Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I Never Have to Leave the House Again

I know I missed much of the goings on in the world whilst nursing this illness but it was hard not to miss this one. Mostly on account of the local news outlets falling all over themselves to bring you this 'heart warming' story.

"In a video, made to advertise Flying V, Vince Brabhan is portrayed as a hometown hero, helping grow South Bend."

That's right, we have bike messengers now. Bearded ones, on brakeless fixies. And they fancy themselves a Super Hero.

That's quite the business model. Probably worked well when their was the one dude, living in what appears to be a tent inside a house,

which is either what all the cool kids do in LA, or totally fucking baller. I have not decided one way or another. Regardless, working only on tips, I am not sure how they plan to make a living. I say "they" because now they are three. 

(Thanks mitosis)

I must say, it seems likely that this is the primary reason for the story blowing up. When it was one guy on Vimeo, sure bike guys (and gals ;) thought it was a great idea, but the minute there is more than one cyclist doing anything around here, the media has to get in on it. A Dad gets killed on his way home from work, hardly a paragraph in the paper. Three dudes on bikes delivering stuff?? Well that's front page news...

Honestly, I am surprised how well this has been received. I really thought it might play out differently on the evening news.

Then again, there are only three of these guys for now. Wait till there are 50 or so, blasting through the streets, around cars and pedestrians. Then perhaps the novelty will have worn off. Won't take long before the villagers are screaming, KILL IT!! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!
I mean, you can't expect to be a Super Hero and not get the Spiderman treatment eventually.


Nah, I am sure they are great guys and I will likely see them scooting down the same bike lanes as I, giving me the finger as they pass.
I kid them because it is a great idea that I wish I had the nuts to have started first. Also because making fun of dudes that ride fixies with no brakes all over the city, is kind of what I do. All joking aside, I really do wish them the best. I mean, this isn't the biggest city by any means, but with two colleges surrounding us and a newly gentrified Metropolis right in the middle of it, they may be able to make it on beer deliveries alone.

Perhaps one day, when this Blog thing takes off I can finally spend my days riding my bike for tips. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


In light of new evidence, it looks like I might owe Walmart an apology.

(Pause for laughter)

Did you know, it is not just some ordinary ass hat with a mullet who assembles their bikes, but a team of ass hats that are "committed to providing your store with quality built products...?"

Well now ya do, and you're welcome.

Well known amongst their peers (though this is the first I have ever heard of them) The National Assemblers provide "5 Star Service."

(...out of a possible 100 stars)

Where "Company pride is reflected our cleanliness, productivity, and accuracy." Reflected further by words that fail to make a complete sentence (read it again). Sure, sometimes grammar is not my strong suit either, but you get the idea;

"National Assemblers is the first and only nation-wide, full service assembly company founded solely on one principle; Quality above all else!" Rest assured, they know what they are doing too, as they boast a whopping "40 years of professional bicycle experience". Now, I did the math on this one* and if you break that down by the roughly 400 people people they have working for them all over the country, then each of their "Industry leading certified technicians" have little more than one month's assembly experience to their credit.

* I did NO math here. This is a broad accusation on my part. 
   I am sure they have even less experience than my figures would indicate.

While I might have been too lazy to come up with real numbers, this guy wasn't...

Wait... You're telling me that a company, hired by another company, notorious for the abuses they commit upon their staff, doesn't pay a living wage? More specifically, pays a "Slave Wage?"

 Based on this, I would assume that when they say "We have the right tools for any job," they are referring to the people under their employ because clearly, they are using them. Handily.

I only wish (for your sake) I was a more hard hitting journalist type. In that case, I would be on the phone confronting them on these claims instead of using conjecture in a hilarious way.  

Instead, I am sitting behind my computer 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Caps NOT Hats: Winter Edition

It has been unseasonably warm all of the sudden here in Indiana. So much so, that I managed to sneak in a couple of 40 mile rides in my short sleeved kit. You already know that I do not prefer riding in doors, but if I have to, at least I have my Sportcrafters rollers. With the exception of riding to work and such, I try to get my work outs done in doors this time of year. But hell, where I live, if the thermometer reads more than 40 degrees, you get your ass outside.
The mild temps were partly to blame for the delay in posting this but being the peak season for winter caps, it is high time that I fulfill my "Gentleman's Agreement" with the folks at Walz Caps. In the interest of full disclosure, Walz Caps does not monetarily contribute to this blog in any way. In fact, no one does. (Yes, I do this for FREE.) My obligation to them is simple: They provide me with caps and I provide an honest review for my readers' consideration and occasionally send some photos their way. I am grateful for the opportunity and hope to continue working with such cool people.

With all that out of the way, consider the following; When temps get below 30 degrees, riding outside can prove too daunting a task for most fair-weather cyclists. Some of us are more dedicated (or more insane depending on who you ask) to staying in the saddle as much as possible. Some choose the bike simply to ease the cost of transportation. If you are like me, you choose it because you love craft beer and need to work of the calories so you don't start the next season with a beer belly. Not matter why you do it you need to be prepared to do it. This means keeping warm.

Keeping "warm" is a relative term. Depending on where you live, the temps might not get too low this time of year which certainly allows for less layers when one heads out. In colder climates, layers are key to staying warm. Too many layers however, can lead to sweat which can cool and leave you miserable and cold. So warm may mean different things to different folks.

It is important to have all the right gear to take on the cold. I like Swiftwick wool compression socks and Smartwool base layers. Choosing the right cap, well, that's what I am here to discuss...

About 2 years ago a customer gave me my first winter cap. It was a wool ear flap cap made by Wildhagen Wear of Canada.

The Skipper 

With the ear flaps folded inside the cap, it looks just like an ordinary wool cap. Classy enough to wear out on the town and woolen enough to keep your melon warm. On some occasions, maybe even too warm. Hand made in Toronto, this cap will set you back $135.

It wasn't until this year that I had ever tried anything different. Upon my request, Walz was gracious enough to send me their own winter offering. 

A lighter, more breathable layer that fits seamlessly inside a helmet, this cap features a traditional bill which makes it feel more like the caps you are used to. All Walz caps are made in the United States and are much more affordable at  mere $33.

Because I am a shameless self-promoter, you have seen me wear both of these caps before.

Wild Hagen                          Walz

Here is where it gets interesting though as, in each of these moments, I would have preferred that the caps be switched. Meaning, I remember taking both of these photos. The snowy one was the result of one of the most beautiful rides to work I had ever been on. I mean, the snow was just everywhere! A hard snow like that however, means that there is cloud cover which keeps the temps up. 
So as much as I enjoyed the ride, I was sweating my ass off. Almost literally on the other side of the coin, the other picture was from later the same day while going out for lunch. At this point in the day, the clouds rolled back and the snow stopped. This actually made the temps drop and become, what I like to call "bitterly cold." As the wind permeated the thin layer of wool it occurred to me, had the caps been reversed, 
I may have found myself more comfortable in both instances. 

I have had about a solid month of cold weather riding in which to "demo" the Walz cap and after looking at the "data" (pictures from my iPhone), I can confidently say that while I love both caps, they could not be more different from one another. Do they share some of the same attributes? Sure.

Are they both wool? Check.
Do they both have ear flaps? Check.
I assure you, this is where the similarities end.

Truth be told, my experience with wool is rather limited as it was only two years ago when I began using wool to keep warm, as my winter commuting routine grew. The addition of wool was a welcome one. As long as I was warm, I never really thought much more about how warm. As the old saying goes, "you don't know what you don't know," I never realized the difference in temps from day to day and how my Wildhagen cap reacted to them. Meaning, I was always warm but there were days when I was actually sweaty when I would get to where I was going. Hard to believe when the Winter temps here are often 20 degrees or below, but Wildhagen caps are much thicker than Walz.

So thicker is better, right?
A) That's what she said, and
B) Not necessarily

I don't much care for being a sweaty, smelly mess when I get where I am going which is partially why I use lighter layers on my torso. Meaning, I would rather be slightly cold when I begin my ride than covered in perspiration when I arrive at my destination. This is where the wool offering from Walz begins to flex its muscles. Much thinner, the Walz cap fits beautifully under a helmet. This is not something I can say for my thicker Wildhagen caps. It also breathes better. Coming from a thicker cap, this was immediately noticeable as it started off a bit cooler until I warmed up but I expect that if I had never a cap to compare it to, I would not have noticed that. Regardless, knowing full well what my Wildhagen could handle due to past experiences, it was with my new Walz cap in hand, that I set out to see what it was really made of...    

The day I got my cap was both the perfect and the worst day to try it. I rode to work in my Wildhagen cap with temperatures in the low 20's and near white-out conditions. That afternoon at work, a care package from Walz containing a woll cap and, yet another BikeSnobNYC cap (in the new blue color).

So it was a perfect day in the fact that I had just used my normal cap so I had a chance to make an immediate comparison, and it was the worst day in the fact that, before the ride home, the temperature dropped pretty radically. As it would only be natural to reach for the familiar cap that had gotten me through temps like this before, I instead donned my new Walz cap and set off into the dark on the ride home.

That's right, my first time taking a gamble with an unfamiliar garment it felt like it was three degrees below zero. To be frank, temperature combined with the wind chill proved to be too low for my level of comfort in this cap. I had my other cap in my pannier and could have easily swapped them, but my ride home is only about 20 minutes. So in the interest of an in-depth review, I "took one for the team" as they say, and rode on. It wasn't so much a problem with my whole head being warm as it was my ears being cold. A big (and at first, hard to get used to) difference between the two caps is how it covers the ears. As I stated before, Wildhagen caps incorporate ear flaps that fold in to the inside of the cap when you are not using them. They are broad and flat and cover a large area around the ear. When using a helmet (which it was never designed for), the straps hold down the flaps nicely. The Walz cap however, uses an elastic band inside the flap portion that naturally draws them up under the ears forming a sort of an "ear sack" if you will. It is a nice feature which, coming from another cap, took me a few rides to get used to but is no longer a second thought for me.

So naturally, I had to find a temperature that was befitting the use of this particular cap. So for the next two rides (for review, not in a row), I documented the rides home as, minus the heat of the sun, they were colder than the morning rides.

The next ride showed only a three degree change in actual temps, but with a lower wind chill, it felt like a difference of nine degrees! Hell, round these parts, that's a fricken heat wave! This ride yielded much better results. It was still a bit out of the comfort zone I was accustomed to, but was a much better experience than the ride before. The experiences only got better from there...

It was at this point (25 degrees that felt like 13), that I found a comfortable threshold upon which I could confidently "hang my cap." An additional seven degrees was all it took to find the perfect balance of warmth and wicking. Meaning, I was all the warmer I needed to be, and not at all sweaty.
I continued to ride with only my Walz cap for more than a month (about 35 days of continuous riding) to accomplish a couple of things; get used to the elastic band, and to be sure I could duplicate these results. So with that my research complete, I have some final thoughts:

For the price, you cannot beat a Walz Winter Ear Flap Cap. They retail for a staggering 1/4 the price of Wildhagen Wear and can often be more competitively priced than their Pace, Surly, and 45NRTH counterparts.  

As for style, Walz winter caps come in 6 colors/styles and can be personalized for an additional $5.

Wildhagen caps are also available in a myriad of colors and are fully custom...

...Only trouble with that, is that they want you to go visit them in Toronto to get one made to order. While it is possible to get them at an occasional trade show, I would say that part of the appeal is their exclusivity. Almost to a fault, it seems as though it is a lot of fuss to pay that much for a cap.

On the Walz: I cannot find fault with the cap as it covers the head itself. It is the perfect thickness to remain effective yet light and airy. Plus (and this cannot be stated enough) it fits seamlessly under a helmet. As it covers the ear, I believe it would be more effective if the ear sack were thicker, lined with flannel or a wind front. Just a slight tweak in that direction might be enough to make it a more versatile cap and make up for that 10 degree swing I experienced while testing it. (Hint, hint...)

On the Wildhagen: A much thicker cap that incorporates form in to its function. Meaning, it is as nice to look at as it is useful. As designed, it is a really warm cap, but in many cases, I find it too warm. These caps are certainly not in everyone's budget, and truth be told, had I not gotten both of mine as gifts from a customer, the price alone might have been enough to scare me away from them all together.    

Before Walz came along I was rocking a cotton cycling cap with an Pearl Izumi ear band. Now having both winter specific caps in my winter wear arsenal, I find myself using the Walz more for cycling and Wildhagen for everyday wear. When the temps are 20 degrees or above, the Walz cap is really all you need. While my other caps stand at the ready for use in temps below 20, I am no longer in a hurry to reach for them. Sitting ready on my bike, in my helmet this time of year is a Walz cap. I cannot foresee that changing anytime soon. So thanks again to the folks at Walz and as always, 
keep warm and keep the rubber side down.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Well, Merry for you perhaps. Here, it is 50 degrees with zero snow on the ground. While that is not normally the sort of thing I complain about, Christmas is the one day of the year on which I prefer a foot of fresh snow. So no snow and here in my house, the 5 of us are stricken with Influenza A. Like, no shit, we are all super sick. We have made two late night trips to the ER for a toddler with a fever of 105 degrees and 3 of the 5 of us have pink eye. Merry Christmas indeed.

Yes, I said "Christmas." All the Christ haters out there can get bent. ...It's what Jesus would want.
I do realize that the entire holiday is a bastardized attempt at giving new meaning to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice and is now nothing more than an excuse for us all to kill each other over the best prices on flat screen TV's and Walmart fat bikes while the fat cats sit back and get rich. But I prefer to think that those who still wish everyone a Merry "Christmas," are the ones who remember what the spirit of the holiday is.

So, while I was planning on being the only bike blogger who was putting out posts this week, it may be unlikely. Even as I type this, the only thing keeping me from passing out on my key board is copious amounts of pharmaceuticals and beer. So as of now, I am officially on vacation

Enjoy your family, your health, and the Holiday. 
A very sick Jason.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

First World Problems

First, I hope you all enjoyed reading the three part short story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Truth be told, it was never intended to be as long winded as it was. To be frank, it was supposed to be a completely different subject matter. Meaning, it was originally envisioned as a different story all together. Though I have not abandoned said subject, I am going to put a pin in it for now.

Second, I know you are all desperately hanging on to the edge of your seat, even waiting with baited breath in eager anticipation of my review of Walz Wool caps. While I am intent on bringing it to you, that too will have to wait. Sorry.

Besides, I wouldn't be doing my job part-time job hobby if I didn't talk about the gold-plated elephant in the room. Sure Bike Snob beat me to it (and at this point it was like a week ago), but I would like to think that he and I can write on the same subjects without it resulting in an Anchorman style show-down. Plus, as I don't get paid for this, I write on my own time. Also, I tend to have some louder, more annoying points that I would like to make. 
So without further a-don't...

The gold-plated Giant Defy road bike, a shiny pile of shit that is exactly what one gets when money meets stupidity.

This is not the first time this has been attempted. Meaning, gold plated bikes are nothing new. While I still consider it a waste of resources, at minimum, the first attempt was considered something shiny and cool to look at. You know, the sort of thing that you see and think "sure, that's cool, but..."

But for me the novelty wears off quickly when one considers the price tag. Well, the price tag and the fact that the pedals are assembled incorrectly;

You have to look past the artisanally hand-stitched, Stingray (yes, STINGRAY) clad, gold plated water bottle to see it, but when it was reassembled, that pedal body was put on the wrong axle. Call me an asshole but I would expect more for ONE MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS! 
Call me a dirty "hippie" but I can think of a bunch of great things that one could do to better humanity with that same million dollars. Not one of which includes blowing it on something you won't use. Yeah, I hear you saying, "Hey, it's my money. You can't tell me how to spend it." and you would be right, but you would also be a douchebag who takes what was a perfectly good (yes I said it) fat bike, and hangs it on a wall. 

"If you’re spending one million dollars on a gold plated bike you would have the coin to buy an ordinary Salsa Mukluk to actually ride. This one stays on display so you can say you own the world’s most expensive fat bike" *

*Right next to your "World's Biggest ASS" award.

To paraphrase Matty B from Merlin Metal Works (and Independent Fabrication), 
A bike is a tool, something you use. A bike is not meant to hang on a wall. 

Most discouraging still, there are 13 of these things out there.

"If you are fortunate enough to have $1,000,000 burning a hole in your pocket, the Beverly Hills Edition will be limited to just 13 pieces, which will be laser engraved with the artist’s signature, date, and include a certificate of authenticity."

 ...At least, as it happens, my money gets put to some good use after all is said and done...

"Hugh Power, The House of Solid Gold’s CEO says that the majority of the proceeds (80% or more) from the gold bike will go to The Way to Happiness Foundation International – which..."

wait for it...

 " a non profit associated with the Church of Scientology."

Oh how fucking perfect. 

At least Lord Xenu will be pleased

Anywhore, I could have gotten over the fact that this is a thing, I mean hell, I didn't lose any sleep over it, but then this happened:

What started as a $700 Giant Defy road bike equipped with Shimano Claris, ended in a steaming, shiny pile, with a price tag just shy of $400,000. "Half the price?" you ask. Indeed, savings brought to you by Krylon.

Call me a skeptic, but that rear derailleur looks like it got the rattle can.

While the front derailleur body got nothing...

I don't know about you, but I expect a little bit more for my money, ya know? 
At least the fat bike has a jewel encrusted head tube badge.

...and now that the price has dropped, I can finally afford to decorate my wall with gold.

"In case you’re wondering, the House of Solid Gold plated fat bike is still available – the price has even dropped from 1 million, to just $495,000!"

(just kidding)

This is not the first time I have said this, but it is probably most applicable in this instance so please, hearken unto my words...
 At the end of the day, You can polish a turd but it is still a piece of shit. I mean it. This type of shit is the reason other countries hate us. It is all vanity and excess. We cannot afford to pay our loans to the Chinese, yet we can wave our fat bikes around in a show of lavishness with no other intention than proving we can. Before you accuse me of bias, I'll say this:

If you think I am being unfair and criticizing only the high-society types, then clearly you have never read this blog. It is true that the rich are often in a better position to show their ass, it is not limited to them. Even the poor try to live outside their means and get buried in debt for the sole purpose of appearance. It is marketing like this that gives the rich something to waste money on, and at the same time says to the poor, "See? If you had more money, you could have this." With that in mind It is at this point that I would like to make myself perfectly clear, it does not matter to me where you fall in the social hierarchy. Gold bike or not...


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Short Story: This is the End

Struggling to comprehend the inner workings of a rear derailleur, One found himself to be no more than "all thumbs" as they say. It was around this point that he could have admitted to himself that he was incapable of performing the task at hand, yet he stubbornly refused. It was then that he turned to The YouTube where misinformation abounds and everyone is an expert.

Indeed, In a mere 7 minutes the boy would be an expert and would never again need a bike shop.
Considering especially, the superior level of guidance included in such brilliant directions as these.

For the inexperienced, this 7 minutes became more than an hour and still, the bicycle did not shift, and the brakes were weak if they worked at all. One could have continued to search the web but finally he realized that his endeavor was a fruitless one as bolts securely fastened would mean nothing if his bicycle did not function. At this point, the boy began to ponder the meaning of his efforts to begin with.

 "Why again did I begin this journey anyway? ...Was it even worth it?" It seemed as though he had finally reached an impasse that border lined on a genuine epiphany.  

Perhaps it was the overall frustration of his experiences, or perhaps the shop's advice was finally becoming valuable to the boy as now, in just his second season, his transportation purchases had already exceeded $400. This was the very price that One had found to be too much just one short year ago. A price that would have included free adjustments for a year in addition to sound advice and a superior quality product from the onset.

Utterly defeated, he relented. It was back to the bike shop he would go, albeit this time he would go with a much different demeanor.   

Yet this time, it was too late as One arrived where the bike shop once stood, only to find a business closed and a building shuttered.

This is an unfortunate yet common site throughout the land as many retailers simply cannot continually compete with the low prices found online. It was in this "Age of the Internet," that One could find just about anything he wanted from anywhere in the world. Having all of this information in one place means the retailers competing for your business must out-price each other. Thus leading to prices going so low, that in some cases, not a point of margin is made. Having that amount of selection at One's fingertips makes it so easy that he can simply "click" his selection, and wait for it to arrive. Particularly appealing to One who was used to a sort of instant gratification, there was a wide appeal to the One's who came before him as well. Not isolated to these parts only, as across the Nation, it is said that a staggering 70% of bike shops will close within their first three years, as the price-conscious consumer continually turns a blind eye to helpful service and turns instead to a computer screen.

The look on the boy's face was one of genuine shock. Without realizing the irony at hand he asked himself, "How could this have happened?" It was with that his search continued, to no avail, as bicycle shops and the dedicated professionals that staffed them became nothing more than a page in the history books. Spoken in hushed whispers across the industry in which they once thrived, the bike shops were now a thing of the past. Falling in to disrepair, with no one to service them, the more than 150 year history of the modern bicycle had all but vanished. 

It was Once Upon a Time when one could get quality products, with service and advice to match, yet it just may be the very near future in which this cautionary tale becomes less a tale, and becomes the God's Honest Truth. 

The End...
Or the beginning.

It's is your choice.