Review: And While You're At It ...

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 1998

Review: And While You're At It ...

A few worthy extras for the discerning pedal-pusher
By Alan Coté


Mountain Bike Touring Without the Burden — Or the Panniers

Mountain biking and camping just may be the two finest ways to revel in the outdoors, but they've never quite managed an amicable marriage. A wheeled excursion into the deep green woods traditionally required racks and panniers and bulging loads — a tough enough balancing act without the challenges of negotiating singletrack. Even on the mildest of trails, the weight can blow tires, snap spokes, and crush enthusiasm.

Unless, of course, you opt for an off-road trailer, such as the the Yak Plus ($259, 805-541-2554) from B.O.B (Beast of Burden). What's so nifty? You get the weight off your bike and into a flatbed trailer that lowers your center of gravity and tracks right behind you. Perched on one knobby wheel, the trailer attaches to the bike's rear axle and pivots up and down and side to side; you can bump over logs, cross deep creekbeds, and believe it or not, thread switchbacks. Essentially, anything your bike can do, the Yak Plus can do as well, although it won't help during climbs.

The chrome-moly cart weighs 12 pounds and can hold another 70 pounds (or 5,700 cubic inches, whichever comes first) of gorp and bags and stoves and needlepoint — all your camping needs. Check your brakes, stuff your room and board into the trailer's duffel, and off you go.

B.O.B's fine qualities notwithstanding, you probably won't want to log anywinter days in the saddle, so three-season tents and sleeping bags should do. For shelter, the two-person Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight CD tent ($185, 800-736-8551) is the best call at three pounds, ten ounces. Slide in the two poles, stake it out, and you have a 32-square-foot home, plus a vestibule. The narrow shape allows it to nestle in the coziest of tree wells and the slimmest of sand strips. For sleeping, The North Face's Tourlight 3D Bag ($155, 800-719-6678), rated to 35 degrees, is perfect for prime touring season. The insulation is synthetic, so should it meet mud puddle or thundercloud, well, no tragedy. Even better, that insulation is Polarguard 3D, the lightest, most compressible synthetic insulation available — the bag weighs just one pound, 12 ounces.

Long sweaty days and cool nights make merino wool the fabric of choice for clothing: It wicks and insulates as well assynthetics, yet it retains heat when wet and thwarts body odor. Go with Swobo's shorts, tights, and jerseys ($75-$100, 800-796-2648), and add a wool beanie, arm warmers, and leg warmers ($20-$33) for head-to-toe comfort.

Leave the freeze-dried foods at home with those off-road panniers and bring the slim paperback bible of backcountry cuisine: The One Pan Gourmet, by Don Jacobson ($13, 800-262-4729). It details how to use fresh ingredients to concoct everything from gingerbread to corn soufflë in one lonely pot. Of course, on the trail, food ranks second to high-test coffee. For a morning fix, break out the Big Sky Bistro ($20, 888-327-9908), a device so elegantly functional that Frank Lloyd Wright would be envious. In one glorious unit is a plastic mug and a French press that produces 16 ounces of your favorite roast. Just the fuel you need to get those wheels spinning. — MARK NORTH

The needs of a cyclist, on trail or tarmac, can change swiftly. The barometer plummets, or gnawing hunger intercedes, or the rear tire goes flat. Thus you require clothing that gracefully handles shifts in weather and venue, and accoutrements that'll serve you on any bike, on any ride. In the interest of always being prepared, here's a selection of essentials to keep body and bike humming along as one.

Body Gear
Cycling-specific shoes are necessary for their stiff soles and clipless-pedal cleat mounts, but they don't have to type you to the noncycling world. Cannondale's MC801 C-Soles ($85, 800-245-3872) are shoes flexible enough that you needn't assume a suede-shod duck walk, and they work as well en route as on detours to the local cafë.

Proof that not all occasions require a "technical fabric," Pearl Izumi's invaluable Zephrr Jacket ($60, 800-877-7080) is made of a good old-fashioned nylon-poly blend. Great for unexpected cloud cover or a chilly descent, the high-necked Zephrr packs into a spare-tube-size wad that should go with you on all but the most blazing rides.

With many cycling gloves currently assuming an Evel Knievel panache, we're heartened that Louis Garneau still offers its Classic ($15, 800-448-1984). This timeless synthetic-leather-and-spandex mitt has an understated swath of terry cloth on the thumb for wiping your brow and not-too-bulky palm padding, and it fits great.

Whether you're zipping in and out of singletrack shadows or racing the setting sun, it's unwise to be limited to one shade of shades. Briko's answer is the Stinger ($120, 800-462-7456), which has photochromic lenses that quickly adapt to changing light conditions. The orangeish lenses morph from light to dark, alternately brightening and shading your view of the world.

If there's any chance you'll show your face — or your cycling shorts — in public, it's nice to be wearing something slightly more subtle than hip-hugging spandex. Take Sugoi's Trail Shorts ($60, 800-432-1335), which combine lightweight padded tights inside with a loose-fitting, quick-drying Supplex shell outside. They're almost fashionable. Two zippered front pockets keep track of keys and whatnot, and they're thoughtfully slanted for easy access on and off the bike.

Bike Gear
If it's a multiday excursion you have in mind, Madden Mountaineering's Buzzard panniers ($196, 303-442-5828) are the thing. With 3,000 cubic inches of capacity, they easily swallow all the essentials for a cross-country tour. And tough, 1,000-denier Cordura Plus fabric means they'll hold up over the long haul.

If dual suspension seems like too much apparatus but your local trails seem too harsh, consider Answer Products's Body Shock seatpost ($150, 805-257-4411). It intervenes between bike and tush with about one and a half inches of cush. Long-lasting needle bearings keep the post from binding, allowing smooth reaction to even small bumps, and the four shock-absorbing elastomers can be swapped to fine-tune the ride.

At last, there exists a piece of gear that lets you own less. Sigma Sport's slim BC 1200 computer ($40, 888-744-6277) features the usual speed and distance functions, but what's unusual is that it remembers two different wheel sizes and thus can maintain two separate odometer logs. Pop for an extra mounting bracket ($13, $25 for a wireless setup) and the BC 1200 switches easily between your mountain bike and road bike.

Crank Brothers deserves thanks for taking time to redesign the lowly tire lever because the Speed Lever ($8, 714-644-0842) makes fixing a flat as simple as can be. Where it really shines is in replacing a tire: Nestle the tip's hook between rim and tire bead, extend and snap the other end to the axle, give the telescoping lever a whirl, and — zip! — the tire's on.

For an all-in-one flat fixer, try Specialized's Airhead pump ($35, 408-779-6229). With a big and sturdy aluminum barrel, a minimum of strokes quickly inflates big-volume mountain bike rubber; the flip-out T-handle doubles as a tire lever; and a small compartment stashes peel-and-stick patches.

The Topeak McGuyver multitool ($75, 800-250-3068), naturally, can free you from any jam — short of torture by reruns of bad adventure shows. Set alongside crucial bike features like screwdrivers, a rainbow of Allen wrenches, and a chain breaker, this Boy Scout of a tool carries knife blades (yes, plural), a fish scaler, and a fork. In all, there are 33 functions. Diagram included.

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