Monday, 29 December 2014

Gear of the year 2015

I've just been getting out and doing stuff, really.
To be honest, I haven't actually bought a whole lot of new stuff this year, or at least, it doesn't feel like it. Most of what I have been using has simply carried on working from previous years of use and abuse.

I suppose that goes to show that when you buy good stuff, you don't really need to worry too much about replacing it for quite a long time before it ends up falling off you because it's just too worn out.

I spent a long time in the middle of the year faffing about which waterproof I was going to replace my old cypher smock with. After a bit of a protracted blog I went for the new updated version of it - the Aether smock, which is pretty good, but if you know me and have spoken to me about it, I will, no doubt have talked at great length about the fact it has an internal pocket instead of an external one... seriously, don't get me started.
So yes, its a good bit of kit, but not without downsides.
Would I buy it again? Looking around at the options, yes, probably, but as soon as I find a waterproof which is basically the Cypher smock, I'll be going down that route instead.

Shoes -

Inov8 Mudclaw 300's after 900km
Despite all the rather snazzy looking salomons out there, the Fellraisers being a particularly good example of being mid price point, and apparently very good, I have stayed on the Inov8 train, simply because I was able to get a couple of cheap pairs, the yellow 300's and the xtalon 212's. They still do the job, but the 212's are still a bit narrow - though inov8 finally admitted that they were wrong when they said the new model are "exactly the same" as the old ones (except for a new material in the mid sole), and are now producing them in a "normal" fit and a "race" fit - the normal fit being the more relaxed on which people may be used to.

As a bit of a hack on the 300's, if you have an old pair of x-talon laces, relace the 300's with those, you get better closure around your foot, and they're easier to use than the horrible yellow laces that come with them.

I'd love to get my hands on a pair of the new fellcross 3 by salomon, but at £125 (on sale!) I somehow don't think thats going to happen, especially as the shoes on the left (inov8 Mudclaw 300's) looked like this after 900km. The Salomons would either have to do twice that, or be twice as good, considering they cost twice as much. I don't really see either of those situations occurring. However, the fellraisers might get bought and tested in the next couple of months, so we'll see how they go.

Bags - 

I'm still using the OMM adventure light 20, it's getting a little battered, but still works a charm, and the inov8 2 and 3 litre bumbags are soldiering on. I had to replace a zip tag with a bit of string, but really, they're holding up well.

Insulated jackets - 

I STILL have that arc'teryx Atom SV from about 6 years ago. It goes in the bottom of the sack when I'm out on long, cold runs as a just in case. It gets used a lot when I'm wandering through town to university. It STILL looks great.
The Mountain Equipment Ultratherm is also going strong, and I've had no need to update that at all. Perfect for dawn runs, belaying when climbing and generally kicking around in.

Cycling gear -

Perhaps the biggest game changer of the year was my Castelli Gabba jacket - bought in a sale, and just before the Gabba 2 came out, I'd been hankering after one for a long time. It's a softshell jacket - and I haven't really had much luck with them in the past. My MHW dragon jacket was a bit of a let down, as have been a number of that type of jacket that I've used. However, using the Gabba on the bike in the past 2
months has been a revalation.

Ok, it doesn't keep my dry, but it keeps the worst of the rain off me, it keeps me warm in autumnal and winter temperatures on the bike, it is bright and reflective (lets face it, if I'm going to be wearing a jacket like this, the weather is going to be rubbish, and it is most likely to be dark), and it looks smart. If ever there was a bit of clothing that will enable you to relish getting out there on bad weather days, this is it.

So there you go - not a whole lot of new gear in my collection to write about. Getting stuff that doesn't break quickly seems to be a good problem to have, though it doesn't make great reading, I guess. I suppose I'll just have to put my back into it and try a bit harder.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Bike Commuting

No excuses not to see me.
I'm back to commuting to and from placement on a bike now. I used to be a regular bike commuter in London, and looking back on it, I wasn't exactly the most intelligent of the bunch.
A single-speed mountain bike (black), with a non-descript mucky bag, baggy shorts, black coat (with a couple of reflective bits), and a front light and rear light with batteries that didn't really get changed all that much.
The blessing was that there were a fair few cyclists around, so I was amongst a crowd which meant kind of safety in numbers.

I know that this might be a little redundant as a blog- if you commute on a bike, you probably have your own system and don't need to be told what is out there. However, if you have a loved one who is scrambling around trying to work out what to buy you for Christmas, or a birthday or some such event, this might give them a couple of ideas. 


Exposure Joystick. 
I'm now commuting on dark roads from Glossop to Stockport or Ashton. Lots of cars, not many bikes, its now got dark in the morning and evening, and the weather isn't exactly the nicest. I've spent a couple of years building up my arsenal of lights and gear, and now I feel pretty confident with my setup.

Right now, the most important part of my set up is the lights. There are 2 types of lights. Well, 3 actually.
1. See me
2. Let me see where I'm going
3. rubbish.
Knog Front light

I have 3 lights on the front of the bike, and 3 on the back. Overkill? I think not. I can guarantee that at some point on one of my commutes, a light is going to run out of battery. This will be either from neglect (forgetting to charge), or bad luck (it getting switched on in
Moon Shield and Cateye
my bag and being on all day without me knowing), So having some kind of redundancy is a good thing in this system. I really don't want to be sharing a dark wet road with speeding cars without having some kind of light for them to see where I am.

Also, with a ridiculous amount of bright lights, you go some way to mitigating the SMIDSY swipe. If I'm lit up like Blackpool, and you didn't see me, what on earth else can I do to make me brighter? Nothing. Not my fault.
So I have 2 Exposure joystick Maxx's one on the front, one on my head - these are the "See where I'm going" lights - and the one on my head has a Red eye - rear light. I've been using these Joysticks for years. Exposure are now up to Mk9 I think, and my original is a Mk2. It still works and does it's job throwing out up to 250 lumens. Superb British engineering.
I also have a Knog front light - a "see me" light, in case everything else fails.
On the rear, along with that red eye, I have an old school Cateye, and a new Moon Shield 60 light, capable of some ridiculous lumen output. (60 lumens, I'd imagine). It's rechargeable via a USB cable and lasts for a couple of commute runs before needing charging. The Cateye is battery powered, so with luck if either of them die on me, the other will carry on going at least until I get home.

Exposure Joystick mounted on the helmet with a Red Eye on the back. 


The bike is a fairly normal Spesh Allez- apparently one of the most nickable bikes in the UK, the only enhancement is the mudguards- SKS raceblade longs. Oh, and 2 massive locks. A D-lock and an Abus ring lock. That was what I used on a daily basis in London, and if someone can come along and nick a bike through 2 huge locks, they can have it, to be honest. I suppose each lock cost about £50-£60, but, as I said, I've used them since I was in London, and never had a bike stolen, so there has to be something good about them.


For transporting my stuff, I don't use a pannier rack - mainly because one probably wouldn't actually fit on my bike. And I prefer a rucksack. I've used an Alpkit Gourdon for years now. Waterproof (for a good couple of years), and generally pretty indestructable.
Having said that, I put a fingernail through the see-through part of the bag today, and Im going to try to seal it up with storm seal, and see how we go. (note - I did that a few weeks ago, and the bag has been totally fine since then.   Not had any of them break on me before, so maybe this time I've
been unlucky.


My hands get cold. When they get wet they get cold. And generally, they get, just cold.
get the message?
I have a couple of pairs of gloves that get used a lot. The first is the spring/autumn pair - bought from a salewa shop below the Eiger. They are light gloves, but with a windproof backing that slip over the outside. Love them for keeping my fingers warm on a cold morning -
and even on the way home on a cold nasty wet evening, but for a long wet, grim ride, not good.
Once it got proper cold, I get my Sealskinz Mitts on, and have just got myself a pair of Craft Deep Winter lobster mitts to try out this winter as well.
The Craft gloves are pretty thin across the hand, and have quite long fingers. As you can see from the picture below, the Sealskinz look like bags in comparison. Having said that, on really cold days, it is the Sealskinz that win out on the warmth stakes. Even after 5 years of use, the primaloft still works wonders. I'll buy a new pair one day. 

Shorts- to be honest, when I run in the winter, I only ever wear shorts - longs are just too much trouble. Ditto cycling. I know the saying "less than 15 degrees, cover your knees", but I just wear a pair of summer shorts that I find comfortable. My legs are the least of my troubles.
Best buy. Ever. Castelli Gabba


Old school helly base layer, with a Castelli Gabba long sleeved top- in fluro yellow. I've been hankering after one of these for a couple of years now, and just as the gabba 2 came out, I managed to get one on discount. I love it.
Decent pockets, excellent fit- no it is not waterproof, but it is wind proof, and with that comes a lot of
warmth when you need it, and a lot of protection when you need it as well. I'd also use it on a training ride- without a bag, and would highly highly recommend it to pretty much anyone that rides in semi to absolutely horrendous weather in the British Isles. One of the best bits of kit I own - and the only cycling specific jacket I own.


Just my normal Specialized Road shoes, but with a pair of overshoes. I have a pair of BBB overshoes, which were free, they're a bit thin for serious winter riding, but good for autumnal weather. However - I've found my feet turning into ice blocks recently, so I went all out and bought a new pair of overshoes. Endura - and ridiculously reflective. They are warm, but after 5 weeks of daily abuse, there is some delamination of the reflective strips down the back of the zip. There are also some usage holes appearing in the neoprene around the toe areas. And that is with me being pretty careful. I'm going to see if I can get some neoprene glue to fill in the holes. I'd love to send them back to Endura saying "these aren't fit for purpose", but to be honest, its probably just daily wear and tear. If I was commuting
every day for the entireity of winter, I reckon I might get through 2 pairs of these. But by crikey, they're bright and warm. 

Glasses- Well, I wear oakleys - and they are fine when it isn't raining...  but when it is raining, well, they don't have windscreen wipers,. and sometimes it is just safer to not wear them.


One thing I really really don't want to be doing is stopping by the side of the road to deal with a puncture on my way in, or out of work. I've done it a couple of times in London, and really don't fancy doing it here. Having said that, I do have the ability to deal with repairs like that - and this is my kit - it stays in my bag at all times.
However, the reason why I haven't had to stop to deal with a puncture at all is because I've got a pair of pretty decent tyres. Continental Gator Hardshells. Yes, they're "heavy", no, they don't have the greatest rolling resistance in the world, and yes, they kill your thumbs when you try and put them on, but they just keep on going. Love them.