Aerotech Designs Top Shelf Bib Shorts Review

Back in September 2013 I was amping up for a How-Many-Miles-Can-You-Cover-In-12-Hours ride (I did 145 miles on my first go at it, by the way). Leading up to the big event, I was noticing that the two pairs of bibs that I owned were becoming less and less comfortable.

My two bibs were a pair of Specialized RBX bibs and a pair of Twin Six standard bibs. Both had served my admirably over the last 2 years but it was obvious the pad in each was starting to get worn out.

The Specialized shorts had never really provide the leg compression that I wanted and both shorts were more than $100 when you factored in shipping. Now, $100 is really not that much money for a good pair of bib shorts. You can spend $250 for a pair of Rapha bibs and I’ve heard that Assos has a pair of bibs that go for something like $450. I don’t want to say that the Rapha or Assos bibs are not fabulously comfortable but there is no way on this earth I can justify that kind of coin for bike clothing. If you give me a pair, I’ll give ’em a go but otherwise it just ain’t gonna happen.

So what’s a guy to do? New bibs were needed but I wanted to spend as little money as possible. Often in this world, you get what you pay for. Maybe I should just spend the $100-$150 to get a decent pair. It really doesn’t sound that unreasonable.

But what if you could get a good pair for $60? If you look in the back of most bike magazines, you will likely see an ad for Aerotech Designs. They advertise low cost, high quality, made in the USA bike clothing. There is a lot of good attributes there.

Not expensive? Always good. Made in the USA? You gotta support that. High quality? That’s what we all want (assuming their definition of “High Quality” matches your definition of “High Quality”).

They have a pair of bib shorts they call their Top Shelf Bib Shorts. It would be nice if you could give a pair of bibs a test ride before you bought them but that is impractical and kind of icky, if you think about it.

I ordered up the Top Shelf Bibs in all black in a size large (I’m 5′ 10″ and about 195 lbs). They were definitely on the snug side but not too snug. I might go with an XL if I get another pair. The straps seem reasonably well placed to not cause any undue nipple chaffage (EWW!). The pad felt a little bulky when standing in them but felt fine once I was on the saddle. One thing you will notice from the website is that there is no fancy detailing to these bibs. There is no weird, funky looking panels with oddly noticeable stitching. They are very plain jane. For $60, I can take plain jane.

A brief pause to highlight a few points for comparison:

  • As I said above, I’m 5′ 10″ and about 195 lbs (not skinny!)
  • I ride a decent steel-framed road bike on a classic Brooks B-17 saddle with 23 mm tires (I’ve since switched to 38 mm tires)
  • My rides are all on roads, 95% paved.
  • I don’t ride in the drops much. My hands are typically on the brake hoods, the ramps or near the stem

My first ride was a planned 6 hour training ride. This was an entirely flat ride (no hills to spontaneously get me out of the saddle). As I normally do, I used plenty of Chamois Butt’r on the undercarriage before putting the bibs on.

I managed to cover 81 miles in those 6 hours. I had no issues with sore spots or chaffage of any kind. Was my butt a little sore during the ride? Well, yeah but not to any great degree and certainly no more than with my other pairs of bibs. I thought it was a pretty good first go for these bibs.

My next ride was, I kid you not, a 12 hour fundraising ride that covered 145 miles. Once again, I used Chamois Butt’r (on 2 occasions, instead of one). As part of my planning for the ride, I brought along my other 2 pairs of bibs to change into if I needed them. I never did. The Top Shelf Cycling Bibs performed admirably consider the number of hours I was in the saddle and my not-exactly-svelte size.

There was a little chaffage that developed but it never stopped me or made me change the way I was riding. It completely cleared up within 36 hours of finishing the ride. If I had to do 12 hours today, I would definitely reach for these bibs again.

When you look at the reviews on the Aerotech Designs website, you will see several customers comment on the pad holding onto moisture during hot weather rides. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on that. All the riding I have done has been cool to cold weather riding where it wasn’t really and issue. Starting next summer, I’ll be able to comment on that particular issue, if there is an issue.

So to summarize the important points…

  • Comfort – they were at least as comfortable as the Specialized and Twin Six bibs
  • Cost – you can’t beat $60
  • Quality – I could not spot any quality issues out of the box
  • Durability – no issues yet, but I really haven’t put that many miles on them
  • Style – pretty plain, but for $60 who really cares?

Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag Review

I purchased a Dill Pickle Gear handlebar bag in September of this year. Below are a few tidbits about Dill Pickle Gear and about myself as a rider, followed by my thoughts on the bag itself.

Dill Pickle Gear

All of their products are handmade in Massachusetts by Emily O’Brien (I think that is the right name). She offers several different sizes of saddlebags, the handlebar bag, mud flaps, a tool holder, and a U-lock holder. Everything is custom made (she does have a few pre-made items available). You can chose from multiple different colors and multiple different add-ons. The website has a really nice feature where you can instantly see what the final product will look like. Flipping back and forth between different color variations is quite nice because these bags are not cheap. Get it right the first time. I did have to e-mail Emily several times to ask questions (mostly because I am a moron) and she replied quickly and graciously.

Mike the Bike PT as a rider

Despite how much I love riding, my yearly mileage would best be described as moderate. For several years I was able to cover 2,400 miles/year. Last year was about 1,800 miles (darn third child) and this year will be closer to 2,100-2,200. My favorite type of ride is 100+ miles. I have now done about 10 rides of that distance over the last 5-6 years. None of these have been a brevet or other official rando event, not because I am not interested but purely because there are none that are close to me. My longest single day was 146 miles. My pace would best be described as “spirited”. No one would describe me as moving along casually, but neither is each ride a hammerfest. This handlebar bag was my first one. I have nothing else to compare this bag to.

Why I bought it

Many of the blogs, magazines and websites I frequent talk about how a handlebar bag is so wonderful for carrying essential items on long, self-supported bike rides (the kind I like to do). What had turned me off to the idea was that most traditional handlebar bags require a rack to support them. Would I even be able to install a rack on my bike? Also, when you add up the cost of the rack, the bag and other mounting hardware, it starts to be a pretty penny. The Dill Pickle handlebar bag does not require any special mounting hardware, is cheaper than the rack/bag/mounting hardware combo and is actually lighter overall.

Initial Impressions

Sorry for the less than professional photos
You can see there is plenty of space for hands/brifters

After ordering my bag, it took about 5-6 weeks before it arrived. Remember, each one is made-to-order. When it arrived, I eagerly dived into it to see what it was like. Light is an apt descriptor. I did not weigh it but the bag could not be more than about a pound. As I looked it over, one thing that struck me was that I could not see any loose threads, any missed stitches, are any noticeable imperfections. You could see that it was made by hand because some of the stitching was not perfectly straight, but not in a low quality sort of way. The colors (emerald green and grey) were a good match to what I was expecting from what I saw on the website.

Installation

Don’t worry, it doesn’t sit this wonky once properly set up

I do not need to go into the details here, but installation is pretty straight forward. It uses a series of straps and velcro closures. I did have some difficulties figuring it out but that is mostly because I am kind of dumb. When I asked Emily about why I was having so much trouble, her answers left me with a facepalm moment. Believe me folks, it ain’t that hard, unless you’re me. Once you knew how to use the straps, you could probably move it from one bike to another in about 2-3 minutes.

Steering/Handling

One thing I had read about handlebar bags is that they can affect steering, making the front end more unstable than it normally would be. With the handlebar bag on, there was no difference that I could tell. My bike felt exactly the same. Do you want to know what the geometric trail is on my bike? If I knew, I would be happy to tell you. I once tried to figure it out but I did not really trust the numbers that I got. As a reminder, this is my first handlebar bag so I do not have anything to compare to.

Utility, i.e. how well does it work?

Top flap flips completely open. The inner skirt is meant to keep stuff from flying out.

Once it was set up properly, the bag is quite easy to use. The side mesh pockets are loose enough to get your hand in but not so loose as to have stuff fall out. The top flap opens fully without any difficulty. Once fully open, the wind will not accidentally close it. The magnetic closures that hold the top flap shut click into place without much fussing. Even if the magnetic closures do not catch, the flap seems to want to stay shut. The unique shape left plenty of room for my hands to rest on the top of the bars without hitting the bag. The only minor annoyance I can bring up is that my Garmin 500 is not quite able to sit at an angle I like because of the placement of the bag. I would move the Garmin to my stem but a 70mm stem does not work well with the garmin mount. Oh well.

Waterproofness

Despite having done only two good rides with the handlebar bag, its waterproofness was amply tested. The first ride was drizzly for about 75% of the 64 miles. No water inside. On the second ride, it rained for a least 2/3 of a 130 mile ride. At times it was such a downpour that we achieved terminal wetness (the point at which you cannot be any more wet than you already are without diving in a lake). Once again, no water inside the handlebar bag. Not a drop. When you look over some of the design details of the bag, it is easy to see why. It is obvious that this is a product designed and created by someone who has been there, done that.

How much did it hold?

During my 130 mile ride the bag held:

  • 8 gels in the two side mesh pockets

In the main compartment:

  • a rain jacket
  • arm warmers
  • extra liner gloves
  • 4 nutella & jelly sandwiches
  • a spare tube
  • my phone
  • sunglasses
  • a few other small, miscellaneous objects

The top flap was snug but it did close. My multi-tool, tire levers and an additional spare tube were in my saddlebag.

Am I satisfied?

Very. Before shipping, my bag was $170. It is easy to use, can be moved from bike to bike, is waterproof, looks good, can hold a good amount of stuff, and seems to be very solidly made. Well worth the price. If I had a need for another one of her products, I would not hesitate to make a purchase.

Overall

If you are interested in a handlebar bag but are put off by either the high cost of the traditional type or do not think your bike will accept a rack, give Dill Pickle Gear your consideration. Even though her products are not cheap, they still rate as a very good value on the dollar.

I switched from Blogger to WordPress (not that anyone will notice)

So, I have been posting stuff on Blogger for several years.  Not to many posts and not too much of a following.  In fact, no following would be the most realistic description.  Getting noticed had never been my goal but if someone wanted to read what I have to say, I was hoping they would be able to do it unhindered.

Recently, I did a post on my new All City Space Horse.  It seemed to be getting some traffic.  When I went to look at the post, I noticed that this goofy pop-up add thingy would come up every time.  No matter what I clicked on (the red X, the cancel, the OK), I would get pulled to a seperate page about generating add revenue.

I tried this on several different computers and got the same thing each time.  My only conclusion was that anyone else trying to read my post was also getting this annoying pop-up which makes it impossible to actually read the post.

Well, that is no good.  Stupid, in fact.

So, I’m switching over to Word Press.  Is it better?  Not sure, but I will find out.

All City Space Horse – The One Bike to Rule Them All?

Brief Warning: This is going to be a long post. You have been warned.

This Christmas (2014), I was given permission by my lovely, intelligent, wise, caring, sexy, and all-together-awesome wife to go ahead and buy a new bike frame. I, like almost every other cyclist, am constantly on the lookout for The Next Bike.

My fancies had bounced back and forth between a multitude of different bikes/frames over the last several years. One day it is a Rivendell Sam Hillbourne. The next, I was convinced I should buckle down and save until I could afford an A. Homer Hilsen. Then, lo and behold, the Surly Pacer sounded great. Oh wait! What about the Soma ES? No, no, no. The Soma Double Cross is the one! Each week had a new love.

The only thing that had kept me from pulling the trigger on any of these was money. I didn’t have any, or to be more specific, I didn’t have enough.

After a little bit of scrimping and saving, a few gifts and a nice break on price, I bought a 58 cm All-City Space Horse frame & fork (of the 2013 variety, I believe). Why the Space Horse? Good question.

Stock Photo from Allcitycycles.com – mine is a light blue but otherwise identical

As you might be able to surmise from the list above, I was not looking for a light-weight, carbon racer. The mythical One Bike to Rule Them All was more of the goal. Some of my criteria was:

  • It needed to be comfortable and reliable for long distance rides.
  • It did not need to make me faster but it certainly should not make me slower.
  • A frame that was mechanically compatible with my current componentry was preferable (I didn’t want a frame that would require a different seatpost, stem and wheels)

Also, it needed to do several things that my old bike, Gimli, could not:

  • It needed to fit fenders without having razor thin clearances
  • It need to allow me to bring my handlebars up just a little closer and a little higher
  • It needed to allow tires wider than 28 mm with fenders installed

The Space Horse had long been on my radar. When it was originally released, it was offered as a complete bike only. There was really nothing wrong with the complete bike build. Good, solid bits and pieces all around, but I had collected some odds and ends over the years that I had come to like. One of my goals was to be able to slide things from the Gimli to the new guy. This, of course, saves money as well.

Well, lo and behold the good folks at All-City did eventually offer the Space Horse as a frame & fork, along with still offering complete builds. Then, lucky me, I happened to see a 58 cm frame on Ebay in the color I like for about $150 less than list price. The gentleman selling it had apparently purchased it, built it up, rode it for 100 miles or less and then tore it down and was selling it. Why was he selling it? No idea, but it was great for me.

The New Guy

The frame and fork that arrived was in immaculate condtion. The only signs that it wasn’t brand-spanking new were some scuff marks at the dropouts. No big deal there. As I looked over my new frame, I noticed that all of the welds and bends and little details looked…just fine. Nothing sloppy. Was it NAHBS quality? No, but who has the coin for that? The paint was well done and in a color I liked. The head badge has a nicely understated, classic look to it.

Are these types of things really that important? They don’t affect performance, I would imagine. But, whether we like to admit it or not, aesthetics do matter. Every time I look at the new guy, it gives me a little burst of joy. There is something to be said for that.

Naming

Bikes deserve names, in my opinion. That’s how I feel about it, so there you go. The Space Horse was replacing Gimli the Road Bike. What would be fitting for the new guy? How about Thorondor the All-Road Bike! One bike named after a dwarf and the next named after the King of Eagles. That seems like an appropriate progression.

The Build Up

The full build up

I could go into the ups & downs & ins & outs of building up Thorondor but that mostly involves me messing things up, needing help and fiddling around for 4 months before everything was finally all set and the way it should be. The basics are as follows:

  • Cranks – Velo Orange 48/34
  • Pedals – Grip Kings from Rivendell
  • FD – Ultegra double
  • RD – Shimano Altus – has the capacity to handle a…
  • 11-32 Cassette – SRAM
  • Chain – whatever, it’s just a chain
  • Bottom Bracket – not really sure. Whatever they had at Freewheeler
  • Wheels – Cole Rollen front and Velocity A23 OC rear
  • Tires – 38 mm Barlow Pass from Compass Cycles
  • Fenders – silver SKS Longboards – 45 mm
  • Shifters – Rivendell Silver Shifters – set up as bar ends
  • Brakes – Origin 8 Cantilevers (medium profile)
  • Brake Levers – some basic ones from SRAM
  • Headset – Origin 8
  • Handlebars – 46 cm Velo Orange Grand Randoneuur (I’m never sure if that is spelled right)
  • Stem – 70 mm Velo Orange
  • Seatpost – Velo Orange Grand Cru
  • Saddle – Brooks B-17 with a waterproof cover
  • Handlebar Tape – cloth, Newbaum’s I think, in a nice grey
  • Handlebar Bag – Dill Pickle Handlebar Bag

Nifty head badge (ignore the kids bike in the background)

The Fit

My first rides on Thorondor were on the indoor trainer. A trainer is not how I like to ride but in the deep, dark Michigan winters you do what ya gotta do.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the fit of my bikes have always felt different when I have been on my trainer vs. out on the road. I have no good explanation as to why, but that is the way it is.

Over the first 2 months, I moved my handlebars up and down several times because, well, I could. On Gimli, I had been topped out on the fork. The handlebars couldn’t go any higher and they couldn’t come any closer. Thorondor came with a fork with a ginormously long steerer tube, giving me plenty of room to work with. It also helps that the stack measurement was a little higher and the reach measurement was a little shorter.

When it finally came time to ride outside, I hopped on, started pedaling and within 100 yards I thought to myself,

“Holy Cow! These handlebars are up high!”

This was a completely new sensation for me. Is this a beach cruiser or a road bike? Afterwards, the handlebars got lowered about 1.5 cm and I have been riding around with them this way since early March. My intention is to continue to fiddle around with this for a full year before I decide where the steerer tube needs to be cut. Once cut, there will likely be 1 cm left on top to give me some wiggle room for longer rides.

On a side note, even though my handlebars felt ridiculously high on that first ride, I was really quite comfortable. Everything was easy to see. There was very little strain on my upper body. I was probably catching wind like a sail, but I may have to take this into consideration for the future. Maybe Grant Petersen is on to something.

The Ride

This is where I, admittedly, feel rather silly commenting. My experience is so limited on different types of bikes and frame materials. For instance, I have never ridden a carbon fiber frame. There, I said it. No apologies either.

With that said, on the first several outdoor rides, the only difference between Gimli and Thorondor was the frame, the fork, the bottom bracket and the brakes. Everything else had been carried over from Gimli to Thorondor. Thorondor certainly did not feel harsher, twitchier or slower.

My perception is that the ride is smoother on Thorondor but I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Placebo and expectation are powerful forces.

Thorondor corners well. Please keep in mind that aggressive is not a term used to describe my descending and cornering. There are several corners on routes I commonly do that I can take at a good rate of speed and come out of them right where I wanted to be.

Does Thorondor climb as well? Not sure, to be honest. It is still pretty early in the year and there is a lot of training and riding to do before I can answer that question with any real confidence. On my very first outdoor ride, I thought it climbed like a dream, but there was a lot of excitement and expectation there so you have to take that with not so much a grain of salt as with a full salt shaker.

The handlebar bag is really quite useful

On a side note

While getting Thorondor built up and fitted out, I ran into issues with either my rear wheel or one of the 38 mm Barlow Pass tires from Compass Cycles. I won’t go into the details because I’m still not sure which one had the problem but during the process I removed the Barlow Pass and reinstalled the 28 mm Ruffy Tuffy from Rivendell. I could actually tell a difference between the two. A big question I had was would I actually be able to tell a difference between a 28 and a 38 mm tire? Everything I read said that I would but how do you really know until you try it yourself?

There was certainly a noticeable difference in the ‘bumpiness’ along some some of the mangled roads in my area. I was truly surprised. Initially, I would have told you that there was a difference going from 28 to 38 but I would have said it was a marginal difference. Let’s upgrade that assessment to a moderate difference. That seems fair.

The True Test

Based on my first several rides with Thorondor, I am certain he will turn out to be a good, trustworthy steed. That said, the real tests remain.

So far I have done 50 miles as my longest ride. Thorondor is really intended for rides that are much longer than that. Some questions that still need answering are:

  • How will I feel both during and after a century ride? Something like the Colorburst would be a good example.
  • How will I feel both during and after a multi-day tour? DALMAC is coming at the end of August, so I will answer this question.
  • How will rides on unpaved roads go? Let’s not call it gravel-grinding, OK?
  • How well will it ride in a more competitive environment, such as the MSU Gran Fondo?
  • How well will it handle long, lonely, rambling journeys?

The wonderful thing is, I will eventually answer all of these questions and have an absolutely wonderful time doing it. This could be a long and beautiful friendship.