Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Outdoor Ventures Packable Jacket Review

After our Erie Canal adventure in 2022 where we encountered chilly mornings and evenings while camping, I vowed to find an affordable, packable, warm jacket for future trips. I've had good luck with Outdoor Ventures softshell jacket so I bought their synthetic Full-Zip Puffer Jacket. I prefer bike touring during the cooler months to avoid insects, humidity, and crowds, but it requires extra gear to stay warm - a trade-off that we find worth it.

I've been wearing the jacket exclusively for the past two months, cycling in windy 30-50F range, also toting the jacket on an Amtrak adventure to visit the Philly Bike Expo. The jacket is windproof for the most part; the only exception is the zipper flap extends only 3" from the top, (misleading in the website photo) so in extreme frontal blasts a little cold seeps through. Barring that, the jacket has an incredible warmth-to-weight ratio, deep pockets, an internal chest zip pocket, a high neck, and a hood. A stuff sack is provided, but the jacket packets smaller, folded inside the left pocket. No doubt, the jacket is a good value and will ensure that I stay warm on future adventures.

Tangentially, as we lighten our camping gear, most recently using a new, 3.5 lb. two-person tent, it's apparent the tent no longer provides warmth. To save weight, the tent is constructed with mesh; the rainfly is coated ripstop nylon. And with thinner poles. It's a flimsier arrangement that requires greater care when entering and exiting the abode. No longer can I dash inside and expect instant warmth!

With the addition of a warm jacket (that can also be stuffed inside my pillow case for lumpy-free head comfort), wool socks, hat, and gloves - all of which can additionally be worn inside the tent - I should be good to go on our next bicycle tour.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

7 Items that are Game Changers for Year-round Cycling

For Spring and Fall, I prefer the Outdoor Ventures Jacket, which provides warmth, windproof and water resistance, and sports a two-way zipper and split hem for on-saddle comfort. It's washable and after nearly 4 years of use is my preference for all-around protection during the shoulder seasons.

I love bike sandals, for touring and everyday cycling, in the summertime. There's nothing like allowing your feet to breathe! Or paired with socks. I'm on my second pair and ready to use my third. Initially a Bike Nashbar house brand, Performance offered them for a while at a discount so I snapped up an extra pair before they were discontinued. In the future, Keen sandals may be a good replacement.

Winter cycling, especially here in Vermont, is a whole other animal. I've found that bar mitts are necessary along with insulated footwear. I like the low cost, thick and fuzzy Mogee Muffs, to keep my hands toasty plus the Storm Chaser insulated slip-on boots. The footwear is grippy and roomy enough for thick socks and, if needed, there's enough space for foot warmers.

For hand comfort, I use Ergon GripsTerry saddles are another necessity. Both provide relief, especially as I grow older. 

And a wonderful, low-cost solution to protect my eyes - I wear contacts - providing dust-free vision: the simple and stylish Dewalt safety glasses. I purchased my current pair online, but there are many versions at your local hardware store. They're also handy for riding in buggy summertime evenings. My husband loves their version of sunglasses.

What cycling-related things have made a big difference in your life?

Saturday, March 23, 2024

First Time at the Philly Bike Expo, via Amtrak

Friendships, connections, and organized bike rides, made the Philly Bike Expo weekend especially worthwhile.

Attending the Philly Bike Expo has been on my radar since sometime before 2019. Of course, travel restrictions, safety, and life upheaval waylaid the dream for a while, but I promised myself that 2024 was the year.

The interior Amtrak sign was fortuitous - that's my bike in a bag. 
By now, I'm comfortable rolling the five miles, boarding Amtrak with my Dahon. Last minute, I noticed the local rainstorm had passed, and the 4 day forecast in Philly was clear. What a gift! I left the rain gear behind. Extending the front bag's straps allowed me to pack enough gear for 4 days - my bag was stuffed - plus I brought food for the 10 hour journey! This time I carried a foldable backpack/tote bag, tucked away on the journey south, for getting groceries plus whether strapped on the handlebars, or worn on my back, allowed me to carry daily essentials, leaving the large bag behind at my accommodation. Traveling by folding bike - at least the way I do it - is all about packing light and bringing multipurpose gear/clothing. 

I couldn't entice any family members to go with me! Maybe next time. Later I would discover the building lit up on the other side of river was the train station. 
I arrived in Philadelphia at 8pm. Armed with Google voice directions I thought it would be easy to navigate the 1.5 miles to my Airbnb near the Art Museum, but I didn't account for traffic noise and being disoriented - first time in Philly didn't help. After circling a bit, I made it across the famed Skuykill River and cycled on a trail. Back on route, it was easy to find my cozy accommodation on a quiet but convenient tiny street (I'd stay there again).

Colorful titanium bottle cages. So many things to see at the Expo.
I didn't sleep well the first night so I was up early enough to make an organized ride leaving close by - a ride billed as "average 17 mph, no drop" which seemed like an oxymoron. As it was, I missed the meetup spot - wrong side of Art Museum - but noticed in time to tag on the tail end. 60 people showed up, so I didn't need to worry about speed. At the coffee shop stop - already the weather reaching high 50sF - I caught up with Leah and Pam, two online Riv Sisters, a connection we made years ago when I owned a Rivendell Clem-L - and they still consider me a member.

My tiny bike squeezed between the Rivendells.
The ride ended at the convention center at the opening of the two day Philly Bike Expo. I hung out with the ladies for a bit at the Rivendell booth, but I'm no longer a Rivendell fan so I made my way around the Expo. I enjoyed the mix of custom builders, bag makers, big name vendors, advocacy organizations, and the general atmosphere. I talked with the Brompton folks but they weren't allowed to offer indoor test rides. I reconnected with the Bassi folks - first time exhibitors, and makers of my Rachel - especially Julian - who later I would meet up with at the after party. The exhibit floor had food vendors. The taco truck served an assortment of delicious varieties, satiating a hungry belly after the morning's miles. I comfortably visited the whole Expo in 3-4 hours total, after a break with the ladies to grab a bite to eat from a crowded nearby food hall, reminding of Boston's Faneuil Hall. For me, the Expo was a one day event, but had the seminars been attractive, I could've gone back for more.

Saturday evening we dodged the Saint Patrick's Day revelers to eat at a lovely Italian restaurant. Then meeting at the Expo for a ride to the After Party, an outdoor parking lot event, complete with bonfire, beer, snacks, and Keystone Bikes shop opened up for all. Roberta (center photo) was a local and met up with us later, via car, offering to drive me to my accommodation after dark to keep me safe.

Sunday morning was the third and last organized ride for me, ending near the Expo. Pam and Leah left soon after for their long journeys homeward, while Roberta kindly guided me safely to Liberty Square, before she headed home. Another lovely day, temps topping into the 60's, I aimed to be a tourist for most of the day. I visited the Liberty Bell, of course, then set my sights on a path along the Delaware River. Rather short, I beelined west across Fishtown, then on a major throughfare with ample bike lane across North Philly - likely what Roberta would have me avoid - but it was a doable ride against a stiff headwind until I connected with the familiar Skuykill River trail network. Famished, I ate a burrito at a riverfront eatery and watched paddlers operate skulls and Canadian geese skuttle, honking, performing either a mating ritual or warning would-be suitors away.

I was surprised by the warm spring weather, flowering trees, bulbs, friendly and guided bike rides. I couldn't have asked for a nicer weekend, for sure! I grabbed more groceries and stocked my place, relaxing for a while. During golden hour, with tired bike legs, I wandered on foot around the Art Museum grounds. 

The architecture was stunning! 

Each side of the facade exposed something new.

Boathouse Row and the view to downtown was bathed in light; the flowering trees, even the entrance to my small apartment glowed. 

What a glorious time! I left with plenty of time Monday morning to easily find the train station. This time I had the Red Cap staff wheel my bike to the platform. My journey home went smoothly.

Parting Thoughts:

  • Amtrak, while an all day journey, was a convenient resource to access the Expo. My journey south (direct from home) consisted of a difficult transfer - lugging the bike up two flights of stairs - in NYC onto a different train to Philly. The return trip was Philly direct to Essex, VT 10 miles from home where I got a ride in the evening. It was the cheapest alternative, but has made me wonder how to handle a heavy bike and connections. Perhaps I should be seeking the elevator!
  • I would go again, purely to ride with others. 
  • Having family tag along would be better, but I wouldn't let it deter me from traveling alone again, especially now that I have my bearings. 
  • 3 nights was a perfect amount of time in the city, for the Expo, and playing tourist.
  • Inclement weather would dampen organized rides, but the indoor venue of course is fine. I would love to visit the Art Museum or the nearby Rodin Museum.
  • I wished there was a downtown historical bike ride. Philly reminded me of Montreal where ancient buildings mixed with modern skyscrapers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

How Do You Get Ready for an Adventure?

Trying out a new, lightweight jacket.

Reservations aside, I find it's the little tasks that seem daunting, so I tend to spread them into manageable chunks, ahead of time. I pile critical items about a week ahead of travel in a corner of our bedroom. 

I run cold, so being warm is paramount. This year I added a lightweight, synthetic, and compressible jacket to my travel wardrobe, which should provide immediate warmth on any cycling adventure. 

I never liked my current toiletries bag, so I took the opportunity to create my own, using lightweight material and, of course, in my favorite color.

The current adventure involves my Dahon. I cleaned the drivetrain and our bike mechanic son tuned the shifting. I'm taking it for one final test ride this evening.

I opened the seam on the flap and added 3+" of webbing.
I primarily use a large front bag to carry almost everything! It's definitely a minimalist hauling system, but works well for Amtrak travel (one bag and my bike folded into a large tote). I knew I needed more front buckle expansion. The flap barely closed before, but now that I extended the top webbing, there's more leeway to stuff extra items and cinch it closed. I'm pleased with the result.

I'm very excited to attend the Philly Bike Expo, starting Saturday. See you there? 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

MYOG Stem Bag Pattern and Comparison with Other Styles

A stem bag adorns my new colorful bike.
Recently I fashioned another stem bag, part of kitting out the Hard Rock for future adventures. I aimed to coordinate with the coolest magenta/purple fade frame so with a yard of purple ripstop and some paracord as my only purchase, it's enough for a few projects. All other materials I've collected over the years: webbing cut from old helmets, backpacks, etc., ripstop saved from ground cloth trimmings, and an old greenish quilted jacket for contrasting lining. I resupply rolls of double-side hook and loop attachments using coupons at Joann's fabrics coupons when needed because, by far, that's the greatest expense.

Ripstop and internal material is pretty lightweight. I sandwiched bubble wrap package in the circular bottom and may need to insert side stiffeners, which should be easy, opening one 3" seam, but I'll test as is for now. New England humidity will be the best test of structure.
I tried a different pattern that's much simpler than previous versions (see rust-color bag below). LearnMYOG presents easy to follow patterns and an online tutorial. 

I love how deep the pouch is yet it clears the paint on the frame. We'll see how the material holds up, rubbing against Jack the Bike Rack.
I was attracted to the deeper style with a bit wider mouth, more in line with the Blue Lug example in the last photo in this blogpost. The pattern's downfall though, in my opinion, is the narrow width external pocket. I can't stick my hand to extract, for example lip balm, so I'll relegate that spot for sunscreen and perhaps utensils. It's not wide enough for a cell phone, but that will go in the main pouch anyway. However, I can adapt this feature for future stem bags and wouldn't hesitate to try the pattern again.

I still love these bags, constructed with four exterior and internal panels - a very time consuming pattern - but they lack an external pocket. These are smaller bags overall, but still highly usable. I put two on my mountain bike when needed for extra water storage. The pattern is from

I like that the bag clears the frame, preventing wear on Rachel's sparkly paint job. 
I sprang for a Blue Lug stem bag a while ago, and I must say, this model is an eyeopener! It swallows a large mouth bottle or numerous small items, plus offers a wide external pocket. It's hook and loop attachments are beefier, not as easy to detach, but I rarely remove it, and in fact because of that feature leave it on when transporting the bike via car rack. If there's any downside to this model, it's the lack of contrast lining, which is a feature I've grown accustomed to on my creations.

There's a plethora of stem bags available, both inexpensive models, and crafted ones by local makers. I recommend supporting the local community. They offer the best selection of colors and features. Expect to pay upwards of $50 per bag, but as I can attest, there's a lot of tedious steps involved, and their expertise is money well spent. These bags will last a lifetime.