Rain protection inside a hot pandesal bun?

One of those things we just have to accept as cyclists is that the weather will not always be on our side. In the Philippines, the onset of rainfall can catch many unaware, especially those that aren’t prepared for it. For a pedestrian commuter, preparation usually consists of an umbrella of some sort. For cyclists, it’s a waterproof outer layer – usually a rain jacket.

Indeed, a rain jacket is a near-permanent fixture on my center jersey pocket on long rides. My particular jacket, though, a Sugoi Zap from 2014, is a bulky item. Rolled up into a cylindrical bundle, it hogs all the center pocket’s space, leaving no room for other items to carry in that location.

As far as waterproofs go, Sugoi’s first hyper-reflective rain jacket was decent. The Pixel fabric incorporated very tiny glass beads for the reflectivity, while taped seams took care of the battle against water ingress, and a mesh inner lining provided insulation. It even has a dropped tail hem to protect your ass from mud if you ride with no fenders.

It has its shortcomings. Breathability is decent, but the only choice you have for venting out your steamed-up sweat is the main zipper. The fit is a little baggy, which is great for riding with street clothes, but adds a bit of drag. I’ve seen the glass beads rub off the fabric, too, after years of living in my center jersey pocket…where its bulk makes its presence felt and seen, as mentioned.

Then I saw Carmela Pearson of Audax Randonneurs Philippines organize a group-buy for the Sportful Hot Pack 5 rain jacket sometime in late 2016. She had had a good experience with it, even riding with it to the Gran Fondo Marmotte in July of that year. I passed on it then, but chanced upon it again a little later, when it went on clearance sale at a discounted price.

FEATURES

  • Advertised weight: 79 grams
  • Made of Schoeller Nanosphere, a windproof, water-resistant polyamide/rayon fabric
  • Reflective accents on the lower back
  • Vented at the back and underarms
  • Packable; comes with its own integrated stuff sack with drawstring

IMPRESSIONS

According to Sportful, this particular jacket is the base model – the “5” refers to the fifth generation of the Hot Pack since it debuted in 2001. Next up the hierarchy is the Ultralight version, which weighs even less at 50 grams, but offers the same benefits. Finally, there is the Hot Pack NoRain Stretch, which keeps the same shape and fit, but adds stretch panels in the back and taped seams for better water resistance – and heaviest of the line at 105 grams. Most of the Hot Pack line is offered in gilet (vest) form, too.

The first thing that struck me with the blue jacket I ordered is just how light and thin it is. It feels around one or two steps removed from flimsy…but remember that this is meant to be an ultra-packable rain jacket, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. The blurb about the Schoeller Nanosphere material is that it’s made up of very fine yarns that are woven very densely, hence the water resistance.

There’s got to be more to it than this initial impression, then.

Putting it on…it’s pretty snug. Mine is an XL sized item, same as the Zap, but the two cannot be more different in practice. Where the Sugoi was baggy, the Hot Pack 5 can almost be called “tailored” to the fit of a rider in a cycling jersey, such is the closeness of its fit to the torso. Naturally it will accentuate any bulges you already have, so getting the sizing right is critical. The material does have a bit of stretch and give, but much less than a typical cycling jersey.

The Hot Pack 5 advertises itself as a windproof, and one useful touch to aid this is found on the ends of the sleeves. They are elasticated and come with thumb loops, to ensure that the sleeves stay in place and do not hike up your arms while riding your road bike. Very neat.

Around the ribcage area below the underarms are overlapping slats cut into the black fabric. These, along with the vents on the back panel, are the Hot Pack 5’s concession to venting the heat and sweat buildup you will inevitably pick up when riding hard in the rain. There’s even a small center pocket, flanked each side by four pieces of reflective material along the lower back. These are placed well for road cyclists’ visibility, as they tend to be bent over the bike.

The real party trick of the Hot Pack 5, though, lies somewhere within the center pocket. Inside is a stuff sack with a drawstring. You can basically roll up the jacket inside this tiny stuff sack…

…and end up with a package as big as a typical “pandesal putok” bun. As it is, mine is just slightly larger than my fist. Rain protection in a package a quarter of the size of the rolled-up Sugoi Zap? Now that is awesome.

I’ve ridden around in this jacket a few times, and it does an admirable job keeping the wind chill out while giving relatively good water resistance. It can actually be rather sweat-inducing if ridden somewhere with no wind. As with many other rain jackets, it’s the arms that tend to wet out first in the rain, but considering that this has no taped seams, it’s quite effective. Your back and torso will stay quite warm and dry even if your forearms have dampened.

VERDICT

Given how light and packable this is, the Hot Pack 5 leaves you absolutely no excuse to not bring a rain jacket and prepare for sudden changes in weather. Again, though, it’s not perfect. Even though Schoeller touts Nanosphere is abrasion-resistant, I do worry about tearing the very thin material in a crash. It’s also not ideal for riding with bulkier street clothes; I think it will accommodate a base layer, a jersey, and arm wamers underneath – at most. It also leaves out some ultimate water resistance on the table by reserving taped seams for the more expensive NoRain version.

So you rode to work…what comes next?

I am a huge proponent of riding to work, whether all the way from home, or in conjunction with another mode of transport – so-called “bimodal” commuting. Once you get to your workplace though, what do you do to transition from sweaty bike commuter to presentable office worker?

I’m going to share my strategy. Obviously, our circumstances may vary, so not everything may work exactly the same way for you, but I bet you can still pick up some tips.

BRING A CHANGE OF CLOTHES

It’s a fair bet most workplaces frown on their employees dressed in sweat-drenched clothing, so at the very least a change of shirt is required.

An old knapsack houses my change of clothing and freshening-up stuff.

I also found out the hard way that trousers or pants are a general no-no for bike commuting. At least for me and my “don’t stop pedaling” style, the action of thighs moving against saddle nose and sides while turning the pedals at 80-90 RPM wears holes through pants very, very quickly from pure friction. It is just not cost-effective except for shorter rides. For this reason, I would much rather ride in baggy shorts or spandex; there is much less material in either garment to get in the way and be subjected to friction, so they last longer. Ultimately, when you wear through the seat of your baggy shorts, it’s cheaper to replace that with a new pair than doing the same with trousers or jeans. Save your trousers and jeans for when you’re actually in the office.

Best to bring spare underwear as well, to avoid your groin and crotch sprouting saddle sores from the moisture and friction of sweaty skin. Petroleum jelly, if needed, is also a good idea.

SECURE A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN FRESHEN UP…AND CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF

The concept of a shower room for cyclists is a pretty strange one for most office spaces, so you will have to make do with what you do have. For me, it’s a cubicle with a toilet and a nearby tap.

Taking a “shower” this way is bound to leave a mess of a wet floor, so I borrow a mop from the janitor’s closet every day to clean up afterwards.

Alternatively, if you don’t have something like this to work with, I’m told baby wipes are a decent way of freshening up. I’m a little iffy about this though, as baby wipes are also notoriously hard to decompose or biodegrade – I try not to use them unnecessarily.

BRING SOAP AND A TOWEL

Cheap, effective, compact, smells inoffensive – what’s not to like?

If the shower option is feasible, I highly suggest bringing a distilled set of bathing gear. I’ve had success with Aquazorb’s microfiber hand towels and Safeguard’s Pure White body wash in the 200 mL bottle because they are as small as I can get away with, while still remaining very effective.

Aquazorb’s microfiber hand towel is small, but very effective.

The Aquazorb microfiber towel in particular is an underappreciated gem, I think. It’s a “hand towel” per se, and it may feel strange against your skin at first, but in practice, it has enough absorptive capacity to put a full-size terrycloth towel to shame. Even in an air-conditioned office, it dries in after around 2-3 hours of being laid flat. When not in use, it rolls up into a little bundle with its own elastic strap. At PhP180 apiece, it’s perhaps the cheapest you can find a good microfiber towel for in Metro Manila. Just don’t wash it with fabric softener.

BRINGING A DRESS SHIRT?

Fortunately for me, my workplace doesn’t require button-down shirts; simple shirts and denim jeans are fine. For guys out there who have to bring a button-down shirt with them to change into at work, one tip from GCN’s Matt Stephens to keep the shirt wrinkle-free is to employ old magazines and sandwich the shirt there…or to make use of the magazine as a shape-giving filler or “spine” for the folded shirt, and put it all in a relatively tight-fitting envelope. I’ve tried this before, and it’s surprisingly effective.

BRING YOUR CLOTHING IN ADVANCE?

Alternatively, instead of bringing clothing every day, you could bundle all the clothes you’d need in a work week and leave them in a locker at your workplace on a weekend. This method may work for some people, or it may not.

 

In a nutshell, that’s how I freshen up after each and every day riding to the office. What’s your post-commute strategy?

Head sweat solutions, part 2: Halo headband

There are a number of solutions to mitigate sweat buildup while riding a bike, and I discussed one such thing, the Sweat GUT’R, earlier.

When I was still an active recreational runner in 2010, I bought my first Halo headband. At first glance, this is arguably less innovative and more traditional compared to the Sweat GUT’R, which is based entirely on a material that never soaks or gets saturated. No matter what form it takes up, either as an elastic headband, an elastic sun visor, or a loose headband you knot over your brow line, the Halo is really just a piece of material that absorbs sweat and has a silicone “Sweat Block Seal” that diverts sweat away from your eyes and face. Halo does say that while its Dryline fabric absorbs sweat, it wicks it away and lets it evaporate quickly.

My first ever cycling helmet of recent times was a Fox Transition hardshell from 2013, a very basic brain bucket not really known for good ventilation. When I paired the Halo headband with this helmet, it got saturated with my sweat in no time.

I lost this original blue elastic Halo headband at some point. In the intervening period, I got helmets with better ventilation, and I later got another Halo headband – this time, a black one that I had to tie around my brow line. Around this time, the shortcomings of the Sweat GUT’R were beginning to make themselves felt.

Revisiting the Halo, I found it worked better for me – especially when paired with a helmet with better air flow, like the Lazer Blade MIPS or the Specialized Centro. The air flow allowed the black Halo to do its job of letting the collected sweat evaporate into the air, instead of getting trapped as it did on the Transition helmet. Eliminating the elastic meant that this particular headband had a much better chance of lasting many more uses with less risk of getting worn out.

Even better, because it’s absorbent, the Halo keeps doing its job regardless of whatever crazy angle you put your head in. It’s not as susceptible to the tearing that the Sweat GUT’R can display, either.

I used my blue elastic Halo headband for the 200 km Audax Randonneurs Philippines brevet on December 5, 2015.

The one real complaint I have with the Halo is it can affect how you wear your helmet on your head. It’s not exactly thin, and it’s got more width to it, practically covering my entire forehead. There’s a very real chance you can end up pushing up the brow line on your helmet too high while attempting to wear the Halo under it.