Sunday, January 30, 2011

Splish-Splash, Taking A Bicycle Bath: A Rain Gear Report

Brooks Rain Cover
The North Face Venture Jacket
Swrve Water and Wind Resistant Trousers
Wald Splash Guard Fender

Riding your bike in the rain ain't any kind of fun (or at least, it's a lot less fun than riding your bike on a cool spring day with nary a cloud in the sky). For one, it's wet (duh!) For two, it's kind of dangerous (slick roads, out-of-control motorists, fallen debris, etc.) And for thrice, once you reach your destination, exposure to the elements can leave you smelling a bit like a wet dog. Thankfully, there are a grip of bicycle-oriented accoutrement manufacturers that make riding your rig in the rain much more of a dry adventure, and far less of a soggy ordeal.

I love my Brooks B67 saddle. The rain, however, does not (leather and water is about as great a combination as peanut butter and vinegar). Brooks solution to this predicament is just as simple and elegant as their other products. The Rain Cover, which is made of water resistant material (with the Brooks logo boldly splashed across it, no less). Given that this is a company founded and still-producing products in England, it's expected that these folks have had their fair share in dealing with rain. The Brooks saddle cover comes in 2 sizes, specially made for their extensive line of various saddles. And sure enough, this cover does its job perfectly, shrouding my saddle in rain-resistant material and securing snugly to it with a drawstring closure and Velcro loop to wrap around the saddle's bracing bar. Simple, easy-to-use and effective, and at a retail price of around $10, this is an investment you can't afford not to make. Now, if Brooks only made covers for their "Plump" Leather Ring Grips...

I really wanted a Nau Asylum water and wind-resistant jacket for quite sometime, but when I finally checked-out the price, I nearly plotzed. It would be nice to support an independent company (especially one from Portland), but man, who has that kind of scratch? The water and wind resistant Venture jacket from The North Face is an efficient and much more cost effective alternative (much, much less spendy). The Venture jacket is a perfectly functional and affordable rain-resistant jacket for my water-drenched commute. While raindrops bead off the 100% nylon shell mesmerizingly enough, The North Face has outfitted this light-weight jacket in other ingenious ways: a full flap over the front zipper with hidden Velcro patches, two zip-up netted pockets, armpit vents, and a hood that also features a partial face cover so your beard won't soak-up the elements like a sponge. Add to this, that The Venture is compressible and takes up very little space in your luggage. Of course, I would recommend wearing a sweater under this jacket, as it's not very warm on its own and it does become a bit "clingy" to bare skin, especially in wet weather. But that's just me...

Now, if I'm not going to plunk-down hard-earned skilla for an expensive (yet quality-made) rain resistant jacket, I'm sure the h-e-double-hockey-sticks not going to plunk down $188.00 for a fancy pair of rain resistant trousers. Nope, not even when that brand is as renowned as Outlier. I mean, seriously; what bicyclist in this current economic climate is shelling-out this kind of doe-ray-me on cycle-centric clothing? I know this stuff is (for the most part) hand made here in the U.S., and the quality and silhouette of the garments is superb. But these prices? Seriously?!? I wanna look as good on my bike as the next guy (and please don't pretend that you don't), but I don't wanna break the bank in the process. Now, $125.00? I can do that (hey, that $63.00 difference means being able to actually buy groceries!) Luckily, Swrve, an Los Angeles-based "urban cycling apparel" manufacturer has just the water and wind resistant trousers to keep my keester dry. In fact, their water and wind resistant trousers are called "TROUSERS: Water + Wind Resistant" (convenient, no?) I have to admit, these trousers felt pretty funky when I first tried them on. Made from a "four-way stretch," 90% nylon and 10% spandex mesh, these trousers feel (and I'm quoting Ned Flanders here) " I'm wearing nothing at all." I later realized that this must be that "comfort" thing that the kidz are so wild about these days. Surely, these Swrve Trousers: Water + Wind Resistant are, hands down, the most comfortable pair of pants I own. The seamless gusseted crotch has to be one of these pant's best features, if for no other reason, than your "bits" are giving ample space to swing as free as they please. Besides this effective engineering marvel, these trousers feature articulate knees, zippered back pockets (one of which might possibly hold a smaller U-lock that the one I currently own), two front pen pockets, two built-in belt loop reflectors, and a lowered front waistband as not to dig-in to your beer baby. Of course the best feature is the water resistance, which I had plenty of fun testing prior to a ride in the rain. While crouching in my bathtub, I poured an entire glass of water into my be-trouser-ed lap, only to be watching as giddily as a dimwitted child while the water quickly bead off my pants and dribble into my shoes (Note To Self: remember to take off shoes in the shower). Whilst riding, the rain did the exact same thing, with droplets beading-up and whipping right off the Trousers: Water + Wind Resistant with the winds. Honestly, I couldn't even feel the raindrops on my legs (take that, Mother Nature!) Oh, and one more thing: Swrve touts this trousers as having a "stylish and trim fit." I wore these pants to work one day, which elicited many compliments from my co-workers in the form of "Nice pants." This of course was followed by me splashing water on my legs with reckless abandon, much to my coworkers delight/confusion/befuddlement.

I must admit to being a bit dubious of Wald's Splash Guard half-fender actually keeping road splash from giving me the skunk back. I mean, look as this thing! It's cute, sure. But effective? Well, there's only one way to find out, really... Unlike full-size fenders, the Splash Guard is simplistically (ruthlessly!) easy mount to your bike; an Allen head screw and lock nut are all you need to attach this fender to your steed. Of course, these nuts and bolts aren't included with the purchase of the Wald Splash Guard, so having to hoof it down to your local hardware store and be condescended to by grown men in overalls is definitely in your future (then again, this fender retails for $5, so just accept your embarrassing lack of  knowledge when it comes proper nut and bolt ratios, okay?) Once mounted to my bike, it was time to soak-up the rain-soaked streets and hunt for puddles. It didn't take long to to find the perfect wet patch (down the street and around the block, as a matter of fact). Run after run, through a perfectly-pooled indentation in the asphalt, my back and bum managed to remain streak free (well, from water, anyway). The real fun came from asking strangers passing by, "Does my ass look wet to you?" Sure enough, it didn't, for my reliable peanut gallery would have told me so. For further proof, the underside of my saddle was water and debris free, and the butt of my jeans and the back of my sleeveless Levi's denim jacket (replete with bikey gang back patch) were perfectly dry and April fresh. Lesson learned; don't judge a micro fender by its size or the completely-not-at-all-in-any-way-shape-or-form tiresome or merciless heckles it and you receive from your friends. Wald - the most seemingly earnest and homespun bicycle component manufacturer in the world - has done it again!

Join me next time when I review more rain gear related knick-knacks, such as a bowl of warm chicken noodle soup, a heated blanket and my couch, Theraflu's Cough and Cold Relief, Kleenex tissues, and all three Lord Of the Rings movies. Until then...

Friday, January 14, 2011

R.I.P Trish Keenan

 I really don't know what to say, so I'll let Pitchfork do it for me...

We're deeply saddened to report that Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan has died. A statement on the Warp Records site reads:
"It is with great sadness we announce that Trish Keenan from Broadcast passed away at 9am this morning in hospital. She died from complications with pneumonia after battling the illness for two weeks in intensive care. Our thoughts go out to James, Martin, her friends and her family and we request that the public respect their wishes for privacy at this time. This is an untimely tragic loss and we will miss Trish dearly - a unique voice, an extraordinary talent and a beautiful human being. Rest in Peace."
Keenan was one of the founding members of Broadcast, who formed in the mid-1990s as a quintet and released a series of singles on Wurlitzer Jukebox and Duophonic Records before being approached by Warp, who compiled the single releases on the 1997 compilation Work and Non Work. The band released its debut full-length, The Noise Made by People, in 2000; that record established a cosmopolitan pop sound reminiscent of Stereolab while also taking influence from the more experimental sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

In 2003, Broadcast released their sophomore full-length,
Haha Sound, which featured slightly harsher textures amidst the band's continued draw from 60s pop, early electronic, film soundtracks (particularly the Czech film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), and avant-garde influences. In 2005, only Keenan and multi-instrumentalist James Cargill remained as members of the band, releasing Broadcast's third full-length, Tender Buttons, which took the band's sound in an even harsher, more staticky direction while still prominently featuring Keenan's sleepy, high-register coo.

Another singles and rarities compilation, The Future Crayon, was released the following year; the duo then remained relatively silent until their most recent release, 2009's collaboratiive mini-LP with experimental musician Julian House's project the Focus Group, Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age. Check out audio and video of some of Keenan's work as part of Broadcast below.

In an age when so many devious pricks are rigging the game and getting away with it - huffing on their seemingly inexhaustible gases - and for someone of such sweetness and light to be hurried off this mortal coil? There is simply no justice in the cosmic universe. None at all.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dear Ford, Gimme My 012C, Tootsweet!

Ford 021C (Concept)
Designed by Marc Newsom
c. 1999

It's been 12 years since Marc Newsom single-handedly designed the 021C concept car for Ford. Yet looking at this cute little boxy sub-compact now, you'd think it was designed today, and not in 1999. With it's fresh, forward-thinking design aesthetics practically insuring the 021C agelessness, one has to wonder why Ford never put this fun-looking prototype into production. With nary a wrinkle or frownline on the 021C's cheery little face, it certainly wouldn't be too late to do so now.

Newsom, an industrial designer by trade, envisioned the 021C to be a car seemingly designed from the point of view of a child. Looking at both the exterior and interior of this car, that design principle is clearly evident. The front and back doors open in a barn door style configuration as to give the driver a presentation-like view of the interior (a veritable song before the dance). The front seats swivel, the dashboard and steering wheel are spartan, and the entire layout gives the illusion of spaciousness in what is essentially a sub-compact.

The exterior of the 021C is considerably eye-catching. It's retro silhouette borrows it's lines from the Datsun 411 or the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, yet features a banded front headlight instead of the traditional two. The rear wheels snuggle against the back, er, bumper, and, in a design coop that is both novel and functional, the drunk slides open like a drawer. Painted in the Pantone chart color from which it's name is derived (and later in a cheery lime green), the 021C simply looks like a fun, toy-like car you would very much like to play around with.

Given a car climate that seems inundated with fuel efficiently cute, retro-inspired cars (the New Beetle, the Mini and soon, the Fiat 500), the introduction of the 021C into the current car market could possible give Ford the winning edge in that hip urban 30+ demographic that has all but alluded them (the Fiesta, Fusion and Mustang notwithstanding) over the years. Given that the 021C practically looks like an iPod (mind you, this car was designed way before the iPod was invented), an automobile like this would sell and sell big.

How I'm I so sure of this, you may be wondering. I can only speak for myself, but as a staunch and loyal Toyota customer - one who happens to own a 20 year-old MR2 and is considering purchasing a Matrix XRS - who has also sworn-off all American cars due to lousy experience after lousy experience with domestic automobiles, I can say wholeheartedly and with confidence that if Ford were to put the 021C in production, I would buy one in a heartbeat. I can only go on my personal buying habits, but how many other urban-dwelling 20-35 year-old's out there fit my demographic make-up that can picture themselves behind the wheel of this peppy little automobile? More than you think.

Of course the 021C would need some minor tweaks. I can't imagine that the front headlight beam would be street legal in any industrialized country. And airbags would be required. Then there is the name: as someone with a graphic design background, I can  appreciate naming this product after a Pantone swatch. But "021C" doesn't have the same resonance or traction as a "500," "Mini" or "Golf." Perhaps the Ford "Diode" would be more apt. Other than these changes, this car could hit the showrooms today with a enough attention to garner considerable sales and stares.

What was once a radical design concept in 1999 is now quaintly contemporary. The Ford 021C is very much a car not just for today, but the future beyond as well. The 021C may have the distinction of being one of the few cars that appears to be timeless.

So, what do you say, Ford? I've waited long enough. May have my 021C now?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Time for some good ol' fashioned rebranding...

Starting on 1/1/11, the name of this blog will be changing from The Rub Review to The Rocket Science Alliance. The reason for this change is simple: The Rub Review is a really stupid name for a blog.

Additionally, I want my blog to reflect more about me than simply reviewing the junk I buy and (almost always) kvetch about. There will still be plenty of product reviews here on the all-new Rocket Science Alliance blog, but there will also be additional entries covering everything from my artistic endeavors to chronicling some of the more recent projects I've started (look for the Phono Select compilation CD featuring all-Sacramento bands on Record Store Day, April 2011!) And before you ask; yes, I really am this big of a narcissist. I mean, you have to be to have a blog. Am I right, or am I right, or am I right?

The Rocket Science Alliance is an "arts and ideas house" which started back in the late 1990's. Over it's lifespan, The Rocket Science Alliance (or R.S.A.) has taken on many modulating forms: record label, graphic design compound, compilation CD/cassette stronghold, skateboard company dictatorship, cigar-production daycare service - you name it! Recently, The R.S.A. has settled on the whole "arts and ideas" deal to focus it's energies on being a completely fungible entity that can morph it's intent at even the slightest passing of gas from a bumblebee's butt. Sort of a "what's interesting me now" exercises, really, but with a really cool banner-friendly name that mixes rhyme and alliteration with reckless abandon.

If that makes any sense.

Yeah, so anyway... New name. New focus. New blog entries. New-ish layout. Same run-on sentences and crimes against spelling, grammar and syntax. That's what I promise you, my smattering of loyal readers (all 18 of ya). New, new, new!

Rest In Piece The Rub Review. Long Live The Rocket Science Alliance!