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.

Visit to Mission Workshop Mothership

On a holiday trip to visit in-laws in California, I had a chance to go by the Mission Work-Shop in the Mission in San Francisco. Very appropriate location, i.e. continues-to-be-funky neighbourhood, side-alley, warehouse.

I do have to say that only price tags and some internal wrestling kept me from leaving a major amount of cash here.

The backpacks with their Arkiv rail system are very clever and surprisingly light. When I picked up one of the acccessories, it seemed quite heavy because it has two metal strips that meet the rails on the pack, but the pack itself was surprisingly light. The Rambler hiking pack was also very attractive. However, I wasn’t terribly tempted by either since I’m really much happier carrying stuff on the bike in panniers given the reduction of back-sweatiness without a pack, and I would probably turn to Arc’teryx for a new hiking backpack.

Speaking of Arc’teryx, some of the Mission Workshop jackets are produced in the same facility that Arc’teryx used in the past in Vancouver. As I tried on some of the jackets, the most attractive one was the Trigger, a new softshell they have. Fancy Schöller fabric – of course -, snug fit, thumb loops, a nice collar. This is a very nice softshell bike jacket.

It’s biggest drawback – that I also discussed in regards to the Orion rain jacket – is the lack of visibility. Black isn’t my colour at all and even less so on the bike. At least the Trigger has some reflective piping on the sleeve and on its bottom seam, but black really doesn’t make sense. I mentioned this to the folks I met at Mission, so if you feel the same way, please do mention it to them as well, maybe they’ll put some more visible colouring in their offerings in the future.

I saw a reference to a limited edition light blue version of this on a website, but this seemed to be just a rumour… As soon as the Trigger comes out in a more visible colour, I will certainly be taking a very serious look at it.

All the Mission Workshop products have a feel of quality and substance to them that justify high prices in my mind. I would be very surprised if these are all not products that are truly built-to-last and will also prove their worth in terms of design and material details.

Certainly a fun excursion, and I learned that the main people behind Mission Workshop used to run Chrome which is where I was off to next.

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?

Imperial Drive

The most dangerous road conditions on my Mackenzie Heights to UBC bike commute are on Imperial Drive. I use Imperial Drive as the continuation of the 29th Ave bike route to reach 16th where I head West to UBC. It is a very attractive part of the ride because it crosses through Pacific Spirit Park and the curves in the road mean that cars are not racing through here as they are on 16th, for example.

However, the road surface is becoming worse and worse. As is often the case, it is wearing out from the outside, i.e. exactly where I would be riding my bike. Cracks, developing holes and – especially hazardous, I find – chunks of asphalt breaking off at the edge.

These road conditions are especially treacherous coming home in the afternoon/evening as there is no street lighting on this stretch of road. Given the condition of the roadway, I feel compelled to ride in the centre of the lane which obviously works well when there is no car traffic behind me. Should a car come, however, I move over to the side where the road conditions are scary and I’ve already pitched off the roadway onto the soft should once. The lack of light is exacerbated by on-coming traffic that doesn’t alway recognize a bike light as a signal to switch to low-beams. My Gotham Defender bike light does give me some light on the road at the speed I’m going, but this is no use (no fault of the light) in on-coming high-beams.

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.

Happy 2013

I wish all Vancouver bike commuters and others interested in this lifestyle (!) a very happy, safe 2013 with many enjoyable hours spent in the saddle or talking about bike things.

My sense is that 2012 was a bit of a take-off year for bike culture not just locally but throughout Europe and North America, and even Japan. 2013 only likely to bring more of that, perhaps along with a real take-off for (craft) beer culture in Vancouver.

I only started blogging last Fall, but hope to continue with somewhat regular posts (2-3/week) until I run out of things to say.

Always Riding

I usually much prefer to buy bike gear and clothes locally, in part because I enjoy the experience of seeking out products and discussing products with knowledgeable sales people. I’m also old-fashioned in that I’d rather hold something in my hand before I buy it.

BUT, sometimes I get curious about brands or products that aren’t available. The most recent examples were Muxu and Vulpine.

While I ordered Muxu directly from them through their website, I gave Always Riding a try for my Vulpine t-shirt. Why this site? Well, they carry Vulpine, have a nicely organized website and there are a number of other interesting brands and products. They’re based in the UK. Ordering was simple and convenient. Shipping was free (above a certain threshold) and the shipment arrived very promptly.

When a minor flaw showed up in one of the ordered items, the customer service response was very personal, helpful, and quick. Certainly consider this a reliable source for ordering things that I can’t find locally.

Revolights

Yes, these Revolights are certainly the coolest thing I’ve seen on Kickstarter: LED lights around the rim of your tire that light up the front half of the front tire/back half of the rear tire in white and red, respectively.

The look is totally Tron, 80s or 10s, and very cool. I saw one of these riding around Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and was instantly jealous.

Cleverly, the LEDs project forward/backward while also being very visibly for the side with the clear indication which direction you’re going.

The USB-rechargeable batteries sit on the hub and the website offers hints at a future development of dynamo-power.

So, with all my griping about lack of visibility in hipster, even moderately attractive, bike attire, why haven’t I bought these? Two main reasons: cost (US$250 for front/rear set) and lack of trust that they batter/cable set-up will survice the very wet and somewhat gritty Vancouver winter. But, I’m definitely going to keep an eye on further development of these lights to see whether my reasons for hesitating might not be addressed.

With this post, I’m off for Christmas break and will start posting again in January 2013.

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.