You Don’t Need A Weatherman [sic] To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

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Some lessons are best learned the hard way. So it was this past week. Despite years of commuting by bike in inclement weather and the near incessant wetness we’re experiencing this winter, I made a couple of mistakes that caused me to abort rides. Both involved trusting the weather report.

Riding in the rain is at least tolerable and can even be enjoyable as long you’re dressed and equipped properly. But you have to remember to take it with you.

Last Saturday the weather forecast said possibility of afternoon showers. No problem. Roger and I put on what we thought was appropriate rain gear: waterproof jackets and helmet covers. I also brought along toe covers and Rainlegs. The weather was partly cloudy but not a hint of rain. Twelve miles into our ride the sky suddenly became very dark. If you’ve grown up in the Midwest or East Coast and it’s summer you know what that means. Roger blurted ominously, “Is that rain ahead??” Within minutes it started to dump—your classic quick spritz? No, this one didn’t stop; it just got stronger and stronger. And the rain turned to hail and sleet. Ouch! According to Roger’s Garmin the temperature went from 56 to 38 degrees in less than ten minutes. Piles of hail were accumulating on the side of the road like in an abandoned Christmas crèche. Rainwear works pretty well in rain but when it’s near freezing and you’re damp with sweat, you’re going to suffer. In Roger’s case he was extra-suffering because his legs and gloves got soaked. Not having fenders he got drenched with road spray. Despite making an immediate U-turn and skedaddling back home we had about nine miles of hail and rain under our belt. My hands, feet and lower legs were soaked but I wasn’t too cold. Although his jacket did its job, poor Roger was otherwise soaked and was shivering despite the ugly climb back to the house.

Last Tuesday the weather forecast was for partly cloudy and—gasp!—no rain. But the evidence was right in front of my eyes and I ignored it: it rained almost an inch early that morning and the roads were still wet hours after it had stopped. But hey, it’s the weather forecast so it must be right. Since I was going to go up Diablo, not wearing rain gear was going to be a treat because even in the best stuff (Showers Pass) a big effort will defeat any efforts to stay dry as you sweat inside your waterproof wonder. Everything went as planned until I got near North Gate Road. First, I noticed there was snow on top of Diablo—looks picturesque, but doesn’t that mean it’s cold up there? Then you know what happened next: the sky got dark and I ignored it because the weather forecast said no rain. About halfway up as I rounded a corner it started to rain. I beat a hasty retreat but not before getting soaked and chilled on the descent. By the time I got home the bike was completely filthed up and I had a skunk line down my back. No rain? Hardly.

As winter ends and spring begins we inevitably will be getting less rain and the temperature will be rising. Instead of consistently wet weather we’ll probably be getting more variable conditions, which means losing the habit of riding like it’s going to be wet and cold. Perhaps we should adopt the umbrella policy, i.e. “bring an umbrella to make sure it doesn’t rain.” Remember: the forecast is just an educated guess.

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Let’s Make Christmas Great Again!

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Yeah right, you’re going to spend serious coin on cycling stuff for someone else. Admit it, you want to give yourself the holiday gift that no one else would think to give you: something drool worthy for the new “It’s All About Me” Trump age. And it’s our responsibility to keep those factories in Asia and Eastern Europe churning 24/7. It’s sad to say but I’ve actually used almost all of the items below, and my recommendations are therefore based on personal experience and in keeping with the post-truth, post-Obama theme, very biased.

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Garmin Edge 520. $265. If you do not need turn-by-turn navigation, this is the very good GPS-enabled cyclometer. And that’s a good thing because with the exception of the Edge 800, Garmin’s other navigation cyclometers all have fatal flaws. Despite being nearly three years old the Edge 1000 still has glitches that make it an unreliable device, not to mention that the battery life is absolutely abysmal. The Edge 810 is hardly better and suffers some of the same software flaws. But if you kick navigation to the curb, Garmin’s other devices such as the 520 become very usable devices. The Edge 520 is small, light, and fairly easy to use. The screen is very legible even in bright sunlight. I haven’t had any software glitches in the eight months I’ve been using it. However I don’t use any of the social media functions such as auto uploading to Strava/Garmin Connect nor do I connect it to my phone to get alerts and text messages. So I have no comment on how they work or don’t work. Battery life is much longer than the 1000, which dies around eight hours even with energy sparing (if I’m lucky). My typical rides run 3-4 hours and the 520 usually has about 70% battery left, so my guess is that it will last through a double metric. My one complaint/laudation is that it doesn’t have a touch screen. Garmin touch screens are unreliable, not seeming to work when you most need them to, so buttons are a good thing. (Aside: you should see the online complaints about the touch screen on the new Edge 820; it’s apparently worse than ever.) Unfortunately the buttons on my unit are stiff and have to be pushed quite deliberately to work. As a result I’ve splurged and gotten a Garmin Remote This little ANT+ device has three easily clickable buttons to control your 520 and obviates the need to thrash repeatedly on the buttons on the Edge 520 while zipping through traffic or hammering up the road. Another minus of no touch screen is that all the settings have to be done by multiple, laborious button pushes. It reminds me of when we used to text on flip phones: so much work for so little gain. But the unit is reliable! Also there is enough resident memory that I’ve even installed an open source map of the Bay Area. This is useful not only for ascertaining where I am on unfamiliar roads/fire roads but also for doing simple bread crumb navigation. Having enough resident memory is important because unlike the Edge 1000/810/800 there is no SD slot for adding maps or additional storage.

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Spurcycle Bell, or Incredibell Omnibell. $50/$13. The Spurcycle Bell is the Hot New Thing. Remember when bells on bikes meant condemnation and scorn by your local self-appointed bike snob? Well thanks to hipsters at Spurcycle having a bell on your bike now makes you look cool. And it is a nice looking bell with a very nice ring. And it’s handmade in California, not Asia. But it costs $50. For a bell. I repeat: for a bell. It’s a goddamn bike bell, not a friggin’ curated art piece.  omnibell

If your wallet howls at the prospect of springing for a Spurcycle, then opt for the Incredibell Omnibell. It’s a lot cheaper, as in $13. This gets you a nice silver bell with a good ring and sustain, an adjustable dinger, and an adjustable strap to fit any size handlebar. And why should you have a bell on your bike? Because it’s friendly and polite to alert peds and cyclists when you’re near or passing. And it’s a lot friendlier than screaming, “On your left!”

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SKS Raceblade Pro Fenders. $60. I’ve been using SKS Raceblade fenders for years on my travel bike. Using rubber straps they are easy to put on or take off and they fit my old-school bike with no problem. They’re not perfect: they’re short, so wheel spray is still a problem particularly with the front wheel. Now SKS has Raceblade fenders with built-in mudflaps that reduce spray. They’re still not perfect but they are better than their predecessor. (If you want more effective mudflaps, get the original Raceblade and buy some Buddyflaps to add to them.) If you don’t have a dedicated rain bike with fenders, this is a good, cheap alternative. And you’ll be able to remove those fenders quickly when the sun comes out.

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Showers Pass Spring Classic Jacket. $289. I’ve written about this jacket before. It’s now my go-to jacket for Bay Area rainy days. It’s light, has a snug-but-not-uncomfortably-so fit so that it doesn’t flap or make a lot of noise. It’s cut correctly for riding on the bike. And it is completely waterproof and surprisingly breathable, even having armpit zips for cooling. It’s meant for temperate climates so it works very well in the Bay Area. It’s a tad warm but that’s the nature of waterproof, breathable fabrics. For cold, rainy weather it’s near perfect especially paired with a merino wool base layer. It comes in fashionable black but the red is much more visible while still being easy on the eyes.

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GoreTex Power Trail Short or Pearl Izumi MTB WxB Short. $149/$100.For rainy days I have a pair of GoreTex overshorts for the road that I got in London many years ago. It’s excellent for touring because it’s small and light and rolls up nicely into a back pocket. Because it’s Gore-Tex fabric and seam sealed it is completely waterproof, and it’s easy to slip on over cycling shoes when it starts to rain and easy to take off when it stops. They keep your lower back, butt and thighs dry—the most critical areas—and your legs aren’t covered so you can easily vent heat from the effort of cycling. For certain days shorts work better than full rain pants especially if your bike has fenders. Rain pants keep your legs dry as well but I’ve never had a waterproof pair that didn’t get steamy at anything above an easy effort. Unfortunately those Gore shorts were never brought over to the US. Well, now Gore sells a waterproof mountain bike overshorts in the US. They’re not as nice as the ones I have but they do have longer legs, coming down to the knees. For rain that’s probably a good thing. pi-wxb-shorts

If you don’t want to spend $150, Pearl Izumi also makes a waterproof mountain bike, the MTB WxB Short, which is also waterproof and seam sealed. Instead of an elastic waistband as on the GoreTex Power Trail it has an adjustable waistband. And it’s “only” $100.

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Rudy Project Exception. $375. Cycling eyewear for some reason—probably fashion—can be ridiculously expensive. And these Rudy Project Exception sunglasses are near the top at $375 (the Assos Zegho does jump the shark: it’s $479!) But if you wear prescription eyeglasses, these are definitely worth considering despite the cost. They take prescription inserts and the sunglass lenses flip up. If you go indoors and say, need to read a restaurant menu, or you need to inspect your tires for a flint, or go into a tunnel, or just get caught out after sunset, the dark lenses flip up and out of the way. They’re decent looking and you can get different lens colors.

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Bontrager Flare R/Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150. $60/$50. Taillights aren’t just for night riding. In an era when distracted driving is a commonplace, having a bright taillight for daytime use is cheap insurance against getting rear-ended. Light companies are starting to sell daytime taillights, and some are definitely better than others. These two taillights are two of the better compact ones. At 200 yards they’re both quite visible in broad daylight. That isn’t to say they’re blinding enough to someone in a car staring at their iPhone (for that you need a DiNotte Daytime taillight, at $259!). But they are much brighter than your run-of-the-mill taillight. They both have rechargeable batteries and the run times will get you through at least four hours of riding at their brightest.

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Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket. $379. How could a holiday gift list not include at least one Assos item? The Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket is expensive and you could certainly get a decent winter jacket for Bay Area conditions for half the cost. But this jacket is very comfortable—it feels like pulling on piece of tailored clothing. This ‘jacket’ is really more like a beefed up long sleeve jersey. The front and arms have a windproof layer but the sides and back are fabric only. If you’re riding hard in cold weather, it’s fine. But if you wear this in the coldest weather we get around here, 32-29 F, you’ll likely want something with a more insulated back. This fall I’ve been riding in 50-60 F weather and it’s comfortable. Unfortunately Assos styling often means you have to like black though you’ll look really PRO when you are being mowed down by a car. But that’s why you have a bright daytime taillight on your bike, right? Then you can wear all the black your heart desires. The black is definitely cool looking but you can get it with red or white accents. It’s warm enough to wear with just a base layer. You wouldn’t want to wear a long sleeve jersey underneath because this jacket is very form-fitting. But a thin vest such as the Assos Falkenzahn fits nicely underneath and would be a perfect colder weather accessory—just another $280!

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Continental Cyclocross Speed tires. $45. At 700x35mm these tires won’t fit most modern road bikes. The clearance underneath the fork crown and between the rear stays block most tires that are bigger than 700x25mm. Also most modern caliper brakes have a hard time clearing a 700x28mm tire let alone a 35mm. However if you have an older road bike with “long reach” caliper brakes or have disc brakes, these tires may fit. I’ve been riding these tires for about two years and they are a revelation. They’re fat for road bikes so I run them around 40-50 psi—that’s really low for road tires! But they’ve held up well and they are super cushy. They stick like glue in the corners but they are slower than standard road tires. They’re perfect for mixed surface rides as long as you avoid mud. In mud those tiny tread blocks just get clogged up. But for dry or damp conditions these tires allow you to ride on pavement, dirt, or grass without second thoughts. At 360 gm per tire they aren’t that heavy either. And they’re hardy too—I’ve had just one flat in several thousand miles and that was due to a goathead thorn, which would have done in almost any tire. The little knobs in the center have worn down but that’s actually made the tires roll slightly better on the road and I still have plenty of knobs off-center, which is where you really need them when you’re on fire roads anyway. The only bummer is that they are not (yet) tubeless. And if Continental made a 28mm version, they’d sell like hotcakes.

The Roads Less Traveled: Sibley to Fish Ranch

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A fire road through Sibley to Fish Ranch Road, a challenging climb.

One of the most popular cycling routes in the East Bay hills is the loop encompassing Pinehurst, Skyline, Wildcat, and San Pablo Dam Road. From the Berkeley side, riders usually head up Tunnel Road or come over Wildcat; from the Contra Costa side, Orinda BART is a convenient starting point. The loop is roughly 30 miles and makes a nice, quick training ride with a mixture of everything—short and medium climbs, fast descents, and a good, long flattish section. Despite being a well-used route, car traffic is usually low except on San Pablo Dam Road (which becomes Camino Pablo and then Moraga Road). The ascent up Canyon and Pinehurst is, by Bay Area standards, pleasantly isolated even though it’s actually embedded in the heart of the suburbs. It makes for a pleasant escape being buried in the redwoods, conveying a false impression that you are far away from civilization and the stress of modern life. If you have attended the Orinda Pool Party ride, then you have already done this loop and know that it is scenic, entertaining, and at times challenging.

The East Bay is fortunate to have a substantial amount of open space and parkland, and we have to thank the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which controls huge acreage of watershed in the East Bay, and the East Bay Regional Park District. In the Berkeley hills EBPRD alone oversees Wildcat, Tilden, Redwood, Joaquin Miller, and Chabot parks. That is almost the entirety of the Berkeley hills ridgeline! This is where East Bay mountain bikers go to play. But what isn’t commonly known is that these parks also have fire roads that road bikes can traverse easily. In fact it is possible to put together an incredible Berkeley hills ride that connects easy fire roads and paved roads from Richmond all the way to Castro Valley, all of them doable on a road bike. One of EBPRD’s smaller and less well-known properties is Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, which sits between Redwood and Tilden Park. The entrance is just before where Skyline intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. as you’re traveling north. This is the water and bathroom stop for the Orinda Pool Party ride and you may not have given it a second thought. However if you have continued to ride north along Grizzly Peak you may have glanced to your right and in the distance seen a dirt road dropping towards Highway 24. That road runs from the entrance of Sibley Preserve down to where Fish Ranch Road enters Highway 24 heading east. In combination with the subsequent climb up Fish Ranch it makes for a short, delightful romp and adds another challenging climb to the Pinehurst loop.

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Volcanic Trail, a wide fire road.

It’s possible to ride Sibley-Fish Ranch in either direction. But if you like to climb up Pinehurst then you’re most likely to be starting it at Sibley Volcanic Preserve staging area. There are two paths to enter Sibley, one to the left of the restrooms and one to the right. The left trails are for walkers and equestrians only; instead you will want to take the asphalt road that goes up to the right side of the restrooms. It’s moderately steep but it’s only a quarter-mile, where you’ll have a choice of continuing straight upward on the paved road, taking a fire road to the left, or one to the right. Take the fire road to the left. The two fire roads are actually the same path, the Round Top Loop Trail, however bikes are only allowed on the left branch. For almost a half-mile you’ll be on a flat, wide fire road that has a couple of short rocky sections. The rocks are small but some have sharp angular ridges. So just slow down and take your time rolling between the rocks and avoiding the sharp ones. The narrower your tire, the more carefully I recommend that you wend your way. After that you will intersect the Volcanic Trail, which bears to the left (i.e. north). Volcanic is again a broad, flat fire road with excellent surface. It rolls along a ridge for about 0.6 miles. Eventually you end up at a large flat area, what appears to have been in another age a parking lot. Here you will find the beginning of Quarry Road, which is paved. It drops precipitously through a few hairpins for about a quarter-mile. A half-mile later you’ll arrive at the Old Tunnel Road Staging Area. The total distance from entering Sibley is only about 2.2 miles.

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Hairpin descent down Quarry.

After going through the gate at the Old Tunnel Staging Area, drop down Old Tunnel Road to where it ends at Fish Ranch. (Sidenote: Old Tunnel Road is the road to the original tunnel from the Berkeley side over to Orinda and which was later replaced by the current Caldecott Tunnel. Alas, the old tunnel was closed, for it would have made a fantastic cycling route to Oakland.)

Now here is where the fun begins! You won’t have any more fire road but instead you’ll have a relentless and steep paved climb up Fish Ranch to Grizzly Peak Blvd., where you reconnect with the Pinehurst loop. It’s less than a mile to the intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd. but the average grade is 9.5% with the middle section hitting 11%. There is a decent shoulder but there usually isn’t much traffic exiting Hwy. 24 and heading up Fish Ranch. Of course when you get to the intersection with Grizzly you will still have to climb up to Lomas Contadas, about another 360 vertical feet over a little more than a mile. So even though the hard stuff is over with Fish Ranch, you had better have some gas in your tank for the “easy” 6% grade!

The total distance from the Sibley entrance to the top of Fish Ranch is 3.3 miles; if you were to stay on Grizzly Peak Blvd. the distance would have been 2.6 miles. So, the minor increase in overall distance—about 0.7 miles—is more than made up for by the serenity of riding in Sibley and the feeling of conquering Fish Ranch.

All the East Bay parks are heavily used on weekends. While in Sibley be sure to watch for walkers and their dogs. Dogs need only be under voice control and are usually off leash. Although Sibley is open to equestrians, I have yet to encounter horses there. But if you do see equestrians, keep in mind that some horses are skittish of bicycles. So slow down and stop until the riders let you know it’s safe to proceed or until they pass.

You can see the route and cue sheet here.

Three Peaks In A Day

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Mt. Tamalpais
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Mt. Diablo
Mt. Hamilton
Mt. Hamilton

Looking for a challenge? How about riding Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton? In one day, that is.

The Bay Area is blessed with three major mountains within riding distance of each other, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton. These are not the highest peaks nor the only ones—there are many in the Santa Cruz Mountains alone including some that are higher. However these three do stand out because of their relative separation from other nearby mountains and because they have paved, public roads that go to their summits. You’ve probably climbed to at least one of these peaks, if not all three. If you like to climb hills, you have probably contemplated the idea of doing all three in a day. That’s what this article is about: planning an assault on all three mountains for next spring or summer when the days are longer and the weather pleasant enough.

There are several ways to go about an assault. I’m going to go through each one in some detail below.

The Full Monty. The real deal is a full-on ride to all three peaks and return to the start in a continuous circuit. If you start in San Francisco, that means eventually returning to San Francisco by bike. This would be more challenging than Bay In A Day because it involves not only circumnavigating the Bay but also climbing three peaks. A rough estimate of this route is 276 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing! One could make this less painful by splitting it up into two days.

Realism. A lesser if not equally noble goal is to ride up all three and back down, say starting in SF and ending back at the bottom of Mt. Hamilton in Milpitas. This gets all three peaks completely by bike. Using San Francisco as a starting point, this would mean, for example, riding up Mt. Tam, riding over to the East Bay by Highway 37 to do Mt. Diablo, and then riding south to go up Mt. Hamilton. However, getting over to the East Bay the shortest way still entails riding on Highway 37, which has high speed motor traffic—not the safest route! This is roughly 210 miles and about 2,000 feet less climbing.

Realistic and Safe. More practical assaults would use public transportation—either BART, the BART bike shuttle, or a ferry—to avoid having to pedal over to the East Bay by Highway 37, with the most honest route minimizing use of BART by getting on at Embarcadero and exiting at West Oakland; another possibility is to get a car ride over to Treasure Island from the Embarcadero and then begin the eastern stretch there or perhaps catching a ferry at the Embarcadero and arriving at Alameda or Jack London Square. Starting in San Francisco and ending at the Warm Springs BART station in Fremont this route is about 208 miles and just 17,200 feet of climbing.

Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter. This option cuts out riding through Oakland and takes BART directly from SF to Walnut Creek. Starting in San Francisco we would ride to Marin and ascend Tam and return to SF and take BART to Walnut Creek, go up Mt. Diablo and then ride to Mt. Hamilton and ascend, probably up the front. This route is 185 miles and has 15,700 of ascent.

Keep It Simple Stupid. Instead of riding from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Hamilton, we could take BART from Walnut Creek to the Warm Springs BART station, which should be open by this spring. This cuts down on the ‘junk’ mileage. This route is 152 miles and 14,800 feet of ascent.

Keep It Simplest Stupid. However, ascending all three peaks by themselves requires climbing well over 10,000 vertical feet. You could reduce the effort by just riding up the mountains and skipping the mileage to get between each one. For Mt. Tam this might be beginning the ride either at Tam Junction or Mill Valley and ending there; for Mt. Diablo, beginning at the Athenian School at the base of South Gate Road (North Gate is a longer route with slightly more vertical); for Mt. Hamilton, beginning at the base of Mt. Hamilton Road. This route yields about 11,500 feet of vertical ascent over 83 miles. Note that these routes require having a car in order to start the ascents at their bases.

A full circuit of the Bay and the peaks is beyond the reach of all but the most stubborn randonneurs. Using a car to reduce the mileage just to climbing up the ascents by the shortest means possible (Keep It Simplest Stupid) seems like cheating because of the liberal use of a car. That leaves the middle three as distinct possibilities with the Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter alternative as the ultimate goal. Even this option is super strenuous: doing a double century such as the Davis Double, which is fairly flat, is an all-day affair with the likelihood of needing to use lights. Now add three peaks and no organized support: even on the longest day of the year you’re very likely going to be riding in the dark either at the start or the end.

The most realistic option is Keep It Simple Stupid. At 152 miles it is longer than a double metric and boasts total vertical that is only a bit below the Death Ride. Even with an early start it will be a long day and logistically one would plan it around the Summer Solstice in order to maximize daylight. However unless the weather cooperates and is unusually mild Hamilton and Diablo are likely to be very hot in June. In order to avoid draining heat it would be better to plan this assault for late April or early May, which shortens the day but reduces the temp.

As training for the assault, doing a few  doubles would be good practice, e.g. Tam plus Diablo, Diablo plus Hamilton, or Tam plus Hamilton. These are pretty doable and cut the mileage and elevation gain by about a third from Keep It Simple Stupid, making for a 100-mile day with about 10,000 feet of gain.

More on Rainwear

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A dry February, besides increasing my despair at the prospect of even more Spartan water rationing come summer, fooled me into thinking that my ever-expanding collection of raingear was a waste of money. Well, no worries now! Since the beginning of March we’ve gotten over 11 inches of rain here in Contra Costa. Besides making garden plans more than pipe dreams, it’s been a great way to test some new raingear.

Showers Pass Spring Classic. My new BFF for jackets is the Showers Pass Spring Classic. This is Showers Pass’s new jacket for 2016 and it is significantly lighter and less “backpacky” than their previous high-end model, the Elite. Showers Pass happened to have a sale just before the rains restarted and mine arrived the day it began to rain in earnest. So it was immediately put into service. Like most of Showers Pass’s other jackets the Spring Classic is made of a three-layer breathable yet waterproof fabric similar to Gore-Tex or E-Vent; the seams are fully taped. There are two long, zippered side vents and a small zippered back neck vent. What distinguishes this jacket from SP’s others is the fit and weight: it’s definitely trim fitting and intended to be worn over just a base layer or at most a jersey and baselayer. It’s intended for “performance” riding and the fit is on-the-bike, i.e. the front seems slightly short until you sit on your bike and the arms are the correct length for being on the bars, i.e. they don’t pull up and expose your wrists. The cuffs are elastic and can be pulled over gloves so that water doesn’t pour into them. This jacket does not rustle in the wind and make a racket, which is nice.

It is noticeably light especially for a three-layer waterproof garment so much so that it’s doesn’t have that characteristic rustling sound when you move. The Spring Classic is over 100 grams lighter than SP’s previous top-of-the-line jacket, coming in around 300 grams. It’s also easy to roll up and stuff in a rear jersey pocket.

I use a SP Transit jacket when I’m on tour. In comparison the Transit is cut much, much bigger and allows for more clothing–and even a Camelbak–to be worn underneath. It’s equally waterproof but much heavier and impossible to stuff in a jersey pocket (hence the Camelbak!). The Spring Classic is a different beast altogether—it’s more portable with a race-cut fit for ease of donning and taking off yet it’s good enough to wear all day.

I’ve found this jacket to be completely waterproof regardless of the torrent. If water intrudes it will be either from it dripping down your neck or from the vents being open–actually I’ve not had either problem—and not from the fabric or seams.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stayed dry. Like all three-layer waterproof garments the breathability of the Spring Classic can be overwhelmed when you’re working and sweating hard, and those vents suddenly become necessary. In the low 60s, this jacket is almost too warm for medium efforts and I find the vents must be fully open. Fortunately the design of the side vents is such that I’ve experienced little wetness intruding. When the temp is in the 50s the Spring Classic starts to feel more comfortable at effort; it’s too late in the year to try it in the 40s but I imagine that overwhelming its breathability would be very hard in that range.

It comes in black or red; obviously the black version hides filth more easily but the red is much more visible. The list cost is $289—ouch!—but I got it on sale.

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Shower Pass CrossPoint Softshell Gloves. I’ve also been trying out Showers Pass new Crosspoint Softshell Waterproof gloves. I’ve said in the past that there is no such thing as a waterproof cycling glove. Showers Pass has proven me wrong—these gloves are indeed completely free of water intrusion. But the waterproof membrane, Outdry, doesn’t seem to breathe at all and my hands always have ended up soaking wet from sweat. Perhaps if the temperature were lower I wouldn’t have encountered this conundrum. But 50s and 60s are pretty typical temps in the Bay Area and I suspect they are really going to be used regularly on colder days or on days when I’m noodling along. If the temperature isn’t too cold I find it is more comfortable just to wear glove liners underneath regular cycling gloves and let the hands get soaked. The Crosspoint gloves cost $80. Not worth it in my experience.

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Assos Sturmnuss Knickers. As for the lower body I have been wearing Assos’ expensive Sturmnuss knickers. These babies are $339 list, which is absurd regardless of how good they are. But they are good. For rainwear Assos subscribes to the belief that waterproof breathable membranes are not good enough for hard cycling—you will always end up sweating up a storm, so it’s better to be aim for increased breathability at the expense of sheer waterproofness. I have not had any water intrusion nor dampness caused by sweating. But they aren’t perfect. First, they are intended to go over your shorts or tights, which means that for changing conditions you have to stop to put them on or off. The leg holes are just big enough for me to get my clodhopper touring shoes with covers through them but your experience might differ. If you have to take off your booties to get these knickers on, then that would be a significant inconvenience. That’s why I usually prefer to use Rainlegs because they can be rolled up or down easily and quickly, and since I ride with fenders it doesn’t matter that they only cover the tops of my legs. Second, they are roomy around the thighs, which is good for unhindered movement, but they look like like MC Hammer’s harem pants only in black. Third, since they’re knickers they don’t cover your lower legs, which isn’t a problem per se since you don’t lose a lot of warmth in that area anyway. But the water pouring down your legs ends up going into your booties or shoe covers if you’re out in the rain for an extended time. That is the advantage of rain pants—they go over the tops of your shoes so water isn’t given the opportunity to compromise them. But knickers do keep you cooler and that reduces your sweating inside the knickers. You’ll have to decide whether you can live with wet shoes. That said, as with gloves I’ve never found a shoe cover or bootie that truly keeps my feet dry. It doesn’t matter what it’s made of—GoreTex, neoprene, PU—they all leak. They only differ in how long before they let water in. If you’re out in the rain for just an hour, no problem. But if you ride for two or more hours, your feet are going to get damp, period. With the Assos knickers you’ll probably find that your feet get wetter just a little faster. Still it’s better than if you didn’t have any rain pants at all; if you just had shorts then everything, feet included, would get wet very quickly.

Final verdict: The Showers Pass Spring Classic jacket is extraordinary and although not quite perfect (I wish it would breathe even more) it is an improvement on their previous jackets, which set the mark for rain jackets. But they are best for cool conditions. The Showers Pass Crosspoint gloves are mediocre. They are indeed waterproof but they don’t breathe so you end up having wet (but warm) hands. The Assos Sturmnuss rain knickers are almost the Holy Grail—waterproof, light, totally breathable—but are very expensive and are not easy to put on or take off if the weather changes.

For more information:

Showers Pass: www.showerspass.com

Assos: www.assos.com

Review: Earth’s Best Organic Orange Banana Baby Food Puree

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A few months ago while wandering the aisles of our local Safeway I spotted some pouches that looked like large GU gels. They weren’t sports food at all—they were baby food. In my mind baby food is inextricably linked to Gerber’s little glass jars. But now they’ve grown up and are available in easy-to-open screw top pouches—rather than tear-off—making them much easier to carry, open, and use. My curiosity was piqued: could these be a better on-the-road food than Clif bars or gels? I’ve come to hate Clif bars and gels and use them only because I’m too lazy to prepare anything else for on-the-road eating. As a consequence when I’m riding alone I rarely eat anything regardless of the length of the ride. (But if I’m riding with others, then it’s a great excuse to stop somewhere very nice for a good, long lunch!) I’ve got enough fat on my body to fuel me for a very long ride so it merely becomes a question of whether I mind slowing down or eating something repulsive like a Clif bar and then maybe going faster.

The pouches I saw happened to be Earth’s Best Organic Baby Food Puree although Gerber’s—and I’m sure all baby food companies now—sell their food in pouches as well. Earth’s Best are organic, GMO free, and vegan friendly. We bought a couple, an orange banana and a banana blueberry. They sat in the cupboard for a couple of months until I realized they actually had a short expiration date and I’d better use them fast. The bottom line: they definitely taste better than gels or bars because they’re real food, just pureed. For example, the Orange Banana consists of organic bananas and orange juice concentrate. And because they’re pureed food, specifically fruit, they aren’t thick or dry concoctions that need voluminous slugs of water to get down your craw. After all they are intended for babies! So they taste good and they’re very easy to swallow. They also come in a huge variety of fruit and vegetable combinations, 28 (!) in all. I liked them so well that I bought a box of 12 from Amazon.

So what’s the drawback? Cost-wise they’re about the same as a Clif bar. But these are real food, so the pouches are definitely heavier and not as calorie dense. The only way you’re going to get 100 calories in a tiny 1.2 oz. gel pack like a Clif Shot is to take as much water out of it and use industrial food products like maltodextrin and dried cane syrup. Earth’s Best pouches are 4 oz. and contain only about 90 calories. A Clif bar weights 2.4 oz. and has 260 calories or about three of these Earth’s Best pouches. But if you want the light weight of a bar made out of organic brown rice syrup, well, you’re stuck eating Clif bars or some such dreck. Baby food is easier to slug down and you don’t have to wash it down with water. Plus, it’s yummy.

For more information: Earth’s Best Infant Puree Pouches

The Future of E-bikes: A Prediction

Haibike road ebike
“Is that a motor in your bottom bracket or are you just happy to see me?”

Like most recreational cyclists I studiously ignored the nascent appearance of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, on our shores. I preferred to propel myself down the road, thank you very much. Using an electric bicycle seemed like another incarnation of laziness and of not knowing what to do with too much money. E-bikes also were oriented towards the commuter and ‘transpo’ crowd, and there it has some semblance of a rationale: you could commute to work and not arrive so sweaty that your funk would repel your coworkers, or for example if you wanted to haul your kid to Rooftop Elementary up Twin Peaks, you could use the electric assist.

In Europe electric bicycles, although still a small yet distinct portion of overall bike use, have been growing by leaps and bounds. Over the years Roger and I have seen them go from rare Bigfoot-like spottings to steady and regular appearances both in the cities and the countryside. Three years ago outside of Bern, Switzerland we ran into a group from Zurich, all of them on e-bikes. They were on rental ‘pedelecs’—electric bikes that you must pedal to get a power assist (i.e. no throttle)—and having a holiday in the hilly countryside east of Lake Geneva. They didn’t appear to be couch potatoes nor were they dressed in cycling drag: they were just regular city folk. When we stopped together at a cheese-making farm in Affolterm for lunch, I took the opportunity to chat with them about their bikes. They weren’t on anything special, some urban style bike with upright bars and a gear train, probably nine gears in back. They explained that they were out doing daily tours and that if they had to use regular bicycles they would never be able to do the distances or hills that they were covering and consequently see and experience so much less of the beautiful countryside. They said if you run down the battery on the bike, you are able to exchange it at train stations for fully recharged units and keep on riding. Apparently this zone of Switzerland had infrastructure that allowed for easy battery exchange—Elon Musk would be envious. Of course if you run the battery down, then you’re on pedal power only and since the bikes run about 50 pounds, that’s a lot of weight to lug around. But at least you can make it back to town.

After lunch we set off together and I was able to see them in action. They definitely were pedaling to get around and they were enjoying the countryside. In fact they loved to stop and take pictures of the spectacular views of the area. And, they were out doing something for exercise. At that point it sunk into my head that e-bikes wasn’t cheating at all: they were liberating devices. These folks were able to do something healthy and pleasurable that they very likely would not have done otherwise.

Roger loves his e-bike. As I mentioned previously, a couple of years ago he started having health setbacks. The result was that he was not just going slower but struggling much of the time. Rides were becoming exhausting efforts. No amount of training was likely to bring him back to his former level. The e-bike allows him to do all the riding he used to do and enjoy at the speeds he used to do (and faster!) at a power output he is able to sustain.

I don’t know of any other e-bike users in the club but I do know that the Den Daddy is actively searching for one. Maybe we should set up a Different Spokes subsection: Electric Spokes! Derek is in his eighties and still actively rides throughout Contra Costa. But he claims he can’t do hills anymore and thinks an e-bike will be of great help, and he is exactly right. However it is a bit ironic since the last few times I’ve ridden with Derek he has zoomed on the flats at close to 20 mph. I don’t doubt that he isn’t enjoying the hills anymore and he’s probably comparing himself to the way he used to ride, which I know from my own personal experience can be demoralizing. If he succeeds in finding a mount he likes, I think he’ll take to it like a fish to water. And he’ll be kicking your butt not just on the flats but the hills too. (You better hope his battery dies before you do!)

Speaking of kicking butt, Bill Bushnell, one of our former Ride Coordinators (but unfortunately no longer a member) rides an electric recumbent. If you rode with Bill back in the day you know that holding his wheel was difficult. Then he got a recumbent and it became almost impossible. Then he faired his recumbent and it was impossible! Well, Bill developed a health issue that cut his power and made riding more and more problematic. His solution was to electrify his recumbent. He still rides incredible mileage and does rides that would destroy you or me. If there were ever a poster child for the potential benefit of e-bikes for recreational cyclists Bill would be it.

Giant e-bike
“Dura Ace? Check. Carbon frame? Check. Motor & Lithium battery? Check.”

The future development of e-bikes in the US is going to be very interesting. No doubt the majority of purchasers will continue to be very casual cyclists who just want to get from point A to point B without much effort. But with Boomers and Gen-X cyclists getting on in years there is another market to be tapped. Aging recreational cyclists no longer have to resign themselves to going slower and slower. Instead they can harness the power of an e-bike to keep going at the same pace they used to and/or to continue to do the big rides. For e-bikes to catch on with this crowd they’ll need to evolve in a slightly different direction to appeal to those enamored with carbon fiber and drop bars rather than your typical city bike with upright bars, a kickstand, and fat tires. We are just now beginning to see the appearance of that kind of e-bike, designed for fast road riding rather than commuting. The cost is already up there already because e-bikes aren’t cheap—you have to pay for the motor and an expensive lithium battery. For example Specialized’s top-end e-bike, the Turbo—which is a city bike—is now $7,000! It’s a piece of art and certainly Apple-esque in its suave mien but you’re still stuck with a boat anchor with flat bars. Admittedly weight is less an issue for an e-bike since the extra watts to propel that poundage can come from a battery rather than your paltry quads. From a design perspective e-bikes for this crowd will have to look and ride like what they’re used to riding: carbon fiber Venges, C60s, and Dogmas. Whether that’s to be able to hide the fact that you’re using ‘mechanical doping’ or because our esthetic sensibility has recentered around aero-superduper carbon bikes, it really doesn’t matter because that lithium battery and motor allow a drab city e-bike to drop every Pinarello in sight. Yet we know what a real bike is supposed to look like, so damn it, make one that looks like a Pro Tour bike even if it does weigh 50 pounds. When e-bike manufacturers catch on, look out! You’re going to be seeing a lot of e-bikes in the Bay Area. Maybe even under me.

UPDATE (2/2): Perhaps the marketing elves have been hard at work as I wrote. This bike checks all the boxes for a carbon e-bike: http://road.cc/content/tech-news/177447-first-look-€10000-typhoon-e-assist-packs-250w-hidden-motor

The details are sketchy but it looks like the Typhoon is not a pedelec: power assist is by throttle. Note for whom this bike is aimed: “The Typhoon clearly isn’t aimed at professionals, but wealthy cyclists that want a little assistance on the hills or for keeping up with fitter friends. The three modes mean you can get just a little bit of assistance, enough to help if struggling to keep up and about to be dropped from the group. Is there any problem with an amateur cyclist using such a bike, if it helps them to ride more, as long as it’s not used for racing?”

Weight is about 8 kg., or 17.6 lbs. It’s yours for just $11,000!