By Brett Ratner
Last week, in celebration of some glorious weekend weather, we discussed five of our favorite Chicagoland bicycle adventures.
If you're planning to embark on any of these excursions, it helps to have the right equipment. Granted, a nice bike and high-quality gear isn't absolutely critical for getting from point A to point B, but it can make the difference between merely arriving, and having a great time along the way.
So, in addition to the 15 things you should have on your bike at all times, here are five items we think will help maximize comfort and fun on your next bike adventure, both on and off the bike. In addition, we'll offer a couple of suggested products, recently road tested by us.
When you're out on a long ride, weather that started out warm and dry day can turn cold and wet in a hurry. Unless you're a roadie who puts a premium on keeping things as light and minimalist as possible, you should pack a full-coverage waterproof and breathable jacket. A top quality model is not cheap by any stretch, but like most things in life, you get what you paid for. Besides, if you take care of it, it will last for many years. And more importantly, the first time it keeps you dry and warm in a downpour, you'll know it was worth every penny.
Which to choose? You'll love either, but we'd lean toward the Showers Pass for wet weather road/gravel biking and day in/day out commuting. We'd reach for the 7mesh for mountain biking, bikepacking, weekend adventures, and unsupported touring.
Mountain Bike Baggie Shorts
If you're riding any considerable distance, padded Lycra bike shorts are very nice to have. But they aren't the best for walking around in public, or for hanging out at the bar or restaurant. A couple of options are wearing casual shorts over your padded shorts, or packing a pair of shorts to slip on when you get to your destination. Another great option are baggie shorts designed for mountain biking. Why choose these over normal shorts? They typically come with a removable padded lining (or can be worn over padded Lycra shorts), they're stretchy and cut to be comfortable while riding, their pockets are designed to hold stuff in a way that doesn't interfere with pedaling, and many will agree they look good off the bike. On top of that, their multitude of pockets allow you the freedom to leave the jersey at home and wear a normal shirt if you want.
Which to choose? The Primals cost $10 less and come with a quality padded liner, so they are the better value. The 7mesh arguably look nicer, pack smaller, and feel a touch cooler and more breathable in hot weather. Either way, you'll be very happy with your purchase, we think.
Enduro-Style Mountain Bike Shoes
We've recently had the opportunity to do some mountain biking out west in places like Sedona, Arizona, and Bootleg Canyon (located just outside of Las Vegas). In addition to a pronounced lack of Lycra kits (unless the rider is European), one thing you notice is that practically everyone is wearing shoes by a brand called Five Ten. Originally known for rock climbing and approach shoes, Five Ten gained notoriety among aggressive mountain bikers since Five Ten's sticky climbing soles proved equally sticky on bike pedals (and also when scrambling up rock formations too steep to ride). Pretty soon, the company started making shoes designed specifically for various types of mountain biking, including versions that allow for clipless pedals. Not surprisingly, the attributes that make Five Ten shoes awesome on slickrock mountain bike trails also make them amazing for weekend on-and-off-the-bike adventures.
Snacks aren't only important to those dudes who took over the wildlife refuge, they're very important on longer bike rides too. Perhaps you've heard of a cyclist or runner describe a "bonk" that occurred when they hadn't eaten enough. If you want to know what a bonk is, this article in ride25.com offers an explanation:
"As funny as it my sound, bonking is actually very serious and is what cyclists and other endurance sportspeople call hypoglycemia. Essentially it means that you haven’t taken in enough carbohydrates and have exhausted your body’s glycogen stores, leaving you with abnormally low blood glucose levels. Your body can only store enough glucose (in the form of glycogen) to last you for about 90 minutes of moderate exercise. Anything longer than this and you will need to take in some more glucose for your body to function correctly."
If you don't want to bonk, you should eat at regular intervals while on the road.
Laugh if you want, but few things can ruin a ride like chafing and irritation in the saddle area. And while it's debatable whether you should mimic everything the pros do (like shaving your legs), following the pros' lead and using chamois cream makes a lot of sense. There are tons of creams available out there; some in tubes, some in tubs, some formulated specifically for dudes, some unisex, some designed for ladies, many with silly names to add levity and humor. Since chamois creams are relatively inexpensive, it makes sense to try different kinds and see what works best for you.
One More Product Worth Mention
We wouldn't call it an essential, but a Danny Shane Cycling Polo might be your jam. Now that the weather has warmed up, we've been testing one, and it's obnoxiously comfortable...possibly the softest and most breathable jersey we've ever worn. On top of that, it's got an upscale golf shirt look to it that (depending on your personal style) can help you seamlessly make the transition from cyclist to pedestrian. It's certainly appropriate for commuting to (and wearing at) work in a business casual office environment. Personally, I'd like to see Danny Shane come out with some less over-the-top designs for their polo shirt line, but other than that, it's a highly unique piece that strikes a nice balance between function and style. For more information: http://dannyshane.com/
We believe that gear which works well on the trail is usually great for commuting and weekend cycling adventures too. Here's the author at his favorite trail head about to test the Five Ten shoes, Primal shorts, and Danny Shane polo. In his pocket are several packs of Fuel 100 Electro-Bites, and...umm...he's testing the Crotch Guard chamois cream too. The weather was fantastic on this day, so a rain jacket was not needed.
About the author:
Brett Ratner (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, The Nashville Tennessean, The Nashville Scene, Guitar Player, and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping, and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he occasionally races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums, and gravel for The Bonebell.