45NRTH Sturmfist 4 Update

I had previously shared some preliminary thoughts on the Sturmfist 4.  I now have quite a few miles and hours on them, and have some updates.

They are, bar none, the best cold weather bike gloves I’ve ever worn.  They’re the best cold weather gloves I’ve ever worn.  Ski gloves, mittens, whatever you want to compare them against.

Last weekend, I did several hours on the fatbike, out in the wind, riding snowmobile tracks across bare farm fields.  Temps were 13 degrees, wind was 25mph, wind chill was bitter.  I wore the gloves, by themselves, no chemical heaters, nothing else.  My hands were perfectly warm and comfortable.  I even stopped to drop air pressure.  Because the wool liner gloves are so flexible, I was able to remove just the shell glove, and keep the liners on while I fiddled with the presta valve stem.

Last night, temps were around -6, wind chill was around -30.  Moreover, it was dark.  I did have a pair of chemical heaters in the gloves, and frankly, my hands weren’t just comfortable…they were warm.  Not a tinge of coldness, notwithstanding riding somewhat technical trails and having to have a finger constantly on the brake lever.  I threw the heaters in the shell about 20 minutes before the ride, the gloves were warm and toasty when I put them on, and my hands were perfect the whole ride.

Cold hands and cold feet are the single biggest challenge for me in the winter, because I have poor circulation due to the Raynauds.  The 45NRTH Wolvhammer and Sturmfist combination are, quite frankly, what enable me to ride outside when it’s cold out.  There is no way I can overstate how much of an improvement these two products have made in the quality of my winter riding.  Without them, I either can’t ride outside, or I ride outside and freeze.  And I’m talking painful, hands stop working, no color or blood flow, potentially damaging cold hands.

I can’t speak to long-term durability of the gloves yet.  But if you have cold hands, the Sturmfist 4 is the glove you should be looking at.  There are few products that have had such a direct and meaningful impact on my personal comfort.  There are many companies that make jackets, or pants, or hats.  I have not found any company that makes a comparable glove.  They are a game changer–they are a product that literally makes my life better.  I can offer no higher praise.

Wear Wool.

I’m a tech guy.  I like shiny things.  I like electronics.  I like new ideas.

When it comes to clothing for riding in winter, I get all keyed up about permeable membranes that assist in moisture transfer.  The benefits of a fabric that stops wind and rain, but lets moisture out are self-evident.  Indeed, for the first several years of my riding, my wardrobe focused largely on layers and layers of tech fabrics.  You need the windstopper base layer to keep you warm and wick moisture away, and then maybe a poly-whatever base layer over that for insulation, and then a poly-whatever jersey (or not), and a goretex or windstopper shell on the outside.  These are things that I believed were absolutely necessary for winter riding.  On a night when it was 20 degrees out, I’d be wearing at least 4 layers on my upper torso.

I’m several years into my winter riding experience these days, and the benefit of that experience is that my riding garb has become simplified.  I still believe, very strongly, in the benefits of a really great tech shell.  I wear my Gore jackets when fat biking or mountain biking, and wear my Rapha jacket when riding gravel or road.  A shell is critical to keeping you dry (keep outside rain/snow out), and keeping the wind off of you.  What has changed, however, is my approach to base layers.

These days, I wear wool.

Wool keeps me warm whether it’s wet or dry.  It dries quickly.  It is durable.  When washed regularly, it doesn’t hold stink.  If you buy nice stuff, it holds up really well.  It’s versatile.

If the temps are going to be upper 20s or warmer, I’m wearing a thinner wool base layer, such as the Rapha winter base layer.  If it gets colder than that, I’m wearing the Rapha deep winter base layer with integrated hood.  And as far as base layers go, that’s it.

I’ve ridden on the road, in wind, in 5 degree temps wearing just a wool base layer and a shell–and been totally warm.  Zip up the zipper and you stay toasty.  Moreover, wool dries faster–if you start getting warm or sweaty, unzip a bit and let some air flow through your shell.  The wool keeps you warm, and dries out quickly.

Tech fabrics, as great as they are, simply do not wick as quickly as wool…and they don’t do as good of a job keeping you warm when they get wet (if they get wet).  The other issue with layering tech fabrics is that you end up creating microclimates between layers.  Tech fabrics are great at transferring water vapor from one side to the other.  However, if you wear a layer of tech fabric under a layer of tech fabric, the vapor transfer doesn’t work so well.

For example, if I wear a windstopper singlet under a tech shell, the water vapor from my body passes through the singlet’s membrane, and turns into water (not vapor) on the far side of that membrane.  That water gets trapped under the outer shell, and can’t get out.  The water vapor doesn’t remain vapor long enough to go through both layers of membrane…so you end up trapping and retaining sweat–making you wetter.  Adding a layer of fabric between the two just exacerbates the situation, as it creates a sponge to hold all of that water in place.

On the other hand, if you wear wool under a tech shell, the wool transfers the water vapor directly to the shell, the shell passes the vapor, and you remain dry.  No trapped moisture. If you do become wet, the wool keeps you warm nonetheless.

I’ve been wearing Rapha wool because that’s what I have.  I’ve started to look at some of the Icebreaker products more and more because, frankly, it looks like the highest quality wool merino on the market.  Picking a quality product is critical to ensuring that it will last and be useful for you after repeated use and washing.

A quick note on washing: I wash my wool base layers after every ride.  I turn them inside out, and wash with cool water in a machine–and then air dry.  No ill effects, even after a couple of years of use.

So today’s “lesson I’ve learned” is simple: Wear Wool.  Give it a shot, and don’t feel that you have to use a ton of tech fabrics to stay warm and dry this winter.  Anything to get you outside, regardless of the weather.

Broken

I’m writing with a bit of apprehension.

You may recall that about 2.5 months ago, I shared a certain exploit where I fell off my bike and landed squarely on my back.  In the immediate aftermath of that incident, I believed that the extent of the damage was a couple of broken ribs, based upon a series of X-rays I had.  But even a couple of weeks later, I was still way too sore for broken ribs.  I ended up going in for an MRI and…guff.

One minor compression fracture and two 10-20% compression fractures, all of the thoracic vertebrae.

The good news is that it doesn’t hurt the vast majority of the time.  It typically doesn’t hurt to ride…although if you fall off the bike and land on your shoulder, it sucks pretty bad.  Similarly, any quick twisting motion is pretty ridiculously painful.  It’s not a nice pain, either–it’s sharp.  Nauseating.  Instant.

Sure, I have celiac’s, but for the most part, I consider myself to be lucky that I’ve been healthy my whole life.  I’ve had a ton of broken fingers, but that’s it for broken bones.  I’ve never spent more than 2 hours in an ER in any one visit.  Never anything major other than digestive issues (ulcers, celiacs, etc).  I’ve never experienced pain with movement.  I’ve never had to think before jumping off a ledge, or before picking something up.  I’ve never had limits on activities of daily living.

It’s disconcerting.

I’m doing everything right in addressing this, letting it heal, not doing anything stupid.  But for being 10 weeks out, I’d expect to be further along.

On the other hand, this is one of those learning experiences.  When I can wake up and get up without any discomfort–I’ll appreciate that.  When I can have a deep sneeze without a rack of pain–I won’t take that for granted.  But for now–for now I’m broken.

It’s time for a gut check.

I’ve been taking a break for a couple of weeks–in part due to vacation, and in part due to figuring out a few health-related things.  I take a brief step back to the blog for a minute to share this gem with you:

I’ll drop this in from our friends over at GlutenDude:

Celiac Disease Facts

Fact: Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.

Fact: Celiac disease affects over 3 million Americans, making it the most common autoimmune disease in the world.

Fact: Celiac disease affects men and women across all ages and races.

Fact: 83% of those celiacs are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Fact: The longer a person is not properly diagnosed and continues to eat gluten, the greater their risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, neurological problems, osteoporosis and cancer.

Fact: Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of cancer 200-300%.

Fact: Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of miscarriage 800-900%.

Fact: There are NO pharmaceutical cures for celiac disease.

Fact: A 100% gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for celiac today.

Fact: The total US healthcare cost for all untreated celiacs: $14.5 – $34.8 billion annually.

Fact: An additional 3% – 6% suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity and suffer just as greatly.

 

Being a celiac doesn’t mean that I’m soft.  It doesn’t mean that I’m not manly.  It certainly doesn’t mean that I’m unpatriotic–and that subtle undertone is perhaps the most offensive part of the entire message.

Yeah, I know, I know.  Ron Swanson.  Tongue in cheek.  Sarcasm.  ‘Murica and all.  Here’s a simple truth: that doesn’t make it ok to target any group that has a demonstrable, objectively defined, medical condition.

What if the commercial instead said that the founding fathers would see quadriplegics in wheelchairs as weak?  Thomas Jefferson very frequently expounded on the benefits of a walk in the woods.  Does that mean that persons who can’t partake in such activities are weak and unAmerican?

The efforts to castigate gluten allergies, whether portrayed as celiac or not, hurt those of us who actually have the condition.  When people see gluten allergies as a fad, as nonsense, as a lifestyle choice, they don’t take it seriously.  I’ve said it before: when you tell a waiter that you have a shellfish allergy, they picture you swelling up and dying on their floor if they screw up.  They take it seriously.  When you say that you have a gluten allergy, they have no such mental picture.  They often think it’s a choice, or a joke, or not something serious.  “Sure, our french fries are gluten free; they’re just fried potatoes…oh, you mean the fact that they’re deep fried in oil that is also used to deep-fry gluten-battered onion rings is a problem?”  The more and more that it becomes socially acceptable to make this disease a joke, or a sign of weakness–or now apparently a sign that someone is unpatriotic–the more and more at risk celiacs are.

I’m not going to die on the floor of a restaurant from gluten cross-contamination.  I will spend the next 3 days feeling like I wish I had died on the floor.  I’ll lose a few pounds of the scarce weight that I have.  I’ll spend a lot of quality time with the porcelain gods.  I’ll regret that my waiter didn’t think through the fact that all of the eggs have butter on them.

This commercial isn’t cool.  It isn’t funny.  It isn’t fair.  It targets people who have a disability, and makes light of their condition.

Perhaps being a celiac who rides bikes is the universe’s cosmic sense of humor.  I used to under-appreciate the challenges of living without perfect health, and did not have an appropriate amount of empathy for those with physical or mental challenges.  I used to curse the cyclists who dared put themselves on the roadway, whether it presented an inconvenience to me in my 6,000 pound pickup truck or not.  Perhaps I had to become a celiac to develop empathy and understanding–I’m the first to admit that I’m a flawed creature.  But Damnit.  Can’t we do better than this?  Can’t a major TV network recognize when their commercial literally suggests that having a disability is unpatriotic, it might not be the best idea?

Do better than I did, and be better than I was.  Have some empathy.  Don’t laugh at this joke–please don’t laugh at me.  I didn’t choose this, and I’d undo it if I could.  If I could eat without worrying about the consequences–I’d give just about anything for that.  If I could put on and hold weight.  If I could stop taking ridiculous doses of iron and not have anemia.

If I could have had a daughter who didn’t suffer from the same disease.  If I could have had a daughter that didn’t have a life sentence of this same bullshit.  The same questioning at every restaurant.  The same eye roll from the waiter.  The same, “no, there’s no dessert option for you.”  The same time in pain when someone makes a seemingly inconsequential mistake behind a closed kitchen door.  The same doubt with every bite that you put in your mouth.  This is the legacy that I leave my child.

Please don’t make that a joke.  I’d change me if I could.

Salsa Blackborow First Ride

I was able to spend about 20 minutes on a Blackborow on Thursday night, and spent my time wisely by finding the deepest snow I could find, and churning through it.  This bike is amazing, and to me is something of a game changer.

The Blackborow has 5″ tires, which is not that terribly uncommon these days.  Going back to the Moonlander, there have been a number of 5″ tire bikers coming out.  For me, the Moonlander has limited appeal, predominantly because the handling is so slow.  The chain stays are long, the steering is slow, the handling is expedition oriented, not fun oriented.

The geometry of the Bb is pretty close to the Beargrease, and really pretty close to the Moonlander as well.  The Bb and ML have head tube angles within a degree, albeit with about a cm less fork offset on the ML.  The Bb has chain stays that can be a full cm shorter than the ML.  Somehow, it rides totally different.

The Bb feels a lot more playful and flickable.  It hides the size of its tires very well when you’re not in the deepest stuff; it feels very mountain-bike like.

When you are in deep snow, there is no substitute for 5″ tires.  I’ve spent 3 years on 4″ tires now, and the difference is just huge.  There were areas that were hard to even get through on 4″ tires, and I’d be churning and pedaling and spinning as hard as I could to keep moving.  On the Bb, I could gear down and just slowly crunch through.  The reduction in effort was huge.  Amazing.

The extra control and steering precision in snow from the 5″ tire up front was equally remarkable.

Right now, if I was looking for a bike to ride in untamed snow, this would be the bike.  Riding deep, unpacked snow (and for that matter, riding deep, packed snow) was positively a delight on this bike.

For a multipurpose fatbike that is used on snow and gravel and everything in between, I would still stick with my Beargrease.  The 5″ tires on 100mm rims on the Bb are great in dire conditions, but I’ll stick with narrower rims and tires for all-purpose use.

That said, I think the ideal all-purpose fatbike would utilize the Bb geometry with a carbon frame and fork, a 1x drivetrain, and 2 sets of wheels.  One set would be a super light set (think 55-60mm carbon rims and 4″ tires, tubeless), and one set would be the bad conditions set (82-100mm rims and 5″ tires, probably also tubeless).  As I look to the next iteration of the Beargrease, my plans for next year probably involve a second wheelset (a lighter wheelset), and then stuffing the fattest studded tires I can on the current Rolling Darryls within the Beargrease frame.

In any event, I wasn’t expecting the Bb to be such a delight, but it was.  It was really a fantastic ride.

Brozen

Last night, my local bike shop North Central Cyclery hosted Brozen, a Salsa demo night.  Despite ice-covered roads, horizontal snow, 10 degree temps and 30 mph winds, nearly 30 people showed up for the demo, and more than 20 went for a group ride at 8pm.

The ride included some frozen river time, some time on the Chrail (Chad’s Trail), and some general snow hootenanny.  I rode my Beargrease, but also spent time on a Blackborrow, a Bucksaw, and a Mukluk with a Bluto.  More thoughts on those another time.

The purpose of today’s brief post is to thank Salsa and E-Fred for bringing down such an incredible collection of bikes, and to thank NCC for again hosting amazing events in such an unlikely locale.  Because of NCC, DeKalb is something of a cycling attraction, and that’s not an easy undertaking.  We were able to ride the latest fat bikes, in actual winter conditions, with fresh powder and a hard freeze on the river, and it was fantastic in every way.  Expectations were exceeded, and a fantastic night was had.