining too much about the rain. It was welcome today in any case as it gave me an opportunity to wear the new jacket.

Here are impressions from the first ride:

  • the jacket is obviously super light. Really quite amazing compared to my previous jacket.
  • The snug cut makes it feel even more like you’re just standing there in a t-shirt and I was wondering whether that would be a good thing.
  • Speaking of the cut, this is the only garment I own, I think, that is an XXL. Seems like they got the sizing scale slightly wrong.
  • The main zipper tab is fairly small, so best to zip up before putting on the gloves.
  • The cuffs stretch very nicely across the (gloved) back of the hand, this seems like a really good fit.
  • The grey letter on the sleeve (supposedly this is reflective despite the grey colour) turns up on the arm so even if it is very reflective, it won’t do much good except for to warn helicopters with searchlights, perhaps.
  • The tail stretches nicely down across the bum, both standing but even more so sitting.
  • When sitting on the bike, the fit is really good! Tight in all the right places, but not pulling. Quite a surprise as I was skeptical initially.
  • You notice how good the fit is when you sit up straight (“Look, ma, no hands!”) and the cut is no longer ideal.
  • I’m not fond looking at black sleeves (in this grey, semi-dark morning), but am somewhat reassured by the red of the main body of the jacket (unfortunately, green was sold out).
  • One of the best things about jacket/fit is the collar. It has a stretchy part in the back that goes up the neck a little and this certainly seems to work well. No cold air coming in at the collar, nor rain, but at the same time it feels much less tight (when turning the head) than my previous jacket.
  • The only iffy spot in the fit: the jacket is quite short. Of course, that means it’s nicely out of the way at the hips, but I thought I felt a bit of a draft of air coming in on my sides, heading for kidney areas. Remember, as a German, I’m particularly susceptible to drafts.
  • Water pearls in very small beads on the fabric.
  • The zipper for the cuffs is placed just right, down on the inside where you could keep it open for the intended venting function.
  • Now, the big questions: waterproof? Yes, absolutely. It wasn’t a severe downpour, but for part of the right it did rain hard.
  • Breathability: hm… Definitely a bit moist on should blades, pecs, pits. But, admittedly, I wore one layer to think underneath, a thicker merino layer, rather than the lighter layer that would have been more appropriate, but is in the wash. So no verdict on that quite yet, just some doubts.
  • Arrived at work, the water shook off and I am not at all worried about putting on a clammy jacket late this afternoon.
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Leafblowers

Yes, leafblowers are clearly the cyclist’s enemy.

Generally, I would say that gaspowered leafblowers are the devil’s invention when it comes to gardening tools. A task that is replaced by a very loud, stinky machine that people have been finding all kinds of uses for to bug city services who are left with leaf/grass clipping piles in the gutters. Ugh!

In the Spring they are especially dreadful when people (mostly professional gardening services which are – unfortunately – very active in our neighbourhood) are using them to blow grass clippings off their lawns. This is somewhat painful when you have some grass allergies. Fortunately, my allergies have been receding over the past several years, so I’m not getting all heyfeverish anymore, but grass clippings blown into the air along with dust are sure to get my eyes itchy for the next hours. So, I’ve taken to wearing riding glasses mostly to keep dust/allergants out of my eyes or to keep them from tearing up too much on cooler days.

At least in the fall now, leafblowers are actually blowing leafs that tend to be wet so that there’s not so much dust involved in the blowing, but still…

Muxu

This is laying the groundwork for more product reviews, by writing a little bit about the company that makes 3/4 shorts that I will review soon…

I can’t remember how I came across Muxu cycling clothes (http://www.muxu.cc | @muxubarcelona), but I kept oogling their website for some months. When my Swrve order through favourite local bike store, on the Rivet, kept not arriving even after four months, I decided to take the plunge and ordered jeans, 3/4 shorts, and a riding shirt from Muxu.

The website is very straightforward to navigate, functional and also fairly comprehensive.

The order arrived in exactly a week even though a Canadian national holiday came in the middle of that period, definitely good shipping service especially given that it’s free.

I continue to be a bit puzzled by the tag line, “Barcelona Inspired Cycle Wear”. I haven’t been to Barcelona since the 1992 Olympics and can’t recall any particularly stylish cyclists then, but that was before the days of fashionable bike clothes, or really any bike clothes other than those classic bright yellow plastic ponchos we had as kids.

Curious about the tag line, I tweeted at them and received the prompt reply that they mostly manufacture in Portugal except for their jeans which are made in Taiwan. Shipping is clearly from the UK, so that’s where “they” seem to be based, but I haven’t really dug further to find out more.

I have recently ordered a copy of “Urban Cyclist”, a new magazine, which has a feature on Muxu, so perhaps I’ll learn more from that.

Reviews:

Mission Workshop Orion

I recently had a chance to try on the Mission Workshop Orion jacket. Obviously toward the hipper end of the bike jacket spectrum and, accordingly, on the expensive side.

I had heard about Mission Workshop in part because my favourite Vancouver bike clothing store (otR) carries them, but hadn’t seen any of the products.

The first impression was that the Orion jacket was _really_ light and fit quite well right off the hanger. Second impression, very few reflective bits, what a silly idea!

Yes, I do appreciate somewhat fashionable, but also bike-practical clothing, and yes, I’m even willing to spend quite a bit of money for the joy of having items in that category, but no, I will not sacrifice safety and visibility to hipness. I kind of see that the visibility paradigm could really cramp a designer’s style, but there you go. I live in a city that is rainy for a third of the year and while we’re not that far north, most of the rain coincides with shorter days, so visibility is a real concern.

Having said that, the Schöller fabric used for the Orion sure felt nice in its lightness and suppleness and the jacket overall seemed quite nice-looking while sensible, though I also disagree with the apparently fashionable insistence on a hood.

The cut and look is generally less athletic than comparable jackets that cater to more of a racing posture. It’s also pleasantly understated, i.e. doesn’t scream bike jacket in a way that might inspire all the riders around you to challenge you to a race off the green light.

By the look and feel of the jacket, quality seems terrific and lots of details are very well thought-through.

Defender Bike Light

Some months ago, I got sucked into backing a kickstarter project for a bike light that would harder to steal and could therefore stay attached to handlebars for the duration of the darker seasons.

What sucked me in? First of all, the idea of kickstarter appeals in general. Inventors and tinkerers who can go straight to potential buyers for funding? That’s great!

I had only backed one project previously, “MUG: The Movie” with my brilliant actor godson Ian in one of the leading roles, so I was curious about other projects and came across the bike light.

What appealed specifically about the bike light? I have mostly been using cheap rubberized bike lights that go on and off the handle bars very easily recently so that I didn’t have to worry about the fancier removable ones. I hadn’t had my screw-on rear light stolen, but then Vancouver’s West side is not exactly the toughest neighbourhood in North America.

I also liked the gun-barrel design of this light and the clever marketing, with its “Gotham” reference and the “last bike light you’ll ever need” tag line.

So, I backed the project and my light finally arrived in the mail today.

First impression, nice box that continues the clever marketing and two small cloth baggies that contain the light. Second impression, quite heavy, in part, but not only because of the included batteries.

The light feels quite solid and does look good (I got the black model).

Installation is easy with a tiny screw-driver (a bit fidgety for my sausage fingers) to unlock the battery-barrel (really? people get their batteries stolen? ugh!), and the specialized key that unlocks and tightens the bracket which is really the core idea. Light installed it does look nice.

Now, let’s see how the light does this winter! How long will the batteries last? Will the rain get inside and mess with the wiring?

BUT…

– the lights (blinking or steady white) are only visible to the front, not from the side

– I’m waiting for some rainy night-riding to see how the brightness of the lights work out. In the day, they don’t look terribly bright and they also don’t cover much area. On the other hand, I look at some other bikes and think that light brightness has reached a point where it is a hazard to other riders and to drivers. Maybe we need high-beam/low-beam settings on bike lights.

– the button to turn the light on feels like it will not survive very long and is not easy to operate with gloves on, especially winter gloves as it doesn’t offer much resistance or a tactile feel to its setting

– the tiny screw driver to unlock the batter barrel immediately scratched the shiny blackness of the barrel

– weight: as everyone is trying to shave weight off bikes, this is too heavy for a single component

All in all: nice story, once central clever idea that is executed well, but in the end, not entirely convincing at a steepish price.

However, judging by the updates about the project along the way, the folks behind this light are real tinkerers and are probably thinking of improvements to the design already, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this light evolved to be very nice.

Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries

Defender Bike Light

New Vancouver-Based Helmets

There has been a lot of discussion about mandatory helmet laws in Vancouver in connection with the introduction of a bike sharing scheme in the city. Meanwhile, there seems to be a new entrant in the helmet market, Sahn Helmets, based in Vancouver. I haven’t seen one of these live yet, but the photographs of the “equestrian-inspired silhouette” look promising.

As with jackets, however, I would prefer to err on the side of visibility rather than looks, so I would probably stay away from a “muted colour palette”. On the other hand, these helmets would offer plenty of real estate to stick reflective patches. Maybe there will be a visibility-oriented model in the future with attachments for lights and in a more noticeable colour.

Great to see this kind of development right here in Vancouver though!

Looking for a Winter Jacket

October has come and the rain has arrived. I’ve had a yellow waterproof-breathable for three years now. It’s served me well, but its waterproofness seems to have waned.

So, now I’m looking for a new jacket.

Some things I noticed already: The weekend after the first rains, MEC is nearly sold out of their bike jackets. I guess some other people noticed that their jackets weren’t holding up anymore.

So I headed to on the Rivet and tried some of the models there.

Some of the criteria I’m looking for:

– waterproof: yes, it does rain quite a bit in Vancouver, so even though my commute isn’t that far (9km) I do want to start dry. To achieve this, I couple the jacket with Gore rainpants and booties over my shoes. Colder weather will bring out the gloves as well.

– breathable: yes, absolutely. I do sweat easily, especially on the way to the office when I’ve got some uphills. With  my current jacket, I can’t quite tell whether my sweating or the not-quite-waterproofness is producing more moisture inside the jacket.

– shape: I do want this relatively snug rather than airy. My previous jacket makes a funny fold on my upper arm, so if I could avoid that…

– visibility: really important! There seems to be a continuum from the construction worker’s safety vest (bright colour and lots of reflectors) to the elegant incognito black hipster jacket. I would prefer to err on the side of the safety vest as so much of my jacket-wearing days are grey if not downright dark. Why would I want to adorn my bike with various lights, but then wear an invisibility cloak? It seems, however, that any of the current fashionable jackets err on the side of the invisibility cloak.

– zipper: obviously, as waterproof as possible. If possible, I would like a double-zipper so that I can open the zipper a bit at the bottom, but keep the jacket from flapping. For the same reason, so velcro over the zipper is also nice.

– iPod/cell phone pocket: no, thanks! I don’t own a mobile and never listen to music on the bike

– pockets: yes, it’s nice to have a place to stash keys, bike lights, etc.

– cuffs: tight, though I’m agnostic whether this is just a tight cut or some kind of velcro closure

– collar: tight as I don’t want water running in

– pit zippers: I do sweat easily and I thus find pit zippers very useful for not overheating while riding in a (somewhat heavy) jacket. I suppose if a jacket was REALLY breathable, I’d forego the pit ventilation happily, but I’d have to wear it to believe it…

– hood: no, thanks!

– tail: yes, definitely!

Rain Has Arrived

It is toward the middle of October and the rain has arrived in Vancouver. Of course, a blog must also talk about the weather as blogging mimicks the conversations we might have in our community (otherwise).

So far, it is a mere drizzle. Not really anything to deter anyone seriously from riding. But it portends what is to come in the coming months, namely the nearly incessant rain from November through March. And we’re not talking about drizzle for most of the time here. Not like the UK, for example, where (at least in my experience limited to 1 1/2 years of living and happily cycling in Cambridge) the air is generally moist, but hard rainfall seems fairly rare.

Rain is one of the reasons I have bought glasses for riding my bike (the other reasons are allergies and leaf blowers). On some days in the winter, riding downhill in Vancouver means that your face is blasted with rain drops. If the downhill is steep enough it actually fells like you’re being blasted.

But, as we all know and remind ourselves at this early point in the rainy season, there’s no bad weather, just bad gear.

Bike Commuting Product Reviews

Over the coming months, I will review bike commuting products. Until someone offers me money for these products or free products, my reviews will be based on my use/wearing/trying out of these products.

Reviews of bikes and components will be very rare, because I only intend to purchase maybe one bike in the coming five years (though I will try to document the process of selecting a bike), while I might have more regular opportunities to review clothing or smaller components.

My reviews will be based on my usage and riding pattern of these products, so will be somewhat specific to Vancouver climate (beautiful summers, rain from November through March), topography (some serious hills) and riding environment (all urban, some dedicated bike lanes, more often designated bike routes), and my riding pattern (16kms to work on week days, additional trips during the week for work meetings, some leisure riding, though only as means to reach destination).

I am quite tall (1.96m or 6’5″) so some of my comments will be specific to my physical type.

I can be quite stingy with some things and will consider purchases carefully, but I am willing to spend on products that I like, especially as I am recognizing that I spend a fair bit of time on my bike, so some things are worth investing in.

I tend to be fairly loyal to brands and stores with a strong preference for in-person shopping over on-line offerings. I err on the side of lesser-known brands, local manufacturing and any sustainability features if appropriate.

While I am very interested in the function of bikes, components, and gear, I am not a particularly technical person. I don’t do much maintenance on my bike at all and don’t pretend to understand technical aspects of mechanics, bike geometry, gearing, etc.