Archive for July, 2012

Google Maps adds “bicycling” option to directions

A colleague pointed out to me this morning that there was a new option on his google maps “get directions” page today –

Google offers cycling directions

Sure enough it seems that this option has been available in the US for some time, but has been ported across to the UK today.
A bit of digging around suggests that they’re using Sustrans data (sustrans routes such as Liverpool’s Loop Line are marked in a dark-green on the map) – see CycleStreets comment here

There’s a pretty large disclaimer attached that the feature is “in Beta” and users are requested to feedback any errors – I hope in vain that any feedback received is going to be put back into cyclestreets to help improve their excellent service, rather than just improving Google’s results at the expense of a hard-working endeavour which has been beavering away in a comparatively dark corner of the internet purely for the good of us cyclists…

Not having used the service “in anger” ,I’m not going to comment on its accuracy here, but I would say that some of the suggested routes (at least my commuting ones anyway) are a little odd – whilst cycle route 56 is pointed out, the alternatives don’t seem to to offer me anything different (faster, more bike-friendly) – which is unfortunate, as this is a feature cyclestreets DO offer in their data.

Still, not wanting to sound like a big whinger – it’s great that Google are raising the profile of cycling by adding this functionality and here’s hoping that the service improves over time (how about adding known accident blackspots?)

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Outlier 4 Season OG trousers Review

OK, another day, another cycling trousers review, it will all make sense when you guys have (hopefully) the definitive “which are the best though” review – which is coming soon, I promise.
The outliers are the first serious cycling trousers I bought. I’ve had the pair I’m going to be reviewing for getting on 2 years now and (not wanting to spoil the review or anything) I bloody love ’em.
Outlier are a US brand with a similar ethic to Rapha…

Why so glum, chum? I’ve spent all my money on techno trousers, now I can’t afford any friends

“Clothing should be liberating. What you put on in the morning should never restrict what you do with your day. We make garments that dance around the boundaries of fashion using a function driven design process and high quality technical fabrics.”

I’m not sure I need my trousers to have a philosophy, but I’ve never been afraid of dancing round the boundaries of fashion (granted, I normally stick to the less visible boundaries of fashion if it can be helped).

I did do some fairly intensive research before buying these though – I remember well thinking if I was going to spend over £100 on a pair of pants I’d better be getting the best…

Material

So, what we have here is “Schoeller dryskin double weave” with a nanosphere coating. I don’t claim to be an expert in fabrics (and schoeller’s website seems to be down as I write this) but this does seem to be a different fabric from the other pants reviewed here – it has a similar lining but it does feel slightly, well, “pointy”… Outlier claim that the under a microscope, the fabric consists of millions of points which water and dirt cannot cling to, making them uniquely slippery and whilst I don’t have a microscope I can attest that these pants shrug off dirt and water better than any of the others I regularly wear. They rock the same nanosphere coating as used on the Levi’s commuters, and it’s still there, doing its job after 2 years.
What sets these apart for me is the weight of the fabric – Outlier seem to have got it just right for a commuter / office trouser. The swrve pants feel more like a jean in terms of weight, these are more like a pair of suit trousers – very lightweight. What makes them truly magical is what makes them truly worth the “4 season” tag.
These trousers are genuinely warm when you need them to be (down to -10 c) and yet cool and breathable when rolled into shorts for the summer. This is dark magic.

Fit & Style

What? no glow in the dark belt loops?

What we have here is a suit trouser – I’m not a suit trouser aficionado. To me, I’ve got to be honest, when I first tried on my (black) 4OGs I just thought – “well, they’re like a pair of school trousers”. Outlier make great play on their website about how they’ve adjusted the tailoring around the hips etc and that may well be the case and I’m just too much of a philistine to recognise it. They’re certainly comfortable – nothing is going to “hang” well on my frame, but they certainly aren’t too tight or loose – they don’t make any claims to a “cycling specific fit” like Rapha or Swrve, but I haven’t noticed anything significantly lacking in that respect. I don’t consider these to be a particularly “stylish” pair of trousers and that might just be what makes them the most stylish of all the trousers here. They are unobtrusive, functional and comfortable in all settings. They do work very well rolled up into shorts – the lightweight fabric means the turn up doesn’t look too bulky… In short, while not making any pretensions to cycling fashion, these somehow manage to be pretty much the perfect cycling commuter trousers.

Cycling Specific Features

Well, there aren’t any. Other than the fact that they are perfectly comfortable when riding a bike whatever the weather. There are no trick belt loops or glow in the dark seams, no u-lock park, no pencil pockets at all. No articulated knees or double thickness saddle pad. Just a pair of fairly unobtrusive trousers which manage to be the best I’ve ever worn.

Verdict

Oi! come back with me pants! – At £130 a time?: no fear!

These are the best cycling trousers I’ve ever tried. There is magic in both the cut and the material which makes them somehow just the right pants to be wearing, pretty much whatever you happen to be doing. They’re not that easy to find in this country – so far as I know the only UK retailer is Tokyo Fixed Gear in London (who don’t believe cyclists have larger than 34″ waists for some reason) but carry the 4OGs for £130, the alternative is to buy from Outlier direct (http://outlier.cc) where they’ll cost you about £120 with another £18 – £36 for postage but you should buy yourself a pair – really, you will not be disappointed.

95%

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Levis Commuter Jeans review

D-Lock: check, water-resistant: check, glow-in-the-dark turnups: check

D-Lock: check, water-resistant: check, glow-in-the-dark turnups: check

When I first heard Levis were doing a cycling range I’ll admit I was pretty excited. Until I heard that it wan’t coming to the UK that is – well 18 months later and now we have the whole Levis commuter range. I’d admired Rapha’s jeans for a while but couldn’t justify £150 for a pair of jeans (even if they do have funky reflective writing up the inside of the right leg). Jeans are an important part of any wardrobe, but I hadn’t bought a new pair since I started cycling about 3 years ago – any clothes money I managed to sequester away had been spent on techno-trousers, merino t-shirts and breathable underpants.

Jeans are your weekend wardrobe, and I don’t tend to cycle on the weekend, so they were pretty far down my priority list – but my stock of jeans were getting tired and LO! Levis – a proper jeans brand had launched a “Nanosphere technology” cycle friendly pair, and what’s more they’re a comparative snip at just £80 a pair.

Regular jeans just don’t work on a bike – the fit is wrong, they get all wrapped up around the top of your thighs and- well, it’s just a mess. Woe betide anybody trying to wear a pair of jeans on a bike in the rain – clinging, heavy cold denim is enough to put anybody off riding a bike for good.

Material & Construction

What sets these apart from your regular jeans is first and foremost the composition – they’re cotton, yes – but they’re rocking 2% lycra as well which solves the whole “bunching up” riddle immediately. It’s a reasonably lightweight denim too, which doesn’t betray any of its techno-magic in day-to-day wear…

It’s also “magic” waterproof denim. It’s really weird riding in the rain, watching the water just form into droplets and fall off the top of denim – I’d kinda got used to this with Schoeller and softshell, but it’s downright spooky when the material is denim. The “nanosphere” label is attached to the schoeller fabric used in Outlier and Swrve’s pants and it’s clearly similar here. The pants are not completely waterproof – in a similar way to the Swrve WWRs they will allow a little water into the weave in a downpour – but this is easily dried with a quick towel over when you arrive. I’d give these about 6/10 for waterproofing – which is berloody good for a pair of jeans!

Fit

Levis Commuter Jeans

This chap has paired his skinny jeans with some grey converse; the fool.

These jeans feel just like any other pair of good jeans – snug, comfy and sturdy. Like any other pair of Levis, they suggest you wear ’em well at first before washing – give them a proper “breaking in” to get them used to your shape and the way you sit/stand/walk/ride. The dye rubs off just like any other pair of new Levis too – so be careful putting any important papers in your pockets – they’ll come out with dark blue edges!

These are a comfortable pair of jeans – fullstop. They work off the bike as well – whilst I’m not usually a skinny fit kinda guy, these don’t carry the obligatory “wear them like they’re falling down” recommendation that normally goes along with carrot type jeans – they’re Levi’s 511 fit – which turns out to be a good compromise between a fashionable leg and a sensible (protective) fit on the bike. For my taste they are just a little too snug on the calves, but the plus side to this is that when rolled up they stay put.

If you’re a fatty like me (36″ waist) then you’ve only got one length to choose from – 34″, which is about 2 inches too long for my stubby little legs – I will get them tailored eventually, but I’ve never had a problem rocking a turn-up if need be. The turnups on these fellas are a bit special too… There’s a strip of reflective 3M scotchlite trim sewn into the seam to help you get seen at night.

Cycling Specific Features

That’s glow in the dark on those turnups you know.

I’ve already mentioned the reflective lining and the waterproofing. The denim has another trick up it’s sleeve too – it’s “sanitized” – which doesn’t mean it’s had its street cred bleeped out, it has an anti-microbial (read “anti-stink”) formulation, which has to be good if you’re cycling in denim – no matter how clever, it’s still denim and you will sweat. The pants are constructed with flatlock seams and reinforced around the saddle region so they’re going to prove both comfortable and hardwearing on the bike. Many cycling tailored pants claim to accomodate a D lock in the belt loops – this is a bit of a con in most instances – it just means you can fit your lock into your belt (should you be wearing one). The Levis go a step further and attach a D-Lock sized strap of denim to the waistband, meaning you can tote your lock when you’re not wearing a belt

Overall

These jeans are most definitely not a cycnical marketing ploy by Levis. The company has spent time looking at all the aspects which might stop your everyday cyclist wearing jeans and carefully applied logic, materials technology and good old invention in each instance. You’re not going to see your hard-core roadies swapping their bibs for a pair of these, but for the rest of us (particularly on “dress down Friday”) these pants offer bucketloads of WIN: They’re as comfortable as any other cycling pants I’ve worn, they offer decent weather protection, they breathe, stretch where needed, they’re tough and fashionable on and off the bike and are from a world renowned brand. All this and they’re reasonably priced too. I have no hesitation recommending ’em and I give them a solid

85%

If I could wear ’em every day they’d be nearer to 95%

Check the best price on Levis commuters here

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