Thule Racks

Somewhere around 1985 my parents bought a Thule roof rack to carry our bikes on a move cross country. We strapped my Haro Master and the rest of the bikes to the top of the Corolla and took off. Worked great. The clamps in those days for road bikes held them upside down by the bars and luckily that worked for BMX bikes too. Later, when I was busy driving all over Northern Virginia in a Dodge Colt trying to be an extreme in-line skater, I got the rack from my parents and used it to haul around launch ramps on the roof. I think I even was able to use the same feet. The rack was one of the few things that came with me when I got married. In 2006 I strapped 2 of my bikes (I’d now obtained some VeloVice fork mount trays) to the same feet/load bars) onto my Subaru Outback along with a huge, used Adventurer box I bought of Craigslist and moved from Virginia back to Canada. Since then the rack was used once in awhile with that Subaru to haul bikes, but the Subaru died several years back, so then I used the rack on top of our Honda Odyssey van. After that, I bought my first truck and without hesitation bought a Thule hitch mount 4 bike rack. The load bars and feet went into storage in my shed. Last year I traded the truck for a Dodge Caravan and made sure it had a hitch mount. With the truck I was able to throw 2 little kid bikes in the back and get 4 full-size bikes on the hitch, so no worries. Well, now, the kids are all for the most part riding full-size bikes, so at first I was stumped. Then I remembered the load bars/rack in the shed. I thought it would be killer if I could use those same, 30 year old load bars now, unfortunately, it was not to be. Not because they weren’t capable – they’re still bombproof and in great shape – alas – they’re just barely not long enough to use on the van.  I could have used the stock crossbars on the van with the Thule box, but there wasn’t enough room on them to fit the box AND 2 bike trays. My peeps at Rad Edge set me up with new 65” bars and feet and we’re rolling again. Perhaps my kids will get these old load bars. I’m sure they’ll still be solid then.

Jeff n’ Joan’s

Thought I’d share my unsolicited (well ‘sorta-solicited’ – Randi asked me in the nice handwritten note that came with my bag to let them know what I thought of it) thoughts on my @randijofab Jeff ’n’ Joan’s bag.  /  I got one of these bags when they first launched ‘em –  I had been wanting a Jones Loop Bar specific bag for quite some time and had seen a few others, but none of them were compelling enough for me to pull the trigger. Once I saw that Randi was making one, I knew it was fate.  /  I’ve had the bag about 8 months now and I’m really happy with it. It keeps things handy and easy to access while riding. I use it a lot in what I call ’basket mode’ – open all the time so as to just grab stuff from it. Today it held my gorilla pod, phone, keys, wallet, gloves, and my double chocolate chip muffin with some room to spare. /  I often don’t close it fully unless I’m leaving the bike to go in somewhere or if it starts raining. The roll top and one handed magnetic clip make it easy to close up fast on the fly.  /  As with all Randi’s stuff, construction is top notch. For the most part I’ve found it pretty much weatherproof. Waxed canvas is not really touted as ‘waterproof’, but I think it should get you through most rainstorms and all but a complete submersion. The waxing on this canvas/bag does seem to be a bit more ‘water resistant’ than some of the other Randi products I have. I would assume you could continue to add wax to it as well over the years to maintain/build up water resistance.  /  I haven’t found a use for the mesh exterior pockets yet, haven’t needed them. They’re small, so basically for things like gels, change, or possibly your kids’ Pokemon coins. I could see making use of ‘em on longer trips, but I’m mostly using the bag on the daily commuter.  /  I’m happy to find that the bag doesn’t interfere with the alternate hand positions afforded by the Jones bar. On the contrary, when closed and rolled down it still allows for use of ‘loop’ hand positions as well as offering a bit of a padded resting spot in some cases.  /  Overall, I’m glad I bypassed the other Jones bar bags I’d seen and held out for this one. It works great, is well made and I suspect will be carrying my chocolate muffins for years to come.

45 North Greazy

Greazy. Some years ago I stumbled into @radicaledgebikeski to find one of these @45nrth Greazy caps sitting on a rack. It being the only one, and me being, at the time, a total 45NRTH fanboy, I snatched it up, ignoring the fact that I had an overflowing drawer full of headwear at home. It came home and went in the drawer.  I had another winter cap with flaps that was my go-to and I wasn’t changing things up. A couple of times I brought this one out to get ready for a ride, only to decide at the last minute that it was too warm that day and went with a regular cap. Back in the drawer. Until today. Today it got the call up. I was heading out for a nasty road ride in nasty weather and it seemed this would fit the bill. The temp was hovering around 0º C and the winds were kickin’. Wind that kind of blows right through you. I got kitted up and immediately remembered why I liked this cap the moment I picked it up. It had some WEIGHT. The merino wool had substance. That worked out well, because that weight meant that the earflaps stayed down over your ears nice and cozy no matter what. The cap fits pretty much skin tight, which is great, because it felt like it wasn’t even there under a helmet, other than the whole toasty warm bit. The brim is a good size and construction and the earflaps, in addition to staying put, worked great and didn’t cause problems with helmet straps or sunglass arms. It’s not the sexiest cap out there when you take your helmet off, so if you’re looking to score at the cafe on your ride, you might be out of luck. I have some other caps that are more stylish off the bike. However, if you’re looking for a practical, solid and well performing winter lid to keep your cranium and listening bits warm, you owe it to yourself to check one out.

Late Season Bontrager Gnarwhal Review

After holding out on dropping the mad dollars for some studded fat bike tires for a few years, I finally caved. Here’s what I found out.

When I first got my Surly Pugsley, I was an instant believer in the platform. I picked it up in February took it home and bombed around in the snow in my back yard. All the hype about the fat tires in snow was the real deal. And fun? Forget about it.

As I continued to ride through the winter, both for fun and commuting, one thing became clear: though the platform was great for the snow, ice still held it’s own challenges and in some extreme cases of ice, even the fatter tires were no improvement over a conventional sized tire. You simply couldn’t ride in some instances without studs of some kind. I started to research a bit.

To the best of my recollection, that same year, 45NRTH were the first to come out with a production studded fat bike tire, the Dillinger. I wanted some instantly. Then I saw the price. Around $250 PER TIRE. I was floored, but I also thought that this was a new market, and over time, prices would come down. I resigned myself to wait. Winter ended, summer passed. Fall began. I started to think about the fatbike again and the struggles I’d had on ice. I decided to bite the bullet and order some Dillingers. Problem was, this was when the winter fat bike boom was really starting to take off. Couldn’t get ’em in my neck of the woods. I had an order in but the distributor had already sold out for the season and wasn’t expecting more stock. I gave up on getting any that winter early on.

Late in the winter after spending too much time in internet rabbit holes, I decided to have a go with some DIY chains. I don’t want to detail the whole process I used here – maybe that’s for another post. Suffice to say, they only worked so-so, I had some problems with frame rub/contact, and one eventually broke mid-ride so I said screw it and took ’em off.

For quite awhile, 45NRTH were the only ones out there making a studded fat bike tire so they had the market cornered. The last year or so has seen a ridiculous boom in fat bike popularity, last year pretty much every major manufacturer added at least one model to the product line up. Major players Trek/Bontrager jumped into the game with both feet – adding not only bikes, but several fat bike tires to the catalog including the studded Gnarwhal. My LBS where I work part time is a Trek dealer, so I was hoping this would make it easier for me to get a set, and it did.

Specs

So, the lowdown. The Gnarwhal is a 26″x3.8 tire available with or without studs. The studded version includes 160 installed Tungsten carbide studs. The Gnarwhal is (TLR) tubeless-ready (I run ’em with tubes) and according to Trek’s site the “Inner Strength casing is lightweight sidewall protection that’s supple and strong.” There’s a bit of discrepancy on the web about whether these tires are 60 or 120 tpi. Apparently Trek’s dealer site says 120, while the consumer site doesn’t say anything. Some people on the web have posted photos of packaging labeled 60 tpi. I didn’t check mine before I threw it away, so I’m out of luck. I’m not really the type of rider who could tell the difference between a 60 and 120 tpi tire, so if that matters to you, you’ll have to dig around on the web some more or check directly with Trek.

I mounted these up on my 82mm Rolling Darryl rims and though I didn’t measure them, they look to be a solid 3.8″ – in line with my Nates. In fact they look a little bigger, but it could just be the tread/knob pattern and/or my Nates are pretty worn. The knobs are uniformly distributed and though the tires are directional, they are not front/rear specific. I’ve never been one to care much about bike/component weights – at least not on a steel fat bike – but if you must know the Gnarwhals tip the scales at 1360grams.

The Ride

Ok, so after getting ’em home and finding the time to mount them up – as it typically goes for me – I had zero time to actually get out and ride ’em for at least a week or two. Sigh.

But the time finally came. The freeze/thaw cycle of a few days here set up the snowmobile trails around my area as a perfect testing ground for theses suckers. Days of thawing/melting and nights of well below freezing temps meant the trails were pretty much ready for ice skating – or studded fat bike tires.

Plowing through the packed snow on the way to the trails, the Gnarwhals performed as expected, and just as well as my Nates. No surprise there. They hooked up well in the snow and inspired confidence. Once I hit the ice, things ratcheted up a notch.

First thing you notice is the reassuring crunch of the studs on the ice. I had my tires a bit over inflated, but even still the Gnarwhals grabbed on and didn’t let go. I felt like things were a little squirrelly in some off-camber ruts. I stopped and let some air out of the tires to get some more float and increase the footprint, and hopefully increase engagement of the studs. Note: I usually go by the ‘feel’ method for inflation, but since I planned on writing this up and figured people would want to know, I checked when I got home. For the majority of the ride it would seem I was running around 5psi front/7psi rear.

On straight up ice, the tires performed fantastic. The more time I spent on them the more used to them I became. I’ve never been in a situation like those super-extreme explorer guys who’s gear means the ‘difference between life and death’ – I’ve never had to trust my life to an ice axe. However, I was placing a lot of faith in these tires, hauling along at pretty good speeds on straight ice. Taking a digger in these conditions could – at the very least – hurt real good, or worse, break something.

The Gnarwhals didn’t fail me. Only once or twice did I get a ‘whoa’ moment of slippage. Usually in instances of off-camber ice ruts/bumps or water on top of ice, and even then they caught after slipping and I corrected. It did make me wonder though, why there wasn’t more studs in the tire. As one person on the web in a review I read pointed out, “I never found myself saying, gee, I wish there wasn’t so many studs in the tire.”  I’m left to wonder why Bontrager didn’t opt to stud more of the knobs – particularly on the outside, for turning and such. I guess it’s conceivable that at some point, even with studs, if you’re that much on the outside edges of the tire, nothing is going to hold on given the forces at work. One might assume it was also a cost/weight issue, but I’d have taken more of each for this kind of tire to potentially get increased performance and security.

By point of comparison, 45NRTH’s Dillingers offer 250 and 258 studs per tire for the Dillinger 4 and 5 respectively, and at only a moderate price increase depending on where you shop.

The Down Lo

So straight up – am I happy with them? Yes. They are definitely spendy, but if you’re going to be doing this specific type of riding, I think it somewhat justifies the cost of specific equipment. The security and performance they offer is certainly worth the cost. After going without and trying the chains, I’d definitely say there’s no substitute for a proper studded tire – there’s just no comparison. By removing them each season and trying to minimize riding them on pavement, one would hope they offer good value (hold up over time/several seasons), but only time will tell.

Wet Weather Cycling Gloves

Through the years of commuting – and just riding in general, I’ve found that one simple thing can make or break a ride when it comes to comfort: my hands. Always been a weak point for me. If my hands are cold or uncomfortable, I’m miserable. As one would imagine, I’ve tried a wide array of gloves in various situations. Though I’m no +Ben Folsom – I rarely carry more than one pair with me, I have stockpiled quite a selection for various conditions to choose from. Though I really prefer to wear no gloves at all, the time comes when the elements necessitate you wear something.

Today it was raining buckets when I left the house. It wasn’t cold (around 14ºC) but the rain was just pounding on the roof of the house and I knew it was just going to be one of those days when, regardless of what kit you put on, you’re gonna get wet. Too warm for winter waterproof gloves and just cool enough that going bare-handed would mean some possible cold on the hands once you get moving in the wind.

I’ve tried the following with various levels of success, but all fell short on days like today for one reason or another:

  • Full MTB gloves – designed to ‘vent’ therefore – cool/cold, also usually some type of material(s) that absorb/held water making them uncomfortable and/or slippery, especially when padded.
  • Winter Gloves – Waterproof, but too hot – hence sweaty – and unnecessarily bulky on the bars/controls unless totally needed – i.e. winter time.
  • Fingerless road gloves – cold, sometimes slippery, some absorb water

Finally, some years back after posting up for recommendations, an old buddy, +Ricky deLeyos suggested paddling (kayaking) gloves had worked great for him.

I went to my local outdoor shop (which also happens to be my LBS) and checked them out. They’re basically neoprene wetsuit gloves. My particular shop had two models, the basic difference being one was a thicker/heavier neoprene than the other for more warmth. Both were under $30. I went with the thinner ones as they felt less bulky and seemed like they’d feel better on the bars/controls.

Since then (some years ago) they’ve been my go-to gloves for super wet, yet relatively cool/mild conditions. The skin tight nature of the fit allows for great feel on the grips/bars and the controls. My particular models have super tacky palms/fingers with a pattern so grippy that it can actually snag fabric a bit, but that translates to great grip on slippery bar tape or grips.

Let’s be clear, these gloves aren’t going to keep your hands dry, in fact, the point of them is to let your hands get wet. However, they work on the same principle as wetsuits in that they let the water in, hold it close to your skin and then your body heat can keep the water a bit warmer than what’s outside, and hence, keep your hands warmer than if they were wet and exposed to the wind/outside air. I’ve used them down to a few degrees above freezing with relative comfort and used them during humid summer rains as well to add better grip as well.

Since I’ve picked these up, I’ve noticed that some bike companies are actually marketing gloves now that are closer to what these actually are, maybe they’re picking up on the need for a glove of this type. I haven’t had a chance to test/use any of them. Often times ‘bike specific’ unfortunately translates to $$$. The gloves I have seem to be some sort of generic/house brand, indeed they don’t even have any tags/identifying graphics. For the $24 they cost me, they’ve been one of the best purchases value-for-use-wise I’ve ever made with regards to bike kit.