Mid-Winter Gear

NightRider Sentinel 40 ($40)

What makes the NightRider Sentinel different from any taillight you’ve tried before? It’s like a regular light... but with lasers! You won’t be zinging tailgaters Star Wars-blaster–style, but there’s no denying it’s a unique take on a pretty unchanging product. The standard taillight portion of the light uses an LED to project a 40-lumen red light in a variety of modes from solid to various flashing options. A separate button controls the laser feature, and when pressed activates a “lane” of red light depicting a sort of “safe zone” for drivers to avoid. The lasers can be projected in solid or flashing fashion and was surprisingly bright even when used at twilight. 

Does it help? Well, there were some macabre jokes made about laser lane simply being a targeting device for road ragers. But the truth of the matter is that I’m not convinced drivers are looking at the road around a cyclist enough to even notice the bright-red lines. Of course, I also rode without incident while the Sentinel was attached, so who’s to say?

For the price, though, it’s an extremely bright, USB-rechargeable light that handled Montana winter road slush admirably an nearly blinded me in the office (with the LED, not the lasers) a few times. The attachment system isn’t exactly elegant, but it’s easy to deal with and a quick release bracket made it a cinch to bring inside for charging. And if it’s a little more expensive than the competition, well, it has lasers. See it in action here. (Note: The Sentinel 40 has been replaced with the Sentinel 150.)

Fenix BC30R ($140)

Fenix is better known for their flashlights, but the company has made a move into the cycling light world and their BC30R is a unit that does their tactical heritage proud. This 1600(!!!)-lumen bar-mounted light is a pint-sized force with enough illumination for even off-road nighttime adventures. With a very sturdy metal build and easy-to-use buttons and OLED screen to operate features and show runtime, the light was simple to set up out of the box and achieves impressively long runtimes considering the power. At the medium setting of 500 lumens you can expect four-and-a-half hours of use, and two-and-a-half at the 800-lumen high setting before you need to recharge via a micro USB. Want all 1600 lumens? Well, Fenix doesn’t list a runtime for that, but I wouldn’t count on it for a long ride. To get home in the dark, though? It’s pretty awesome.

The big knock on the the light is its size and heft. At 4.5” long and 2” wide it’s a little on the large side for a commuter-only light and at about half a pound (including the mount) it’s a good chunk of weight to add to the bars for any rough and rowdy singletrack. Still, for the amount of light it throws out from a relatively compact package (compared, anyway, to dedicated mountain bike light systems), it’s an impressive piece of kit.

Clug ($20)

No matter how much you love to ride your bike, eventually it’s going to stored, whether overnight or over winter. And while hooks and racks are fine in a garage, some might prefer something a little less industrial-looking for their living room. Or perhaps they’d prefer something just a little less. Like the Clug, a bicycle “hook” so small it’s almost not even there.

Clug, an onomatopoeia for the noise the bike’s wheel makes as it “clugs” into the holder, is a small wall-mounted receptacle for a bicycle wheel and tire that grips securely in a form factor considerably smaller than the typical Home Depot-style hook. The company describes it as “a hug for your bike” and I honestly can’t think of a more accurate way to describe how it hangs onto your wheel.

The two-piece holder comes apart to let you screw the backing plate into a wall stud and then the rubberized insert simply pops in. That’s it. For apartment dwellers or those who can’t let their bikes spend a winter in the garage, it’s a stylish solution at a reasonable price. Three sizes available for tire sizes from 23mm road tires to 2.5” mountain bike knobbies.

Club Ride Fat Jack Pant ($120) and Mason Longsleeve Jersey ($100)

Riding in winter is always a fine line between staying warm and sweating like you’re wearing a rubber suit in August, not to mention the challenges posed by your preferred surface, whether it be tarmac or snow-covered tracks. I’ve never had great luck at temperature management on the bike when the mercury drops so I approached the Fat Jack Pant and Mason jersey from Club ride with a healthy amount of skepticism.

While the jersey is a strong, if perhaps not entirely unique, performer (more about that in a minute), the pants have been a revelation. Cut trim and made from Club Ride’s StretchRide10 polyester blend fabric with a water resistant finish and reflective accents, the Fat Jacks have proved the perfect winter recreation pant for aerobic activities. I’ve ridden in them a number of times and enjoyed the “NoCrackBack” cut in the rear of the waist that covers exactly what you think it does, and had no issues with sagging or catching on the saddle of the drivetrain. And when a bike ride hasn’t been in the cards, I’ve reached for them on every cross country ski outing of the winter and found them ideal for keeping warm and dry but able to dump heat under big efforts. Versatile, good-looking enough to hit the bar or coffee shop on the way home, and high performing? I might buy another pair.

As for the Mason, this wool-blend, full-zip jersey fits close and features thumb holes and two large rear pockets. It’s a sharp-looking piece and the cycling-style drop-in pockets are the only hint that it’s built for bikers. My orangutan arms were a little long for the sleeves when stretched out over the bars, but that’s a common long-sleeve issue for me. But the layer has been well-suited for skiing and running in below-freezing temperatures and looks good enough to wear anywhere else too.

Weatherneck ($20)

Serial entrepreneur and cycling nut Brian Davis is back on the Kickstarter wagon with a new invention (his previous creations include the Backbottle and Fix It Sticks), the Weatherneck. This middle ground between a full-on balaclava and a neck gaiter provides face and neck coverage for cold-weather rides and secures with a pair of small magnets instead of velcro — a hair-saving addition that’s a real difference-maker. The mid-weight material blocks wind and provides a bit of insulation while a ventilated center panel keeps condensation from getting too out of hand when breathing hard. 

Like his other inventions, it’s a simple idea well-executed. For a piece of cycling gear, that’s about the best thing you can hope for.

JET Roll ($55)

On the topic of simple ideas executed well, the JET (Just Enough Tools) Roll is a well-executed tool roll that sorts your essentials and tucks away under the saddle without any fuss. We checked out the mountain bike version, with enough room for a Co2 gun, tube, patches, small multitool, tire levers and maybe an ID or folded cash too. The burly nylon roll folds up cleanly and straps to the saddle rails with a simple leather strap. No fancy quick releases or adaptors, just cinch ‘er up and go. 

While JET Roll makes a number of sizes and lighter weight materials, the larger MTB option seems like the most flexible option since an extra pull on the strap can cinch a smaller load in tight and the weight penalty for the larger unit is basically zero.

For years I’ve been a Camelbak guy, even on short off-road rides. But since the onset of some lower back pain that may or may have been related anyway, I’ve made the switch to a water bottle and saddle bag combo over the past few seasons and I’ll never look back for rides under and hour or two. The JET Roll is a great solution to keep a minimal amount of gear organized and accessible. At $55 it isn’t cheap, but the price reflects it’s origins as completely made in the USA, which might not be worth it to some, but is certainly something to consider.

Scrubba ($55)

I first saw the Scrubba over a year ago at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in Salt Lake City, and made a note after chatting with the company’s gregarious Australian owner that he had done some bike touring, which has partly inspired the product. It certainly seemed ingenious, a small dry-bag–style sack with small plastic nubs on the inside (think of a less intense version of the underside of your office chair mat) to agitate clothes like an old-fashioned washboard. 

Ingenious indeed, this little bag — which can double as a regular old drybag when needed — does a yeoman’s work of cleaning clothes on the road with something approximating a “real” machine wash. Fill with water and a bit of detergent, roll the top closure, purge extra air via a small valve, then agitate to clean. Rinsing is as easy as repeating with clean water.

The company says 30 seconds of agitating is all it takes for a “travel wash,” while three minutes is a closer equivalent to a full machine wash.

For any extended trips on the bike or just off the beaten path it’s a great on-the-road option when there’s no laundromat close by or time is of the essense.

Icebreaker Ellipse LS Half Zip Hood ($230)

We got an early look at the new Icebreaker Ellipse LS Half Zip Hood midlayer this winter in advance of its launch, and while it’s not a cycling-specific piece, as with many Icebreaker products it’s a good fit for bike travel. The somewhat unique look of the pull-over comes courtesy of mixed construction using a wool-blend waffle fabric for the majority of the top, but employing the company’s MerinoLOFT insulated panels in the chest and hood. Instead of down, these panels use wool to provide the loft needed. The pullover has two “concealed” front pockets — they were extremely well-concealed as I wore the piece at least a half-dozen times before I realized they existed. 

The fit is trim in the body, though perhaps a little susprisingly loose in the sleeves. As with the Club Ride jersey, I found the sleeves a shade short for cycling (an attempt to use the thumb holes to keep the wrists in place felt as though I was going rip off a thumb), but that’s probably more a function of my disproportionately long arms than a design ill-suited for riding. And though the hood isn’t much use on the bike, it’d be a nice addition around camp and I remain a firm believer in the “no hood, no good” school of thought when it comes to mid- and outer layers. Available in spring 2016.

Outdoor Research Acetylene Jacket ($160)

Winter is fun, but, amazingly, it’ll be coming to end before you know it. Depending on where you live, that may or may not mean that temperatures will automatically be rising. Weather’s been wacky everywhere, that’s for sure, so it’s even more important than ever to be prepared for whatever comes your way while you’re out riding. 

The OR Acetylene Jacket is a piece that will help you do just that. The frontal area of the jacket is filled with PrimaLoft Silver Insulation Eco (primaloft.com/insulation) with a 20D ripstop polyester shell over the top. This insulated-windproof combination keeps your core nice and warm while also deflecting any showers that might descend from the clouds above, but if you happen to get caught in a downpour, the Acetylene will keep you warm enough to get home safely. If you’re going on an extended bike trip where weather conditions will be a concern, the Acetylene jacket is perfect for when conditions get really nasty, especially when used as a mid layer.

Other features include a Napoleon pocket, two zippered hand pockets, thumb loops, stretch binding at the cuffs, and a drawcord hem.

Lezyne Micro Drive 400XL ($50)

And with the cold comes the darkness. Yes, for those of us in the northern climes, cycling takes on a whole different guise when the Earth tilts away from the sun and the warming rays of its light become more oblique. Not only do you need gear like the OR Acetylene Jacket to keep you warm, you also need artificial light to see in the darkness. 

The Lezyne Micro Drive 400 XL is a terrific little light. At a little more than 3 ounces and with dimensions of 3 x 1.5 x 1 in., it easily slips into a jacket pocket nearly unnoticed. It features 8 modes (see chart with burn times) and provides enough light to see by in the 400- and 300- lumen mode with the lower modes functioning best for being seen by other cyclists and auto drivers. And it’s easily charged via cable-free USB stick so you can plug it directly into your computer's USB port or any female USB port.

I found the run times in the chart to be quite accurate with perhaps a bit less time in the brightest setting, but I also find that to be pretty standard in the bike-light universe. The 400XL has quickly become my carry-around light, even though it’s now bright enough here in Montana at 5:00 pm to ride home without it. But who leaves work at 5:00 pm, anyway, right? Better safe than sorry. 

Note: The Micro Drive 400XL has been replaced by the 500XL.

De Marchi Heritage Jerseys ($149-$229)

Bike events based on the Italian L’Eroica have seemingly sprung up just about everywhere. If you’re planning to participate in one of these old-style bike races, you’ll need to look the part. The real part. Sorry, you can’t wear some spandexy look-alike — you need the real thing. Fortunately, De Marchi is offering a line of authorized replica racing-team jerseys representing many countries: Italy, France, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, and more. 

All the De Marchi heritage jerseys are constructed of a Merino wool blend and feature zippered crew collars or button-up polo collars, and all feature three-button back pockets. 

Cinelli, Salvarini, Filotex, Trestina. They’re all here. If you want to look the part, as well as ride the part, of course, you need to check these jerseys out.