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...

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