Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dang, It's Hot Outside! Am I Fibbing?


I admit it. I am affected. I am afflicted. I am addicted to evaluating, and too often, buying biking gear. Back in July I decided to start cycling to work each day as long as I and the elements could get along. The idea was to simplify my life, slow down a little, get some exercise, walk my talk with respect to sustainable living, and to save some money on parking and gas.

As Fall weather has descended upon us, I find that I have to make adjustments to my gear and on-street attire to deal with what Ma Nature is throwing at me.

Back in the Summer, it was stay-dry technical fabric shirts to replace my cotton t-shirts. Then gloves to maintain a tight grip on the sweaty handlebars while helping to prevent my hands from numbing. Then the rains came and I had to get a rain jacket. When the cooler temps hit, I learned about technical baselayer (high-tech long-johns) and layering with extra shirts. I saw the magic of SmartWool socks that can be worn for days before needing a wash. (Yeah, I didn't believe it either until I tried it)

Seeing and soliciting advice from other cyclists, I convinced myself to get a convertible Vagabond cycling vest/jacket to break the wind (ahem) and keep the Autumn rains off my core.

This past week saw me wearing AmFIB tights. This strange and wonderful article of clothing is designed to keep a cyclist's legs both warm and dry in cold and rainy weather. The AmFIB tights worked great last week during some of the cool rainy mornings, but between the tights and layering underneath the Vagabond jacket, I found myself getting toasty by the time I neared work. The heat retention was very noticeable in my afternoon rides and while riding some during the late morning on Saturday and Sunday.

Incidentally, I wore the tights into the Hy-Vee off the Keystone today for some grocery shopping. I got either strange looks, or admiring glances. I'll go with admiring glances. :)

Looking at the weather forecast for the next couple of days, I see the 7am temperatures are predicted to be mid to low 20s. With that, I pedaled myself once more to the Trek store today and got some new Gavia gloves, also made with AmFIB material. I don't know if I need any thick, lobster-claw style gloves just yet, so the salesman's advice on the Gavia gloves was enough for me, at least for riding in the 20s.

Now recall that cycling to work and on errands is supposed to be a money saving venture. Why is it that I need/want more gear? In my mind, I justify it by knowing that if a purchase keeps me on the bike for one more month, getting exercise and promoting self-sufficiency, then it's money well spent. But why do I ride past the K-Mart, the Sports Authority, and end up at the Trek store, or virtually at buying Pearl Izumi products? Is there a hint of (dare I say) fashion consciousness or brand snobbery? Am I vain when I try on the PI AmFIB Gavia jacket or Insulatour jacket and think about how great it looks and how awesome it would be to ride the cold days with it on?

I don't think so. I am careful with my purchases. I ask advice from the local cycling community on what very specific products work with specific riding conditions. Often the answers are specific brand or products: "SmartWool," "AmFIB," "wear baselayer," "get a cycling vest." So far I've found that the recommended specific technical products are superior to making do with department store clothing.

I also understand that these technical products should last for a while. I expect my AmFIB tights to last at least a few seasons, perhaps more. I expect all of the gear should be reasonably durable. If I do need to replace worn out gear, then I can compare the cost with gas for my truck, oil changes, tires, and other consumables. In the end, I (at least in my own mind) can justify the cost of cycling gear.

Am I fibbing myself, or does this make sense to the rest of you cyclists? What's your story?


brady said...

Dude, they were admiring you. In fact, it's been my experience that you'll get the most cat-calls by Hy-Vee's health food section.

I've had nearly those same thoughts about selecting quality gear vs department store stuff. So far, I've been satisfied with the cycling specific gear such as PI. In fact, last week, I was looking at purchasing a pair of tights but held off to read your review. I'm still undeciding among the Pearl Izumi MicroSensors, AmFIBs or the Slice ThermaFleece. On top of that, I don't know if I want normal tights or bibs.

Over the past year, I can say without a doubt that I've saved money by commuting by bike despite purchases to support the commute. I don't fret the higher quality products because they do last, and compared to a tank of gasoline (my monthly purchasing allowance), it's a much better investment.

munsoned said...

The main difference between cycling specific gear and other stuff available at dept stores or even Canfields, is that cycling specific stuff just fits better on the bike. "How can something fit better on the bike?" you ask. Well if you were to lay out on a table a PI glove and a regular glove, you'd see that the PI glove's fingers naturally curve in. Regular gloves are not expecting you to need to hold onto a bar for hours on end, so they don't design their grip for that.

Same thing for shorts or baselayers. If you hold up your cycling shorts, you'll see that they basically look like they are sitting on a bike seat already. They were tailored to be that way. If you wear regular long-johns under your bike stuff, you'll have a bunch of extra material bunched up around your crotcheral region. One sport that is cycling like is mountain climbing. I've found a few pairs of knickers (men's versions of capris) that fit very well while cycling. Knickers are nice since they give you an extra layer on the legs and go past your knees. So if I'm just commuting and don't want to show off my spandexed rear end, I'll wear regular cycling shorts, leg warmers(fleece lined), and knickers that are matched for the temp. I have real lightweight ones for warmer temps (40*-60*) and heavier ones for the cold stuff (30*s and below). Unfortunately, I don't have any knickers that are amfib like, so rainy weather always gets to me. I have a set of Amfib bibs and they are crazy warm. The bib part that covers some of your core is even fleece lined, so there's more warmth. On my commute the one morning last winter that got down to -9*, I wore my amfibs, heavy knickers, and a few very warm layers up top.

It takes a while, but the science of bike clothing becomes second nature after a while. There's always a learning curve each major temp change that catches you out in the cold, or warm, before you re-learn the way to go. On Saturday, I did a group ride that started in the mid 30s and I was SUFFERING since I wasn't dressed warm enough. So now I'll probably overdress for a while to make up for it.

brady said...

Yet another gem from Munson. Mike: where can one find climbing gear like dem nifty knickers you've got?

Scott Redd said...

This morning's ride was around 26 degrees, with no wind. I was comfortable with my AmFIB tights and Gavia gloves. I also tried Brady's trick of wearing a $3 balaclava just on the top of my head and over my ears, under my helmet.

My cheeks were a little cold at first, and my pinkies did chill a little, but by the end of my ride, I was toasty warm.

Through the tights, I could tell the cold was out there, but never did my legs or core feel chilled.

I could see that some sort of mask to cover the face may be necessary at the lower 20s and deeper, but my experience with balaclavas and ski masks in the past was always negative with moisture and snot gathering around the mouth and fogging up my spectacles.

I'm thinking I can handle the dry cold, at least down to the 20s, but I'll still have to wait and see how the wet cold works. So far, the plan is to not ride on any ice or snow.

Thanks again for the comments.

munsoned said...

Scott, I completely agree with the face mask issue of clouding up the glasses. I have one of these and I usually end up breathing out of the nose section since I slip it down my face. Which works good anyway since the perforated mouth part really doesn't allow enough air movement when you're breathing hard.

Brady, doing a google search for "mens climbing knickers" should give you plenty of results. Amazon seems to have a nice selection, most on sale, but with limited sizes.

brady said...

I rode in this morning as well. As I'm still adjusting from the tropical climes, I kinda went psycho on layering: booties, light weight running tights, leg warmers, cycling shorts, base layer, long sleeve jersey and woolie, liners and full fingered mtn bike gloves, full balaclava and skull cap beneath helmet.

Gosh, I'm embarrassed posting that exhaustive list.

But I wasn't cold. Thankfully, the ride was short as I was sweaty by the time I arrived. I'll adjust more appropriately next time.

Munson, I thought you bought local brick and mortar - thanks for the tip nonetheless.