'Matter'

Head to Toe: Giro kit for year-round cycling

“Where is it? I gotta find it…. I can’t race without gloves, that’d be asking for it.”

It: lost skin.

It’s the morning of Ottawa’s annual, storied, Preston Street Criterium. It’s also Father’s Day. I’ve chosen to spend my Sunday at the race, mere blocks from home, cheering on friends and team-mates, then racing. My family will come over after hanging at the park to see my race. My son is excited to be coming.

It’s going to be hot, real hot, but I don’t really care. I do care, however, about gloves. That is, I need some. I’ve been using a pair of Giro’s aero road gloves all season, finally a pair of short fingered ‘mitts’ that feel right. I’m a fan.

One is missing.

It’s time to go, so I’ll have to make do with the old full-fingered ones I’ve had for a few years. The ends of their thin, vented fingers wore through some time ago, so I cut them off. They’re far better than nothing if I crash.

Which is precisely what I do. After lapping the field in the breakaway, I slide out in the final turn while in P3, sights set on driving for the line for my first big crit win. Skittering across the pavement until coming to a full stop as my heels connect with the curb, I burn through my shoe, shorts, jersey…and knuckles of my gloves (and a decent amount of skin, of course). Well…at least the nice ones are spared. That is, if I can find #2.

I find the missing glove in December, poised for another summer of riding.

So went but one episode in my 2016 season, which spanned spring classics races in March and April, road, criterium and gravel races through summer, and cyclocross in the fall. So many hours (700+), so many kilometers (19,500+), so many more highs than lows. Through all of this, Giro was with me, partner in crime, enabler, facilitator, protector, conversation starter.

It’s not that I am about ‘things’ – the owning, the having, the social status. What I am about is the matter, the stuff of stuff. Intention, purpose, design, craftsmanship, function, durability, beauty. These are the aspects of things I appreciate.

I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. First, it was about my hockey equipment. I broke my sticks all the time, and quickly came to appreciate the quality of those that lasted, those I’d care for, keep alive with tape, depend on. I can remember getting a pair of Merrell hiking shoes with grippy lugs I was so excited about using, I rode over to the steepest hill – a clay slope along a stream in my neighborhood – and ran down and up, clawing at the substrate with my new shoes. . . my new ‘I can.’

That’s what technology is to me: a means to augment my ‘I can.’ When technology not only elevates our abilities, but does so while being beautiful, that’s special. I feel a connection to Giro because this is what they do; they create technologies that augment our ‘we can,’ beautifully.

As a sponsored athlete, I was given the opportunity to choose a variety of Giro products to cover my 2016 season. After spending 2015 partnered with the brand I still had my Synthe helmet, Empire MTB and road shoes, and a few pairs of gloves. For 2016 I wanted to build on this collection, all of which was still in great shape, and round out my foul-weather gear. I could go for a few pieces of spangly kit, or fill some gaps with workhorse kit that would make a difference out on the bike. I thought hard on what I really needed, and submitted my wish list. Looking back, I’m second guessing my shoe choice, but realistically, I don’t think I should blame myself for not anticipating I’d burn through my road shoe in a crash.

What follows is a round-up of the Giro kit I added to my collection in 2016, and what I learned along the way.

Empire VR90 mountain bike shoes

The 2016 Empire VR90 MTB shoe was unchanged from 2015, with the exception of their colour. I went with a bold blue to compliment my club kit, and spent a lot of time in the shoes over the season. Since my black pair was still in great shape, I had the luxury of always wearing a dry pair of shoes, which is something I have always valued. I find the upper of the black pair a little more supple than the blue; perhaps their material is slightly different in composition. That aside, grip while off the bike was just the same, great, and I tended to run one pair with toe studs (included), the other without, for cyclocross, so I could choose the best option each day. The extra laces and different thicknesses of arch support are nice inclusions, along with the carrying bag, which I use for every road trip.

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The blue pair remains very fresh in terms of condition, and the black pair has barely changed since the end of 2016, save the gap between upper and midsole that occurred late last fall when a stick jammed into the shoe while mountain biking. The gap remained unchanged through 2016. I have small nicks in each pair’s Vibram rubber outsole, but nothing significant.

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With two seasons under my belt in exclusively laced shoes, I’m still happy with the format. However, I did make one significant mistake with them. At the Rochester UCI cyclocross race at the end of September I foolishly tied my shoes on the loose side because it was quite hot (‘extremely hot’ by some standards) and I wanted to leave a little room for swelling. Instead, my foot slid within my right shoe on the off camber turn at the bottom of the course’s sandy run-down, which sheared the pad of my big toe off. This caused near debilitating pain that seriously hampered my ability to pedal or run well. I learned a lesson I won’t forget. I still like the laces, but I can see why Giro has introduced the new Factor Techlace, which affords adjustability while riding without entirely losing the laces.

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Shoe Covers – Ultralight Aero, Blaze and Proof Road

From shoes to shoe covers, I seized the opportunity to get new booties for 2016 to cover all my riding requirements. Booties tend to be pretty expensive, and take quite a beating. I’ve had some great ones over the years, and some duds, so I was hopeful that Giro’s three models would fit the bill. As it happened, we had a season of fantastic weather, so I had far fewer days in booties than anticipated. However, as with all refined kit, on those days when you really need something special to stay comfortable, having the right piece makes all the difference.

When you’ve got really blingin’ road shoes, it will take a special situation to bust out the aero booties. I pulled mine out exactly once. It was a simple affair, and these units are rather typical. Light, stretchy, understated. The Ultralight Aero booties are not discernably different than any number of options out there, but they allow Giro lovers to subtly rep the brand when a little wind protection is required.

The Blaze waterproof booties I got for rain days are buried on the Giro website, so I feel particularly fortunate to have landed a pair. Aesthetically, their design is decidedly not racy, falling more into the simple, utilitatian aesthetic I’d expect to appeal to a wide swath or riders. However, they fit very snugly, and are thus pretty aero. I put in a couple cold, wet rides in these booties, and found they did a great job of blocking water penetation. As is always the case, if you don’t have a good seal at the top of the bootie, water can run down your leg and in, which is what happened for me. The only way to avoid this (aside from duct taping the cuffs to your leg) is to wear tights that are somehow totally waterprood over the cuffs, or use rubbery stretch booties of the aero variety, which are less durable and harder to take on and off, not to mention looking somewhat outlandish from an everyday cycling perspective.

The booties I was most excited about were, not surprisingly, the ones I knew I’d wear the most, and in the nastiest conditons.

The Proof Winter Shoe Cover is an exceptionally well designed and constructed bootie, the best I’ve owned. Giro has left no stone unturned with these, covering every aspect of their design and construction I could ask for. They don’t claim to be water or wind proof, nor do they need to be. Rather, the neoprene retains heat well when wet – which is inevitable – and, like some of their gloves (including the Blaze model below), their X-Static® A-Grid™ fleece lining with silver fibre helps boost the insulation of the neoprene. Subtle reflective logos and piping help at night, and the fabrics used underfoot are robust and hold up well to walking. Most important, the booties’ YKK zippers are very stout, and a pull tab at the heel helps pull them up, capped with an effective velcro tab. These zippers are the best I’ve had on booties, but nevertheless, it’s really worth making the effort to let the zipper do as little work as possible; pull the faces together rather than using the zipper to pull each side over. All zippers last longer this way.

I’ve had numerous rides through spring and fall in the Proofs, and some early snirt rides as well. They fit over my SLX, VR90 and Shimano winter shoes equally well, thanks to their stretchy fabric, and don’t feel constricting over any of them. With the Shimano winter shoes I am comfortable down to about -10C. Colder than that, I’ll need to use a chemical warmer.

Chrono Base Layer

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I was keen to take the opportunity to finally try a fancy sleeveless base layer in the Chrono. These layers, which pro riders have been wearing for years during both hot and cold conditions have, frankly, mystified me. For cold, sure, base layers work in obvious ways. But for heat….how? I was interested in finding out how this might go.

My first impression of the top was a bit of a surprise: it was extremely comfortable. I wasn’t prepared to find the synthetic fabric feel so nice against my skin; it’s the sort of top you just want to keep on. Perhaps being made in Italy (nice surprise, no?) is more about function than bragging rights? The Chrono Pro line uses premium textiles developed and constructed into garments in Italy, offering pro-level fit and performance with understated aesthetics.

Over the months, I had numerous opportunities to ride in the Chrono base, and it quickly became my favourite first layer. Wash after wash it held up without changing, and I ultimately found it worked for me from cool to cold, but I was always more comfortable on hot days with nothing under my jersey. But for evenings that were warm, cooling down for the ride home, I always went for the Chrono and was happy I did. I look forward to riding in this garment for many years to come. As a bonus, it seems fairly odour resistant!

Classic Cap

I happen to be a bit of a cycling cap collector, and I love the ones that hit the mark in terms of fit and brim shape. This one fits great for me, and the brim is nearly perfect. It’s just a little deep for my taste, but it does work for me on my cyclocross bike. On my road bike, my head is too low, so I can’t see past the brim when it’s down. The cap’s colour has held up fairly well to sun and washing, and it remains good to go for another season.

Ambient Skull Cap

Winter cycling sucks if you don’t have the right gear. Over the years I’ve had a variety of caps I’ve worn under helmets, ranging from the one with a bulky seam that put an indent into my forehead to the one that didn’t have long enough ear flaps. It only took one ride to discover that the Ambient cap was the best yet, and it has proven itself over the last year.

Four elements make this cap ideal. First, the main fabric is the ideal weight, a light microfleece that allows vapour to escape. Second, the front of four panels is windproof. That’s the only place you need wind protection; perfect. Third, the brim is just the right depth and shape. This means the cap can be worn low on the forehead (the area that gets blasted with cold air when wearing glasses) without the brim obstructing vision. Clearly, the designers actually rode with prototypes, a step that seems to be skipped too often! Bonus, the brim has reflective piping on it! Lastly, the cut of the lower portion of the cap fully envelopes the ears, leaving no possibility of exposure. After numerous washings, the brim remains unbroken (structural materials often crack), and the cap is as good as new. I look forward to many more years of riding in it.

Blaze Gloves

Updated from 2016 with a more flexible back of the hand, the Blaze gloves use a minimally padded palm with light insulation on top. This iteration add touchscreen friendly tips, which work well across a broad range of temperature. The wind resistant construction makes the gloves well suited to chilly riding around freezing, especially when intensity is high. Dexterity is great, so this is a glove I am happy using for cyclocross and mountain biking.

LTZ 2 Gloves

Capping things off, we come full circle, to the aero road gloves that were spared destruction on Father’s Day. The LTZ 2 gloves’ minimal construction has reinforcement in all the right places, and no padding to interfere with bar feel. That’s my preference, but those who prefer padding will want to look at other models. The gloves’ cut is perfectly snug for me, and their extended cuff provides just the right amount of grip while distributing pressure over a large enough area to avoid constricting blood (I wear my gloves tight!). Their ‘Cool Skin’ synthetic palms breath well and grip well whether dry or wet, and the thumb panel for nose wiping is always handy. These are the only short-fingered gloves I’ve used that I don’t get numb hands in, so I am extra happy I found the missing one! After many washes, the gloves remain in perfect condition, ready for another year of riding. The Zero CS seems to be Giro’s top road glove for 2017.

That’s a wrap! I’d like to thank Giro for another year of support, which I truly appreciate. The folks have lots of great products in their line for 2017, including their MIPS helmets, which push the bar forward in terms of safety. I’ve got another Giro post in the works, however, which I’m really excited about, where I’ll talk about how I salvaged my Empire SLX road shoes after seriously damaging them at Preston St., and ended up working with Andrea Emery to turn them into wearable art. Until then, wherever you are, ride safe, have fun!

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