April 24, 2009

Rainstorms for your 300K, and a jacket review

I never plan based on the weather anymore. It's not worth the stress. I can tell you, though, I have learned not to complain over the years about riding conditions. Your comfort zone broadens with exposure, and your tolerance for adversity gets wider. Before long, you find yourself riding headlong into a 45 MPH headwind with sleet in your face, and suddenly snap out of the daze long enough to wonder if it's a good idea to put on a jacket of some sort. I call it the Dan Jordan factor. Never in my life have I witnessed a rider that can simply unplug his brain and just pedal... HARD. Back a while at I believe the 2005 400km ride, when it was a steamy 25ºF in *MAY*, and our water bottles were freezing - Dan decides the best way to get warmer in a cold headwind is to pedal a lot harder. Never saw him again. While I was lamenting about cold fingers and the inability to drink anything, he was gone. I saw him later that day... when he was on the return trip, smiling ear to ear, probably on track to finish the whole shebang before sun-down. At the time, it was hard to absorb that someone could be SO fast at these events and pack so lightly. Now, this is not to say that "I've arrived", because I certainly haven't. I've been experimenting for YEARS on these rides, and I think I'm finally getting into a groove of things that work, and things that don't, and actually not second-guessing myself all the time. Speed.....well, that will come later. This weekend should be a terrific test, to see if I can enter into this big ride without worrying too much.

Why worry? Wellll, this ride takes place in the heart of REALLY severe-weather territory. Normally, not a big deal at all. Normally, there isn't a stalled front that is focusing energy on the region, with good dew-points, and a lot of warm air advection. Of course, all of that IS the case this weekend. Leading up to tomorrow AM's start, we have forecast 20-30 MPH south winds just jacking the energy level WAY up in the atmosphere. It's actually really interesting to see how the cards stack, leading up to a weather event - and being something of a weather buff, it's going to provide a neat distraction from the endless hills to watch how cloud formations might build up. I'm looking forward to it, actually .... but what bothers me a teeny bit is that severe weather potential. Some of you know that I have a multi-faceted past, and I've been on the books as a volunteer severe-weather spotter for Johnson County for about 12 years now - which is all well and good inside the relative safety of a CAR. Hail hurts, I don't care who you are. It'll kill ya if its big enough. Helmets.... I'm a fan. ANYways... over the last couple years I've noticed a trend that involves severe weather generally taking a north-ward track, and basically pummeling places like St. Joseph, Plattsburg, Chilicothe, Kearney, etc. Basically a checklist of everywhere I'll be riding tomorrow! AWESOME. So, secondary concerns like "it's too windy.", or "it's too cold", or "it's too hot." really begin to take a back seat. It's that whole "I've had worse" way of thinking.... tomorrow, that bar might get lifted a notch! Like the sicko I am, part of me is looking forward to it with anxious anticipation. Another part of me remembers precisely how long it takes for a volunteer EMT to get from Maysville to the intersection of highways J and 6.

Weather in the Midwest: you simply CANNOT plan for it: Last time I did this ride, it was almost as opposite as you can imagine: starting out with a 22 MPH north wind, and wet snow changing to big, fat, cold rain. By the time I got to Albany, I was effective cooked, but I was well rewarded with a tail-wind driven party all the way back to Liberty. I ended up happy and relaxed, really satisfied with what I'd overcome to make it the 90-some miles to Albany and back under such conditions. It never made it above 40 degrees that day.

THIS weekend, the temperature should easily touch 80ºF, and the winds will be 180º around, out of the south at 15-25 MPH, gusting. That, actually, isn't THAT horrible, compared to what's in store for today, so I can deal with that. But, the timing and intensity of the thunderstorms that WILL occur at some point during the ride are the big dice-roll.

A short review:

So much for second-guessing: on the equipment front, I stopped by the shop and grabbed a new, super-light, super-packable rain jacket. My thoughts on the matter with regards to clothing, shorts, jerseys, jackets: technology marches on, and sometimes its worth investigating new, better, options ---- but only if they are indeed BETTER than what's worked. My RainShield jacket by "O2", is terrific, fail-proof, and just a solid, inexpensive piece of jacket tech that has kept me warm and dry ever since the Warbird and I stumbled upon them on the web back in.... errr, possibly 2002, because I had it with me on Ride The Rockies. In fact, the April 2002 300K - my worst day in the saddle ever - was the mother-of-necessity for the RainShield jacket in the first place, and since that purchase it's performed flawlessly. But, I figured seven years later, jacket tech in the mainstream might have caught up.

The Specialized '09 SL Rain Jacket is a good example of how things have advanced. Used to be you could only get a rain jacket to be water PROOF by making it out of that heavy PVC material, or risk tearing right through it with those cheaper Wally-World emergency poncho things. the only effective compromise I've ever found is the RainSheild. The Specialized jacket not only packs SMALLER than the RainShield and the emergency ponchos, but it fits a ton better: it's a "euro"-fitted cycling jacket, drop tail, compensated sleeves, a good zipper with a storm flap, high collar, reflective accents. It's comfortable, semi-transparent, and there is not a lot of extra material to get flapping in a headwind. Price: It's not cheap. At $90, it's not exactly an impulse purchase - but it's a VERY versatile piece, which I could see as a go-to for rides that start cool and end up warm-to-hot, and this jacket simply disappears into a seat-bag or a back pocket with room to spare. Other jackets have claimed to be packable. I've heard that a hundred times before, you have probably, too; but this jacket REALLY is: I was able to get the entire thing INSIDE a 3"x5" zip-lock baggie. It. Packs. Small.
This has potential because, from experience, nothing kills the space in a back pocket or saddlebag like trying to stuff a jacket into it. Problem solved with this piece.

I took one home and gave it the shower test. Dry t-shirt on, pull on the jacket, step into a luke-warm shower, wait. The material is indeed waterproof, shedding and beading water very rapidly with no time for absorption to occur. Unfortunately, like many rain jackets I've auditioned, the manufacturer is constantly battling with one simple premise: no matter how good the fabric itself is, it HAS to be cut and shaped into a garment. The most common, cost-effective way is by sewing it. So, you end up with seams. Time and again, jacket after jacket, that's the weak spot. After about a minute water began to crawl into the seams, saturating the threading and wicking to the inside. For emergencies, shorter rides, this is probably PERFECTLY acceptable: It's a barrier, and it will keep body heat in, preventing the rain from super-cooling your core, and keeping hypothermia and performance-robbing shivers and muscle-tensing at bay. But, you will be wet. Arguably, you'll be wet ANY-ways - the fabric isn't breathable (as far as I can tell), so there is a potential for sweat build-up, as is the case with most barrier jackets. But, the fabric is amazing. Nothing came through the fabric itself. I personally, however, would have liked to see one final touch made to the jacket before it was brought to market: taped seams. The pack-ability might be reduced slightly, but the jacket would be water PROOF, for sure. But, I'd have happily paid $20 more to get the storage potential and weight advantage this jacket offers, if it meant it would also be water PROOF. Shower test repeated with a new, dry t-shirt and my old RainShield jacket, and the RainShield from "O2" wins again. Proving that nothing is perfect, the RainShield jacket could benefit from a storm flap, which the Specialized jacket has, because after three minutes water begins to crawl past the front zipper - but, in practice, as a bent-over cyclist, the rain angle usually takes care of this problem. To be clear, the seams on the BACK of the Specialized jacket would be exposed to a lot more moisture; that is where the majority of seaming is placed, and where the most water came in. If nothing else, the seams on the back (or, upper) surface of the jacket really should be taped to prevent this. One could venture to a camping store and make this happen themselves for cheap, but it's hard to justify adding your own labor to a jacket that already costs $90. My RainShield jacket is the basic model, and by comparison it costs about $40. For clarity, RainShield offers a full-featured jacket that is in the $90-120 price range, and I imagine it has a storm flap - but I haven't had an opportunity to test that model. The Specialized SL Rain Jacket is a terrific product, but don't expect it to be the ultimate RAIN solution. As the ultimate packable warm-up, wind breaker and *emergency* rain solution, it's very hard to beat. There isn't a single other jacket or windbreaker currently available in this price range that packs as small, so minimalists will really enjoy this product.

So, the trusty RainShield will be along with me for this 300K that potentially contains heavy rainfall. Granted the temperatures will be pretty warm, but after a long day in the saddle, and keeping in mind I don't know WHEN the rain will start, a jacket becomes essential. You'd be surprised the temperature range in-which hypothermia can set in, and, yes, it can happen on a relatively warm day - especially considering that cyclists are usually wearing a really thin layer of clothing to begin with. I found out in 2002, and I'm not willing to repeat that day just so I don't have to carry a rain jacket. Wool? Indeed... but there are a couple factors there: my wool jerseys are now too large for me, and I wasn't able to special order a summer-weight wool jersey fast enough to get it here in time. My upper-end personal comfort level with wool is probably in the 50-60 degree range anyways, and since it'll be in the 80's, I elected not to put wool in as an option. Even still, in the 50-60 degree range, even if I was wearing wool, I still like having a barrier. It just tends to make things more pleasant on long, long rides. So, there you go ... potential questions addressed.

There you have it - a preview of this weekend's fun to come, and a quick jacket review.... a productive post, eh?

Stay tuned for the ride report, coming next week, and watch for posts from the road!


warbird said...

go to your local outdoor supply and ask for some tent seam sealant. it comes in a tube. it's great waxy stuff that you can apply to the seams of your new rain jacket to keep the seams from leaking.

you'll have to reapply periodically, but the stuff is awesome.

Unknown said...

I tried Weatherproof WP2821 and this is really a comfy element that i had ever worn.