15 Months with the Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt

I’ve had my Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt for two winter seasons now. It’s time to discuss how it is holding up beyond first impressions. In a word: brilliantly.

No pilling, no tears, no holes, no stink… what more would you want from a baselayer.

That’s what the shirt is to me, I wear it almost exclusively under my Sugoi RSE NeoShell Jacket. The Vulpine shirt is thus in rotation with two merino Patagonia zip-tees of different weights.

I don’t generally wear any of these on their own because I find that the wind blows through them and I feel cold with just a wool layer. I have been thinking about adding a windproof gillet to my selection and then might wear wool jerseys as a single layer on my arms more often. While the wool is knitted tightly enough that it is quite smooth and comfortable on the skin, it is loose enough to let the wind through. Surely that’s a bonus when wearing the shirt under a jacket to add breathability, but that’s in part why I don’t really end up wearing it on its own a whole lot.

In the meantime, however, the Vulpine shirt keeps me nice and warm under the water/wind-proof jacket, but not sweaty. Given the open neck, it’s my go-to baselayer in not-so-cold weather. The construction of the seams around the shoulders is very comfortable and not in the way in any riding position under any version of a jacket.

The wool is holding up VERY well. No pilling, not wear as far as I can tell. The overall quality is really terrific even after months of daily use. I wash the shirt in a primitive N American toploader then hang-dry so not particularly gentle in treating it, but there is no sign of wear even on elbows, no loose threats. This quality (rather than functionality) would justify the price entirely in my mind.

The blue colour has also stayed true all along. It continues to be much more handsome a shirt than I am or than my bike is.

Some more critical thoughts:

  • As I noted in my first impressions, the sleeves are a little too short. Off the bike, they are just right, but in a riding position, they leave my wrists uncovered which I don’t like much. [Yes, a bit of a theme, i.e. I like to stay warm!] While I am quite tall (1,96m), most of that height is in my legs and I don’t order long sleeves on dress shirts, for example, so it seems like the proportions on the sizing are a bit off for my body type.
  • Likewise, the longer back is also not very long. Worn by itself (i.e. not tucked in) the shirt covers the edge of whatever pants I’m wearing, but not much more.
  • I have never used the pocket on the back, in part because I mostly wear the shirt as a baselayer, but also because the most likely items would be keys or a wallet and those either would likely rip the pocket (keys) or don’t fit (wallet)
  • As I wear the shirt under a jacket, the reflector on the back pocket is also turning out to be less essential than I would have anticipated.
  • I do like my neck warm, so I wouldn’t mind a slightly closer collar.

Bottom line: Definitely high quality and very nice to wear. As it turns out for my use as a baselayer, some the functionality is not necessary.

 

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Betabrand Bike-to-Work Pants

Betabrand is another one of those brands that I’ve been keeping an eye on for their bike-specific hipster ware. So, when they were having one of their sales (sign up for their newsletter or follow on Twitter) I jumped in and ordered olive bike-to-work pants.

The main attraction to the brand is, er, the brand. Hip, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but functional and good looking.

Well, the bike-to-work pants didn’t really turn out to be a winner.

I ordered them in 36, my usual side, but the waist was a bit big, while the thighs (I do commute by bike after all) were tight. The sizing was odd since I also ordered one of their beautiful cordarounds in a 36, but that was too small.

The bike-to-work pants weren’t massively too large, but I would have needed a belt off the bike which means wearing the belt on the bike and that’s just not that comfortable.

In the end, I was also a bit underimpressed by the bike functionality and the quality.

I had ordered “olive” but my order confirmation already said “mushroom”. The pictures of olive looked like a light green, but the colour turned out to be a pretty bland, meh shade of, well, mushroom.

Because the fit wasn’t right, I didin’t quite try them riding on the bike, but the coverage in the back seemed adequate. The cut didn’t seem obviously conducive to riding.

The reflective flap that folds out of the left rear pocket is terrific. Nice to have a bikeware item designed for right-hand-drive traffic too.

But that’s pretty much it for bike features, i.e. lower-in-front-higher-in-back, no seams to sit on and pocket and rolled-up-pant reflectors. Terrific and new a coupl of years ago, but so-so now.

Finally, I just wasn’t that impressed with the quality given loft prices of US$100+ (pre-sale). The pants really seemd liked a pretty regular pair of chinos that could have been Dockets or some similar ho-hum brand.

Obviously, I can’t report on durability and fit on the bike, since I returned them…

 

First Impressions: Vulpine Rain Shorts

It’s the first day of Spring in Vancouver. Appropiately, my Vulpine shorts arrived today to usher in the end of another rainy season. Also an appropriate time to take up the blogging call again after a long break.

I’d been looking at these shorts for quite a while after having noticed Vulpine for their merino shirt.

I have two pairs of cycling jeans, one pair of knickers, so shorts were the next obvious steps.

Wow, are these shorts a quality product and wow, do I look good in them if I say so myself.

Everything seems thought out in terms of design and functionality.

The fit is right on. I ordered an XL (=36″ waist) and they fit just right.

The epic fabric is soft and fairly slippery; feels good.

Features:

  • hook in the right front pocket for keys
  • hidden zipper pocket in left front pocket
  • reflectors on outside at bottom of leg (seems like a great spot for shorts and they are discrete yet give me the sense that I will be visible)
  • low cut in the front to sit on the bike
  • right rear pocket with magnet closure
  • the flap on the rear pocket folds up to reveal a bright green patch and reflector underneath
  • inside the waistband is a rubberized strip that will keep the shorts from sliding

Design:

  • “indigo” means purple, but it’s actually a very nice colour
  • terrific how much thought someone has given the seams which appear in contrasting green on the inside, and the zippers which are red
  • the V-shape on the main button is also a nice touch

Obviously, these are not cheap, so I waited for Vulpine’s second anniversary event to off-set the price a little.

No thoughts on the epic fabric yet other than it’s nice feel. I’m not sure that I really need rain-resistant shorts. In Vancouver either it’s the rainy season (Nov – March) and kind of too cold to wear shorts, or it’s shorts-weather and thus rarely rainy.

Also, will have to see how they wear with regular use (I still commute every day).

Only concern so far is one that a reviewer mentioned as well, i.e. that the seam in the back is not elastecized, so there’s some risk of exposure depending on the shirt I’m wearing.

Update some weeks later:

Some nice early Spring weather has given me a chance to try the shorts out on the bike. Great! The “slipperiness” of the fabric makes them very comfortable, though I can definitely feel the thigh seam. They are not restrictive in the thigh, but definitely not loose. Coverage on the lower back is a bit of an issue because the seam isn’t elasticized.

The hook in the front right pocket actually works for my key chain.

 

 

 

First Impression Muxu Socks

I’m not a big fan of the socks-that-dont-even-cover-your-ankle genre, esp. in winter. Is there some particular reason bicyclist want their ankles cooled?

Even though I don’t particularly like these short socks, even the ones that barely go over your ankle, that’s pretty much what’s available for riding.

At least the Muxu Ride Sock comes with the added bonus of a reflective stripe on the heel.  That way the sock is no longer your, er, Achilles heel of visibility, I guess. The socks themselves are a nice blue tone (there is also a black model) and feel quite nice on your feet. They are neither particularly thick, nor particularly thin and a wool-synthetic blend.

I haven’t been able to ask a motorist who was approaching from behind how visible the reflective stripe is, but it’s literally woven into the fabric in a criss-cross-pattern and is lasting through washes just fine.

These will be particularly nice in the summer with shorts, I think, as the dayglo green velcro bands around the ankles are a safety-only-beauty-be-damned accessory with shorts.

Unlike many other current socks, they don’t come as a rightie and leftie and aren’t overly engineered for fit, but just a regular, handsome sock.

Some Years with Axiom Stormfront Gloves

Thankfully, my wife found a box of winter items in our basement that I had been looking for ever since we moved in summer 2011. Among other items, this box contained my Axiom Stormfront gloves that I bought some years ago. This model has been updated significantly.

When compared to the Gore gloves I used last year and the Giro Pivot that I was using this winter, my gloves seem a bit last-generation. The cuff is a traditional stretch cuff that neither tightens nor provides any kind of transition/seal with the sleeve of the jacket. In the current version of this glove, the cuff thus looks quite different.

There are some things I really like about these gloves:

  • the insulation is right for Vancouver winter and the gloves keep my hands almost always dry which is really good enough
  • cushioning of the palm 
  • the big soft area on the back and side of the thumb that I use to wipe my nose (an all to frequent task in winter riding).

The most annoying thing about the gloves is that the liner in the fingers pulls out when you take the gloves off so that putting them back on is always a bit of a puzzle.

Given that my experience with Gore and Giro has not been that great, I am re-activating these gloves for drier winter use and will certainly wear them until they give out. I might also have to take a second look at Axiom gear generally again, though it’s not clear to me why the gloves only appear in the “archive” page of the Axiom website.

First Impressions Craft Winter Hat

I do wear a thin hat under the helmet almost every day in the Fall/Winter. I find that a hat absorves enough of the rain that I don’t need a helmet cover and soaks up sweat nicely as well. I’ve had my current hat for some years, I don’t even quite remember where I bought it or what brand it is.

It’s functional with a bit lighter fabric on the sides of my head, presumably for breathability. It does cover my ears, though I have to tug on it occasionally to make sure that it stays put. It’s not particularly warm or wind-proof, though gets the job done.

I thought I could use a step up from that in warmness and opted for the Craft Winter Hat. When the hat arrived in the mail, I was surprised that it was not as substantial or fleecy as I had expected given the name. The section that would cover the forehead is a different fabric which makes a lot of sense to me given that that is exactly where the most wind and rain is likely to “arrive”.

However, the forehead section was a bit loose in this L sizing. When I tucked the hat under my helmet and road around the block, this looseness was immediately palatable in some wind sneaking in under the bottom edge. The earflaps were also creeping upwards because the edge on the neck comes down to low, so with my head leaning back as I’m looking up, that edge pushes up.

I’m not sure whether these are issues that would be different in a size down, but I’m returning the hat for now, perhaps another item that’s better bought in person rather than on-line.

Some Weeks with the Gotham Defender Bike Light

I received my light in mid-October and have been riding with it for some weeks now.

My impressions from first installing the light have been confirmed by regular use, though the brightness turns out to be more useful than I had initially thought. I have not been able to ask anyone that I have biked towards in the dark about visibility, but the beam is bright enough to ride by on the short stretch of my commute that doesn’t have street lights.

When I tweeted about my initial review, the folks at Gotham replied:

@JulianDierkes, very thoughtful review! Thank you. Indeed almost 1/2 the weight comes from 3xAA batteries for long life.

It seems to me like there’s still some potential in thinking about the weight. Yes, the three AAs will last, but even going to 2 AAs would knock the weight down. On the other hand, I had the light on every weekday for about 30 min in the morning and evening and the batteries lasted about 2 months which seems about right. Presumably, going to a 2 AA set-up would bring this down to 5 weeks or so which would suggest three battery changes or so per dark season…

Or what about a USB-rechargeable option? And if the batteries are half the weight, then there’s some potential in making the casing thinner, I imagine.

The other issue I raised in my initial impressions was the lack of visibility from the side.

To stay with the gun theme, what about adding a translucent sight with an LED to the top of the light. This would not be very large or bright, but it would give a little 360° or at least 150° or so visibility, wouldn’t it? Might be a design feature, too.

The other thing I’m thinking about is that the back of the casing (the rounded-off section facing the rider) is begging for something to be placed there. A compass isn’t really useful enough, but what else could go there?

First Impressions Craft Neoprene Bootie

The first impression of the Craft Neoprene Bootie is mixed. I bought these in a size 43-45 for my size 45 feet in part because my trusty MEC shoe covers (XXL) have always been a bit too large, but the size down doesn’t fit. It looks like I might be caught in the same size limbo with Craft.

I do like the reflective print on the bootie.

I’m not sure I like that the heel is closed with an Achilles zipper. Seems like it’s a set-up that’s hard to get on. I only tried with a pair of sneakers so far as my bike shoes were wet from the ride home, but it looks like tomorrow’s weather will give me an opportunity to first, try them on, then if they do fit, try them out.

Trying them on with my Shimano bike shoes sealed the deal, I’m returning the booties. I don’t think I’ll exchange them for a size up either because then I’ll be at the bottom of that size range again which is the same problem as I have with my MEC shoe covers, i.e. they’re bulky and the velcro closures overlap.

This might be an item I’ll have to hunt for with shoes on and try on various other options. Sure would be nice to find something very bright (after all, I’m only wearing shoe covers when visibility is low), that’s easy to put on/take off and is relatively snug in the fit.

Some Years with Gore Ultra Pants

I’ve had Gore Ultra rain bike pants for a couple of years now (can’t actually recall what year I bought them in).

The material certainly has been lasting well and it continues to be rainproof. Sweating is not so much of a concern with rain pants (at least not for me), so they are plenty breathable as well.

Even though the pants are thus quite functional as everyday rain gear, I don’t love them.

Why? Black is just not a great colour for being invisible. Also, reflective detail very small on these, so they just don’t offer a lot of visibility even though I generally and by definition wear them in low-visibility conditions.

Also, the ankle cuff is overly complicated with two vertical velcro strips to cover the zipper, then two horizontal velcro strips to tighten around the calf and ankle. Effective? Yes! As they do tighten things up to be rainproof especially if the ankle cuff is worn over the rain booties. BUT, complicated and the velcro doesn’t really cinch down the flaps enough to ever have full confidence in the set-up.

There is a mesh pocket on the inside of the pants that would sit on the small of your back as you’re riding. I have never put anything in that pocket and am a little unsure on the circumstances when I would use such a pocket.

The pants are set up with a drawstring around the waist, but I’ve also never used that as a feature since the cut is pretty tight and I don’t need the draw string.

Given the snug and athletic cut of the Oxygen jacket, I imagine that a current generation of these pants would also be cut in a more athletic fashion, though my model is not baggy. I would probably opt for a tighter fit in a newer model, though.

First Impressions Vulpine Long Sleeve Merino T-Shirt

I forget now where I came across Vulpine as a brand, I think it was on a bike blog that I follow. The website and the products had an immediate appeal even within the crowding market for functional merino clothing for bicyclists and other sporty types.

I have been wearing Patagonia zip neck wool baselayers, one thinner, one thicker in the winter and thought that an additional long sleeve would be nice.

I ordered the long-sleeve merino t-shirt in navy large.

The colour is beautiful actually and the logo and pocket on the back offer a very nice accent. Straight out of the alwaysriding envelope, I thought this looked very nice. The fit is also quite good for me, snug, but not tight. The longer back is appreciated as it will be nice when I wear the shirt on its own, but is short/thin enough to push into shorts/rainpants when I’m wearing the t-shirt under a jacket.

I had to wear the shirt the next day, of course, and it performed as well as expected under my rain jacket. No bunching anywhere, nice on the skin.

I would not that the L sleeves are not long, i.e. they don’t cover the wrists. Under a rain jacket there are two obvious options for a baselayer in my mind, long enough to cover the wrist, ideally with a thumb loop at that point, or short enough that the shirt doesn’t get in the way of the cuff/glove nexus. This t-shirt is clearly of the latter variety. I also probably prefer the longer sleeves, especially with a thumb loop, but this slightly shorter sleeve will probably be nice when wearing the shirt on its own.

All in all, first impressions are very positive. Note however, that the button on the pocket on the back fell off in the first wash which is a little disappointing. I will review how the shirt holds up over the coming weeks/months of wearing it in a coming post.

P.S. (later in December 2012): My wife was kind enough to sew the button back on and both alwaysriding and Vupline reacted very promptly to my note about the button. Great service!