Monday, December 10, 2012

dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight - a review

This is the second part of my review of some dhb cycling clothing, sent to me to review by the internet bike shop Wiggle. Wiggle selected this blog, and hence me, to be a reviewer of some of their house-brand equipment. For a bit more about dhb, Wiggle and the review process, see my previous post.

Keeping your legs warm whilst cycling in winter I think is harder than your top. Put enough layers on and your legs will stay warm in any weather but you start to feel lots of drag around your knees plus you need to think about not getting the bottom of your right trouser leg stuck in the chain. Starting to ride a cyclocross bike as my everyday bike, I've noticed the clearance between my calf and the chainset is much less - far more like my road bike as opposed to my old commuter hybrid, let alone my mountain bike. So when the weather gets colder, regardless of how silly they look, tights are the answer.

The best bibs I've ever tried for winter riding.
dhb call the Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight their warmest. Having a pad in them, they are obviously designed to be either your only layer, or at least your inner layer if you are tempted to wear something over them. The pad (or "insert" as they call it - perhaps to make it sound a little less like a feminine hygiene product) is very comfy. I first used the Vaeons last month on an overnight bikepacking trip and they were great. Putting on some brand new cycling tights and immediately using them for two days in the saddle in cool, drizzly weather might have been a silly plan, but they worked perfectly - no rubbing or chafing at all. You can read all about the "triple layered" and "3D anatomic construction" of the insert on Wiggle's page if you wish, but I can say I've found them as comfy as any other cycling shorts or tights I've used in that specific department!

"Windslam" sections over knees/thigh
More interesting is the material and construction that make up the Vaeon Zeros, because this is what sets them apart from many other bib tights. dhb have used a windproof material called "Windslam" for the panels on the Vaeons that cover the knees and go up the outside of the thighs (it is the less shiny looking material easily visible in the picture to the right). Despite being some sort of membrane fleece, Windslam doesn't suffer noticeably from either of the old problems that made the first windproof fleeces such disasters: neither stretching nor breathing well. I've not noticed the Windslam panels seeming either more sweaty nor more restrictive that the other sections. My overall impression is that the Vaeon Zeros are as comfy as my other various bib tights, just noticeably warmer.

The mix of different fabrics seems to makes these bibs hit a sweet spot of good breathability and loads of stretch from the non-membrane sections, but with the added warmth with the Windslam making them partly windproof. One result of the mix of panels and materials is that the Zeros have a lot of stitching on them. From past failures I've seen on both cycling and mountaineering clothing, stitching together stretch materials is not easy. The stitching that dhb use here looks excellent - many of the seams are, I think, a quadruple cover stitch and everything is neatly finished. The only worry I would have is that cover stitch seams of this type are vulnerable to wear, and if the seam breaks it's very hard to fix yourself. I guess you need to just try not to rub them on anything (like the road whilst sliding out at 30 kmph or passing tree trunks when mountain biking!!) and keep the grabby side of velcro away from them - it has a nasty habit of grabbing on to cover stitch seams and breaking them.

Cold night by the fire. Bikepacking in the Vaeon Zeros .
So; the Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight: comfy, well designed and well made. But that leaves the final, BIG question: if they are dhb's warmest longs, just how warm are they? Wiggle suggests a temperature range of 8 to -2 degrees. I think that's actually not a bad guide at all, although I've worn them at lower temperatures and been amazed at how warm they have kept me. They are fine to wear at +5 or +6 degrees, but I've also worn just them on my legs for riding on a windy, snowy day when the temperature was between -5 and -6. My legs stayed impressively warm - normally by those temperatures I would be using a number of layers. At the weekend I rode out to our nearby cross country skiing area to see whether there had been enough snow yet for them to prepare the tracks. I got chatting to guy there who was doing the same and we ended up chatting for half an hour to 40 minutes before I rode on. Over all, I must have been out from the house for a couple of hours and never got cold legs - either actually riding or just standing around, and despite the wind. I did a similar ride in the same sort of weather a few days later wearing some old, thick unpadded longs with bib shorts underneath and was amazed that my thighs were quickly cold and, by the end of the ride, unpleasantly so. I find it pretty hard to believe that the one layer of the Zeros could be so noticeably warmer than the two layers I used on the second ride, but that would appear to be the case!

The Zero's list price is a hefty 90 quid (although that remains considerably less than similar products from more famous brands cost) but are currently on sale for £62.99. When you consider the complexity of the construction and quality of the materials, meaning you can keep riding comfortably even as the mercury goes below freezing, the Zeros seem rather good value. If I had a snowy-rider-in-the-north seal of approval, Vaeon Zeros would definitely get it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

dhb Cycle Clothing reviews: EQ2.5 Waterproof Jacket

Back at the end of October the British all-things-cycling internet shop Wiggle said via Facebook that they were looking for some bike bloggers to review some of their own brand dhb cycle clothing. I've been a Wiggle customer from time to time for years now and actually use the basic dhb road cycling shoes. These have been excellent and, particularly considering they only cost forty quid, superb value for money. So despite being only a blogger who sometimes writes about cycling, rather than a pure bike blogger, I put this blog forward and was very happy to be chosen.

Being a "house brand" makes dhb gear often amongst the most affordable option for technical cycle clothing but from what I've seen the lower prices come from the business model not at the expense of quality. I presume it works on a similar direct-to-the-consumer model that, for example, Alpkit has been pioneering in the outdoor world. Various middlemen are cut out and with the savings leading to competitive prices. Anyway, the long and the short of it is: good cycling gear for very reasonable prices. The two items they asked me to review, the dhb EQ2.5 Waterproof Cycling Jacket and the dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight both seem well made out of quality fabrics. Wiggle wanted the reviews reasonably swiftly, so I can't attest to how well the items last over years, but I've ridden several hundred kilometres wearing the tights and the jacket now with no problems.

the dhb EQ2.5 Waterproof Jacket
I was interested in testing the EQ2.5 waterproof jacket for the rather self-contradictory reason that I probably never would have bought one myself. This is simply because, as a rule, I don't wear waterproofs whilst riding. When I ride, I do so at a pace where I warm up and get sweaty. For me, breathability to get rid of that sweat is by far the most important aspect of my bike clothes. Even top of the range expensive breathable waterproof fabrics like eVent and Goretex Pro Shell don't breath enough for me when doing aerobic sports like XC skiing or indeed cycling. The only exception to the no waterproofs rule when biking is when I go bikepacking - then I take a superlight Gortex paclite shell but only to wear it if the weather becomes unexpectedly horrible; most of the time it is stuffed away in a bag.

The EQ2.5 is not a 'just-in-case' jacket. With a mesh lining and pretty complex design, it isn't light enough to stuff into your commuting bag on the off-chance and won't pack down enough to fit in a jersey pocket for a road ride. It's a jacket to put on and keep on, with a design that reflects this. Firstly it's very well cut for cycling in. Short at the front and longer at the back (for me it could actually come down a bit more at the back) with gripper strips at the hem. Commuting with a satchel means sometimes the hem needs pulling down a little, but this isn't a problem with no bag. I've mainly used it whilst riding my cyclo-cross bike commuting, the arms are cut well for riding on the drops without pulling up. The collar is also great, coming high up at the back for lots of protection. There is a good, big zip pocket on the back, with an inner safety pocket inside it and a little internal pocket at the front that takes keys or an iPod safely.

The material itself is completely waterproof (and the jacket has taped seams) and somewhat breathable. How breathable is one of those almost unanswerable questions. Not breathable enough to avoid getting sweaty in, is one answer but that's no different from past experiences riding in jackets made of Goretex Paclite and Gore Windstopper for example. dhb seem to accept this will be the case for many cyclists riding hard, so have addressed the problem in other ways. Firstly the jacket has a mesh liner. This doesn't make it more breathable, it just minimises the unpleasant feeling of your sweat dripping down the the insides of your jacket! Secondly there is venting-galore; the jacket has vents on both sides at the front and right across the back. It's hard to say how well they work, I couldn't feel cold air through them - although perhaps that's a good thing (in the video below you can see the back vents open, so it must make a difference). Much more noticeable were the pit zips. I've never been a big fan of pit zips on mountain jackets - often far more hassle than they are worth - but the pit zips on the EQ2.5 are easy to use even whilst on the bike and make a very noticeable and significant difference, cooling you and letting a lot of sweat quickly evaporate.

I've been wearing the EQ2.5 over the last few weeks commuting in weather about as miserable as it gets in Helsinki. Late November days are so short it seems it is always dark or getting that way. The temperatures have been fluctuating between just above freezing and about 6 degrees. It's windy, it's soggy, the bike paths are damp and muddy. In these conditions the EQ2.5 has been pretty good, although even in these cold and drizzly conditions I get way to hot if I wear a microfleece mid-layer under it. So I've been wearing it over just a base-layer and with the pit-zips open more often than not. Like that I've been warm but not too hot, nevertheless the jacket is still damp to the touch inside due to the breathability issues after my hour-long commute and my base-layer damper than it would be with my normal system.

So, overall, the EQ2.5 is a well-designed, -cut and -made waterproof jacket for serious cycling. My reservation though is how many cyclists need waterproofs? A jacket identical in design and cut to the EQ2.5 but made of a windproof, highly breathable but NOT waterproof material could easily become my main jacket for 3-season cycling. For the cyclists in rainier climes, perhaps a commuter who rides daily regardless of the weather, the EQ2.5 may well do good service on wetter days. Also, if you are one of those lucky people who don't perspire too much, even when working hard, it may be perfect in autumn and winter. But for me it's too heavy and bulky to carry in case of rain but not breathable enough to wear when it's not. For me once the temperatures are below freezing I don't need a waterproof but in temperatures much above 5 degrees I quickly get too hot in the EQ2.5. So, whilst it is a well made and reasonably priced cycling jacket, for me it only works well in a rather narrow niche of conditions.

To follow in the next few days; a review of the dhb Vaeon Zero Padded Bib Tight.