A faithful reader of this infrequently-updated blog recently requested a post on my cycling gear. Here it is. Reading this, keep in mind that I only have one bike (which is far, far too few) and that I use that bike both to commute day all year long and to do fairly long fitness rides, mostly off pavement. WARNING: rampant cycle-nerdiness.
I ride a black Surly CrossCheck that is completely stock except for the points that touch the road, my butt, and my feet. The stock tires wore out pretty quickly, so I’ve experimented with different rubber. Right now, I’m running Continental Cyclocross Speeds, which are pretty good gravel-road tires. I went up from the regular 35mm size to the bigger 42mm size, which offers more float and grip than narrower tires. The tread handles everything except out-of-the-saddle climbing on steep sections.
The stock WTB seat caused quite a bit of discomfort, so I changed to the WTB Valcon Pro, a mid-range racing saddle which is very, very comfortable. Under my feet, I just need solid connection with the bike. I use a pair of flip-flop pedals – platforms on one side, for days when I’m commuting in regular shoes, but SPD clips on the other, for real riding. A shot of lube in the springs every now and then keeps them working well despite the fact that the pedals seems to collect more road grit than any other part of the bike.
In the winter, I put a pair of inexpensive Planet Bike fenders on the bike. They’re ugly and they require frequent maintenance (retightening the bolts that fix the fenders to the frame), but they’re good for keeping the road grit off.
The CrossCheck is a great machine for long rides. In trying to find the right setup for long gravel rides, I’ve added quite a bit of stuff. The one item that I can’t live without is the cyclocomputer. I’m currently using an entry-level Specialized computer, and I can’t complain about it. It’s not very advanced, requiring a wire down to the sensor on the fork and displaying relatively few data (current speed, maximum speed, average speed, trip distance, trip time, cumulative distance), but it’s enough for me, and it’s very reliable.
Nearly as essential are my bags, all from Revelate Designs: a Mountain Feedbag on the handebars (phone, map/cue sheets, gels, maybe a candy bar), a Gas Tank on the top tube (solid food like trail mix and beef jerky), and a Tangle in the frame (a big water bladder on one side, extra food and a multi-tool on the other). I keep a spare tube and tire levers in a Fizik saddle bag, too. I could readily do a 50-mile ride with a couple bottles in my cages and some food in the Feedbag, but anything longer than that – or done in challenging conditions, especially heat – requires more water. Last year, I rode with a CamelBak-style “hydration system” (and raced with it during the 2011 Almanzo) but I was always dissatisfied with the way it worked. The weight of the water on my back did bad things to my shoulders, and I needed to dismount to get any food stashed in the backpack’s pockets. With the three bags, I can eat and drink without stopping at all. Theoretically. Sometimes my legs need to stop when my stomach doesn’t.
This year’s big addition was a good headlight: a NiteRider MiNewt 250. This little toy casts a wide, bright beam – so wide and bright that riders in front of me have mistaken me for a car. Even at the medium intensity setting, I get enough light in front of me to see the road at 20 mph. And from what other riders tell me, this light will last a long time. When I ride at night, I also run two inexpensive blinkie lights on my seatpost. The headlight allows me to be out and safe well past dusk, which carves a lot of riding time out of the day.
A person can, of course, ride in just about any clothing less complicated than a wedding dress, and I do all my commuting in “office casual” clothes. I do all my fitness riding in true cycling clothes, though. I have done a fair amount of riding in, say, regular shorts and t-shirts, and I’ve found it just sucks. Wearing the right kit is worth it.
On my head, I wear a mid-range Giro helmet – not the lightest or best-ventilated helmet around, and now getting up in years, it’s still a perfectly good helmet. I always wear a cycling cap (my favorites are by Walz) under my helmet on the grounds that cycling caps are cool, that they help soak up sweat, and that they keep me from getting a headache from the helmet’s straps.
I try to always ride with something over my eyes – if not sport sunglasses like the sweet Rudy Project Ekynox that I won in a contest a few years ago, then clear or slightly tinted glasses. Eye coverings are necessary to keep out the sun, the rain, the road grit, the bugs, the wind…
I have a bunch of jerseys, and find it hard to fault any of them. I tend to like the jerseys that have softer fabric and busier designs, but beyond that, I don’t have many preferences among jerseys by Squadra, Louis Garneau, Craft, Nike, Twin Six, and some other companies. As long as there are pockets in the back and a zipper down the front, I’m happy. And often an underlayer is helpful: a thermal top on a cold or windy day, a super-thin ventilation layer on a really hot day.
If I treat my jerseys with equanimity, I’m very particular about what I put on my legs. I have a pair of entry-level Pearl Izumi shorts that are just not right. They don’t fit me well, and the chamois pad isn’t very good. I have a pair of Bontrager shorts that are the opposite: very comfortable in every respect. Likewise, my Bontrager knickers are fantastic. I’d wear them on every ride, if I could. (Only the knickers are “bib” style garments, but the over-the-shoulder bib is so comfortable that I’ll definitely buy bib shorts when I need to replace my current shorts.) If I’m going on an especially long ride, if I just need extra comfort, or if I’m wearing my (excellent) Craft tights for a winter ride, I put a pair of Sugoi short liners inside the outer garment. The double layer of chamois is wonderful. And any ride longer than two hours also merits some chamois cream. I needn’t detail its application, but(t) it’s great stuff.
I have acquired some rainwear, too: LL Bean’s entry-level Gore-Tex jacket and pants for commuting, a Sugoi rain jacket for other riding. The Sugoi is especially nice – perfectly cut for riding and really light and breathable. I haven’t actually used it much in the rain, but it’s done a great job in wind and cold.
At the extremities, I wear full-finger gloves and Shimano shoes. I have a pair of Performance gloves that are good, but a bit too heavy for really hot days. I prefer my pair of Pryme Specter gloves – light and minimalist, but very comfortable, even on all-day rides.
I don’t much care about socks, though breathable cloth is always better than cotton, but the more I ride, the more I value really good shoes. After the Almanzo ate my last pair of mostly-cloth Shimanos, I bought a pair of Shimano M087s, which are a dramatic improvement – mostly leather, with a nicely stiff sole and three straps to ensure a good fit. I’ve had no trouble with them at all, even when I have to replace the cleats, which happens at least once a season.