This commute sponsored by...
There has been more than one time when I wished my commute could be sponsored by a bunch of various gear companies. Let's face it, gear is expensive. Sure you can shop at thrift stores to score some of those Merino wool sweaters people on the forums are always talking about, but that assumes you've got the time to scour the Goodwills and Salvation Army stores of your neighborhood. My wife is also quick to point out that selection depends on the neighborhood too. So, I buy new stuff exclusively. I don't have the time to become a dedicated bargain hound.
So many times, I've purchased a bit of kit, be it booties, a helmet, ski goggles, gloves, you name it, only to be disappointed later regarding the performance or fit of said item. Over the last approximately 6500 miles since I started this return to cycling and cycle commuting, I've tried out numerous bits of kit and yes, I've destroyed a lot of it.
I look at all the cyclocross racers and mountain bikers and even the road racers and think about how my daily commute is in many ways, far more demanding then their racing is. Companies provide teams with bikes and clothes and in turn they probably learn about what holds up and what doesn't. The closest parallels to a serious commute are I think, cyclocross racing, and mountain bike racing. In those instances you have riders punishing gear in all kinds of inclement weather.
Sure it's difficult to ride a cyclocross race for an hour, but I scoff, "Pfft!" That's one hour once a week. I ride in some pretty nasty stuff 90 minutes a day total often well over 120 miles a week! Yeah, let's not get into a chainring-waving contest here. I know my commute is not as hardcore as some other guys commutes are. Hell, in my neck of the woods Eric Puetz who runs Smart Bike Parts.com commutes all the way from Arlington Heights, Illinois to his shop on Armitage Avenue in Chicago. I don't know where he lives up there, but he's got a commute of at least 24 miles one way. Makes my 22 mile round trip look like chump change mileage.
So, you begin to see what the typical Chicago bicycle commuter faces. If you're a real diehard, you're out there two-wheeling it into work every day regardless of the weather. That means, subzero temps with dangerous single digit windchill numbers, rain, snow, fog, and sometimes even miniature tsunami-like waves if you take the bike path that runs along Lake Michigan. If there ever was a place to torture test cycling gear, the Chicago cycle commute has to be it.
Heck, last year I was biking into work one morning as a September storm was starting to kick up. A huge wave crashed up onto the bike path on the Oak Street curve and swamped my bike up to the wheel hubs. Thankfully the waves weren't as high yet as those in the video, but dousing actually managed to knock the speed sensor magnet for my Sigma cycle computer clean off the wheel. Like I said, torture testing gear.
In another instance of gear failure, I purchased a pair of Louis Garneau neoprene booties to cover my cycling shoes. Within a week the rubberized fabric along the toes of the booties had shredded away to the point that whenever I wore the booties after that, I had to tug the fronts back down over the toes of my shoes several times per ride. All in all, I've blown out seams in jerseys and tights that weren't sewn very well, I've struggled with gloves that have annoying seams that cause discomfort, breathable jackets that are anything but, in short I've beaten the hell outta more kit in a few months than probably most racers would destroy in a couple seasons.
There have been good outcomes though. There were the Fox Incline full-finger gloves that were so comfortable and breathable that I even wore them all summer long, even through days with heat indices over 100F. There is also the Gore Bike Wear Phantom SO jacket that has turned out to be one of the best bits of kit that I've ever bought. My Sigma BC1609 cycle computer has operated flawlessly since I installed it, unlike it's wireless big brother the BC2209 MHR which gave me so much grief I returned two of them.
So you see, I think as an average specimen of the hardy Chicago cycle commuter, I deserve a sponsorship. In case there are any unpaid interns out there working for someone like Pearl Izumi, Garmin, Mavic, Ortleib, Goretex, scouring the interwebz for mention of their products, tell your bosses to send some gear my way. I'll test that stuff until the seams burst or the electronics fry or it rusts or freezes up from exposure to salt and road grime. I'm out there grinding out the miles, eyes streaming from the cold and blowin' snot rockets, or pedaling along through an oppressive heat wave chugging water and electolytes like it's goin' out of style. I'm here. If you want to know how well your gear will hold up, I'm your guy.