Archive for December, 2011
With the winter commute in full force, including wet 28-Fahrenheit downhill runs to the ferry, minutes standing on the front bow of said ferry in the same rain, but not moving at all, followed by two sequential hillclimbs punctuated by a 30mph run for a mile through Seattle’s Battery Street Tunnel (this itself is worthy of its own post) and another 40mph downhill. Some days it’s freezing for the first run, and 50+ degrees for the run home.
One jacket must do it all.
Tough situation, so I have gone through three jackets, two of which will be covered here today. The third, the Showers Pass Elite 2.0 has been replaced by a Showers Pass softshell trainer, and that is fodder for yet another post.
The Castelli Espresso Due is an awesome jacket. It’s made of stretchy Gore Windstopper, has a great feel in the hand, and some unique features. But in execution some of the details fell short, and that’s why it went back home to the wonderful folks at WesternBikeWorks.com and the Gore Bike Wear is still here. The brushed interior of the Castelli jacket is awesome, and it does block the wind and rain. Likewise, it’s actually heavier in thickness than the Gore Tool, but it is so vented that it couldn’t keep me warm enough at times. That’s because of a very strange feature that isn’t advertised: the entire back of the jacket, from the top of the shoulders down to the waist, is “detached” from the sleeves and free-floating on top of an inner liner. Said a different way, if you reach behind each sleeve where it attaches to the shoulder, you can slide your hand between a mesh liner layer and the exterior Windstopper shell and poke your arm out of the other side of the jacket at the shoulder, or even push your hand down all the way to the waist where you can then bend your hand to make it poke out of the rear pockets! This means all kinds of strange things happen: your keys can end up sliding out of the rear pockets and end up between the back shell fabric and the inner mesh (this happened to me); if you lift up a pocket into the wind while riding with a flat back, you get a nice cold whoosh of air into your back; and if you turn sideways and flex your shoulder blades, a nice whoosh of cold air inflates the whole back of the jacket.
This design means the Espresso feels wonderful when on the bike: no binding on the upper sleeves, your arms move wonderfully, and you feel like you have on very nice pyjamas. But it also means that there is always a cooling effect, and on really cold days, especially when you’re standing still for a few minutes, it’s a bit of a drag, as there’s a bit more cooling effect than I wanted.
But the real reasons the jacket went back were more driven by issues with zippers and pocket retention than the vented back. There are sleeve vents on the last few inches of each sleeve. In theory they are supposed to allow one to vent the arms, and seal the jacket over gloves. In practice even when closed, a cold wind blows through the zippers. When riding it’s virtually impossible to zip them shut after they’ve been opened as they catch the inner liner, and even when just standing around one has to tightly grab the fabric of the arm when trying to zip them down, all the while hoping that the zipper pulls don’t break or the zipper itself doesn’t fail. A little too much stressful and annoying for a $300 jacket.
In addition, the pitifully small chest vents only open about a centimeter wide as they are backed by mesh. So when they are open, there is precious little cooling airflow, especially given that one usually vents on a climb where speed may drop to 10-15mph. Trying to zip them open during a ride is frustrating: the little teardrop zipper pulls may be aero, and they’re almost impossible to locate with a gloved hand while on a bike. Zipping them up? Forget about it. This requires no-hands riding while one gloved hand feels around on the chest and the other grips the fabric to allow you to zip it rather than just pull the jacket around by the still-open zip.
Last, it only took 2 rides before I found my keys swimming around in between the outer jacket shell and the back liner: again all three rear pockets are open to the area between the exterior shell and the inner mesh liner.
In sum, the Castelli Espresso Due Jacket is terrific feeling to wear, and feels extraordinary on the bike, but falls down in daily function. I wanted to keep it, especially with all the other Castelli gear that I have, but just couldn’t justify putting up with all those pesky zipper and drafts and disappearing keys.
By contrast the Gore Bike Wear Tool Jacket, although touted as a Mountain Bike jacket, fits pretty tightly, has exterior tape-sealed seams, pit zips, and keep things otherwise pretty simple. It also has a zippered chest pocket opening to the outside of the jacket, and one more zippered pocket on top of the three rear pockets. There are toggles on the zippers, so one can close and open them on the bike, with gloves, and the pit zips open large. They are also backed by mesh, and some care must be taken when zipping them back up on the bike, but it is possible without PRO handling skills. I still use two hands, but it only takes me about 3 seconds to zip up both sides.
The fit is great, though not as sublime feeling as the Castelli, and there are no drafts. When you want to dump heat, the pit zips are great, even at low speeds. There is also a neck drawstring. The sleeves end in an elastic which, coupled with the flared ends of my gloves, means zero drafts there.
By comparison, the jacket is simple, and it’s effective. Highly recommended.
As a followup to my previous post as I unboxed the Kask Urban Lifestyle helmet, I’ve now had a few weeks of daily riding experience in the helmet, and I like the helmet.
Since it has limited vents (and since it’s cold right now here) it’s kept me a great deal warmer than the giro and uvex helmets I’ve been riding previously. The internal liner also wraps the head, and comes out for machine washing – another good idea. When the internal liner is removed, you can see that the shape is almost that of a hat rather than the strips of padding that are found with the most common helmet shapes today.
The visor (or should I call it a face shield?) is a huge plus. On my first ride it somehow got scratched a little bit, but hasn’t gotten scratched since then, so I say it’s good for durability. With the visor down I see a bit of internal reflection from my glasses, which I thought would bother me long-term, but after the first few rides I’ve totally forgotten about it. The visor rides on the end of my nose, and it has rubber padding there. Oddly the owner’s manual covers the protective ratings of the face shield, which perhaps means they also use that face shield/visor for arborist, rescue, or ski applications (Kask makes helmets for all kinds of things).
When down, the face shield has protected me from driving rain (not a drop on my head or my eyeglasses) and more importantly, from wind. At 30, 40, and even 50+ mph there is no direct wind to the eyes, no eye watering, and even in 28-degree (F) rides as 35mph, I’ve never had problems with tears in my eyes. This was my main motivation for buying the helmet: mission accomplished!
That said, even with the visor down there is windflow around the eyes, including a very light stream coming from between the top of the face shield and the front of the helmet. This combines so that I’ve also never had an issue with fogging, even though the face shield basically sits on the top of my cheeks.
While I have the mirrored lens, there is very little difference in perceived light from the inside of the visor versus not having it down, so I ride with the visor down even in the dark, and prefer it that way.
The visor clicks up and down solidly, and doesn’t creep.
Since it has a dial-driven band which circles the head, adjusting the helmet for a bare head or beanie-covered skull is trivial. The helmet straps were great right out of the box, and I haven’t adjusted them. I would prefer a buckle like the Uvex boss race that adjusts with one hand, but I haven’t really needed that to date.
So in terms of winter, fall and spring riding, this helmet is nirvana. Problem solved.
I’ve been very interested in cycling helmets with a visor for one simple reason: on cold commute rides, my eyes water so much I can’t see where I’m going. I’ve also heard that the helmets keep your face warmer, and your head warmer.
Enter the Kask Urban Lifestyle helmet.
With the visor, my large white version weighs 470g, and fit very nicely. The finish of the helmet and visor is terrific: glassy, smooth and flawless. There is a neat badge on the back of the helmet, and the logos are a bit loud, but somewhat classy. The vents are pretty small on the top, but I will give a ride report tomorrow to cover how well they do.
There is an inner liner which covers the whole head, and looks to be a coolmax material or similar. It can be removed for machine washing.
The webbing (straps) are all faux leather, and feel great to the touch initially. There is a single buckle chinstrap adjustment – I wish they had copied Uvex or others who have a continuously adjusting chinstrap, instead, as any adjustments to that strap are definitely a two-hands, helmet off, operation.
Around the head there is a band which loosens and tightens via a dial at the back of the head, which works very nicely. Uvex shares the same kind of head ring, and I like that style a great deal as I can wear a hat underneath and easily adjust for the difference with one hand.
The visor comes down with a solid click, and rests on the tip of the nose (1cm from the end of my nose) which means I should get great coverage from the wind. More on that and a ride report tomorrow where I can address fogging, visor quality, fit and venting while riding, wind noise, and how warm this helmet keeps my noggin.
By the way – there appears to be a slot above the ears between the shell and the inner polystyrene which I am hoping would allow for snap-in ear flaps, but nothing from kask’s website speaks to that.
If you’re tracking me via linkedin, you have noted that I’ve joined Tableau Software, and I’ve just started playing with Tableau Public, which allows you to share your visualizations with others on the web. I created a quick viz around income growth and inequality using data from the UN Wilder project blended with data from the World Bank on GDP per capita. Blending this type of data used to be extremely tough, but with Tableau it’s simple to do, and means I can produce this type of analysis in minutes.