Saturday, 3 December 2016

Top Tips for Endurance Cycling Kit & Bikepacking Clothing

Endurance cycling clothing bike packing clothing
When it comes to long hours in the saddle, and multi-day rides - whether that be bicycle touring, bikepacking or non-stop endurance riding; the kit that you wear is a fundamental part of comfort and performance.

The best endurance cycling clothing is something that is learned, discovered and developed, only through extensive trialling and testing (read more about 'How I Test Kit'). Often, it is the testing and development process for this riding kit, which brings with it some discomfort and discovery; this leads to subsequent refinement of your future kit choices for endurance rides.

In this post, I though I would share ten of my Top Tips for endurance clothing; for packing light, but riding far - in comfort...


GripGrab Easy Rider Mitts
Gloves are an essential item to add comfort and protection. As most of my bike tours have been in September - when the weather is fairly clement, I opt for a pair of durable lightweight mitts for most riding conditions - the GripGrab Easy Rider Mitts are perfect.

When you're touring though, you also need to be prepared for poor conditions; and if you're in the mountains, you need to consider the long descents in potentially cold conditions. For these 'foul weather' conditions, you need a pair of insulating and waterproof full finger gloves - the GripGrab Cloudburst Gloves are ideal.

A further 'Top Tip' for full finger gloves, is to also take a pair of Black Mamba Workshop Gloves with you - with a bit of talcum powder sprayed inside, to help slip them on. Stash these somewhere close to hand. These come in useful when you're in really wet and cold conditions (see Day 3 blog from my 'Coasts and Cols' tour), and your full finger gloves have become saturated; wet gloves aren't windproof, and they're also a nightmare to get on with cold hands. Slip on a pair of slippery latex gloves first though, and it allows you to slip on your full finger riding gloves, and also provides an added layer of insulation and wind protection.

Waterproof Jacket

Gore Bike Wear Oxygen Jacket
Probably the most important piece of riding clothing you'll take with you on a bikepacking trip. I thoroughly recommend spending as much as you can afford to on your waterproof cycling jacket.

Gore Tex remains king in my book, and the Gore Bike Wear Oxygen 2.0 Jacket is my chosen option. 'Boil in the Bag' lightweight clear jackets are fine for racing; when you're generating so much heat that it might not matter that you're soaking yourself in sweat underneath the plastic membrane, for a few hours. However, when you are cycle touring, you might face 10 hours in the saddle in wet conditions - your jacket needs to breathe, be fully waterproof, and be durable.

This barrier layer makes the difference between comfort and enjoyment; between being wet and cold, or dry and warm. In essence, your riding jacket is a key safety and performance device - make an investment.

Water Resistant Arm and Leg Warmers 

Sportful NoRain Arm Warmers
When it comes to packable protection, water and wind resistant warmers are superb. My preferred options are Sportful NoRain and GripGrab AquaRepel arm and leg warmers; both provide great protection from the wind and rain, but also have warm fleecy linings to provide insulation.

Leg warmers might seem excessive if you're touring in the summer months; but just like your full finger gloves and waterproof jacket, they will be invaluable when you're descending mountains, making dawn starts, or riding all day in fog or rain.

Merino Wool Socks 

Socks get smelly when you're cycling in them for days on end; there's no getting away from that. Merino is one way to prolong the odour onset though - as the natural wool fibres actually trap and contain the bacteria, rather than letting it breed, like in synthetics.

Merino wool also has the added benefit that it stays warm, even when wet. Additionally, the fabric is a lot more breathable, and better at wicking away sweat than many synthetics. These two properties are great to have in wet or very hot conditions; providing better temperature regulation for your extremities. Some wool socks (like DeFeet Woolie Boolies) are a bit thick, I find; but the GripGrab Merino Socks are suitable for three-season touring.

Windproof Gilet 

Castelli Fawesome 2 Windproof Gilet
Having the ability to add and remove insulation with ease, is essential on all-day rides. Endurance cycling by its nature takes in many weather conditions - so you want to be able to strip back and add insulation quickly and easily.

A windproof and insulating gilet is a great piece of riding clothing to have at your disposal; adding warmth and protection for your core, without adding too much bulk to your carry, when it's not in use. I used a Castelli Fawesome 2 Gilet for my 'Coasts and Cols' trip - it was a great added layer of comfort and protection, both in the mountains and on cold mornings.

Lightweight Cycling Jerseys

Castelli RS Superleggera Jersey
When it comes to riding jerseys and base layers, I opt for the lightest weight layer I can find. The Castelli RS Superleggera Jersey and Castelli Climber's 2.0 Jersey were the two that I took on the 'Coasts and Cols' tour. Both these cycling jerseys are minimalist, breathable and super fast-drying - ideal for wearing on the bike, not taking up too much room in panniers, and not taking too long to dry after you've washed them at your evening camp.

Bib Shorts 

Gore Bike Wear Bib Shorts
It goes without saying that having comfortable bib shorts is a must for any kind of endurance cycling. A bit like your waterproof jacket, it is well worth investing in a good pair of bibs.

I would recommend choosing ones with a high density foam pad, and ideally a compression fabric.

You will find that over multiple days of wearing (and probably not machine washing), that the foam pad on cheaper bib shorts will compress, and provide significantly less comfort; a higher density foam or gel pad is therefore well worth investing in.

Compression fabrics can help to reduce muscle fatigue, and they're often faster drying than thicker traditional Lycra. My personal preference from my last trip was Gore Bike Wear Bib Shorts - they are made with from a high end, durable and supportive fabric; combined with a superb quality pad.

Cycling Helmet, Cap and Eyewear

Make sure the helmet that you take on your trip is comfortable, and that it fits you well - you'll be wearing it for hours on end. I opt for the POC Octal helmet, rather than an enclosed aero design - I find that combining this with a cotton cycling cap, provides more versatility and adaptability for either hot conditions or wet/cold conditions.

When choosing cycling eyewear for touring or bikepacking, look for photochromic or lightly coloured lenses; these will provide the most versatile option for rides that might start and finish in dark conditions, but also take in the midday sun.

Cycling Shoes 

You are best opting for mountain bike SPD riding shoes for cycle touring, even on predominately road based rides. Mountain bike shoes have recessed cleats, and also a bit more flex in the soles; these two properties allow you walk around off the bike in more comfort, while also helping to avoid numb toes - which can occur if you wear ultra stiff race shoes for many hours on end.

Top Tip: Kit Washing and Drying

Here's one final Top Tip on how best to dry kit when cycle touring... 

If you have only one set of kit, and you wash it in the evening, then it *might* be dry enough to wear the next day. Slipping on slightly wet kit isn't too bad, and you can always let it dry off with your body heat for the first hour or so of riding - if you cover up with a windproof layer over the top. 

However, if you have the luxury of two sets of kit, then you can dry the kit you wore/washed the night before, on top of your seat pack or panniers whilst you ride. My best discovery for this, is to use a mesh wash bag (you can buy them in most home stores); stuff your damp kit in here, and strap it on top of your panniers. As you ride, the heat and wind will dry the kit within the bag - without the risk of straps or zips dangling into your wheels. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Weekend Watch: Wilderness

If ever there was a film that perfectly describes why I love bike riding, this is it.

Yes, I enjoy the competitiveness. Yes, I enjoy the kit testing and the new innovations. Of course, I enjoy the friendships formed. More than anything though, I relish 'The Escape'. The Freedom. The Wilderness...

Head out into the wilderness. #livelifeoutdoors

Friday, 25 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Cyclists 2016

Christmas is coming, and with that comes the excitement of presents and gift ideas for cycling enthusiasts: be that yourself, or one of your loved ones. In this post, I've picked out my top review products from 2016; concentrating mostly on those of a higher value, as I have also written a 'Stocking Fillers for Cyclists 2016' post.

From jackets to jeans, and tools to t-shirts; there should be something in here that would make a great gift idea for a cyclist you know...

24Bottles Stainless Bottles and Party Cups

24Bottles Stainless Steel Bottles
I use a 0.5L Urban Bottle from Italian brand 24Bottles, on a daily basis. I used a 1L bottle on the 'Coasts and Cols' tour, to add extra water carrying capacity. In fact, I don't think there has been a day since I first reviewed 24Bottles on the blog, when I haven't used one of their products. Their range of bottles look great, and drinks from them taste so much better than from plastic bike bottles. Now that the Urban Bottle is available in my favourite 'Flame Orange' colour, I'm a complete convert. The 24Bottles Party Cups are also seriously eco-friendly, and super nice to use.

Sportful Fiandre Winter Apparel

Sportful WS LRR SS Jacket
I have reviewed a number of pieces from Sportful's 2016 winter range, and they have all proven to be impressive pieces of kit. The Sportful WS LRR Jacket Review was a particular highlight, and the Sportful Fiandre Light Wind Jersey Review was a close second. If you're after some faultless performers for a winter cycling wardrobe, then look no further.

Unior Tools Pro Home Mechanic Tool Kit

Unior Pro Home Mechanic Tool Kit
The Unior Tools Pro Home Mechanic Tool Set was a stellar review item earlier this year. It contains pretty much every tool that you could need; for both road bike and mountain bike mechanics. It is all made to an impeccable quality level, and housed in this very smart case. The kit would be a superb gift for any home mechanic.

POC Octal AVIP Road Cycling Helmet

POC Octal AVIP MIPS Helmet
It is bold. It is orange. It has probably the highest safety rating of any road cycling helmet on the market today. The POC AVIP Octal Helmet is a marmite product. I love it.

Bellroy All Conditions Phone Pocket

Bellroy All Conditions Phone Pocket
The Bellroy All Conditions Phone Pocket is another great looking 'Every Ride Carry' from the Australian brand. It will house your cash, cards, keys and phone; all safely locked away in a water resistant leather pouch. A super smart accessory.

Restrap Bikepacking Luggage

Restrap Bike Packing Kit
Both the seatpack and the framebag from Yorkshire-based Restrap bags, are beautiful pieces of riding luggage. Handmade in their small batch production facility; every bag is unique. Equipped with waterproof zippers, paracord lashing systems, and a build quality that will last a lifetime - this is quality bikepacking kit. Both the framebag and seatpack served me well on the 'Coasts and Cols' tour.

Wahoo ELEMNT GPS Bike Computer

Wahoo ELEMNT Bike Computer
The Wahoo ELEMNT Bike Computer has won me over. It is incredibly easy to set up, using the partner mobile App; then once you've got it customised, it is even easier to use and review data. I took it on my 'Coasts and Cols' tour, and it guided me through the full 1,900 kilometres, without a hitch. Wahoo, we have a Garmin rival!

VéloChef by Henrik Orre

Velochef by Henrik Orre
This is my cookbook of the year, so far. Vélochef from Team Sky's Henrik Orre provides a multitude of easy and quick recipes, which will keep you fuelled like a professional.

Endurance Conspiracy T-Shirts

Endurance Conspiracy
Nice cotton t-shirts are always a fantastic gift. If they feature some cycling artwork, then that's all the better. If they have a bit of a rock-and-roll theme too, then they are a sure fire winner! The range of tees from Endurance Conspiracy features many of my favourites.

Thule Stir 35 Rucksack

Thule Stir 35 Rucksack
The Thule Stir 35 Litre Rucksack won me over; with its unique design features and innovative rain-cover. Like all other Thule products that I have reviewed, it has proven to be of an incredible quality level too, and a real pleasure to use.

GripGrab Cycling Gloves and Socks

GripGrab Gloves and Socks
Everyone gets socks for Christmas. That is a good thing, when they are a nice pair of high-cut GripGrab Summer Socks. It is even better, when they are accompanied by a pair of GripGrab gloves. I'm a huge fan of this Danish brand, and their products continue to be my go-to, whatever the season.

Levi's Commuter Range 2016

Levi's Commuter range
Some great winter casual apparel. The 'Commuter Range' by Levi's features some lovely kit; from wool hoodies, to classic jeans. Winter warmers, which look great both on and off the bike.

Feedback Sports Omnium Trainer

Feedback Sports Omnium Trainer
Finally, something rather special from the guys at Feedback Sports... the Omnium indoor trainer. As the name suggests, this is a trainer that has many, many purposes: you can use it for warm-ups, cool-downs, online competing, intervals, and much more. It is light, and it packs up super small. Very cool.

Hopefully that gives you some great ideas for gifts! If you are still stuck for something, check out my two blog posts from last Christmas, featuring different products:

Also, don't forget stockings! Read my 'Stocking Fillers for Cyclists 2016' post