Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Cycling Gear continued...

To continue from the prior post, this is the conclusion to my winter riding gear overview. 

Head Gear

There are many options when it comes to keeping you head warm, depending on how much of your face you also want to protect. If you are looking around in your closet for something, keep in mind whatever you choose needs to fit comfortably under your helmet. My primary concern when out in the cold, in addition to keeping my head warm, is keeping my ears from freezing. For this, I found the Sugoi SubZero Skull Cap to be an excellent choice. It is very thin and barely noticeable on your head, yet holds the heat in as well as most thick winter toques. If you are looking for additional protection, a balaclava would be a fine choice to increase coverage to your cheeks, chin and neck. There are many other head and face protection options available and they seem to be universal for many winter activities that use helmets including skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling.  For those guys looking for an excuse not to shave, keeping your face warm is the perfect reason to grow a beard.


I saved the most important for last. You can use your shoes that you use all season, but your feet will be cold, more accurately, frozen by the time your ride comes to an end. Even with a couple layers of socks, you will need some cold weather assistance in the footwear department. There are a couple options available, one of which is winter booties, which slip on over your existing cycling shoes. My friend Sheldon over at did a great review of the Sugoi winter riding bootie.  These booties definitely help keep the snow and cold off your feet but they are a hassle. Booties are difficult to get on and the toes tend to come up if you encounter a hike-a-bike section allowing snow to get in your shoe vents.  Finally, they are not very durable as I have wore out the pair I purchased last season in about 15 rides. That being said, this is definitely the way to go if you are only going to ride a few times over the winter or if you just want to see if winter riding is for you.

If you have already made the decision that you will be riding in the winter on a regular basis, the only option is a winter specific cycling shoe or boot. A few of us had a good discussion about winter footwear prior to our ride last Sunday. There are plenty of good options available but brand that seemed to be getting the most support was Lake, specifically the MXZ302 model. The opinions were that warmth of the Lake was similar to some other premium boots on the market, but what makes these stand out for users is the Vibram soul which provides superior traction on icy surfaces compared to any other MTB shoe available.  If you find you aren't doing much walking, other less expensive options are available including popular cycling shoe brands such as Sidi and Shimano.


There are several alternatives to going out and buying cold weather gear.  The most important thing to keeping warm, no matter the sport, is dressing in layers and keep the layers as thin as possible.  If you are serious about winter riding, winter cycling shoes/boots are a necessity.  Booties, although better than nothing, aren't of much use and will need to be replaced regularly. 

If you are riding in the winter months, make sure you take a look at the forecast prior to heading out and keep an eye on the time as it gets dark early.  If you are going out by yourself, tell someone where you are going and when they can expect you back in case you are injured.  It wouldn't take long to suffer hypothermia if you are laying in the snow unconscious or with a broken leg.  Take a cell phone in case you experience mechanical troubles beyond your trail side ability to fix.  There are fewer people out and about in the winter months so there is less of a chance someone will find you if you are in trouble.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winter Cycling Gear

In my previous post I discussed winter cycling and the joys of riding in the snow.  After heading out this past Sunday as the mercury dipped down to a frosty -16*C, I have a few thoughts on cold weather gear.

Cold weather gear specific to cycling is definitely the best option as far as performance and comfort is concerned but there are other options you can try that are a little less costly, especially if you are trying winter cycling for the first time or you are only planning to ride occasionally during the winter months. Also, if you participate in any other outdoor winter activities, some of the winter cycling gear doesn’t transfer well to another winter sport.

Upper Body

I think the most important thing you can do when preparing for outdoor winter activities is to layer your clothing. I use a Nike Dryfit compression fit long sleeve shirt (it doubles as my shirt I wear under my hockey equipment), a long sleeve cycling jersey and one of a couple different light weight, cold weather jackets I use for XC skiing. I doubt these jackets are much different that the cold weather cycling gear so if you already have something similar in your closet you may not have to shell out any additional money.

Lower Body

There are plenty of options for cold weather cycling tights and even though I don’t use them, I have heard that they are well liked by those cyclists who do. I feel that this is one of the items that I can come up with a customized option from my existing wardrobe. Like most people who ride frequently, I already have a large chamois collection which have no other use than cycling. As far as keeping my lower legs warm, I have Nike Dryfit compression fit pants (also wear these under my hockey equipment) and I have a pair of cold weather pants that I use for XC skiing. When I layer these items I don’t think there is any reduction in performance and I stay warm the entire ride. I would say my current mix-and-match of gear is an adequate alternative to specific cold weather tights.


Cycling specific winter gloves are great. The most commonly used style is called Lobster Claws. They are a combination of mitts and gloves with only a thumb and two fingers. Your index and middle fingers go in one side and your ring and pinkie fingers go in the other side. This will keep your fingers a bit warmer in the way mitts do as each finger isn’t isolated as they are in gloves, but still allows you to two finger brake. Again, I use my existing winter gear as I have plenty of gloves that I use for XC skiing. On colder days gloves aren’t as effective as Lobster Claws, but in temperatures warmer than -15*C I have not required anything warmer than my existing gloves.

I will come back to this topic on my next post to address the last two, and in my opinion most important, areas of concern - your head and your feet.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winter Cycling

As the days get shorter, the leaves turn colors and fall off the trees, and the temperature drops, it is just a matter of time before the snow flies when you live in Alberta. That day came on Wednesday here in Edmonton.  For the people who live an active lifestyle, when the cold and snow arrives it signals the time to take up indoor sports or visit the gym more often.  For those who don`t mind the elements, their focus turns to hockey or skiing. Then there are the few crazy individuals who continue to bike throughout the winter months over the snow and ice. At least that is what I thought before I tried winter riding last year.

The most common question I get after being asked if I ride all year long is how do you ride on the snow and ice? Do you use studded tires? Don't you fall a lot? Honestly, I think this is why most people in Edmonton can't drive their cars in the winter. I say this because the same logic applies when driving on snow and ice, regardless of whether it is a car or a bike on top of set of tires. You need to reduce your speed, give yourself more time to stop and don't try to make sudden turns. There is a bit more to pay attention to when on your bike that doesn't apply to your vehicle such as leaning and how much to use your front vs. rear brakes, but the basic winter driving rules apply to both. 

I enjoy winter cycling for the same reason I enjoy night riding - it makes old trails new again. Even though we are blessed to have so much excellent single track in our river valley, trails get a bit boring after riding them through the spring, summer and autumn. Adding a layer of snow adds a new twist to the same old trails and you have to shift your attention as areas of difficulty tend to change. Even though snow will reduce the technical features when roots become covered with snow, climbs and descents can become more difficult.

I found that the skills I was required to improve the most were slow speed bike handling and balance. When you are on a snow covered trail you need to keep on the hard packed area. On the less travelled trails the packed area can be as narrow as 6 inches wide. If your front wheel goes off the hard packed trail it will sink into the soft snow, killing your momentum. If you go off the trail at a high speed you might go over the handlebars, so it is best to reduce your speed.  I compare the skill required to ride these very narrow snow trails similar to that necessary to ride ladder bridges.  But unlike the potentially painful penalty if you fall off a ladder bridge, typically on the snowy trails the worst that happens is you have to put your foot down in a the soft powder and some snow gets in your shoes.

Cycling in the winter isn`t dangerous or crazy any more than it is during the summer.  The most extreme part of winter cycling is the temperatures so just like every other winter sport, you need to dress appropriate for the weather.  I will continue with this theme next post with a look into what you need for riding gear.  Stay tuned!

*photo credits to Sheldon Smart

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Review - Rudy Project Sunglasses

I was lucky enough to receive a 3 year sponsorship from Rudy Project in my first year of racing.  Rudy Project provides athlete sponsorships not only to professional athletes but also to weekend warriors like myself.  They have also sponsored hundred of sporting events throughout the United States and Canada.  Rudy Project is very proud of the quality of their world class eye wear and has a warranty program to back it up with a 3 year limited warranty on the frames and a replacement lens guarantee.  That's right, if you manage to scratch a Rudy Project lens, for a small shipping and handling fee, Rudy Project will replace it - no questions asked.  Also of note, even though it doesn't apply to me, (at least not at this time of my life) almost all of their products are RX-able for those who require prescription eye wear.

Product Options

Rudy Project has over 20 Sport models to choose from, all with several options in frame color and multiple interchangeable lenses.  I chose the Rydon model with carbon colored frame and Impactx Photochromic red lenses.  I chose the lenses first as I wanted the photochromic ability and I liked the red colored lenses.  I chose the Rydon frames for a couple of reasons.  First was that I liked the style, but Rudy Project has many stylish frames that were appealing.  My final decision came down to availability of additional lenses available for each type of frame.  While most other frames that I liked had anywhere from 5 to 13 different types of spare lenses, the Rydon has 18 different spare lens options.  Do I need 18 spare lenses?  Probably not, but I like to have options and the Rydon gives me the most.  


I am very happy with the customizable fit that the Rydon frames provide me.  The nose pieces and the arms are moldable letting you adjust these pieces to conform to your features of your face.  Because of this the glasses stay in the right place all the time; I haven't experienced any tight spots which can pinching or pressure, nor are they loose enough to be sliding off your face or shifting around which would require constant adjustment.  These glasses are also light weight so you don't notice them on your face. 


The lenses provide clear and crisp vision.  The interchangeable lenses are very easy to swap in and out, yet secure enough that I have never experienced a lens falling out, even under impact.  It is worth noting that the photochromic ability only works with direct UV contact, so if you are using them to drive with, they will not get darker in bright conditions.  However, there are replacement lenses that are specified for driving available.  When the photochromic lenses are exposed to direct UV, they adapt to the lighting conditions quickly.  The tint always seemed to be just right and I rarely notice the transition.  From the department of pleasant surprises, these lenses change different colors as the temperature changes!  When it is warm out, the lenses change to a deep red, almost black colored, which was expected with the light red color of the lenses when not in direct UV light.  What was surprising was that in cooler temperatures (around 0*C or colder) the lenses didn't change to a dark red but rather blue!  This was nice to have when riding in the snow as the blue is a much better color for winter riding.  This means I only require 1 set of lenses for riding all seasons!


As promised, these lenses seem unscratchable.  I am not gentle on my eye wear and there isn't a blemish to be found on these lenses after two seasons of racing.  But being scratch-proof was only part of the durability features of this lens as they are also advertised as unbreakable.  On the Rudy Project website they posted a youtube link showing someone hitting an impactx lens with a hammer.  After about 5 strikes there were no signs of impact on the lens whatsoever.  I was wondering if I would really require such a feature in my lenses as I couldn't imagine a situation where lenses would be under such a condition.  It didn't take long until I found out just how well these lenses handle a blow.  In my third race during my first season I crashed, going over my bars and into a jagged tree stump.  As I travelled through the air, face first into the stump, all I could think of as I could see this sharp edge getting closer to my eye was how much losing my eye was going to hurt.  As I impacted the stump, the protruding piece hit me square in the lens and snapped my head back.  My forehead scraped down the tree stump causing some bleeding but all I could think of was that my eye was not injured!  Amazingly, not only did the lens not break after such an impact, but as advertised, there wasn't even a scratch on the lens. 

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for a new pair of sunglasses, you should definitely consider looking at Rudy Project as one of your options.  They have a specific lens for almost any application from driving to sailing to ballistics to cycling to golf.  If you are looking for casual sunglasses, they have those too with over 20 models to choose from.  If you aren't keen on making purchases on the internet or would prefer to try on some different models on before dishing out your hard earned money, visit your local authorized Rudy dealer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trail Review - Breathless

For my first review, I am going to share my thoughts on what has quickly become my favorite trail in Edmonton. For the last month, most of my riding has been at Terwillegar and the new trail called Breathless.

Breathless is an out-and-back trail which is much more technical than most other trails in the city. Some of the technical highlights include a few steep switchbacks, a couple short drops, lots of roots and endless power climbs. The most memorable piece of the trail would be the bench that was cut into the steep river bank. The bench is only a couple feet wide and probably over 50 feet above the valley floor at it's highest elevation. There is a severe penalty for failure so needless to say, if you have a fear of heights or have doubts about your skills, this is not a trail for you.

Breathless is a new trail and it shows in certain areas. The soil conditions change frequently throughout the trail, ranging from grassy to sandy to loamy to hard pack. The sandy and loamy sections are still quite loose and it will take some moisture and a lot of traffic to really pack these areas in. Another condition to be aware of is that there are plenty of sharp, rooty stumps from the bushes that were cleared in a few concentrated areas. You will get a lot of tire 'pop' off of these stumps as your wheels deflect off of them. I am running light XC race tires and have not had a puncture from these so you don't need to be too concerned about flatting.  Also of note, work on the trail is not complete as the trail flows nicely then comes to an abrupt end, but don't let that stop you from checking it out.  The work that has been done is amazing and everyone that I have ridden with on the trail has been impressed by how well the existing terrain has been utilized.  Kudos to those who have spent countless hours building so the rest of us can reap the benefits.

Some of the steeper sections of Breathless are only rideable one direction. For me, there are four sections that I can not pedal up and I consider hike-a-bike sections. On the way out, there are three sections that you are required to push and they are lumped quite close together: the climb just before the bench, going up the switchback just after the bench, and the last climb before the meadow. On the way back, the only section I would consider a requirement to push would be going up the switchbacks before the climb back to the meadow.  With how steep many of the sections of this trail are, I would not recommend trying to ride it if conditions are not dry or tacky.  You definitely require maximum traction and if conditions are muddy or snowy I don't think this trail can be safely navigated.

If you are a fan of gravity, the hike-a-bike sections I mentioned are most appealing when pointing your front wheel down. All 4 of those sections all have at least one tight turn in them so be sure to keep your speed in check. If you are the kind of rider who enjoys cranking up the speed and maintaining a fast pace, you may not enjoy this trail. There are very few places where you can pick up much speed, and nowhere that you can maintain momentum. The trail is full of twists and turns with short power climbs lurking around every corner. This trail really works on your low speed bike handling skills as well as your anaerobic climbing. If you aren't used to doing lots of power climbs in your ride, by the time you make your way out-and-back you will know why it was named Breathless.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Welcome to those of you who have stumbled their way to my blog! I have blogged on an off for the past 5 years but I never had a purpose other than to dump whatever was on my mind.  I was never consistent with posting, sometimes posting several 'articles' a week then going up to 6 months with nothing.  Hopefully this attempt will be a bit more successful as far as consistency is concerned. 

Now that I have completed my second season of XC mountain bike racing, I wanted to 'give back' in the form of sharing my experiences. Also, I am one of very few racers on the local race circuit who are riding a 29er. As the 29er trend continues to grow, I would like to let everyone else know what 29er specific equipment has worked well for me and what hasn't.  I'm sure that non-29er equipment will also work its way in every now and then, but it won't be my focus.  What I don't want to do is copy what other local bloggers I read are already doing.  My goal is to provide something different.

Currently, the weather has been very cooperative for November so I have been trying to get out on the trails as often as my schedule permits. This is an excellent time of year to ride as the leaves are gone from the trees giving you great sight lines, trails are dry and firm, and with the cooler temperatures you aren't overheating.