Road-Tested, Inexpensive Holiday Gift Ideas For Cyclists

Unlike the tongue-in-cheek Christmas gift ideas I posted a couple of weeks ago, our guest poster Jeff Hemmel has some ideas that might actually merit a spot under the tree.

HemmelsRide2Recently I was asked to write a Holiday Gift Guide for one of the publications I write for in the real world. The task got me once again thinking of all the great things I’ve assembled over the last year for my bike. Looking back, my favorites aren’t pricey, high-end items. Instead they’re simple, smaller products that just make day-to-day riding a little bit easier.

Need something to get the cycling enthusiast on your shopping list…or more likely, a few hints to drop for a stocking stuffer? Here are a few of my road-tested suggestions, all available for under $30.

Fix-It Sticks ($29.99)

I like to keep a small multi-tool in my saddle bag, but my former tool had a few limitations. The most obvious was that its jackknife-style tool design didn’t allow me to generate a lot of torque when trying to loosen or tighten a bolt. I also didn’t like the way it rubbed up against things — like spare tubes — in my compact saddle bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.15.28 PMFix It Sticks are a pretty cool alternative. Rather than the typical “jackknife-style” multi-purpose tool, Fix It Sticks are literally two separate aluminum “sticks” that fit together (each stick has a hexagonal hole in the middle to accommodate the other) to form a T-handle wrench. When not in use, they sit side-by-side in a cool, slim case made from recycled tubes. When it’s time to go to work, just fit them together so that one stick forms the handle and the other the working end. The setup generates far more torque than possible with a mini tool, yet takes up less space.

You can get Fix It Sticks in a variety of combinations, depending on what you need most for your bike. I like the simplicity of the original version, with its fixed bits. A replaceable bit version is also available. http://www.fixitsticks.com

aLOKSAK ($8.39/3-pack)

I throw my phone, license, credit card, and a $10 bill in my jersey when I ride. To keep them together and sweat free, I’ve long opted for a bag like the Jersey Bin. It protects the items within, allows me to use the touchscreen of my iPhone through the bag, doesn’t cost much, and is a lot more durable than a Ziploc sandwich bag.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.17.56 PMBut while I still like the Jersey Bin, this year I was given a thinner, more flexible bag from LOKSAK. Made from a polyethylene blended film and guaranteed to be 100% water and air tight, the aLOKSAK pouch offers all the advantages of the Jersey Bin, but has so far been able to resist the cracking that could plague the latter product with frequent use. aLOKSAKs are favorites of divers, as they’re certified to a depth of 200’. I just know they’ve kept my phone safe — and usable — for about the last 10 months with no problems.

aLOKSAKS are available in a wide range of sizes in three packs starting at $8.39. http://www.loksak.com

Bar Fly 2.0 ($24.99)

Like a lot of riders I use a Garmin Edge bike computer, but I don’t like the stock rubber O-ring attachment setup. It just seems a little flimsy, plus I like the idea of getting the computer out ahead of my handlebars where it’s easier to see. There are a number of products on the market that solve the problem, but my favorite happens to be one of the cheapest — Tate Labs’ Bar Fly.

For starters, it’s simple. Just loosen the plastic clamp and slip it over your handlebars, then tighten at your preferred angle with a 3mm Allen key. Once in place, just attach your Garmin with the familiar 1/4-turn mounting system used by the stock attachment. The BarFly 2.0 offers two attachment points, stacked one atop the other, to handle a wide variety of Garmins, including the 200, 510, 800, 810, Edge Touring and Edge Touring Plus. As the mount is Delrin plastic, it won’t dig in or damage the tabs on your Garmin through repeated attachment and removal. The Delrin construction also means you don’t have to worry about over tightening and damaging carbon handlebars.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.19.42 PMBarFlys come in a variety of cool colors, have a lifetime warranty and a “buy one and you’re done” crash guarantee. If you’re lucky enough to run Shimano or Campagnolo electronic shifting, you can also mount the shifting module on the underside. www.barflybike.com

Cutaway Neck Gaiter ($18.00)

Hardcore riders don’t stop when the weather gets cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s always fun…or comfortable. Last year I added a Cutaway Neck Gaiter to my wardrobe, and it’s really made a difference on those really cold rides.

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.23.13 PMOne of the best things about a neck gaiter is its versatility. Sure you can use it just to protect your neck, but gaiters can also quickly turn into headbands, or open-top beanies to cover your ears. I like to pull mine up to over the lower half of my face balaclava-style and fend off the wind chill. The lightweight microfiber is comfortable and breathable. It’s also moisture-wicking, meaning your hot breath won’t end up making it all damp and nasty.

Cutaway’s Gaiters come in a variety of cool prints, including one dedicated to popular Cannondale/Garmin rider Ted King. www.cutaway.us

A Reordering of Bike Stuff

The deep freeze that has spread across so much of the country has made its way down to Texas. We’ve had a few nights where the temperatures hovered around freezing, and we’re due for another tonight. Meanwhile, the dayside conditions have been miserable, too — with a persistent mist and a chilly dampness that you can feel right through to your bones.

So I was neither surprised nor upset when my pal Maggie texted me this morning to say she was not riding. That suited me. Although it meant that I would be off the bike for more than a week, I figured I could give it a rest and do something else.

It turned out that something else was bike-related — sort of. We’re redecorating the house a bit, and my wife wanted to give the bedroom some attention. One of the problems I faced was the big basket of clean clothes from the laundry that needed to be put away. Many of them were my biking things. But my “bike” drawer in the dresser is way past being full. So I made that my immediate task.

First, I unloaded the whole drawer onto the bed. Then, I picked through what I had, and started to cull. A couple of old jerseys are being retired, along with an unused cycling cap, some bandanas, some headbands, some socks — you get the idea.

Even with that, I couldn’t fit everything back into the “bike” drawer. The socks and bandanas and arm warmers and such get packed into a large shoebox, and that moved to another drawer. I culled some items from that drawer and added them to the discard pile. When I was done, everything fitted perfectly.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

A place for everything, as they say. Jerseys on the left, base layers in the middle, shorts on the right. Arm & leg warmers lower left.

But my bike stuff has now expanded to a second drawer. I suppose that was inevitable — and overdue. I also suppose I should rethink how I store my bike stuff. Maybe a large plastic tub that sits in the closet might be a better way to handle it.

Well, as I said, we’re redecorating. That means what I think our bedroom will look like is going to change a time or three before we actually start shopping for new furniture. So I might have the opportunity to “design in” some storage space just for biking gear. And in the interests of open-mindedness, I’m going to solicit your input: How do you store your jerseys, shorts, jackets, and other biking clothing? Maybe I can add your ideas into the final product.

Can I get a one-handed zipper?

Finally, we’re getting a real Texas summer, with daytime temps getting into the 100s (38+C). Not that I was looking for that kind of heat, mind you. But the really hot stuff has held off much longer than usual, and I’m grateful.

Now that it’s here, though, we still find ourselves out riding. It doesn’t take long before I start heating up, and I’m looking for relief.

Besides cold water (which doesn’t stay cold long at 100 degrees), I like to pull down my jersey’s zipper to get some air down my front.

Running unzipped on a hot Texas day.

Running unzipped on a hot Texas day.

But there’s a problem with that. On most of my jerseys, I can’t simply grab the zipper pull and give it a yank. Nothing happens.

I tug the zipper pull out from the body, but that still doesn’t work.

A sample of my jerseys. Clockwise from top left: Champion Systems, Hincapie, Sugoi, Primal. I can pull the Hincapie zipper with one hand, because of the long pull tab.

A sample of my jerseys. Clockwise from top left: Champion Systems, Hincapie, Sugoi, Primal. Only the Hincapie unzips easily.

Sometimes, it’s a project to pull down the zipper with two hands — one on the zipper, and one on the collar, tugging in the opposite direction.

Of all my jerseys, only two can be unzipped with one hand while riding — my least expensive jersey, an old cheap Nashbar thing, and my most expensive jersey, by Hincapie. The Hincapie number has a nice cloth zipper pull extension that seems to make all the difference.

A close look at the run-of-the-mill zipper on my Nashbar jersey. But it's the smoothest sliding zipper of them all.

A close look at the run-of-the-mill zipper on my Nashbar jersey. But it’s the smoothest sliding zipper of them all. The zipper pull broke off a week ago, and I can still slide the thing up and down using one hand.

The pull tab on the Hincapie zipper. I wish there were holes on my other zipper pulls so I could thread some tabs on them, too.

The pull tab on the Hincapie zipper. I wish there were holes on my other zipper pulls so I could thread some tabs on them, too.

But most of my other jerseys’ pulls don’t have a hole where I can thread some kind of longer pull extension.

Yeah, it’s a first world problem. I’ll do my best to live with it.

Strava Speed vs. Bike Computer Speed

I’m now able to irritate a lot of my friends because I use Strava. The record-keeping is useful, and the segments — while they do prompt one to speed up when one might not want to — provide a nice progress report on one’s ability over certain parts of rides. But there’s one thing I’ve noticed: My speeds according to Strava are different from the speeds registered by my bike computer.

screen

Now, I know I have el cheapo computer. However, I’ve been pretty satisfied with it. I measured the circumference of the front wheel by hand, and found that I need to enter 19 more millimeters than the 2096 commonly used for 23mm tires. My tires are 25mm, so 2115 mm is less than the suggested measurement for that size. Anyhow, when I compare my readouts to known distances on some of my more frequent rides, they are accurate to a level I find acceptable.

So I was puzzled when I noticed a difference between the stats in Strava and the stats on el cheapo. After the first couple of rides with both, Strava settled in and registered total distances for rides within one-tenth of a mile of my old computer. Even this morning, when I did a longer ride, the two were only four-tenths apart, and that was because I neglected to start my old computer at the beginning of the ride. I lost the data for about four blocks of riding.

But on Friday’s ride, there was a real disconnect. The problem area is maximum speed. For one downhill leg I do, the old computer clocked 31.9 mph. Strava had me at 36.4! That’s too much of a difference. Wonder what causes it? I also know from experience that the old computer’s speed was more likely to be the accurate of the two. I’ve ridden this stretch once or twice a week for the last several years, and I know what to expect. I also know what 36 mph feels like on my bike, and I didn’t have that feeling this time.

Therefore, while Strava is fun and useful, I have learned to be skeptical of it sometimes. I’ll continue to enter my ride stats on my spreadsheet (Yes, I know) according to my computer, and use Strava to gauge improvement.

 

Shorts — Old and New

Over the last few months, I have finally acquired some new bike shorts. I’ve been riding the same ones for about four years now — no, wait — five. It’s time to replace some of them.

In our family, the biking clothes of choice are Pearl Izumi. We know they’re not the cream of the crop, but they’re pretty good quality and have served us well. This time though, I wanted to try something different, just for the sake of being different.

Performance Ultra.

Performance Ultra.

My wife gave me a pair of Performance Ultra shorts for Christmas. These shorts, and the Performance Elite, have gotten good reviews online for several years. Furthermore, several members of my bike club wear them, and like them as well.

I was pleased with them from the first ride. The only thing I noticed was that they are a bit snug fitting. They compress my waist so that I look like my belly is even bigger than it really is. They do a nice job of compression of the thighs, too. And they’ve got a feature I hadn’t seen before: the leg grippers are about two inches above the bottom of the leg, leaving the bottom two inches feeling looser. Neither I nor my wife, who also got a pair, liked that at first. Now, we’re used to it, and it feels fine. The Performance shorts also have a feature I really like: a modesty panel. That is a piece of material that extends forward and up from the chamois and flattens your, uh, package, so it’s not as obvious when standing around in mixed company at a coffee shop or convenience store stop. I wish all short makers would include one of these.

My second new pair of shorts, which I bought as a birthday present for myself, was the Top Shelf by Aerotech Designs. I’ve read favorable reviews of Aerotech’s products for several years, especially in  regard to big and tall sizes. So, I thought I’d try a pair to see if they worked as well for a guy who has a belly, but would like to think he’s not fat — yet.

The Aerotechs are closer to true sizing, and don’t have the tight feeling of the Performance shorts. The leg grippers are in the traditional spot, at the bottom of the leg. But the biggest difference between the two is the chamois pad.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

The pad in the Performance shorts is what I would call a traditional size and shape. It’s similar to the pad in the Pearl Izumi shorts and bibs I own. But in the Aerotechs, the pad is a pad. It’s a bit larger, and feel something like a thick diaper is between your legs. Some cyclists wouldn’t want that. But it suits me just fine. Maybe it’s my old guy flat butt, but I need extra padding in my shorts, or I’m uncomfortable after the first hour in the saddle.

The subtle differences in the two shorts came to the fore during rides this week. On Tuesday, I wore the Performance shorts on an 18-mile cruise through my neighborhood. Despite their tightness when I stand in them, they feel fine when I’m in a more aero position over the handlebars.  I do move around on the saddle more often during the ride, but I would grab this pair anytime.

I wore the Aerotechs for a 32-mile ride Friday. Here’s where the big pad separated itself from the rest. I was comfortable throughout the ride, climbing tough hills, roaring down others, riding tempo, and just rolling along easily. After two-plus hours on the bike, I was as fresh as when I started.

It might be unfair to review biking shorts after such a short period of use — three months for one pair, one month for the other. If the shorts are not comfortable that soon for whatever reason, there’s a problem. It will be interesting to see how they hold up over time. I have a nice pair of Sugoi shorts that also have a large, thick pad (although not quite up to the standard of the Aerotechs) that I like to wear on longer weekend rides. But the Sugois are separating along the seams where they connect the legs to the pad, and these shorts will not be around for much longer. My Pearl Izumi shorts have just about run their course, but the pad is still in great shape. So even though they look terrible, they still feel good on the bike, so I’ll keep them around a little longer.

Anyhow, if you’ve been considering a new pair of shorts, you can consider either the Performance Ultra or the Aerotech Designs Top Shelf. Choose according to your preferences for padding, and remember that the Performance shorts run a bit tight. I’m sure you’ll be happy with either kind.

Shedding Layers

Took a nice Sunday ride with my buddy Maggie. The main club ride left at 8:15, and during winter, I’m not ready to go then — maybe after Daylight Savings Time begins. We decided to leave an hour later and head for Creedmoor. No other B riders joined us. The Bs in our club don’t do club rides during winter, but they’ll be out in force once the weather warms up.

I got to Starbucks as Maggie was unloading her bike from the car rack. She was wearing a short sleeved jersey with a long-sleeved tee under, and long socks. I was wearing a base layer, a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers, leg warmers, and a windbreaker. The temperature was about 45 degrees (7C).

“I think I overdressed,” I said.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” she replied. “Do you want to put some stuff in my car?”

“You know, I usually dress this way when it’s in the 40s,” I said. “We’ll wait until we get to Creedmoor, then see.”

It was a great day for biking. The sun was out, traffic was still light at this hour on a Sunday, and the wind was an easy breeze from the north. We chewed up the miles heading southeast of town.

The only casualty during that first leg was my camera. I had the bright idea that I would snap some shots as we rode, but caught the battery door with the heel of my glove and the batteries fell out. So no pictures on this ride.

One highlight of the trip was our ride past the exotic game ranch behind the landfill. Various species of African antelopes were much closer to the fence than usual (Because I was unable to take pictures, I assume). Some had long horns that curved back from their heads (scimitar oryx), while others had those horns that spiral (perhaps a lesser kudu?). One of the biggest ostriches I’ve ever seen was by itself farther down. No zebras today.

Sixteen miles and a little over an hour later, we pulled into the convenience store in the crossroads hamlet of Creedmoor. I took off my windbreaker, and debated about whether to just remove the sleeves and keep the vest for the trip back. I decided it was now warm enough that I could stash the entire windbreaker. It stows in its own pocket, and fastens with a locking strap. But it made a pretty big ball, even after I compressed it as much as I could. Maggie jammed the windbreaker into the back center pocket of my jersey, after I moved all the stuff out of it (ziplock bag with cellphone and money, fig bars, cleat covers) into the other pockets. The result was an ungainly-looking lump on my lower back. I unzipped my leg warmers and pulled them down, too. They fit more easily into one of the other jersey pockets, and my accessories went into the third. I think the temperature was well into the 50s by now, although I didn’t bother to check it on my bike computer, since that’s notoriously inaccurate.

A few minutes later, we were ready to head back. We take a somewhat different route that gives us a longer return leg.

“You lead the way,” Maggie said. “I always miss that first turn.”

I headed out of the parking lot, and immediately wondered if I’d made the right decision about clothes. That breeze from the north might have been light, but now that I was facing directly into it, I could feel its effects. One thing about that windbreaker — it does its job well, but it does make me sweat underneath. Now, the wind was hitting my damp jersey and arm warmers, and I was cold.

And that’s the problem with layering. It’s the best way to adjust for temperature, but each time a layer is shed, the body chills. By the time we’d gone a couple of miles and were on a fast stretch of country road, I didn’t notice it anymore. I was concentrating too much on keeping the bike under control going downhill at 35 mph and being passed by locals on a two-lane road with no shoulder. The folks out here are used to cyclists, but that doesn’t mean they like them much. Once, a car passing me stayed in the oncoming lane a little too long, and an oncoming car had to brake and hit the horn. Nice to see them call out other drivers instead of cyclists.

We got back to our Starbucks starting point, and found some members of the morning’s A ride already there. I sat down at an outdoor table in the sunshine, and realized that I was now quite comfortable. The breeze from riding had dried off my clothes. At home a few minutes later, I got ready for a shower, and found my jersey, base layer, and arm warmers to be soaked through. A warm shower took care of any residual chilling I might have had.

How about you? Do you struggle with layering? Do you have any strategies you use to keep from sweating too much under layers? Or is that just to be expected?

My Haywire Bike Computer

The other day, I was out for a ride when I noticed something odd. My bike computer was behaving very oddly. It registered speeds twice as fast as I was going, then suddenly dropped to half the speed. After I’d ridden about four miles, it showed that I had done closer to nine.

Now, when you’re as OCD as I am about keeping stats, that’s a very uncomfortable feeling. I could still enter the mileage, because my route was one I ride all the time, so I know how far it is. I missed such important stats as average speed, maximum speed, and time of ride.

After traveling about half the route, I pulled over to the curb and adjusted my speed sensor on the bike’s fork. I made sure it was within two mm of the magnet, and I turned the magnet a bit to make sure it was positioned perfectly. Then I hopped on the bike and started pedaling.

Nothing. That is, nothing had changed. It still had me racing beyond my ability one moment, and in the next, wasn’t registering speed at all.

Back home, I reasoned that my headlight could be the culprit. I had installed the headlight just before the ride, because the sun is low in the sky and casts long shadows these days. A headlight on low beam would let me better be seen by drivers, especially if the sun is in their faces.

But I remembered that last winter when I had the light on the bike, the computer ran just fine. Hm. That couldn’t be it, then.

Just for the heck of it, when I rode the next day, I took the headlight off.

The computer worked perfectly.

“Magnetic anomaly!” said one of my biking friends.

That was it, all right. And I recalled that one thing had changed since last year. I have a new computer. The old was was wired. The new one is wireless. The wired computer wasn’t affected by the magnetic field thrown off by the headlight, but it sure plays havoc with a wireless unit.

I guess I’ll just have to make it a point to ride before dusk for the rest of winter.