Archive for June, 2012

Swrve WWR Trousers review

I’m on my second pair of Swrve WWR’s (wind & water resistant, since you ask). These are my go-to pants most days in the winter, spring and autumn (fall if you must). They’re made from a mix of nylon and Lycra (90% – 10%) which somehow manages to look like doesn’t contain either material (!)

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Style-wise they’ve got a simple chino vibe going on, but they’re packed with bike friendly features – articulated knees mean they’re as comfortable bent as straight, a traditional hipster fit (ie low front waist – not drainpipe and low crotch) means your gut sits over the waistband comfortably and they’re ridiculously over-compensated with pencil pockets for some reason. Rear belt loops are constructed so as to hold a mini-D lock.

They rock a reflective rear belt loop which I’m dubious as to the real value of – but it looks cool I suppose.

The big deal about these trousers is that they are just SO COMFORTABLE. Seriously – you can just pull these on and not worry about anything. Want to roll the legs up? Fine – just do so, they’re cool with that.

They fit like jeans – but the 10% Lycra mean they fit on the bike like jeans never can. They don’t need ironing – in fact the label actively prevents it, but they never look scruffy – they are the perfect office trouser – casual yet unquestionably smart – your boss isn’t going to tell you off for wearing a pair of these (although he may be jealous of them).

In terms of weather resistance, I’d give them about 80% (against the Rapha softshell’s 100%)… In utter downpours they will let water in (a little), but this is easily remedied with a quick rub over from a towel, with the trousers still on (you DO have a towel in work don’t you?) – they are my original “magic trousers” – I’ve never been left sitting in a puddle in these, they strike a perfect balance between weather resistance and ease of wear.

If I’m pushed to find a downside it’s that they are a little too warm for summer use – if it’s over about 20 degrees Celsius, then the brushed interior construction is gonna get your legs sweating a little… This is only exacerbated by swrve’s decision to alter the cut slightly – my euphoric review thus far is for my original pair of WWRs – which were a regular boot cut fit: low front, regular leg. They’ve recently (last 12months) changed to a slimmer leg which is doubtless more popular for the LA hipster crowd, but exaggerates the “ooh that’s a bit warm” effect of the brushed lining. I actually blame Levi’s rather than swrve for this – their “commuter” range (reviewed here) decided to opt for the skinnier 511 profile rather than the classic 501, and suddenly all cycling pants have to fit like a pair of tights – here’s a thought guys… Cyclists have calves!

The only other issue I’ve noticed With the WWRs is pilling – the material tends to pill around the crotch and saddle areas after a while – this is relatively easily solved.

Why am I on my second pair? Not because the first pair wore out, but because I want to wear ’em every day and I need more than one pair.

They run out at £80 a pair (yes I know that’s expensive, but your alternative is your suit trousers and a pair of “waterproof over-trousers” ferChrissakes).

Buy a pair from swrve directly. Like the othe rmanufacturers I’m recommending in these tests, they’re not avaialable from the likes of wiggle or chain reaction, these are small, specialist companies – but the quality of the product is so much higher than what you might expect from an altura or other high street brand that it really is a no-brainer.

Verdict

Get yourself a pair – you’re going to be wearing them a lot. At £85 a pair, they’re expensive, but they’re significantly cheaper than both the Rapha and Outlier offerings. A little warm for summer perhaps and the pilling issue is a bit of a pain, but otherwise a faultless

90%

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Rapha softshell trousers review

The Rapha softshell trousers are the most “specialist” pants I’m probably ever going to test. I bought these in the middle of a lousy winter and that’s what they’re for. Rapha advertise the softshell trousers as for “the worst the city can throw at you” and that’s about right – you can cycle through a blizzard in these bad boys. They shrug off downpours, freezing temperatures, snow, hail; whatever, whilst still letting your skin breathe. They make the days when you’d normally say “no chance” possible. The softshell construction and waterproof coating make these without doubt the most weatherproof trousers I’ve owned.

They do that, of course, whilst retaining Rapha’s famous tailored good looks. They’re full of clever details – an abrasion resistant seat panel matched up to a waterproof neoprene panel to catch tyre spray at the very back are somehow styled into the cut to look like a design feature. The taped seams and superb tailoring mean they fit like a glove and remain comfortable when you’re in the most uncomfortable situations – like in the middle of a downpour.

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A pair of these would not look out of place anywhere – they may be tough as old boots, but they look like a million dollars. Which is almost what they cost – if you buy these at full price (rather than in one of Rapha’s regular sales HINT HINT), you’re looking at £110 a pair – (so make sure you get the right size). Quality does cost however and the quality of materials, cut and overall finish mean that these are worth every penny.

The only faults with these pants are the flip-sides of their plus points… They’re made to be warm in the winter and that they are – whilst you’re riding through a blizzard. Unfortunately, what normally happens at the end of such a ride is that we climb off the bike into a nicely heated office. Whilst the pants let your legs breathe, the Brushed lining is simply too warm to sit indoors in for any length of time. I teamed these with a pair of merino boxers one cold winter day and within 2 hours sitting at my desk I had sweat running down my legs. This is a major fail for me for trousers branded as “city” (ie commuter) trousers. If you’re going to wear them, you will need a pair of suit trousers at the other end – which, after being stuffed in your rucksack will look nowhere near as good as the Softshells!

Secondly, softshell rustles. Which you sort of expect from a sporty, weatherproof jacket – it’s unnerving coming from a pair of beautifully tailored suit trousers.

Thirdly – well, it’s the waterproof coating in combination with the “breathing” pores I suppose…. If you’re riding in a downpour then you’re probably wearing overshoes too right? Well, I made the mistake of tucking the pants into the overshoes and, well the trousers inflated like a pair of balloons tied to my legs… NOT A GOOD LOOK!

[Update (21st Jun 2012) in order to check that I wasn’t being unfair, I tried the softshells out again today – it was chucking it down this morning, so I figured they were appropriate. Everything I wrote above was true again. They’re just too warm. To the extent that I was really slowed down on the way home (when it was still raining, but not so heavily) – the pants were heavy and waterlogged (although my legs were dry, they were so hot I was sweating!) They’re too heavy to roll up effectively and they really became a hindrance.]

Verdict

I’m a real Rapha fan. A raphanista if you like, but I’m afraid I really can’t recommend these trousers. I live in the north of England and even cycling every day in the middle of winter can only find maybe two or three days where I can justify them – and then I’d have to take a pair of regular pants to change in to when I got to work. They’re just too damn hot for commuter pants, they rustle and they inflate if you tuck ’em in your socks. It’s a shame, because they’re beautifully tailored but for me they struggle to a measly

40%

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The wonders of open cycle data or “How about a free cycle sat nav?”

In my day job I produce the website for Liverpool City Council – It’s a nerdy but worthwhile enterprise, which brings me into touch with some of the more esoteric aspects of large scale web site production.

One of the most important tenets currently being espoused, both in government and journalism is the concept of “open data” – this is what the “Wikileaks” furore was all about – it’s more than just the freeing up of data hitherto locked away in dusty filing cabinets, it’s making that data available in a format which can be transformed into something useful. After all, it’s all very well the council providing the full details of every planning application made in Liverpool since 1965 – it’s something else extracting the planning decisions  made this week in your street…

What this opening up of government data allows is for those with other datasets to “mash them together” – this is effectively what’s going on whenever you see a google map with a bunch of pins stuck in it, showing your local whatever…

Take that principle and run it by a keen bunch of cycling nerds and you get CycleStreets. CycleStreets build upon Open Street Map – an ambitious collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. They add cycle specific data in “layers” on top of the Open Street Map views of the UK. What they have produced is nothing short of a full cycle-friendly “sat Nav” for most of the UK – the app allows you to draw routes from A to B and aims to give the most cycle friendly routes, including details of hills, cycle paths, traffic density, calories burned, number of traffic lights passed, elevation and step-by-step instructions. The user can choose from the fastest, the quietest or a balanced route giving the best of both.

The app is available as a desktop website (useful for plotting in advance and research – more of which later), a HTML5 mobile app – viewable from any smartphone with an open internet connection or as (FREE!) apps for iOS and Android phones.

There are a number of other applications using cyclestreets data – notable among them being “BikeHub” – a full turn by turn satnav system which operates like your TOM-TOM, telling you when to turn left or right so as to follow the route and correcting itself should you go wrong.

Now then, I mentioned research didn’t I? If, like me, you got caught up in the Times’ “Cities fit for Cycling campaign” (and if you didn’t, DO SO! go here) to the extent that you entered some of your more scary junctions into their road hazard map, then you might be intrigued at the data it shows with respect to cycle accidents.

Their map is, however, slightly clunky. It uses  perhaps unsurprisingly, more data from CycleStreets. CycleStreets have mapped the governments road accident (Stat 19) since 2005 against their other mapping tools and made it available at http://cambridge.cyclestreets.net/collisions/ warning: it makes pretty scary reading!


Obviously if you’re going to use your phone as an on-board satnav, then an effective handlebar mount is essential. I’ve tried a couple of these out and can affirm that it’s vital to get a waterproof one(!) A full review will be coming soon – in the meantime, this one seems popular on Amazon…

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