Category Archives: biking

Cycling Jackets: A Learning Experience

It’s only taken me about 3.5 years, but I think I’m learning.

When I really got into cycling (for fun, for commuting, for health), I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. Several years later I still don’t. Now, it’s been obvious to me that despite the amount of money I had to spend to get a couple of good bikes and outfit them, I’m saving money in the long run on gas / wear & tear. I don’t skimp on the equipment I buy to outfit the bikes, because I know that if I buy the best gear now, they’ll last longer and perform better.

So why in the name of all things velo do I attempt to skimp on clothing??

Truth is, “cycling clothing” has always struck me as ridiculous, both in pricing as well as design. I didn’t take up cycling so I could attempt to pack my 45 year old, 230lb frame into skin tight lyrca team kits and spend more on them than on either of my bikes! I wanted to be able to climb on the bike and go, not worry about whether I needed to look like Lance Armstrong to go shopping or to work.

But the realization also hit me that I needed something other than just a hoodie, my jacket of choice for many years. So the hunt for a cheap cycling jacket that could be used in all situations (even off the bike) began.

The Jackets

Four cycling jackets in three and a half years.

 

#1 – Izod XFG Packable Jacket

Almost 4 years ago, this jacket was seen at the local Izod outlet store with a normal pricetag of almost $50. It was on sale for $25, plus a promo was running, knocking it down to $15. “Waterproof” and windproof, it seemed like the perfect answer to my needs as a cyclist here in Pensacola. I sweet talked the salesperson and she sold me a second one (bright orange) so that together I spent $25. How could I go wrong with this, right?

The Problem: While this jacket is mostly waterproof and windproof, it also doesn’t breath even a little bit. It’s like wearing a thick plastic trash bag. On top of that, the back hikes up, exposing your shorts and the end of your shirt. In the end, I may as well have not been wearing a jacket at all, as I wound up as wet from sweat and the encroaching rain. I still wear this jacket occasionally as just a windbreaker, but it generally just takes up space in the closet now.

#2 New Balance 360 Degree Jacket

Waterproof. Windproof. Lined sleeves. Vents in the front and large vent on the back. Reflective strips. Packable. Front-pocket MP3 player slot. 2 zip pockets. It seemed perfect. On top of that, it was $20 down the street, marked down from $90. A dream come true! All my questions answered! It was perfect! We danced and sang together, rode together in the rain, braved the brisk air and everything was great

Until… The Problem: It’s a very loose fit, which I was initially ok with, but that got to be a bit irritating, having everything flapping about willy-nilly. But then, the real problem: As with any piece of clothing, it eventually needs to be washed. Whether it was the washing machine or the jacket, that sucker came unthreaded at the seams, shredding at 2 large spots. This was a month after getting the jacket. And of course, this was bought on the cheap as it was the previous years’ style. There would be no returning the jacket. I did go back to where I bought it and found an XXL (my normal size is an XL) marked further down to $15. Bought it, but this thing wears like a tent (which means it doesn’t get worn at all).

#3 Alpinestars Night Mission Jacket

For almost a year, I’d been without a specific cycling jacket. Always on the lookout, always shocked at the prices, I’ve settled for old hoodies that do a barely decent job as long as it’s not raining. Then, in my quest for cheap, I saw this jacket on The Clymb. Now, I should know better than to try and order clothing online, but the deal was so good ($30, down from $110)… So I did some research on it, looked for information outside of The Clymb’s site, and from what I could tell, it was going to be a winner! Waterproof, windproof, and a hood that could be removed, and apparently 2 vents (under each arm). The only size they had left was XXL, so after some agonizing, I pulled the trigger.

The Problem: Where to start? Hah. Well, to begin, this thing weighs several pounds. It’s crazy heavy. It’s also hot as hell. No reflective strips. There are also no vents in the jacket (apparently only the current version of this jacket has vents, the one I was buying was the previous years’ style). I figured I’d just do the best I could with it, but having gotten it in September when the temps are still in the 80-90 degree range, I couldn’t really test the thing out. Then it got chilly. That’s when I realized this: IMG_2393

I must’ve not only gotten last years’ style, I also got last years’ “slightly irregular” cast-offs. That zipper doesn’t close all the way because the other end has been sewn in wrong and can’t be undone. Furthermore, the top of this jacket is crazy stiff – the zipper top jams into my neck causing extreme discomfort and irritation. And, of course, two months later there are no returns on this jacket. Looking at Alpinestars’ website convinced me not to even bother contacting them. Yet another useless jacket taking up space in the closet.

#4 Louis Garneau Kamloops Jacket

Waterproof. Windproof. Breathable. 2.5 ply nylon ripstop. Large back pocket. High fitting collar. Rear vent flap. Mini-light tab. Reflective tape front and back. Pro-fit. Nevermind that I didn’t understand what several of these things meant, it looked slick. At $47, it was almost $100 less than the MSRP, got good reviews, and I felt that given all the research I did on it before I took the plunge, I thought I’d be ok getting an XXL from Competitive Cyclist’s website, and even if it was just a little too big, that’d be alright.

The Problem: Oh, goodness. Well, this beautiful jacket arrived in the mail and as I pulled it out of the box, I thought, “Damn, son, that’s the noisiest jacket I’ve ever heard… is there cellophane inside this thing?” Alas, there was not. It was then that I understood what Max 2.5 Nylon Ripstop meant. No problem, I thought. It just needs to be broken in, right? So I put the thing on and suddenly understood what pro-fit means: Dudes with broad shoulders and long torsos should probably not buy an XXL, as it will be too small. Yep. The fabric jams right into my armpits, and extends just barely an inch below my stomach. And the noise it makes while it’s on? I mean, I’m deaf and it’s loud enough to be annoying to me. None of this is the company’s fault, however: it’s my own.

What I’ve Learned: 

Having now spent almost $200 on these four jackets, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • I’ve always had difficulty buying shirts due to a very long torso – at 6′ tall, I have a 29-30″ inseam – most of my size is up top. This will also cause problems with cycling clothing as well.
  • Ordering online from closeout / clearance websites or from clearance bins on normal websites is probably not a good idea, as the ability to return this stuff is near non-existent.
  • A corollary to the previous two points is that I cannot try these items on, and now know from experience that it’s difficult to measure for dimensions when different styles have different fits (even within the same company).
  • I didn’t / don’t understand some of the terms that come with these jackets, and even after researching them, I really needed to have seen it rather than just read about it. Cycling obviously has many categories, from recreational to professional to commuting to sport. Some of the “fits” are not going to apply to me, either because of my “category” or because of the long torso / less-than-muscular physique.
  • Cycling jackets are insanely expensive. Deal with it. I need to buy a jacket I can actually try on first, and have the expectation that I’m going to be spending an insane amount of money (for me) but with a jacket that will actually fit and do what I want it to do.
  • For $200, I could have gotten a good, appropriate jacket (or two) by now. (This, of course, also has to be tempered with the understanding that I don’t have $200 lying around and we use credit cards for emergencies only, not so we can keep up with the neighbors).

Now: I still need a jacket! The hunt continues…

Still waiting for Hurricane Isaac

In the week+ since we were warned that a tropical storm was brewing down south and looked to be heading towards Pensacola, we’re still waiting for the effects. Heck, we’re still waiting for just about anything from this system that doesn’t look like any other day on the Gulf Coast / Florida Panhandle.

On Sunday night our school district cancelled classes for Monday and Tuesday. I hopped on the bike that night and went around taking pictures of the clear skies and beautiful sunset down by the water.

Monday night, Lise and I went out and took more pictures – what a contrast! The clouds and strong winds are about the only thing that tell you that there’s a hurricane out there, but the difference between the top and bottom picture, taken almost exactly 24 hours apart, is striking!

Still waiting, Hurricane Isaac!

Haiku for the rain

Rainy day bike haiku

Haiku comes easy for me. I use the process of writing haiku to settle my mind, get focused, or just to have fun.

Today, I needed to run a quick errand. The thunder was already rumbling from a distance as the sky turned black. Rain was visible a few miles away and I thought I might be able to reach my destination in time and get back before the heavens let loose with another deluge. I was half right. I made it, but soon as I turned around to bike back… The Storm. And these weren’t any little pissant raindrops, either – they were full-fledged, fat, heavy raindrops that don’t waste any time soaking you.

The thunder was closer. The rain had come. The sun-blistered roads were steaming from the coolness of the rain. A slight, cool breeze blew.

Haiku. I biked home.
And the poem wrote itself.
“A picture,” I thought.

I ran inside, grabbed the camera and tripod. I set the timer to wait 20 seconds, then take three shots in succession. Boom, boom, boom.

The rain didn’t care.
The road became a river.
Did I smile? Oh, yes.

Five Reasons You Might Meet My Middle Finger While I’m Biking

Before I started commuting by bike in 2010, I’d heard stories about the abuse that can be dumped on cyclists. I’d seen the rants on cycling forums, talked with folks who had horror stories of interactions with motorists, heck, I’d even seen some of it firsthand. But I doubt that there was anything that could have prepared me for the realtime, in-the-moment attitudes of automobile drivers towards me on my bike.

I offer to you, in response to those attitudes, the Five Reasons You Might Meet My Middle Finger While I’m Biking.

Five Reasons You Might Meet My Middle Finger While I'm Biking

Reason #5 – Trash Talkin’

I’m lucky in my daily commute that I’m unable to wear my hearing aids while biking. It probably reduces the number of times I give the finger significantly, but nevertheless, I have folk who are determined to make sure I hear them yell at me out their window as they drive by.  I’ve been screamed at (no intelligible words, just screaming), and been told:

  • I’m fat
  • My mama _______________
  • Get on the sidewalk
  • Get the fuck out of the street
  • Get a car
and my personal favorite:
  • “Get your fat, cracker ass out of the street, motherfucker!”
Friends, believe me: If you scream at me out your window in frustration or exasperation, I’m going to be sure to give you one more thing to be frustrated about. That’s right: The Finger™.

Reason #4 – The Side Door Smackdown

Cruising down the street, paying attention to my surroundings, other vehicles, the pavement, loose animals,  broken glass, stop signs, stop lights, pedestrians, road conditions – it’s all a part of commuting to work and using my bike to run errands and get around town. One thing I’m not always able to do, however, is keep track of who’s behind me and what they’re going to do.

I’m glad that this has only happened to me once, but coming up on a street to the right of me in a quiet, residential section of Pensacola several months ago, I had a car make a hard right turn directly in front of me into the side street. I slammed on my brakes quick as I could, but still hit their back door and went flying off my bike into the street, yelling at the top of my lungs (and scared to death).

Their reaction? Didn’t even slow down. Kept right on going.

Now, I’d hit their car (tactile). I yelled at the top of my lungs (auditory). I flew off my bike (visual). And they didn’t see, hear, or feel that? Yah, right. A dude in an SUV traveling the other side of the road, music blaring with his windows up heard me and made a u-turn to make sure I was alright.

And I was alright. You know why? Because I’d unleashed The Finger™ on that jackass who doored me.

Reason #3 – The Buzz

I wish I didn’t have so many incidents involving The Buzz to share, but I do.  There are several variations to The Buzz that all involve cars getting too close to me while I’m on my bike, so allow me to explain:

  • The Texting / Makeup / Sandwich Buzz – this buzz happens when folks aren’t paying attention to the road while I’m biking in their immediate vicinity. I can usually tell these folks by the sudden jerk / swerve after they hear me yell at them. They don’t do it on purpose, but it doesn’t make it less dangerous.
  • The “You’re Going Too Slow, I’ve Got Places To Be” Buzz – This is self-explanatory. I’m in your way. I’m slowing you down. You’re going to get by me at any cost, even if that cost is my life.
  • The Old People Buzz – I love old people. Seriously. But I’m never quite as spooked while being buzzed when it’s by an old person who doesn’t seem to know where they are. Many old folks are spared The Finger™ simply because they wouldn’t know what it meant, even if they did see it.
  • The “I’m Bigger Than You” Buzz (sometimes known as the “I’m Compensating For Something” Buzz) – These folks truly scare me. My best (worst?) story – picture this: Sunday morning. Pensacola, FL. 90% of the populace is in church. 9 of the remaining 10% are at home in bed. Roads are dead. I’m heading South on N. Davis Hwy – 2 lanes S, 2 lanes N, and a turning lane in the middle. Dude in a big-ass truck gets less than 6″ from my shoulder while I’m in the far right-hand lane. As I look at him incredulously, I watch as his head spins to see how I react in his rearview mirror. Well, I’m not going to disappoint him – I give him The Finger™! What does he do? He SLAMS ON HIS BRAKES in the MIDDLE OF THE DEAD FIVE-LANE ROAD, rolls down his window and screams at me all manner of profanities about what he’s gonna do to me. I think to myself, “Goodness, this person perhaps does not know what the middle finger means. I suppose I shall have to explain it to him verbally.” and proceed to give him The Finger™ again along with the verbal explanation. The good thing about these jackasses is that when confronted by someone who isn’t afraid of them and their oversized vehicle / undersized penis, they usually drive off in a huff (as was the case here).
  • The School Bus Buzz – School busses are the worst offenders in my area. It’s like a double-whammy if it’s a full bus, too – first you’re spooked by the front tire that’s as big as you are 6″ from your left hand, then you get all the students hanging out the window yelling at you while you’re trying to recover from the first scare. And don’t bother trying to retaliate against bus drivers: they deal with worse shit all day long than some pissant cyclist upset that you got too close to him.

Reason #2 – Dodging Projectiles

I’ve had stuff thrown at me out car windows, even over the tops of cars by the driver. The worst thing was a full, 42oz fountain drink lobbed at me by two dumbasses in a quiet residential neighborhood while I had a full backpack on. It was like slo-mo – they weren’t going 20mph, but they overshot me with the drink and missed. What was the purpose of that? They didn’t even speed away, but kept right on going, even as I talked about their mothers’ sexual preferences. But I honestly just don’t get it. Oh, but you know by now what they got, right?

The Finger™, indeed.

Reason #1 – The Laying On of Horns  (or, Can We Unseat Him)

I recently wrote about a specific incident involving the Laying On of Horns and how I was able to confront the driver (and actually made a positive difference as a result). Most confrontations like this aren’t resolved as easily, however.

The horn-blowing individuals out there seem to have varying reasons for their hornyness. I’ve broken them down as best I can into the following categories:

  • HA-ha!! Let’s See If We Can Scare Him Off His Bike!! – Pure, unadulterated stupid. The worst incident of this was when two rednecks in a pickup pulled next to me and blew an airhorn out their window (the kind in a can) at me.
  • I Don’t Know The Laws Regarding Cars And Cyclists – These folks think I’m supposed to be On The Sidewalk Where I Belong. My favorite incident of this was when I caught up to the driver 2 miles later after she blared her horn at me on a narrow, twisty, hilly, no-shoulder section of my commute. She’d gotten stuck at 2 lights and I caught her at the 2nd one. The Finger™ wasn’t even necessary here, as the look on my face as I said loudly, “I bet you weren’t expecting THIS, were you?” while she pretended not to notice, was enough.
  • C’mon, Already! Can’t You Go Faster Than That?? Another self-explanatory one.

I understand the frustration the motorists feel being “stuck” behind me in traffic sometimes. I’m sympathetic to their plight, and I don’t always flash The Finger™ at offending drivers. I don’t think it helps anything except my own psyche (perhaps I’m overcompensating for something by doing it?), but I’ve been surprised at the frequency of the offenses over the last 2 years.

It’d be nice if The Finger™ came with instructions on why their offending behavior was misplaced / misguided. I need a sign saying, “Text ‘Finger’ to 40404 to see why you received The Finger™ from me.”

Of course, they’d text while driving, then I’d get buzzed, leading to…

Nevermind.

Bike Commuter vs. Motorist Confrontations

I rarely get the opportunity to confront drivers who lay on their horns, buzz me, or otherwise make my commute difficult. Back in March, I had one morning ride that was different.

As I’m approaching my school on a VERY narrow, 20′ long concrete bridge, a driver laid on their horn for about 10 seconds (before, during, and after passing). As I’m giving my customary middle finger, I notice this woman is on her cell phone, which only adds to my irritation. With my school in sight, I continue pedaling when I notice that the 20MPH SCHOOL ZONE flashers are lit, and I manage to actually catch up to her as she has been forced to slow down. To add to my irritation, she pulls in to the school next to mine and is obviously not a student.

I pulled in after her and, as she slammed to a stop upon seeing me, I said, “Seriously? Laying on your horn at me while you’re talking on your phone and driving? What were you trying to prove?” Her response: “You need to get your fucking ass out of the road!” while wagging her finger at me, STILL ON THE PHONE. I asked her where she felt I ought to go, given that there are no sidewalks and no curb space in this area, when I realized that nothing good will come of the conversation. She continued hollering at me, I said a few choice words at her, and took off. She parked as I continued riding by, and for good measure, she laid on the horn again.

I hate this kind of confrontation for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it accomplishes nothing, and actually may serve to make things worse. By saying it may “make matters worse”, I’m not only suggesting that she will hate all cyclists to the end of time due to my reaction, but also that there is only one way for me to get to school from home – the area is not residential and you’re forced through a narrow bottleneck. Obviously, I’m going to be seeing her again (and there’s little doubt she’s probably already seen me before). This time it was her horn and yelling. Next time might be…?

During my planning period, I put this together: http://goo.gl/1KzIQ and wrote a very brief, unfelt apology for my reaction to the whole thing, rode over and put it under her wiper blades. I expected nothing in return for it (and actually was concerned it might make her more angry, even with the apology).

Two days later on my morning on the ride in, at almost the exact same spot as before, this woman passed me again, but this time there was no horn honking or exchanges of words.

As much as it pissed me off that I included an apology note with the Florida Traffic Laws for Cyclists and put it under her wiper, it apparently did some good. This alone made it worthwhile to me (as long as it continues).

How do you deal with this type of confrontation? Or do you engage this type of driver at all?

The Completed Bianchi – Full Time Commuter?

I’ve spent the last month making adjustments and adding accessories to the Bianchi Camaleonte Uno with the intention of making it my primary ride to work and around the community. With the addition of fenders yesterday, I’ve now got her where I feel comfortable with moving ahead with that idea. Here’s what she looks like at the end of this adjustment period:

2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno w/ Topeak Super Tourist rack, Deuter Rack Pack Uni Panniers, and a Kryptonite NY 1210 Chain and Evolution 4 Lock

The stats:
2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno
Topeak Super Tourist rack
Deuter Rack Pack Uni Panniers
Planet Bike Hardcore Fenders
Kryptonite NY 1210 Chain & Evolution 4 lock
Superflash blinky
OptiCube headlight

I got great deals on all of these items from my local bike shop (Truly Spokin’) or Amazon. As always, the guys at my LBS have been fantastic, making suggestions, adjustments, and helping me solve a number of smallish issues.

It’s been more money than I had intended on spending, but even just riding the bike 3 days a week to work will pay off the bike in a year. Using it 5 days a week for work and for all local driving (errands, shopping, etc.) will save even more.

Future additions:
– Replacing the stock tires with a pair of Continental Gatorskin Tires
– Replacing the stock saddle with something a bit more comfortable
– Putting a bike computer on her

She’s a LOT of fun to ride – a very different ride than my 2004 Klein Aura V, but they were made for very different purposes! Looking forward to what this next year of cycling brings!

2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno

I’ve been dreaming of getting a new bike to use for commuting to work. Yeah, my Klein Aura V is a sweet ride, but she’s been difficult to work with, being very stiff and inflexible (And no surprise! She’s a racing bike, not a commuter!) . I needed something with a bit more weight, something that could handle having a rack, wider tires, fenders. I needed something that I wouldn’t be afraid of banging up too easily.

The answer?

2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno

Mark, at Truly Spokin’, told me that this would be an excellent bike for what I was looking to do. This is the 2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno, a hybrid bike (“hybrid” meaning sporty, but also practical – road bike & commuter bike in one). I tested his faith back in July 2011 by asking if I could test ride this bike for 3 days, and with only raised eyebrows and a curious look, he said, “Sure. Come get it Friday, bring it back to me Monday.” It was a great 3-day test ride! Rainy, windy, sunny, warm, calm – the whole shebang. I took that thing out and rode it all over and in all weather conditions because I wanted to make sure.

I test rode 4 other bikes as well (among them, Giant & Torker) but none of them quite had the ride that the Bianchi did.

Bianchi Camaleonte Uno

(“Camaleonte” is Italian for Chameleon. I admit to having more than just a passing love of the chameleon on the top tube. It makes the bike just a little bit more fun, a bit more out there.)

After paying a little bit here, a little bit there, since July for the bike, I was finally able to pick up this sweet thing on 11/11/11. Obviously, I’m quite excited about giving her a run on the commute this coming week!

Things I like about the bike:

  • It’s slick looking. Sexy. Sleek. Truth is, though, most of Bianchi’s bikes are slick.
  • It rides well. It’s not like the Klein, but it’s not meant to be! It’s got more weight to it and the steering is stiffer (a plus).
  • It’s got a shorter top tube. It’s going to take some getting used to, but it’s not as much of a stretch from the seat to the handlebars. It’s more of an upright position than I’m familiar with on my previous bikes.
  • The flat handlebars. I like ‘em. The shifters & the brakes are easy to access and quick to respond. I’ve been riding on dropbars for the past year, so my arms are a bit stiff from the different position, but it’ll be a good change.
  • An adjustable stem. The handlebar stem is adjustable so that it can drop or rise a pretty significant amount. I’m going to play with this a bit, but it was definitely a selling point!
  • 32mm tires. I started off with 25’s, then went to 28’s on the Klein. These fatter tires make a big difference when it comes to dealing with carpal tunnel in the wrists.
  • Mini-V brakes. When I hit the brakes, this bike stops, even when it’s wet. I’m impressed.
  • Racks & Fenders! It can handle a rack on the rear & front, plus there’s plenty of space for fenders for the wet Pensacola commuting days. I’m having a rack installed this week – I’m getting too old to carry a backpack full of books, a laptop, and all the other stuff I need to teach!
  • Good handling in various conditions. With the Klein, I’m afraid to do some things (riding in the rain, banking turns hard, going over particularly rough patches / railroad tracks, etc. at higher speeds) but with the Bianchi, I’m a lot more confident of  its ability to handle these conditions.
  • It’s just a fun ride. Seriously.
Bianchi Camaleonte Uno

Will I eventually go car-free? I dunno. I’ve been working towards a reduced-car existence for the past year (and with over 2600 miles on the Klein since November 2010, I’d say I’ve gotten a decent start). This bike will help me increase my bike commuter miles, and reduce my carbon footprint, not to mention continue a healthier lifestyle and influence others in myriad ways. I’m excited!

Ask me questions, or stay tuned for more on this bike!

2011 SB Urban Adventure / Team Funny Fo’ Sho’

The 2011 South Bend Urban Adventure was a blast! For the 2nd year in a row, my cousin Christine and I ran / cycled / swam / rafted / slip ‘n slided / shortcutted / bullshitted / videoed / commented / connived / contrived / schemed and had an incredible time completing 24 checkpoints, biking 20+ miles, and attempting to win fame and glory on the streets of South Bend, IN.

We’re already planning for 2012 – watch out!

“I can’t go out & ride – it’s raining!”

Silly me.

It’s been raining the last 4 days off and on. I’ve been doing a test ride of a 2011 Bianchi Camaleonte Uno this weekend and wanted to get it out as much as possible. This morning, sitting dejectedly in the living room watching the continuing rain, I thought, “I can’t go out on the bike and ride! It’s raining! I’ll get wet! The bike’ll get wet! I’ll look silly! Dang!”

At some point, I started thinking, “Hey, dumbass! When you were a kid, did the rain stop you from wanting to go outside & play? What’s wrong with you? Are you gonna melt? Is the bike gonna break? Don’t you remember the fun of riding your bike through the biggest puddles? Good lord, what’s happened to you?!?”

Riding the Bianchi in the rain

That was about as much fun as I’ve had riding a bike in a long, long time.

I’m reminded that there’s nothing wrong with childlike thinking.
There’s nothing wrong with getting wet.
There’s nothing wrong with getting dirty.
There’s nothing wrong with doing things with abandon.
I don’t need to worry about what others think.
I don’t have to color inside the lines.

This may seem like a stretch for a guy who already pushes the envelope as much as possible, but even I get into a rut. An hour out on the bike in the rain, careening through puddles, feeling the water against my face, not worrying about my clothes, the bike, my hair, what others might be thinking… that was a refreshing reminder.