Regaining my old form

As you may or may not know, I’ve been off the saddle for a pretty long time. A couple of unexpected hospital visits and a long-planned honeymoon trip basically ensured that my carcass avoided mounting a saddle for about two months.

In the meantime, I concentrated on recovery and getting better as quickly as I could, everything else be damned. The unfortunate consequence was that I gained more weight and lost my conditioning.

I am also aware of the fact that I’m not getting any younger and my metabolism isn’t what it used to be. The caloric intake I was used to just was not a good fit for me any more.

Fast forward to today. With the doctors clearing me for resumption of physical activity, I’ve been logging the training miles both on the street and on the turbo trainer in a pretty consistent fashion, upon returning from a memorable trip to Europe. Much more of a surprise was how well my body could function and train on reduced caloric intake…and without resorting to diets or the focusing on or removal of food groups.

A couple of weeks in, I’ve been able to lose 7 pounds (3.16 kg) out of the 15 (6.8 kg) I gained from what I call my “baseline.” Even from there, though, I want to aim for further reduction, as my baseline is still more than what my frame should be carrying. As it turns out, what I needed to do was reevaluate my relationship with food…and get used to regularly carrying a little hunger in my gut.

Onwards and upwards it is, then. Going forward, I hope to share a few more stories from the saddle.

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Review: Samsonite Paradiver Light L+ laptop backpack

Riding to work, I have used my Vincita B050WP-A panniers for about four years now. Unfortunately, in that span of time, they’ve sprung leaks. The RF welding connecting the pieces of material together has failed on a number of areas, greatly increasing the risk of water ingress. While these panniers aren’t 100% watertight, and they will let in some water after a while, the introduction of holes pretty much negates their supposed waterproof-ness.

While on vacation in Paris recently, I was mulling my options. I could have these repaired by stitching or repeat RF welding, or replace them with Ortlieb’s larger, world-famous panniers (which are finally available locally, but are sadly out of my budget). Then I stumbled across a surprise of a shop and saw this, the only thing I really shopped for while there.

Yes, it’s a backpack. While loaded riding with a rack and panniers has its benefits, I’ve started to rethink what exactly I have to bring on the ride to the office, and a backpack is hard to beat for sheer get-up-and-go, especially with light loads. Panniers are awkward to handle when off the bike, and dismounting/remounting the rear rack each weekend does get old after a while.

Best of all, it made me do a double-take and ask…“It’s a Samsonite?” While renowned for attache cases and hard-shell luggage, I had one of their early backpacks; it was devoid of all style or appeal, basically a big squarish thing you strapped on your back, looking like 1/3 of a Deliveroo box. Yet more than ten years later, here is a Samsonite backpack that I actually like.

Packed as full as possible.

FEATURES

  • 24 L rated capacity
  • Weight: 800 g
  • Material: Polyurethane-coated 600 x 600 denier polyester, weather-resistant
  • Padded laptop compartment, fits a 15.6″ laptop maximum
  • Integrated tablet pocket, fits a 10.1″ tablet maximum
  • Ergonomic straps and adjustable sternum strap
  • Integrated ID tag
  • Deployable mesh bottle holder, stores in side pocket

IMPRESSIONS

Confession time: I’m a sucker for the yellow-and-black colorway. The moment I saw this hanging on the store shelf in Paris, I was instantly reminded of a similar backpack I had in college…one that I also remember got dirty way too easily.

Fortunately, the Paradiver stands up better to scuffs, easily dispatched with soap and some wiping. Its external shell is similar to the tarpaulin of my Vincita panniers, just softer and a bit more “premium” feeling. A short but torrential rain shower proved it has much better water resistance than my longtime mainstay, the venerable Deuter Giga. I’m under no illusions that it will outperform my panniers, though. As beefed-up and gasket-equipped as they may seem here, zippers are often the weak link, and they are the first points of water ingress.

The main zippers have this full-length gasket material which probably aids water resistance, if only by a little. The top zipper’s pulls have a loop for a small pad lock.

Packed as full as possible. The tapering design does mean the Paradiver Light L+ doesn’t lend itself well to overstuffing.

Compared to the boxy Giga, this largest “L-Plus” iteration of the Paradiver Light gives up 4 L of outright capacity, and the tapering shape cuts into the interior volume somewhat. Yet, despite doing away with a full hip strap, the Paradiver Light feels better to walk and ride with when laden, especially when the straps are bound together by the sternum strap. The load feels much closer to your center of gravity, improving the load distribution over shoulders and chest.

A 14″ Lenovo ThinkPad T430 laptop in the main compartment. There’s enough slack to fit laptops up to 15.6″. Note the tablet pocket and zipped mesh inner pocket in front.

Save for the corners sometimes getting in the way of the main zipper, the Paradiver Light swallows my 15.6″ laptop fine. A pocket in front of it handles tablet duty, and both are cinched down by an elastic band with Velcro at the end. The padding on the wearer’s back also serves as protection for the laptop. I like that it doesn’t scream “hello world I’m a laptop bag!” when it’s perfectly capable of carrying one.

Front compartment. Two pen loops, a loose pocket, and another pocket with a Velcro flap – big enough to squeeze in three “SwissChamp” Swiss Army knives.

The front pocket opens from one side, big enough for little knick-knacks like earphones, a comb, or even a DIY rain cover.

Clever touches litter this rucksack. The integrated ID tag hides in a rubbery pocket taking price of place front and center, secured by an elastic band that automatically pulls it in when you’re done reading it. Samsonite includes three label stickers for the ID tag, and you’ll want to use a ball-point pen here.

It may not have a full hip belt, but the bracing on the hips helps contain unwanted load shifting, and this works really well with all the straps. The hip braces are actually where the main straps are anchored into at the bottom.

There’s even a hidden zipped “safety” pocket cut into the padding around the top of the main straps – and it’s surprisingly deep. My whole karate-chop hand fits inside.

Good in theory, but execution’s not too great. You’ll feel that bottle smack your right elbow as you walk.

There are a few flaws. As nifty as it is, the mesh bottle holder has the same kind of utility as a German sports car’s cupholders: minimal. Loading with a bottle has the whole thing flopping about more than a properly sized and dedicated side pocket. A key hanger is advertised, but I can’t find it anywhere, and it could do with at least one reflective patch.

More of a cycling-specific flaw is that the top grab handle is set a little too far into the main strap area. This seems like a style thing. While a non-issue for most other uses, if you wear the Paradiver while bent over on a road bike, the textured grab handle rubs on your nape, especially when you turn your head. It’s not terrible, and I got used to it after a few weeks, but it shows that this isn’t really designed for riding. As the handle is finished in a somewhat coarse grippy material, nape abrasion may become an issue on a really long ride; it may be remedied by wrapping the handle in something smoother.

Finally, backpacks being backpacks, wearing this is inevitably going to cause some back sweat. Apart from making the back panel padding somewhat “breathable” and its covering out of mesh, there are no concessions to improving airflow in this area.

VERDICT

Overall, Samsonite’s got a good thing going with the Paradiver. At EUR98 (PhP5950), it’s on the pricey side, yet it allows a level of comfort and style in load-lugging that might just make it worth your added cash. Good if you can get it for cheap, especially if you ride a more upright bike.

Review: B’Twin 500-series men’s cycling bib shorts

With the opening of Decathlon Philippines, Filipinos now have access to the French sporting goods warehouse store and its cycling-related house brand, B’Twin. Renowned in other countries for good yet affordable gear, I thought it would be interesting to put some of its products to the test.

When I visited Decathlon’s Singapore branch in Bedok, I made mention of just how surprisingly cheap their 500-series bib shorts are. For just a couple extra Singapore dollars over their waist shorts, the significant onus that usually comes with bib shorts is waived. This registered in my head as the bargain of the entire B’Twin lineup – one practically begging to be put to the test. I’m pleased to announce that the pricing has carried over to our shores too. Having had Pearl Izumi’s US- and Japan-/Philippine-market waist shorts, how do these items fare?

How good are these, really?

FEATURES

  • Designed for rides around two hours long
  • Offered in sizes S-XXL; XL size tested
  • Mesh bib straps
  • Double layer construction on thighs
  • Large ventilated pad, preformed, with antibacterial treatment

IMPRESSIONS

On the left is a fresh pair with black thigh cuff. On the right with the blue thigh cuff is the same model of shorts I’ve had since December 2016. Note the B’Twin logo almost totally peeled off on the older pair.

These are pretty simple shorts, mainly made up of black except for the white B’Twin logo and a thigh cuff of your choice of color: blue, orange, red, or the same black of the rest of the shorts. This simplicity means easy pairing with almost any jersey. The thigh cuff does away with any elastic or silicone to help combat it hiking up your leg, but it stays in place nicely even so.

The “yoke” of the bibs that suspends them over your shoulders is a sheer white polyester mesh, with straps that are middling in width. Thicker straps tend to sit flatter for longer, but these have enough weight to them to do so without digging uncomfortably into your shoulders. They’re also set low enough on the waist to enable relatively quick nature breaks…at least for men. Sorry ladies, none of the halter-back-style straps, quick-release buckles, or thoughtful zippers that will help you drop and pee on these shorts.

These stiff, large label tags can be a little obnoxious.

One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb almost immediately is just how huge these label tags are. If you ride around without a base layer, these can potentially chafe on your skin. It’s also a faff trying to keep them inside the bib straps. Cutting them off will help.

Arguably, the main function of any cycling short (aside from keeping you in as civil a state as possible while remaining skin-tight) is to locate the chamois pad correctly against your bum, so that it helps absorb road vibration. In this respect, B’Twin does quite well. I’ve ridden many, many kilometers on the first pair I’ve had, and the pad has never shifted away from its location, which is pretty good to begin with. It’s not too far up on your butt crack, nor is it too far forward of your groin or genital area. This is in contrast to one pair of my Pearl Izumi waist shorts, where the pad effectively folded in under itself in a bizarre fashion inside its top covering.

A look at the chamois pad B’Twin used on these shorts. Again, fresh pair on the left, older pair on the right. It’s subtle, but there’s a difference in the thickness.

B’Twin’s “preformed” pad itself, though…takes a bit of getting used to.

When I first wore my first pair of these shorts, I distinctly remember the pad feeling a little bulky between the legs, somewhat like wearing a diaper while riding. Very little interference in pedaling motion, but I was always aware that it was there. Initial wearings had me persuading the pad to fit better between my legs and crotch before setting off. After buying my subsequent pairs, I noticed the same thing too. Upon further inspection, it’s down to the pad’s sheer thickness.

Lowering the angle shows the thickness difference better between fresh and broken-in. Personally, the older pair is more comfortable to ride in; this pad tends to bunch up a little when new.

The good news is, the chamois pad does compress under your weight, breaking in after a few rides. Once it does, it conforms better to your buttock and perineal area, and it “disappears” from under you as you ride – which is how shorts and saddles should be. It stays that way for quite a long time, too. Decathlon and B’Twin are conservative with the two-hour rating; it can stay comfy for quite a bit more riding. My recommendation, then, is to break in fresh pairs of these B’Twin bib shorts on the turbo trainer for a few sessions to improve their comfort, before taking them out on a significantly long ride.

Pearl Izumi’s US- (left) and Japan-/Philippine-market (right) shorts both have chamois pads that work better straight out of the box.

Aside from the pad needing some work, there are a couple other areas where the shorts feel their price somewhat. That white B’Twin logo on the thigh is reflective, but it peels off a little too quickly, negating the benefit. That “double layer” construction of the shorts may also need some getting used to, as the top layer tends to snag on my saddles’ noses when getting in and out of the saddle. This can be adjusted to, but seeing as I had no such problems with Pearl Izumi’s single-layered shorts, I wonder if there’s actual benefit to the two-layer fabric.

VERDICT

So B’Twin’s 500-series bib shorts aren’t perfect. At that PhP1,100 price though, the relatively minor flaws are forgivable, and can be overcome by wearing them in.

The inside of the cuff reveals no elastic or silicone used to keep them in place on your thighs – it’s just the same spandex of the shorts. The material is such that you don’t really need it.

In my opinion, they get most of the important things right, and they make for quite a decent “graduation” from waist shorts to bib shorts. They don’t offer the best comfort out of the box (break them in for best results), nor are they the best in absolute comfort, so the price premium of big-name brands such as Pearl Izumi, Castelli, or Rapha still has justification. If you’re looking to expand your cycling wardrobe quickly and on the cheap, though, B’Twin has something good here…provided Decathlon actually has them in stock.