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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!