first ascent softshell

So as I recently recounted, I passed up a 25% off Orion jacket in Portland because while 300 is a bargain for the Mission Workshop softshell weatherproof jacket, it’s still more than I can afford.

Or… The confession that I’ve been sucked into the technical fabric Ethos of Placebo Ideologies.

I was so depressed by my inability to rationally purchase an Orion jacket that I biked in my Arcteryx Gamma SV softshell and a hoodie over to an Eddie Bauer store. I was not looking for jackets, and was actually looking for wool sweaters and nice slacks to interview in, but with the Orion on my mind I found something else entirely.

The Eddie Bauer Whittaker Mountaineering First Ascent Mountain Guide Jacket. A mouthful, and a knife in the wind.

The Mountain Guide Jacket by First Ascent is Eddie Bauer’s tech/performance foray with Whittiker Mountaineering into the more technical side of outerwear apparel. Somewhat obviously, it’s a market position in response to the success of such brands as northface and arcteryx. The problem with this is that it’s not enough to throw together a jacket using high performance fabrics and good, solid technical design cues for active and athletic use.

That’s kind of what First Ascent has done, though. The reviews are correct that the jacket is cut oddly, with super wide, baggy arms, high armpits and a snug athletic torso. The armpits aren’t too high for most of my movement and are actually quite nice on a drop bar bicycle, but they are weirdly high for something with that much room in the sleeves and shoulders.

Still, for me to take off an Arcteryx Gamma SV and put this on and feel I’ve upgraded for my intended use, I’m not displeased.

And neither is Outdoor Magazine, apparently. They’ve been testing one for more than a year.

The fabric is boss, and I have no complaints with the shell’s properties so far. It repels slight precipitation admirably, but I have been out biking and hiking and lounging with varying layers underneath in some chilly to cold temps and it’s better as a fair weather jacket than it is in any real rain. The material breathes as well as you’d expect it to for its MSRP of 230… that is to say, exceptionally well. It’s a very lightweight and very thin, breathable shell.

The inside is a bunch of polyester fleeces of different colors and textures, and all of the pockets are welded seamlessly with a lightweight mesh to keep the jacket light and breathing all over. There are even some vent areas of the same mesh so you just have the nylon spandex shell and the ultralight mesh fabric without any real insulation layer. I really like this jacket’s inside design and it was actually my favorite part, up until two weeks of use turned the fleece panels into a piled fuzzy mess. The problem with light, thin fabrics is that they have be very high quality to not give out immediately, and the wear on the inside panels was unacceptable.

The exterior shell was great, with abrasion resistance on the shoulders and back and a few different textures to keep things attractive and interesting. It doesn’t show up well in the above picture, but there’s a lot of nuance in the look of the shell.

The zippers are ‘garaged’ by flaps in the fabric, and are welded to the rest of the outer so they’ll keep water out fairly well. They’re not as hydrophobic as Mission Workshop’s zippers, but they’ll fend off rain well enough… they’re not ‘exposed’ by any means. The inside of the pockets are also lined with red, so you get lots of red and silver accents on the black jacket that pop out when your hood is down or pockets are open. Kind of flashy, but cool.

Again, I didn’t test this in an outright downpour, but I feel for a short while it stays nicely water resistant for showers or Seattle misting. Most regular moisture beads up and falls off without a problem, though in a real downpour you’ll be looking for shelter within fifteen minutes. Justin Nyberg at Outdoor Magazine says it’s fine for a light drizzle but not much else.

What worried me is that the fabric is also 4-way stretch, and it’s VERY elastic. The exterior shell is 22% spandex (relatively high) so I’d assume the water resistance decreases with the amount of flexing you put the fabric through. Great for stretch and freedom of movement while being active, but not a good combination for biking in the rain. Repeatedly moving certain joints and stretching certain areas will let water in, and these areas while biking seem to always be hit with a disproportionate amount of water, like the lower back or butt or elbows. I have this problem with my softshell Swrve knickers, particularly in the knees, which then soak through completely and allow water to run down my shins. 4-way stretch is a beautiful thing, but that stretch usually comes at the expense of water resistance. In a jacket like this that can be sold for a benjamin, it’s an apt compromise.

The MP3/phone pocket is accessible from the OUTSIDE of the jacket… in my opinion that’s something this jacket got right that the Orion got wrong. Who wants to unzip their jacket to press fast forward or change the song? This does mean, however, that the zipper’s waterproofing is the weak link in the chain for ipod dryness in a downpour. Also, the passthrough for the headset cord is really attractively printed with reflective silver, and seems durable and stretchy while being nicely sized for iPhone/skullcandy jacks.

The logo on the breast is also silver and somewhat reflective. Not so sure about the look of the logo itself, but I’m not really complaining on the branded parts of the jacket. Overall I think they are pretty pleasing logos.

The wrist cuffs are velcro cinch fit and cut like tubes. they don’t taper at all without the velcro, which I actually despise because I hate having to use velcro every time I remove the jacket. It’s noisy, it fails after a while, it rips up the surrounding material and it’s just an all-around poor excuse for a cuff that isn’t contoured well to the stretch of the fabric. To their credit, the velcro straps do have a very cool embossed logo at the end that I like very much, and they give you enough velcro there to cinch the straps down as much as you’d want, even with small girly wrists like mine.

The hood is HUGE and will fit over a skate helmet or climbing helmet… it’s for mountaineering so that makes sense… but it’s also got a well designed drawcord with an attractive red anodized metal grommet pull that pulls the hood out of your periphery quite nicely. The brim is small but seems to work well. As with any hood, it will only keep rain off your face if you look at your toes. In the dry, it’s a huge and permanently attached feature that can get in the way, but folds nicely over the shoulders when not in use, so it’s not as much in the way as something this huge can be. For such a large hood, it’s well contoured.

I would not have bought or been happy with this jacket at MSRP, but for $100 off I feel that it is quite a deal. I tried to just- you know, pretend it was an Orion and use it accordingly.

A really poorly cut, not nearly as water resistant, baggy armed Orion.

Le sigh.

After wearing the first ascent mountain softshell basically everyday for about two weeks, I looked at the piling on the inside fleece and decided I’d return it for my money back before the month ran out.

I landed my dream job and I’d rather have the Orion now, even if I have to wear inferior jackets for the time being while I save up. And no, I didn’t wear the Rondels into the interview… but I have worn them to the office since.

Deal Extreme P7 Lights

Lighting.

In the wintertime, it’s paramount in a way no movie or schwinn road frame could ever hope to be. With precious few hours of daylight, and commuting traffic on street and trail alike in darkness, lights on your bike become so important they actually cause physical harm. That is to say, you may be able to build a house out of the bricks you’ll shit from not having adequate lights.

Of course, there are marker “be-seen” lights, and illumination “seeing” lights. Most people know the places to go for, and the good deals on, marker lights. But for actual illumination, people either end up buying very expensive products from nightrider or light and motion, or try to make due with smaller, lower power LED’s from the same shelves they find the marker lights on.

Now in this post I won’t argue for what’s a better light or what’s the best tail light around for the money(that’s for another day) but I will tell you about the cheap, slightly problem-ridden bargains I’ve found from Deal Extreme.

DX is a chinese distributor that sells direct to the public with free worldwide(mostly, US definitely) shipping. Their products are knockoffs that are usually preproduction or outdated designs either backengineered or just tweaked from more reliably good companies. However, they usually use the same LED emitters that nicer lights do, just without the manufacture or assembly quality invested into nicer products manufactured in the same factories.

What this means is that you can get lights for a fraction the cost of the expensive lights that put out almost as much, and in some cases more, output than the name brand quality lights.

The Seoul Semiconductor (SCC) P7 is a fantastic quad core emitter that is rated at under 900 lumens. Because of current restrictions and heat and other problems, they don’t emit anywhere near 900, but a good functioning light can put out anywhere from 5-700 lumens, even with shoddy craftsmanship and poor manufacture quality of these bargain DX lights.

I’ll show you two lights, both by the DX sock puppet brand “MTE.” the first is a five-function P7 light which uses a D-bin emitter. The D bin is a little bluer in color and looks a little brighter, but depends on the actual unit.

Here it is on High, Medium, and Low. It also has two flash modes, a hi-strobe which seems like it would cause seizures, but is actually TOO HIGH FREQUENCY!!! to cause seizures in something like 99% of epileptics. That means it’s so annoying that when you first see it, you want to have a seizure but the actual danger of it causing a seizure is on par with a police strobe causing one. The fifth mode is an SOS mode, which actually flashes SOO and pauses for so long inbetween transmissions that it’s basically useless in traffic. By the time it starts flashing after completing a sequence, you’ll already be under the tires of that dumptruck.

All images shot at ISO 200, 3 sec shutter, f4.0 aperture on a nikon with no editing other than standard lightroom3 raw conversion. I’ve been told these are the same settings MountainBikeReview or whatever uses.

High:

high mode

high mode

Medium:

med mode

medium mode

Low:

low mode

low mode

You can see that low mode is very dim, probably only about 50-100 lumens. This actually works great to conserve battery life and have it operate as a ‘be-seen’ marker light.

The Hi-Strobe mode is same brightness as High mode. It’s ridiculously bright and when you’re riding with it, it kind of makes the world look like a old time projector reel movie. It stops being annoying after about five seconds or so of focusing on it as primary illumination.

Also, I have  a P7-C bin emitter light, a Two-mode MTE lamp mounted to my helmet.

Using both on high is unnecessary, but it’s nice to be able to point the beam because they have a center spot and there’s hardly any light outside of the beam.

This is High:

Low:

What’s nice about the combination, is that you can run one on low and the other on high and still have illumination even if they’re not pointed the same direction, like for when you’re checking your blind spots or whatnot.

These are brighter than lights that cost over $200, and as bright as some $400 lights.

Of course, because the quality is so low on these, sometimes you have to fix them with a solder gun or sand down the battery contacts in order to get them to work properly. I had to do the latter.

Also, battery life is extremely short, so you have to pack an extra battery if you could be on the road for more than an hour.

However, they’re also $20-40 each. You need to buy batteries and chargers(these take 18650 batteries which are huge and basically just for flashlights so hard to source) in addition, but it ends up costing around 50 dollars for the system with a bike mount or two and some extra batteries.

Also sold by DX is the magicshine lamp, which are basically versions of these P7 lights with external battery packs. Everyone loves them, but they cost 80-120. Now more manufacturers are copying the magicshine’s design and putting their own name on it with slight differences in things like the reflector design and heatsink fin design on the heads… but they’re still the same light. To me, magicshine is about the stupidest name for a light there is. I’d rather say “MTE SF-15 SSC P7 SXO D-Bin” and sound like a complete fuckhead than say “Magicshine” and sound like someone who farts rainbows and sings songs to children about sharing and why mommy went into the toolshed with the milkman.

Basically, I don’t care about an external battery pack. It just means I can’t take the flashlight off as easily and once it’s off, I can’t use it as a blunt force self defense weapon with the pointy assault crowns of these tactical flashlights.

I forgot to mention, they’re meant for tactical use attached to rifles or for personal carry to illuminate dark rooms when you’re holding a pistol in the other hand. Scared yet? Don’t crash into anyone with one of these on your bike.

Now these didn’t work properly and flickered and had stupid low output when I got them, but I’ve been able to fix one seemingly permanently and the other just takes some fiddling once in a while. For a system that performs with stuff costing four times as much, I’m okay with a little DIY. Don’t want DIY? buy a magicshine or similar lamp from a reputable vendor that will give you a replacement if something isn’t right.

Hey.

Don’t stop reading. I’m not done.

They also make tactical lights with red LEDs!

Here’s two K2 Luxeon LED lamps ziptied side by side to a triathalon water carry system that mounts to the seat rails:

Full lighting

Foreground lit by 'lightpainting' with the helmet mounted P7-C

And here’s what it looks like if you’re unfortunate enough to get in the beam pattern:

Again, foreground P7-C lit

These two babies put out around 200 lumens each and actually hurt to look at directly. We can argue the tactics of blinding or causing pain to the driver of a heavy car who’s behind you later… but in my experience this makes people back the fuck up off me. These K2 luxeons are ten bucks a lamp and take the same battery that the P7’s do.

Battery life is definitely the downside to such bright lights. But when the alternative is spending the same 60 dollars on a system that makes you blink a lot and not able to see adequately over 10mph, I am pretty happy with the performance of these lights.

I love be seen lights, and I have a pair of knog boomers that I love dearly.

But the Boomers are marker lights. These are illumination lights, and the fact that you can set yourself up with lights this powerful for 60 bucks front and rear is pretty insane. or pay closer to 150 and go with Magicshine lamps and have external batteries that may last a bit longer. Or just pay ten more bucks for a spare set of batteries and keep them charged. Or live in the dark and live in fear. Choice is up to you. If I could do it all over again I’d get a magicshine 1400, or save up for a stella 300. I can live with a lot less light if the quality of the component is high. I’d rather have a light I won’t ever worry about flickering than one where the battery pack has been recalled.

MATERIAL::ThreadedKilo

Cinelli Fork. Threaded. Ouroboros “Serpent” decals. 105 cranks.

This is how it will stay for a while.

Just one small problem…

This post is about things that are just a nudge, a prod, or a tweak from excellence. These are the things that I think “oh, what a bargain” instead of “O, thy perfection.”

It’s hardly ever a matter of function and only seldom a matter of usability, but these small design flaws become so much more. They are what makes me want to throw out all of my shit. It’s these flaws that make me want to not have anything at all if I can’t have what’s perfect. These are the small infractions that keep a score at 97% or even 99% instead of what I really want it to be. They make 99% feel like an F+.

It’s probably going to sound like incessant and overly critical nitpicking, and that’s what it is. But please understand that these are some of my favorite things I own, and some part of my heart and mind loves each and every one of these ‘things’ on some deep level that at once comforts and frightens me. So when I nitpick at these things, please imagine that you understand it to be because I care about them so very deeply that it pains me to know they’re not perfect.

Because as I will now catalog, they’re not.

Let’s start with my Kilo TT frame. I’ve been riding this bike since September of 2007, and it’s been wonderful. One would be hard pressed to find a nicer riding steel frame for less money, especially one that is offered as a complete bike in the Kilo’s price range. I’m only talking about the frame here… obviously any track bike shy of the 800 dollar mark produced today is going to be a long way off from perfection… but as a cheap frameset, the Kilo nearly achieves it. Except for a few things…

The geometry is great, but it has decidedly “track bike” clearances. The geometry induces toe overlap with nearly all sizes and will only fit 28c tires to those that are truly zealous rubber lovers. It’s perfectly well suited to road riding- it’s not a 75 degree head angle twitchy keirin frame and it’s meant for people to ride around town as well as at a velodrome… but it’s not a bike made for commuting. It’s a beginner’s track bike, made for use on the street or the velodrome if you want to dip your toes into racing. And at this aim it succeeds wildly.

But there are two things that for me, eclipse perfection with a maddeningly immutable certainty.

First, there are the rack brazeons on the chainstays.

Now the kilo can accommodate a rack just fine. It has a single set of eyelets on the dropouts and it has strong enough rear triangle that your ortliebs(packed chubby with your change of clothes and a bag lunch) aren’t going to break the frame after years of jostling around. However, this frame is not a touring bike. It’s not a commuter bike. It’s not a pedestrian road bike and it’s not a fredmobile. It’s a beginner’s racing bike. It’s a fixed gear for those that want to look good and start racing without spending an asston of money. And it most certainly does not need rack brazeons. They ruin what would otherwise be a perfectly beautiful rear fastback seatstay cluster.

While we’re at it: that brake bridge. Just make it a single straight gauge tube. No one should be putting a rear brake on a kilo. That’s what the Windsor Hour is for. The bianchi pista has a straight brake bridge and no one complains. Okay, no one who matters complains.

This brings us to the dropouts, or ‘track fork ends’ as they are called.

They are shaped nicely enough, but they lack the sharpness and hard looks to really make this bike godly. This is mostly due to the way they shape the stays ends where the dropouts are fitted. See how fat and lazy those look? I know lots of nice frame builders used to do it in this manner, but those bikes had lugs. The kilo would be beautiful beyond description if the stay ends didn’t round out in spherical nubs like they do. A smooth tapering fillet brazed stay/dropout juncture is key on a tig welded frame like the kilo. It would make the dropouts look better, helping the overall shape of the dropouts to not look so chubby.

That, and they have goddamn fender eyelets. Why does a track bike need fender eyelets? It doesn’t. Dear god.

Okay, that’s about it for the kilo. The fork could be lighter, and the frame could be stiffer, and on and on. But all of that drives the price up. What I mentioned, aside from the stay/dropout junctions, would actually decrease the price of production and labor.

At this point you’re probably thinking “jeez, if you care that much just get a real track bike.” That’s not the point. The point is that the kilo is what it is, but it could be that much better if it had these few small tweaks. Yes, these are basically all ‘looks’ based complaints. No, that doesn’t make me feel any less about them.

So let’s move on.

Next we have the Arc’teryx jacket. I believe this one is called the Gamma AR but I could be wrong.

It’s a beautiful jacket. The materials are flawless, the texture is perfect, the stitching is, well, not perfect but darn close, and it’s generally a fantastic jacket.

However, generally does not quite do it for me. I bike and I would love to have three of the features the rapha softshell has.

Notice I am not saying I want the rapha softshell. Firstly, it’s more expensive than this jacket is, which is already wildly exorbitant. Second, I don’t particularly care for the two black and red color choices. Black is nice but it’s too techy. I like the Arc’teryx color palettes much more. However, the rapha jacket is a design stroke of genius in many ways, and those are what I feel lacking in the Gamma AR.

The first is a reflective detail. Not any huge stripe or piping, but a small reflective detail like the rapha logo on their rear skirt, or the blk label swrve beltloop on their knickers. Nothing that isn’t already on the jacket, but something that would reflect headlights so I can have a little added safety. I am not trying to look good for on camera flash photographers, nor am I trying to sneak into secure buildings undetected in this jacket. I’d like a reflective bit, no larger than a square inch or so of material. Just a very small, ultimately subtle, nearly unnoticeable reflective detail, somewhere visible from the rear of the jacket. My choice would be the thread they use to embroider the arc’teryx logo on the rear of the neck, or maybe just a printed logo along the back waist, about the size of the logo in the inside label.

Second is the flipout thumbhole/wrist warmers found on the rapha jacket. This idea is genius and seriously invaluable to any cyclist. Wind up the sleeves is one of the worst things that can happen in the cold. Cold arms are cold hands, and it’s just unpleasant to all hell. These things can flip inside the jacket when you don’t want them, and flip down when you do. Perfect.

Third, and most of all, I’d like the zipper to be asymmetric. I don’t know why more jackets don’t do this. Again, the rapha guys got this dead on. Asymmetric zippers disrupt the front of the garment less, don’t bunch up funny in bent positions, and are less prone to wind penetration. Okay, so not everyone zips with the same hand, and maybe it’s harder to craft this; but I still think it’s a good idea. When a zipper goes all ‘s-curve’ around my stomach because the waist has ridden up, it’s the absolute single most unflattering thing that can happen on a garment. Asym zippers won’t do this. That alone should be reason to cut the zipper in asymmetrically. it’s only an inch or two more zipper material, and when you have a jacket that costs this much there’s no excuse not to other than some people may think it looks funny. Screw those people.

A back ‘jersey’ style pocket for cycling would be nice, but that would make it a cycling jacket, which I don’t want. This jacket would be great and these three listed improvements would still make it perfect whether on or off a cycle. I share the opinion with companies like outlier, swrve and the like that good urban cycling clothes are normal clothes that are of the highest quality and only show their cycling functionality when you get on a bike. My cycling clothes of choice wouldn’t look like cycling clothes at all. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the three things I listed above.

Let’s move on now to the P7 flashlights.

These would be great if they worked.

For some reason, both of mine(two separate models) only work at full brightness for  a moment before stepping down to about 1/3 output. What would be a wonderful headlight for distance vision at speed on the bike quickly turns into a walking lamp, incapable of lighting the road far enough ahead to be of use. It must be something about the power supply and driver or switch regulating the power across the LED, but dear god is it frustrating that these things don’t just work like they should. Yes, they’re cheap dealxtrm chinese crap with no quality control- if that means i have unrealistic expectations, then fine. Again, you should have realized this by now.

Unrealism is what this post is about. That is the entire point of this post; expecting perfection without paying life savings for it.

And then finally we have the Samsung Reality.

This phone wants to be a smart phone so badly, it hurts. It tries to look like one, it tries to act like one, but it has software that makes me want to throw it off a cliff and that makes it dumb. It’s a dumbphone.

For example… the music player is so dumb, it trys to predict which way you’re holding the phone so it can orient the display and controls to your horizon. However, what this ends up doing is effectively taking away all of your function controls to display some sort of ridiculous cover-flow-deformity that not only doesn’t work, but also reverses the volume keys on the side of the phone. Worst of all, it will switch between the two with no warning so when you put the phone in your pocket, it goes to landscape cover-flow-abortion mode after you’ve stopped looking at it. Then you go to change the volume, and it does the opposite of what you’re telling it to do. There’s no way to disable this setting, and there’s no way to change how the phone plays music.

Another hilariously disgusting pestilence of this phone is that it has SEVEN VOLUME SETTINGS FOR MUSIC. that’s six notches, from “OFF” to “LOUD ENOUGH FOR A MIDDLE AGED EASY LISTENING AFICIONADO.”

You can’t get another application or change the music app in any way.  Now it does have features, like several ‘equilizer’ type presets and playlists and shuffle and the like. But the problems aren’t limited to UI and lack of settings. It will do some really funky things to the audio on certain formats and certain frequencies. Dubstep, even with a set of 40mm driver headphones, is not going to play on this phone. It has low tone frequency handling of a wasp. The music might as well be recordings of girls sneezing, with the distortion and clipping that the phone exhibits, before it even gets to the speakers.

Not all phones can be smart phones. And not all phones need to be. But if you’re going to be a multimedia phone, which the reality is sold as, you need to be able to play multimedia halfway decently, and the reality just can’t. The UI is horrible, the features are stupid, and the settings aren’t settings at all, they’re arbitration. Reality bites.

Product//Review::Rondel bike shoe

This shoe really fills a niche that I believe to be previously vacant and in high demand… a shoe that accepts two/four bolt cleats, looks good, feels comfortable to walk all day in, and can be worn at most people’s office jobs.

Well, maybe not with my fanboi lacing.

All the same… you can’t wear your keen sandals to a meeting with your boss(Okay, maybe you can, but most people can’t.) You can’t wear your Sidi Genius all day walking around town with your friends. Even if you can, good god why would you? You can’t wear your SixSixOne Filters to a job interview at any place that pays over, say, a bartender’s salary. Now the Rondel… well…

The Rondel can do all these things. It does do all these things and while, no, I haven’t landed that job yet… I think it does them well.

It looks like an unassuming sneaker… but it’s devoid of flashy logos, phat skate tongues, and sneakery-materials.

So let’s talk features… it’s a leather shoe with a gum rubber sole, an elastic lace-keeper on the tongue, a perforated footbed, a link shaped reflector in the back, and a place for cleats on the sole.

That’s pretty much it. Everything you need, nothing you don’t.

Plus, I think it looks WAY better than the Chrome shoe.

And unlike the Chrome shoe, it’s leather… REAL LEATHER! ALL LEATHER! Not suede leather either, soft hide leather… so it looks far more classy and expensive than a pair of Chucks. Think samba, but softer and finer. Don’t get me wrong, I like the look of the Chrome shoes, but I wouldn’t wear them to an office expecting me to dress business casual. Chromes are too casual. And the comparison ends there, because YOU CAN ACTUALLY BIKE IN THE RONDELS.

The SPD compatible footbed is made of a lightweight semi-stiff plastic. The shoe is made by DZR shoes in China and the packaging – and actual shoes – flaunt this fact. The footbed is sandwiched between a gum rubber outsole(with cool insane doodle styling and chain link themed tread) and a perforated(thank god!) insole that is removable for washing or for replacing the SPD backplate. Included with the shoe is ONE backplate(one? really?) and two orange hard rubber SPD area blanks that will screw in to complete the outsole if you have cut out the SPD bed but want to castrate revert the shoe back to a walking shoe.

And let me say… it’s one hell of a fine walking shoe. Maybe it’s just my feet… but I love walking in these shoes. I really mean that. If you like the looks of this shoe and you don’t bike, you should consider getting it. I mean, they’re that good for walking.

It also, of course, makes for a very pleasant biking experience. Pedal strokes are reassuringly powerful and direct, with nearly no flex in the footbed during normal riding. I even believe these to be less flexy in the actual upper than my adidas mountain bike shoes. These aren’t some carbon race shoe, but for the level of comfort they provide when walking from the Embarcadero to Ghiradelli Square, I was astounded at the rigidity and feel they give when clipped in.

They aren’t the easiest things to clip in with, but clipping out has proved easy as cake and if you can’t clip in quickly with these, clipless probably isn’t for you.

As for the quality of craftsmanship… well, I expected better for $130, especially because the materials are so nice.

The shoes are comfortable for lounging when tied loosely, but they are only available in full sizes(plus 8.5) so odds are your foot size will require you to fit them with the lacing instead of just getting them to a happy medium and slipping them on and off your feet. That never works with shoes of this design, anyway.

For walking, they are as comfortable as my pair of adidas sambas, but not as comfortable as my adidas zx750. (for the record, my biggest quarrel with these shoes is that they are not adidas, ha!)

For biking, they require tight lacing and reward it with great comfort, power and feel. I can see them getting hot on hot days, but I can also see biking with them through snow and not having to worry about frostbite. They don’t do so well in the rain. They turn into buckets rather quickly in a serious downpour.

Are these the be-all-and-end-all of the cycling shoe? No. Not by a mile.

But do they prove the concept that you can bike to work, walk around all day, climb a few hills on your way to a bar, impress your friends while standing around in line and look good all without changing shoes? Yes. Magnificently. Best of all, your feet won’t hurt at the end of the day.

I love their style, I like their comfort, and for a shoe that does what these do they really are a pretty fair price. You’d spend more on a set of nice road shoes and a pair of sambas, anyway.

About the quality… 130 is a lot of money and the stitching and general craftsmanship is… well… decidedly what I’d expect for something that says “Made In China” on the side of the box… not necessarily what I’d expect for 130. They don’t look or feel like they’re going to break, and there’s only one thing that I would say is wrong with them(contacting Mission Workshop about that after the holiday, I won’t go into that until it’s resolved), but after wearing them for a week or so I’m thinking the quality could be stepped up a little in manufacturing. The design, materials, and engineering are all fantastic. It’s just that fit and finish I find it lacking. We’ll see about the one problem in a bit.

Update: I contacted Mission Workshop about the problem. Apparantly, a few shoes in the first run batch(I purchased mine before the flyer went out that they had landed) had a problem with the alignment of the cleat mount plates in the soles. Mine were only a couple mm off, but it meant I couldn’t adjust the spd cleats to be far enough away from the rubber side of the sole. I could clip in with them, and I even went on a 6o mile ride with them like that, but clipping out was difficult because twisting the cleat made the pedal hit the sole before it could disengage. I contacted Mission Workshop and they immediately got a new shoe to me in the mail for a free exchange. The new shoe is great, aligned perfectly, and I’ve been enjoying them anew ever since.

The whole ordeal was handled flawlessly and I’d say the SF store and headquarters provided excellent customer service. I will definitely be buying one of their bags, which are made in Colorado, as soon as I can afford one.

TL;DR : If I had to grade these shoes I’d give them an 8.5/10,  docking a point and a half for the craftsmanship quality of the shoes’ assembly. Everything else is stellar.

Powdercoat: Emerald Kilo

My bike is refreshed anew.

Seattle Powdercoat did the finish, a two stage coat by Cardinal finishes named “Sparkling Granny Smith Green.” It’s a base green with gold metal flecks covered with a second clear coat to give it the depth and smoothness of paint.

It’s fantastic.

Oddly enough, the same day I chose my color and dropped off my frame, bikeforums user Gonathan85 dropped his frame off… and three hours after I had chosen my color, reported that he had chosen the same color.

I rode the piss out of the bike on GoMeansGo’s 9-5 solstice ride: a scavenger hunt that takes place on the shortest night of the year. I put close to 55 miles on the bike and realized the saddle and bars were limiting. Great on a track or sprint, not so great over poorly paved urban roads. On Monday I remedied that by picking up a used set of Ritchey Pro Biofit ergonomic road drop bars and an old Vetta Gel Turbo saddle. The saddle’s a great shape for my posterior, but the foam and covering are on their last legs. Whatever, it was five dollars… and if it rips to shreds in a few months at least I learned Turbo saddles fit me very well.

I took it out that night for the Monday Muscle ride. We did 35 miles around Alki to West Seattle and back. I was extremely pleased with the saddle and bars on the (shorter) trip. Much improved hand and wrist comfort and the saddle seems to support my sit bones a little better.

It was a great night.

I wrapped the bars with fizik microtex tape- which is also gonathan’s choice and again, my purchase predated his posting by about three hours. I think we’re the same person on different quantum wavelengths.

In addition to the finish and bar/saddle upgrades, I picked up a Knog Boomer taillight. This thing is AMAZING. It’s a one watt LED like the famed planet bike superflash, but it has more patterns and a brilliant Knog form factor and attachment loop, for easy mounting on either of my bikes. I’m in love with it.

However, not all is roses and daisies in my biking exploits. It’s summer here in Seattle, and today was a scorcher. My attire is lacking in the ‘keep my cool’ department.
Because of this, I’m having a severe case of “want but can’t afford” a lightweight short version of the swrve knickers I blogged about so lovingly earlier. These shorts are made of a sweet and light fabric and would be amazing on my thighs during these hot days.

http://www.swrvestore.com/servlet/Detail?no=152

Not to mention, as part of their blk label collection, they have a very sexy cut and featureset including a reflective buckle loop and extra u-lock pocket. Lust.

I will have to wait for these until I’m gainfully employed. Going to make that happen soon.

MATERIAL::OutdoorGear

So thanks to REI’s basement of return goods, I’ve scored a few more outdoor products that I’ve been putting to the test. I’m not an advanced outdoorsman by any means but this simple, affordable gear has allowed me to get into some activities with both confidence and style… and that’s something worth writing about.

First we have something that I was lacking in my PNW wardrobe: a good rain shell.

The Mountain Hardwear Conduit DT jacket is a pretty basic model, but my goodness does this breathable rain proof 2.5 ply shell ever do a good job. It’s light, waterproof, packable, and has just enough features… the hood fits me well(though in its rain shielding it does inhibit forward visibility a bit much for walking in a city), the pit zips are generous, and the pockets are well placed and thought out.

I’m all in all very happy with this jacket- it was a steal at 26 dollars moderately used return(the velcro at the wrists has roughed up the fabric, otherwise only mildly worn… still v. waterproof and the zippers work great, contrary to the customer’s reason for the return)… and I don’t even mind the DUDE::ITSRAINING blue color.

Next up we have the Flash 18.

The Flash 18 is phenomenal.

Now, I don’t exactly love REI’s designs on their house brand clothes. The clothing, and Element jackets in particular, take a rather conservative approach to technical wear that I find uninspired. The design and look of their bikes, however, is beautiful and very competitive, while still attractively practical and muted. A Novara Safari next to, say, a Scott SUB10 is a veritable marathon of class, taste, and sophistication. Their jackets are like your sensible, work-a-day neighbor who never plays music loud and only washes his sports car after driving through mud puddles, instead of every other saturday just so you can see just how shiny the paint is. They’re great, and they’re fine, but they’re toeing the line of ‘unremarkable,’ insular in their bubble of ‘respectable.’

Not so with their backpacks. Their backpacks may not have the cool names or exotic looks and graphic assaults of similar bags from osprey, arc’teryx… nor the boldface design of one such mountain hardwear or north face, but what they lack in formidible recognition cues, they more than make up for in their sheer awesome-performance-for-versatility-to-feature-for-price chart ratiometer. Seriously… these packs pack a whallop.

The heavy, conquer the wild with massive hauling ability touring backpacks are sturdy and designed with an exacting hand. I have no experience backpacking but… they seem better equipped than my fifteen year old kelty external frame and more stylish than the oh-so-expensive-because-they-work-so-well Gregory packs they find themselves next to. Again, just a snap judgement without any experience, but they look great-

All the way down the range to the award winning flash lineup… which this, the 18L sack, rounds out the bottom of. Now a lot of people look at this and say “minimalist on a budget” but to that I say… “realist with a gumption.”  The material is light as all get out, and the design cuts no corners while taking a racing line through the material mass index. I have read reviews of the daisy chains breaking loose, but after a mild hike with a full nalgene and my climbing shoes carabiner’d to the tool loop, I’m going to say those were flukes and if these chains can’t handle your load, you’re asking too much of a minimal pack. More on that later, as I’ve ordered 12′ of quarter inch shock cord and three spring locks to make a compression mesh through the chains on the back. Will they hold up? I think so.

Speaking of minimalism, I also dropped 15 dollars on this 5 ounce “everything but the water” survival kit:

I’ve taken this pack climbing, hiking, grocery getting, and to friends houses. It’s appointed well. At 30 dollars, the flash 18 poses a ridiculous value for the style and performance delivered. All the colorways were beautiful and contemporary, making it hard to pick this slate/orange combo… but I’m happy. It blends exceptionally well with the Conduit DT shell, and only clashes a little bit with the Next Thing On The List.

The Scarpa Techno rock climbing shoes are very, very nicely crafted. I am extremely new to rock climbing but I will say, I wouldn’t be having near as much fun learning had I not scored these beautiful 135 dollar shoes for 67 dollars slightly worn with a single lace loop broken. They fit me great from what I can tell and the grip I find with these things blows me away every time I put my weight through them.

The Mad Rock chalk bag, new, $15, is by far my least favorite *looking* of my latest trappings… but while I don’t necessarily like the style or design of this bag, it does match the color scheme of the Scarpas well enough and when it comes down to it, a chalk bag is a chalk bag is a chalk bag. It even has a stash pocket that I’m using as a ziplock bag holder for the chalk sock I put in it.

Now while some might cringe at the thought of putting your foot into a used climbing shoe, I’m not really a germaphobe. Also, my sense of ‘fit’ is somewhat (extremely) undeveloped… so from what I can tell these are great shoes that are doing their part in my introduction to bouldering and climbing.

I may not be climbing with any authority yet, but I am utilizing some holds and smears and wedges to get some lines I can be overjoyed about… and I think these shoes will outhold my skill level for some time to come.

So in conclusion: I spent a little chunk of change over the last few weeks at REI, but damn if I didn’t get some nice gear for it.

This summer I plan on Day Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Climbing and braving the rain like was previously unthinkable. I feel extremely Seattlite, and by gods does it feel good.