Monday, November 24, 2014

In or Out, Cycling in the Winter

Quality products are a thing to be cherished among the many things that cycling has to offer for those who choose to "take to the bike".
Some products add to the training experience when we cycle. Others add to the practical side of cycling, the overall user experience. I want to talk about both.
While not all of us use our bicycles to train per se, all of us are in fact getting a work out, regardless of how small, by climbing on the bike.
If you are the type of cyclist that has to ride in-doors in the winter, spinning out all day on a trainer sucks. I for one, was all for trainers, I got a really nice one too. The device is sound, really well built, and a great tool to use if the job is riding indoors. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of pedaling against resistance and being locked into one spot. You tend to sit more upright and do not use a lot of upper body. If your bike is not level, the position could put pressure on the wrists and elbows making the “ride” very uncomfortable. Saddle discomfort increases, as you are mostly just sitting there. Meaning you’re not out riding around, leaning, standing, and generally speaking, moving.
The first time I was introduced to ROLLERS, It was by a co-worker of mine that races. I initially thought that they were reserved as a training tool for the elite. It’s not that at all. Much like having a trainer indoors is a useful tool, so is being able to take it with you pretty much wherever you want. While good sets of rollers have a variety of levels of resistance, they feel more natural than resistance units on trainers. It also allows the rider to move unhindered. Since you have to keep balance to stay on the rollers, it feels much more like being on the road. Plus it brings the upper body in to play which makes for a much better “workout.” It’s so simple to just put your bike on it and go. No special tire, no “climbing block,” just a work out when and where you want it.

For the uninitiated, rollers look like this:

While a good trainer look like this:

Clearly different from one another, a trainer holds your rear wheel stationary and uses a resistance unit to create the realistic road feel. Again, it does require the addition of a so-called "climbing block" under the front wheel to level the bike, as well as a special tire. The tire is needed because of the heat build up where the tire contacts the drum. A normal tire would succumb to this heat and shed rubber like a poorly groomed dog, leading to tire failure. Both the tire and the block are extra purchases when, all tolled; trainer, tire, and block, can run in the neighborhood of $500.
The only problem with rollers is not so much a problem with the device, as it is with the rider's ability to use them. Using rollers requires balance that some people just don't have. You know the type; people who are new to biking, people who never learned how to "hold their line" in a group ride...
Go ahead, go to YouTube and search for "first time on rollers" and prepare for what is sure to be plenty of self-inflicted suffrage.

This is so painful to watch. 

The dude in this video made several mistakes which I could talk about all day, but I won't.
...Except for the obvious questions; 
A) Why the hell would you video tape your first attempt at rollers? 
B) After failing so, SO badly, why on Earth would you up load it to Youtube?

Regardless of why people make silly and often ill-advised choices on the internet, the point is, rollers are not as hard to use as they appear.

They are not always this easy to use either;)

So which rollers should you choose? That's a big question as there are several brands out there that make a quality product. While I have only tried three different brands, they just so happen to be regarded as three of the best brands out there. My personal favorite among them being made right here in my hometown. If you think that is bias on my part, think again. I choose Sportcrafters for many reasons.
Among them being Price; at $400 they are a little cheaper than their trainer counterpart yet they do not require the use of special additions like tires or climbing blocks.
Also, the resistance is built in to the rear drum and therefore takes up no additional floor or storage space. Probably the biggest selling point for me was the lifetime warranty:

"We offer a lifetime warranty to all of our customers. We don’t care if you are the original owner, second owner or whether you bought it at a garage sale…it doesn’t matter. The only way we know how to make the best product in the world is to know when your bike roller, trike trainer or handcycle trainer is not performing properly. We will immediately ship the replacement parts needed, and, if we want the old parts for analysis we will pay for return shipping."  (please see their website for details)

More important to me however, is the fact that they are hand made right here in Indiana by people I know and trust. People I play bikes with. They may be our competitors, but they are still our friends. I am glad to support their brand.

Aside from indoor training equipment, another Winter must have is Wool. LOTS of wool. Once again, if you are anything like me than you will go fricken stir crazy cycling inside for four months which means you will venture out on the warmer days. In my case, I commute by bike almost every day so that means I will venture out on the not-so-warm days as well. That is why I hoard wool.
Socks, caps, base layers... hell, I would grow a wool beard if I could.


Socks. If you are going to rock wool socks, you can choose any brand you want. I mean, you really cannot go wrong. Wool is simply warmer. Often the theory, "the thicker the better" is true, but you really should consider how thick a sock you need which generally depends on the activity they will be used in. If you are sitting around the house on a blustery Winter day, then by all means, thicker is better, especially if you have to go outside periodically to shovel. In a more active setting, say, commuting by bike or even the rare mid winter road ride, you may want a thinner sock. Seems counter intuitive but it needs to be able to fit in you cycling shoe, right? For most conditions I have encountered, I prefer Swiftwick seven inch wool compression socks.

 They seem pretty technical, but in all reality they are, simply put, form-fitting, warm, compression socks that feel great while both riding and running. Where they set themselves apart from other brands is a part of the brand's moniker: SwiftWick. While thicker socks may be great for casual winter wear, it is the wicking action in these socks  that keeps you warm. We have talked about wicking before which is the process of moving moisture away from the skin through capillary action. During activity, a thicker sock can lead to high amounts of sweat which can be cooled by moving air, thus making your feet cold. Having a sock that is the perfect amount of warm is exactly what I want to wear during the cold Indiana commutes.
Swiftwick socks are made in the USA and are a perfect edition to any Winter wear arsenal.

Caps. (NOT hats) Can be a life saver on the bike. In the summer they help keep the sun out of your eyes and sweat off your face. In the winter, they have one goal: keep your brain bucket warm. A good cap will go a step further and keep your ears warm as well. It is here that I am torn between a brand that I have been using for about two years now, and a brand that, as you all know, has been very supportive over the last year. It is no secret that Walz Caps has been a huge part of my cycling experience this year. It was not until the winter hit that I suddenly realized, "I don't own any Walz Winter caps." Quick to rectify this matter, I got an email saying some were already on the way. I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts on the matter but for now, it will have to wait.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I pit cap against cap, in my review of Walz Winter caps.

In the mean time, get some rollers and get your socks on... it's still cold outside.