Review: MAAP Team Bidon

This isn’t just any water bottle, it’s the MAAP Team Bidon. Bidon is just a fancy, European word for bottle. It’s a vessel to carry fluids. That’s all. Why am I reviewing it? Because it’s just slightly better than all other bottles I have ever used. And it comes in pink.

The MAAP Team bottle (I refuse to call it a bidon from here on out) is pretty standard: food approved, recyclable, free of BPA and all phthalates, dishwasher safe. It is made in the Netherlands and only comes in one size – 500mL (or 16.9oz.). I like the small-ish size. I use it on shorter rides, cooler days, or as my secondary bottle in the rear cage. The lid is actually what sets it apart for me. The leak proof spout just seems to work so much smoother than any standard bidon, er, bottle. As soon as a sip is finished, the spout slides in about 50% locked. It’s perfect. It won’t spill that way, and when riding, you don’t have to worry about closing it. How nice is that?

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Now I know this auto-lock feature is pretty trivial and you are probably still wondering why anyone would even bother reviewing it. Well because it sets itself apart! When a water bottle works this smoothly and encourages me to write a review, that is saying something. Also, as previously mentioned, it comes in pink.  Come on, guys. Get the pink bottle.

 

** MAAP also makes some seriously high-quality cycling apparel.  It’s all a bit pricey – and then you have to pay shipping from Australia.  But MAAP socks are some of the best around.  They are a lot like my favorite brand Swiftwick with a bit more style.  So if you can swallow the shipping cost ($21), I think you will be happy with your MAAP stuff. G’day.

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Book Review: Living With A Seal

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Living With A Seal is an incredible book.  The book is about Jesse Itzler – a guy who has worked his entire life building companies (and selling them).  He married Sara Blakeley, founder of Spanx.  Jesse runs marathons and ultras for fun.  After his running hobby plateaus and he feels bored with it, he decides to hire a Navy Seal to live with him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for one month.  The only rule during this period is that Jesse must do whatever “SEAL” tells him to do.  There are plenty of midnight runs, jumping in frozen lakes, and the like, but the most entertaining part is Jesse and SEAL’s reactions toward each other.I was thoroughly entertained throughout the read.  Jesse Itzler expresses his feelings and experiences in a way that communicates with the average working athlete.  The book is not a literary masterpiece. It reads more like a diary than a polished biography or memoir.

I found myself laughing out loud at Jesse and SEAL’s interactions. Jesse is kind of a crazy dude that isn’t afraid to speak up; and SEAL is, well, a Navy Seal. The relationship between them is interesting and deeply entertaining. It’s an easy read and I would guess most people will be able to finish it in less than two weeks. I would have probably finished it in a week, though I was travelling for business, so most of my time in my hotel room was spent reading. I reluctantly finished the book in less than two days. I wasn’t ready for it to be over.

Without giving away any details, I will say that this book will not motivate you to start training to scale Everest. But it will very likely motivate you to look at your daily life in a slightly different light. Could you cut back on the time you watch sports? Could you possibly aim to do 50 pushups during each commercial break? Maybe you decide to run that first marathon or get back to doing pull-ups everyday. No matter what, the story and the relationships will entertain. I read Living With A Seal on the heels of my own 100 pull-ups everyday for 30 days challenge.  I have started to notice moments throughout my day where I can improve.  I have added pullups and pushups to my morning routine; I realized that 10 pushups every few minutes during dinner prep is easy and adds up quickly.  The book will open your eyes and make you laugh.  Just be sure to knock out a few reps of something when you’re done laughing.

Shoe Review: La Sportiva Helios

We reached the top of Green Mountain, overlooking Boulder, Colorado, and the combination of sunshine through fluffy, white clouds and the pre-Fall colors in the trees surrounding us was stunning.  We scrambled up a rock garden and perched ourselves at the highest point we could find.  We were surrounded by views of Boulder and lakes that were miles and miles away; the sky seemed endless; it was beautiful.  I pulled my phone out of my pack and took a picture of my shoes.  That may seem strange to most, but a lot of runners are obsessed with shoes.  At least I like to think that this is normal behavior, especially when you find a pair that is a little bit of everything: comfortable, durable, light, fast, grippy, and minimal.  A shoe that is comfortable on soft dirt trails, trudging through mud, slapping pavement, and even scrambling through a rock field.  I had originally purchased the La Sportiva Helios to use in XTERRA triathlons, but they soon became my go-to shoe for almost every running adventure, long or short.

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I have always preferred La Sportiva shoes for trail running.  So when I was looking for an extremely light, fairly minimal trail runner, the Helios seemed to fit the bill – a 4mm drop (minimal enough for me) and 8.1oz on the scale.  Out of the box, I could immediately feel the airy lightness of the Helios.  The upper has a minimal feel which contributes to the feathery weight.  There is plenty of HyDrain Mesh to keep my feet from suffocating – the mesh itself has more of a lighter chainmail feel and is nearly indestructible.  The mesh breathes well enough to run sockless if that is what you like.  I have never ended a run with hot spots or blisters, and I have never felt that my feet were too hot.

The FriXion AT/VA Wave sole looks like it should be heavy and stiff, but it is nearly weightless and actually conforms and bends superbly.  This translates to excellent traction control on the trail.  I was afraid the softer sole would lend itself to too much trail feel (rocks, roots, etc.), but it actually absorbs a surprising amount of shock.  Compared to many trail runners that are too absorbing (and in my opinion, don’t allow enough trail feel), the Helios are nearly perfect.  They allow you to feel the trail enough without beating up your feet on fast descents or hard efforts.  There is only one location on the sole that is susceptible to pain if you land on a rock just right.  I have only experienced this a handful of times, and it is not bad enough to bruise, just enough to remind you that you are not running on a cloud.

The Helios excel on any and all surfaces thanks to the FriXion Wave sole.  Not only are they comfortable on everything from the road to dirt to snow, but they grip extremely well.  They feel most at home on dirt trails and rock roads, but you can pretty much take them anywhere and forget you’re wearing shoes in the first place.  The Helios can handle snowy runs without a problem, but the soft, mushy, melting snow proves a little harder to find traction when running up or downhill. Mud, on the other hand, is not a problem.

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If you are looking for a light, minimal trail running shoe that can pretty much do it all, the La Sportiva Helios is what you need.  In most climates, this shoe can be your year-round trail kicker.  If, however, you tend to run in a lot of snow, you may want to look at a slightly beefier, grippier trail runner.  For most though, the Helios is going to do the job quite well.  You may even find yourself taking pictures of your shoes instead of the scenery around you.

 

5-Year Review: Jockey Sport Mesh Boxer Briefs

There are things that guys just don’t talk about – feelings, emotions, vegetables, and underwear. I have never in my life heard a guy say, “Bro, you gotta feel these underwear. They are amazing.”  But I’m here to change that.  Let us start with some basic math: If you shower once every day and take a shower of average length for men (10 minutes) – that leaves 1430 minutes of each day that you are wearing underwear. In other words, you spend 99.3% of each day in a pair. Why do most guys settle for plain, old tighty whiteys? Why are we okay with a Costco 10-pack of cotton, scratchy underwear? We shouldn’t be. It’s time to talk about this. You need to know that there are better things out there – and those better things are well worth talking about.

Years and years ago I needed some new underwear.  I saw an ad for something Jockey was calling Sport Mesh.  I ordered a couple of them – and once I put them on, I immediately knew that I would wear them forever (or at least as long as they would last).  That was five years ago.  I still have all of those original pairs, and they are still in amazing condition!  I haven’t thrown any out because of holes – a common problem in dude’s under-britches.  For $16 each, I can see how my wife made fun of me for paying a ‘premium’ price for a pair.  But they have lasted forever and are still perfectly soft and comfortable.  I have added several pairs to the mix so I never have to live through a day without having a pampered ass for 1430 minutes.

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If you plan to run, hike, bike, sweat, and move – the Sport Mesh underwear amaze in that arena too.  Thanks to the mesh panels, they breathe very well.  If you swim in them, they will dry by the time you get back to your suitcase to change.  If you run or bike in the winter, they excel at blocking cold wind and keeping your ‘junk’ warm; no need to buy specialized cycling underwear to keep yourself warm (and safe) in the winter.  They truly do it all.

Okay okay, I know you are rolling your eyes by now.  We aren’t talking about Formula E race car technology; we’re talking about underwear.  But when you spend almost your entire life wearing underwear, it is pretty important to be comfortable in them.  If you want to feel like you’re living your life inside of a silk cloud everyday – bro, you gotta get a pair of these.  They are amazing.

Review: Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket

Another freezing cold 5AM Saturday training run.  We push through the quiet winter morning at a brisk pace, running past dark houses on our way to the country roads where we will log 20 miles.  Not much on our minds other than getting this run over with.  The snow starts to come down heavily and I laugh out loud as my wife curses at the frigid, swirling air.  Thankfully I am wearing my Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket.  It has kept me comfortable and warm outside every fall, winter, and spring whether on a run, a long ride, or just sitting around a campfire.  I’m a junkie for a nice jacket.  For this reason, it is almost a miracle that I have owned and used one single jacket for over five years for all of my cool weather running, cycling, and hiking.  The Patagonia Nine Trails Jacket has been my go-to even though there are dozens of attractive offerings from other companies like Salomon, The North Face, and Mountain Hardwear.  The Nine Trails just will not stop impressing me.

Running Lowell Point Trail, Alaska

Running Lowell Point Trail, Alaska

The Nine Trails jacket is treated with a Deluge Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which is just fancy tech talk that means ‘water repellent.’  The jacket will easily repel light rain but will not keep you dry in heavy rain.  I have been caught in plenty of downpours to understand this – but I have also been kept dry in a lot of light rain and snowfall.  A full on rain jacket would be much heavier, so I appreciate the ultra light weight of the jacket.  The triple-ripstop nylon helps the jacket pack down to about the size of my fist.  I love being able to start a run with the jacket on and if I get too warm, shed the layer into my pack or just carry it in my hand.  The versatility of a lightweight jacket can hardly be beat.

The most important part of a jacket though is its warmth.  The Nine Trails does not disappoint.  I use this jacket comfortably all through the winter.  Paired with a lightweight baselayer, the jacket is comfortable down to about 20ºF.  Paired with a midweight baselayer, it is comfortable down into the single digits.  The wind resistance of the triple-ripstop nylon material is superb.  Even on those windy 15ºF Indiana mornings, a nice baselayer and the Nine Trails jacket is all I need to get outside (plus the right amount of motivation).  You sacrifice a small amount of breathability for the wind blocking capability.  The jacket breathes enough so most of your sweat can evaporate through the material, but if you miscalculate how much you are going to sweat, you will pay for it with a moisture spot or two – I notice it most in the folds on the inside of my arms.

As for the style of the jacket, I think it is on par with most other running jackets out there.  You won’t want to wear it to your buddy’s outdoor wedding, but it fits in well if you are grabbing a post-run meal or meeting someone after a quick ride.  I will confess that I often wear it at work, because my office is almost always cold – and I always have the jacket stuffed in my run bag.  It looks good enough with a pair of khakis or jeans to wear around the office and it doesn’t scream, “Hey I’m a runner – look at my multi-colored jacket!”

The price comes in at a reasonable $99.  For a lightweight, breathable running jacket, this is very competitive pricing.  If you keep an eye on Patagonia’s website or other gear sites, you can pick the jacket up on sale for as low $60.  Considering I have abused mine with years of cycling and running (often with a hydration pack or hiking backpack), and it still looks like new – this jacket is a downright bargain!

Pros:

  • Extremely warm
  • Water resistant (not waterproof)
  • Durability – after years of abuse, still no sign of wear (not even on the shoulders, where packs rub the most)
  • Longevity – I want to buy a new jacket; I love jackets!  But there is nothing wrong with this one yet!
  • Lightweight and packable
  • Relatively low price

Cons

  • Useless velcro shoulder pocket – it will hold a key or a gel, if needed, but the location at the shoulder causes too much movement
  • Noisy when cycling (sounds like parachuting out of a plane with a thousand garbage bags)
  • No hood – although for running and cycling, a hood can be a nuisance and get in the way, some of those winter morning runs would be a good time to block wind off your ears

If you are looking for an extremely lightweight, durable, and long-lasting jacket, the Nine Trails from Patagonia will surely impress you.  This jacket has been an important part of my gear closet for over five years.  Patagonia keeps on improving the original design, so order your’s and it will quickly become your favorite too.

Sliding down a snowy slope at Mt. Marathon, Alaska

Review: ProGold ProLink Chain Lube

Like most endurance athletes, I try out loads of different products.  It is rare to find something that consistently exceeds expectations, but when it happens – that product becomes an absolute staple in my gear arsenal.  One of those products for me is ProGold ProLink Chain Lube.

If you step into a circle of cyclists for a few moments, you are likely to hear a lot of geeked out talk regarding tire pressure, getting aero, tubular vs. tubeless,  intervals, 26er, 29er, 650b, among other topics of obsession.  You probably won’t hear much about cleaning products, bike maintenance schedules, or chain lubes.  If you did, ProGold products would come up often.  ProLink chain lube is a thin-bodied lubricant – it works to clean mud, dirt, and debris from your chain.  I apply ProLink after every 100 miles of riding or every time I wash my bike(s) or after a rainy ride.  ProLink also prevents corrosion and repels moisture.

During the 2014 Death March, the trails and gravel roads of the Deam Wilderness and Hoosier National Forest were muddy and cold and wet and nasty.  Most of the day involved spinning through muddy and icy gravel while navigating to various checkpoints.  About 24 miles into the day, both my partner Sam and my bike’s drivetrains were caked with mud and making a lot of noise.  We could both feel the extra resistance and Sam commented that his bike sounded ‘like a Sherman Tank.’  At the Elkinsville cemetery, we took a few moments to grab some food and Sam pulled out a small bottle of ProGold ProLink Chain Lube.  We cleaned off as much mud as we could and wetted both of our chains with ProGold.  A few moments later, we were headed to the next checkpoint, drivetrains humming along as quietly as when the day started.  ProGold works!

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Like most of ProGold’s products, this chain lubricant works exceptionally well, is long-lasting, and can always be found on my shelf of bike products.  If you are looking for one chain lubricant to rule them all, ProGold is all you need.  Try it once, and you will be a life-long user.

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Review: Pandana Headwear

I am always looking for a good deal on gear, especially team gear for Team Adventures. As I was browsing one of my favorite gear sites gearjunkie.com, I came across this article about Pandana headwear. I have used the popular Buff for years while running, hiking, biking, etc. and loved it. There are probably five or more of the things floating around our house year-round from laundry to gear bag to trail and back to laundry. No matter the season, these lightweight pieces of material come in handy for about every outdoor activity.

What struck me about the Pandana was that the custom orders. The website is a little vague, so I contacted the company to ask about pricing, minimum orders, and shipping. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the minimum order was 25 pieces, there was no tax or shipping, and the individual article price came out to be $8. You read that correctly. $8 per Pandana for a custom order. Within hours, I finished and sent the Team Adventures logo I was working on. Pandana worked with me on colors, design, and layout. A few weeks later, a box was dropped off at my door with 25 custom Pandanas.

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Pandana Head

I expected the performance of the Pandana to be okay. At half the cost of a Buff, I expected to be about half as happy with its comfort and performance. I was very, very wrong. When I pulled the Pandana out of the box and individual packaging (yes, they even individually package custom orders), I couldn’t help but be delighted by the light weight and silky feel. Pandanas are not as thick as Buffs and for me this is a plus. Since I tend to use these year-round, the lighter and thinner feel equals improved sweat-wicking and fast-drying properties.

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Frozen eyelashes and frozen Pandana

I prefer to wear them in colder weather, but they can be worn through the heat of the summer as well.  The Pandana wicks sweat and keeps me cool.  For warmer weather, they perform well as a bandana, a headband, or, soaked in ice cold water, a neck gaiter.  In the cold, I often wear them as a bandana, neck gaiter, or balaclava – on runs, hikes, or comfortably under my bike helmet. Truth be told, if I am going for a post-ride pint, I usually keep it on and it looks just fine as a make-do scarf.  In a pinch, Pandanas could be used to clean a muddy bike chain, dress a wound, or even tied off as a tourniquet – none of these are ideal uses, but in an emergency, it sure would be nice to have.

Pandanas can be purchased through custom orders or individually from the existing Pandana collection. Either way, I can guarantee that you will be happy with the purchase as you get years of use out on the trails. If you are part of a team or are looking for a recreational or corporate item to put in a goody bag (that is actually useful), look no further. Pandanas are a great, if not very simple, gift for anyone who spends time outdoors.

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Review: I/O Bio Merino Wool

When searching for new gear (needed or not), two of the most important factors to me are comfort and versatility.  When it comes to performance apparel, if I can find a piece that is comfortable and tough enough to take years of abuse while always performing like new, I am happy.  In the base layer arena, I/O Bio makes some of the highest-performing, best-looking apparel I have used.

I/O Bio makes performance apparel from 100% Australian merino wool.  I have used three products extensively over the past several years, and they have each performed well beyond my expectations.  I will be talking about the Altitude Lightweight Short Sleeve, Contact Zip Long Sleeve, Contact Glory Zip (with hood).

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Let me start by saying that the numerous advantages of merino wool over virtually every other material out there are expansive.  Aside from being a natural fiber (from merino sheep), renewable, biodegradable, and easy to care for, the ultra soft and comfortable feel is amazing.  Most wool has superb thermal regulation properties but can be itchy against the skin.  Merino wool is extremely soft; it feels like wearing a thousand tiny, fluffy sheep filled with marshmallows – it is by far my most comfortable clothing.  Back to that thermal regulation thing – so doe merino keep you warm?  Yes.  And it also keeps you cool!  Let me explain – I/O’s merino wool has exceptional moisture management properties, wicking sweat away from the skin while keeping a ‘hollow’ property as it allows pockets of air to stay between skin and garment (see what I mean about the marshmallow thing).  What I love about this is the wool will keep you warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is warm outside.  Sound too good to be true?  There’s more…

My favorite merino wool property:  antimicrobial.  This means you can run, bike, ski, hike, drink, climb, surf the web, surf a wave, mow, and then run again without washing your shirt…and you still won’t smell like some dude’s dreadlocks on day four of Bonnaroo.  The odor resistance of merino wool is quite amazing – instead of getting into the science part of it, I will just say that it has something to do with merino’s complex chemical structure and ability to lock molecules within the fiber and other chemically, nerdy stuff.  The easiest way to put it (much to my wife’s chagrin):  I have not washed any of my I/O Bio garments in over a year – and I wear this stuff on almost every ride and run from the first days of fall through the end of spring.  Oh yeah, it is that good.

I/O Bio merino wool is not cheap.  I payed between $60 and $100 for each of the three pieces that I currently own.  But I justify the steep price by knowing that I can throw the Glory Zip on at 4am, hike all day, staying cool at the base of the mountain, warm at the summit, and dry throughout.  Then once the day is almost over, after having climbed up and down a mountain, sweaty, maybe grumpy, thirsty, and definitely hungry – I will head straight to the pub, without changing and without stinking.  With fewer washes, these items will last a long time too.  I have been abusing my three I/O shirts for four years and each looks and feels as it did the day I pulled it out of the box.  I have been thoroughly happy with these versatile pieces and have worn them through mountain and road biking excursions, hiking in the Alps, drinking by the Salzach River in Austria (in the cool fall air), days of trail running, and just lounging around on the couch.  If you are looking for a piece of clothing to get you from the trailhead to the summit to the bar at the end of the day, take a look at I/O Bio Merino.  You won’t regret it.

 

Alpen cows are nice.

My cow friend in the Alps.  He smells like cow.  I smell damn good.

 

Get out.