Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Giro Ambient Glove Review

I was on the fence about purchasing these for quite a while.  I’ve had them on my radar for over a year.  A crazy closeout price nudged me and I jumped. I am a sucker for a deal.  If not for the notable luck I have had with Giro shoes and gloves I never would have taken the chance.

My hesitation was due to my research of reviews online.  I really value finding reviewers I can trust.  It seems the more popular bloggers tend to pander to manufacturers and the knowledge and objectivity of others is often a risk.  

The miracle and the curse of the internet is it is up to the reader to separate the expert from the buffoon.  As an example there isn’t a wealth of information on tubeless tires on the web. When you finally find someone who has tried the combination you are interested in, you have to make an assessment of their level of expertise to assign a degree of credibility to their findings. When you realize their tubeless configuration included duct tape and Elmer’s glue you quickly dismiss their findings and resume your search for real data.

Some reviewers that I have found to be reliable are Transit Interface, Against the Grain, spokane dude, Lynne and BikeloveJones and Lovely Bicycle.

I have just one more nit before getting to the glove review.  The buffoon factor is increased when people use a product for something other than its intended purpose. If someone gives a wool T-shirt one star because it didn’t keep them dry in the rain I want to hit a loud buzzer to indicate a wrong answer. Come on folks, we can do better.

This winter one of my goals was to get my glove world dialed in.  I started noting what worked and what didn’t and the temperatures and conditions (wet or dry).  Soon I found happy zones for most of my gloves.

One of the few Ambient glove reviews I did find said they weren’t good in the rain.  I have to deal with rain about ten months out of the year so this concerned me.  After pulling the trigger, I figured I would be finding out for myself.

I opted for the bright reddish-orange (and black) versions of the glove.  For my city rides I like my gloves to be bright so when I use hand signals cars can see where I’m going.  There is a small pad on the heal of the palm which I appreciate on a winter glove.  Just because it is cold doesn’t mean you aren’t riding fast. Some tacky stuff on the thumb and first two fingers is good as well and these tick that box. They fit my normal shaped hands just fine.  A small swatch of Velcro on the back of the hand cinches the wrist closed. The gloves don’t have any gauntlet.
The warmth comes from a highly textured fleece lining inside. There is a stretchy material on the back of the glove. The palm and inside of the fingers is a suede-like miracle fabric. Dexterity is very good. Warmth without bulk is the goal for all cold weather gloves.

On the bike:
I’ve found the temperature rating of 40-50F is valid.  With a medium weight wool liner I have worn them down to 30F and been just fine.  The strength of this glove is its ability to breath.  I’ve been comfortable with these on rides up to six hours. I’m not saying the performance drops off after six hours; I’m saying that is as far as I could go at the time and they were fine the whole ride. The loft of the fleece allows them to fit well both with and without a liner.  That is a valuable asset.
Note the grid...  Your paws goes in here !
The back of the liners do get damp if your hands start to sweat, but the back of the gloves allows the moisture to escape. Imagine wearing a fleece jacket under a breathable nylon windbreaker. You can get that combination pretty wet and it will remain warm as long as you keep moving.  The palms never felt clammy and I never pulled my hands out to find any pruning on my skin.

My experience has been that in the rain my hands remained warm but were not necessarily dry.  I can’t say if they were wet with sweat or from the rain, but I was comfortable and if all is well, don’t ask too many questions.   As a comparison I have some lightweight windstopper fleece gloves from Outdoor Research that I love. They keep my hands dry in a medium rain for about thirty minutes then they soak through and are cold, clammy and downright miserable. 

In dry conditions I the Ambient gloves perform exceptionally well. The breathability is noteworthy and with the pad you can hammer in the drops or cruise on the bar tops comfortably.   Typically a warm glove feels good and then they overheat, get sweaty and then are cold. The Ambient’s don’t overheat and if you do sweat they manage the moisture well.

One thing I noticed was that without a gauntlet there have been a couple times when my wrists were exposed to the cold.  I’m not sure I would add a gauntlet if I could, but I did notice my wrists were cold and I found myself tugging my sleeves down to cover my wrists.  Adding a gauntlet might well have more drawbacks than benefits.

I am extremely happy with the Giro Ambient Gloves. Part of that satisfaction comes from trying to use them for their intended purpose. They are great in dry to damp rides between 40-50 degrees F.  Adding liners extended them another six to ten degrees.  They seem to be wearing well and they dry quickly which is a valuable trait. The dexterity is excellent and they are very visible.

The conditions in which these gloves excel are the conditions that we see a lot of here in the Northwest. These have become my go-to glove for these rides.   

Five of Five Evos !!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The constant of change

Now what ?
It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that I was perpetually cold and adding clothing layers in an attempt to adapt to the onset of winter. We had enough winter that I finally managed to classify my assortment of gloves into various temperature range increments.  Ironically I will forget these details next winter and will have to relearn them through trial and error.  This is my lot in life.

When we got our cabin last February it kicked off a chain of events that was beyond unexpected.  One of my favorite questions is to ask people is what turned out to be different about a particular experience compared to what they had expected.  The constant change of the Methow was the most unexpected revelation of the past twelve months. The area truly is alive.  Witnessing the seasons change is energizing and inspiring.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again; each week from February to the middle of July is different.  My preconceived notion was that there was winter, the mud season and summer.  I imagined those three periods were distinct and finite.
See the patches of snow ?
Winter departs slowly but predictably.  The melting pattern creeps up the valley as spring establishes a foothold. At first only the roads are clear of snow followed by the emergence of patches of bare ground here and there until finally the only snow on the ground is the remnants of piles left by snow plows and roof dumps.  By the time that melts we are wearing sandals and stocking up on sunscreen.
I incorrectly thought the “Mud Season” lasted from late March to Late May. It turns out the transition from snow to dirt happens pretty fast and for any given spot it is more accurately “mud week.”  Our mud week and Mazama’s mud week are different weeks but you get the idea. Once spring makes its way up the valley it then rapidly ascends into the hills. My beloved gravel roads are impassible with snow one day only to be wide open two weeks later.
The warming weather of last spring kept me trying to adapt myself as well.  I was constantly feeling like I had the wrong clothes and then when I brought the right clothes the next week, the weather had changed again. The one hundred degree swing from January to July has more than enough range to catch anyone off guard multiple times.

This is the time of year when I am once again surprised by the changes around me as the days finally get longer.  I can do yard work after a day at the office. 

We haven’t even ticked off two complete months of 2015 and already I have multiple road rides in the Methow Valley. Hottie and I have continued skiing and fat biking so winter is far from over.  The trend of warmer days and freezing nights typically reserved for March has hit early this year and it is yielding some rare opportunities in the valley. The chance to ski in the morning and ride a bike on the roads in the afternoon is a rare situation and must be taken of advantage of just on the principle of the thing.

On the west side of the Cascades we had a bit of winter. It came early and seems to have been chased out by an early spring.   If this is what climate change looks like locally, I’m okay with it so far.
Despite having experienced spring in the Methow last year with my eyes wide open I fully anticipate being surprised every visit again this year.  Knowing what is coming may lessen the surprise but that is more than made up for by the anticipation.  I will confess I am like a kid on Chismus eve.  The Methow, like my gravel bike, is about to awaken from a pleasant rest and get it going!

I’m ready!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grand Gravel Aspirations

 Don't call him Rudy..
The short days of winter provided numerous quiet evenings at the cabin. I spent many of those evenings pouring over electronic and printed maps of Okanogan County.  The results of my study are new gravel routes added to my bucket list. Last summer as my fitness, knowledge and experience increased it allowed me to journey deeper and deeper into the mountains on dirt roads.  My gravel ambitions for this year are grand and I am salivating at the thought of long gravel rides under blue skies.  

When I first began gravel riding last spring my initial forays felt like pioneering efforts. I didn’t quite feel like I should plant a flag and claim the land for the USA, but I certainly didn’t expect to see anyone else on a bike. At that time I had no idea where my riding would take me. As my love of gravel manifest itself I knew I wanted more. Soon the objectives of my April rides had simply become waypoints; passed without fanfare as part of longer rides that went hours beyond the earlier destinations.  The remoteness of my rides necessitated that I cache some water at two distant and obscure crossroads to refill water bottles on my more epic adventures. 
I explored more areas and gained valuable gravel experience. Although I drew upon my background in Cyclocross, mountain biking and road biking; gravel riding is a unique hybrid that has its own set of rules.  My trial and error included both trials and errors.  My trials included cramps, sore muscles and sunburn. My errors included wrong turns, bonking, running out of water and missing my return time by almost two hours. I found good fortune with minimal weather surprises and undeservedly good luck maintaining tire inflation (don’t even say the word!!).

Even with these experiences I can honestly say I didn’t have a bad gravel ride all year. My fun ranged from the Winthrop Fondo to dodging snow on Elbow Coulee with KB in March and finding feathers with Hottie in September.  Starvation Mountain was a true highpoint.  Ironically I was starving (and a bit dehydrated) and it was the highest elevation that I rode a bike in 2014.
The Curtlo will not be denied !!!
Five years ago I would have said that you used a road bike on the road and a mountain bike on the trails and a four wheel drive vehicle on fire roads.  Now I believe that you can gladly take a cross bike on all of those and you smile the whole time.  I smile so much that when I finish a gravel ride both my chain and my teeth are gritty.

One of the aspects that makes gravel riding enjoyable to me is that you are using a single tool for varied situations.  A lightweight road bike with a big cassette is the perfect tool for a paved climb.  A full suspension mountain bike is the right tool to descend a rocky trail. The mix of terrain and the constantly changing surfaces that make up gravel riding means you are always adapting to suboptimal situations.  It is a challenge to rely on skill to get your tool of the day to work in the myriad of circumstances that makes up the ride de jour.

Even the same road can be different on different days.  Depending on the weather the preceding week I have picked my way downhill one week and been able to bomb down it a month later.
"Avoid the rut"
A week after the Winthrop Fondo I found myself riding the same final fifteen miles that I had raced the week prior.  The conditions were totally different.  Instead of the gravel being smooth from the dozens of riders who preceded me in the race it was rough and I had to manage my speed.  Despite having ridden that stretch of gravel a dozen times before the conditions of the day made it new and demanded my full attention.  

It is perhaps the aspect of spending hours in a Zen-like state that I find so intriguing about gravel riding.  Between the scenery, the terrain, the technical riding skills and the physical effort I don’t find my mind wandering far from the here and now.
The Gravel Fondo season starts in March and extends well into the Cyclocross Season.  I am looking forward to further pedal-powered explorations starting next month.   My goals include organized gravel events, riding to the end of assorted Forest Service roads, repeating Starvation, taking back roads from the Columbia to our cabin and riding to Hart’s pass. 

Last weekend I took advantage of the unusually warm days to Fat Bike in the morning with Hottie and then do some road riding in the afternoon.  I made my way up the Chewuch and turned around at eight mile camp due to time constraints more than any issues with the road surface.   My bike took on a Flemish look as the combination of sandy dry roads and wet dirt roads with a sprinkling of snow patches combined to get my bike about as dirty as it can get.
 Snow build up means I am badass !!
My left knee which I injured fifteen months ago started bothering me at the beginning of the month enough that I took a solid week off.  I saw the Jedi Master of Orthopedic surgeons and we had a good visit. His prescribed period of rest and refrain from excessively stupid activities had the desired results.  

                                                       Oh Yeah !!
My rides this weekend started as tentative endeavors.  Will it or won’t it?  Every hint of any type of sensation drew my attention.  As I warmed up and the ride continued everything operated like it should for a forty year old guy who rides a bunch.  Now, those who know me realize I’m not forty anymore but you can have your benchmark and I’ll have mine. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The upside of vanity

I recently attended a “Tech Talk” event at a local bike shop presented by Seven Cycles.  We were all adults and wise enough to recognize it as an event aimed at selling more bikes.  I am the happy owner of a bike made by Seven that I purchased eight years ago and I have no intention of replacing it. Maybe I was looking for reassurance or maybe I was hoping there would be freebies handed out. Either way I braved a heavy Seattle downpour and took it all in.

Eight years ago I immersed myself in all of the research and propaganda that led me to buy the bike I did.  Between then and now I have spent absolutely no time reconsidering the decision nor have I really paid attention to the latest improvements that could have been mine if only I had waited.  I feel like my bike is perfect for its intended purpose and I intend to continue to love it and ride it as long as I am able.

As he talked about selecting a unique set of tubing for each rider from a variety of tube options with various diameters and wall thicknesses the memories of my earlier research came flooding back to me. I found myself settling back into my perceived sweet spot on the multidimensional matrix of continuums of value, performance, aesthetics, craftsmanship, branding and countless others.  I am generally the same person with the same paradigms I held when I decided Seven was the bike for me eight years ago. Hearing essentially the same data now only served to reinforce my earlier decision. 

The presenter shared the combination of philosophy, artistry, science, passion and people that make up the company and the products it produces.   While the motherhood angle often makes us feel good I am enough of a curmudgeon that if it does not translate into the results I want (a superior product, etc.) then I dismiss it as hogwash.

The presenter mentioned how an increasing number of customers get their Ti frames painted. My frame is bare Ti which I think looks beautiful.   I don’t know the dollar figure but I remember at the time the price of getting the bike painted seemed excessive.   He then mentioned that a byproduct of a custom paint job is that riders are likely to ride more if they think the bike looks good.  He mentioned having his wife’s bike repainted and that now she rides it more.  Typically I am not swayed by anecdotal evidence, but it struck a chord.

Clearly this is vanity and while I wish I could claim to be immune from the disease; I am in fact deeply afflicted.  I am vain enough to maintain the self centered belief that strangers care enough about what is swirling around in my melon to read these words.  Therefore it is not hard to imagine that I might find motivation to ride more or ride harder or longer from something as trivial as the look of my bike or the clothing I wear.
When I am wearing my favorite clothes I do think I ride a tad faster.  When the bike is clean and shiny I think I treat it a bit nicer and believe (correctly) that it shifts and performs better.  Perhaps “Look sharp, be sharp” can be updated to “Look fast, be fast”?  This has the potential to be a slippery slope.

At one point in time I tried to measure any potential cycling related purchase against the question of whether or not the purchase would make me faster or safer.  Now with the vanity angle out in the open I can justify almost anything. Justification and denial are two of my greatest strengths. If it makes me ride more then, yes, it does make me faster. With thoughts along these lines this can be a dangerous time to be my Visa card.
Make me FAST !!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lions for Hawks

French Coffee
Despite ushering in the New Year, January isn’t really a month of transitions.  It is cold and dark at the beginning of the month and the end of the month it looks pretty much the same.  As someone who does a lot of things outdoors the lack of visible change means in many respects you just strap in and prepare for more of the same. 

More of the same doesn’t mean January is bad.  There is skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking and base miles.  It is the chance to finally wear your winter clothing.  The prospect of the whole year stretching out in front of you prompts anticipation, retrospection and planning.  Lots to do and at least for now, it seems like there is lots of time to do it.   The hangover from the Holiday break lasts into the middle of the January.  It is dark when I go to work and dark when I get home. The prospect of doing yard work or really anything outside on a weekday doesn’t even enter your mind.  

February kicks off fast and furious with CX Worlds, the Superbowl and a long term weather forecast from a seemingly ambivalent rodent. Once that concludes; then we start to see changes.  The twelfth man flag goes down and is replaced by the Lion of Flanders.   We start talking about baseball and the spring classics. Even though we are riding bikes dressed like we are fishermen on “Deadliest Catch” we are dreaming of riding in sunshine with bare arms and legs.

In February the group rides are still cold and wet, but more and more riders join in. They know spring is coming. The pace is social and riders coming off the couch can blend in without too much pain.  March is very different from January and the transition is visible and welcome.  Daylight after work seems unexpected when it finally happens.
To the surprise of no one Gravel riding will be my focus for 2015.  I said a tearful goodbye to my absolutely awesome Carbon Road Racing bike and I have no road racing aspirations for 2015.  There are a handful of Gravel Fondos in the Northwest.  I don’t know if I should be amazed that they even exist or surprised that there aren’t more of them- but either way I am jumping in with both Giro-clad feet.
The lower key Fondo environment is also better suited to my evolving mindset.  I am unable to determine if I am older and wiser or if I remain shell shocked from the undeniable failure of my Cyclocross training experiment of 2014.  I still want to ride fast but the absolute lunacy of racing against a bunch of OCD Lycra-clad AARP maroons has gained undeniable clarity.  
We are about to mark our one year anniversary of cabin ownership.  We have used it more than we dreamed of and we don’t have any plans to slow down. The five months from March to July were a constant revelation as the scenery changed every week. I am almost giddy at the prospect of reliving that again this year.  

As excited as I am about spring being just around the corner there is still much of winter to enjoy.  Although I have ticked off much of my winter bucket list there are still a few items that need my attention such as fat biking at night. February is a great time because my mind can entertain both the spring and the remaining winter.