The Eye of Sauron

The Eye of Sauron

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Aside from wheels staying in one piece and the frame holding together, the thing we take most for granted when riding a bike is how our bodies instinctively respond to and absorb bumps. The human body is, in fact, an incredible shock-absorber; our arms and legs are capable of flexing and shifting in ways that no mechanical suspension is capable of and reacts at near-instantaneous speed to the intelligence streaming in from the ocular system. Remove the power of sight from the equation and the effect is staggering.

My first encounter with night riding was during a 24-hour mountainbike race in Minnesota. Until that race, I had taken care to always ride during the day, partly because I couldn’t afford a reasonable headlight and partly because I could always arrange my training to take place during daylight. A 24-hour race, however, held distinct implications for nighttime riding.

I never bothered practicing riding at night, and I didn’t bother with buying a proper headlamp. Instead, I recommissioned my semi-reliable headlight which I used for nordic ski training in the dark winter months. The week before had also seen the decommissioning of my first-generation Rock Shox which had always graced the front-end of my beloved Schwinn mountainbike, made of what I assume were sand-filled tubes. I didn’t maintain the shock the way a shock should be maintained, and with its death came the rebirth of the fixed fork that had originally steered the machine.

I don’t need to go into detail on the race, but suffice to say that my headlamp stopped functioning within minutes on the first nighttime lap and that I rode the remainder of the race by the light of the moon and my insufficient instincts. Climbing was unpleasant, flats were uncomfortable, and descents were a blend of suicide and anarchy. Each bump the front wheel found blew through my unprepared arms and cascaded through my body, usually focussed on the saddle which ungracefully found its way to my crotch whether I was sitting on it at the time or not.

With this induction into the dark art of night riding, it has been something I’ve typically done with some reluctance. In other words, I’ve avoided it like the plague. Living in Seattle and having the privilege of a fulltime job does have certain ramifications on riding in daylight hours in Winter; namely that it isn’t possible. With the introduction of a good headlight comes the surreal solidarity of riding cocooned in a cone of  light. The shorted line of sight together with the elimination of one’s peripheral vision has an inexplicable calming effect despite the sense that you can’t properly judge the bumps in the road as your headlight briefly illuminates them, and that every puddle looks like a small lake whose depth cannot be judged until you’re on top of it.

I’ve ridden with a Mammut Zoom headlamp and a Lezyne Super Drive, both of which served the purpose of making nighttime riding slightly less terrifying. But with my new 45km commute, I moved to the Lezyne Mega Drive, which is basically a car headlight refactored to fit on a handlebar. I heard that the lights in small villages dim when I turn it to full power and I’ve noticed that deer come running towards it when I ride by with the mistaken belief that it signals the arrival of a deity.

Never one for half-measures, I still mount the Super Drive on the helmet and the Mega Drive on the bars; its like riding with the Eye of Sauron on your bike. Oh, and I have three different red flashers on the back of the bike and another white flasher on the front. You know, just in case.

// Accessories and Gear // Nostalgia // Product Review // Technology

  1. @TommyTubolare

    Thanks for the tip mate. Also, sorry the links don’t work. Until I figure out the bug, we apparently either get line breaks in the posts or links. But not both.

    I love computers.

  2. I use a Vaude backpack that sounds similar to what you’re currently using without the hipster scumbag credentials. From years of cycle couriering, using an oversize satchel (one broad shoulder strap) is fine if you hike it high enough up your back and are prepared for one shoulder of your jacket/jerseys to wear out faster than the other. Volume wise they can get massive and are simpler to pack than a back pack.

    And as usual TT is right Ortlieb is the shiznit. Other couriers used their backpacks and they were bomber (stand up to multiple years of use without losing form, massive volume and waterproof in ways that our bags weren’t) although satchels were easier to get stuff in and out of without taking the bag off.

    Biggest bonus with the Vaude backback is the frame that keeps the bag away from your back. Wish it was bigger but who doesn’t.

  3. @frank

    Ok no problem.Maybe that’s why I couldn’t upload gallery in the rides but had to do photos one by one.Anyway good luck and don’t go nuts.

  4. Waterproof backpacks are a bit over-rated in my opinion.  I was car free for 2 years and went through the ringer of all manner of commuting configurations. I do have a set of Ortlieb panniers which I use for touring and grocery-getting, and they are certainly wonderful.

    In terms of waterproof backpacks however, you can really open up your options if you just use waterproof sacks inside whatever bag you want to wear.  You can get fancy purpose-built waterproof bags in various sizes from a camping store with a roll top and buckle closure like some Ortlieb packs use, or you can just be cheap and use a garbage bag or plastic grocery bags.

    Another thing you can do is get a water repellent spray to apply a DWR coating to any bag.  Pretty cheap, and an added layer of insurance.

    This is similar to the approach the Army takes with rucksacks. They have a water-resistant coating on the fabric, but  everything is packed inside “wet weather bags” inside the ruck when wet weather is a possibility.

  5. I’ve had some Ortlieb Classic roll top bags for a month or two. They’re great! I use them when commuting around town & to the office on my ’round town back, which has a rack. I haven’t completely gotten used to the weight and the handling with it, as I only ever use one at a time. But that’ll come with time.

    I got them used, which is my favorite part! The dude had done some real touring with them, so I like that they have a fine pedigree.

  6. What percentage of Chrome cyclo-bags are used by people who ride or even own bicycles? Maybe the cycling cap Rule should apply to those as well…

  7. @frank

    @Chris

    @frank What do you use for karting your kit around with you on your commute, backpack, courier bag or have you gone down thepack and pannier route (somehow, I can’t see it)? I’m looking at the logistics of a similar distance commute (only a third of the distance to the office, though, 45km on the bike to a station further down the line then ditch the bike and do the last 50km on the train) and I’m not sure my back would stand up to carrying a bag or that it wouldn’t seriously reduce your ability to look over your shoulder.

    I’m rollin’ with the Chrome Ortlof backpack. I’m very mixed on this and would love more input.

    I carry my laptop, notebook (the kind with paper pages), pens and pencils (the kind with ink and lead), dress shoes, slacks, shirt, and possibly a sweater along with a basic kit of tools. Its not light.

    I keep an ironing board and iron in my office, and I keep a shower kit in the locker room. The ironing board has raised more than a few eyebrows.

    I can see fine; remember that with or without a backpack on, the same “looking around” principles apply:

    1. You can look to the side perfectly fine.
    2. Don’t look over your shoulder with both hands on the bars. Look under your arm if you want to see what’s behind you.
    3. If you absolutely must look over your shoulder, take one hand off the bike and rotate your torso.

    The pack impacts none of these.

    The pack also makes climbing…harder. Especially getting out of the saddle; if I wasn’t careful enough in balancing the pack and if I’m not gentle enough when moving en danseuse, then my pack flops around like crazy.

    My packs have to be waterproof and I’d love to get more input from other who do a long commute with a pack. NO PANIERS for me; not that I think its a bad call, but I’m riding my rain bike and not a touring machine.

    I have limited experience with courier bags, but they seem to move around a lot.

    I also went with the ortlieb larger backpack, carrying about the same amount and type of stuff. the system of fastening with the chest strap is pretty good. The backing is pretty rigid which makes for a comfortable interface.  I imagine that you are fastidious about balancing the pack load like with every other fucken ocd ritual people like us have. Prolly more so you than me, but I have hope. I got tired of it weighing down on my lower back and went rack w/ single pannier. Prolly gonna get a new set of panniers and do away with the pack altogether. Thing is, carbon road/race bikes arent designed to accomodate racks. so you are sol in that department unless you repurpose a different rig. I am using my repaired steel cx rig. I am astonished at how well it rides after riding nearly exclusively carbon the last 2 years. so yeah- ortlieb, load balance, chest strap management and get a rig that accomodates a rack when your back starts to get truly sore.

  8. WTF? Backpacks?

  9. @pistard

    WTF? Backpacks?

    Some of us ride our bike to work

  10. @gaswepass

    @pistard

    WTF? Backpacks?

    Some of us ride our bike to work

    Or our bikes. Whichever.

  11. @gaswepass

    @frank
    FWIW, I’m also doing the commute 4 days a week. On the Monday, due to family commitments, I take the train to work with fixings for my lunch for the week as well as four changes of office clothes. I have shoes at work.

    This way, I ride to work every day with nothing but my phone and wallet in my pockets (as well as a gilet or rain jacket if required).  This enables me to do my evening races completely unencumbered as well.

    With a bit of forward planning, I don’t have to worry about carrying a pack/courier bag on the ride at all in the morning.  It’s much more fun (of course) riding without a pack as it means I can treat the commute as an interval session as well.

  12. @mouse

    @gaswepass

    @frank
    FWIW, I’m also doing the commute 4 days a week. On the Monday, due to family commitments, I take the train to work with fixings for my lunch for the week as well as four changes of office clothes. I have shoes at work.

    This way, I ride to work every day with nothing but my phone and wallet in my pockets (as well as a gilet or rain jacket if required). This enables me to do my evening races completely unencumbered as well.

    With a bit of forward planning, I don’t have to worry about carrying a pack/courier bag on the ride at all in the morning. It’s much more fun (of course) riding without a pack as it means I can treat the commute as an interval session as well.

    Intervals are more fun with 10kg on ur bike.

  13. @gaswepass

    Yeah, probably more effective.

    I just hate having something shifting around when I’m putting on an effort.

  14. Totally second, or fifth or whatever on Ortlieb. Waterproof (from rain) is the entry level for Ortlieb – a lot of their stuff is immersible, which is really handy if you have to ford a river or enter a submarine at some point on your commute.

  15. @mouse

    @gaswepass

    Yeah, probably more effective.

    I just hate having something shifting around when I’m putting on an effort.

    Thats what she said.

    I do think its critical to find a good way to minimize the load shifting. The panniers are great for that, the backpack can succeed with proper attention.  These newer ones do a pretty good job of form fitting to the back contour.

  16. @mouse

    And i have no clue how you would do intervals with a courier bag, altho those bastards are cruelly fast.

  17. Frank – nah, you were spot on with some things. If that outfit was functional for fly trappin’ as well as totally bitchin’, that’s Awesome.

    And 14 hour bike rides, well, that’s tuff. And cool.

  18. @gaswepass Ditto. 5-6 days a week. Like @Mouse I usually find an excuse to stop in on the weekend with fresh clothes. Messenger bag if I have shopping/errands too big for pockets. The SealLine stuff outta Seattle is pretty damn watertight.

  19. @gaswepass A proper messenger bag rides up high on your back, not down on your hips, so it’s like a backpack without straps in your pits. Extra strap around your waist keeps it from shifting. Riding fixed all day for short distances makes you fast in a stoplight sprint but your knees pay for it eventually.

  20. @Velosophe “This is similar to the approach the Army takes with rucksacks. They have a water-resistant coating on the fabric, but everything is packed inside “wet weather bags” inside the ruck when wet weather is a possibility.

    And the waterproof bag in your Bergen doubles as a floatation aid on river crossings in jungles!

    In fact the British Army don’t generally bother with special purpose waterproof bags, we just used to use a couple of black binliners and all stayed dry as toast!

  21. @frank years of carrying stuff on my back has me always looking for the lightest and smallest pack for what I carry. Too small for the job makes it packed hard and high so I have two back packs and one messenger type – 3 different sizes. All are thin but durable and when it’s wet I line them with plastic, which may not work for you if it’s wet every day.

    When I did the daily commute I found that leaving as much stuff at work was the way to go, especially shoes and bulky clothes.

    I remember years ago realizing that my riding style had to smooth out with stuff on my back and ironically I think when I later started getting serious about riding/racing it helped me ride like butter.

  22. @frank Chrome messenger bag (Citizen, I think…) here for 3 or 4 years of commuting in Ohio. I’ve tried backpacks w/chest straps for stabilization, but I’ve always ended up coming back to the messenger back for stability and comfort.

    Laptop, notebook, underwear, socks, pants, shirt(s), lunch, raincoat for the Ohio wet, wallet, power adapters and toolkit all packed into the bag. My stuff has stayed dry in the heaviest of rains.

    For me, it’s a proper pack, then the proper strap tightness (both the main and the stabilizer strap) that makes the difference. As long as I have those two variables correct, the bag doesn’t move whether I’m in or out of the saddle or whether I’m stopped at light or going full-bore.

    @pistard mentioned it, as well—messenger bags sit the weight high on your back (think between your shoulder blades) and don’t constrict breathing. Somewhat counterintuitively, they seems to distribute weight better than a backpack even though there’s only one strap.

  23. I’ve found the North Face Recon perfect for my commuting needs. Remarkably waterproof and if it’s really wet I put ‘sensitive’ items in a plastic bag and everything stays dry. Mind you, fenders help, especially with the bottom of the pack. Yesterday I wrote sans fenders on a 2 1/4 hr rainy ride and remembered why I love them.

  24. @frank and everyone else some interesting suggestions, thanks. I leaning towards getting some panniers, mainly because my back is not what it once was and I do tend to get annoyed by backpacks when the load doesn’t feel perfectly distributed – Merckxian levels of adjustment would ensue if I had to ride with a heavy pack pack.

    Generally, I’m only going to be carrying a laptop, a few work related odds and sods and the bike tool/tyre kit but there will be occasions when I’ll have to throw in a couple of lever arch files. I’m going to start getting my shirts cleaned and pressed near work so I don’t have to spend time transporting clean clothes to work and the dirty ones home (short of buying a bunch more shirts I’d end up taking everything home on the Friday and bring it back on the Monday).

    I quite like the look of the Ortleib QL3 bags – good reputation or waterproofing and an easy system for mounting/de-mounting bags on the racks. It’s counter to the whole Velominati ethos of looking fabulous but almost 470 km a week adds up to some serious training. I’m not sure that my bike will take a pannier rack so a bit of n+1 negotiation may have to be entered into but there’ll be some good saving on diesel from not having to drive to and from the station as well as not having to pay for parking. Ribble’s winter trainer/audax bike looks like a solid deal.

    Unfortunately, I’m still going to have carry on shelling out for a season ticket for the train (approx £4,000), 120 km each way is too much early morning Rule #5 for me. There’s a station 46 km away from me that’s  on the same line but closer to London. The station has some secure bike storage boxes which is better than most that only offer covered racks. It’s mainly country roads so I’ll also need a new front light.

  25. I find the “Race” mode very useful on the Mega Drive.  This setting causes the power button to cycle between the Blast and Economy modes, bypassing the Flash and Enduro modes.  Perfect for my night riding.

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