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Hangzhou Alleycat 2011 Poster

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Swrve Milwaukee Softshell Jacket Review*

So I picked this up over a year ago, and it’s time to see how well it’s fared, now that I’ve taken it out today after the summer in storage to deal with some truly shitty weather.

The swrve milwaukee jacket comes in a whole bunch of different colors, and the real kicker (in a good way) is that they offer it cut in a variety of fabrics, so you could theoretically have a different one of these suckers for all weather conditions, except for brutally hot and humid. I picked up a midweight, size large gray one for about 100USD.

The stitching here is pretty bomb-proof as far as ease of tearing goes, but none are taped, so you won’t be able to use it as a drysuit in the pool. If you stand in hard rain for more than 5 minutes, it will soak through on your shoulders. In non-biblical rain, the jacket will bead water, especially on the sleeves for a good 15 minutes before it starts soaking through the fabric. That being said, it dries in reasonable time. Little grommetted holes under the arms, and the fabric in general, give it pretty good marks for breathability–it will take a bit of effort to work up a sweat under this thing. Nevertheless, the midweight jacket is pretty warm–I’m comfortable cycling in it with only a t-shirt underneath down to 50 degree F weather. I’ve worn it in near gale-force wind and while it did billow ridiculously, it put forth an admirable effort against what I must say was some real badass wind. Like, you can lean like 30 degrees into the wind without falling over badass.

As a cycling jacket, it’s cut long enough in the back to cover your plumber’s crack (I’ve actually sat on it on the saddle, so it may be a bit too long). The shoulders are wide enough for me, so they should be wide enough for just about anyone, and the extra-length sleeves have longer tops to cover your hands while you’re riding. I’m about 165 and 5’10”, and a large fits be well enough to fit a down vest under it pretty comfortably. The whole thing just fits best when you’re riding on the hoods or in the drops.

The only real misstep in deign is the hood .The hood is substantial and will cover your head and makes a little visor over your face, but it also covers too much of the sides of your face, which it has to be said limits your peripheral vision significantly, so I don’t use it unless it’s really cold/rainy or I’m not to worried about being bum rushed by a bus, which is to say, I use it rarely. It also isn’t cut at chin level, but instead quite a bit lower, which leads to it annoyingly rubbing on your adam’s apple, and you can’t turtle up in it and cover your chin. So if you’re really bent over your bars, you might be getting some wind going down your shirt like a teenage boy’s down his girlfriend’s blouse.

Zippered back pockets that reach all the way down the butt-flap hold a surprising amount of stuff, so you may not need a saddlebag on your next ride. The front pockets are average, no-zipper front pockets, except there’s a little stash pocket (everything has a stash pocket these days) on the inside of the coat, although it opens from the top and has no velcro or anything to keep it shut, so I’d think twice before putting keys or drug money there, or in the front pockets.

Like just about everything cycling-related today, it comes in a bevy of colors, which is cool and all, and I figured gray would go well with most stuff I wear and it does. The Milwaukee jacket looks good enough to use as a normal jacket, and while the lack of reflective stripes is a downer for night-cyclists, at least you won’t light up list a construction worker when you enter a strobe-ridden club. It washes easily and has no logos or anything on the outside, which is kind of refreshing given the ubiquity of North Face fleeces and their logo adorning like everyone’s left breast.

Pros:

Butt flap covers your crack and has good pockets with zippers

Simple, clean style.

relatively warm and water and wind-proof

Price isn’t too bad compared to similar offerings from chrome and its ilk.

Available in a variety of colors and fabrics

Cons:

Hood design leaves a bit to be desired

No zippers on the front pockets.

Stash pocket is of limited use and will be easy to detect if you get patted down by even the laziest cop, you druggie.

 

*Note: I bought this in 2010, but now they only offer the $50 more expensive ES (for extra-special) hoodie, and it looks better in just about every way possible, especially the hood and collar design.

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2011 Hangzhou Alleycat

Check it out, cats and kittens! The Hangzhou alleycat race will be on October 15, 2011. We’re cooperating with a bunch of awesome companies and it’s going to be good fun. To wit:

  • that’s Zhejiang magazine
  • Vineyard cafe
  • Rodafixa/Flwrider
  • Speaker Chicken
  • People’s Bike
  • Specialized Bikes
  • WHM bikes

More sponsors are coming on board every day. There will be cheap drinks at Vineyard, our start/finish/afterparty location. Prizes may or may not be awesome, but the glory will be. Check out hangzhoualleycat.com for more information as the date approacheth!

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Ningbo Alleycat Review

Finally – an Alleycat poster that doesn’t involve a graphic of a badass/angry cat. +79HP Ningbo. Nothing against feline inspiration for race graphics, but a crab sparing with a chainring, in a ring of chain–brilliant work. Also +2 charisma for darkish text, especially the Chinese.

Upon learning of the race from our friends over at PPLS BIKE,  my girlfriend and I embarked upon this adventure, aided only by maps from the Ningbo Guide Magazine, who rather brilliantly ran an article on the race. After a train-ride in on Saturday morning and then an afternoon nap (it’s how I get psyched for this stuff) we rolled our way over to Laowaitan, which seems to be, ironically enough, where everything laowai/foreign in Ningbo lives. It’s a neat little set of walking streets with some expat-y bars and restaurants, among which was Office Bar, the start and finish point for the race. Once there, we registered and met the organizers Nick and Nolan, both high-charisma rogues, who informed us that there were no other Hangzhouvians. WTF Hangzhou. -50HP. Across the street from Office bar Was Tasty’s, serving BBQ, which to be honest was a little rubbery. -1Strength.

As we waited and exchanged items and tales of adventure with other racers, more and more people kept coming to register for the race. Bikes of every stable–fixed, cruiser, mountain, road, hybrid–with an even more diverse collection of riders. By 8:30, when the race started, nearly 100 bikes and riders hit the road.

Since we had only spent about 6 hours in Ningbo, we opted spend the race following a local fighter-class cyclist, who henceforth shall be referred to as the Hero. Let me sketch for you a Chinese man, about 30 years of age, slightly portly but strong with a round face and lively eyes, riding a bright red, geared, high-quality folding bike, brand: Alligator. Stats: high strength and charisma, average intelligence, above average agility. His armor-set was probably the most memorable part: white/championship-color helmet, beige collared shirt, black fanny-pack, and 5-inch inseam bike shorts, such that when standing, or cycling, really, he appeared to be pantless–for the win.

So we followed the Hero for the entire race, which included him

  • taking us through what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse complex as a “shortcut” in which he could have easily taken our kidneys,
  • following bad directions from a friend and refusing to ask for help,
  • smoking 5+ times in the back half of the race,
  • heading straight for the free beer after finishing,
  • continuing not to wear pants

Sadly, I failed to get a picture of him, but I’m afraid my camera would have just exploded due to his sheer awesomeness. +50 charisma.

So we finished the race, but apparently since we seemed to do an opposite circuit of what most people did, by the time we got to the final checkpoints, closest to the finish, the checkpoint-sitters had already scrammed for the finish, which was kind of lame: we weren’t like rolling up at midnight or anything. So anyhow we bagged the final two checkpoints, or rather, we were forced to bag them, which was upsetting mostly because at every checkpoint you got a little Livestrong-style bracelet as proof you were there, which was actually a brilliant idea, as were free glowsticks, although the glowsticks turned out to be nearly invisible on the road and not actually much use for safety, but a good idea nonetheless. +10 intelligence.

Back at Office Bar, we partied and drank (have I mentioned it was free?) beer available to anyone with aforementioned power-bracelets. The prize ceremony was mercifully short (+15HP), and the overall winner and fastest fixed/non-local was none other than Tyler Bowa from Shanghai. Congrats to you dude, +45HP. And congrats tot he race organizers, for bringing in twice as many people as expected!

In summary, the bikes biked, the beer flowed, a contingent from Shanghai swam in a fountain (+15 Cholera (-80HP)), and one man didn’t wear pants.

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Asia Fixed Gear Championship Photos

I didn’t really take too many pictures because I was busy on Saturday riding, and Sunday getting sunburned, but nevertheless, here are some highlights. Mostly portraits of the Star Track Cycling Crew, but also one of the snakeskin bike, which won second place in the beauty contest despite being in violation of animal rights at best, and downright gross at worst. Anyhow, enjoy.

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Review: WHM Special Light

After a year of saving/drooling over various possible builds and color schemes at pedal mafia, I finally indulged myself and got a nice bike, something with as few budget induced compromises as possible, although I salvaged a lot of parts from my stuff back in the states and the setup has changed a bit since these pictures. The idea was to get a classic-styled, lugged, steel frame, built in China (like most frames out there, but at least this one is a local brand) for tearing ass around HZ.

The Frame

OK, so color options are limited: black or white. I selected black to express my rage. Graphics-wise, it’s kind of a busy frame. Every tube on the front triangle has some sort of text all in a yellow vintage curly script. The top tube sports the text, Special light, toward the aft end of the tube. The down tube has a big W.H.M Cycle curly-script logo, although the periods after W, H, and M, bug me for a reason I’m not entirely clear on.

The seat tube has a vertical WHM written between two world-champ color bars, which is kind of cool. However, I’m not crazy about the nautical star on the back side of the seat post–it kind of contrasts in style with the more classic styling of the stripes. The head tube sports the WHM crest in yellow, but only as a decal. Actually, all of the graphics seem to be decals, but you’d be hard-pressed to remove them cleanly.


The lug work of the frame is, in a word, pretty. There is a difference between pretty and beautiful, take note. All the joints, including those between the stays, have lugs with nice curving cutaways.

The seat tube/seat stays/top tube lug is rather troublesome with the seat post bolt going right through the seat stay inserts, which to me seems like it would compromise the strength of said stays, especially if you over-tightened the bolt. Also, you have to have the exactly right size bolt and nut to fit in the hole, and of course whenever you need something very specific that is doubtlessly produced in China, it suddenly becomes impossible to find. All that being said, the lugs are nice and seem reasonably stiff.

The frame features no-name tubing, which isn’t the lightest, and I’m certain it’s not Columbus or anything, but it’s stiffer than the cheapo cranks I’m using. The paint job seems kind of soft, although I rest it against a good number of light posts.

My biggest gripe is with the integrated chain tension system, which use a small bolt through the front of the dropout to push the rear axle back and tighten the chain. In theory, it’s great, but the holes through the dropout aren’t drilled perfectly center, so the bolt doesn’t rest at the exact center of the round axle. Additionally, the WHM axles tighten with an allen wrench to the bolt, which seem to be made of soap, rather than metal, making it impossible to really tighten them down as much as they should be. All of this combines to make a system that ends up bending tension bolt after tension bolt. After replacing three of those little bolts on the drive side, I’ve given up and started using more traditional BMX style chain tension systems.

The Ride

It accelerates pretty quickly off of lights, although with the weight of the Aerospoke added to the relatively heavy tubes, it isn’t the quickest bike off the line, as evidenced by my getting stomped at the AFGC sprints (of course, that had nothing to do with my cycling ability).However, that Aerospoke makes a nice flywheel, so it holds speed pretty well. Handling-wise, it holds a line like nobody’s business and I can easily ride no-handed for blocks at a time. Cornering is predictable, although the wheelbase isn’t so short that I would call it twitchy; the geometry seems to be a touch less aggressive than a true track bike.

In the current setup, this is the most comfortable bike I’ve ever owned/ridden. A large part of that is due to that saddle, which even for 30RMB is by far the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever owned. It rides pretty soft on the road and the steel soaks up a good bit of vibration. The other big comfort factor is just that the bike fits my body nicely, which is something one could say about any bike.

Verdict:

It’s a pretty good frame for the price, as a lugged steel steel will usually set you back about 600 US buckazoids, and at about 330 US, this isn’t too bad. The integrated chain tension system isn’t good for anything more than bending bolts, something needs to happen differently in manufacturing I believe. It’s not the lightest bike you could get (duh, it’s lugged steel) but it’s also not as light as a lugged steel frame with Columbus tubes. All that aside, it’s a comfortable ride that will not surprise you with super twitchy handling, so you could ride this all day. I know I have before.

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The Splinter Bike

Coming at you live from Shenzhen, after the Asia Fixed Gear Championships: something nothing to do with Shenzhen, Hangzhou, or Asia.Bike blog : Michael Thompson, the creator of the SplinterBike

The Splinter Bike. It sounds like a villian of the bike word, something Shredder from TMNT would ride. And of course, it’s fixed.

Apparently, it’s the result of a bet between a carpenter and his cyclist friend, and they’re trying to find sponsors for the apparently hefty sum of money  (about 15 grand US) required to set the land speed record for…wooden bikes?

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Hangzhou Friendly Race Between Friends (or HFRBF) Review

Pre raceFor real this time: something about Hangzhou for once.

Sometime in April–this was a while ago and I honestly forget exactly when–I got word of an alleycat in Hangzhou, the news about which was posted on a microblog somewhere that I didn’t have access to. Turns out is was organized by Jeaky of the local brand WHM bikes. I don’t know what WHM stands for, but I see We Behind on some of his stuff, which actually doesn’t make anything clearer at all. I’m not sure if it’s self-aware Chinglish, or like we behind the times instead of we’re behind the times, or if it’s we be hind, which is also confusing for its lack of conjugation and the fact that hind is, according to the dictionary on my computer:

hind 1 |hīnd|
adjective [ attrib. ]
(esp. of a bodily part) situated at the back; posterior : he snagged a calf by the hind leg.

hind 2
noun
1 a female deer, esp. a red deer or sika in and after its third year.
2 any of several large edible groupers with spotted markings.

hind 3
noun archaic chiefly Scottish
a skilled farm worker.
• a peasant or rustic.

Perhaps the most sensible is the female deer definition, because deer are fast and stuff, like bikes. I don’t know. I do like the archaic Scottish though, just because it humors me that perhaps Jeaky is an authority on archaic Scottish even if we can hardly speak a lick of contemporary English. Just imagine him in a elbow-padded blazer, pipe in mouth, lecturing on haggis.

This review should really just end right there, but I’m going to forge ahead anyhow.

We met on a Sunday afternoon at Wulin Square, and by the time the race started there were between 15-20 riders, generously. I know, I should have counted, because how hard is it to count to under 20, but I didn’t. The point is that this was mostly Jeaky’s friends, all Chinese, except for me, which was a point of pride/awkwardness for me. Maybe there just aren’t any other foreigners riding fixed out here. I’ve only heard rumors and legends of them. Pre-race highlight: some kid’s mom dropped him off, and everyone was really cool about it. Also that same kid (high school) had the two English swear words he probably knew Sharpied on his rims:

Fuck. Bitch.

Charming. Glad to see someone loves their bike.

The race itself was a nice ride around Hangzhou, although given the small organizing comittee, each checkpoint was not very well-marked or staffed, which although because I live here isn’t too big a deal, is still a little annoying. More annoying is Nanshan road around Leifeng tower on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; put simply, it is a true test of one’s ability to weave between smoke-belching buses and spitting tourists. I hadn’t been to Sunday! fixed gear shop in a while and it took a while to find it, as it’s about the size of a walk-in closet now and not easily visible from the street.

The race took me about 90 minutes, going what seemed to be the long way, because the winner, whose name I didn’t get, finished in under an hour. Post race, there were prizes for the first, second, and third place finishers, respectively a WHM frame, Nike Sneakers, and a hoodie. Post race, we had a small a buy-in sprint, in which I took a respectable third but still lost a big 10 RMB.

Mostly we just dicked around afterwards–did you really expect anything different?

Also there was a Segway rolling around Wulin. The End.

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2011 Asia Fixed Gear Championships

The 2011 Asia Fixed Gear Championships is soon upon us! I just got my flights and and am psyched to kick ass in the most sedentary competition: track stands. I’m also planning some good times with the alleycat and sprints; those prizes look good!

I like to think I have a nice bike, but I’m still not clear on what a bike show-off is. Is it a person who shows off on his bike? Who shows off his bike? A bike-porn convention in which an army of janitors continually squeegee the drool away?

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