I’m fundamentally a form-follows-function person. That’s not to say that I think that clothing, buildings and home furnishings all need to be austere to the point of Bauhausian sterility, but I think that style should never trump substance. Having said that, I accept the reality that such an outlook makes me a candidate for both the worst home decorator and least romantic male of the 21st century, even though it’s early in this 100-year span.
That preference is borne of a hopelessly strategic approach to most dimensions of my life. Practically, that has translated to an affinity for technical fibers (including wool). Show me two jackets; if one of them, thanks to the use of a special fabrics, happens to be both lighter and warmer, I’m inclined to go with it, even if it doesn’t look quite as workaday. On the contrary, many years ago, when I was living in New England, I realized that I enjoyed having people note my preference for specialized garments. I didn’t really care what they thought of my choice; back then I just like that they noticed I wasn’t wearing some cotton coat that would lose it’s ability to keep you warm or dry the moment it started raining or snowing, and during the cold months of the fall, winter and spring, that could happen a couple of times each week.
That said, there are plenty of people who try to use their outerwear to project something they are not. I’m thinking of lawyers with Carhartt barn coats and urban yuppies who’ve never seen a ski left, let alone a mountain, decorated in the finest down from The North Face. My urge is to make a statement more authentic, not less so. And while anyone is entitled to wear what they want, I appreciate pieces that confirm I’m active. That means my outerwear is cut for my cyclist’s physique and I prefer items that offer as much warmth as possible while simultaneously throwing overboard the homogenized style of Old Navy. In short, I like pieces that don’t necessarily scream “cyclist” while still conveying that my wardrobe didn’t come from Macy’s. RKP T-shirts are handy in this regard, but they aren’t all that warm.
There are two pieces in my wardrobe I’ve decided are worth mentioning; one, a piece from Giro’s New Road line, is a recent addition, while the other has been a part of my cool weather rotation for a couple of years. That piece is the Assos DB.4 kickTop. Again with the crazy names. Around the house, when I can’t find it, I just refer to it as my Assos pullover, to which my wife will respond, “Your black one?”
Compared to a couple of similar (though cotton-constructed) pullovers I have from Ralph Lauren, the DB.4 kickTop is lighter, warmer and includes two zippered pockets. Both zip to the neck in the event of a chill breeze. Unlike the pullovers from Ralph Lauren, the Assos device won’t wrinkle, packs into a backpack like a dime in a pocket and in the event of rain dries as quickly as a toddler’s tears.
The bad news is that Assos has decided not to carry this piece in the U.S. anymore. You can still find some around, but it’s not easy. Ah, the power of Google.
Giro has been adding new pieces to its apparel line and easily my favorite piece from the fall line is the new Soft Shell Jacket. It’s cut from medium-weight polyester (304 gm/m²), which makes it heavy enough to keep you comfortable down into the 40s yet light enough that I never overheated in around-town trips and could jam it in a small bag when traveling. Despite the fact that it is cut from polyester, the jacket doesn’t have that shiny finish that makes you look like a square. Part of its ability to help regulate temperature comes via two small chest zips that open vents right at your collarbones. Given how small they are I wondered just how much they could do; I was surprised to realize that they offered just enough ventilation to keep me from breaking a sweat when chasing Mini-Shred around the neighborhood.
Inside the jacket, it’s got two chest pockets big enough for a pair of sunglasses in their case, while there are two zippered pockets for hands or keys. There is a fifth pocket at the small of the back, zippered on both sized with the capacity to carry a loaf of bread or a couple of water bottles, it’s that big. I didn’t discover it until reading about the jacket’s features because it was so well cut that it is completely concealed when not in use. Kinda makes it the perfect jacket for riding to a party without worrying about how to bring a bottle of wine.
To keep the jacket form fitting both on and off the bike, it is cut with raglan sleeves. While the zipper starts at the center of the bottom hem, but then sweeps to the right at the neck to keep soft fabric at your chin. When zipped up, this feature is terrific, but when the jacket is unzipped, there are times when the collar will rub against my chin and it can be hard to keep it out of the way. The cuffs stretch to keep the wind from running up the sleeves while elasticized drawstrings at the hem allow you to gather the jacket around you a bit more when riding.
The Giro Soft Shell Jacket goes for $250 and comes in five sizes (S-XXL). It comes in but one color, dark heather gray, which has proven to be as versatile as gray flannel. Noteworthy is how Giro positions its return policy alongside the garment’s features. In a sense, their commitment to your satisfaction could be said to be one of the jacket’s features. I just can’t imagine anyone returning one of these things. Wearing this both on and off the bike is a chance to wear a garment that suits me and my lifestyle.
When I first heard of the Meet Your Maker ride series earlier this year I did everything I could to try to find an excuse to get to Northern California to participate in any of the rides. I was a good deal less successful than I would like to have been, that is, until this weekend. On Sunday the fourth edition of the ride took place in Marin County. Upon rolling up to the start in Railroad Square in Mill Valley, I spotted Jeremy SyCip of SyCip and Mark Norstadt or Paragon Machine Works.
The guy who deserves the credit for starting the series and making sure everyone who shows up feels welcome is Sean Walling of Soulcraft bikes, based in nearby Petaluma.
At some point I should probably ask Sean and the other builders how often they actually meet one of their bike’s owners. I had the sense that the incidence rate was low, that most riders there on a handmade frame had already met their maker, so to speak. So even though the ride’s most obvious appeal is to meet the guy who built your bicycle, the greater truth of the ride is that you get a chance to go for a ride with him, talk bikes, meet other customers of his and then meet other builders who probably haven’t made a bicycle for you.
Santa Cruz builder John Caletti is known for his immaculate TIG-welding. The ti bike above featured TRP’s cable-actuated hydraulic discs with 160mm (front) and 140mm (rear) discs and Kenda Small Block tires (35mm front and 32mm rear) tires.
The quality of the welds is high enough to make his work look like that of a veteran of Seven or Moots.
Sacramento builder Steve Rex turned out with this disc-equipped rig sporting 43mm-wide Bruce Gordon Rock ‘n’ Road tires.
As is typical of most of Rex’ work, this bike featured his Ultimate Fillet work, but also showed some very tasteful internal cable routing.
Left to right: Curtis Inglis of Retrotec, Steve Rex, John Caletti and Sean Walling.
Sean, thanking everyone for showing up, and by everyone I mean a 40-plus-strong group, the biggest for the Meet Your Maker rides so far. He also informed those assembled that there is some interest in holding even more of the rides next year.
Paul of Paul Components made the trek from Chico to join the ride. He made a point to fuel up before we rolled out.
It was nice to begin a ride without having to hit the afterburners. I honestly can’t recall the last time I did a ride where people were more excited to get into the ride and yet didn’t completely kill the pace. I could get used to this.
We regrouped. A lot.
Eric Richter, marketing director for Giro, joined us for the ride. Based on what I know of Eric, dude doesn’t own a non-ferrous bicycle.
The ride took in both fire roads and singletrack on Mount Tam, and eventually dropped us down to Muir Beach. Once there, a number of riders decided that the proper course of action included hoppy beverages. They were right, of course, but there were those of us who needed to stick to a timeline. The rider in the Santa Cruz Spokesman kit is Sean Morrissey, part of my ad sales team. He and I joined a group making a more direct effort to reach Mill Valley.
The day was not without its hitches. There were flats by the bushel, dropped tools, lost keys and at least a few near bonks. I’d do rides like this once a week if given the chance.
It’s in looking back through my hundreds of photos that I begin to gain perspective on what Interbike was such a whirlwind of brief encounters. I rarely took notes because often my visits were so brief that I had to choose either notes or photos. There simply wasn’t time for both. It helps me comprehend how I can be 10 days out from my return home and still be writing about the event. Even though I’m ready to move past it and back to reviewing some products that I didn’t get to before I left for the show, I saw so much that I liked and don’t want to leave out.
I went for a ride on the Stromer, BMC’s electric bike. For those not familiar with it, the Stromer hails from the same category of throttle-less bikes as the Specialized Turbo.
The battery, rather than being contained in a rack in back is ensconced in the down tube. It makes sense, as it’s huge and heavy. It’s hard to get that much weight down low to help the bike’s handling.
The bike computer gives standard rider data and acts as the selector for which assistance mode the Stromer is in. The bike weighs more than a cargo ship, but it handles extraordinarily well. I wish my parents were younger; I’d introduce them to electric bikes.
Shimano introduced a new fitting system. Fit purists knocked it for not being as advanced as the Serotta or Specialized systems. Parts of the system are based on somewhat antiquated views of fit.
The fit system includes the ability to analyze a rider’s pedal stroke to detect leg strength discrepancies.
Even if the Shimano system isn’t the ideal fit system, it strikes me that it could improve fit for many riders. Many riders out there would benefit from an improved fit. Forget perfect; many riders just need a better fit and given their incredible market penetration, Shimano could help many riders achieve a better position on the bike, which would improve their bike handling, their efficiency and their comfort.
Feedback Sports, the folks known for repair stands and scales, introduced a new wall hook system that allows you to hang a bike and then swing it toward the wall to reduce the amount of space needed. Why has it taken so long for someone to dream this up?
Abus was showing a series of locks that feature six pivots to allow them to accommodate unusual rack or bike configurations. I’ve been doing more errand-running by bike and have been amazed at the number of times I’ve needed to punt and just put the lock on the bike without securing it to a rack, sometimes because there was no rack, sometimes because the lock simply wouldn’t accommodate both bike and rack at the same time.
Ritchey remains the leader in bar shapes. No one else offers more bends in both carbon and aluminum than Ritchey; why they don’t get more love from fitters baffles me.
After getting out of the tire biz for a bit, Ritchey is back with a number of new tires at terrific price points. At $20, this is the least expensive folding tire I can recall seeing from a reputable brand.
Guru showed off their new bike fitting system. Components can be switched quickly and CompuTrainer integration means that a rider can be asked to pedal under load or pedal stroke analysis. The saddle and bar assemblies are motorized so that adjustments to fit and fast and don’t require the rider to dismount.
The system performs an anatomic capture without requiring reflective dots being placed on the rider’s legs, shoulders and arms.
The system also provides the rider with the opportunity to pedal on a grade, so you can analyze how well they perform once the road tips up.
Giro showed off some new pieces in their New Road line including new shorts and tops.
Existing pieces got some new colors.
One of my faves was this new polo shirt.
This button down looks smart and won’t become a clammy cotton rag.
Let’s be honest, if you’re going to try to revamp what everyone thinks cycling clothing is or needs to be, you can’t just dispense with the padded short. There are too many of us who know the truth. And as a guy, once you’ve experienced the non-migratory comfort of the bib short , anything else is a step backward. I don’t want to understate what a serious problem I think this is. I think it would be easier to keep Charlie Sheen off something—hookers, blow, whatever—than to convince me to ride a bike for more than an hour while wearing something other than bibs.
Not gonna happen.
So it is that the most significant piece within Giro’s New Road line is the one you’re least-likely to see: the bibs. The Bib Undershort is meant to be worn beneath a pair of shorts that aren’t exactly baggy, but they aren’t Lycra-tight. All the basics are there—a fit that is as unsurprising as the taste of water, grippers to keep the shorts from riding up, bibs that wick quickly. However, it’s the extras that show you how well-thought-out these are. They have a fly. Think about it: If you’re wearing cycling shorts and over them you’re wearing another pair of shorts so that you don’t have to look like you’re ready for the races, and the shorts have a fly, well why wouldn’t the bibs also have a fly? Am I right? Then there are the pockets at the waist on the shorts. Getting to them is easy enough; just reach your hand beneath the tail of the top you’re wearing and because the openings for the two side pockets are cut at a slight angle, they are easy to access.
The bibs go for $150 and come in six sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL.
Genius doesn’t begin to describe how smart building the apparel around a functional set of bibs is. It’s not just a matter of genius. It’s also a statement of respect, that the product developers at Giro didn’t lose the plot line and still understand that a piece of foam in the crotch is the root of all comfort.
The 40M Tech Overshort is the piece that the public sees. It features a four-way stretch fabric that allows the shorts to move in a pretty natural way. They are gusseted like climbing shorts so you’re not restricted to movement in just two dimensions. There are stretch panels as the waist and in the legs to make sure they move almost as freely as normal cycling shorts. A small strap that attaches to buttons on the inside of the waist band allows you to adjust the waist. There’s a zippered cell-phone pocket on the left, but it’s snug enough that you’re only going to get a smartphone with no protective case in it, at least, if you want to do it comfortably. The zippered fly lines up perfectly with the fly on the bibs, which, I’ll admit, amazed me slightly. I can think of a dozen companies where the fly on one short would have been three inches off of the fly on the other short. My one knock on the fit of the shorts is that the crotch was sufficiently below the waist that when riding, the shorts would ride up a bit. The issue wasn’t one of comfort. On the contrary, the issue was strictly one of appearance. The inseam of the 40M Overshort was just short enough that once they rode up, the black leg grippers of the bibs would show below the hem of the 40M Overshort. Not a big deal, but not perfect, and I note it only because Giro so often manages something approaching perfection.
The 40M Tech Overshort goes for $120, and while I can’t be certain it will outlast all of my cotton shorts, I have been wearing them with regularity and can say they show no signs of wear so far. Frankly, they are terrific to wear with tighty whities; there have been a few occasions I pulled them on because they were at the top of the drawer. I have plenty of stuff that I’m pleased just lasted through this summer. It comes in six waist sizes and two fits: 28, 30, 32, 34, 36 and 38 in both slim and regular fit. I have been wearing the 32 regular fit. They come in three colors: jet black, pewter and desert. The sizes of the 40M Overshort line up with the sizing on the bibs. I’m a 32 in the Overshort and I’m a medium in the bibs.
I did have one minor issue with the Overshort. The distance from the waist to the crotch is a bit long. The way they hand when I’m standing isn’t how they wear when I’m on a bike. They slide up until the crotch of the shorts actually reaches my crotch. This moving around isn’t that disconcerting, but it did end up exposing the grippers of the Bib Undershort because the legs of the shorts were no longer long enough to cover the bibs. Not a big deal, but not quite perfect and Giro so often does perfection, that this detail surprised me.
By basing most of their tops on a high-quality Merino wool Giro does three things. First, they manage to make a technical garment out of a material no one will confuse with a spaceman outfit. Second, they provide the rider with something that wicks well and keeps you comfortable over a broad range of conditions. And third, they manage to hit what has become a common touchpoint for retro cycling cool. Merino is the Teflon of the cycling world in that no criticism of it really sticks. What’s the worst you can say about Merino? That once you’re good and sweaty you smell like a puppy that needs a bath? That the stuff isn’t as cheap as cotton?
Come on, boy, what you got? Bring it!
Merino evokes old-school hardman cycling, hipster alt knowledge and high-end craft, all in a single stop.
Take that Fruit of the Loom!
I’m not going to spend any time talking about the Merino Base Layer. It’s a base layer, cut from a fine Merino. It’s the perfect answer to the changeable day. It was as comfortable as kitten fur, or at least as comfortable as I’ve come to expect from a Merino base and the fit was slim without being snug. And at $60, while not cheap, it’s perfectly reasonable given how pricey some base layers are. It comes in six sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL.
The Ride Jersey relies on 80 percent Merino and weaves in 20 percent polyester to give it stretch without stretching out. Anyone who has ridden in an original Merino jersey knows that you had to buy them a full size smaller than what you needed, otherwise when you put anything larger than a phone number in your pockets the jersey would sag to your thighs, making you look like a cross-dressing spaceman. Been there, done that. Got the looks.
So the Ride Jersey keeps its shape. And it comes with a zipper longer than the one in your jeans. There is also a gripper at the hem to keep it more or less in place when you bend over. Now, if you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see some openings that look a bit like epaulets. Yes, epaulets, which would be really silly on a cycling jersey, which is why these things aren’t epaulets. They aren’t silly. They are vents. They help channel air over the shoulders and to your back, keeping you cooler and speeding drying of the jersey, which cuts down on that whole wet-Lab-smell thing. Honestly, they looked a bit gimmicky when I saw them. Then the first time I got going more than 16 mph, I felt them at work. Not bad.
I’ve been wearing the $150 Ride Jersey in small. It’s available in five sizes: S, M, L. XL and XXL. They could definitely use an XS. If I, a 160-lb. skinny white boy can wear the small, there’s a whole generation of reformed cross-country runners who will be forced to wear nothing but Castelli and Assos due to the Lilliputian sizes they offer.
Finally, I’ve got a piece that’s a slight variation of one of the tops you’ll find on the web site. The SS Merino Crew looks like a tradtional one-pocket T-shirt. However, this is cut from Merino wool and sports not just the chest pocket, but also back pockets. I have a straight-up T-shirt with the one pocket in the front but no pockets in the rear. I absolutely love the T-shirt I have and wear it plenty more than my errand running could demand. I mean, look at that thing. It’s simple and stylish. What’s not to like? Given the crazy amounts of money I’ve dropped on good dress shirts that I wear a handful of times each year, $120 for something of this quality and feel that I’m willing to wear almost weekly seems fair. Like the jersey, this is available in five sizes, S, M, L, XL and XXL.
I’m doing a long ride in the morning. Of all the cycling clothing I have, I can say with some conviction that this stuff isn’t even in contention for what I’ll ride. But in the afternoon, I’m going to go for a ride with #1 son, aka Mini-Shred, Philip. I’m hoping the ride will be more than just a mile or two, and so I plan to wear this for our spin. I’ll be able to hang at the playground and be just as comfortable off the bike as on. That’s no small feat.
When I first began riding—not to put too fine a point on it—I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I know a great many riders who had the good fortune to be initiated into the sport by family members or friends, but I bought a bike and was instantly on my own. I rode in cotton—T-shirt, skivvies, shorts, sneakers—because I knew nothing about what I was supposed to do. Back then, I rode as much for transportation as I did for fun, and because the city I lived in wasn’t densely populated, it wasn’t hard to ride anywhere I wanted to go. Arriving sweaty wasn’t a problem because spring, summer and the early fall in the South are as hot and sticky as duct tape on the sun. Riding a bike made me only marginally sweatier than everyone else.
But then I learned about wool, about polyester, about stiff-soled shoes, the concept of wicking. My comfort increased in ways I didn’t know how to measure, but couldn’t mistake. Increased comfort allowed me to ride longer and faster—no more adjusting the tighty-whities on the fly. But something else happened along the way that, in retrospect, was both good and bad.
I met other cyclists and began doing group rides. Riding for transportation waned. I’m not even sure of how or why, but after going a summer on a single tank of gas, I began using my car again and restricted my bike riding to training rides. Somehow, even then, I was unwilling to put on man-made textiles for basic transportation.
Fast-forward 25 years. I live in a place where I can ride virtually every day of the year. The terrain is flat enough for riding for errands. I held some jobs that allowed me to commute and keep a change of clothes at the office so I could change out of my wet cycling clothing. Still, that did northing for when I wanted to run to the store on my bike.
As it turns out, the revelatory nature of riding in proper cycling clothing was my personal apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Once I’d had a taste of that comfort, I was unwilling to go back.
Things are different now.
Giro, along with several other apparel makers are offering cycling clothing that doesn’t exactly look like cycling clothing. I’m not talking the baggy shorts and jerseys that have been the signature of mountain biking for 10 years, but stuff that bridges the distance between functional comfort and something you can walk through a grocery store while wearing without getting the patented sidelong-glance normally reserved for any garment in a neon color.
Last winter, when Giro introduced the New Road line, the mantra I was told multiple times at the presentation was, “No more heroes.” This was on the heels of the USADA Reasoned Decision, so we can forgive any company in the bike industry—even one-time Armstrong sponsor Giro—for wanting to put a bit of daylight between them and doped pros.
Giro’s pitch was that the New Road line would be stuff you could go out and knock out a 60-mile ride in. Yeah, you might be able to do that and be comfortable, but what I wear when I’m out for a ride, a ride where the purpose of riding is actual riding, not one in which the riding is just meant as transportation to get me to an errand, well I’m okay with that continuing to be from man-made fibers. I don’t need that to change. I’ll add that my initial sense was that while the new Air Attack helmet has struggled to find acceptance with anyone, my only issue with the New Road line is that I think the pitch is a bit off.
This stuff is exactly what I’ve been looking for errand-running and riding with my son. When I took the family to Los Angeles’ most recent CicLAvia event, I rode a city bike and wore the New Road pieces. Same deal when I showed up for a mountain bike ride recently. I knew the friend I would be riding with wouldn’t be Lycra-clad, so I figured I might show up in somewhat similar garb. I must have looked okay because he didn’t say I looked like I’d lost my heavy metal band.
I’ve been wearing five different pieces from this collection and I can say with some conviction that had this stuff been available when I first started riding, I probably would never have graduated to polyester and Lycra. Here’s the thing: I was a pretty serious nonconformist. I played drums in a rock band that was part of the local music circuit. I was used to getting weird looks. However, cycling clothing was weird looking even to me.
Given my wardrobe in 1986, that’s really saying something.
Had the Giro New Road line been available, I’d have purchased this stuff instead. I wasn’t yet indoctrinated into roadiedom. Like I said, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but functional clothing sells itself. It’s likely I would have eventually graduated to traditional cycling clothing, if only for the simple reason that I found my way to bike racing and group rides. Certainly the distance between Points A, B and C would have been shorter if someone at a shop had taken me under a helpful wing, but I was in the sport for nearly three years before I found a club that would have me. Xenophobic much?
As I mentioned, I can’t say I’m with Giro on the idea that this could replace my traditional kit for training rides. I don’t need that to change. But cycling clothing that doesn’t look like cycling clothing is something my life really did need. I want to have clothing that will allow me to walk through a grocery store without people wondering if I’m lost or deranged. I want cycling clothing that does what cycling clothing does (keep me comfortable), so I can ride to the store, or with my son, or to a lunch appointment and not arrived shiny with sweat and wearing clothing that won’t dry out until well after I take it off.
It really comes down to a single, simple idea for me: Just keep me as comfortable as I’d be when riding my bike otherwise, and then I can ride my bike more.
Looking normal and feeling comfortable requires no selling.
In Part II, I’ll discuss my experience riding in these pieces.
Images courtesy Giro