Winter Gear Review: Sugoi Zap Subzero Gloves & Rapha Oversocks

It’s getting gold here in the mid-Atlantic. That means long-sleeve jerseys, layers, tights, and bandit-style neck/face coverings. Most of all, for me at least, it means cold feet and hands.

Last winter my extremity-warming strategy was simple and basically ineffective. On my hands I wore DeFeet fingered gloves. On my feet I doubled up on socks. That was pretty much it. Looking back, I have no clue how I survived some of the rides I did, like a century to Gettysburg and back in 15-degree weather.

This winter, I was determined to be more comfortable. So I bought Sugoi Zap Subzero lobster claw gloves and white Rapha oversocks. There are sure to be harsher conditions coming in the months ahead, but I think I’ve already done enough rides below freezing to give an accurate review.

First, the gloves.

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Four words. They are fucking warm. The other day it was about 30 degrees, and my hands were actually sweating. I’ve never had that problem on a winter ride before.

My eTap shifters are not a problem with the lobster claw, since there’s only one paddle on each side and I can easily control my index finger through the fabric. Garmin buttons are slightly more challenging, but totally possible. I haven’t ridden these with my standard Shimano 105 shifting setup, but I could imagine the shifting being a little tougher.

The reflective stripes are a nice touch, and have come in handy (literally) on a couple night rides so far. More visibility never hurts, although I don’t know that cars behind me are looking at my hands.

Would I recommend? Absolutely.

On to the oversocks.

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With Rapha stuff, looks are always most important, and these do look awesome. I’m all about white socks and shoes, and these carry that aesthetic to its logical conclusion. For whatever reason, I think oversocks look so much better with full-length tights than exposed shoes with socks over the bottoms of the tights. Maybe because they create one clean color block, rather than the weird segments of tight-sock-shoe? I’ve also enjoyed not having to choose socks to go with an otherwise all-black kit, and the reflective patch looks classy day or night.

But are they warm? Eh. With two pairs of socks underneath, my feet have still felt stiff and numb on cold rides. Maybe these have raised the temperature a tiny bit, but I can’t say for sure. It doesn’t seem like the fabric keeps much warmth in.

This version, unlike the older model, was pre-cut with cleat holes, so fraying isn’t an issue. Getting them on and off my shoes is pretty easy; it takes about 30 seconds per foot once you get the hang of it.

Would I recommend? Yes, with a couple caveats: if you get them on sale like I did, and if you are more concerned about looking Belgian than having super-warm feet.

Note: I don’t wear wool, so the warmest sock options are a no-go for me. I understand that this is probably why my feet are cold.

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My New-Old Jamis Renegade

Another bike build…my last for a long time. After a flurry (well, three) of new bikes in the last couple years, I now have to be content to just ride them. That’s okay. It’s what they are made for.

And there were lots of practical reasons behind this rebuild of my Jamis Renegade. The original bike was the base model and featured awful brakes, a Claris 2×8 setup that left a lot to be desired, and a super painful Fizik saddle. It was fine for commuting, and even a few long bikepacking trips, but I wanted something that will serve me better in the short-term while also being suitable for my planned cross-country trip in 2020.

I really wanted a no-fuss 1x drivetrain, a comfortable touring saddle, reliable brakes, and a cool paint job in an earthy tone. I ended up with all that, plus a couple additions that make this a bike suitable for a wide range of adventures. I’m really happy with how everything turned out.

Thanks go to Ian at the Underground Bike Shop for yet another no-hassle, fairly priced, quick build. Seriously, if you’re in Harrisburg and haven’t made this your shop of choice, you’re missing out.

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These were the parts of the original bike that survived the rebuild and are now seamlessly integrated into the new machine.

Frame and Fork: Jamis Renegade Exile (56 cm). I had no complaints about this aluminum frame. It’s always felt great to ride, and the geometry is very comfortable. No fork mounts, but pretty much everything else for racks, fenders, a third water bottle cage, etc. Made sense to build the new bike around this frame.
However, I did a custom rattlecan paint job with Royal Oak from Spray.Bike, which totally changes the complexion of the bike. I wanted it to look awesome and blend in when I’m stealth camping in the woods.
 
Stem: Basic Jamis model with an embarrassing, comfortable upward angle.
Seatpost: Boring, basic, doesn’t matter.
 
Bars: Ritchey EvoMax. Angled bars for gravel these days are all the rage. I don’t really notice a difference, but they look cool. Good shifting and braking control from the drops.
Pedals: I have no idea what brand these are. Toe straps for the win.

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Crankset: SRAM Apex 1x (42t). I absolutely love the clean look of the 1x setup, and I also love the thought of no front derailleur chain rub or cable adjustments. Apex is cheaper than Force and Rival, and since I don’t care about weight on this bike, I decided to invest elsewhere. (Elsewhere ended up being the wheelset.)
 
Cassette: A pizza. Just kidding. It’s the SRAM 11-42t monster, blacked-out and badass. But it looks like a pizza.
Shifters: SRAM Apex. Same nice ergonomics of the eTap setup on my road bike. The Apex graphic actually looks pretty cool. I like that SRAM doesn’t put stupid beginner gadgets (indicators of what gear you’re in) on their lower-level gear like Shimano does. Show some respect to the experienced riders on a budget.
Brakes: TRP Spyre disc. I have these on my ‘cross bike and they have worked well. No rubbing, no fuss. Massive upgrade over the shitty Tektros I had before. I can actually stop now.
Saddle: Brooks C17. Nice of Brooks to offer saddles that aren’t made of cow hide, for the animal lovers out there. I’m not quite sure if I ended up with the all-weather version as intended, but mine is apparently waterproof. The saddle is nice and wide, and though I’ve only sat on it for thirty minutes so far, feels exponentially more comfy that the Fizik Airione.
Fenders: Planet Bike Cascadia (aluminum). I try to avoid riding in the rain. But sometimes when you’re touring, you don’t have a choice. I opted for these to complete the rig. They also add a nice bit of black to the color scheme, matching the seat and bar tape.
Wheels: Velocity Dyad 700c. I hadn’t planned on a new wheelset. Then, I realized that the 8-speed hubs on the old wheels weren’t going to cut it. Fortunately, I found these American-made, bombproof wheels for a pretty affordable price. From all the reviews I read, they will serve me well. I opted for high spoke counts (32 in front, 36 in rear) just to be on the safe side. The retro-looking decal is a nice touch, though the yellow doesn’t match with anything.
Tires: Panaracer GravelKing (32mm). For the most part, I’ll be riding this bike on pavement. But I also wanted something that could handle a bit of dirt or gravel, without slowing me down. I wanted puncture protection. I wanted a cushy ride. I wanted tan sidewalls. I didn’t want to spend more than I would on car tires. These fit the bill.

Thousand-Mile Review: Cannondale CAAD12 Black Inc. Custom Build

I’ve put almost a thousand miles on my Cannondale CAAD 12 Black Inc. with SRAM eTap (still haven’t thought of a cool name for it, and probably never will), and thought I’d offer a review.

So far, so awesome.

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The frame is, as you can imagine, just as light as it was when I built the bike. I’m not going to pretend I can detect the most minuscule elements of ride feel like those bike reviewers who sound like snobby wine experts talking about woody textures and notes of chocolate and all that BS. I’ll just say that it feels feather light, the handling is sharp and racy, and the geometry is actually very comfortable. I was worried about comfort, after my first ride–this bike has me bent over way more than my last one, and I hoped the soreness was from the adjustment to the aggressive geometry rather than actually poor bike fit. Happily, on subsequent rides (up to 80 miles), I’ve been pain-free. Also, another benefit: nobody can tell this bike is aluminum until I alert them to that fact. It looks carbon and is basically as light, except it won’t break if a gust of wind knocks it over. I like when my expensive bikes don’t break, but that’s just me.

The other components have all performed admirably, although the seatpost was creaking quite a bit early on and I had to take it to the shop, where they “greased the hell out of it.” Since then it’s been quieter. The SRAM Force brakes have a nice feature that lets you set them at varying degrees of openness for on the fly adjustment, and a centering bolt that makes fine-tuning really easy.

The Mavic Ksyrium wheels are nice. I don’t really know what else to say about wheels. They feel stable beneath me and they don’t feel like they are slowing me down. I’ve hit a couple bumps and they didn’t break. They are still true.

The eTap groupset is just about as amazing as I expected. I’ve charged the batteries twice (once before riding, once since then). It’s really easy to do. Takes about 45 minutes to fully charge one. Pro-tip: remove the batteries if you’re traveling with your bike in the car, because the motion will keep them activated and drain them quickly. I love that I haven’t had to adjust the shifting at all; with cables, I would have needed to re-tension them by now after the break-in period. Not with eTap. No chain rub, no chain drops, no missed shifts, and above all, no noise. Bikes, like children, should be seen and not heard. I don’t regret my gearing choice at all. The 34-32 has gotten me up some big ‘ol climbs, and smaller climbs on days when I just don’t feel like making my knees hurt. Another great thing about eTap is the intuitive shifting setup: right paddle to make it harder, left to make it easier, both together to shift the chainring up front. I adapted to this system immediately, and now get annoyed by how weird the shifting on my other bikes feels. Oh, and the lack of cables makes the bike look super clean. Overall, eTap has been everything I hoped it would be.

The Vittoria Corsa tires are the only problem area of this build, as I kind of expected them to be. They ride great, but I’ve already flatted three times, compared to one flat in over a year on my Continental Grand Prix 4000s. I’ve heard that the durability on these isn’t great either, so for winter I’m switching to Panaracer Gravelking (26mm), for a bit more puncture protection and a cushier ride. Tan sidewalls still, which is crucial.

But, most importantly, what have other riders said? Here’s a sampling:

“What brand is that? There’s no logo.”

“It sounds like a robot when it shifts.”

“Could your bike be hacked by the Russians?”

“I’m jealous.”

Don’t Join the Peloton

Lately these ads for Peloton have been showing up on my computer. I guess the internet crumbs I leave make me look like a prime customer for this indoor bike thing, but I’m not. It appears that the algorithms can’t distinguish between someone who likes to ride a bike outdoors for the adventure and someone who rides indoors to burn calories (though I’m sure some day it will be able to).

I’ll confess: I don’t understand why anyone would buy one of these. Biking indoors is a necessary evil, one of the shitty parts about living in a cold, snowy place. I can’t fathom why people would spend $2,000 on a machine that lets them do it year-round. It really bottles my mind, as GOB Bluth would say. You don’t get to feel the wind in your face, chat with friends, look at scenery. Hell, you don’t get to coast and balance on an impossibly moving object, which is half the fun.

In the commercial, the Peloton folks try to play up the social element. You can watch the whole New York studio on a screen, apparently. Seems to me like the only thing worse than being in a spin class is to be in a virtual spin class. Yeah, it’s on a fancy screen and everything, but how different is this from watching people suffer at the hands of Sean T. in the Insanity videos?

The ad also emphasizes that you can do everything–exercise, have fun, interact with people, enter a whole other world–in the comfort of your living room. Makes sense for people with small kids who can’t leave the house to ride. But for everyone else–isn’t the whole point of recreation to get you outside the normal parameters of your life, out into the world (or even, dare I say, away from your family for a blessed hour?)

And, finally, this stupid phrase about racing up a hill. You’re on a stationary bike. In your living room. Going nowhere. That’s like saying holding your breath is the same as being on top of Mount Everest. Or eating baking powder mixed with flour is the same as eating a biscuit. These things are alike only in the abstract.

On a more serious note, though, I worry that promoting exercise machines like this one reinforce the false idea that a) you need fancy, expensive equipment to exercise and b) exercise is merely a tedious chore that you accomplish to burn calories so you can not be fat. These notions couldn’t be further from the truth, but unfortunately they are prevalent. You don’t need anything to exercise–just go outside and move your body. And exercise is fun, if you’re doing something you enjoy. Considering the amount of activities available, I think it’s safe to assume there is something that most people would find enjoyable (or at least not totally, soul-suckingly awful).

For the cost of a Peloton bike, a person could buy a good entry-level bike and a cheap indoor trainer and a Zwift subscription. That would cover all the bases Peloton covers, plus allow them to ride outside when the weather’s nice or their kids are stuck with the spouse. What’s to lose?

Just profits.