The Chainlink

Five Spring Riding Essentials

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.

Waterproof/Breathable Jacket

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.

We Recommend:

  • 7mesh Revelation Jacket: Available in men's and women's versions, it's crazy light, packs small, and in our experience will absolutely positively keep you bone dry in the heaviest downpour. In our opinion, the cut of this jacket makes it ideally suited for more upright riding positions (such as on touring/commuting bikes and mountain bikes) but it works great on road bikes too. Best of all, it doesn't scream "cycling jacket," making it nice for wearing off the bike too. For more informationhttp://www.7meshinc.com/
  • Showers Pass Elite 2.1 Jacket: Also available in men's and women's versions, this fine jacket has done equally well keeping us comfortably dry in heavy rain. While it lacks the "stealth" factor or the ultra light weight of the 7mesh product, it offers more reflective accents, seemingly sturdier zippers and snaps, and a longer back, making it nicely suited for more aggressive road bike riding positions. For more informationhttps://www.showerspass.com/

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.

We Recommend:

  •  7mesh Glidepath Shorts: Among the many things that we like about these is that they are understated in terms of styling. In other words, they don't make you look like a Red Bull Rampage wannabe. In addition, they are lightweight, stretchy, comfy, and can hold a surprising amount of bulky stuff (like an iPhone) without hampering your pedal stroke. Available in men's and women'sFor more informationhttp://www.7meshinc.com/
  • Primal Onyx Modenza Shorts: These have a little bit more of a mountain bikey appearance to them, but still look good in our opinion. More importantly, they have plenty of zippered pockets to keep precious cargo from taking flight, and offer a very durable construction without feeling stiff, heavy, or uncomfortable. Available in men's and women's. For more information: https://www.primalwear.com/ 

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.

We Recommend:

  • Five Ten Kestrel and Kestrel Lace Cycling Shoes: While we absolutely adore our DZR shoes, we feel their flexible sole design makes them best-suited for commuting and urban riding (where walking comfort is of equal importance to cycling efficiency). In contrast, the Kestrel is first and foremost a cycling shoe, offering a stiff pedaling platform designed to be ridden extremely long distances and for hours on end. Assuming you like the skate-style looks, we're confident they'll not only become your go-to trail riding shoe, but your favorite riding shoe period. And don't get us wrong, they're great to walk in as well (maybe a little stiff but not uncomfortably so). And best of all, the hard rubber soles prevent the cleats from scraping the floor when you walk. Add in bombproof construction, and you have a winner. Available in a men's version with BOA lacing, plus a lace-up version in men's and women's. For more informationhttp://www.fiveten.com/us/

Snacks

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.

We Recommend:

  • Fuel 100 Electro-Bites: Having done our fair share of supported century rides, our bodies have become well conditioned to work with whatever fuel they happen to give us at the rest stops. But when we're on our own, we're a little pickier about the food we carry. Gels work well, but can be messy and sticky. Energy bars often are tough to eat after awhile, and gummy-style energy foods can be tricky to get out of the packaging while riding. In contrast, Fuel 100 designed a semi-rigid packaging that makes it easy to access the Electro-Bites on the fly, and pour them right in your pie hole. Available in a variety of flavors, they taste great, and don't have that heavy feeling energy bars do. And since they are dry, there's no sticky mess. The only downside is that since the Electro-Bites are dry, they require a gulp of water to wash them down (or else you have a mouthful of dust). How do they work? A pocketful of 100-calorie packets got us through a high-intensity, 3.5-hour mountain bike ride with no cramping or bonking. For more informationhttp://electro-bites.com/

Chamois Cream

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.  

We Recommend:

  • Crotch Guard Skin Care Oil: What interested us about this product is that it's made by a small company whose primary product is marketed toward cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy and/or laser treatments. Another product of theirs is aimed at amputees experiencing irritation from prosthetic limbs. In other words, they are a skin care company offering a cycling product (not a cycling company making a skin care product). The other thing we liked is that it's an oil which comes in a spray bottle. Whereas creams are messy, this product can be sprayed onto the chamois pad or directly on skin with zero mess. More importantly, we've used it on multiple rides on hot days exceeding three hours and it has worked flawlessly.

    For more informationhttp://dermatect.com/product/crotch-guard-4oz-bottle/

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 (brett@thechainlink.org) has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago TribuneThe Nashville TennesseanThe Nashville SceneGuitar 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.

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Comment by Yasmeen on April 22, 2016 at 9:10am

Glad you brought this up. We're definitely open to having more people review products and write guest articles. We receive an overwhelming amount of requests to review products so lately we've been bringing a few more reviewers into the mix.

Mia just did a DZR shoes review and another Chainlinker, Jennah is reviewing Shebeest apparel for The Chainlink (she did a race report for us last year). Eric Alexander will be reviewing products for us in addition to writing ride/race reports. If people are interested in reviewing products, please shoot me a PM to let me know. In general, if people would like to write articles for CL, also shoot me an email. I've been on the lookout for new cycling voices - I'd love to have a few more women involved as well. We'd love the wider perspective representing our cycling community. Thanks again!

Comment by Irvin Steinert on April 22, 2016 at 8:36am

how about sending out some of that free stuff you get to test to some Chainlink members? (not me) like "Skip M" or "Joe G" or "Dave G" or "Jen on the lake" or "Ann Alt" and give your readers a chance to get some free stuff an give a review....just sayin'

Comment by CJ on April 21, 2016 at 2:16pm

I know when the article is about things I "need" to buy, it will be written by brett ratner

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