Merino base layers at Aldi

An anonymous tip-off the other night drew my attention to the fact that merino t-shirts were on sale at Aldi as part of their ski-wear promotion.

Merino sheep, we hail thee…

Regular readers will know that I’m not averse to cross pollinating my cycling/living wardrobe with garments intended from other purposes (eg hiking, running, loafing, fighting wars, etc) so I duly hot-footed it down to said budget supermarket and took a look.

The base layers are 100% merino wool in what looks to be 150 weight. A great year round weight I’ve found. The quality looks to be up there with icebreaker and redram. They are machine wash and air dry, Henry Ford black and retail for the princely sum of £15.99. I bought two as presents for myself from other people (if that makes any sense). The only problem now is I will have to wait until after Christmas to give them a full road test.

However my brother has also purchased two shirts and vouches for their comfort and itch free nature.

If I were you I’d get thee to Aldi now and brave the mob of outdoor bargain hunters.

Good luck.


Waterproof and breathable – enough is enough?

Lately I’ve been experimenting with different jackets for cycling/living after spending years trying to disregard the over-engineered shortcomings of ‘technical’ jackets.

I’m talking about the holy grail of outdoor outerwear here – ‘waterproof and breathable’. Since the advent of Gore-Tex and its host of followers, it’s become the must-have feature of outdoor jackets, of which cycling jackets are a subset.

Now I’ve owned a fair number of such jackets at all price points and without exception, in all but freezing conditions, I’ve ended up clammy and uncomfortable on the inside after a fairly short, fairly moderate ride. From my £50 Altura Nevis jacket to a £200 plus Berghaus Gore-Tex Jacket, every one has done an admirable job of keeping the rain out but a similarly sterling job of keeping the sweat in.


The bare facts of this have been eloquently voiced by ‘lone voice of sanity’ Grant Petersen in ‘Just Ride’, in his essay ‘The Breathability Ruse’ – how can a jacket with a micro-porous membrane on the inside hope to cope with the level of moisture that an average rider produces on an average ride, let alone a high velocity athlete on a high octane ride?

All of this pondering has led me to largely ditch my stable of technical jackets for everyday commuting and look for alternatives. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m (a) a staunch advocate of looking normal on my bike and (b) a closet fan of militaria. So lately, by means of a popular auction site, a US Army M65 jacket has come into my possession.

The M65 Field Jacket – if it’s good enough for a tour of duty it’s good enough for the daily commute.

The M65 jacket was a staple of the US armed forces from its birth in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965 (hence it’s name) right through to the late eighties. The jacket is a polyester cotton mix, with a tight weave, a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment on the surface, a poly cotton drop liner and most tellingly of all – no bonded Goretex style membrane.

I’ve worn this jacket through the last few weeks which, coincidentally, have been some of the chilliest, wettest weeks the UK has seen for some time, with widespread flooding. I’m pleased to say that the M65 has done an admirable job of keeping out the worst of the rain out on rides up to about an hour, whilst never once feeling clammy on the inside. Never before have I been able to arrive at work feeling as comfortable, despite the jacket not being totally waterproof – I’ve arrived at work with a better level of ‘net dryness’ than when wearing technical outerwear. I generally team the coat with a merino base layer/t shirt and a mid layer if it’s really cold and it’s just dandy.

Cut wise, the M65 is as far from a proper cycling jacket as you can possibly imagine – and for these reasons it’s an instant winner for the cycle commuter who wants to look normal. The jacket comes down to the upper-mid thigh but the zipper stops at waist level, therefore not hindering the pedalling movement or bunching up. This combination is excellent as it allows free pedalling but also keeps the lap and lower back covered. The arm/shoulder joint is superbly tailored with a concertina style ‘bi-swing’ back, meaning that the cycling position is easily achieved. The arms are long with extending cuffs which come into their own when on the bike and slightly stretched out. There’s a popper-fastened storm flap over the chunky brass zip and drawstrings for the waist and hem. The jacket also packs a useful zip-away hood which is great for off the bike situations.

The whole design, in my opinion, oozes utilitarian cool. It’s a real American design icon, as worn by thousands of Vietnam vets, Al Pacino in ‘Serpico’, Robert de Niro in ‘Taxi Driver’ and Sly Stallone in ‘Rambo’ (OK let’s forget that last one – the first three are stonewall cool). There are lots of versions out there from the £100 Alpha Industries original down to the version I got, which set me back just £37 plus shipping.

If you are a looking for a great on/off bike jacket that looks good, rugged, non-technical yet, in real world situations, outperforms ‘performance’ jackets for commuting purposes, then the M65 is well worth a look. Moreover, its made me redefine what constitutes a ‘performance’ jacket.

Wax cotton jacket for everyday cycling?

On my daily commute I’m a firm believer in dressing like a normal human. I used to believe that my motivation for doing this had a political root; that if somehow everyone who cycled to work wore normal gear then it would send a subtle message to non cyclists – that you don’t have to dress up to get into everyday riding, thus removing a barrier to getting involved.

This may be true but I’ve figured lately that my real motives are somewhat more selfish, lazy and vain. My commute is two parts bike and one part train ride and to be honest I just don’t want to look a dick on the train.

Don’t get me wrong, cycling gear has its place. If I’m out for a long ride with my bikey friends I’ll wear cycling stuff, for reasons of practicality and the powerful human need to assimilate. It takes a strong character to stand out from the crowd and I’m sorry, I’m not that guy.

I’m also lazy. I tried wearing cycling gear for the commute and changing at the end but I just could not be bothered with the hassle. Wearing normal clothes and riding slow means I can just turn up at Manchester Velodrome, my current place of toil, hang up the bike and get on with the thorny business of promoting cycling.

Which brings me to jackets. It’s been raining a lot lately in these parts and keeping dry and looking normal has risen to the top of the simmering stew of my obsessions.

I’ve long hankered for a wax jacket that looks good and does the job on the bike. I’ve ogled the Swvre wax jacket but it’s price is prohibitive for a poor church mouse like me. So I found a Superdry Transcontinent jacket that fit the bill. It’s waxed cotton and linen mix, short in the body, long in the arm, unlined and rather stylish.

First ride in the deluge showed that it was pretty water resistant but highly breathable – much more breathable than any membrane type fabric. It let in some water on the arms though – I think that the wax coating applied in the factory was cosmetic only – the fabric wetting out too easily.

However a good spray with Grangers Wax Spray and it beads like a mallard’s back. I can’t wait to get caught in a proper monsoon situation to see if my extra waxing has done the trick.

Has anyone else out there had success with wax jackets for normal, everyday, slow bicycle movement style riding? I’d love to hear from you.

Sandals as summer cycling shoes

I mean seriously, why not?

There’s a huge amount of hogwash flying around out there about cycling specific shoes being ‘essential’ for cycling any distance at all. So much so that manufacturers even make commuter specific models, apparently purposely designed for the daily grind.

The alleged merits of cycling shoes are that their stiff soles and mechanical attachment to the pedal makes for a more efficient pedalling stroke. The funny thing is that us average punters, hell bent on depriving ourselves of our disposable, buy this science without the means of proving or disproving the theory.

But sandals? Surely a step too far? Well I hate to break it to you, but I did a 30 mile, hilly mixed terrain ride last week wearing a pair of Rohan sandals with no issues whatsoever. No chafing, no apparent loss of power and the blissful feeling of the summer air wafting over my delicate pinkies.

I also did Sky Ride Birmingham shod thusly, including a go on Rollapaluza’s roller racing rig, recording 25 seconds dead for 500metres standing start.

I do have a few key recommendations for prospective sandalled bikers. A model with a non exposed toe is good, as is a strap around the back of the Achilles. A grippy sole is also desirable.

So you can ride and ride strong in normal shoes or even sandals. The key is to get grippy pedals with a good, wide footbed.

Forget about the pulling up on the pedal stroke. It’ll only distract you from your power stroke. Think about it. Do you really think you can augment the power of your left leg pushing down by pulling up with your right? At best you can unweight your upcoming leg but you don’t need clips for that.

Forget about stiff soles too. Strong feet, ankles and supportive pedals are all you need.

For more on this Google ‘Rivendell Shoes Ruse’ for further pondering.

ps: I don’t do socks and sandals. I’m saving that for my dotage.

Posted from WordPress for Android

Budget bicycling: Aldi ultra light cycling jacket review

Aldi's Ultra Light jacket (teak coffee table for scale)
The jacket dans le stuff-sac (tin of soup, also for scale)

Discount supermarket Aldi has for a few years been selling a range of no nonsense highly useful cycling gear and this year is no exception. Hitting the stores at the beginning of may was a great range of gear at real rockbottom prices. Like a decent track pump for 4.99GBP, a multifunction cycle computer for the same price and, the item that found its way into my shopping basket, an excellent hi viz ultra light jacket for a paltry 9.99.

The jacket is gossamer thin windproof, water resistant and breatheable, rendered in hi viz yellow with reflective logos, weighs virtually nothing (3 ounces) and packs down into its own integral stuff sack which is smaller than a can of soup.

The fit of the jacket is slim to prevent flapping and just the right length to avoid bunching up at the front. The ultralight fabric is excellent for keeping wind and showers at bay but thin enough to keep you cool, even on mild but rainy days. In short a better bet than a thicker, heavier full waterproof, which always tend to give you that boil in the bag feeling after a few miles.

The high viz colour, while never winning you any fashion points, does a great job of getting you noticed, especially in poor visibility conditions and the tiny pack size means there’s no reason not to leave it in your commuting bag permanently, always on hand for a chilly evening ride or a freak downpour.

However the best part of all is the price. At a lowly 10 quid, you could buy one for the whole family for the same price as its established rival, the Montane ultra light jacket at around 40 pounds. Of course the montane is better, but four times better? Of course if you’re hell bent on getting rid of your disposable income you could go for Rapha’s Stowaway jacket for £160…

As regular readers will know, I’m not one for cycling specific stuff generally but a featherweight wind/water resisting layer that doesn’t boil you on hot wet days and doesn’t break the bank is well worth bending the rules for.

Merino Musings: Red Ram Merino Tee Review

Trust me, this is no ordinary t-shirt.

I’m a big fan of merino wool layers for cycling, outdoor and general all-round use and have a number of them in my possession. I’ve got a couple of Icebreaker BodyFit 200 long sleeve layers which I’ve worn day in day out for over two years, together with a couple of grey marl long sleeved merino bases from Thermal Shop, which, though designed with the motorcycling market in mind, are excellent cycling base layers.

Latest addition to the cycling wardrobe is RedRam’s Everyday Merino short sleeved tee-shirt. RedRam use Icebreaker’s own 100% merino wool in their tee shirts but undercut Icebreaker on price, with no obvious compromises. The tee-shirt uses the lighter weight wool, (possibly equivalent to Icebreaker’s 150 weight) which makes for a lightweight and highly versatile base layer that will see usage all year round (at least in the UK climate).

The cut of the tee is tailored yet casual – less snug that the Icebreaker Bodyfit. I take an XL in the Icebreaker yet a Large in the RedRam is a great, casual fit. It’s got a raglan sleeve which avoids seams rubbing under the arms and on the shoulders (great for rucksack users) and makes for a sleeker look. My favourite part of the fit is the extra long length. So many clothing manufacturers spec their items too short in the body (and I’ve not got a freakishly long torso). However the Red Ram tee has plenty of length, meaning that you can confidently reach for high stuff in public without displaying the belly and keep your kidneys warm even when down on the drops on the bike.  The tee shirt wicks away sweat well, doesn’t smell, dries quickly and feels ultra soft against the skin.

Since I’ve owned the garment, I’ve washed it three times, on the standard 40 degrees Celsius cycle using normal powder. It washes great and dries overnight hung on the back of a chair. I’ve also accidently dried it in a warm tumble drier with no shrinkage whatsoever.

In all I’m really impressed with this tee. It looks great, feels great and works well as an everyday item of clothing. Sure, at £35, it’s more expensive than a cotton tee or a polyester base layer, but it’s infinitely better than both.

Verdict: Great fitting, great washing, warm, wicking life-compatible tee shirt.

Beating the No-Bicycling Blues

The sorry lack of posts over the last few days have been due to one inexorable truth – it’s been No-Bicycling Week here at theverydaycyclist HQ. No it’s not some new government initiative – a stinking cold has rendered the bike a sorry spectator instead of principal protagonist in the drama of daily life.

Resurrectio, waiting patiently in the hallway for his master to regain full cycling functionality.

What makes things worse is that last week’s miserable, wet and windy weather has been replaced with still air, clear skies and 17 degree temperatures. The temptation to ride is great, but I know that riding the bicycle today will set my recovery back two days (the stairs in work were a tall order yesterday).

However, I can use this enforced downtime to carry out some essential maintenance. Resurrectio hasn’t had a good wash and relube in a while, and that bar tape could do with a fresh coat of shellac.

Also on the agenda is some more craftsy stuff – I’ve got some leftover cloth tape, that’ll be just enough to wrap the right hand chain-stay to replace the frankly hideous, yet functional, Lizard Skinz neoprene chainstay protector. I’ll wrap and then shellac the chainstay and it’ll end up looking just like the handlebars above.

Are you lookin' at me? Walz, wool and a wary expression.

I may finish it off with some twining (if I can find some decent hemp twine). If I’ve got enough, I’ll also tape, twine and shellac my kickstand so it doesn’t gouge my left hand crank. A little like this.

So, when my body gives me the green light for riding, Resurrectio will be ready (and a little more beautiful). Hopefully, in this way, I can beat the no-bicycling blues.

Also, when I’m recovered, I’ll have my rather excellent tweed Walz cap to enjoy on those wonderful autumnal rides on the bike path.

Right, I’m off – there’s chores to be done.