If you’re like us, your bike cost more than your first car, so it’s a bit unsettling to watch it gather dust during winter months. But the right apparel can keep you riding year-round—even during the horrors of ice, sleet, and snow. The trick is to invest in pieces that block the wind, and provide sufficient insulation while wicking and dispersing sweat. Craft, the Swedish company known for its innovative base layers, has also developed a stellar reputation for functional outwear for high aerobic activities like biking, running and, cross-country skiing. The Active Thermal Wind Tights have a comfy chamois that involves a seamless, laser-cut pad and four-way stretch fabric. The new-for-2012 chamois is laser-cut to remove unnecessary bulk, and has a foam core that our testers deemed nearly as soft as a down pillow. The chamois also boasts antimicrobial and hydrophilic properties, which help downplay the inevitable moisture build-up and odor. The body of the pants is a symphony of proprietary weather-fighting fabrics that unite to block wind while keeping you toasty warm and sweat free. How? The multi-panel is designed to map with specific fabrics to accentuate stretch, wicking properties, and warmth exactly where you need them. The inside is a square-channel microfleece that’s coupled with a softly brushed poly/nylon blend (Craft’s C392 proprietary fabric). Not only is it soft against the skin, it sucks up moisture like a paper towel. Outside is a trio of wafer-thin laminated polyester, polyamide, and elastic yarns that blocks wind and allows for excellent freedom of movement. An elastic panel in the front eliminates the bulk of a zipper or button closure, and expands sufficiently to helps keep you comfortable, even on long rides after a a big lunch. For early morning and evening riding, reflective printing provides 360 degrees of reflective visibility.
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www.camelbak.com, 1.9 pounds
The trouble with traditional water bottle holders on the bike frame is that, unless you have the hands of David Copperfield, there’s always that split second when one hand—and all of your attention—is diverted from the road to the bottle. Wearing a hydration backpack lets you drink while you ride without ever taking your hands off the handlebars or losing your focus on the path ahead. We didn’t’ think the original M.U.L.E. pack could be improved, but the new NV back panel provides independent articulating pods that move with you as you pedal. The result? A fully vented back panel that keeps the load off your back, in any position we could come up with. The pack is designed for long (three-plus hours) rides. Inside, the bladder carries 100 ounces of your preferred beverage, with 560 cubic inches of storage space for a light jacket, wallet, energy bars, and keys. A removable hip belt provides stability, and the one-inch webbing is so light, you won’t notice it’s there. We love the media pocket with wire channels, as well as the stretch front pocket that easily fits a helmet or puffy. We found that the pack fit torso lengths from about 15 to 17 inches, so if you’re long from the hips to shoulders, this isn’t the right pack for you.
Good For: Biking, Skiing, Snowshoeing, Hiking
We’ve seen steady advancements in the collage-like trend of mixing and matching different fabrics to give you a product that’s the best of all possible worlds. But often these products feel like they’re awkwardly straddling disparate civilizations, a feeling that ultimately makes you yearn for what you don’t have. Thankfully, the Dose Jacket doesn’t fall into that jack-of-all, master-of-none trap. This highly versatile 2.5-layer waterproof/breathable DWR-treated shell has micro-fiber polyester four-way stretch panels strategically placed to provide soft-to-the-touch flex at the shoulders, forearms, waist, and chest. The rest of the jacket is bombproof, including the helmet-compatible hood and a wind- and waterproof flap over the front waterproof zip. The two hand-pockets and the small back pocket also rock waterproof zippers; the latter also has a tuck-away piece of reflective fabric that can be unveiled to keep you visible when biking in the dark. You also get two chest pockets—one on the outside, and another on the inside with a cord-routing path for your phone or MP3 player. Two zippered vents sit high on the chest, rather than under the arms. They increase breathability, but aren’t as efficient as the pit-zip style found on most shells. Accordingly, the Dose works best when temps aren’t too hot ’n steamy.
The colorful wall of helmets at Nutcase HQ.
If you hear the story of how Portland, OR-based Nutcase Helmets got started, you’ll understand how they so effortlessly captured the whimsical part of the market for adult multisport helmets. Back in the fall of 2000, Nutcase creator and founder Michael Morrow was looking for a graphic way to show his support for the Oregon State Beavers at the “Civil War” football game against U of O. His solution? Four-inch metal screws super-glued to the top of an old orange-and-black Oregon State helmet; he then impaled yellow rubber duckies on the screws to demonstrate the fate awaiting the Oregon Ducks.
The response to the helmet was instantaneous—as was Morrow’s light bulb moment: adult helmets are boring, and not indicative of the fun everyone has while biking, skiing, and skating. What started out as a garage operation with Morrow and his kind-hearted wife has now blossomed into company with 12 employees, with orders flooding in from all over globe and annual deliveries in the hundreds of thousands.
The decal-applied helmet designs come in all variety of color and style, from watermelons to polka dots to graphics that support your favorite team or city. The chinstrap boasts a one-handed magnetic buckle that works like magic and a simple dial to adjust the helmet’s fit. All helmets comply with U.S. CPSC Safety Standards for riders ages five and older. The line includes street sport helmets as well as models for cycle/skate, snow sports, motor sports, and water sports.
We also love the whimsical collection of bells.
And we really like that their spacious HQ is above Portland’s amazing Ford Food and Drink, which makes a breakfast buttermilk biscuit with mozzarella, pesto, and organic relish that has no business tasting as good as it does. Craft beer goes for $4 a pint—which was almost enough to convince us to have one with our biscuit.
We’re testing one of their helmets right now and will report back soon.
Chris King. In cycle circles the name emits gasps of awe and envy. Its precision-made bike components exist in the most rarefied of bike porn—small, perfectly hand-crafted headsets, hubs, and bottom brackets that elevate the standard bike into the cycling stratosphere. And, after a highly sought-after tour of the Portland, OR-based Chris King Factory last month, it’s clear that the high quality associated with each product extends to all elements of the company.
Chris King started the eponymous company 36 years ago, after honing his metal-crafting talents working in the medical tool industry. As with the first hand-constructed piece, everything that leaves the Chris King factory is made in the United States. All the metals are purchased from North American mills, and most of the machines on the floor have been custom-tweaked to suit a particular purpose. And when something on the machine breaks, they craft a new part—some machines on the floor date back 15 years.
As a metal shop, they’re also acutely aware of their environmental impact. Rather than the standard toxic materials, Chris King uses soy oil as a lubricant when cutting metal; not to mention an in-house tool they created to compress the scraps so that 98 percent of the oil is re-used. Every hub is hand-buffed for 20 minutes, and all the other parts are finished by an industrial shaker that tosses the metal with crushed walnut shells—polishing everything to a brilliant shine. Each machine also has its own air filter to remove any potentially toxic fumes. The factory is likely the best-smelling metal shop on the planet.
Life for the 96 employees at Chris King is equally bright. A gourmet cafeteria employs two full-time chefs and serves three squares daily, each meal sold without mark-up; the price is dictated by the cost of the ingredients. They’ve developed a great no-car commuting incentive that lets participants who walk, run, bike, or use public transportation rack up meal credits and extra days off. Even the free coffee has been painstakingly chosen by Chris to be of the highest possible quality.
No wonder Chris King was one of the small business owners invited to the White House this year to take part in a discussion about the current state of domestic manufacturing.
Cielo Bikes—some of the nicest, hand-crafted bike frames on the market—also come out of this unassuming Portland warehouse. As with the components, each rig is crafted not as part of some aggressive schedule to dominate the cycle world, but to aspire to the high-quality expectations that all cycling purists truly desire. We’re already dreaming up our perfect rig. Hopefully it’ll be one of the 330 bikes they make each year. Thank god they only make five models—or we’d never decide.