I am, by nature, a person who is nearly always cold.
In the spring, until it is routinely above 50 degrees, I still have to wear some kind of light glove or my hands will be freezing.
In the summer, if it’s not above 75 degrees, I’m still wearing jeans. Otherwise, I get cold.
In the fall, I’m the guy at the cyclocross races wearing a thermal skinsuit, embrocation and heavy gloves when some others are in short sleeves.
In the winter, I am patently miserable. My boots cost $120, my mittens cost $130 and I am usually still cold — unless I am running or riding or skiing. Last night I was lounging around my house in a North Face base layer and hoodie just to stay comfortable. My office at work is heated to 72 so that I’m comfortable sitting in front of a computer for hours.
So, it is to me no small miracle that something as light as the Twin Six Standard Tech Hoodie keeps me warm. It does not appear impressively insulated or downy. It is made of 92% recycled polyester, not some wonder material. Yet this morning — a blustery, snowy morning in which the air temperature was only 5 degrees Fahrenheit with a windchill well below 0 — I arrived at the office astride my bicycle and perfectly comfortable.
I commuted by bike all of the last two winters wearing a Columbia Bugaboo Interchange jacket and was generally colder than with this amazing hoodie. I generally think of myself as having a decent vocabulary and being a pretty serviceable writer, even with an engineering background. But words fail me when I try to describe how wonderful this hoodie is. From sub-zero temperatures on the bike to coaching Little League in 50 degree weather, it is my go-to jacket.
There is no doubt that it is expensive, running $195 regularly. However, the good folks at Twin Six frequently run sales to bring that cost down. In fact, despite being a member of the Twin Six METAL team for many years (with access to a sweet discount), I acquired mine in the first place on a clearance for $96.
Listen, if you ever ride a bike in less than optimal weather, you need one of these. Not everything has to be plastered with logos. With understated good looks and stellar performance, the Twin Six Standard Tech Hoodie is my absolute favorite piece of riding apparel.
As wide as my interests range, as an athlete, I tend to consider myself a cyclist, first and foremost. It’s not important to me to distinguish between mountain biker, cyclocrosser, gravel grinder or whatever. Bikes of all varieties appeal to me. (Some varieties considerably less than others; track and downhill MTB aren’t exactly my cup of tea.) Occasionally though, I lace up some shoes and go running. Sometimes it’s training for a triathlon. Sometimes it’s training for cyclocross. Sometimes it’s just for the sake of running through the woods.
Thus I run. And to run, I need shoes upon my feet. (I did read Born to Run and enjoyed the heck out of it, but I don’t do the barefoot thing.)
I usually end up with trail running shoes. Why? I do run on trails sometimes. I probably log half of my running miles on a treadmill though. I like the way they look better than “normal” running shoes. Part of it is probably the reason that most people drive 4WD vehicles. “Someday,” they think. “Someday I might need to save a baby seal during a blizzard and really need 4WD!”
My North Face Singletracks were starting to bother my feet in a lot of areas. The laces dug into my instep. The support bands dug into my foot just behind the ball. Bits of the shoe were starting to come apart.
To the Internet! For newness!
Columbia’s outlet site had the Conspiracy Vapor shoes for half price. Bonus: they came in black and lime green, a colorway that’s currently a favorite of mine. I couldn’t find any reviews on them, which bothered me (but not enough to prevent me from buying). Click, ship, wait.
I have been pretty interested in the minimalist running thing since I read Born to Run, but was afraid to jump in. I have struggled with shin splints a lot in my running history and was really concerned about how my body would react to these. To be honest, I wasn’t even really planning on using them as running shoes. I was going to buy these for casual shoes and buy some Under Armour Speedform Apollos when my running season (aka: “Winter”) rolled around.
As a casual shoe, the Vapors are adequate. For day-to-day existence, they get the job done. They’re comfortable to walk in, don’t get too hot and are certainly not heavy on your feet. I do have two gripes. First is that the laces are too long. When I tie the shoes, both the loops and the tag ends of my laces graze the ground. Further, because of their very minimal sole and 3mm drop, my pants end up being too long and I tread on them. I don’t like cuffing pants like some hipster, but it becomes a necessity with the Vapors. If your pants break higher than mine or you wear shorts way more often than me, they’re a good choice.
I did want to try them out on a run, for the sake of thoroughness. Yesterday I laced up and headed out for a quick 3 mile jaunt over a variety of surfaces: tarmac, grass, gravel, singletrack and so on. I felt very awkward for the first hundred yards or so, but quickly adapted to the new shoes. There is clearly more jarring on the pavement than with more heavily cushioned shoes, but not enough to abandon the shoes. When you run on gravel, you’ll feel the big stones on your sole, but the shoe bends with your foot around the stone. On the clumpy grass of a local soccer field, I was a little concerned about rolling an ankle or something.
The shoes really shined when I hit the singletrack. The trails were wet from a ton of rain and were covered in various places by wet leaves and wet pine needles. The Vapors declared these of no concern and ran on. There were a couple of wet boardwalks the shoes were similarly unconcerned with. Running over the baby head rocks required a lot more effort to remain stable, as the shoe lacks that heavy-duty sole of most trail shoes.
Whereas I went out the door worried about running in the Vapors, I came home convinced they would make a better running shoe than casual shoe.
The shoes fit tight and pretty true-to-size (I wear a 10 pretty consistently in most brands). I would expect to get a solid year of running out of them (due to my inconsistent running schedule, I usually get about a year out of most running shoes).
Considering my last pair of Columbia running shoes were stability shoes with a ton of cushioning, the fact I can run comfortably in these speaks volumes as to they quality and versatility. If you are at all interested in a more minimalist shoe for trail running, the Conspiracy Vapor is pretty good. I would rate them much higher than the North Face Singletrack 2. If you’re just looking for a shoe to wear around town, I would look elsewhere — especially if you have to pay the full $80 retail price.
A number of years ago, I got a Specialized messenger bag that I carried back and forth to work. This bag seemed to be one of the magical bags of holding, capable of carrying much more than one would ever expect. My wife has a tendency to forget that I ride my bike into work and will occasionally send me to the store on my way home for various things. One day, I had to pick up some ice cream, milk, a loaf of garlic bread and some other odds and ends. The bag swallowed it all.
However, the bag was showing its age. The cell phone pouch was designed for a traditional cell phone and not the current crop of smartphones.The nylon wasn’t acting particularly waterproof anymore. The hook-and-loop fabric on the top flap was getting pretty weak. Did it really need to be replaced? No, not really. But when Christmas rolls around, the difference between “want” and “need” gets all fuzzy and you end up opening up a package containing a Kona Project 2 Messenger Bag. And you grin like a maniac, because you just got an awesome new bag. How awesome?
I had searched for reviews of this bag before putting on the Wishlist and was somewhat disheartened. Not with regards to their impressions of the bag itself, but simply that they all focused on the more inane things. They enumerate every pocket and produce laundry lists of things they can shove in there. There are never any impressions of what it’s like to wear the bag or ride with the bag. Now that I’ve been using it for two months, it’s time for some thoughts.
The bag has a variety of closures. The zipper on the flap pocket is of the waterproof variety. There are two hook-and-loop fasteners that keep the flap closed as well as two bright orange buckles. The buckles actually border on the ornamental. They need to be adjusted every time you repack the bag or they fall off. The marketing always makes a big deal out of the magnetic Hydro FlapsTM which are honestly pretty cool. They normally attach themselves automatically, but occasionally require a little manual adjustment. The waterproof laptop bag folds on the top and is secured closed by hook-and-loop as well as secured to the inside of the bag with the same.
Pockets and Stuff
There are lots. They vary in size. Some close with zippers, some with hook-and-loop, some just have mesh with an elastic band at the top. There are more pockets than I know what to do with.
There are two main straps. Obviously, there’s the thick shoulder strap, which is nicely padded everywhere it matters, and is intended to go over your left shoulder. There is also a stabilization strap that connects between the bottom of the bag and the main strap. Both are easily adjustable, but I find that you have to cinch them down incredibly tight to get the bag secure when you’re actually riding. All of the straps have a nice elastic sleeve to keep the tag end from flapping in the breeze (too much).
Actual Usage Impressions
The bag rides a little higher on my back than my old Specialized bag. That one rode down on my hips; the P2 bag rides on my ribcage. Time will tell if this is going to get hot and uncomfortable in the summer. For the winter, it isn’t bothersome. I’ve ridden in slushy nastiness, heavy snow and some rain and everything comes out of the bag dry. Whether it’s a function of the material or some kind of topical treatment, water beads up quite nicely on the surface. The pocket on the top flap has been excellent for those times when you’re carrying a bill to the post office or a check to the bank. It’s secure, yet within relatively easy reach.
It took me a while to get used to putting the bag on my left shoulder. I had been a right-shoulder carrier of my old bag. I’ve found this to be a better setup though. During these winter months, I shoulder my bike cyclocross-style to hoof it up 5 flights of stairs to my office (and a few other places too). That puts the bag on my left shoulder and the bike on my right and they don’t interfere with each other.
Kona advertises the built-in safety light, which is very cool in theory. I’ve lost a few blinky lights that slipped off my bag during my commute in the past and there’s just no way this one is falling off. There are three things that keep it from being great. First, it’s not really very bright compared with other alternatives. Second, it’s relatively hard to operate. You often need two hands to actually click the thing. Finally, my position on my commuter bike (a singlespeed cyclocross bike) points the light a little too far up and not enough back. If you have a more upright position on your commuter, you won’t have this last problem.
As I mentioned above, it’s taken me a while to get the hang of the straps. You really have to pull the chest strap tight or the bag flops around when you ride. The orange buckles that attach to the front strap need to be adjusted for every new load — even the difference between a full and empty lunch bag. It’s not a huge time suck, but I almost never adjusted those straps on my old bag.
The cell phone pocket on the strap is perfect for me. It seems ideally sized to hold an iPhone, though I cannot get the iPhone in with its silicone case. Taking the case on and off is also a little annoying, but it’s not that bad. And in the end, you can actually hear and feel the phone while you’re riding and then answer it without much difficulty. This is a lot better than my old “phone in the jeans pocket” option.
It’s definitely capacious, yet rides on your body well. My normal load is a 15″ MacBook Pro, iPad, pair of shoes and lunch. The P2 bag swallows this without batting its metaphoric eye. I haven’t had to carry it for a long distance yet, but imagine it will be fine. I’ll learn soon enough, as I’ll take it on a conference trip to San Diego in the beginning of March. I think it will handle airport security better than my old bag, because taking the laptop and iPad out really meant repacking the entire bag to get them back in. There’s enough structure to the P2 bag that taking things out should require the same repacking.
After riding through some of the most ridiculous winter weather, I can definitely say the bag holds everything you need it to and will keep things nice and secure. The only last hurdle is whether or not the bag rides well during hot summer days. Having a hot backpack was the reason I moved to a messenger bag in the first place. There’s no doubt it’s pricey — $150 — but so far it has been worth it and the bag is backed up by a Lifetime Warranty from Brenthaven. So far, I would highly recommend the P2 Messenger Bag from Kona.
My favorite helmet of all time is the Trek Sonic Elite I bought several years ago. Somehow, despite its relatively mid-range price and performance, it was perfect for me. It fit right, it looked good, it was adjustable enough and seemed to last well. It will be my standard against which all of my future helmets will be judged.
Two years ago, I joined the Red Jacket Cycling Team, and we are sponsored by Rudy Project. Since I love my Specialized optics too much to replace them (even with a sweet team discount, a replacement pair of photochromic optics are well over $100), I picked up a Sterling helmet.
Rudy Project Sterling
The Sterling has a very different fit than the Sonic Elite. Rather than sitting on your head, it seems to fit around your head. It’s a very secure-feeling helmet. It looks pretty good too. For two years, it kept my melon nicely protected. The fit was never quite as great as the Sonic Elite, but it was pretty close. The exposed frame bits that are apparently structural elements are supposed to be a place to stick your glasses when they’re not on your face. They don’t work very well to hold the Specialized frames, but if you stick the glasses in the vents, they are very secure. On really hot days, I would end up with sweat just pouring down my head, because the pads were very absorbent (until you squeeze them). Other riders with that helmet occasionally complained that the bug net was too hot, but I never felt that way. In general, I really liked the helmet. It was fun to wear the same helmet as the Liquigas pro cycling team and to wear something different than the huge number of Giro and Bell helmets that largely populated the heads of most of the riders in the area. I don’t know if I smacked my head during a crash in a cyclocross race or not, but I figured the two years of heavy use made the Sterling ready for replacement anyways. (It may get retired as my commuting helmet instead.)
One complaint many reviewers had about the Sterling was its weight, especially given its price. For a helmet that clocks in at $230 retail, 349 grams is pretty chubby. The $250 Giro Aeon only weighs 222 grams. I seem to recall reading an article by someone at Rudy suggesting that many of these new helmets may be sacrificing safety to achieve low weights. It seems odd that they would subsequently come out with a lightweight helmet in the Windmax.
Rudy Project Windmax
For its introduction, Rudy Project was offering a tremendous deal for sponsored athletes ($120 for a $300 helmet!). After four years of white helmets, I got one in black instead. It arrived just in time for CX Nationals and I got to wear it then. It’s hard to judge the weight and airflow characteristics of a helmet when you’ve got a hat on underneath it. I didn’t ride much again until mid-March, but then got some chances to ride without the hat. There have been a couple of 90 degree days that I’ve gotten to wear it and it’s fantastic. It feels like you’re not wearing anything. It’s definitely lightweight and very well vented. I think it looks a little better than the Sterling. It fits more like the Sonic Elite in how it sits on your head. In terms of sizing, it’s much more similar to the Sterling than the Sonic. I’ve heard a few people complain about the adjustability of the straps, but I found them to be very easy to adjust to a better, more comfortable fit than I’ve found in any other helmet, ever. I only have one complaint about the Windmax: it’s pretty much impossible for me to stick my sunglasses in the vents comfortably. Cycling News has a picture of Ivan Basso at the Giro with his Rudy Project glasses stuck in the vents of his Windmax and they stick out the same way mine do. If you push them in farther, they poke into your head.
So the Windmax isn’t perfect. It’s lighter and more comfortable than the Sonic Elite, but the whole sunglasses thing is a bit of a downer for a $300 helmet. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault with it. (It even lacks one of the ridiculous Rudy Project names. Seriously, the youth helmet is called the “Fyol.”)
So there you have it. Three helmets over the last 5 years. The Trek Sonic Elite, a fantastic budget helmet that remains my overall favorite, at least when you take cost into account as well. If I wasn’t a Rudy-sponsored athlete, I would almost certainly be looking into some of the new Bontrager helmets. The Rudy Project Sterling is a great helmet for people who want a secure, “all-over” fit that works for both road and mountain riding. It’s only flaw is that it’s a bit portly. The Windmax is everything a $300 helmet ought to be: lightweight, good-looking and incredibly well-ventilated. If you usually stick your glasses in the vents, you might need to figure something else out or settle for some imperfect solutions.
It’s always worth noting that the fancier Rudy Project helmets come with a sweet bag for the helmet too, which is a neat bonus.
I’m super happy and proud to be a Rudy Project athlete. I just bought a Rudy visor for the triathlon I’m training for so I can be a Rudy athlete during the run too. The only reason I’m a little hard on the Sterling and the Windmax is that they are so close to being 100% awesome. But I’ll take a 95% awesome helmet that actually exists as opposed to a mythical 100% awesome helmet.