Real World Review: Pactimo Bits of Kit

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A cool Blue Ridge Parkway day in late October made comfortable with Pactimo vest and warmers.

The difference between a comfortable and safe ride and one that’s rather unpleasant lies in various bits of kit. In this review I want to turn my attention to the little things that make a BIG difference: arm warmers, knee warmers and full length leg warmers.

The warmers are made with ThermaGuard fabric: which does an excellent job pushing moisture away from the skin, and maintaining it’s insulating properties. The compressive nature of the fabric gives it a snug, contoured fit – as well as some extra muscle support. Because of the articulated design the warmers move well with the rider…not unlike a second layer of skin. Quite agreeable for athletes known for having well developed legs and pipe-cleaner arms!

My gripe with other warmers is they get saggy, and then begin to creep downward, leaving unsightly gaps in your kit. [Worth an estimated 3 billion anti-style points] Between the fit and the silicone grippers this is a non-issue with Pactimo.

The workmanship is clean and durable. Though my Pactimo warmers outlived products from other manufacturers by a factor of two, Pactimo graciously replaced a set of arm and leg warmers NQA last fall. They have one of the best customer satisfaction policies in the biz.

Together with reflective accents and the thoughtful touch of ankle zippers on the leg warmers, you have an adaptable clothing system to meet varying conditions.

Be sure to check out my Real World Reviews on Pactimo Raptor Bibs, Breckenridge Vest, and the Alpine Thermal RT jersey.

Contact me through this blog for a 30% discount code.

 

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Springtime in the Arctic

bernard-hinaults-springSpringtime in Northern Minnesota is a dream interrupted by the nightmare of winter in a frozen swamp. Twice I’ve ridden only in a long sleeve jersey and leg warmers – followed by 35 degree temps and icy winds the next day. It didn’t help that I bumped into some friends yesterday who’d just gotten back from a road trip to points south. They were sure to tell me about all the green grass they saw in Oklahoma.

I could not find it in my heart to share in their excitement.

I don’t think I’d want to ride there, anyway. Too many tornadoes and such.

I’m supposed to do a 2 hour indoor ride today, but I’m procrastinating. I’m running out of strategies to trick myself into getting motivated for another workout on the trainer. I have videos of beautiful places. I have coaches yelling at me from the TV screen. I have structured workouts, Turner Classic Movies, and the Waking Dead. But it’s a sign of the season when the only thing that can make me turn the cranks with purpose is Aerosmith at excessive volume.

Don’t get me wrong. I mean, I’ve had my share of 35 degree rides this spring. I’m sure it’s improved my moral fiber, hardened me up and made me a better person. So if you’re from SoCal and you consider 50 degrees a cold wave, try and cut me some slack. All of us up here are doing the best we can.
badgerIt takes one moderately sunny, somewhat-not-cold outdoor ride, and I start pacing the cage. I find myself scanning Weather Underground four times a day, looking for that elusive next break in the frozen shenanigans. I cross reference other weather websites looking for the most hopeful forecast…and then curse them for being mistaken.

BUT IT WILL COME. The signs are there. The glacier on the driveway has receded. Long lost dog toys are no longer entombed in the snowbanks – much to the delight of our two cohabiting German Shepherds. Sometimes the heat switches off for an hour or two in the afternoon…

It must come, because it always does. The days are longer, and filled with the soon to be realized promise of  mud, mosquitoes and the gaseous fragrance of thawing wetlands. In not too long us pasty Minnesotans will emerge from hibernation and stand blinking in the sunlight. We’ll undo the top two buttons of our flannel shirts and smile.

It will be springtime in the arctic.

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Shave Your Legs, Okay?

wolfmanHis name was Charlie. I met him on a supported tour in CO. Nice guy. It was hot as we pulled up the 9-13% grade on Devil’s Gulch Road east of Estes Park. As we were chatting I glanced to my right and caught sight of his legs. What I saw normally is reserved for special effects in horror movies. The thick black hair on his legs was marinating in a viscous mix of sweat, road grit, crumbs from the energy bar he’d just eaten, and a few random insects. The Wolfman would’ve been proud to claim those hairy calves as his own – except Lon Chaney had  hygienic standards. And people actually wonder why real cyclists shave their legs?

It’s part of a greater story that knows no boundary of time. To shave our legs is to channel the the legends of the peloton of the last century. Close your eyes and you’re eating dust on an unpaved road in the Dolomites in 1951. You’re toiling in the Mediterranean sun across the south of France in a grupetta rolling at 45 Kph. You are connected to a great cosmic ride surrounded by the ghosts of Le Tour past. You drop back to the team car to pick up water, and then press a bottle into the outstretched hand of Greg Lemond. You find yourself pedaling in a great churning sea of shaved legs.

It’s a sign of fellowship. Walk into a high end bike shop with shaved legs and you get better service. Dine outside on the patio wearing shorts and other cyclists nod as they walk by. Conversely, if someone shows up for a fast group ride with hairy legs – stay away from them, as they are obviously a neophyte. There’s an 88% probability they are wearing whitey-tighties under their bike shorts.

RaphaShavingCreamI’ve tried to help several guys [girls already do this without being asked] take the leap of faith, and shave. The lame excuses roll out: the stubble makes me itch…my wife will laugh at me…I don’t feel like it. I’ve tried humor, brow-beating, I’ve even tried adopting a quasi-theological tone: LET HIM WHO WOULD FOLLOW TAKE UP HIS RAZOR. I mean, dollar shave club will keep you stocked with fresh blades forever. All to no avail.

The practical side of smooth legs lies in the event of a crash. It’s bad enough to get road rash, worse to have hundreds of hair follicles ripped out in an instant. Worse-er still, carry a small army of microscopic beasties in your leg pelt and rub it into your abrasion so you get a ripping infection.

A few days later, during the aforementioned ride, I faced the CAT 1 climb out of Steamboat Springs after four days and more than 20K of climbing at altitude. I got up feeling pretty blown, so I put a fresh shave on my legs and face, and pulled out my sharpest cycling kit. When I lined up at the start, alongside me were the spirits of Fausti Coppi, Bernard Hinault, Jens Voigt and a vast multitude of clean shaven velo warriors. Looking at my legs, they welcomed me as one of their own.

I crushed the climb.

Shave your legs, okay?

 

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2016 Habitat 500

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Can you tell that the bike is my happy place?

I’ll be riding the Habitat 500 charity ride for the fourth time this year. Why, you may ask? Isn’t that an awful long time to sit perched on a skinny saddle? Well, the ride and it’s mission are kind of addicting.

Habitat for Humanity helps people build their own affordable homes. It’s not a hand-out. It’s not a government welfare program. In fact, it’s not the government at all!

We are a private non-profit Christian Ministry that strives to love people by helping them into decent and affordable housing. They bang nails, hang insulation, cut wood, and paint walls with the help of many community volunteers. Habitat promotes cross-cultural collaboration and makes our communities stronger. The outcome studies for thriving neighborhoods are much more positive for Habitat housing when compared to HUD low income projects. I’m also honored to serve on our local Habitat Board of Directors.

Back to the ride.

Last year the riders raised over $350,000 to fund new home starts in Minnesota. Some years we’ve topped $400, 000. We find our sponsorship within our communities by talking first-hand with interested people. Some are business owners, community leaders – but most are everyday folks who’ve caught the vision for something special. Last year I raised $3600, so at the urging of our Board I’m setting my goal to $4500.

To donate online go to my Hutera fundraising page

To learn more about the mission of Habitat for Humanity click HERE.

A Southern Pilgrimage

I’m writing this account a few months after the fact. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is purely intentional.

Sitting in the Greenville – Spartanburg airport, I’m doing my best to grasp the epic scale of the last few days. I’ve just completed 213 miles and 23,399 feet of climbing over four rides in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In early September my friend Mike and I hatched the idea. He was going to be here anyway racing the Hincapie Fondo, so why not come on down? After a season foreshortened by a bout with mono, back problems and numerous work interruptions, I saw the opportunity to close it out on a high note, and air tickets were purchased.

blue-ridge-parkway_2The area between Greenville, SC and Asheville, NC is a maze of rolling valley roads and climbing scenic highways. The cyclist friendly Blue Ridge Parkway and it’s feeder roads offer numerous options. Many rides begin with a long climb and end with a bombing descent – the middle part being a stretch on the Parkway. It’s no wonder that World Tour and Pro Continental riders live and train here.

FIRST DAY. We woke up to pouring rain, and decided it was ill-advised to go for a ride. Instead we headed out for a recon drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy some peak foliage and pay a visit to the Appalachian Folk Art Center. Part store and part museum, the center sells the work of local artisans and displays virtually priceless examples of regional craftspeople – including period black and white photos of frowning women churning butter and their men standing by in patched overalls.

SECOND DAY. I don’t often think of riding in the rain as an opportunity to find something special. Mostly I avoid it. But we didn’t travel this far to sit in a hotel room – so we headed out to do Caesar’s Head and Mt Sassafras. The mist and occasional rain showers provided a neutral palette that made the foliage really pop. Through this tunnel of color we settled into the CAT 1 climb leading up into the state park, and reached the summit welcome center in high spirits. After Mike stuffed some glossy brochures into the front of his jersey – for warmth and possible later reading – we descended toward Sassafras.

sass3The final climb rose in two steep walls separated by a short flatter section: both walls averaged 15% and hit 21% briefly. The storm  had pasted a layer of wet leaves on the pavement, and let it be known for future posterity that this made for a supremely slick situation…going up AND down. I’m fairly strong, and was able to climb the first wall seated. On the second wall I got up out of the saddle only to feel my tires spin out beneath me. It was time for walk. Mike was kind enough to capture the moment: yep, that shadowy figure is me. He also captured the moment in verse:

With the final high point made, at the overlook they peered
No fall colors or great views they saw – Instead, the grayness sneered

After picking our way down from the summit, we descended down to Rocky Bottom. As the sun began to peak through the clouds we finished our plunge to the valley on drying roads through a section of technical curves. As we rolled back into Pumpkintown, SC, it was evident that we had indeed found something special in the rain.

burnerTHIRD DAY. There’s nothing like consecutive days of hard cycling to kindle faith. For example, it is a supreme act of faith to get out of bed – never mind getting kitted up and heading out the door. This is why I favor week long point-to-point tours or riding with friends that I don’t want to disappoint: both effectively sabotage any laziness on my part. And, so, off we went to Transylvania county to ride the legendary Rosman Half-Burner. The 18 mile HC climb up to the Parkway unfolds in two parts. First there’s a steady climb averaging maybe 5% that leads to a flat section that has undoubtedly broken the hearts of legions of cyclists who thought they were done climbing. NOT A CHANCE. The final eight miles were sustained double-digit grades.

On the way up the final section I had trouble overheating and had to stop twice to cool off. After another heartbreaking false summit, I got to the summit fully cooked, and headed off with numb legs to find Mike…which I did. He was standing on a bridge drying his clothes in the wind with a big grin on his face:

How ya doing buddy?!’ ‘BLOWN‘ I replied. [e.g. wrecked, trashed, wasted]  After devouring an entire Pro Bar and half a bottle of water, I recovered and we proceeded to a curvy descent that put a smile back on my face. With an impatient driver creeping up from behind, I surrendered to gravity and hit the first hairpin going 30. I don’t recall seeing that vehicle again. A few minutes earlier I asked Mike about the terrain ahead. He must’ve sensed a bit of desperation in my voice, so he replied, You know, it goes up some and down some. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to be pleasantly surprised by this ripping descent.

Later that evening we discussed the next day: Mike talking animatedly, and me lying on the floor answering in three word sentences. With the cold temps forecasted on Mt Mitchell, we agreed to do two climbs adjacent to the Parkway, and finish up with a long CAT 1 to Craggy Gardens. The forecast was for bright sun.


mikeonmitchellFOURTH DAY
. Mike and I were both feeling strong as we headed out toward Ashville. My resurrection from the dead was complete after my recovery routine of the night before. I felt down-right sporty as we headed for the top of Town Mountain, and it’s gorgeous descent through banked curves down into Ashville, NC. After a water stop we picked our way through residential neighborhoods to the start of the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway – a perfectly lovely CAT 2 climb ascending through switchbacks back up to the BRP. As it turned out my adventure was just beginning.

Somehow I misunderstood which Craggy Gardens I was to meet Mike at. There’s a picnic area and a visitor’s center – I visited both and added another 500 feet of climbing to further build my character. Now, we often say that a hard effort is ‘worth it’ – whether we believe it or not. Sometimes what we really mean is that we’re thankful the ordeal has come to an end. But I’m here to say that every bit of that 7631′ of climbing was worth it. We stood at the top of a 17 mile long descent.

IMG_0233Endurance athletes chase an endorphin-laced transcendent dream who’s fulfillment lies eternally beyond the next hill. And in keeping with this, a ride has the capacity to move us deeply. After the first tunnel I let my bike run: simultaneously attending to speeds approaching 75 Kph, setting up for each curve and taking quick glances at mountain top views to my left. I was moved: in equal parts of awe, gratitude and joy as I swung through the turns and tucked along the straightaways on the way back down to the Folk Art Center.

FIFTH DAY. Today answered the question of what to do with a limited amount of time and a plane to catch:

Get packed…get dressed…and go for a bike ride.

We headed over to Paris Mountain and were given permission by the fine folks at Hincapie Cycling Clothing to park in their lot. After warming up on a bike trail through a swamp, we arrived at the base of Paris Mountain where I settled into my climbing cadence – reaching the top in fine form, even if I do say so. Everything seems easier on the last day of a hard bike trip – so I didn’t consciously take note of the steep sections on either side…I just pedaled along eyes and ears wide open, trying to catch every last little bit before we were done.

parisThe trees bowed over the road making golden a tunnel fit for a king. As we entered Paris Mountain State Park the road wound sharply up and down through hardwood forests until our turn-around. On the way back I could see Mike was letting go in his own way: repeating one of the climbs and descents to wring every last ounce of joy from the road. Then it was a quick trip back across the bike path through the swamp, tearing down my bike, jamming my sweaty kit into my suitcase in favor of a pair of jeans and my last clean t-shirt…and off to the airport.

Almost five months later I’m still pausing over the keyboard – lost for minutes at a time remembering. I love everything about the bike. I love the technical bits of carbon and titanium…going fast and long with the sun on my back…the quiet hum of a well adjusted drivetrain…the feeling of relief and accomplishment when summiting a hard climb…dousing my head with cold water on a hot day. I love all the places I can go. But more than this, it’s sharing it all with a friend.

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Real World Review: Pactimo Alpine RFLX Thermal Jersey

r00529_m_apline_rflx_ls_jersey_printed_f15-black_orange_front_8The Alpine RFLX Thermal Jersey is a new offering from Pactimo this fall. I was looking for something to fill the gap between a summer weight long-sleeved jersey and an insulated jacket…so I gave it a try. My testing ground was a week on the Blue Ridge Parkway in late October, where we encountered rain, wind, bright sun and temps ranging between 40-60 degrees.

Tackling long climbs and overheating in cool temps is one of the nagging issues with fall riding – where we can go from dripping sweat to hypothermia in minutes. I found it easy to regulate my core temp by both unzipping and pulling up sleeves. KUDOS TO PACTIMO – for not all jerseys allow for this. For the long plunges into the valleys I zipped up, readjusted the sleeves, and appreciated the warm collar that kept the cold air off of my neck. I would also add that the sleeves are long enough to pull over your cycling gloves for added warmth. On cooler days I added the Pactimo Breckenridge Vest which I’ve reviewed here.

Other thoughtful features include deep, stretchy pockets large enough to accommodate a rain shell, vest, extra fuel and the usual extra cool weather bits – not to mention a zip pocket for valuables. The RFLX Pixel fabric is nothing short of amazing. While spinning through the many tunnels on the Parkway, the initial flash of headlights hitting my back was a bright enough to elicit comments from passing cyclists.   .

On the whole I found the jersey to be exactly as described: wind resistant, breathable, comfy in the 45-65 degree range, and highly visible. It’s a supremely versatile garment for supremely fickle fall weather. In combination with the above mentioned Breckenridge vest, long sleeve base layer, and leg warmers, Pactimo has put together a system of tech clothing that can adapt to changing conditions through the fall riding season…which is no small feat.

If you’d like to give the Alpine RFLX Thermal Jersey a try, contact me through this blog, and I’d be happy to send you a coupon for 30% off your purchase.

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Coming to the top of a CAT 2 climb feeling warm and dry

The Copper Triangle Alpine Classic

triangle mapAltogether, the Copper Triangle Alpine Classic gains a total of 6560′ over a little less than 80 miles, while staying above 8000 feet in elevation for all but six of them.

Long alpine climbs make the world shrink into a box roughly 8 feet wide, and 12 feet long. You dare not look up, otherwise the scope of what you’ve gotten yourself into might dawn on you…and you’d reconsider. We come to our senses for a few minutes at the top, and then back into the box: because long, fast alpine descents require complete focus. Anything less than this makes 46 mph on an inch of rubber a requiem for road rash, garment destruction and other unhappy results. We practiced this three times with ascents of Fremont Pass [11318], Tennessee Pass [10424], and Vail Pass [10600].

As I mounted my bike at 6:30 am, I kissed my wife – and she gave me her usual crooked [and rather fetching] smile – as if to say, THERE HE GOES AGAIN. Ingrained in the mindset of endurance athletes is the curious compulsion to find new and longer ways to place ourselves in situations where we must suffer. We just keep going because we can’t quit.

My early start was calculated to avoid electrical storms and inexperienced cyclists who might do something stupid. As I worked my way through the pack, I barked at a rider who was all over the road, DUDE, HOLD YOUR LINE!  After a rather sleepless night of anticipation I was in no mood to be taken out by Gumby on a comfort bike. The line thinned out as we worked our way up Fremont Pass, and as I felt pretty good at the summit, I rolled past the first rest stop and fell in with the faster riders to enjoy the 17 mile plunge to the next valley.

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Vail Pass from the bike path

After arriving in Leadville, we turned north and picked up a tailwind toward Tennessee Pass, a moderate climb with gentle grades, followed by a 22 mile rollercoaster ride to Minturn and then Vail. I was blessed to travel in a disciplined pack of riders [no Gumbies here] that communicated their intentions clearly and loudly through the fast straightaways and curvy switchbacks. As we turned onto the Vail frontage road I happened to notice two indisputable facts: I had climbed 3600 feet, and, I still had 3000 feet of climbing over the next 18 miles. Normally I try to avoid looking at elevation gain until the end, but couldn’t help myself. Vail Pass rose above us in the distance. I felt tired.

sul2The bike path that leads over Vail Pass and down to Copper Mountain Ski Area is a gorgeous ribbon of pavement that alternately follows Interstate 70 and then winds through woods and meadows. The steepest section was the site of the individual time trial three years ago at the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Preserved for posterity and hilarity on the road surface are the words: SHUT UP LEGS. I could hear a wave of laughter ahead of me as riders passed this iconic three word statement of truth. As I grunted past – having already died a thousand deaths – I laughed until I was nearly out of breath. With two miles to go I emerged from my 8 foot by 12 foot box and began to look a the alpine vistas surrounding me. I passed a woman I had chatted with briefly lower down, and she yelled, GREAT JOB!

That did it.

Three big sobs popped out of me as I coasted into the summit parking lot…and I didn’t care who saw it. In our world of endurance cycling emotional releases come after hard efforts: especially those when we’re on that fine line between finishing and being unable to continue. There’s a gazillion strategies for conserving energy and staying in the moment until the challenge is overcome, but nothing tops the moment when you do. Going from willing the pedals to come around just one more time, to realizing that the climb is done is down right profound.

IMG_0956Shoving an energy bar into my mouth, I gathered my tired wits one last time and coasted down the bike path back to Copper Mountain for one last surprise. As I crossed the finish line, my wife yelled, I’M SO PROUD OF YOU! I was, of course, still contemplating her skill and timing to magically appear directly in front of me just as I came to a complete stop – and didn’t grasp the meaning of her words. In the post-event swirl of thoughts mainly concerned with the location of the food tent and finding a place to sit down, I heard her on the third try.   Apparently, I came in just behind the first bunch of riders to finish…somewhere in the top 200 in a field of 2500.

Later she revised it to the top 100, which was okay with me.

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