The Athletic Challenge of the 8th Ave Bike Route

Every once in a while I change my route to the UBC campus, particularly when my son decides to ride a bike to his school in Kitsilano.

Today I thus headed down the hill with him and turned back up the hill on the 8th Ave bike route. This is by far a greater athletic challenge than my usual route via the 29th Ave bike route and 16th Ave. The only incline that I usually face is the hill up to Dunbar Ave. While this is somewhat steep, it is fairly short (one block) and thus tackled quickly. Beyond that are only some minor inclines.

On 8th Ave by contrast the section from Highbury to Sasamat has some rather steep bits and lasts quite a while. Today, some athletic/cardiovascular competitive bug must have bitten me as I powered up the hill about as fast as I ever have. The good things is that the remainder of the way from the steep section to UBC is level, so that I can catch my breath and stop sweating too much before I arrive at my office. Nice workout occasionally though!

Initial Impressions: Giro Pivot

Late November means we’re about a month into Vancouver rainy season. It’s been cold for a couple of days, but even raininess in my mind requires gloves in that warm, dry hands make me feel overall more comfortable.

Last year, I had a pair of Gore gloves that did not perform that well. Mostly, I got cold hands occasionally and one of the fingertips wore through after a season which – given their priciness – was much too early. To Gore’s credit, they honoured their warranty and I returned the gloves.

On advice, I opted for Giro then. The Giro Pivot is their warmest glove and it has been doing okay in the first several weeks.

The fit is nice and snug, i.e. they don’t feel bulky. Lots of reflective details. One of the most important features that is often not even mentioned is a soft but of fabric on the back of the thumb that works well as a snot-rag. I don’t know about you, but my nose is almost always running on these rainy rides…

Overall, the padding could be a bit more cushy on the palm. My right hand seems to be going a bit numb towards the end of the ride, though I’m not sure that the gloves are at fault in this.

The gloves have definitely been waterproof so far.

The part I like least about these gloves so far (no real test of warmth yet) is the cuff. The cuff of my Gore rain jacket is really easy to match, so that’s not the problem. The velcro closure does almost nothing and has a tendency to bend upwards and get in the way. By doing nothing, I mean that the gloves are not that easy to get into (i.e. they’re snug even with the closure open), but the closure also doesn’t tighten the fit significantly, so why bother?

My hands haven’t felt too warm, in the gloves, but they are slightly moist after the ride. The challenge is that the liner doesn’t seem to dry well without any heat. Obviously, this is not uncommon, but it means that I bring the gloves inside with me when I park at work and at home. Otherwise, they feel a bit clammy when I put them back on.

Initial Impressions Muxu Ride Shirt

With my order of Muxu jeans and 3/4 shorts, I had also ordered a riding shirt.

Ordering a short sleeve shirt in October for use in Vancouver is obviously somewhat misguided, but I was spurred on to this by my purchase of a Brompton Oratory jacket this summer and figured that I’d need something to wear under the jacket should the occasion arise.

What I was looking for in this shirt was therefore a semi-formal look that was still functional on the bike which would mean primarily two things: fit and lack of sweat. The latter in particular may be a tall order as I’m a reasonably big guy (seems to be associated with sweatiness) and Vancouver has hills.

In any case, the shirt arrived and is quite stylish. The main bike features are trikot-style pockets on the back and pleats on the should blades that will give enough room to lean over on handle bars.

Other than that, some fashionable design details like the Muxu logo, covered buttons, and the hidden chest pockets. All in all in a slate/blue colour that seems to go with the overall Muxu palette.

I was just in a more tropical locale and took the shirt just to try it out even though I didn’t have a chance to go riding.

Initial impression: comfortable if snug fit, definitely a good cut in terms of arm movement, pleasant material.

The sweatiness assessment will have to wait for next Spring and more regular riding.

Grit Accumulating in Cycle Lane

One of the aspects of commuting by bike in Vancouver in the winter where insult is added to injury is the fact that grit, wetness, leaves, etc. all seem to accumulate in the bike lanes on big streets.

Take 16th, for example, as I’m heading to UBC. Last week we had some days that were somewhat dry, but followed on wetter days. The road was either dry or just wet as passing cars were drying it off.

Trees are obviously dropping lots of leaves onto roads (though less so on the stretch through Pacific Spirit Park) and the amount of rain seems to wash a fair bit of gravel and grit onto the road.

All this grit seems to accumulate in the bike lane. My shoe covers and the bottom of the forward-diagonal tube on the bike look like they’ve been gently sandblasted by the time I arrive on campus.

The fix for all of this? Obvious! More people riding => more grit gets thrown up and out of the cycle lane.

Henty Wingman

My Ortlieb panniers are great in that they keep things clean and dry, but they’re not that great to pack for business and/or professional purposes. In my case that means, when I bike downtown for a meeting, it’s too far and thus sweaty to wear something like the Oratory jacket, but I don’t want that to keep me from biking to the meeting.

It seems like a really nice solution has popped up on my radar: Henty Wingman.

Basically, a suit bag that rolls up and has messenger bag-style straps, this looks perfect with extra room for shoes in a gym bag that forms the round core of the cylindrical bag.

Some nice colours, too.

A bit pricey at close to $200, but would also be usable as an overnight travel suit back…

Bike Routes and Bike Lanes

Obviously, we’ve been gaining many dedicated bike lanes in Vancouver for some years. Most recently, the focus seems to be on making these lanes more visible by painting them a bright green. That’s great!

But why stop there?

How about intersections on bike routes?

One of the greatest danger spots on my commute through Dunbar is the traffic circle at 29th/Blenheim. Blenheim is a very convenient and reasonably fast N-S connection for many people from Kits to Kerrisdale or even on through to Richmond/YVR. While this is not a highway and people aren’t going crazy fast, it’s also not a back street.

The intersection has been changed to a traffic circle in the past two years or so where traffic in the circle has the right of way. What that means to me is: if I’m in the intersection as a car approaches, I have the right away. Or, if I arrive at the intersection when a car is approaching, I’m entering the circle first and would have the right of way.

There are signs that signify that one should yield when entering the traffic circle and this is also how the circle further down on Blenheim (37th, I think, also a bike route) as well as the larger traffic circle at 16th/Wesbrook operates.

However, the notion that cars should yield to a bike that’s in the circle already does not appear to be very clear to drivers.

As I’m about to enter the traffic circle, all too often a car is approaching at great enough speed and with not apparent intention to slow down to keep me from actually entering the circle. Yes, I’m stubborn and self-righteous but not so much so that I will hurl myself in front of traffic.

For a while I thought that a traffic education campaign with police posted near the circles and stopping “offenders” to educate them would be the best way to go, but I wonder whether a green stripe across the circle marking the bike route wouldn’t also be quite effective.

With the preponderance of bright green downtown to mark bike lanes, why not keep going with that theme?

Initial Impressions Muxu Jeans

A second item in my recent order from Muxu was their cycling jeans.

I have owned a pair of Swrve jeans for a while now and really love them. Very comfortable on the bike and off, stylish and with thoughtful bike details.

So, how about the Muxu variant? Definitely a keeper!

They are dark blue denim and definitely a bit stretchier than other bike jeans I’ve tried. But fear not, they don’t look at all like my daughters’ jeggings, but like proper jeans. Stitching is grey, but blue at the waist and for the button hole. Branding is very subtle on the left front pocket.

Funnily, just like Swrve they have a very cheerful pocket liner on the inside, though not daisies but graphic versions of the brand.

The cut is a loose, but not baggy jeans cut with the articulated knees that are typical of bike jeans.

Four regular pockets (two front, two back) with an additional pocket offset forward of the back right pocket. This is meant for small items like cell phones etc. I like the fact that it is outside of the back pocket (unlike on the Swrve jeans) so that I keep trying to shove my wallet into this pocket. If I did own a cell phone, it seems like this would be a really nice pocket since it’s offset to the side, so you wouldn’t be sitting on the phone. I did borrow my wife’s cell phone the other day just to try and thought that the stretchiness might work against using this pocket a bit because it felt like the phone might well work its way out of the pocket.

Riding comfort is definitely high, the no-seam-crotch is great. Stretchiness is also welcome.

In the first couple of days that I had the jeans, the rainy season hadn’t quite started yet, so I wore them a fair bit. They are quite comfortable on their own or even under rain pants. Not excessively tight, but not flapping around either.

One of the bike features is that there is a reflective X sewn into the inside of the right leg as is the case with a number of other casual bike pants and jeans. Not sure that Muxu got this quite right though. The X only starts fairly high on the leg, so you have to roll it up fairly far. Also, one leg only? I can’t imagine that it costs that much to sew this X in, so why not in both legs so you can roll up the left as well, especially for us right-hand-riders as that is our leg that’s “in traffic”. I think a long straight strip might also work better with different roll-up lengths or a longer X if that is part of the branding.

My Typical Weekly Commute

Oct 29 – Nov 2 was Bike to Work week in Vancouver.

Pathetic geek that I am, I carefully log my commute during this bi-annual event.

This Fall, this was a very typical week for me, i.e. I rode to work in the morning and home in the evening. The daily 17.8km that I log is a bit of an underestimate because the map measures as the crow flies, so let’s call it 18km as a round number. That means 90km per week. Which in turn – given travel for work and vacations, otherwise I bike every day – probably between 3,000-4,000km per year. Who would have thought?

For many summers, I drive the family car up to Alaska for a one way 4,000km door-to-door drive. I wouldn’t have guessed that I bike that same distance every year.

All good news as far as I’m concerned.

A Week with the Gore Oxygen GT AS

My first week with the new jacket turned out to be very rainy, though not cold yet. Ideal weather for testing a rainjacket, though not exactly pleasant to ride through.

So far so good, though some of the initial impressions I have of the jacket are being confirmed.

The fact that the jacket is really light I am getting used to very happily. That initial sense of feeling almost like I’m riding with a t-shirt on remains and is terrific.

After layering too thick the first day, I’ve been wearing a thinner wool layer this week and that seems to be working well. No sweat stains when I arrive and certainly no rain that has come in. Having said that, I do think that I will be missing pit zippers on the jacket. I’ve left the ventilation cuffs unzipped a couple of times now and that doesn’t seem to be adding that much airflow, at least not all the way up the arms. On the other hand, the elasticized cuffs also mean that despite leaving the zipper open, there’s no flapping around which is great. I do wonder about the mesh in the cuff zipper. I’ve got this stuck in the zipper already once and just don’t think that the mesh is going to hold up to daily wear for very long. The zippers (cuffs and main zipper) are fidgety as I wrote first. The pull tabs are too small and the zipper themselves could be a size larger to make operation with gloves on easier.

One of the big sign of perhaps more of an improvement in breathability than I am realizing is that when I get in to work and hang the jacket up after a really wet ride (or any ride, really) I hang it up with the wet side out. With my old jacket, I always hung it inside-out because there would be a layer of sweat (I presume, but perhaps mixed with rain water?) covering the inside of the sleeves. Given the choice of a damp inside or outside at the end of the day when I’m putting the jacket back on, obviously I chose a drier inside, but that does not appear to be necessary with the next jacket since it’s not wet on the inside when I arrive.

I’ve figured out the placement of the reflective lettering that I noted in my initial impressions. If I were riding with drop bars, my wrists would be turned , so that the letter would be facing out rather than up. Hm… shouldn’t assume drop bars in design of a jacket but place reflective elements so that they are visible in multiple/all directions.

The fact that there’s no pocket at all bugs me. Where do I put my bike keys?

The fit and collar may be greatest feature after light weight and waterresistance. I do like the snugness and the draft toward the kidneys seems to have been a first impression only. The collar with the elasticized, slightly raised back is working great, not water dripping in that way weather I was wearing a beanie under the helmet or not and despite some heavy rains.

My wife things the design is a big super-hero like. It’s a “The Incredibles” colour scheme and the tightness leads to that impression I think.

Muxu 3/4 Shorts

Charcoal 3/4 pants in size 36 were part of my first Muxu order.

I had been eyeing some Swrve shorts for some time and my wife had bought me one of the models of knickers for my birthday. However, they were a) generally too skinny, and b) missing that essential (for my body type) feature of a high cut in the back as I am neither of an age nor in a physical shape that I want to display any lower back cleavage to the world. After returning that pair, I was hoping for another colour for a pair that I had tried on at on the Rivet, but like my salvage jeans, these still hadn’t arrived after four months, so I had to look elsewhere.

My first impression of the Muxu 3/4 shorts was very positive (partly because I was excited to receive them and excited that the shipping was so speedy). When I tried them on, however, they were quite snug. I guess this is generally the fashion for bike wear and the snugness looks good on the website photos. It also felt nice because the Lycra fabric feels soft and natural, but also immediately warm. The length takes the 3/4 shorts about 10 cm beyond the knee and when I tried them on, I was a little worried that they’d be tight around the knee.

The impression of snugness was confirmed further when I tried on a Muxu jeans of the same size that was significantly roomier. Snugness in the shorts is not necessarily around the waist (though tighter than jeans here as well), but rather around between waist and thigh and around knee. One of the signs of this snugness that I’m not so fond off is that the zipper tab stands not to stay flat, but sticks out as you wear the shorts.

The colour is actually quite nice in that it doesn’t look like spandex bike wear even though the fabric has give. I would be curious how much the fabric will bleach in the sun.

Overall design is also subtle in that the branding is attractive and not terribly visible. The top seam of the back pockets is very horizontal and looks like a seam rather than pockets. Nice! The extra pocket for a lock, phone, or pump might be useful, but these are not items that I carry in my pocket, so they don’t add much to the shorts for me.

I did leave the shorts on for a test-seat on my bike and was immediately surprised that the tightness in the knees that I feared when I just put them on was actually quite comfortable on the bike. Same with the snug fit around the upper end of the calf. I hadn’t tried a length like this on the bike and immediately liked it. The weather here in Vancouver has been turning a bit chillier recently and the shorts felt warm. I was also pleased to note that the cut in the back is sufficiently high for full coverage.

However, the snugness around the waist/thigh does seem to turn into tightness when I’m on the bike. Hm… even though I quite like these shorts and like them better than others I had tried on, they are a bit too tight for my taste and I returned them for a refund.

The tightness is also a factor in that I couldn’t wear long underwear underneath these shorts. That makes some sense as they are not really meant for weather (not particularly wind or water resistant), so can’t really fault the shorts for this, but it’s an option I want to have with half the year of riding here in Vancouver spent either wet or threatening to get wet.

I like the deep front pockets a lot, but given the snug fit of the shorts, the bottom edges of the pockets make for pronounced lines mid-thigh, especially while in a riding position.

Muxu items generally seem to have fewer bike-specific details than some other makes, suggesting that this may be a focus more on design rather than on technical specifics. In the 3/4 shorts that means that the bike-specificity is primarily in the fabric, the no-seam-crotch and the low-front-high-back cut. The latter in particular is important to me. The lack of additional features may be in part due to the fabric and its likely purpose in warmer weather riding where reflectiveness may also not be an issue because it might be light.

Given the Barcelona mention in the Muxu tag line, however, those late Spanish dinners will likely see you riding home in the dark, so some reflective details would be welcome.

P.S. (Dec 2012):

Muxu has now come out with the Tempest 3/4 Shorts. The “cut is slim, but not skinny (it’s much less fitted than Muxu’s Ride shorts)”. Sounds like it might just be what I’m looking for given the too skinny cut of the regular 3/4 shorts.