Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winter Cycling and Cold Hands - Part 2

(continued from Part 1)

So when last we left I had been through many of the cheaper options out there to try and keep my fingers from becoming iced up while riding to work, or mountain bike riding at night during the colder months.  So I now began to search for a glove that made its own heat .

At first I found a few options, though most seemed bulky and they were not inexpensive. I did find one cheapish pair of gloves, but they operated on 2 D cell batteries. Yikes! That would end up being rather pricey. And the reviews seemed to indicate that they really only produced heat in the palms of your hands, which is not what I wanted anyway. In fact many of the heated glove options I did see were similar. They really just heated your palms and it was hoped the heat would spread out.

I finally did find a site that was based around motorcyclists or ski dooers. They looked like standard winter gloves but had a decent heating element in them. At least that is what they claimed. And the price seemed okay at $100 a pair give or take. But see what I didn't notice until I read deeper was that they ran off the battery of the motorcycle. Hmmm, that was no good. You could buy a battery  kit and harness for them, but that would kick the price up significantly. And they had no user reviews. I mean I assume they probably worked, but they weren't designed for cyclists and that likely meant they were bulky. Also ordering these would mean ordering from the States and hoping they would get here some time this winter, but also realizing that the cost would be increased that much more, especially if they got hit with customs. Also dealing with a third party retailer in a  foreign country, even the USA, is annoying most times.

So my search on the good old Google went deeper. And that is when I found a nice little company in Calgary called Power in Motion . Now what first drew me to this company was that they are a electric bicycle company. So at least we were started on the right foot here, people that new what cycling was all about. Also they were located in Calgary, which frankly get really cold in the winter. And the gloves were designed in house. All good things in my mind.

A quick email to the company got me into a nice chat with Ken, one of the company founders. They didn't have an outlet for their products any further east than Ottawa. But Ken's partner John was more than willing to sell me a pair of gloves and ship them off.

Now these gloves aren't super cheap or anything. The gloves alone cost $99 and then the wiring harness and battery cost another $60. But what I would get for that price was pretty decent and dealing with a Canadian company also seemed like a good thing.

These are glove liners with a gauntlet style wrist. You get 2 options for hooking up the battery. The least expensive option (which I started with) is a single 12v lithium ion battery that you can put in a back pocket or breast pocket inside your coat, from this a wire goes down each sleeve and attaches to the glove. It is really simple and quite comfortable. The gloves have a switch on the wrist that allows you to toggle through three heat modes: 50C, 40C, and 30C. And all the heat  comes from carbon fiber heating elements, which are strong and flexible, so you can't really tell they are there. The elements run along you the fingers and across the knuckles, so the warmth goes were it needs to. Oh and they are hand washable, always a nice thing.

So this is the glove on. It is a spandex material, so it fits tight, and it needs to. You get the best heat when it is direct contact with your skin. This also allows you to rather easily slip another glove on top of it. This is of course essential to block the wind and water. But it also means you can get away with a  much lighter glove. Oh and notice the thumb and forefinger? They allow you to use touch screen devices like phones.

That is the whole setup. 2 gloves, batteries (I now have 2) and the wire to attach it up if you only have 1 battery. While the battery has a slight bit of bulk to it, it really isn't an issue with riding. It is under your wrist and you still have total freedom of movement. But if it is too bulky, the wired system works just fine.

I have been testing this system for a couple of week now and I am impressed so far. Though temps haven't been super cold since I go them, I have gone riding on days were it is easily colder than -10C with the wind chill. These days usually don't leave me as a happy handed cyclist.

As a test I have also been riding with only 1 glove activated but with the other glove in place, to see what difference the heating element actually makes. And I have finished my rides with one warm hand and one cold hand.  They are really great. And since they are glove liners, they should have a decent life span to them. My journey now is to find a better light weight over glove to wear with them. My current gloves are, frankly, a bit bulky. Ideally I will find something like a heavy water resistant nylon glove.

So how is the battery life in these things? Perfect for a commute. A single battery system can easily get 1.5 hours on max heat. My commute is 45-55 minutes long and it wasn't an issue. And I just throw the charger into my bag and plug them in at work. If you did drain them, it seems to take a bout 3 hours or so to get a full charge back. And when used on a lower setting or used with a 2 battery system, you get hours out them.

Was it worth it price wise? Yup. I figure anything that is a reasonable price and keeps me wanting to cycle as much as possible is a good thing. The cost of 3 tanks of gas in my car, so that is well worth it. And no sitting in traffic!

And I have been chatting with Ken about his upcoming projects. They currently have a 900 lumen light that runs on the same battery system. And you can actually hook the gloves and lights up together. I haven't had a chance to test out the light yet, but I do like the sound of it. And there is the possibility of heated socks in the pipe line as well, oh my!

So if you are like me and want to cycle as much as possible and get dang cold hands when the temp dips below zero, these are a pretty darn good investment.

I'm going to keep testing these (and by testing I mean wearing everyday) and look forward to a cold snap! check out the website for Power in Motion and specifically the heated gloves page . There is a video of the gloves and it is what sold me on exploring things further.

Update Jan 2014: I have written a new blog post about how my gloves are doing one year later (good is the quick answer). You can read it here:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter Cycling and Cold Hands - Part 1

So I ride a lot in the winter. Not that cool and fun, 90 km to a destination type riding or the all out time trial practice stuff, but I do ride a lot. I commute most days to work by bike and it is a 16-17 km ride each way through the heart of Halifax and over the bridge to Dartmouth.

I used to be able to just throw some stuff on in the morning and go, and cold hands and feet be damned. But over the last couple of years, well those cold hands and feet just weren't so much fun anymore.

Feet for me have been fairly easy to deal with. Feet can be bundled up and don't need any real dexterity. Thick wool socks and shoe covers (neoprene work best) were fine for years. But my favorite shoe covers were no longer available once the old ones wore out. So I bought fancy winter cycling boots for like $130 or so and have been very happy (they can go much higher in price than that). Still, when push comes to shove, you can just put on some nice warm hiking boots and be happy as well.

But hands and fingers, oh my. First I started with nice cross country ski gloves. Fine for a bit. Then I got some really great lobster style gloves. Nice, but for me, when the temp gets lower than -4C or so, they just weren't cutting it. My fingers were still getting cold, especially my thumb. So I got big fat gloves, then I got really expensive work gloves made of leather and stuff, then I went to mittens. Mittens were by far the best, but still, my thumb would get really cold when the temps were below -10C.

And I know that many other winter cyclists have told me all sort of stories about their gloves and how this glove works for them etc.... But for me, regular gloves just aren't cutting it anymore. My fingers get cold and stay cold for a long period of time. I mean hours after I am done riding.

Next stop, adding heat. You can buy those little chemical heating pads. They work once for a few hours and give off heat. nice idea, but really, they heat your palm or the back of your hand. And they add up cost wise pretty quick when you ride twice a day at least 4 times a week. So i bought those reusable heating pads.

These things throw a ton of heat and I would shove them in my glove or mitten and off I would go. But sadly, they turn rock hard as they cool down. This means all of a sudden you can't bend your hand anymore, and again, they really only heat everything but your fingers.

Now if my ride was a flat out 17km, I might be able to suck it up and head forth. But I have to stop at every red light and sit there in windy Halifax. And the bridge is always about 10 degrees cooler with the wind it seems. And that is assuming the bridge is open and you don't have to wait for a shuttle to ferry you across.

So after a week of insane below -20C this winter, I said enough was enough. I didn't want to drive to work, but I also hated sitting at work all day with hands that never warmed up. So my search began to find something that would warm my hands as I rode, and that I could reuse easily for the ride home.

Thus began my search for heated gloves.

I'll talk about that search in the next post.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cadence dear Cadence

Okay, so I have been really looking at my run form for the past year. Part of this has been curiosity about running better and part about running more injury free. To this end I started creating a stride that was slightly more compact and more mid to fore foot.

Now I must say that I did not change my shoes in all of this. At least not in the beginning. I started this project in NB 880's with a 12mm drop, went to NB 890v2's with a 8mm drop, then to Merrill Road Access with a 0mm drop, back to the NB 890's and now onto Brooks Ghost2's with a 11mm drop. So yeah, all over the map. What were my findings as per how shoes affect my running? Nothing. I run very similarly in all of those shoes. What I do notice is that I like some cushion, at least at this point in my running career. So for now the Ghost and NB 890's will be my shoes of choice.

So we have all heard about this cadence thing and running. How a proper cadence will turn you into an Olympian over night. Well, maybe not an Olympian, but at least a much better and more natural runner. It certainly has been shown to me that when you take away a runners shoes, they do seem to naturally increase their cadence, so that does seem to indicate that it is a more natural way to run.

Of course up until recently, I never actually bothered checking my cadence out, I just knew that it was certainly fast now and I was getting fewer running related injuries. It wasn't until I went through a  running clinic called RE:201 (Running Economy 201) and was tested that I found out my running cadence was actually fairly high, in the 170's.  Also, other than a little stiffness in my shoulders, my form was pretty good as well. So hurrah for that training I did all last year.

During the testing though, Luke from Aerobics First had me run with a metronome set to 180. As is usually the case with people, I settled in on the metronome's pace and was comfortably running at 180 (or 90 if you only want to count one leg).

Even though my current running form seemed to be suiting me well, I was curious if upping my cadence even more, to a proper 180, would be any better. So I grabbed a MP3 metronome off the web and began to run. And I was running in a slow Zone 2. It felt incredibly weird moving along at a relatively slow 5:30 min km with my feet flying. But eventually it became quite comfortable. Now I am sure that once the MP3 was over and that I kept running my cadence probably changed slightly, but my feet did keep moving and it made me realize that I have been running properly while I run fast, but in no way was I running correctly slowly. And so much of run training is running slowly. So that meant all those long 20+ km runs I had been doing I had been plodding along and getting really sore for no reason. It was the mileage, it was the impact.

See (as I have read) think of it this way. Think how much force your legs and feet would hit with if you were running with a cadence of say 2. Then think how if you covered the same distance in 180 steps how each step would be light and quick. Your body just won't have to go through as severe an impact with each foot fall if your cadence is higher.

Now I have also read plenty about how you just need to let your body find its own cadence and not force it through the use of running aids, and I believe that is true. But I find that by getting into the right mindset during training, ie starting out with a metronome to help, you can will, over time, get into your right rhythm.

Word of caution, you will spike the heart rate and you will find your legs get tired quicker at first. But if you are like me, you will notice that they aren't sore. That after the tired goes away, you feel good.

So I will continue this journey, do some testing on me, and fill you in on my findings as the year goes on. Want to read more about cadence? Just Google it and go to town on the million websites you come across. Find something good to share? Let me know!