Geared Up: Gear for the New Year

MealKit 2.0 by Light My Fire ($27)

Bike camping and traveling light go together like eggs and bacon, and that’s why you should check out the MealKit 2.0 for your next bike adventure. The kit consists of a triangular bowl with a lid that acts as a plate, a spill-free collapsable cup (8.8 oz.; 260 ml) with closing lid, a spork whose inside fork edge is serrated, a strainer/cutting board, and two SnapBoxes with lids, which have measurement lines. The bowl also features a slot which holds the spork upright so you’ll always know where it is when you’re not using it. A harness holds the whole set together when nested. 

I found the cutting board acts as a pretty good spatula for mixing food in a pan and the oblong snapbox is an excellent place to store matches or other small items you’d like to keep dry when not in use. 

The MK 2.0 items are made of durable, lightweight polypropylene/copolyester and all are microwave safe and easy to clean. The spork is made of Tritan and the harness of TPE.

When nested the MK 2.0 is 194 x 194 x 61 mm and it weighs a mere 13.5 oz. (384 g). Those specs are according to Light My Fire’s website but when I weighed the unit nested, my scale said 12.7 oz. 

The MK 2.0 is made in Sweden and comes in a variety of colors. For more info, check out their website or watch a video here

Dash 320 by Cygolite ($55, 714.437.7752)

The Dash 320 is an excellent light to keep on hand for low-light cycling. At 3 x 1.75 in. and 2.7 oz. (77 g), you can easily stash it just about anywhere, including your coat pocket. With its flexible, stretch-fit Versatite attachment system, you can mount it and unmount it with ease to just about any size handlebar. 

The Dash 320 offers four light modes: high; medium; low; and a steady pulse with runtimes of approximately 1; 2.5; 7.5; and 55 hours, respectively. There are five LEDs: one main 320 lumen Cree X-Lamp and four smaller LEDs above it. There are also side illumination ports so you can be seen when in profile. The Dash 320 can be set to run all of the LEDs or various combinations, depending on which mode it is in. 

The Dash 320’s body is water resistant and is charged through micro USB (cable included), and the power button doubles as a charge indicator. When running, if the battery is low, the light will automatically power down to a lower mode, a handy feature when you’ve still got a ways to go before reaching your destination. It also has a memory, so when you power it up it returns to the last mode it was in when powered off.

For more info about the Dash 320, visit their website. You can also see a video here:

Ultra Sil Drysack by Sea to Summit ($14-$33)

I came across these super light dry bags through Swift Industries when inquiring about their Jr. Ranger panniers. Let’s get the confusing part out of the way up front: I couldn’t find these on Sea to Summit’s website but Martina Brimmer of Swift told me that they source these bags through Sea to Summit. I also found them at various other outlets online. More on that later.

The weatherproof Ultra Sil Drysacks are constructed of Cordura and are siliconized on the outside with a polyurethane coating inside. This allows them to be seam taped. While the 4-liter version withstood a 5-minute hosing while keeping my sleeping bag and pillow dry, these drybags are designed to be used inside of a pannier of backpack, not for boating purposes. The 4-liter bag weighs 7 oz. (20 g) and the Hypalon watertight roll-top closures work well, and their workings are typical of many other drybags. 

The 2- and 4-liter versions are available at Swift Industries’ website but there are also four larger sizes (8, 13, 20, 25 liters) that come in assorted colors which are available on various sites around the web.

Fastball by Arnette ($80, 877.680.0123)

Eye protection when cycling is extremely important, both to keep flying objects, like insects,  from colliding with your ocular apparatus and to thwart the harmful effects of UV exposure. The sheer number of sunglass models available to the average consumer is truly mind boggling but I’ve found the Arnette Fastball moderately affordable and very functional. What I like about them is that they offer a simple unibody construction so there are no separate nose pieces to lose. The Grilamid nylon body throughout, but especially on the temples, keeps them from slipping, which is especially appreciated while sweat builds around the eyes. While they do fog up a bit during cold weather riding when you stop (and I hope you do at stop signs and red lights!), they don’t suffer more than most sunglasses I’ve used through the years, and the impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses are very clear. I tested the Fastball with citrus chrome lenses and found them to eliminate the annoying glare of the sun directly or reflecting off shiny objects while not being overly dark. All in all, a nice set of shades for both on and off the bike.

Neoshell by Sugoi ($280, 800.432.1335)

If you cycle where nasty weather is fairly prevalent, you’ll need a quality layer to keep you comfortable while you try to pretend you’re having a good time. And that’s exactly what the Sugoi Neoshell is — a quality garment that will keep whatever the environment throws at you from ruining your ride. 

This Sugoi jacket is constructed of Polartec NeoShell, a fabric I found to be up to the task in every way. It’s described on Polartec’s website as “an engineering breakthrough for waterproof breathable fabric technologies. Dynamic air exchange at the surface provides the unrivaled ability to stop water and wind permeation without restricting the release of excess body heat and moisture vapor. This highly aerobic air permeability provides the unique benefit to function as a durable protective shell with advanced wicking capabilities to keep moisture vapor moving away from your core.” 

Yes, that’s a fair amount of PR jargon. It’s no secret that I’ve pilloried the whole waterproof-yet-breathable concept throughout the years, and for good reason. While I’m not going to change my mind now, even for this excellent jacket, I will say that it’s one of the best protective layers I’ve ever used. On one particular ride, I experienced heavy rain, liquid at first followed by bouts of frozen varieties thrown in for good measure. I was riding dirt so cold muddy water was also in play, but the Neoshell kept me protected and warm, and that’s really the key to a good jacket. If you don’t stay warm, you’ll soon find yourself in trouble.

Not only is the Neoshell weatherproof, it offers some really nice features including an offset front zipper, two rear zippered pockets, a zippered chest pocket, and a bunch of reflective accents for low-light visibility. The fit is called Pro Fit by Sugoi and is a bit on the slender side.

If you need a serious protective layer for serious riding in all weather, you need look no further than the Sugoi Neoshell.

Bike to Work Polo by Betabrand ($98, 800.649.9491)

I’m a sucker for technical cycling clothing that doesn’t look the part. Yes, I fully aware that some cyclists believe you should never, under any circumstances, ride unless you’re lit up like a Christmas tree, but I’m obviously not in that camp, and for a variety of reasons. The Bike to Work Polo is an extremely well-made garment that provides nearly all the requirements that many cyclists would look for: It’s comfortable, breathable, quick drying, has two rear storage pockets, and one snap-closed chest pocket. The quarter-length placket snaps at the neck but also features a hidden zipper and the rear offers a drop-tail hem. And the best part? You can wear this shirt just about anywhere and nobody will think you’re wearing a cycling-specific jersey so you can pop straight off the bike to work or a snazzy restaurant. Did I say it featured  “nearly” everything a cyclist would look for? I did. So what’s it missing? One thing jumped out at me — no reflective piping or accents, something that should be present if high-vis colors aren’t in the mix, and they’re not. The Bike to Work Polo comes in navy and gray.

Note: The Bike to Work Polo’s retail price is $98 but, as of this writing, Betabrand was selling it for $49 on its website.

rotation180º Trail Backpack by Mindshift ($179)

As a former small-town newspaper editor and photographer who has remained a fairly dedicated hobbyist shooter for almost a decade, I’ve owned a lot of camera bags. Over-the-shoulder canvas bags made gear easily accessible and made me look — in my own mind anyway — like I was in the cast of All the Presidents Men. But my shoulder ached and a red stripe stuck around for days after a long assignment. Backpacks worked great for long hikes or bike rides, but I was always packing extra jerseys or socks around lenses for a little extra protection. Besides, access was slow and I missed plenty of moments while dropping my pack trailside to fish out my gear amongst Clif Bars and spare tubes. The single-strap slingbag style bags that are popular with many shooters caught on shirt buttons and never quite fit my setup the way I wanted. So when Mindshift reached out about a new backpack especially suited for camera-toting cyclists I was deeply skeptical. But I was also wrong. So, so wrong.

At 16 liters, the pack isn’t huge, but that small volume holds a unique solution that’s made it my go-to bag on and ride or hike where I want quick access to my camera: a rotating waist “beltpack” that easily spins from its stored position at the bottom of the backpack to a front-and-center spot for quick access. A surprisingly small amount of technology is required to make this system work, just a little extra support to help the bottom of the backpack hold its shape — thus holding the hole “open” for the beltpack to return — and a traditional hip belt. Reach back to pop open a slick-functioning magnetic buckle and yank the beltpack’s handle to rotate to the front. Shove it backward and re-attach the clip to secure it behind you. I expected some difficulty locating the closure buckle since it’s out of view when wearing the backpack, but thanks to the slight magnetic pull, I never had a problem, even out doing some nighttime photography.

As a performance backpack, the upper compartment has enough space for a light jacket, a bit of food, and trail tools, and there’s an option to place a hydration bladder inside as well. Whether you’re confident enough in your bladder of choice’s ability to resist leaking down onto your DSLR is up to you.

The Trail is Mindshift’s smallest bag and the beltpack only had enough space for a full frame DSLR and two small-ish, wide angle lenses. A telephoto lense got the jersey and sock treatment in the top compartment. But anyone traveling with a DSLR and single zoom lens or one of the many excellent mirrorless or other compact camera bodies and a whole complement of lenses should find it perfectly size. Plus, while a bigger bag might hold more photo equipment, it wouldn’t be nearly as well-suited for cycling. 

So the Mindshift Trail is a compromise, but for a cycling shutterbug it’s the best combination bag I’ve ever used and the runner up isn’t even close.

HyperBrite Strobe by Nathan Sports  ($15)

During the long, dark Montana winter it’s not easy to stay visible when it remains dark on the way to and  from work. The small, simple and superbright HyperBrite Strobe from Nathan Sports — a brand often associated with excellent reflective gear for runners — was just the trick. Easily attached to a commuter bag, belt loop, or even cable housing in a pinch, this diminutive light has four LEDs for a total of 20 lumens and four modes including a steady on and a trio of strobe options. Available in yellow or red lights, a pair of these kept me safe on rides and runs all winter when combined with a sturdy front-facing headlight for additional visibility. The strobes use small coin batteries and last for 30 hours in strobe mode.

Morrison by Bern ($100)

Bern’s extremely friendly PR person didn’t believe me when I told her I had an extremely large dome during our chat at the annual Interbike tradeshow in Las Vegas last fall. After sizing up the size of my cranium, she confidently handed me a L/XL version of the company’s new mountain biking lid, the Morrison, and watched as I perched it high atop my head. Not even close. Luckily, Bern’s ego-damaging XXL-XXXL size fit — barely — and I’ve been happily pedaling in the helmet since.

The Morrison evolves the company’s signature skateboard-style helmet into a better-vented and visor’d lid that offers the more comprehensive protection many mountain bikers prefer nowadays with lower rear coverage.

Helmet fit is all about personal preference and which brand’s molds fit best with your head shape, but the Bern fit me very well. The padding is plentiful and comfortable, but even in the company’s largest size I was maxed out. Slipping on a thin skull-cap-style winter hat for particularly cold outings created enough pressure that any long ride would’ve become unpleasant. Another small gripe is that the helmet shipped with plastic stickers like the kind you find protecting head tube paint from rubbing cable housings between the visor’s edges and the helmet body. “That’s odd,” I thought as I peeled them off. The mystery has been solved as it didn’t take long for those pointy edges to collect a little dust and grit and scuff up the excellent looking matte navy color. A minor quibble, to be sure, but I’ll be curious to see if the scuffs significantly worsen after a season of dusty trail riding.

While the Morrison isn’t as vented as some racier offerings, it feels comparable to other full-coverage helmets from the likes of Giro and Bell. What was surprising for such a burly looking lid was the relatively light 13 oz. weight. Light, well-fitting and pretty stylish to boot, the Morrison is looking like my go-to helmet for 2015.

Adventure Jacket by PEdALED (€495)

I was hesitant to let Japanese clothing (and Brooks-affiliated) brand PEdALED’s Adventure Jacket because it’s so darn expensive I just couldn’t imagine myself saying it was worth the price. 

Made with Japanese linen combined with a three-layer membrane for waterproof, breathable performance, and outfitted with a number of pockets and helmet-friendly hood, the Adventure Jacket is certainly up for just that, an adventure. A nice drop tail and long-ish sleeves make it comfortable on the bike and the fabric, fit and finish make it look decidedly non-technical, belying its true stripes. The over-helmet hood cut is immense, and while that’s great in a downpour, I actually found my over-the-shoulder view impeded once or twice by the mound of fabric sitting on my shoulders. Easily remedied with a brush to the side, but a surprise when checking traffic.

Full disclosure time: I love this jacket. I’ve gotten compliments from co-workers, complete strangers, and even my wife about how sophisticated it looks, none of them any wiser about the technology crammed under the classy linen outer layer. Every time I wore it I kept thinking about a group of young French round-the-world cyclists who called their group Solidream and were featured in the April 2014 edition of Adventure Cyclist. They attributed their incredible success at getting invited into homes of strangers met on nearly every continent in part to their commitment to pulling on clean clothes before they pulled into town for the night to make themselves as presentable as possible. Rolling into town in the PEdALED Adventure Jacket, I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a bed for the night and my first beer on the house. What’s that worth? You can decide.

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