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Category Archives: Product Reviews

Reviews of cycling products that I have tested while riding in the Upper Midwest.

Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Ingredients For Making Your Own Carbohydrate Gels

Last a fall I was out on a long bike ride with a friend of mine when he asked me how much money I spent a month on the carbohydrate gels I use. It was a question I really hadn’t thought much about before, but after doing a few quick calculations in my head I was shocked. Most of the carbohydrate gels I use are organic (a word usually synonymous with expensive), and during most of the year I go through 30 packs a week which comes out to $180 a month (I am so glad my wife never looks at the American Express statements). After I got home I decided to see if I could find a way to cut my expenses by creating my own carb gels, and at the end of this article you will find a few recipes that I have used. However, before we get to the recipes I need to explain how to choose your ingredients (if you want to experiment on your own).

I am a distance cyclist and except for my winter rides in the snow I seldom take a ride of under two hours. On long rides I normally burn between 900 and 1,000 calories an hour (based on my weight and speed). As a result, I try to consume 300 calories an hour (including 60 grams of carbohydrates). I get 100 calories an hour from my sports hydration mix and the other 200 calories from carb gels (and bananas when available). Most commercial carb gels offer a mixture of both simple and complex carbs and have 100 calories, along with 20 to 30 grams of carbs, and cost anywhere from $1.20 to $3.00 per package. Store-bought energy gels also have about 45mg sodium and 35mg potassium per serving. Simple carbs give a quick shot of energy, while complex carbs provide a slower release of energy. If your gel is composed entirely of simple carbs you will feel a quick rush of energy, followed by a sinking feeling a few minutes later.

You can make your own carbohydrate gels with just a few inexpensive ingredients—and it will only cost you around .30¢ per serving! As a bonus, your gels will always be fresh and free from unwanted chemicals. Here is a quick breakdown of the main ingredients that I use in my gels…

Brown Rice Syrup has 65 calories per tablespoon (21g) and 16 grams of carbohydrates. Brown rice syrup has a Glycemic Index of 25 and is composed of about 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. I buy Now Foods Organic Brown Rice Syrup from a local grocery store (it’s in their health food department) and it sells for under $5 for a 16-ounce container.

Raw Honey is a 100% simple sugar and has a Glycemic Index of 58. Honey has 64 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 17 grams of carbohydrates. Simple sugars can elevate your blood sugar very quickly, so you don’t want to take too much at one time. By the way, make sure you buy raw honey and not the processed garbage that comes in the cute bear containers.

Light Agave Nectar has 60 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 16 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 11. Maple Syrup has 53 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 13 grams of carbohydrates, with a Glycemic Index of 54. Blackstrap Molasses has 45 calories per tablespoon (21g) and has 11g of carbohydrates, along with 15mg of sodium and 500mg of potassium. Blackstrap molasses has a Glycemic Index of 55. Since blackstrap molasses has a strong flavor you should probably start with just a bit of it and work your way up!

Now for the recipes—I wish I could take credit for all of these, but most of them are recipes that I’ve cobbled together from other cyclists. However, the first recipe is mostly mine and it is my favorite!

Blue Ribbon Butterscotch Candy

Mix 8 tablespoons brown rice syrup, 2 tablespoons light agave nectar, 1 tablespoon warm water, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 1/4 tablespoon Morton Lite Salt Mixture, and about 1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt. This mixture provides about 100 calories per 1.5 tablespoon. A ¼ teaspoon of Morton Lite Salt Mixture has 290mg sodium and 350mg potassium (I use this as an easy way to get potassium into my gels). This is my favorite homemade gel—and as the name implies, it tastes like butterscotch candy (and is highly addictive).

Honey GOO Recipe

This recipe comes from HomeGOO, a company that sells incredibly low-priced flasks for carb gels. Mix 4 ounces of raw honey, one tablespoon organic blackstrap molasses, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. This recipe will approximately fill a 6-ounce flask.

Down And Dirty

I don’t remember where I found this recipe, but it is very easy to make and has a mild taste. Mix 3/4 cup of brown rice syrup, 1/2 cup of agave nectar, 1/2 cup of raw honey, and 1/2 tsp of sea salt.

Finding A Flask

HomeGOO sells two different reusable flasks. The five-ounce Goo Flask is a 5.5 inch tall BPA free plastic container with a leak proof, push-pull valve. The flexible six-ounce Goo Flask is made from ultra-lightweight BPA free plastic and collapses as you consume the gel. It also has a push/pull drink spout with removable cap, though the cap really isn’t necessary. These bottles are easy to wash by hand and are dishwasher safe.

HomeGOO Flexible Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO Flexible, Reusable GOO Flask

HomeGOO sells the five ounce flask for only .99¢, which means that if you only used in one time you still saved money over the cost of buying prepackaged gels. The six-ounce flask sells for $3 and should last a very long time. If you are into endurance sports you owe it to yourself to try these flasks!

 

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RFLKT iPhone Powered Bike Computer

Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer

Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer

If you were to ask me to name my favorite cycling product of all-time, without any hesitation I would tell you about Cyclemeter by Abvio. I’ve used this iPhone app to record my last 20,000 miles or so of cycling. It is the most user-friendly iPhone cycling app you will find and it is easy to customize to suit your needs. It’s not that Cyclemeter is just better than the other cycling GPS apps, but it is so far advanced beyond the other apps that it doesn’t even belong in the same class. In all seriousness, it is worth buying an Apple iPhone if for no other reason than to use this app! I’d rather have the Cyclemeter/iPhone combination than any Garmin computer on the market. This iPhone app is only $4.99 and is available for download via iTunes.

Since I carry my iPhone in my back jersey pocket I am not able to see “real-time” statistics (speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, etc.). As a result, I’ve always had a second bike computer mounted on my handlebars so I could read it as I was cycling. Fortunately, Wahoo Fitness has recently introduced the RFLKT iPhone Powered Bike Computer and it is now one of my top two favorite cycling products of all time!

The RFLKT wirelessly reflects the information that is on your iPhone (hence the name) and displays that information on a compact unit that easily mounts on your handlebars or stem. What makes this bike computer so amazing is that it is completely customizable—you get to choose exactly what is displayed on every screen (and you can create a lot of screens), and you also get to choose the font size (from small to very large).

The RFLKT measures 2.4” long by 1.6” wide by 0.5” thick and weighs only two-ounces. It is powered by a replaceable coin cell battery and the wireless connectivity is made through a Bluetooth 4.0 connection to your iPhone. This computer has several mounting options, including quarter turn, so it is perfect for road bikes, mountain bikes, and cyclocross. I’ve used it in pouring rain and in temps as low as -12F and it hasn’t missed a beat!

The Wahoo Fitness RFLKT Bike Computer retails for $100 and is worth every cent! Wahoo Fitness also has cadence meters and heart rate monitors that tie into the Cyclemeter app (there are other apps available for use with the RFLKT unit, but I’d stick with Cyclemeter).

Note: In the photo above you will notice that my average speed for that bike ride was under 11 MPH. I was riding through 5″ of fresh snow on my Surly Necromancer Pugsley Fat Bike and anything over 8 MPH in deep snow is pretty good!

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Product Reviews

 

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Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix For Winter Sports

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix

For the past couple of years I’ve used Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix as my primary drink while on the bike. This drink mix was developed by Allen Lim, PhD, a sport scientist and coach for a professional cycling team. He created this product “from scratch” because he thought he could improve on the usual prepackaged hydration products that were already on the market. While I love Skratch mix when served cold, or even at room temperature, it just didn’t appeal to me when served piping hot. In fact, I don’t know of any sports drink that tastes good when served hot. However, this past fall Skratch Labs introduced their new Apples & Cinnamon flavor and this product is intended to be served hot!

Thanks to a snowy and bitterly cold winter I’ve been drinking a lot of the Apples & Cinnamon flavor Skratch mix while cycling this year. I always fill two thermos bottles with this drink mix before I go out on a ride and after several hundred miles through the snow I can say I dearly love this product! It tastes great piping hot and even when it starts to cool down. While the cinnamon flavor is more dominant than the apple, this mix is perfect for all winter athletes and I highly recommend it.

A 16-ounce serving of this drink mix has 90 calories and provides 22 grams of carbohydrates, along with 300mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium. The ingredients list is fairly simple: Cane sugar, dextrose, apples, sodium citrate, citric acid, cinnamon, magnesium lactate, calcium citrate, potassium citrate, and ascorbic acid.

You can buy this Exercise Hydration Mix in either a one-pound package or as single-serving individual packages (sticks). The best buy is the one-pound package which retails for $19.50 and will make twenty 16-ounce servings. When the temperature warms up a bit and you want a cool drink, this product also comes in several other flavors, including Lemon & Limes, Raspberries, Oranges, and Pineapple. While I like all of them, the Raspberry is my favorite—the flavor is not overpowering and it is a very crisp and refreshing drink.

 

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Orp Smart Horn: The Most Anticipated Cycling Product Of The Year

Orp Smart Horn (Smorn)

Orp Smart Horn (Smorn)

What does an inventor do when they have a great idea for a new product but lack the funding to bring it to market? Many inventors turn to Kickstarter, a website where they can promote their idea and seek financial backers. Sometimes the backers donate money just because they think the project is worthwhile and other times they contribute enough to earn a few perks (anything from decals or a copy of the finished product, and all the way up to a trip to the manufacturing plant). Over the past few years I’ve helped back several projects that had to do with cycling, but the one I have anticipated the most is the new Orp Smart Horn.

Orp Smart Horn (Smorn)

Orp Smart Horn (Smorn)

The Orp Smart Horn {Smorn} is a “combination dual tone, high-decibel bike horn and front beacon light designed to make you more visible and hearable.” While the Orp is not in distribution yet, the specs for this item are fantastic! The Orp is smaller than almost any other bicycle light on the market, and the horn is louder than any bike bell could ever dream of being. The horn is activated by touching an ergonomic switch on the back of the device (the Wail Tail) and you can choose from either a friendly chirp (76 decibels) or a loud ear-splitting alert (96 decibels). The light on the Orp has 87 lumens and operates in several modes, including Slow Strobe, Fast Strobe, and Constant On. This product is also incredibly compact and lightweight (only 89 grams).

The Orp is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion power cell and should last from 6 to 12 hours, depending on the settings you choose to use. This battery recharges with a USB cable—which means you can just plug it into your computer to recharge it (great for commuters).

The suggested list price for the Orp Smart Horn is only $65 and it will be available in seven colors (Glorp, Aorta Red, Snot Green, Frostbyte, Safety Cone Orange, Wail Blue, and Asphalt Black).

 

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45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

Warning: This article deals with adult subject matter and is not suitable for southerners or cyclists who spend their winters in the basement riding a trainer. Reader discretion is advised.

After several mild winters in a row, those of us in the Upper Midwest have finally been blessed with a ton of fresh snow and bone-chilling temperatures. Several weeks ago I was at the local bike shop and saw the new 45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters. I hesitated getting them because the past few winters have been rather disappointing for Fat Bike owners, but I decided to take a chance and buy them anyway—and I am certainly glad I did!

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Gaiter For Fat Bikes

Gaiters are put on over your boots and winter cycling tights and extend from your boots to just below your knees. If you are not familiar with the purpose of winter gaiters, let me explain. First, they keep you lower leg and calf muscle warm (the wind has a way of making calf muscles very stiff). Second, they keep the snow out of your boots when you have to get off the bike and push.

The Bergraven gaiters are specifically designed for Fat Bike riders. The soft outer shell is made with Primaloft ECO insulation and there is a Kevlar panel to protect the gaiters if they come in contact with either the crank arms or chain-rings. These gaiters close on the sides with a hook-and-loop closure and there are buckle adjusters at the top so you can make them as snug (or loose) as you like. There is also a strap that goes under your boots to keep the gaiters in place. In addition, there is a bit of reflective piping on the back of the gaiters.

If you are fortunate enough to own a pair of 45NRTH Wölvhammer winter cycling boots there is a toe hook on these gaiters that will snap into the boots for a better fit. Unfortunately, my feet are too wide to fit into a pair of Wölvhammer boots (even though they have a wide toe box). However, you do not have to wear these gaiters with Wölvhammer boots. When the temperature drops below 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) I wear the Columbia Bugaboot Plus Cold Weather Boot—this boot is designed for hunters, but it works for cyclists as well. By the way, the toe hook on the Bergraven gaiter will lock into this boot (but you will need to trim the hook with a Dremel rotary tool first).

Sometimes you just have to dismount and push your Fat Bike

Sometimes you just have to dismount and push your Fat Bike

We’ve had a lot of snow this winter and I’ve had to walk my bike through deep snow drifts on many occasions. Sometimes you can see a drift in front of you and just dismount and walk through it. However, a few times I’ve run into deep snow without any warning and these gaiters have kept the snow out of my boots every time!

45NRTH Bergraven Technical Fatbiking Gaiters are available in two sizes: Medium (38–43) and Large (44–50). These gaiters retail for $85 a pair—not cheap, but it’s hard to put a price on staying warm! You might live in an area of the country where you would never need a product like this, but I am certainly glad I bought them (especially this year).

 

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Top Five Cycling Products Of 2013

This year I’ve penned over 100 product reviews and today I would like to make mention of my top five favorite cycling products of 2013. It was hard for me to narrow this list down to just five items, but I did follow a couple of guidelines. This list is for cycling products that I reviewed this year, though not all of them were introduced this year. In addition, I limited myself to one winning product per manufacturer. If you click on the links below they will take you to the complete review for the product mentioned.

BikeLoot Box For July

BikeLoot

BikeLoot is a box of five to seven cycling related products that are mailed to subscribers every month (like carb gels, bars, hydration, and maintenance products). Most of the products are just samples of products you’ve probably have never heard of before. BikeLoot has several great advantages. First, you don’t have to buy a whole box of a product and the hope that you will like it once it arrives—you can try the sample from the BikeLoot box and if you like it you can order more, and if you don’t like you haven’t wasted any money. Second, you will be sampling products that most cyclists aren’t even going to hear about for another year or so! And third, the BikeLoot box also offers substantial discount codes for some of the products in the box.

45NRTH Hüsker Dü Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Hüsker Dü Fat Bike Tires

I’ve spent a lot of money buying tires for my Fat Bike, but the best investment I’ve ever made in a set of tires was the 45NRTH Hüsker Dü. This is the tire that ought to come standard on every Fat Bike! The Hüsker Dü tires will give you a great grip in adverse conditions while still providing less rolling resistance on pavement or packed trails. These tires have a thread count of 120 tpi (threads per inch). Higher tpi tires are usually lighter, more supple and more expensive.

Lezyne Alloy Drive High Volume Hand Pump

High Quality Aluminum Construction

Lezyne makes some of the best bicycle hand pumps in the world, but the Lezyne Alloy Drive High Volume Hand Pump is in a class all by itself. I bought this pump for my Surly Necromancer Pugsley—a Fat Bike with massive 4″ wide tires. Fat Bike tires usually run at very low pressure (10 to 15 psi on off-road trails; 5 to 7 psi on sand or snow), but they do require a high volume of air. Most bicycle hand pumps are designed to work the other way around (high pressure, low volume) and they would take forever to fill up a Fat Bike tire. A high volume pump like this one will fill your tires is 30% less time than most other pumps. The Lezyne Alloy Drive pump is made with CNC-machined aluminum construction, which makes it very durable and extremely lightweight—just 4.5 ounces (128 g) without the frame mount. This pump has a flex hose with a threaded Presta connection on one end and a threaded Schrader connection on the other.

Showers Pass CloudCover Dry Wallet For iPhone

Showers Pass CloudCover Dry Wallet For iPhone

I take my iPhone with me on every ride—in rain, snow, mud, sand or beautiful sunshine and the best case I’ve found so far is the Showers Pass CloudCover iPhone Case for the iPhone 4 or iPhone 5. One of the features I like best about the CloudCover case is that you can still use the iPhone camera without having to take the phone out of the case. I’ve experimented with this option several times and still cannot believe how well it works! As long as you are photographing in bright sunlight it is nearly impossible to tell that the phone was in the case when you took the photo.

Serfas ST-17i CO² Inflator / Mini-tool

Serfas ST-17i CO² Inflator / Mini-tool

Out of the dozens of bicycle multi-tools I own, the Serfas ST-17i CO² Inflator / Mini-tool has to be my favorite! Here is a breakdown of the seventeen tools in the Serfas ST-17i CO² Inflator / Mini-tool: Eight Allen keys (8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.5, 2, and 1.5mm), one 10m open wrench, four spoke wrenches (3.23, 3.3, 3.45, 3.96mm), a chain break tool with two chain retainers, two Torx drivers (T25, T30), CO² Inflator head, and both a Philips and flat head screwdriver. This tool has a full metal body and is 2.75″ long, 1.5″ wide, and .75″ tall. This products weighs an even 4.0 ounces (114g). The chain tool on the Serfas ST-17i is one of the best I’ve ever seen on a cycling multi-tool. The biggest selling point for the Serfas ST-17i is the CO² inflator head (Presta valve only) that is built into the mini-tool.

 
 

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45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

The All Seasons Cyclist With His New 45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies

The All Seasons Cyclist With His New 45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about How To Keep Your Hands Warm While Cycling In The Winter. In that article I reviewed the three major products that winter cyclists use to protect their hands: Moose Mitts, Bike Poagies and Bar Mitts. Unfortunately, that article was published before 45NRTH introduced their new Cobrafist Technical Fatbike Pogie. I am an experienced winter cyclist and own at least two pairs each of Moose Mitts, Bike Poagies and Bar Mitts—and I have to say that 45NRTH’s new Cobrafist pogies smash the competition—these are warmest, best designed and most well thought-out pogies on the market today!

45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Cobrafist Pogies For Fat Bikes

45NRTH Cobrafist pogies are constructed with a wind resistant, puncture resistant 600 denier outer shell and warm layer of 400g Primaloft insulation. These pogies will easily add 25 degrees of warmth to your hands, i.e., if your gloves are normally good down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, with Cobrafist pogies you can wear those same gloves down to at about 5 degrees—and if you drop a small chemical hand warmer into each pogie you gain another 10 degrees of warmth.

Zippered Air Vents To Regulate The Temperature

Zippered Air Vents To Regulate The Temperature

Chemical hand warmers are intended to be used in an oxygen restricted environment—not in an airtight container. Since all the other pogies cut off outside air from reaching into the pogies they also suffocate chemical hand warmers (make them stop working) within an hour or so. Fortunately, the Cobrafist pogies have zippered vents on the top and bottom so you can regulate the amount of air you let in—or you can choose to seal the poagie up almost air tight if you want. These zippers also allow moisture to escape from inside the pogies which will help keep your hands dry—and these zippers have pulls on both the inside and outside of the pogies so you can adjust the ventilation without taking your hands out of the poagie (I dearly love this feature)! In addition, the Cobrafist has two small inner pockets that allow you to store extra food or chemical hand warmers without them sliding around inside the pogie.

A Bar-End Plug Secures A Grommet To Keep Your Pogie In Place

A Bar-End Plug Secures A Grommet To Keep Your Pogie In Place

While the Cobrafist pogies are technically advanced, they are still easy to install—they slide over your handlebar and a bar-end plug secures a grommet tight against the handlebar (the only tool required is a 3mm Allen wrench). The only downside to this system is that you can’t use a tall bar-end grip like the Ergon GC3 Handlebar Grips I normally use on my Pugsley. However, the shorter Ergon GC3 Race Grip will work. The other end of the pogie (the end closest to the headset) has an oval-shaped foam donut that seals the handlebar and cable closure and keeps unwanted cold air out. The Cobrafist also has a drawstring around the opening for your hands—keep it loose if you start to overheat, or cinch it up if the weather turns nasty.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

Every time I write about pogies I get letters from readers asking about how difficult it is to get your hands in and out of the pogie while riding. Well, I wondered about this same thing before I first used them. Let me put your mind at ease by telling you that these pogies are incredibly easy to use—you can get your hands in and out in total darkness without even having to think about it.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike Pogies

Cobrafist Pogies Could Use Some Reflective Piping For Riding At Night

While I believe the 45NRTH Cobrafist pogies are the best pogies on the market, I do have two suggestions that I think would make them even better. First, I would like to see some reflective piping on the front and side of these pogies. Sunshine is a rare commodity during the winter, and I often find myself riding after dark and reflective piping would make it a lot easier for cars and snowmobiles to see me. Second, I would like the pogies to extend about 2″ more past the brake levers than they do now—while the pogies are roomy, it is too easy to stick your fingers in the pockets when they ought to be on the brake levers.

45NRTH Cobrafist Fat Bike pogies retail for $125 a pair and they only come in one color: black. They are not cheap, but as far as bike pogies go they are actually reasonably priced. While it might be fun to brag to your friends about the time you got frostbite while riding your Fat Bike, having your fingers amputated because of it might not be as fun as it sounds!

 

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Picky Bars: All Natural Training Snacks (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)

Picky Bars All Natural Training Snacks

Picky Bars: All Natural Training Snacks

I am always on the lookout for new nutritional products that I can take with me on long bike rides. As a distance cyclist I often burn over 5,000 calories on a ride and I try to consume around 300 calories per hour while riding. There are a lot of great carb gels on the market, but after a couple of hours on the bike I crave real food—but I need food that is all-natural and easy to digest. A few months ago I reviewed BikeLoot, a subscription service that sends a box of five to seven cycling related products to your home every month. In a recent shipment of loot they included a sample of Picky Bars and just one bite was all it took for me to want more!

Picky Bars are made from all-natural ingredients, such as: organic dates, hazelnut butter, organic almonds, cranberries, organic sunflower butter, sunflower seeds, honey, organic apricots, organic cashews, organic walnuts, organic peanut butter, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and rice protein powder. These bars are fairly small (2″ x 3″ x 1/2″), but are packed with flavor! Each bar has 200 calories or less and has a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio (28g carbohydrate and 7g protein). These bars are also gluten and dairy free, and contain less than 1% soy content.

Picky Bars are available in five flavors and come in boxes of ten. I ordered 20 bars so I could try several of each flavor (they only had four flavors available when I placed my order). The four flavors I tried were: Lauren’s Mega Nuts, Need For Seed, All-In Almond, and Smooth Caffeinator. The first three flavors were absolutely fantastic, and Lauren’s Mega Nuts was my favorite. As the name implies, Smooth Caffeinator has caffeine—25mg to be exact (about as much as 1/3 of a cup of coffee). I am not a coffee drinker, so I would not order the Smooth Caffeinator again because it does have a mild coffee flavor. However, I gave a stack of the Smooth Caffeinator bars to a friend of mine who does like coffee and he said they were great! The folks at Picky Bars have recently introduced a new flavor, temporarily known as Runner’s High, but I have not had a chance to try these out yet.

While these bars are not 100% Paleo approved (due to the use of peanut butter), I have no trouble recommending them to any athlete. I do need to point out that when the temperature is in the 90′s (32 Celsius) these bars are a bit messy (mainly because of the fat from the nut butters).

Picky Bars retail for $23 for a box of ten and are available from the Picky Bars website or Amazon.com. The average cost for carbohydrate gel is over $1.50 a package, but they usually only offer 100 calories per package. Since Picky Bars provide 200 calories per package they actually are a better buy! I’ve only done this for three products over the past few years, but I have to put Picky Bars on the Highly Recommended List—if you are an athlete you really need to buy a box of these bars!

 
 

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Winter Cycling: Studded Bike Tires

Note: This is the eleventh installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Even if you own the best cycling clothing that money can buy, your bike ride is going to be miserable if you attempt to ride in the snow or ice with the wrong tires. It’s not just about having tires with a good grip—they also need to be pliable in extremely cold temperatures and be able to shed snow. I haven’t tried every winter cycling tire that is on the market, but I have used enough different brands to offer a few suggestions for those who might be new to winter cycling.

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires (Pattern: IA-2901)

If you are new to winter cycling and not sure how much you are going to ride this winter, I would suggest you get a pair of Innova 26 x 2.1 snow tires—these mountain bike tires are definitely an “entry-level” grade. Unlike the more expensive tires that use carbide studs, the Innova tires use steel studs, so yes, they are going to rust (see the photo above). However, the Innova tires are at least half the price of Nokian or Schwalbe tires. Innova snow tires have 268 replaceable steel studs and an aggressive tread. While it is very common to lose a few studs during normal use every winter due to friction, the best I can tell I didn’t lose a single stud in over 500 miles of use during the first winter I had them.

While the side of the tire says the maximum air pressure is 60psi, I would recommend you never go above 50psi—and if you are riding on a lot of ice I’d drop the pressure down to near 40psi (the minimum recommended pressure). At 60psi the studs don’t grip the snow and ice as well. These tires are made with a standard rubber compound which means they are not very flexible in cold weather. These tires retail for around $72 each. If your local bike shop does not carry Innova tires, you can usually find them on Amazon.com.

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

If you are looking for a top-of-the-line tire winter mountain biking tire I would suggest the Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires. These tires are made with a special winter rubber (durometer 58A) and are intended for extreme winter riding. This tire has large knobs for a great grip in mud and snow, along with 304 studs to keep you steady on the ice. The studs are made of aluminum and have sharp carbide pins—these pins should last for the life of the tire. Each tire weighs 750g (25.45 ounces). I bought a pair of 26″x2.2″ tires, but similar tires are available in other sizes. The recommended tire pressure is 29 to 65psi. I keep mine at around 40psi for winter riding and they are great in snow up to about two inches (5 cm) deep.

These tires are easy to install, but before you take them out in the snow for the first time you need to break them in by riding on hard pavement for at least 30 miles. The pavement helps seat the studs properly into the tires and roughens up the tips a bit for a better grip on the ice. The large tread pattern (knobs) on this tire provide wonderful traction in mud and snow, but they do require some extra effort on pavement because of their high rolling resistance. One thing that all studded bicycle tires have in common is that they are loud. How loud are they? Let me put it this way: You better hope that when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs that it happens in the summer, because if these tires are on your bike when it hits you are going to attract the attention of every walker and biter within 30 miles (it is a well-known fact that Zombies are attracted to loud noises).

Now for the confusing part: Nokian Tyres PCL is headquartered in Finland and is known throughout the world for their fine car and truck tires—they operate the world’s only permanent winter tire testing facility. At one time Nokian Tyres PCL manufactured bicycle tires, but not anymore. Today they license the Nokian name to Suomi Tyres LTD (another Finnish company). The Nokian Hakka WXC 300 tires are actually manufactured in Taiwan and are distributed in North America through Quality Bike Products (QPB). Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires retail for $120 each at your local bike shop. They are also available from the REI Website and in some of their retail stores.

Anytime the snow is over 2″ deep I’ll be riding my Surly Necromancer Pugsley with 4″ wide tires. Like many of the early Fat Bikes, my Pugs came equipped with 3.8″ Surly Larry tires on the front and 3.7″ Surly Endomorph tires on the back (often called the Larry/Endo combo). These tires are great for folks who are lucky enough to ride on groomed snowmobile trails and hard packed (consolidated) snow. Those of us who ride on loose and unconsolidated snow usually find this tire combination somewhat lacking—the Larry in the front is prone to washouts (especially if the path is off-camber) and the Endomorph in the rear often loses its grip in loose snow. Fortunately, Fat Bike riders now have a couple of great choices for winter cycling tires.

Surly Nate Bicycle Tires

Surly Nate Fat Bike Tires

The Surly Nate tire is 3.8″ wide and fits 50–100mm wide rims. The Nate has a large and aggressive knobby tread pattern that offers unbelievable traction in unconsolidated snow. While these massive tires have more rolling resistance than other fat tires, I’ve still been able to get my Pugs up to over 20 MPH on the pavement. I’ve also been able to cut a trail through five inches of fresh snow without any trouble—even on off-camber sections of the trail. In addition, I’ve been able to climb snow-covered hills while standing up out of the saddle—something I could never do with the Larry/Endo combo. The Surly Nate is available with either 27tpi or 120tpi (threads per inch). Higher tpi tires are usually lighter, more supple and more expensive. Lower tpi tires are generally heavier, more durable and offer better flat-resistance. The 120tpi Nate has a Kevlar bead and weighs around 1350 grams, while the 27tpi wire bead version weighs a bit over 1700 grams.

The first time I rode with the Nates was on a 35 degree day on an off-road trail that had snow and ice in the shady areas and several inches of mud and standing water in the areas exposed to direct sunlight. When I started my ride I could see the tracks left by a mountain biker who had started out on the trail before me that day—the tracks turned around after about 30 feet! However, I was able to ride for over 30 miles on this muddy trail and my Nates didn’t slip a single time (but they did throw a lot of mud).

The 27tpi Surly Nate tire retails for around $80, and the 120tpi version is around $120. You should be able to find these tires in the Men’s Department of your local bike shop. Once you get your hands on the Surly Nate tire, make sure you look for the Easter Egg (hidden message) just above the bead of the tire. In case you can’t find it, it says, “Deep Fried Meat Fueled Natepocalypse” (I am not sure of the best way to translate this into English).

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

If you are looking for the ultimate Fat Bike tire for winter cycling, look no further than the Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires from 45NRTH. The Dillinger tires are 4″ wide and weight only 1375 grams (a major improvement over my heavy Surly Nates). This lightweight snow tire has 240 aluminum-carbide studs that grips the ice and a tread pattern that gives the most amazing traction in snow you will ever find in a bike tire. This 26×4″ tire is available with a Kevlar bead with 120tpi (threads per inch), and a wire bead version with 27tpi. The intended tire pressure range for this tire goes from 5 to 30psi, but if you are riding on snow you probably don’t want to inflate them to over 10psi, and on the ice I would drop them down to 5 or 6psi.

The first time I rode on these tires was at Illinois Beach State Park so I could try them out on the snow, ride across a frozen pond and play along the shores of Lake Michigan. I rode my bike on surface streets from my house to the beach and while on the pavement these wide tires are a bit of work (they grip the road too well). However, the moment I left the pavement and got on a snowy off-road trail it felt like I was riding downhill with a tailwind—these tires ride so smooth and grip so well on the snow that I don’t even have the words to describe it! On the way to the beach I followed a very sandy trail that has a couple of small bumps I hate—they are only a few feet tall but most of the time my mountain bike sinks in the sand and I almost come to a standstill. However, with the Dillinger tires I just increased my speed and rolled right over the bumps.

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

At the north end of Illinois Beach State Park there is a small pond that was frozen over and it had several guys out ice fishing near the middle of the pond (always a good sign). I rode across this frozen pond and was blown away by two things: how much traction I had and how little rolling resistance I experienced!

When I entered the park I noticed that there were tracks in the snow from two other cyclists on a trail in front of me—both tracks were from mountain bike tires and it appeared that one of them was studded. I caught up with a guy riding the non-studded tires first—he was a nice guy but was having trouble hold a straight line so. A little later I caught up with the guy on a mountain bike with steel studded tires—he was riding faster than the other guy so I pulled up next to him and chatted for a while. When I conversation was over I hit the gas and quickly dropped him. Both of these guys were younger than me and in decent shape, so I am certain that on road bikes in the summer they would have dropped me, but a standard mountain bike snow tire is no match for a studded Fat Bike tire in the snow! The Dillinger tires sells for around $250 with the folding bead (Kevlar), but the wire bead version is a bit cheaper.

Warning: If you ride in the winter eventually you are going to come home covered from head to toe in mud, slush and snow. You will then find yourself standing out in your snow-covered backyard with a water hose and scrub brush trying to clean your bike. Your neighbors will never understand the smile on your face. In fact, I am not certain of the source myself. Does the smile come as a result of the fun you had on the ride, or from thinking about those poor guys riding their trainers in the basement because the weather is “too bad to ride in”?

 

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Winter Cycling: Favorite Fat Bike Accessories

Note: This is the ninth installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer For Bicycles

StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer

Most of the items mentioned in this article are designed for Fat Bikes, but the StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer is a cool accessory you can add to almost any bike! StemCAPtain is a small business based in Grand Junction, Colorado that specializes in quality bicycle accessories. Their product line centers around items that replace the stem cap on your bike with a small accessory base so you can put a clock, picture frame, compass, bottle opener, or a thermometer where the stem cap used to be.

Installation of StemCAPtain weatherproof thermometer was very simple—all you have to do is remove the old 1″ or 1-1/8″ threadless headset stem cap from your bike and replace it with the provided anodized aluminum base. The base of the StemCAPtain thermometer is available in six colors: Black, Red, Blue, Green Pink, or Gold. You also have a choice of two dial colors (Black or White).

The temperature range on the thermometer goes from -15 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit (-26 to 57 C). While this is a very wide temperature range, I wish it went down a bit further—winter cyclists often ride in temperatures down to -40 F (or colder). The StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer retails for $25 and I ordered mine from the StemCAPtain Website. However, this product should also be available at any local bike shop that orders from Quality Bicycle Products (QBP).

Accu-Gage Low Pressure Presta Tire Gauge for Fat Bikes

Accu-Gage Presta Tire Gauge

Those of us who spend winter riding in the snow on Fat Bikes usually try to keep our tire pressure between 5 and 10 psi. Unfortunately, very few tire gauges are accurate as such low pressures. The good news is that Accu-Gage has a professional grade low pressure tire gauge for Presta valves, and this puppy is dead-on accurate every time! Those mammoth tires on bikes like the Surly Pugsley have a maximum tire pressure of only 30 psi, but most of us never inflate them past 15 psi, even if we are running on pavement. While the tire pressure gauge on your floor pump might be correct at higher pressures, I have found them to be very unreliable at lower pressures. You might think that a digital tire gauge would be the best alternative, but cold temperatures have a great impact on their accuracy—and some of us like to ride even when the temperature is well below zero.

These gauges are fully geared and have a precision movement with a bronze Bourdon tube. The piston-plunger gauges on most bicycle pumps are affected by changes in temperature and humidity, but gauges with a Bourdon tube (like the Accu-Gage) are not. Also, since you don’t need batteries for this gauge you don’t have to worry about the battery dying in the cold like they often do in digital gauges. The Accu-Gage Low Pressure Tire Gauge is a 2″ dual scale dial tire gauge with a maximum pressure reading of 30 psi (calibrated and is accurate to within .5 psi). You should be able to get the Accu-Gage Low Pressure Tire Gauge (model #RPR30BX) from your local bike shop for around $13. Unfortunately, this item is temporarily out of stock, but will be back in 2014.

Dave’s Mud Shovel Fat Bike Fenders

Dave’s Mud Shovel Fat Bike Fenders

The wide tires on a Fat Bike can throw more mud than a Chicago politician in a tight race. Fortunately, Portland Design Works sells both front and rear fenders that are specially made for Fat Bikes. Dave’s Mud Shovel rear fender is 5.5″ wide by 22.5″ long and attaches to your seatpost with a small adjustable clamp (like the one some bicycle taillights use). It’s possible that a little mud or snow will find a way around the fender, but to me it seems like it stops about 99% of it.

Portland Design Works Mud Shovel Front Fender

Portland Design Works Mud Shovel Front Fender

Dave’s Mud Shovel front fender attaches to your bike’s down tube with two sturdy rubber fasteners. This fender is 6.5″ wide by 19.5″ long and will help keep your bottom bracket and crank sprockets clean. To get to my favorite off-road trails I have to ride my bike over a couple of miles of surface streets and when there is a lot of slush on the roads my legs get really wet—this fender seems to block a lot of road spray.

Both of these fenders are very flexible and at first I wasn’t sure about their durability. However, after a lot of miles on sand, mud and snowy off-road trails I can honestly say that these fenders far exceeded my expectations. As an added bonus, if you ever have an unplanned dismount (crash is such an ugly word) these fenders will probably escape totally unharmed. The rear Mud Shovel retails for $28, and the front Mud Shovel for $20. Both of these items are available from the Portland Design Works Website. You can also buy these fenders from your local bike shop.

Quick Tip #1: The Mud Shovel is easy to clean once you get home, but there is an easy way to keep mud and snow from sticking to your fenders in the first place—just coat the bottom of the fenders with PAM no-stick cooking spray before you go out for a ride. The PAM will wear off after every ride, but it does an incredible job of keeping crud from sticking to your fenders.

Quick Tip #2: Buy your own can of PAM—don’t take the one your wife has in the kitchen cabinet. Apparently some wives don’t approve of you taking items from the pantry out into the garage (or so I’ve heard).

Bad News: The front Mud Shovel is so wide that you can not use it if you have a Salsa Anything Cage attached to your front fork. The problem is that if you have anything in your Salsa Anything Cage (like in the photo below) it will hit the front Mud Shovel when you make a tight turn. However, if you don’t mind trimming the fender with a cutting knife I am sure you could make it work.

Outdoor Research #2 Water Bottle Parka

Outdoor Research #2 Water Bottle Parka with Salsa Anything Cage on Front Fork

One of the many challenges winter cyclists face is trying to keep their water bottles from freezing on long rides. Riding three or four hours in freezing temperatures is not all that difficult, but having to swallow a slushy cold sports drink doesn’t exactly make you feel warm inside! While there are several good ways to keep the contents of your water bottle warm, the Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka is one of the best I’ve tried. This parka is a container made of a water-resistant, coated nylon fabric with a polyester knit lining. The closed-cell foam insulation in this parka does a tremendous job at keeping the temperature of the liquid in your bottles steady. I have not tested this product to its limits, but after five hours outside with the temperature in the single digits my drinks are still plenty warm.

Outdoor Research Water Bottle Parka

Water Bottle Parka with a 20-ounce Camelbak

The Water Bottle Parka comes in three sizes. Size #1 is for water bottles like the 1L Nalgene. Size #2 fits a .5L Nalgene or 21-ounce Camelbak Podium Chill bottle (like the one you probably use in the water bottle cage on your bike). Size #3 fits bottles like the 40-ounce Klean Kanteen, the 40-ounce CamelBak or the 1L Sigg. I use the Size #2 and it is 12.25 inches tall and 3.75 inches wide (exterior dimensions).

The biggest challenge to using the Water Bottle Parka for winter biking is finding a good way to attach it to your bike. The Water Bottle Parka comes with a reinforced nylon strap with a hook and loop closure, so you could just attach it to your handlebars. However, if you ride in the winter you probably already have a rack of some sort on your bike that you could use. I use two Salsa Anything Cages mounted to the front forks of my Surly Necromancer Pugs. The Outdoor Research #2 Water Bottle Parka is available in two colors (Red or Dark Grey), and retails for $24. This is not the type of product you are likely to find at your local bike shop, but you can order them from Amazon.com if you can’t find them at a local sporting goods store.

Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag

Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag

In the summer when I’m on my road bike I don’t carry much with me—just a few energy gels, a spare inner tube and air pump. However, when I ride in the winter I tend to carry a few more items with me (more on that in another article). The Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag and it is one of the best pieces of cycling equipment I’ve ever purchased. As the name suggests, the Tangle Frame Bag is a bag that fits on your bike frame—this one attaches to the top tube with reinforced Velcro straps. It also has adjustable webbing straps for the down tube and seat tube and low profile camlock buckles with strap keepers.

This bag is very well designed and thought out. It is divided into two pockets—the thinner pocket on the left hand side holds smaller items like maps, chemical hand warmers, and cell phones. The pocket on the right hand side is much larger and can easily hold vests, jackets, tools or enough energy bars for a 24-hour ride. Or, since the main compartment has an exit port at the front of the bag, you can use the larger pocket to hold a hydration pack. You could also use the larger compartment to hold the battery for your headlight and run the wire through the exit port (and still have a lot of room to spare).

The Tangle Frame Bag is made of Dimension Polyant Xpac 400 Denier Fabric (also known as sail loft). The zippers on this bag are water-resistant and the inside of the bag is lined with a bright yellow fabric so you can see the contents even in low-light situations.  This bag is available in three sizes. The smallest bag is 17″ long by 4″ tall and is designed for 15″–18″ mountain bikes. The medium bag is 19.5″ long by 4.5″ tall is designed for 17″–20″ MTB frames. The largest bag is 21″ long by 6″ tall and fits 20″ (or larger) MTB frames. These bags also fit road, touring and commuting bikes—just check the Revelate Designs Website for additional sizing information. Revelate Designs is located in Anchorage, Alaska. These bags have a product warranty that covers any defects for life. The Tangle Frame Bag retails for $68 to $70 (based on size) and is available from the Revelate Designs Website.

Revelate Designs Gas Tank for Fat Bikes

Revelate Designs Gas Tank (Top Tube Bag)

Revelate Designs also has a smaller top tube bag, the Revelate Designs Gas Tank. The Gas Tank is a small zippered bag that mounts on the top tube of your bike and allows for one-handed access while riding. This bag is made of high-tech outdoor weight sailcloth and is lined with a bright yellow fabric so you can see the contents even in low-light situations. The Gas Tank is fully padded with closed cell foam and has a hook and loop interior divider so you can arrange the contents of the bag as you want. The Gas Tank is extremely lightweight—it only weighs 3.5 ounces. As for dimensions, the standard bag is 9″ long and at the stem it is 5″ high by 2.5″ wide, and it tapers down in the back to 1.5″ tall by 1.5″ wide along the top tube. The Gas Tank retails for $55 and is available from the Revelate Designs Website.

 

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