Get shorty

Ah, shorts.  Next to shoes, getting trousers and shorts that even remotely fit is the bane of my clothing existence.

A word on my physique – I am short of leg, and wide of arse and thigh, but relatively narrow of waist.  This, dear readers, is a problem.  What normally happens with trousers or shorts is that I go for one size, and I can’t get them over my hips.  Nope, nope, nope.  But if I go for the next size up… huzzah!  They pass the thighs and hips and… oh.  Oh, right.  I have an extra two inches or so of waist band.  Awesome.  I end up with loads of excess fabric, and end up having to wear belts, which I dislike for two reasons:

1) It bunches up the waistband and looks awful

2) I’m allergic to nickel, which is what’s generally used in costume jewellery and belt buckles.  So I quite often end up with an unslightly (AND ITCHY) rash on my belly.

Given that I’m not blessed with the most attractive pins in the world (especially given the events of the previous post), I like 3/4 length shorts, which seem to be quite hard to get hold of if you’re a lady – quite a few will claim to be 3/4 length but only be knee-length… and believe me, it’s not because I have long legs.

So, here, for your delight and delectation – the world of Missus Toast’s biking shorts.

Altura Synchro Women’s 3/4

Well, let’s start with some of my favourites.  I have two pairs of Synchros – a grey pair with black piping, I think from 2009 or 2010, and a black pair with white piping on, from 2010/11.  OBSERVE THE MAJESTY OF MY SYNCHROS!grey_synchrosSo these shorts have been bloody fantastic:

  • The cut is nice, reasonably loose on the legs but not massively baggy around the waist.
  •  They actually make a pretty decent effort to get past the knee.
  • There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
  • They’re very light, so they’re ideal in the summer.
  • The pockets aren’t great, although the later pair have slightly deeper ones that are more useful, but really… who puts anything in their pockets? It’s uncomfortable, and makes you look bobbly. Pockets are overrated!*

Despite being used for commuting to work, weekend mountain biking and 24 hour races in horrendous weather, they’re still in perfect condition.  And yes, I wash them after every ride as well, thanks for asking. In the case of my older grey pair, they also survived the 2010 crash that took out my helmet and a good chunk of the skin on my right arm.  The blood washed out nicely!

Loeka Tech Short Capri Length 2010

Loeka-Freeride-Shorts-Pinstripe-Side

I bought these last year.  The dimensions are a bit unusual – I’d personally say they’re a bit short to be classed as ‘capri length’, but they are just about knee length on my hobbity legs.  They’re very baggy in the leg, which makes a nice change, but they are also quite baggy around the waist and gut – not too bad though.  More room for cake, eh?

So, an overview:

  • Relatively short for ‘capri’ length
  • Nice and baggy
  • There aren’t any fastenings to get caught or rub.
  • Quality feels really nice and sturdy
  • Very cool looking

Endura Hummvee 3/4 Women’s

The Hummvees are very popular, both the male and female versions.  Unfortunately, despite being the most expensive shorts I’ve bought**, they’re the only ones I didn’t really get on with.  Again, this is probably due to my rather… ahem, ‘stout’ legs.  The Hummvees are definitely designed for those more slender of pins.  They’re a nice length, but very slim fitting, and I found the velcro fastenings around the back of the knee quite annoying.  The belt that comes with it is also a bit rubbish.  It’s frustrating, because the quality and look (when worn by others…) is great.

  • Good length
  • VERY slim fitting on the legs
  • Velcro fastenings tend to rub when pedalling
  • Good quality
  • Looks good… on non-hobbits

So overall, the Synchros are winning in the battle of the shorts, with the Loeka shorts being a close second – if they were just a bit longer, they’d probably be my favourites.  The Hummvees make me sad, because they make me realise how ridiculously out of proportion my thighs are compared to the rest of my body. 🙁

*Seriously, I really don’t like putting things in my pockets.  Ever.

**It’s probably worth mentioning that I have a tendency to only buy cycling clothes if they’re heavily discounted, usually because they’re last year’s stock, etc.  I am married to a Yorkshireman, after all.

Five Ten Impact Karver for wimmins

Yes, my first review is going to be about shoes.  I am a walking stereotype.

Five Ten Impact Karver (Women’s)

Long term readers of this blog may recall that I obtained my Five Tens in January 2010. At the time I described them as being “incredibly comfortable, and incredibly grippy!”.  But how have they fared over the past three years?

The answer is – very well.  Although they’re starting to show their age a bit with the interior of the back of the heel starting to come apart (which is probably partially my fault for trying to ram my feet in without full undoing the laces…), the soles are still solid and the bulk of the shoe is still as solid as ever.  This is pretty impressive given that these are the only shoes I ever go mountain biking in, and for a year or so they were also my commuting shoes too.

It’s even more impressive when you take into account that they survived two Sleepless in the Saddles and two Mountain Mayhems, including 2012’s which were… a trifle inclement, to say the least.  They’ve been through the washing machine several times and emerged clean and unscathed.

Durability aside, they’re also some of the most comfortable shoes that I own. I have awkward feet – one’s a size 6, the other a size 6.5, and they’re also very narrow, which is INCREDIBLY ANNOYING.  I mean, seriously – there are many parts of my body I wish were narrower: my face, my thighs, my waist, my arms… but my feet?  They’re an absolute nightmare – the standard with is a D, and although many high street chains do wider fittings, absolutely bugger all companies do narrower ones.  Usually the inside of my shoes end up a mess of innersoles, stick-on cushions and extra socks, but the Karvers are actually pretty good for me straight out of the box – which is probably worth bearing in mind, as this may be a problem for women who do need wider shoe fittings.

Functionally, they’re great – very grippy and comfortable for riding, feeling secure on the pedals, but also comfortable for walking.  Aesthetically, they’re a bit marmite – I quite like them, but I have to admit I stopped wearing them to work after a colleague kept on making fun of them looking like ‘special shoes’ due to the supportive padding around the ankle.  I like the grey, black and magenta colour scheme (*cough*) particularly now it matches my Scott Scale 29, *cough*) – they clean up from being muddy pretty well too.  I quite fancy the new Karvers, but really? White? White?  Who, in the name of Odin’s beard, makes mountain biking shoes in white? I’m guessing that decision wasn’t made by anybody who lives in the UK…

So, all in all, personally I’d really recommend the Karvers. Which is a good thing really, as there’s practically bugger all else in terms of flats for women mountain bikers…

All the gear….

Right!  Quite a while back I added a tag entitled ‘All the gear, no idea’.  The aim of this tag was to discuss when I bought something new, but I also planned to do reviews.  Mainly because the bulk of my purchases are biking clothes, and reviews of biking clothes are somewhat in short supply if you favour women-specific stuff.  So, without further ado…

Two Updates, One Night.

Like buses, and all that…

So, about my Scott Scale Contessa 29er.  Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you, eh? Truth be told, neither did I – I’ve been interested in the idea of 29ers for a while.  Obviously there’s the word-of-mouth aspect, with several friends (and a husband) jumping on the big-wheeled bandwagaon and thoroughly endorsing it.  There’s the magazines who bleat on incessantly about them.  And there’s the slight issue that some manufacturers seem to be switching exclusively to 29ers.

But there’s always been one, tiny, tiny problem.  And that problem is me, being tiny (vertically, at least..) Given that I’ve struggled in the past to find 26ers that fit (women specific being too short in the top tube, standard models being too lacking in standover), I imagined that there wouldn’t be much choice in the 29er department.  I’d demoed the Giant Anthem 29er, and that had been rather nice, but sadly I didn’t have enough time with it to make a real judgement.  I’d demoed the Specialized Camber, which was almost nice but had impractical standover  – it was fine once I’d got going, but was hard to mount, dismount, stop and start.  Ah.

I’ll also wasn’t that bothered about getting a full-susser, as I’m quite happy with the Professor.  I wanted to get something that I could put some miles in with, preferably a hardtail.  Mainly because winter makes the Professor sad…

I was pondering a Niner EMD, as they do tiny.  But as fate would have it, I was browsing the classifieds on Singletrack World (which I rarely do, because I’m normally posting nonsense on the chat forum), when Mr Toast piped up over my shoulder, “Oh look, a Scott Scale Contessa 29er in small…”

After a bit of research, I bit the bullet and bought the bike.  I may possibly have missed out on paying my share of the mortgage that month, and been a bit stingy with the Christmas presents, but… NEW BIKE.

TTT

When it arrived, it was a surprise and a relief to find that it did actually fit – it actually feels quite similar in terms of length and standover to the Professor.  Whilst Mr Toast did frivolous things, like assembling the bike, checking the brakes and immediately assessing what upgrades were needed, I did sensible, practical and important things, like ordering getting matching purple grips and pedals, and later a much needed pink chainstay protector from Swinnertons.

I decided to get familiar with the bike before taking it on anything remotely techy.  After pootling around fireroads though, I wanted to see how I’d get on FtD.  For some reason, I’ve had it in my head that there’s no way I’d be able to ride FtD again on a hardtail – my knees are rubbish, and I’d probably gotten too used to my skills compensator, etc, etc.  So I picked sections 9 – 12, as they’re relatively tame, and don’t have too many narrow bits through trees that I could clip the comedy handlebars on.

And I didn’t die.

It was actually good fun.  So much so that I finished the trail and did Tackaroo too – strangely I felt like I had a lot more control.  I don’t put that down to wheel size though, I put that down to my forks and shock on the Professor being set far too soft.  Mr Toast has been banging on for ages that I need more pressure, and now I think I can see why.

Since the first ride I’ve been around a few times, and getting better each time.  I’m also really glad that I commute to work by bike now, because although I went months without going off-road, at least I’ve kept some level of fitness.  As opposed to the traditional three months of hibernation, followed by biking and vomiting by the start of where section 13 used to be.

Looking forward to getting more riding in this year – hopefully Mr Toast won’t have quite the same amount of overtime (and hopefully I won’t either), plus we’ve found a great daycare place for Benny so we can go biking together again.

 

 

26/02/12: Flirting

I love the Professor, I do.  He has been a faithful steed, taking me on my journey of being a rubbish mountain biker to being a slightly less rubbish mountain biker.  But he won’t be around forever, and sometimes it’s nice to have a back up plan.

So, whereas Saturday saw me spending over two hours walking around the Chase with t’boy, Sunday saw me demoing an Orange Five.  For me, there have been two consistent facts on demo days:

1: There will be a cock up with the booking on at least one of the bikes

2: If it’s a Leisure Lakes demo day, I will fall off in spectacular fashion at some point.

These facts held true on Sunday.  Firstly was the mix-up – I’d asked to demo a 14″ Orange Five or an Orange Five Diva Long, but I’d been put down for a Diva Short.  Fortunately the Orange chap was fabulous – he quickly assembled a regular 14″ Five and let Mr Toast and I go out seperately to the guided ride.  So, off we went.

As the demo was at Tackaroo, we got on Follow the Dog from there.  The bike initially felt a little alien to me – it’s lower than the Professor and a little longer.  The tyres were also fairly horrible compared to my High Roller/Captain combination.  The suspension felt lovely though, and it cornered really well – I actually managed to get around the nobbly zig zag just before Werewolf for what I think is the third time ever.  Said hello to the trailbuilders who were busy fixing the end of the Tackaroo section, and continued over the road and onto section two.

By this point I felt more comfortable on the bike, but there was one thing that really wasn’t right for me.  Handlebars.  Handlebars that were as wide as a wide thing.  It made me a little overly cautious between some of the narrow trees, but the bike still felt great.  Very confidence inspiring.  Too confidence inspiring.  Onto fact 2…

As I was approaching the end of section 2, I was literally thinking, “This corners really well!” as I washed out on one of the switchbacks.  Somehow one leg went in one direction, and gravity and the bike took the other leg in the opposite direction.  It’s the nearest I’ve gotten to doing the splits since my Tae Kwon Do days.   Fortunately there was no damage done other than a few impressive bruises, so it was back on the bike.  As we were on a time limit, we skipped six and seven and headed straight up the fireroad to eight.

At this point, I felt that the Five was at a disadvantage to the Professor as it didn’t seem to climb quite as well.  However, I had just battered myself a bit by sliding across the trail, I was a bit achey from my sudden upswing in weekday riding, and  I was a bit achey from the previous day’s fairly long walk. Eight was fairly uneventful, but the slippery pebbles were a bit problematic with the horrible tyres.  Headed back to to Tackaroo fairly pleased with the Five – a few home comforts (like sensible handlebars and tyres) and it’d be awesome.

Evidently I wasn’t as pleased as Mr Toast was with his 22″ demo, as he’s now got one on order.  Apparently he’ll now have to give up trail riding in favour of riding around the car park, and we’re going to have to swap the Vectra for an Audi.  Herp derp.

On the 2012 event front, Dave and Andy headed over to Pat Adam’s house in person to hand in our Mountain Mayhem entry forms.  They were the first people to ride there and hand in the entries (some others had gotten there earlier, but had driven), and massive thanks go to them for being so utterly bonkers and getting the entries in.  Although that thanks might be revoked when I’m doing my first lap, probably in torrential rain…

On the Dog Front, Benny had his first training session this week.  There were many puppies – spaniels, cockapoos, many, many pugs, a strangely vicious whippet, rough collies, a chihuahua, a pomeranian, border terriers, an English Sheepdog… and all of them could walk to heel better than our boy.  ALL OF THEM.  He was kind of the derpy remedial pup.  Still, I’m sure he get it eventually…

26/03/11: Of clown wheels and lady bikes

Popped down to the Demo Series on the 26th.  I hadn’t really got a firm idea of what I wanted to ride, other than a strange inexplicable compulsion to try a 29er.

We arrived later than planned, as per usual.  First ride of the day was a Trek Fuel 8 WSD.  My original plan was to go out on the 14.5 inch model, but once I was standing next to it both the Trek Chap and myself agreed that it was probably going to be far too small.  So instead I ventured out on the 16.5 inch model, as the 15.5 wasn’t available.  Given that the Fuel 8 WSD have the same geometry as the ‘men’s’ Fuel 8s, I had a sinking feeling that it was all going to go horribly wrong.  When I tried it out for size, however, it didn’t seem too bad at all, and Trek Chap definitely earned bonus points for telling me that my legs weren’t that short and, as he set up the rear shock, that I was lighter than I claimed.

Setting off on it definitely felt a bit weird.  Not bad, just… different.  Despite it supposedly being a bigger frame than what I’m used to, I felt as if I was sat further forward than on the Professor, and a lot higher up.  As I turned into the first section of Follow the Dog, it felt very, very strange.

Very, very strange quickly turned into very awesome.  Last time I’d ridden a Trek Fuel two years ago I didn’t really get on with it – the brakes were honking (Hayes Soles), the gearing was terrible and it had annoying dual-platform pedals that always swung SPD side up when I wear flats.  This time was an entirely different kettle of donkeys – the Fuel was perfectly set up, and although I initially felt a little odd on it, I quickly got used to it.  Given that I’d not actually done much of Follow the Dog this year, I erred on the side of caution and left out the Steg, and instead headed to section eight in a rather roundabout fashion.

So, my first run through of section eight was on a strange bike after over four months of eating treacle pudding and playing World of Warcraft.  First was the small matter of the fireroad hill, and the Fuel proved it was a nice little climber.  Then onto section 8, and more awesomeness.  Perhaps I’d been expecting to be so much worse after the treacle pudding fuelled winter, but I seemed to fly around.  The Fuel seemed very stable around corners – on the Professor, I tend to lean into corners to the point of feeling that I’m starting to tip over, but on the Fuel I took the corners comfortably.  I don’t know whether it was the bike or whether I was just having a particularly good day, but I felt exhilarated that I was riding confidently at a decent clip after so long.  I’d planned to return the bike after section 8 as I didn’t want to push my luck, but I felt like pushing my luck anyway and did 9 and 10 as well.

I returned the Fuel with a big smile on my face.   Don’t get me wrong, I love the Professor, I do, but it’s nice to know that there’s another bike that I clicked with so quickly.  And Mr Toast has four bikes, and I only have two.  Just saying!  It also goes to show that:

a) Frame sizes can be pretty arbitary across different manufacturers, so don’t dismiss anything… or conversely, assume it’ll fit!

b) Just because you didn’t get on with a particular make or model one year doesn’t mean you should dismiss it forever more.  Geometry changes, things get tweaked and altered, and your own riding style might evolve.

Before I could demo another bike, I had to pick up my friend who’s looking into getting a new bike.  I was hoping she’d have a bit more success this time around – last time I took her to a Demo Day two years ago, she ended up riding a red route for the first time in her life on a carbon full suspension race bike (a Top Fuel, to be more specific).  Not being used to singletrack, the lightness of carbon bikes or full suspension, coupled with truly terrible weather meant that she had a less than pleasurable experience, and has now sworn off full sussers as a result.  So this time, I thought I’d get her on a nice, practical hardtail.  Having ridden a very basic Giant mtb for eight years, mainly for road riding, she made a beeline for the Giant stand straight away.  We ended up with…

209110_203571379662842_146798235340157_716619_4026472_o.jpg *

Clown wheels! \o/  I’d thought I’d be trying out a Gary Fisher Superfly 29er, but they didn’t have the 15″ model available.  So I joined my friend at the Giant stand AND still managed to sate my 29er curiosity with an Anthem 29er.  The idea that there would be a full suspension 29er that I could actually ride was a stunning revelation… although the seatpost did have to be sawn down so I could get on the saddle.  My friend also ended up on a 29er, a Giant XTC.

Determined not to make the same mistake as the previous demo day I’d taken my friend on, I took her around some of the green routes to let her get to used to the bike, before leading her down the old section 3 (which she’s ridden before).  She was fine on the flat, but struggled a bit on the singletrack – again, not really surprising given that she’s not used to that sort of riding, and was on a completely bonkers bike.  Again.

Because I’m a sadist (and also because I felt it’d be a fairer test of the Anthem) we then went on the first section of Follow the Dog.  I was expecting riding a 29er to be a bit of a nightmare (but I still wanted to ride one, just because I believe hobbits should have the right to be niche too), but it wasn’t at all.  The handling was surprisingly nimble, especially given I was expecting it to be something like riding a Penny Farthing, and on longer stretches it could fly over stuff. Bloody good fun.  I’ve never really clicked with Giant bikes before, clearly they just needed massive wheels to match the name!

Alas, my friend wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about her dandy horse, and nature was calling to us both, so we returned the 29ers.  Sadly by the time we hit the Specialized stand they’d stopped letting the bikes out, so no Epic test for me.

Overall an awesome day – it seemed to be a lot better organised than on previous years, with a decent choice in bikes for both Mr Toast (he tried a Trek Paragon, a Specialized Epic and a Carbon Stumpjumper) and myself.  The guys on the Trek and Giant stands were fantastic – despite being incredibly busy the bikes were perfectly set up and they were happy to chat.   Rather depressingly it’s been the first demo day where I’ve come out of it thinking I’d quite happily own both the bikes I’ve ridden, but alas, food and shelter sadly takes priority. I’ve come to the conclusion I need one of those stereotypical wives blokes on the Singletrack forum moan about – the ones who say, “Why do you need another bike?  What’s wrong with the one you’ve got?  You could get a car for that!” Plus even if I did get those bikes, I’d still want to keep the Professor and Cletus, so then we’d have eight bikes in the house.  EIGHT.  Is there a biking equivalent of a Crazy Cat Lady?

* Photo shamelessly robbed from Giant’s Facebook page.  If you’re one of those Twittery types and can tear yourself away from Charlie Sheen, you can also get Demo Series information from @TheDemoSeries.