Surly Intergalactic Product Tester!

First of all, sorry for the bit of radio silence on the blog the past couple of weeks. We’ve been taking some much needed away to spend with our neglected friends and families. Planning all of these really cool bike rides, workshops, and such tends to be exhausting and a gal can burn herself out if she’s not careful!

Ok, now back to our scheduled programming! I’ve been selected to be a part of an awesome new pilot program Surly (as in the bikes, not the delicious beer) has put together to get some feedback on their current product line up. The people testing the products are all women folk, as Surly would like to potentially expand their softwoods to include more lady friendly items. There were around 750 applicants total and those crazy bastards chose ME! I must have had one hell of an application or I was touched by bike angels or something. All I can say is I’m incredibly honored to be a part of it all and a big shout out Christina a.k.a Jules (per the Surly blog) for making all of my dreams come true.

The way the program has been set up is that we get sent one item out of a series of items that we noted we were most interested in. Surly then picks the item they want you to test based off of your size (body style) and location.

I was beyond thrilled when I received my envelope at my work mailbox. I couldn’t wait to go home to tear it open and see what was inside! Not only did they hook me up with the Surly Striped Raglan Shirt, but they included some pretty kick ass stickers, as well as instructions as to what I was to do with said items.

My initial reaction to the shirt was, “SOFT!” I kid you not, it was the most soft piece of wool clothing I’ve ever felt in my life. Had I not been standing in my parking garage when I tore open the package, I would have stripped down and put that bad boy on right then and there. Luckily for my neighbors I made it all the way to my condo before tossing my work bag and mail on the floor, then disrobing to put on the shirt. 15690388570_2a0e943a96_k
The shirt was soft and warm and comfortable all at once. I own some base layers from other companies who claim to have fancy itch free wool and they don’t even compare to the Surly stuff. I had none of the claustrophobic itchy wool feeling at all from the Raglan. I can also say that about the Surly long sleeve jersey I’ve had for the past couple of years. I’ve posted about the jersey in the past if you look back on the blog. I’m glad that so far both items seem to have the same level of quality. This is my third season of wearing the long sleeve jersey for winter commuting and it’s held up really well.

I ended up wearing the Raglan for two days straight without washing it. I even slept in the thing and wore it to work after that. No, I’m not trying to be a dirty hippie (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I just wanted to test the wool’s odor repelling properties. It did a fantastic job of keeping the stink away. A big plus for if you are bike commuting to work and sweat a lot or if you need to travel light and don’t have access to laundry facilities.

The longer I wore the shirt, the comfier it became due to it stretching out a little bit. Sometimes when you put on a new wool shirt, it can be a little on the form fitting side. As you wear it the more it breaks in, kind of like a pair of jeans.

I ended up commuting to work a couple of days with the shirt as my base layer. Actually, I just wore the Raglan and my Patagonia down jacket over it and was good in 25 degree weather. It helped wick the sweat away and kept me warm. It’s nice to have a piece like that in your wardrobe. Sometimes I don’t want to wear three to four layers while riding. It’s much more comfortable to just have one or two.

I want to note that I am not being compensated by Surly for any part of this product testing. I’m giving my honest opinion of the product. In fact I will cover my pro’s and con’s of the Raglan below. There are a few changes I would like to see if they decide to make a “women’s specific” version of the shirt as it’s mostly marketed as a men’s or unisex product currently.

Pros:
-Extremely comfortable fabric
-Stitching and garment seem to be durable
-Garment length in the torso (great for being in a road riding position)
-Garment length in the arms (arms are long enough to prevent drafts when commuting)
-Screen printed tag (no annoying tag rubbing your neck)
-Competitively priced (when compared to similar products from companies such as Smartwool, Ibex,   etc. who sell woolen goods)
-Wicks moisture well
-Doesn’t stink after a few wears
-More comfortable as you wear it
-NO ITCH!
-You can wear it off the bike and not look like a roadie or tri dork. Totally passes as regular, non bike clothing.

Cons:
-The cut isn’t the most flattering if you have any extra cushion or are more shapely
-The color isn’t bad, but I’d like to see something like a black and white striped or maybe even a solid color with polka dot pattern (it could be something like little fat bikes or little surly logos instead of polka dots, but you get my drift) Something to make it a little more fashionable 😉
-Not made in the USA like some other wool items, but with that comes a much higher price point
-You can’t dry wool in the dryer, but that’s the nature of wool

Surly, in my opinion, has done a pretty great job with their existing soft goods. I purchased the long sleeve jersey with my own money and would do it again. If they end up coming out with a “ladies” version of the Raglan shirt, I would also spend my own money to buy one. I would also consider giving it as a gift. I can think of a few men in my life who work outdoors and would greatly appreciate having something like the Stripped Raglan.

I would definitely recommend any of their items (with confidence that they will hold up) to a friend or family member. I plan to continue to wear the shirt and look forward to reporting back on how it is holding up. Hopefully, if all goes well I will have one or two more items to test and share my thoughts on, but since the program is in its infancy, we shall see!

Thanks again to all the kick ass folks at Surly for making items that every day cyclists need and like to use. They aren’t here to sell you the lightest and most expensive of anything and aim to just make kick ass gear and I think they’ve succeeded!

**A special thanks for my friend Mary for letting me borrow her Pugsley for the fat bike photo!

Madison Bike Winter and Women & Bicycles Madison Want to Teach You How to Ride in the Cold!

There’s not one, but TWO fantastic opportunities for Madison area cyclists to learn about cold weather riding. The first is Madison Bike Winter’s Annual Fashion Show. The fashion show is open to the public and is being hosted at Machinery Row Bicycles.

The show starts at 5pm this Sunday and is BYOB!
Fashions covered in the show will include everything form high-tech, top notch new items from a variety of manufacturers to great D.I.Y style outfits and finds from your local thrift store.

Click the photo for more info!

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The second event is being hosted by the Wisconsin Bike Fed, Women & Bicycles, and Spoke Haven.

Join us November 12th (Wednesday)
7pm at the Wisconsin Bike Fed’s Madison Office

There’s a Women’s Winter Bike Panel consisting of ladies who work in the local cycling industry or have extensive experience with year round bike riding.

Topics covered will include clothing choices, accessories for on the bike, what types of bikes work best for winter riding, and any other topics attendees care to talk about. There will be a short introduction and overview from each of the panel members, then the rest will be open discussion time to allow for a range of questions.

Beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages will be available for all attendees. There’s also a small raffle package that each attendee will automatically be entered to win with some bike related goodies to get you on your way to riding through the winter!

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Surviving Below 0 Rides

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Don’t be caught out in the cold looking like this guy!

Here are a few quick tips on how to survive riding in below 0 temps.

1. Cover any possibly exposed skin with Vaseline or Aquaphor
In negative degree winter weather it can take literally a few minutes for frostbite to set in. A thin coating of a petroleum based product on your skin will help put a barrier between you and the freezing cold. It also helps retain moisture so your skin doesn’t get dry and peel.

You can kind of equate it to getting a bad sunburn. OUCH!

2. DON’T WEAR COTTON!
Cotton does a really good job of holding in moisture, that’s not what you want when trying to stay warm and dry. Look for a base layer made of wool or a good synthetic that draws moisture away from your body. The benefit of wool is that even when it’s wet, it’ll keep you warm.

3. Try to wear or at least carry 3 layers worth of clothing.
Ideally you’ll want a good tight for your legs and a base layer for you torso. Find a good mid layer that insulates, but can also still breath. Your outer most layer should be some type of wind resistant pant/jacket combo. A jacket with pit zips is nice to help regulate temperature.

4. Cover your head.
Wearing a balaclava or insulated cycling cap, or a wool stocking cap under a helmet is the best way to go. Balaclavas are usually the best option as they cover more skin and help keep the neck warm as well. The head and feet play a big role in keeping your core body temp in check. Be sure to make sure each of them are properly dressed.

5. Goggles, goggle, goggles.
Did you know your eyes basically survive off of water and body moisture? In freezing temps anything wet will freeze. This includes your eye balls and it’s not fun riding with icicles forming on your lashes and your lids sticking together!

Pick up a pair of cheap ski goggles if you expect to do any riding below freezing. Basic sunglasses simply don’t cut it.

Those are our tips for the day. There are many resources available out there for winter bike riding. We quite enjoy BikeWinter.org. It’s a great resource for learning how to survive the cold while riding. There are also lots of fun local events posted on there for a number of cities. Madison had its own chapter of Bike Winter and Winter Bike to Work Week.

Have fun everyone and please, stay warm!

Winter Cycling Gear

Snow has landed in Madison and it looks like it’s here to stay. We wanted to take a couple minutes and chat about what type of gear you should be using for winter commuting or winter cycling in general. Most of these products we’ve featured on the site before, but they are just to give a good base of what types of items you should be investing in to ride safely and comfortably in the cold, snowy weather.

We of course encourage wearing a much wool as you can afford. Investing in a high quality wool mid or base layer can make a huge difference. Wool works well for regulating body temperature meaning it will help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It wicks away moisture and keeps you from being stinky. A lot of the poly materials out there will often times stay wet or smell awful after a day of riding in the cold.

Wool socks and hats are quite nice as they keep the toes much warmer than cotton and they won’t stink after working up a sweat. I can’t tell how many hats I’ve had to eventually retire because of the dreaded sweaty hair smell. No amount of washing seemed help after awhile. Wool hats/balaclavas haven’t fallen into that trap. Ibex is our brand of choice as they their products are made in the USA, but Smartwool and other companies have great options available as well.

Helmets. Honestly you can pretty much ride in whatever helmet you like in the winter since you’ll most likely be wearing a hat, but Bern is unique in that they have special insulated liners that can be snapped in the helmet. We don’t have much experience with Bern yet, but we’ve had many friends express that they really love their helmets and all the accessories they can use with their helmets (Bern also makes audio accessories).

Goggles aren’t the first thing that comes to mind with cycling, but they sure do help when the temperature is so low that your eyeballs about freeze shut! Gusty winds and heavy snow can also make for a really difficult ride. We’ve been known to wear clear safety glasses in a pinch on rides home where the snow was coming down hard. Goggles are better as they are designed to keep good airflow and have anti-fog properties. We use Spy branded goggles as they are easy to find and fairly prices. Kids sized goggles work well for ladies with extra small faces.

Down is another material we really like. Pairing down and wool together will almost always ensure that you’ll stay warm. Brands like Patagonia, Outdoor Research, and Mountain Hardwear all make fantastic down hoodies and zip ups. They don’t call them jackets, but that’s what they essentially are. The hoodies are very lightweight, packable, and fairly breathable. The loft from the down is what keeps you warm as it traps in warm air. The downsides to down are that if it gets wet, you’ll end up cold. The other is that some folks are highly allergic to down.

Look for a down jacket that has a DWR finish that has built in water resistance or plan on wearing a very light shell or top layer to help protect against heavy, wet snowfall. We use our Bontrager vests as a top layer as they keep things dry enough that we don’t worry about soggy rides.

Finding a good insulated boot or shoe is important for keeping your toes warm. Frostbite in the extremities is not a laughing matter. It can come on quick and can be quite painful. Look for shoe or boot that has some sort of water protection. If you don’t opt. for a full boot, you may want to consider using waterproof gaiters. Outdoor Research, 45NRTH, Black Diamond, Mountain Hardwear, and many other companies make great products for wet and cold conditions.

Gloves. Gloves can really make or break a winter bike ride. Too thin and you’ll have painfully cold fingers, too bulky and you’ll have a hard time shifting, poor padding and you’ll get pinching/discomfort. You really need to do some experimenting if you plan on wearing gloves vs. using Pogies or Bar Mitts. Pogies and Bar Mitts are items you install on the handlebars of your bike and protect your hands against the cold.

We tend wear gloves as we have short commutes and like still having some sort of protection on should we need to walk our bikes or do some sort of maintenance. Craft’s lobster gloves are a favorite of ours for really cold weather. For a little more mild weather we also enjoy Pearl Izumi’s thermal long finger gloves or Answer’s long finger gloves. All of them are very comfortable on and off the bike.

Last but not least, we’ll talk a little bit about keeping your legs warm. Legs are more likely to get cold versus your upper body or core. Your legs are way less protected on the bike and take the brunt of wind force. Thermal or lined tights are always a fantastic option. On a warmer day they can be worn alone. They can be paired with bib shorts or bike shorts. They can also be used as an under layer under jeans or waterproof rain pants. Craft, Moving Comfort, Pearl Izumi, and even Target aka Champion makes some kick ass thermal tight options.
Another option would be to get some good merino base layer thermal underwear or even a union suit. Merino is expensive though, so it may be work looking into the thermal tights since they are designed to be used standalone as well as with an over layer. Thermal underwear aren’t really designed to be used by themselves.

A couple of additional notes is making sure you have reliable gear with you on the bike. Good rechargeable lights that won’t fail in extremely cold weather is important since it gets dark early. Light & Motion has stood the test of time for us. An easy to use road pump (remember you are bundled and wearing gloves) is also important. Lezyne’s Micro Floor Pump is super easy to use as it mimics how a full size floor pump works. Studded tires! Duh, pretty common sense when riding in ice and snow. 45NRTH, Schwalbe, Vittoria, Continental, and other brands all make great winter tires. Keeping your lips and exposed face protected is also very important. Riding in the dry, cold weather will take a toll on your skin. Carmex, Bag Balm, Aquaphor, and Badger Balm all do a great job of protecting skin. Fender. They cover your @ss! We like PDW’s Soda Pop & Origami fenders best as they are easy to install and remove.

We hope some of our tips were helpful for you. Riding in the ice and snow can be intimidating at first, but you’ll find with a little experience and experimentation that it can be just as or even more enjoyable than riding in warm weather!

If you have any tips or tricks to share or want more info on how to safely ride in the winter, please drop us a line on our contact page!

 

What’s In Your Seat Bag Pt. 2

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It’s about time we rolled out another What’s In Your Seat Bag?

Most of these items wouldn’t fit in a standard under saddle bag, but they would be stellar additions to a pannier, rack top bag, or a saddle trunk. These items come with us on any ride outside of comfortable walking distance or if we’re going to be out in the boonies.

Starting from the upper left hand side and going across we start with the Go Girl. For ladies, this little gadget will improve your life exponentially! The Go Girl allows you to stand up and use the bathroom. No squatting necessary and not oops moments that require clean up. We especially love the Go Girl while wearing bibs. Not many bib short makers allow for you to drop trou easily. The Go Girl is made out of a soft silicone material and comes in a handy carrying case. Usually all you need is a little squirt of water to rinse it off before rolling it up and you’re good to go!
Bonus: Take this gadget camping, to festivals, travel trips, and anywhere where the bathroom situation may be sketchy.

Next is the Bontrager windshell vest. We LOVE our hi-vis vests as they add a light-weight, breathable layer that lets us stick out safely in traffic. This particular vest packs down very small and can be placed in a jersey pocket easily. Our vests have been worn in all temperature ranges and have never let us down. The vest isn’t water proof, but is very water resistant and dries quickly. They also come in handy for fall riding through the woods or on rail trails. Staying bright is important if you live in a state where hunting is a popular sport!

Hoo Ha! The name is silly, but we wouldn’t recommend anything else. Our big bottles of Hoo Ha come with us on all our long group rides. Men and women enjoy this chamois cream as it uses all natural ingredients, has a really nice aroma, and has a nice cooling sensation. Reflect Sports, the makers of Hoo Ha are a woman owned company and they make all their products in the USA! Check them out at our link to the right on our page. They sell large bottles of the chamois cream or handy mini packs for tossing into a seat pack or jersey pocket.

While out on the open road or trail, there’s nothing more comforting than knowing you have a good pump. Getting a flat on a ride is never fun, but Lezyne’s Micro Floor Drive is the next best thing to having your full size pump with you. The Micro Floor Drive allows you to inflate both presta and shrader valves, boasts a pressure guage, and is fully rebuild-able. Your forearms will thank you the next time you get a flat with this pump!

T9 Boeshield has found many uses in our house, but it’s also a fantastic chain lube. You know that person on your ride who always seems to have the squeaky bike? Do them a favor and bring a little of this or some Phil’s Lube with you next time. T9 has been used this in a pinch on creaky pedals, bottom brackets, and other moving parts.

First Aid Kits. They come in so handy and they are so worth their weight! We’ve used everything from the shown Johnson & Johnson basic kit to Adventure Medical’s more comprehensive kits. Even the D.I.Y bandages with wet wipes have helped clean some scrapes. Crashes happen a lot more than we’d like to admit. A first aid kit really helped us out last weekend when Cassandra wrecked her arm and needed to clean out the dirt & debris. Bandages and alcohol pads are great, but throw in some travel size ibuprofen, antihistamine, and anti-diarrhea meds to cover all your bases.

All of these items are fantastic to have in your arsenal whether you’re a casual rider, roadie, or hardcore commuter. We’ll continue this post series where we integrate some lifestyle products and even some bike camping S240 (sub 24 hour trip) gear. It’s easy to escape city life with just a few essential items!