Monday, December 31, 2012

Tried and Liked - 2012

 Not a huge list this year. I tried some new stuff (cheap bourbon, mini velo, kindle, more friends moving away, legalized mj, messenger bags, etc) but didn't care much for them. Here's the list of new stuff that I liked:

Solid dude, that Pat.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Jamie's Trek. That's his daily driver. It's begging for a front rack. Pleading really.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Review: Ibex Ramble Wool Pants

Item: Ibex Ramble Wool Pants
Size 34"
Made in China
MSRP: $195
Did I pay for them: No

Growing up in cold and snowy northeast Washington, I always had a pair of Army surplus wool pants in my pile of winter gear. Most who have chased down Army surplus wool pants know that sizes favor the huge, the super skinny tall, and the elfishy short. So, while I always had a pair of wool pants, they were either obnoxiously tight and long (and therefore prone to blowing out at the crotch) or many sizes too big.

All the same, ever since reading Papillon as a boy--where the narrator extols the virtues of wool before leaping off a cliff into the frigid Atlantic ocean--I've been a wool believer. So I spent many childhood winters sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, horse-fussing, and ski-jogging in ill-fitting wool Army surplus pants.

But when I discovered the REI ACME pants a few years ago, which came in normal sizes, were warm, kept me reasonably dry, and looked good enough, I think I may have subconsciously given up on the biennial search for better wool pants.

Until...late last summer, when the folks at Ibex sent me a few things to try. Among them, these bitchin wool pants. As I first gazed upon them, my wool-pant love revived with a Phoenix-like intensity. Verily.

These help me clean up like no tomorrow. 
There's no denying the righteously utilitarian look of wool pants. There's a no-nonsense, manly, Hemingwayish thing going on there. Hopefully I'll never be in a situation where I'll actually have to live up to these manly pants. As for color, there appears to be about three hues of grey that are legal wool-pant colors: greeny-grey, grey, and dark grey. The Ibex pant is in the greeny-grey camp, and the cut is super refined -- by my standards, which tend to favor the more technical-gear-slob look.

In my old work life, where I never actually saw people, I didn't have to worry about how I dressed, and I looked it. Now, as one who attempts to teach young minds, I'm told that I need to look "professional." These pants shine in the pro department.

Righteous belt was a gift from Liza last year. These pants just make a perfect home for that belt.

And as daily drivers, the pants totally rock on the bike: they're cut a bit loose so my monster thighs don't bind up my panties; they've also got a gusseted crotch. Like all Ibex stuff, they're super quality with nice finish details: little hemmed pocket edges on the rear and side zipped pocket, comfy-silky pocket lining (with little silhouettes of sheep), and metal buttons and rivets. There are no bikey details and I'm not sure I'd want them here, though if there was a way to do a really discreet ankle cinch thing, then I'd be down for that. Otherwise, I'm fine with bender clips or velcro jobbers.

Sheep. Metal bits. Transcend buckle.

I've commuted and mountain biked in these pants through wet, snow, and cold. I've pretty much worn them daily since the first of December. They are the perfect weight for daily inside and out wearing. In woolspeak: they're 22.5 microns. So apparently, that's weighty enough to keep the hard cold and wet out whilst being light enough to not roast you in a heated office.

For fit: I'm a 34 waist and these fit a tad loose when I got them a few months ago. Writing this at the end of the December, they're feeling just right, so they run a bit big. One peeve of mine is that you only get to choose the waist size, there are no inseam options, so 34" waist comes in 33" inseam only. I'm normally a 30 inch inseam, so I had to have them altered. Pants like these are worth getting dialed in at the perfect length, so it's disappointing to me that Ibex doesn't provide a range of inseam options, though I understand why they don't.

In any case, I expect these pants to be lifers. If they give out any time before that, I'll report it here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Your basic holiday post

HD Xmass Morning Photo.
It's sort of purgatory riding conditions: only the arterials are clear/dry/non-ice. Trails that were slushy yesterday are now gnarly-frozen death traps. Non-broken sections are frozen thick snow. Side streets are rutty-ice. I may go out again in the afternoon.

There is a way to make popcorn in a paper bag in your microwave. Liza knows how.
Clearly, I don't. That pile of ash is where the paper bag burned down. Upon happening on the inferno, Maddie's cool head prevailed: after screaming, "the microwave is on fire," she ran to gather her kittens with the idea of putting them in the cage with the guinea pigs so she could haul the whole lot to safety outside. When she couldn't catch the cats by screaming bloody murder, she decided to attempt to put out the fire, whereupon she ran outside, made snowballs and brought them to me, where I was taking this picture.... cursing my luck at missing the last of the flames.

All and all: pretty much a holiday highlight.

Gratuitous Maddie holiday photo. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody

 The folks at Patagonia sent me this hoody about three months ago. Buddy Bill tried it for about a month, and even though it was too big for him, he fell in love with it, making it his go-to house coat. He keeps his house brisk and he often works in his basement, so this hoody worked well for him as a wake-up-and-do-stuff single piece. So, I took it back.

Better pics: Piton Hybrid Hoody
MSRP: $180
Made in Columbia
Did I buy it? -- Nope.

First off, it's a climbing jacket, not a cycling jacket. And in the gear world of hyper-specialization, the climby-ness of the design might turn some cyclists off. If you're going to pay $180 for a cycling jacket, you may miss a rear pocket here and I think that's all it needs to make it a home run cycling jacket. Otherwise, this jacket rocks. Ever since I got used to the snug fit a bit over a month ago, I've lived in this.

I'm a size L and I'm a big L, but not quite big enough for XL, so an L that is made to be "form fitting," is downright snug on me. But this is happy stretchy snug which makes for a great middlin' layer.

It's not wool. It's plastic. All plastic, and I was prepared to be annoyed by typical plastic/fleecy steamy wet build up. But when it comes to wind, this jacket feels a lot like mid-weight wool: you can feel the wind coming in a bit, in that nice breathy way, which I've not felt with plastics before. I'm not sure what kind of secret magic is going on here -- and I'm sure it's related to the same kind of weird magic that makes magnets work -- but this jacket breathes.

Which is why it's a great middle layer for cold. Standard layering is: thin wool, this jacket, then outter as needed (vest, rain jacket, or shell vest).

I've done a bunch of commuting in this jacket over the last 1.5 months as the weather has gone from cool (40 F-ish) damp evenings to miserable cold (30's) and wet to snow. My commute is 20 miles on the way home, and I often take the High Drive trails on the way home, so I'm getting ample opportunity to work this jacket out in highly-aerobic conditions. I've also done a bunch of mountain biking in this jacket. You can see it in action on Pat's blog -- the jacket was great for our bike/hike yesterday to the top of Antoine.
The money piece on this jacket is the hood. I discovered the beauty of integrated hoods about four years ago when I started using an Ibex wool hoody. Aside from the obvious convenience of having the hood at the ready, the neck warmth is what sells the whole deal for me.

In winter's past, I've always used a wool gaiter to keep the neck and chin area from freezing in sub-freezing temps. Gaiters are great, but they add yet another item to the long-winter-list of fussiness and really jack up the headphones and helmet strap interface something fierce. With this hoody, you get the same warm functionality with a bit less fussiness.

I wouldn't mind about another inch of hoody at my forehead to block a tiny bit more head wind.

All-in-all: a great all purpose jacket. And since it's Patagonia, it's made well and it will last.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bagging Antoine

 Pat, Eric, and I got to the top of Antoine Peak today. The goal was to ride as far as we could, then hike up that last bit. That plan made it sound, to me, more like a ride with a walk. What actually happened though, was a short (3.2? miles all up) ride, with a three hour hike through the snow.

If Eric hadn't run 32 miles the previous day (yeah, that's right -- no typo there), and if he didn't just effortlessly stroll up the hill, then this post would be a lot different. It would be me carrying the f on about how I can't believe how tired I am and how sore I am. It's embarrassing. But, you won't find any of that here.

Fat bikes matter. Pat let me borrow his for a bit and it was a big improvement.  

After about 1.5 miles, we dumped our bikes and walked.

It was really pretty. We didn't have a GPS device, which is sort of a shame, cause it would've saved some time on the way down, as there appear to be a lot of trails and old roads that take different routes up to the top of the peak.

Hard to capture steepness here. It's not crazy steep, but it was a huffer. Pat was very wrong about how close he'd gotten to the top of the peak in his exploratory ride. If I recall, I believe his specific utterance was, "I can't believe how disillusioned I was..."

 But Pat was very right in his praise of the Antoine Peak Conservation Area. This place is amazing. Speaking in "vibe" terms, it's sort of like a mini CDA Nat'l Forest. There were a a handful of sweeping views that reminded me of this.

Not that I would, but I could see people that like S24O's going out there and having a fine time next summer. I'm thinking a guy could ride into the area here.

Pat. Eric is the yellowy-green one back there.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: Ortlieb Velocity backpack

For years, I was a haul-stuff-by-rack-only person. I remember being sort of hostile to the idea of backpacks and messenger bags. Actually a bit angry. Weird.

I could probably trace the evolution of rack to messenger bag to backpack by analyzing my blog posts over the years, but I'll leave that to the historical scholars to sort out. One specific event that I remember wanting a backpack for, was the Midnight Century. That may have been the catalyst.

The Setup
Anyway, the problem with backpacks is that they make you all sweaty. The problem with messenger bags is that they are just awkward for non-messenger scenarios. I'll get more into that when I review the Patagonia messenger bag in the next few days. Also, it's worth mentioning here that the people at Orlieb refer to this Velocity backpack as a "messenger style backpack." To be clear, when I say, "messenger bag," I mean messenger bag in the way you think I mean it.
River City Red blog. Beer is forthcoming I'm told.

I bought this bag about two years ago after discovering that backpacks have their place. There are two general scenarios where I like to have a backpack:

1) When I want the load to be on me. Duh. But the point of that is about having a dynamic load. It's easier illustrate what it's not by thinking about riding a bike that's loaded on a rear or a front rack. Even if a bike is optimized for carrying loads, there's extra lunky weight that makes bike handling more of a chore. For on-road, or non-technical off-road riding, having a load attached to your bike isn't much of an issue. But if you are riding on terrain that requires a bit of bike man-handling or other fussery, having weight hanging off your bike can be annoying. By putting the weight on your back, you can still man-handle the bike and the weight of the load is not as a significant factor.

I over-pack this bag a lot.

2) Load portability. Ok, I just wanted to use the word "portability;" hopefully, I be able to use "performant" soon too. But what I mean by portability in this case makes sense in the commute-with-many-stops scenario. My commute involves getting on a bus, putting the bike on the front rack of the bus, stopping a school building. On the way home, I'll stop at the store. Sometimes dealing with a bike is a pain in the ass. You've got to lock it up, deal with your helmet. When it's cold, you've got gloves, hat, etc. This "portability" idea is that it's nice just to have on less thing to fuss with on your bike. The load just stays on your back. I'm not selling this well, especially given how easy it is to attach well-designed panniers and handlebar bags. But how about this for portability: backpacks are easier to port to other, non-bike load-carrying scenarios. Bam! A Berthoud handlebar bag is all the bee's knees on your rando bike, but it's not too awesome on a hike. See what I'm saying?

The review

This bag is good. Like all Orlieb stuff it's made to last, it's totally waterproof, and it's just well-though-out in that smug German way. To wit:

  • It's got the fancy weird foam things on the back. The point of these, I think -- aside from just making it sort of comfortable -- is to add some airflow to minimize the sweat issue. I still sweat like a pig when I use it on long, hard rides, but I'd probably sweat more like a hog without them.
  • Huge, comfy, poofy, easy-to-adjust shoulder straps. Monster straps. There are some little reflective bits sewn into the straps too. That can't hurt.
  • Shoulder straps also include D-rings for hanging your keys, which is both functional and cool looking. I am often self-conscious about this look and as a result, I typically hang the keys from my belt loop. Cause that's different.

Dig those shoulder straps.
  • Speaking of straps, the waist strap is so very satisfyingly substantial in two ways: it's wide, and the buckle is Solid. (note the capital "S" there).
  • There's the chest strap thing too for huge loads.
  • The load-carrying design uses the patented Orlieb Hole™: no pockets, no zippers, no fussery. I love that. Well, there is a pocket hanger thing that snaps into the side. I use it for pens, mechanical pencils, a velcro strap (to be explained later), and my quickie lock that looks like handcuffs. Note those are all mostly flat items so as not to interfere with the Hole™.
Dig that strap!

So of course, there's stuff I don't like, but in this case, it leads to an interesting conclusion. Stand by:
  • I wish it were bigger. I overload it frequently. 
  • I wish the top closed with the same strap and bitchin' buckle that is used for the waist strap. Instead, there's a non-adjustable velcro strap that's not long enough for big fat loads. For a modest upcharge, you can purchase an extender strap, which helps. But why not just put an adjustable strap with a buckle? I mean, why not?
  • I wish there was a big giant reflective thing on the back. That's a lot of real estate to not take reflective advantage of. 
  • Relatedly, I wish there was a place to attach a blinky on the back. (This deficiency has been remedied in the latest version of this bag.)

The conclusion? I bought the wrong version of Ortlieb backpack. If I could do it all again, I'd get the Messenger Bag Pro.

The Messenger Bag Pro is bigger. It has a "transparent window" on the back where a guy could slide in some reflective stuff. A guy could also clip a blinky onto the top of the window.

But, it also has the cheesy velcro strap on top. I argue that the cheesy velcro strap should be replaced by an adjustable strap + buckle.

All in all: it's a bag worth buying. Ortlieb is one of the few brands you can count on to last for a long time, so even though it's expensive, Ortlieb stuff is a big value in the long run. I'm an Ortlieb fan from way back. Here's a review I wrote for OTM a couple years ago about the Ortlieb Panniers. I need to port that over to this blog.

This is an abnormally cat-heavy post. But the kittens are over-represented today. Poor Tiger is hating life. He's locked inside with the cone of shame. Only  four more days Tiger! Poor bastard.

not dead... I think I'll go for a walk

I've noted here recently that while I no longer do interesting rides, I do still ride bike daily. The point: my boring-ass commute gives me nothing to carry on about here. Ideally, I'd break up the boring-ass commute by taking more interesting routes, but I rarely have the time to tack on more miles at the end of the day.

Still four holes left to patch in this one.

So, now I'm done with this quarter of school, and I have time to sit here and spew, but I don't have a lot of bikey stuff talk about. But "not having a lot" isn't the same as "having nothing," or "not having something," or "not having nothing." Actually, it is the same as "not having nothing."

And that not nothing, is gear. I've not got a whole lot of nothing to say about gear. And by "not got a whole lot of nothing," of course, I mean, I gotta lot.

If you've been following along on Pat's blog, you'll recognize this fine piece of craftsmanship.
The kittens LOVE it!

Gird your loins for the gear review extravaganza. Over the next couple weeks, I plan on reviewing: Ortlieb Velocity backpack, two Patagonia hoodies, some super fancy new Ibex wool pants, Patagonia messenger bag, REI Endeavor pants, Rainmates, and maybe other stuff.

We upgraded Cat Unit #1 with the KillerLAZER Eye option.

I plan on doing some riding too. Hopefully, that will yield some more traditional postings.

In any case, tune in daily or so for a barrage of year-end updates!